Race & Ethnicity

"Stand Your Ground"

(Eric the Red/Creative Commons)
Like many people, I’ve been following the Trayvon Martin case with sadness and horror. If you’re not aware of the facts of the case, I recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates’s blogging on the subject, as well as work from The Huffington Post and The New York Times . While the racial dimensions of the case—a young white man follows a “suspicious-looking” black teenager, confronts him, and kills him in “self-defense”—have garnered national attention, it's worth pointing out the extent to which Florida law has made this kind of vigilante action disturbingly common. Over the last five years, according to the Tampa Bay Times , the number of “justifiable homicides” in Florida has doubled from 40 to 50 at the beginning of the last decade, to upward of a hundred since 2007. The key fact in all of this—and the reason Martin’s shooter isn’t sitting in a jail cell—is Florida’s “stand your ground” legislation, which was signed by Governor Jeb Bush in 2005. The law gives citizens the right to use deadly force...

"Dumb and Obnoxious"

(keithpr/Flickr)
One thing that has gone unremarked upon in the continuing story of Latino disdain for the Republican Party—and its desperate attempt at damage control—is the degree to which Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court was a pivotal event for the GOP’s relationship to the Latino community. More than almost anything else, her nomination was defined by the viciousness of her opponents. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, for example, declared that she was unfit for the Court because of her service in an “extremist” organization, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a well-regarded nonprofit group. Former Bush advisor Karl Rove attacked her record and qualifications, while conservative writers like The National Review 's Mark Hemingway [see correction below] disparaged her as “dumb and obnoxious.” If you’ve forgotten—it’s been three years, after all—you can watch this clip from Media Matters for a taste of the abuse Sotomayor received from the Right: According to Glenn Beck...

When Race-Baiting Is Unintentional

(Pinti 1/Flickr)
Reporting from a campaign event in Rosemont, Illinois, Felicia Sonmez (of the Washington Post ) tweeted this odd attack from Mitt Romney on Obama’s private sector experience: “It’s hard to create a job if you never had one,” Romney says of Obama. There are a few things going on here, all of them wrong. First is the assumption, common in Romney’s rhetoric, that private sector experience is a necessary part of understanding job growth. But that’s not true at all. The tools and skills that make a successful businessperson are only somewhat related to the tools and skills that make a successful lawmaker or chief executive. Just because you’ve run a successful firm doesn’t mean that you’ll have a sound understanding of macroeconomic forces. To wit, the policy preferences of businesspeople during the recession—cut spending and lower the deficit—are the exact opposite of what the economy needs right now. Beyond the conceptual error, it’s also true that Romney is running with the lie that...

What About Black Republicans?

(North Charleston/Flickr)
Even though the vast majority of African American voters and lawmakers are Democrats, it may be black Republicans who have the best chance to reach the U.S. Senate or win governorships, at least in the near future. Unlike their counterparts on the other side of the aisle, black Republicans in Congress—few as they are—usually represent white districts for the simple reason that most African Americans vote Democratic. This has huge implications for the ability of black Republicans to advance up the political ladder. South Carolina’s Tim Scott, one of two African American Republicans in the House, is a prime example. A first-term congressman, Scott represents a mostly white district that stretches from Charleston to Myrtle Beach. As a Republican aligned with the Tea Party, he is in tune with his district and with the majority of South Carolinians, who elected a Tea Party governor in 2010 and revere Senator Jim DeMint. Scott’s district isn’t particularly affluent, but as an up-and-comer...

Interracial Marriage Is Still Controversial with Deep South Republicans

(Freedom To Marry/Flickr)
The thing to remember about the Republicans in Deep South states like Alabama and Mississippi is that they are mostly older, lily white, and very conservative. When you combine that with racial stratification and lingering resentment, it’s easy to see how 21 percent of Alabama Republicans and 29 percent of Mississippi Republicans would say that interracial marriage should be illegal, according to the latest poll from Public Policy Polling. Likewise, given the extent to which anti-Islam prejudice has made “Muslim” a stand-in for certain racial slurs, it’s not hard to see why 52 percent of Mississippi Republicans and 45 percent of Alabama Republicans would say that the president is a Muslim. In fairness to Republicans in both states, the GOP as a whole has a problem with correctly identifying Barack Obama’s place of birth. According to a January poll from YouGov, 37 percent of Republicans deny that Obama was born in the United States, while 35 percent aren’t sure: This comes after the...

The Race-Baiting Continues

(Still from video obtained by Buzzfeed.com)
I've been holding off on writing something about the bizarre spectacle of the Derrick Bell "exposé" that has consumed the nuttier corners of the right in the last couple of days, simply because it's so weird and pathetic that I wasn't sure exactly how to talk about it beyond simple ridicule. In case you missed it, here's the story, briefly: Just before he died, conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart said his web enterprises would soon release an explosive video that would transform the 2012 election by revealing Barack Obama's radical ties. The video turned out to be of something that was not only utterly unremarkable, but had been reported before. In 1991, when Obama was a student at Harvard Law School, the school was embroiled in a controversy over the under-representation of minorities on the faculty. Derrick Bell, the first black tenured professor at the school and a widely admired figure in legal circles, announced that he would take a leave until the school made efforts to...

Will Florida Bar Jewish Divorce?

(Flickr/walknboston)
Starting Wednesday, the Florida Senate can vote on a measure to ban Sharia law in the state. But in an unintended consequence, the measure would also ban traditional Orthodox Jewish divorces from being recognized. The bill, which has already been passed in the state House, bans "foreign law" in Florida family courts. According to The Florida Independent, the state representative pushing the measure has argued it's necessary to "stop the spread of Sharia law." There's no evidence of a spread. But among those who shmear, the bill also has some serious implications. Orthodox Jews rely on rabbinic "Beit Dins" to grant divorces, and under this measure, such divorce decrees would not be recognized. Ironically, while insulting Muslim Floridians, the bill would have a policy impact on the state's Jewish community. Both the regional Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have condemned the measure. The Senate panel considering the bill dealt the concerns of both...

Crazy Idea: Laws To Encourage Voting

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
Voter ID laws have been all the rage around the country, with conservative lawmakers pushing to make it harder to vote, often by requiring some form of government-issued photo identification. The goal, at least according to rhetoric, is to keep the process safe from fraud—despite there being no real evidence of in-person voter fraud , the only kind such laws would actually prevent. In the meantime, states struggle with low-turnout rates and sometimes low registration rates. In Texas, which recently passed one of the more stringent ID requirements, residents vote at among the lowest rates in the country. All of which makes Connecticut's current voting debate somewhat shocking by comparison. The secretary of state has taken the lead in proposing measures to increase voter turnout by—get this— making it easier to vote. Two proposals make it easier to register by offering same-day registration for those who show up on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system so people...

Obama, Black Voters, and Same-Sex Marriage

Registering voters during a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana. (Barack Obama/Flickr)
On Twitter, I’ve been in something of a friendly back-and-forth with The New York Times ’ David Leonhardt about the African American vote and President Obama’s support—or lack thereof—for same-sex marriage. In its most recent survey , NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 49 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriage, while 40 percent opposed. What’s more, for 54 percent of Americans, the question of support or opposition wouldn’t make a difference in how they voted. Leonhardt considered this in the context of African Americans. Given the degree to which black voters are less likely to support same-sex marriage—only 36 percent do, according to a recent Pew poll —is it possible that Obama would lose African American votes if he moved with the curve and endorsed same-sex marriage before the election? Leonhardt says yes . “[It’s] Hard to believe the effect of any such high-profile, contested issue will be zero. And some states are likely to be v[ery] close.” As you probably...

Tinderbox in Israel

Discrimination against Palestinians in the country is reaching frightening levels. 

(Flickr/tamar_levine)
This is the second in a two-part series on Israel's policies toward its Palestinian minority . To read the first part, click here . A few weeks ago an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset was interrupted repeatedly by a female member of a far right party. He finally told her to “shut up,” whereupon she stood up and poured a cup of water over his head. The video went viral, and the joke was: “The only good Arab is a wet Arab.” Relations between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel are worsening. According to Shalom Dichter, executive director of Hand in Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, “a harsh stream of ugly racism seems to dominate public debate.” One phrase I heard over and over on a recent trip to Israel was, “It’s a tinderbox.” Under the current government—the most right-wing in Israel’s history—a flood of new legislation has targeted Palestinian citizens. The ban on family unification— making it virtually impossible for Israeli Arabs to marry non-Israelis—is just...

Not Sweet Home Alabama

Civil rights leaders help undocumented immigrants fight against HB 56 in the state.

(AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Recently, Scott Douglas III, a civil-rights activist in Alabama and executive director of the Greater Birmingham Ministries, appeared on The Colbert Report to discuss his involvement as a plaintiff in an American civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit against the state of Alabama. The case challenges the state's infamous HB 56 law, which imposes a litany of sanctions on undocumented immigrants. The law: mandates that law enforcement officials obtain proof of citizenship from people they suspect of being in the country illegally; prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving any public benefits; bars undocumented immigrants from attending public colleges or universities; requires public school officials to ascertain student citizenship status and turn in a tally of the number of their students they think are undocumented; prohibits renting property to illegal immigrants; prohibits transporting or harboring illegal immigrants; When it comes to employment, the law requires large and small...

The End of Affirmative Action in College

(Flickr/Kodamakitty)
As my colleague Jamelle Bouie noted yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Fisher v. UT Austin, a challenge to the use of affirmative action for undergraduate admissions at the University of Texas. I wish I could make a case for more optimism, but I have to agree with the conventional wisdom that Grutter v. Bollinger , the case that upheld that affirmative action was allowed in higher education so long as it was done to promote diversity, is likely to be overruled and the use of affirmative action in higher education therefore made flatly unconstitutional. To start with the less-bad news first, readers may find it ominous that Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from the case. But this means less than it might appear at first. The 5th Circuit opinion the Supreme Court is reviewing upheld the constitutionality of the program. Because of this, if the Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4, the program would be sustained and Grutter would remain good law. While the best outcome would be a...

Rejected From School and Blaming Minorities

(“It’s His Fault,” political cartoon, 2003, from Washington Post Writers Group.)
In almost every argument I’ve had about affirmative action in college admissions, someone eventually trots out the idea that the beneficaries of affirmative action are somehow “stealing” spots that rightfully belong to more “deserving” students. Ignoring, for a moment, the implicit assumption—that minority students are somehow less deserving—it’s simply a fact that college admissions don’t work that way. In open-admission pools where no one has a guaranteed spot, universites use a large number of factors to determine whom they accept and whom they deny. Sometimes, it turns on race and ethnicity, and sometimes it doesn’t. Which is why I was a little amused when reading that the Supreme Court will hear a case on affirmative action, the first time since 2003. Abigal Fisher, a white student, says she was denied admission to the University of Texas because of her race. Texas, like several other states, grants automatic admission to its public universities for students who place in the top...

The New Freedom Riders

A multiracial group of young people are fighting to end the NYPD's stop-and-frisk program.

(Flickr/Tim Drivas)
Two things struck William Rivera about the 30 protesters who, after an hour of chanting and speechifying to cameras, cops, and the curious, were now marching deeper into the Bronx on an overcast January afternoon. The first was that somebody was finally speaking out against the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy, a tactic in which officers pat down and question people on the street without a warrant. The second was that a lot of those somebodies were white. “Hell, yeah, I’m surprised that white people come out here fighting for us,” says Rivera, 24. Police, he says, stop him three or four times a week, and he now automatically assumes the “shirt up” position whenever officers cross his path. “I know it’s not normal or right that I accept that, but it’s how we have to live,” Rivera says of his South Bronx neighborhood, where talking back to cops, he adds, is not an option. “Maybe if the government or the police see their own people helping out, maybe they’ll pull back...

The Help's Same Old Story

The film boasts Oscar-worthy performances but spotlights black exploitation in Hollywood.

(AP Photo/Dale Robinette)
Much has been written about The Help ’s whitewashing of American history in the Jim Crow South. The film’s revisionist plot follows the efforts of an altruistic white savior, played by Emma Stone, as she writes a book about the daily lives of maids in 1963 Mississippi. Certain realities of the time, including the death of prominent civil-rights leader Medgar Evers, are brushed aside, glossed over, or completely misinterpreted. Tulane political-science professor and MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry has called the movie “ahistorical” and “deeply troubling.” With the Academy Awards two weeks away and The Help, which was nominated for four Oscars including Best Picture, poised to win big, what does the film’s success say about Hollywood’s unwillingness to properly tell black stories? James McBride, who co-wrote the upcoming film Red Hook Summer with Spike Lee, recently penned an open letter to Hollywood in which he noted the irony of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer receiving acting...

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