Race & Ethnicity

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...

Will Blackness Be the Thing that Gets You?

Have you ever heard the name "Danroy Henry?" I didn't think so—at least, not if you're white. A year ago, a Pace University quarterback was shot by a white police officer—either when he started pulling his car away from a bar instead of stopping as he'd been instructed, or when, with no warning, he was shot through his car's windshield. As The New York Times reported , "Mr. Henry, known as D. J., was a football player ... with no record of trouble, whose arms, which held the car's steering wheel, were tattooed with the words "Family First."" The Pleasantville, New York police officer had never shot anyone before. The football player is dead. The officer got an award as officer of the year. A week after that award , the young man's parents brought a lawsuit against the Pleasantville police . Did D.J. Henry die because he was black? This one haunts me. I am a white woman raising an African-American child. Less than a mile from where we live, a white cop arrested professor Henry Louis...

A Jew of No Religion

Yoram Kaniuk has won: The prominent Israeli novelist is now very officially a Jew of no religion. Hundreds of other Israelis, inspired by his legal victory, want to follow his example and change their religious status to "none" in the country's Population Registry, while remaining Jews by nationality in the same government database. A new verb has entered Hebrew, lehitkaniuk , to Kaniuk oneself, to legally register an internal divorce of Jewish ethnicity from Jewish religion. Kaniuk is 81 years old, one of the surviving writers of Israel's founding generation. His latest and most lauded book is a memoir about fighting in the country's 1948 war of independence. He's also a veteran and sharp-penned critic of Jewish religion, which he has at times represented as an amalgam of the national religious extremism of the settlements, ultra-Orthodox fundamentalism, and the state's clerical bureaucracy. During the escalation of the secular-religious kulturkampf that followed the...

All the President's Frenemies

Barry Blitt
This piece from our October 2011 issue won an award from the National Association of Black Journalists on June 24 for best magazine commentary/essay. It's a packed house at St. Sabina's Church on the South Side of Chicago. The pews are full, and attendees who didn't come early on this August Sunday must huddle in the back, though they don't have to strain to hear the speakers, media maven Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West. Chicago is Barack Obama's home court, yet this is the last church meeting where you'd find the president, lest he confirm the right-wing fantasy that he's a fellow traveler of leftist radicals. Fruit of Islam bodyguards stand in their pinstriped suits looking like the Secret Service outfitted by Al Capone's tailor, fingers pressed to their white earpieces as the man they're protecting, Minister Louis Farrakhan, sits in the front row. Next to him is Father Michael Pfleger, the pastor of St. Sabina's, whose caustic remarks about Hillary Clinton prompted...

Muslim and American

Living under the shadow of 9/11

One morning, my uncle arrived at his family medical practice in Toledo, Ohio, to find threats on his answering machine. A muffled voice greeted him with a string of expletives before warning that there would be consequences if he didn't "get the hell out of here." In the 30 years since Uncle Doctor, as I called him, had emigrated from Pakistan to the United States, he had never been singled out for his nationality or religion. It was September 12, 2001, and the dust still hung heavy in Lower Manhattan. A similar message was waiting for him at home. "The scariest thing about it," my Aunt Kathy says, "was that whoever left those messages knew us. They knew our names. They knew the clinic number and our home number, even though it was unlisted." Today, my aunt and uncle struggle with the details ("It was ten years ago!" my aunt says), but at the time, they felt it was necessary to report the threats to the FBI. A middle-aged agent arrived on their doorstep clad in jeans and a khaki...

The 9/11 President

If the attacks hadn't occurred, it's impossible to imagine Barack Obama would have been elected—but the legacy of those attacks continues to burden his presidency.

In a sense, their true enemy was less America than an arrogant future to which a vain country lay claim. This was a country that named the previous hundred years the American Century. So as much as the 19 men, who commandeered four airliners nine months, eleven days, and nine hours into the next century, despised America—despised its "pure products [that] go crazy," as William Carlos Williams described them, including a rowdy pluralism, a heedless innovation, an irreverent culture, and a reckless dream that the country named as surely as it named centuries—these men despised the way such American things were expressions of the modern age. They flew those airliners into the clock of the new century to shatter its face, wreck its watchworks, still its hands, and blast into space its numbers, and in every way that they meant to succeed, they failed. Whether they succeeded in other ways that matter more remains to be seen. America gets the politics it deserves more than we know. A nearly...

Segregation Nation

Omaha's radical attempt at school integration shows how beneficial diversity can be -- and how hard it can be to sustain.

Tyliesha Tucker attends a well-regarded high school in Nebraska's Bellevue school district. Last year, Tyliesha, who is 15 and "pretty hilarious" by her own description, went to her local school in the Omaha Public School District. So did her 13-year-old brother, Kevin. But then there was the incident in the bathroom with a group of girls who had been tormenting her. Tyliesha won't tell me exactly what happened. But her mother, Mildred, knows and remembers well the day it happened: "Tyliesha kept calling me, crying, saying, 'Take me out of here!'" Mildred had been worried about her kids well before that. Kevin, who was in eighth grade at the time, kept getting into fights on the school bus. And Tyliesha had been complaining to her mom about bullying and gang violence for a while. The previous year, her friend had been shot right near the school. So the bathroom incident was really just the last straw. "That was the day I decided to opt her out of that school," says Mildred, an African...

Masked Identity Politics

Comic-book creators have grappled with how to handle race for decades -- but don't expect this summer's superhero flicks to reflect that struggle.

The actor Ryan Reynolds before a panel at Comic-Con International for the Green Lantern, which premiers this June. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)
A purple-skinned alien hurtles across the cosmos, bearing a ring that grants its wearer unimaginable power. The alien is mortally wounded, and the ring is seeking its next wearer -- the Green Lantern, Earth's champion -- by finding the planet's most courageous inhabitant. In a world with billions of people, what are the chances that the ring's next owner is a white American dude? Pretty high, apparently. In DC Comics' Showcase #22 , released in 1959, the power ring chose Hal Jordan, a dashing military test pilot modeled on a young Paul Newman. Jordan would become a founding member of the Justice League of America, DC Comics' flagship superhero team, and one of its most famous characters. And while comics, over time, began to challenge that whiteness, two major films to be released this summer avoid the critiques on race found in the original comics. In the early days, whiteness was so pervasive in comics that it could actually span the universe: a Kryptonian Superman could crash-land...

Dr. King, Forgotten Radical

Long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, America began to forget his true legacy.

AP Photo
America began perverting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s message in the spring of 1963. Truthfully, you could put the date just about anywhere along the earlier timeline of his brief public life, too. But I mark it at the Birmingham movement's climax, right about when Northern whites needed a more distant, less personally threatening change-maker to juxtapose with the black rabble rousers clambering into their own backyards. That's when Time politely dubbed him the "Negroes' inspirational leader," as Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff point out in their excellent book Race Beat . Up until then, King had been eyed as a hasty radical out to push Southern communities past their breaking point -- which was a far more accurate understanding of the man's mission. His "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" is in fact a blunt rejection of letting the establishment set the terms of social change. "The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably...

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