Race & Ethnicity

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...

Couture's Chinese Culture Shock

Chinese luxury consumers are becoming an important market but fashion's racial stereotypes persist.

AP Images
We’re witnessing a remarkable shift in China’s relationship to global fashion: once “the world’s factory,” in Asian American fashion scholar Thuy Linh N. Tu’s words, China is now poised to be the world’s mall. While China remains a poor country with an average annual per capita consumption of $2,500 (in contrast, the U.S. per capita average is $30,000), China’s rising number of millionaires and the Internet-enabled diffusion of Western fashion consumer culture are quickly transforming the communist nation into what The New York Times has called “The Shoppers’ Republic of China.” Today, young Chinese—like Lu Jing, a 22-year-old Beijing resident who told the China Daily that she earns $943 a month and saved up for a $3,200 Louis Vuitton handbag by surviving on instant noodles and taking public transportation—make up an new consumer class. Fashionistas between 20 and 30 years old are buying luxury fashion and micro-blogging about it on Sina Weibo (China’s version of Twitter) where...

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The Oscars recognize women in non-traditional roles, but leave actors of color behind.

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
With all the election-season ugliness, the announcement of the nominations for the 84th Oscars provide a welcome relief—at least until they remind us that Hollywood is largely in the business of telling the stories of straight white men. This year, we have some bad news and some good news when it comes to the acting categories for the Oscars. The good news is that, unlike in years past, the nominating committee didn’t have to scrounge to find ten great performances from actresses—a process that in the past often resulted in the embarrassing problem of having unknown names in the actress categories that leave viewers asking, “Who? In what?” Women are beginning to be recognized for playing more well-rounded characters with their own identity, such as heads of government or hacker-warriors, instead of the role of “Mom” or “Girlfriend.” Melissa McCarthy’s nomination for “Bridesmaids” even suggests that women might be sloughing off the requirement that they be conventionally attractive to...

Food-Stamp President?

So it turns out that I can still be shocked by public discourse. Yes, South Carolina is famous for primaries with dirty tricks and low blows; one almost looks forward to it, wondering what they'll do this time around. But my jaw dropped when Newt Gingrich called Barack Obama the " food-stamp president ." Wait—is that a dog whistle I hear? I'm not always fond of Chris Matthews , but he sure did nail it: Everyone can hear the whistle now, not just the Southern racists of yore. We know the connections being made about race, laziness, welfare queens, and all the rest. And it's shocking to hear it out loud. Over the weekend, Lee Siegel published an essay in The New York Times positing that Romney is, essentially, running as white—whiter than white, really, as white as you can get, free of Catholicism, cosmopolitanism, zealotry, adultery, or any other pollutant: Of course, I’m not talking about a strict count of melanin density. I’m referring to the countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways...

Earth to Planet GOP

Watching the Republican presidential primaries leaves me feeling kind of sorry for the candidates. In their attempts to appeal to minority voters, they’re like a group of Dungeons and Dragons buddies decorating their basement in hopes that the cheerleaders will show up. I’ve got news for you guys: You may get cheered on for telling poor people to shape up and calling Barack Obama the "food-stamp president" at GOP debates, but you’re sorely out of touch with the rest of us. The 2010 census showed that nonwhites accounted for the majority of growth in this country in the past ten years. Fifty major American cities would be on the decline if it weren’t for Latino and Asian growth, and whites are the minorities in four states. Yet the current crop of Republican nominees consists of five white guys who seem unable to relate to Americans living in a fundamentally different society. The race and gender of these candidates wouldn’t be such an issue if their platforms also weren't so offensive...

Lay of the Land

AP Photo/Eric Gay
Today, a new chapter opens in the Texas redistricting saga. The Lone Star State will begin its preclearance trial , in which it will argue that the various House, Senate, and congressional maps passed out of the legislature last year did not have a discriminatory effect on minorities. Only last week, the state was at the Supreme Court arguing over whether a federal court in San Antonio had the authority to reject the state's maps and draw new ones . In redistricting battles, the questions tend to be rather complex—did the state suppress minority voters by not maximizing the number of minority districts on the map? Does the state have a right to draw whatever maps its lawmakers wish? With multiple maps and multiple court cases, the Texas redistricting case is like a Russian novel of legal questions. Recently, I ran into state Representative Aaron Peña, one of the state's few moderate Republicans and one of its few Latino Republicans. He raised a different set of considerations about...

Smooth Sailing for Mitt

MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA —After 15 debates and months of campaigning, one thing is still true of the Republican presidential field: No one wants to take on Mitt Romney. At first, during last night's South Carolina GOP debate, there were signs that Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry would remove the gloves and challenge the former Massachusetts governor. Gingrich opened his bid with a defense of his statements on Bain Capital—“I don’t think raising questions is a prerogative only of Barack Obama. … I raise questions that I think are legitimate questions.” Perry continued along those lines, pressing Romney to release his tax returns (to the large applause of the audience). “Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax, so people can find out how you made your money,” Perry said. “The people of South Carolina have to decide whether they have a flawed candidate or not. We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now.” Santorum attacked Romney on...

Give Us Someone to Endorse, Please!

¡Somos Republicans!—the country's self-proclaimed largest Latino Republican group— endorsed New Gingrich today, saying that the candidate "has been working hard for many years to include American Hispanics in the overall conversation for a better America." The group also lamented Jon Huntsman's departure from the race and criticized Mitt Romney's "non-humanitarian approach" to immigration reform. While I never quite understand groups that support a party that is actively antagonistic to their key interests (see GOProud, the Log Cabin Republicans), Gingrich is indeed the best of the lot when it comes to immigration reform. Whereas the two lead candidates, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, oppose anything other than stricter enforcement of immigration laws, Gingrich has come out in support of certain provisions of the DREAM Act; has proposed offering undocumented immigrants with deep ties to their community a path to citizenship; and recognized that much of the immigration problem is...

Day of Honor

Slideshow: Visitors to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial celebrate his legacy.

Jaime Fuller
Slideshow Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the National Mall Memorial For the first time Monday, the public was able to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day at his namesake memorial on the National Mall. Visitors sang "Happy Birthday" and laid wreaths to commemorate the life of the civil-rights hero. A small group of attendees sang Happy Birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday at the base of the statute built in his honor on the National Mall. The celebration was the first commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day since the memorial opened last year. As the group segued into “This Little Light of Mine,” more of the crowd that gathered to honor the man joined in the singing. Officials and political leaders, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, also held a brief ceremony at the memorial. The fact that a serious flaw in the memorial’s design is on the verge of being fixed was also cause for celebration. The quotation "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness,” is...

Martin Luther King Jr. and Intellectual Property

Just a few years ago at TPMCafe.com, I linked to a video of the "I Have a Dream" speech for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But that video is no longer available online ; you can pay $10 to get a copy. And so here's a link to the radio show On The Media 's segment called " Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Public Imagination ." Producer Jamie York examines the oral tradition within which King was working when he created his landmark "I Have a Dream" speech—and the capitalist tradition in which it has been trademarked and licensed. The segment made me think of Lewis Hyde's book The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property , which once upon a time was must-reading for certain arts and intellectual types. Hyde's beautifully and movingly written book contends that art and inspiration must circulate freely, not be owned but passed on, which clashes with a property-based society in which we all need to be paid for our efforts. That clash lives with us today in many ways: mixes and...

Bad Education

In Arizona, only the courts can save ethnic-studies programs in public schools.

Arizona took a shot at the state's Latino residents last week after a judge ruled that Tucson’s Mexican American Studies (MAS) program violates ARS 15-112, a new Arizona law targeted at ethnic-studies programs in the state. In response to the decision, state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal announced that the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) must revise or drop its Mexican-American Studies program, appeal the decision, or face a 10 percent cut in state funding. ARS 15-112 prohibits classes that “promote the overthrow of the United States government, promote resentment toward a race or class of people, are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group, or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne authored the bill in 2010, and it was signed into effect by Governor Jan Brewer. Horne ran a winning campaign for state attorney general that year on the basis of...

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...

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