Race & Ethnicity

Will Florida Bar Jewish Divorce?

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. 

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

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...

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...