Race & Ethnicity

Language in Exile

As long as we are speaking of cultures that have simmered in exile, let's turn to Tibetans, whose leaders have consulted with Jewish and Israeli leaders about what it takes to keep a diaspora culture alive. One of the answers: keep alive the language. Hebrew was essentially a language on ice, used primarily in religious services but not to communicate, rich with symbolism but lacking words for anything related to post-exile life—until early Zionists performed CPR and turned it into a living vehicle, actually spoken daily (usually very, very quickly and disputatiously) (#joking). Whatever you think about Israel, reviving Hebrew was a remarkable and nation-making feat. It bound a shattered and dispersed set of people back together in linguistic rhythms that were simultaneously foreign and familiar, in distinctive alef-bet characters that were indisputably their own. The political Tibetan community in exile has taken this lesson deeply to heart. Do read this report on a recent conference...

There Goes the Last War Justification

AP Photo/Hadi Mizban
Well, that didn’t take long. One day after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, the nation appears on the brink of reverting to sectarian conflict. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the arrest of Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi for allegedly ordering and funding the assassinations of Shiite officials, and asked the parliament to pass a no-confidence vote that would enable him to dismiss Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak. Both Hashemi and Mutlak are Sunni politicians aligned with the Iraquiya coalition, which is largely made of Sunnis and such secular Shiites as the coalition’s leader, Ayad Allawi. Maliki’s Dawa Party and its allies (including the backers of Moktada al-Sadr) consist largely of more religious Shiites. Maliki has also deployed tanks outside the Green Zone homes of Hashemi and Mutlak. Like a jack-in-the-box, Iraqi’s sectarian divisions popped up the moment American forces took their leave. The sheer speed with which Iraq reverted to its house-divided status makes...

Your Brain Is Racist

ICYMI : ProPublica and the Washington Post took a look at whether people of any particular race are more likely to receive presidential pardons. You'll be shocked, I'm sure, by what they found: White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities... Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president's ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data . Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered. "I'm just astounded by those numbers," said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office's practices that would have skewed the recommendations. "I can recall several African Americans...

Will Latinos Help Re-Elect Obama?

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) President Barack Obama greets the crowd after speaking about immigration reform at Chamizal National Memorial Park in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday, May 10, 2011, during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border. D emocrats have long been able to play good cop to the Republican bad cop on immigration reform and border security, which in effect has put minorities and those who care about these issues in the bind of voting for the lesser of two evils. But whether Barack Obama is trying to appeal to conservatives on immigration or is actually conservative at heart, his administration has proved that little, in fact, differentiates the two parties. Let’s take a look. Since the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, the issues of immigration and counterterrorism have been conflated. Much of the pressure to deport more and more undocumented immigrants comes from a fear that those immigrants could endanger the American people. As a result, Obama has dealt with immigration as a...

Did Obama Lose Votes Because He Was Black?

Back when Barack Obama was still fighting to become the Democratic nominee for president, there was worry—from supporters and opponents—that the “Bradley effect” would take hold once he moved to the general election. Were white voters voicing support for Obama out of a sense of obligation to egalitarian norms? Would that change when they actually had to cast a vote? In other words, could Obama poll well in the lead up to the election, but then lose as a result of bias on part of voters? Of course, those fears were unfounded. Obama handily won the 2008 election with a solid majority of the popular vote. What’s more, when it came to white voters, Obama improved on the performance of John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 . But we shouldn’t think that this rules out a racial bias effect in the final election results. It’s possible that Obama underperformed relative to where he could have been absent racial animus. In a newly published paper , Seth Stephens-Davidowitz—a political...

Football is Hell

As I think you know by now , I don't pay much attention to football. But between the concussion suicides and the Sandusky allegations, I've gotten a bit interested in the sociology of the sport. And so this Sunday's New York Times interview with former pro football player Kris Jenkins interested me. Jenkins makes it clear that he signed fully signed up for the brutality and pain: You ever been in a car crash? Done bumper cars? You know when that hit catches you off guard and jolts you, and you're like, what the hell? Football is like that. But 10 times worse. It's hell.... [O]ver the years, I wore the left side of my body down. I was past hurt. I was at the point of numb. Like my body was shutting down nervous systems, so I didn’t have to deal with pain. The numbness started at the very beginning. I couldn’t feel part of both arms. I couldn’t feel part of both legs. It was worse on the left. I’m just starting to get feeling back in my left side. Look, football is no joke.... We...

Not Heritage, Definitely Hate

Thoughts on the Confederate flag.

Flickr/akasped
Jezebel flags this infurating story from the Times of Trenton : The mother of a Kreps Middle School student suspended in a flap over her Confederate flag sweat shirt says she wants the school to formally apologize to her daughter, rescind her suspension and grant the teen permission to attend school outside the district. “If I can’t get those things I’m suing,” said the teen’s mom, Jane West. […] She said her daughter, born in Virginia, considers the flag a symbol of her Southern heritage and has every right to wear it. She says she and her daughter are “far from racists.” The interesting thing about this has less to do with the now-standard declarations of non-bias — after all, there are no racists in America, only the “misunderstood”—and more to do with West’s insistence that the Confederate flag is a symbol of her “Southern heritage” and not an endorsement of prejudice. Here’s the deal. Like the younger Ms. West, I am a Southerner. My parents are from Georgia and Florida, and I...

Reality Check

TLC's new show, All-American Muslim, could educate the public about Islam — or not.

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Sandwiched in TLC’s fall schedule between Toddlers & Tiaras and Sister Wives, is a new reality series named, All-American Muslim. The show follows the lives of five Muslim families living in Dearborn, Michigan, and will premiere its eight-part stretch November 13. All-American Muslim does not fall into the trend of other reality shows: It does not profile rich socialites or rambunctious 20-something libertines. Instead, it tries its hand at a new, more dangerous formula: using religion as a basis for entertainment. In today’s volatile sociopolitical environment, All-American Muslim treads new and murky ground by attempting to “explain” a very diverse community of Muslim American citizens and the religious doctrine they follow— all in a one-hour timeslot. The cameras document its families as they face new stages and challenges in their lives. In an eventful premiere episode, both a wedding and a conversion take place. Many Muslims in America today face an onslaught of Islamophobia...

How do You Solve a Problem Like Cecilia?

A once-fierce advocate of immigrant right turns into the Obama administration's mouthpiece on deportations.

AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari
W hen president-elect Barack Obama named Cecilia Muñoz as director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House, Latino nonprofits and media outlets celebrated. Her appointment was viewed as a sign of inclusion for Latinos in government and an example of our growing political power. Given that Muñoz was the former senior vice president for the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)—the largest national U.S. Latino civil-rights organization and a prominent advocate for immigrant rights—many expected that her advocacy would move with her into the White House. That’s not what happened. Instead, Muñoz has become the administration's Spanish-language mouthpiece on immigration policy. When answering questions about the rising number of deportations and detentions; the rapid expansion of immigration-enforcement programs like Secure Communities; and the failure to provide short-term, administrative relief in the absence of an immigration-...

Q&A: Justice for Black Farmers

AP Photo/Alex Brandon
On October 27, after a 15-year fight, a federal judge approved a $1.25 billion settlement to black farmers discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1997, hundreds of farmers filed a class-action suit, in the case Pigford v. Glickman , alleging pervasive discrimination of black farmers by the USDA between 1981 and 1997. For decades, the department, which regularly gives loans to farmers to keep their business afloat, had refused loans to black farmers while awarding greater loans to white farmers of equal standing. Because of an inability to receive loans, many black farmers were forced to forfeit their farms or operate on a smaller scale. In 1999, the judge demanded a settlement for those with claims. More than 40,000 farmers with documented claims joined the suit following the first decision, necessitating a revisiting of the case approved in the 2008 farm bill, which ultimately awarded $100 million toward the settlement. In November 2010,...

What's in a Name?

Urban Outfitters removes the word "Navajo" from its product line, but the cultural poaching is the same.

Urban Outfitters' formerly "Navajo" hipster panty. AP Photo/Matt York
U rban Outfitters, the retail mecca for once and future hipsters, recently scrubbed its website of all references to “Navajo.” What was once the “Navajo Print Fabric Wrapped Flask” is now the “Printed Fabric Wrapped Flask”; the “Navajo Hipster Panty” is now the “Printed Hipster Panty”; and so on. The items are still available for purchase, but they’ve all been renamed. AP Photo/Matt York Urban Outfitters' former "Navajo" hipster panty. The move comes on the heels of a Web-based campaign against the retailer’s marketing practices and official requests from the Navajo Nation Department of Justice. In June, the Navajo Nation sent a cease-and-desist letter to Urban Outfitters CEO Glen Senk, citing the company’s numerous registered trademarks for “Navajo” on clothing, footwear, household products, textiles, and online retail sales. This was followed by an open letter at the Racialicious blog by Sasha Houston Brown , a member of the Santee Sioux Nation, who assailed Urban Outfitters' “mass...

Coulter's Race Relations

Even for someone who specializes in consistently saying the most offensive and irrelevant things, Ann Coulter's statements about black Republicans in an interview with Sean Hannity Monday crossed the line. In a segment discussing accusations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain, Coulter and Hannity completely sidestepped the allegations and instead ranted about why liberals target African American Republicans. Of course the argument moved away from issues of sex and workplace harassment and moved on to how Barack Obama is only half-black and his father wasn't even an American.

Occupy Wall Street's Race Problem

Young protesters at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New Jersey Oct. 6 with a debt=slavery sign.
The economic crisis has disproportionately affected people of color, in particular African Americans. Given the stark economic realities in communities of color, many people have wondered why the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn’t become a major site for mobilizing African Americans. For me, it's not about the diversity of the protests. It's about the rhetoric used by the white left that makes OWS unable to articulate, much less achieve, a transformative racial-justice agenda. One of the first photos I saw from the Occupy Wall Street protests was of a white person carrying a flag that read “Debt=Slavery.” White progressive media venues often compare corporate greed or exploitation to some form of modern-day slavery. But while carrying massive amounts of debt, whether in student loans, medical bills, or predatory balloon-payment mortgages is clearly a mark of a society that exploits poor and working-class people, it is not tantamount to chattel slavery. In...

A Match Made in Hell

In the four years since President George W. Bush failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform, anti-immigrant sentiment in the GOP has grown to a fever pitch. At least three Republican-led states have passed draconian laws restricting every aspect of life for undocumented immigrants – Alabama, for example, has made municipal water-usage a deportable offense – and Republican voters have shunned a presidential candidate, Texas Governor Rick Perry, over his willingness to accomodate the children of undocumented immigrants. Conservatives have grown so hostile to immigrants that, at this point, it has become to alienate some Latino Republicans. Last week, for example, saw one prominent Latino leader leave the Republican Party. Lauro Garza was Texas state director for Somos Republicans – the nation’s largest conservative Latino group – and a well-known figure within Texas Republican figures. In a letter explaining his decision to leave the GOP, Garza cited the party’s inhospitable...

Batman the Gentrifier

In real-life, the superhero's do-gooding would push all the poor people out of Gotham.

Rex Features via AP Images
For Batman fans, this past week was a big one. In addition to the release of Arkham City – the sequel to Arkham Asylum , the world’s greatest Batman simulator – DC released its animated adaptation of Batman: Year One , the Frank Miller-penned story that would define Batman for the next two decades, and form the basis for Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the character. Here’s a trailer: I watched Year One with friends a few nights ago, and one thing that stood out was the sheer whiteness of Gotham City. From mobsters to orphaned children, most Gothamites were white. People of color were present, but they were a distinct minority in most parts of Frank Miller’s Gotham. Of course, this makes Gotham extremely unusual as a major industrial city in the early 1980s, which is when Year One takes place. By this point in American history, most cities had been hollowed out by successive waves of white flight, as middle and working-class whites left the cities for surrounding suburbs. In...

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