Race & Ethnicity

Racism on Camera

The recent wave of police violence isn't anything new. It's just been caught on video. 

Texas Department of Public Safety via AP
AP Photo/Matt Rourke Philadelphia Police officers demonstrate a body-worn cameras being used as part of a pilot project, Thursday, December 11, 2014. I f you’ve regularly watched the nightly news over the past few years, you might think that the recent arrest and jail-cell death of Sandra Bland in Texas is part of a growing wave of police abuse of black citizens. Some news reports have even called it an epidemic of police violence against African Americans. But the harsh reality is that there has been no sudden upsurge of racial profiling, arrests, beating, and killing of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers. Rather than an abrupt recent rise in police mistreatment of black Americans, we’ve become more aware of the problem, in part because more incidents of police abuse are being captured on camera. The series of deaths of black Americans has made more white Americans aware of how different their lives can be. A turning point occurred in 1991, when the brutal...

Bernie Learns His Lesson -- But Have the Rest of Us?

(Photo: Al Drago/CQ Roll Call via AP)
(Photo: Al Drago/CQ Roll Call via AP) Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders waits to speak to federal contract workers during a rally on Capitol Hill on Wedneday, July 22. “ We want a nation where a young black man or woman can walk down the street without worrying about being falsely arrested, beaten, or killed,” Bernie Sanders told some 8,000 supporters in Dallas on July 19, the day after his contentious encounter with protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement at Netroots Nation. While Sanders, the socialist U.S. senator from Vermont who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, appeared to have learned his lesson quickly, the same cannot necessarily be said for some of his most ardent followers, or for the progressive movement more broadly, where power rests primarily in the hands of white men. When Sanders announced his candidacy, I welcomed it—and I still do. Standing far to the left of likely nominee Hillary Clinton, Sanders’s presence in the race, coupled with...

Why Netroots Nation Was Exactly the Right Place for a #BlackLivesMatter Protest

(Photo: AP/Ross D. Franklin)
(Photo: AP/Ross D. Franklin) Black Lives Matter and Black Immigration Network activists shout down Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders during the presidential candidates' forum at Netroots Nation on Saturday, July 18. W hen protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement disrupted the presidential candidates’ forum at an annual gathering of progressives from both grassroots movements and the professional left, a predictable response was heard from many white liberals and progressives: Why are you picking on us? We’re your allies! If movement needed any more fuel, it was granted as much by the mysterious death, just days before, of Sandra Bland, which occurred while she was in custody of the sheriff of Waller County, Texas. Her arrest seems to have been prompted by her defiance of a state trooper’s order to put out her cigarette after he pulled her car over for Bland’s alleged failure to use her directional signal while changing lanes. The trooper’s dash-cam video shows the officer...

Why Don't Settlements Over Brutality Come Out of Police Budgets?

New York City's recent $5.9 million settlement with the family of Eric Garner leaves the NYPD's budget unscathed. 

(Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle)
(Photo: AP/Craig Ruttle) NYPD Staten Island Borough Commander Edward Delatorre stands with Gwen Carr and Esaw Snipes, the mother and wife of Eric Garner, during a memorial service for Eric Garner on July 14. A $5.9 million settlement was reached with the city this week. O n July 17, 2014, New York City police officers choked Eric Garner, a black man in Staten Island, to death. This week, nearly one year later, the city announced that it would pay the Garner family $5.9 million to settle their wrongful-death claim . “Financial compensation is certainly not everything, and it can’t bring Mr. Garner back. But it is our way of creating balance and giving a family a certain closure,” said the comptroller, Scott M. Stringer to The New York Times. Families of police brutality victims deserve to be compensated, no doubt. A different question, however, is should police departments be required to pay for their misconduct too? As I’ve written previously , these steep police brutality payments...

The Progressive Victory You Haven't Heard Of: NYC's Ban on Employment Credit Checks

The new law prohibits the discriminatory screening process, which disproportionately affects the poor and communities of color.

(Photo: AP/Mike Groll)
(Photo: AP/Mike Groll) I n New York, your personal credit history is no longer any of your employer’s business. From universal pre-kindergarten to paid sick days, New York City’s fight against inequality has grabbed national headlines. But recently, the nation’s largest city has quietly taken the lead in dismantling a far less obvious barrier to opportunity: the employment credit check. Thanks to a new law , businesses can no longer discriminate against employees and job seekers simply because they’re late paying bills. The credit check ban is an important salvo against inequality. More often than not, poor credit is the result of bad luck and societal disadvantages, and is associated with unemployment, lack of health care, and medical debt . As a result of credit checks, someone who is out of work will find it more difficult to get another job, falling further behind on their bills in a vicious catch-22. The problem is exacerbated in communities of color , which continue to endure...

The Supreme Court's Challenge to Housing Segregation

For decades, the Fair Housing Act's potential was squandered. A recent Court decision may finally change that. 

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) In this April 8, 2013 picture, a boy shoots a basketball into a makeshift basket made from a milk crate and attached to a vacant row house in Baltimore. I n June, the Supreme Court issued several decisions with big policy implications. Its rejection of a challenge to Obamacare and its endorsement of the right to same-sex marriage have received the attention they were due. A third decision, confirming that the Fair Housing Act prohibits not only policies that intend to perpetuate racial discrimination and segregation, but those that have the effect of doing so, was equally momentous. Yet because the ruling concerned an obscure (to the public) and technical phrase (“disparate impact”), it has been more difficult to understand. To comprehend its significance, a review of its background is in order. Roots of the Fair Housing Act In over 100 cities during the summer of 1967 African Americans rioted, in rebellion against segregated and inadequate ghetto conditions...

A Good Week for America

On a number of fronts, real progressive change is on the horizon. 

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin From left, Annie Katz of the University of Michigan, Zaria Cummings of Michigan State University, Spencer Perry of Berkeley, California, and Justin Maffett of Dartmouth University, celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . W hat an extraordinary week in the political and spiritual life of this nation. It was a week in which President Obama found the voice that so many of us hoped we discerned in 2008; a week in which two Justices of the Supreme Court resolved that the legitimacy of the institution and their own legacy as jurists was more important than the narrow partisan agenda that Justices Roberts and Kennedy have so often carried out; a week in which liberals could feel good about ourselves and the haters of the right were thrown seriously off balance. Yet this is one of those...

Removing the Confederate Flag is Easy. Fixing Racism is Hard.

Progressives risk being a bit too smug in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre.

AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt
AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt Protesters hold a sign during a rally to take down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Columbia, South Carolina. W hen the Republican National Committee chose Tampa as the site for the party’s 2012 national convention, it seemed quite fitting—Florida being a red state and all, and one in which evangelical fervor mixed freely with the brand of Tea Party vindictiveness epitomized by Governor Rick Scott. As I traveled to the city limits, destined for a motel reserved for any C-list, left-wing journalists covering the confab, the taxi I occupied exited the highway on a ramp dominated by perhaps the largest thing of its kind I had ever seen. Hoisted on a 139-foot pole, this Confederate battle flag measures 30 feet high and 60 feet long. That’s a lot of cloth, and the day I viewed it, it whipped violently against the winds stirred up by Hurricane Isaac, who mercifully defied predictions by remaining offshore. I nearly...

Even Republicans Are Coming Around on the Confederate Flag

Soon, conservative politicians won't even be able to dodge the question.

(Photo: AP/Rainier Ehrhardt)
(Photo: AP/Rainier Ehrhardt) Protesters gather on the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse on June 20. S ixty-three years after South Carolina raised the Confederate flag over its statehouse, a massacre in a black church may finally bring it down from the place it now occupies on the grounds of the state capitol (it was moved from atop the dome in 2000). Not that there won't be plenty of people still holding on to their stars 'n' bars — that flag will still fly in many official places throughout the South. And it isn't as though a new age of racial harmony is dawning. But as a political issue, the flag is on its way out. It's going to find fewer and fewer defenders, brought down by a surprising wave of empathy. Yes, empathy. For decades now, the debate about the flag has gone like this: One side says that the flag is a symbol of a treasonous movement that found its purpose in defending a system built on human slavery; it was later embraced by those who carried out a decades-long...

Real Diversity Is About Confronting Power

Names, barriers, and the politics of race in American education. 

AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File
AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File A tour group walks through the campus of Harvard University. I n 1973, my father emigrated from India to New York City with an engineering degree and a name that seemed complicated to the American ear. He was offered his first job on the condition that “Ratnaswamy” would become “Sam,” a name that followed him throughout his entire career. According to him, it was the 1970s, he didn’t have a choice, and he was grateful to get a job. Clearly much has changed since then, but perhaps not as much as we’d like to think. Not long after the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned Indian American co-champions on May 28, a seemingly harmless joke began to circulate online. Unable to touch the spelling prowess of Vanya Shivashankar, Gokul Venkatachalam, and other talented finalists, observers like Todd Dewey of the Las Vegas Review-Journal remarked, “ Luckily, the kids didn’t have to spell each other’s last names .” That non-Anglo-Saxon names are still an...

Minorities in Minneapolis: Underprivileged and Over-Policed

Behind its progressive reputation, Minneapolis is a deeply divided city. 

Fibonacci Blue/Creative Commons
Fibonacci Blue/Creative Commons Around 1000 in downtown Minneapolis for Million March Minnesota, a rally and protest against deaths of people of color at the hands of police on December 13, 2014. Above, protesters shut down Hennepin Avenue downtown after a rally at Government Plaza. M inneapolis often shines brightly when in the national spotlight. It’s a “ miracle ” city that’s managed to weather the economic downturn better than any place in the country. Unemployment is low. Education levels are high. It’s the healthiest city in the country. It’s perceived as a bastion of progressivism; an active city with plenty of opportunity. However true this narrative is, it’s a white façade. “From the outside, the experience of communities of color in Minneapolis—across nearly every facet of life—is hidden behind the widespread prosperity of white residents,” a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union states. The ACLU report shows the unvarnished reality of institutionalized...

Needed: Prophetic Voices

Searching for leaders who, like King, can challenge people and nations to become their best selves. 

Public Domain
Public Domain Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his famous "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L ast week, I went back to Oberlin for my 50th reunion (!) where much of the weekend was a celebration and retrospective of our graduation ceremony in 1965, whose commencement speaker was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was one of his greatest speeches. Oberlin was not just the first college in the U.S. to accept African Americans but the first to welcome women. As luck would have it, the commencement speakers half a century later in 2015 were two strong black women, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and still president of the Children's Defense Fund, who had worked with Dr. King as a young civil rights lawyer, and first lady Michelle Obama. Ms. Edelman was the official speaker. The first lady was a late addition. She came to give Oberlin recognition for its work mentoring low income and...

White Privilege and the Limits of Public Forgiveness

Mike Huckabee's vocal support for Josh Duggar is in sharp contrast to his indifference to black victims of police violence.

(Photo: AP/Nati Harnik)
(Photo: AP/Nati Harnik) Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks in Iowa in April. The GOP presidential candidate was quick to voice his support for Josh Duggar, who this past week admitted to having molested children while a teenager. I n America, public forgiveness is largely dependent on race. In the weeks after Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, pundits and media outlets were quick to jump on a robbery Brown allegedly committed minutes before being fatally shot. Among them was 2016 hopeful Mike Huckabee, who told NewsMax TV, “It's a horrible thing that he was killed, but he could have avoided that if he'd have behaved like something other than a thug.” For Huckabee, (alleged) theft was grounds for death. That is, if you look a certain way. Contrast these statements with Huckabee’s recent defense of reality TV regular Josh Duggar, who admitted last week to having molested young girls as a teenager in 2002 and...

The Radical Inclusiveness of Black Lives Matter

Activist Linda Sarsour on the Arab American struggle against police brutality. 

AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams
AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, poses for photos in front of a canvas painted by the association's youth group at its headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. F or the nationwide movement against police violence, the news of charges being brought against the six Baltimore officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray has been a welcome development. Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and an organizer in the Black Lives Matter movement, is cautiously optimistic. “It’s a little bit of a morale booster,” she told me in an interview, “I think that this kind of gave activists in the streets that rejuvenation and that energy they need to continue doing what they’re doing.” Sarsour was in Asheville, North Carolina earlier this month for the America Healing Conference, a four-day dialogue on racial justice and community healing sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation. There...

We Can't Talk About Housing Policy Without Talking About Racism

What a serious desegregation policy might look like. 

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky In this May 9, 2015, picture, a man walks past a blighted building in the Penn-North neighborhood of Baltimore, with a residential tower in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood in the background at top right. O ver the past year, unrest in places like Baltimore and Ferguson has inspired a nationwide debate on how to best combat systemic inequality and injustice. In the wake of high-profile police violence cases in these cities and elsewhere, this conversation has contributed to a renewed understanding of how federal and local housing policies helped create the inequality and racial injustice urban America confronts today. Yet lost in this discussion has been the complicated record of more recent desegregation efforts and what they can teach us about undoing generations of systemic racism and persistent segregation. A case in point is HUD’s Clinton-era Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program, the subject of a new study by Harvard economists Raj Chetty, Nathan Hendren,...

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