Race & Ethnicity

Racial Fears, Gun Fantasies, and Another Dead Teenager

Dirty Harry confronts a punk.
Among the arguments I've made about the troubling aspects of American gun culture is the way so many gun owners have in their heads a dangerous fantasy about what the world is like and what role they play in that world. The people I'm talking about, the ones who think it's terribly important that they be able to bring their firearms into any store or coffee shop or church they might visit, believe that every moment of every day in every place they go is nothing more than a violent situation just waiting to happen. Will they be there to stop a mass shooting at the Safeway? Will they be walking down the street and come upon a group of heavily armed thieves taking down an armored truck? Will they encounter an al-Qaeda strike team at the Starbucks, and this 50-year-old insurance salesman with a concealed carry license will be the only thing that stands between America and disaster? They sure seem to think so. Is that all gun owners? Of course not. It's not even most gun owners. But it's...

Michael Sam, "Distraction"

AP Images/Brandon Wade
Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam was the co-winner of the Defensive Player of the Year for the powerhouse Southeastern Conference. While a little undersized for an NFL player at his position, Sam was certainly a decent pro prospect certain to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. But Sam is no longer just of interest to SEC fans and NFL draft obsessives. On Sunday, Sam came out as gay . If he makes an NFL roster, he would certainly not be the first gay man to play in the NFL, but he would be the first to be out to the public during his playing career. Whether he will get a fair shot to make it as an NFL player, however, is not entirely clear, as multiple NFL decisionmakers have announced their intent to discriminate. Of course, these anonymous executives and coaches who spoke to Sports Illustrated cloaked their bias in various passive-aggressive evasions. A gay player would "chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room" said one. "[D]o you really want to be the top...

A Mighty Shout in North Carolina

Jenny Warburg
*/ Jenny Warburg G eoffrey Zeger didn’t attend last year’s Moral Mondays, the series of civil-disobedience events at which more than 900 people were arrested at the North Carolina legislature. The weekday occupations, coordinated by the North Carolina NAACP to protest the state’s sharp-right policy turn, conflicted with Zeger’s work schedule. But when he learned that tens of thousands of demonstrators planned to descend on Raleigh last weekend, the private-practice social worker from Durham couldn’t stay away. “Every day I work with people whose unemployment benefits have been cut, and who are trying to get food stamps,” he told me at Saturday’s Moral March on Raleigh. “And a mother who’s working three and four jobs, and who has her children being watched by their grandparents. And they’re struggling. Ten hours a day, I’m working with people who are affected by a GOP legislature.” Zeger’s clients battle anxiety and depression, he says, as their family budgets grow ever more precarious...

Why Obama Should Take a Cue from Gerald Ford on Crack Pardons

AP Images/Felipe Dana
I n late December, the Obama administration announced that the president would commute the sentences of eight prisoners serving decades-long sentences for crack-cocaine distribution (or intent to distribute). Last week, at a New York State Bar event, Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced that there may be more—many more. The administration, he said, will seek other drug cases to consider for clemency, working with the Bureau of Prisons to encourage inmates to request commutations and asking that state bar associations help with preparing their petitions. After five years of organizing and lobbying the president to use his pardoning power for thousands still jailed under draconian sentences for crack, you might have expected the news to have clemency advocates jumping for joy. But they responded with well-worn skepticism. On his widely read blog, Sentencing Law and Policy, Ohio State law professor Doug Berman speculated that Obama's actions were more about holiday traditions...

Now It’s Time to Talk About Chicago’s Tale of Two Cities

AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast
R ahm Emanuel has a favorite four-letter word for members of the labor movement. When Emanuel was White House chief of staff, he was told that tens of thousands of autoworkers could lose their jobs if General Motors and Chrysler didn’t receive a federal bailout. His response: “Fuck the UAW.” As mayor of Chicago, Emanuel became so enraged during negotiations with Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, that he shouted “Fuck you, Lewis.” (The teachers went on strike for seven days, claiming Emanuel had “disrespected” them, as well as tried to force them to work longer hours after reneging on a promised pay raise.) Few political figures contributed more to the Democrats’ realignment from a party of working people to a party of Wall Street than Emanuel. The New Democrats of the 1990s responded to the weakness of the labor movement by shifting their donor base from unions to socially liberal financiers. Emanuel was Bill Clinton’s point man on shepherding the North American...

Stevie Sings for Martin Luther King

AP Images/Carolyn Kaster
I f we ignore 1979’s soundtrack to The Secret Life of Plants (though it featured “Send One Your Love,” 28 on the Billboard R&B chart), when Hotter Than July came out in 1980 it marked Stevie Wonder’s first album of newly recorded music since Songs in the Key of Life in 1976. It was his longest break between albums since he started cutting LPs at age 12. Critics don’t hold Hotter Than July in as high a regard as the classic Songs , though it does include an oddly charming imitation of a country singer (“I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It”) and a reggae number inspired by Bob Marley (“Master Blaster (Jammin’)”). The album is more important for its historical significance: It marked the beginning of Wonder’s three-year campaign to create a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. The single “Happy Birthday,” which hit No.2 in the UK, states Wonder’s position: “There ought to be a law against / anyone who takes offense / at a day in your celebration,” he sings before the chorus,...

The Urban Poor Shall Inherit Poverty

Sociologist Patrick Sharkey proves a mother’s insecure upbringing harms her child as surely as a neighbor’s broken window.   

A n apparent conundrum bedevils our understanding of African American students’ inadequate school performance: Blacks from low-income families have worse academic outcomes—test scores and graduation rates, for example—than similarly low-income whites. To some, this suggests that socioeconomic disadvantage cannot cause black student failure; instead, poorly motivated and trained teachers must be to blame for failing to elicit achievement from blacks as they do from whites. This was the theory motivating the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. That flawed conclusion overlooks the fact that low-income blacks differ considerably from low-income whites in their social-class backgrounds. Conventional analyses consider students similarly disadvantaged when their families have incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line, making them eligible for lunch subsidies. Yet zero to 185 percent of poverty is a big span; it...

What Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson Can Teach Us about Empathy

Yes, I have something to add to the Duck Dynasty controversy, wherein reality TV star Phil Robertson got in trouble for expressing anti-gay views, was suspended by A&E, and has now become the cause celebre of nitwit conservative politicians from across the land. This won't take long. I'm not even going to bother addressing the idiocy of the "constitutional conservatives" who think the First Amendment guarantees you the legal right to (1) a cable reality show and (2) never be criticized for anything you say. Nor am I going to talk about Robertson's anti-gay statement, except to say that nobody buys you couching your bigotry in "biblical" terms just because you call yourself a Christian and throw out some scriptural references. Once you start campaigning to have people who eat shellfish and the sinners who work on the Sabbath executed (the Bible says so!) then we'll accept that you're just honoring your religion. It's Robertson's comments about how happy black people were living...

Meet the GOP's New Black Friend

Mia Love in one of her many appearances on Fox News.
When Allen West was defeated in the 2012 election and Tim Scott was appointed to serve out the term of retiring South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, that left Republicans back where they had usually been in the past, with not a single black Republican in the House of Representatives. This is something they aren't particularly pleased about, which is why in the coming year you're going to be hearing a lot about Mia Love, a candidate from Utah's 4th district. Barring some shocking scandal, come November she'll be bringing that number from zero up to one, and she's going to become a right-wing celebrity. Mia Love is the Republicans' New Black Friend. You may remember Love from the 2012 Republican convention, where she gave a not-particularly-memorable speech. She couldn't beat Jim Matheson, the conservative Democrat who represented the district, despite the fact that Mitt Romney won there by a 37-point margin. But now Matheson has just announced that he's retiring, which makes Love's...

White Like Me

Flickr/Thomas Hawk
It might seem that an argument about whether Santa Claus and Jesus are "really" white is nothing more than an opportunity for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to make fun of people on Fox News, and not a matter with actual political consequences. After all, Santa is a fictional character whose current visual representations here in America have their origins in early 20th Century newspaper and magazine illustrations, but he's portrayed in different ways around the world. But before you dismiss this as just silliness, let me suggest that it does have important political effects. In case you missed it, a few days back, Fox News host Megyn Kelly responded to an article about black kids wishing they could see a Santa who looks more like them by saying, "For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white." She went on, "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That's a verifiable fact—as is Santa...

Conservatives Struggle with Mandela Tributes

Nelson Mandela in 1937 (Wikimedia Commons)
If you've been perusing conservative websites, Facebook pages, and the like since Nelson Mandela's death was announced, you would have seen two things: some kind of tribute to Mandela, and a series of comments following that tribute denouncing Mandela as a communist, a terrorist, or worse, and expressing all kinds of vile racist sentiment. It's happening not just at magazines and blogs, but to politicians as well, who are getting denounced by some small minority of their supporters for praising Mandela. That's not their fault; no one is completely responsible for their fans, after all. And as I've read through a few of these threads I've also seen some people pushing back against the racist comments. Even if, say, the National Review was for many years a fierce defender of white supremacy in both South Africa and the United States, if nothing else they're doing their best to claim that they were on the side of the angels all along, which is better than nothing. But I'm wondering about...

Is de Blasio Copping Out Already?

AP Photo/Philip Scott Andrews, File
AP Photo/Seth Wenig I f it’s still rather unclear how Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio intends to govern New York City, his selection of William J. Bratton as police commissioner on Thursday offered precious little in the way of clarifying clues. The former top cop in Boston and Los Angeles, Bratton served as New York Police Department commissioner at the beginning of Rudy Giuliani's administration in the mid 1990s, where his success is credited with popularizing neighborhood-mapping programs like Compstat and the "Broken Windows" theory of crime, which essentially holds that pursuing petty acts of vandalism and maintaining urban environments can prevent more serious crime. What his admirers tend not to mention is that Bratton also ramped up the use of stop and frisk in Los Angeles, and that tactic represents the steepest cost imposed on the poor in the name of Michael Bloomberg's Luxury City—as well as a preferred campaign trail punching bag of de Blasio. But if the Bratton appointment is...

Reversing Broward County's School-to-Prison Pipeline

AP Images/Phil Sears
AP Images/Phil Sears W hen, after a nationwide search, he was hired two years ago to serve as superintendent of Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, Robert Runcie began brainstorming ways to close the racial achievement gap. At the time, black students in the sixth-largest district in the country had a graduation rate of only 61 percent compared to 81 percent for white students. To find out why, Runcie, who once headed a management-consulting firm, went to the data. “One of the first things I saw was a huge differential in minority students, black male students in particular, in terms of suspensions and arrests,” he says. Black students made up two-thirds of all suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year despite comprising only 40 percent of the student body. And while there were 15,000 serious incidents like assaults and drug possession reported that year, 85 percent of all 82,000 suspensions were for minor incidents—use of profanity, disruptions of class—and 71 percent of all...

America in Words and in the Crosshairs

AP Images/Alex Brandon
T his has been a week in the crosshairs of history past and present. A century and a half ago the most besieged president ever, under whom half the country went to war against the other half, made the most compelling case since the Declaration of Independence not only for union but for union’s noblest requisites. Now this week is haunted equally by that declaration spoken at the edge of the Gettysburg killing field and the cruel rejoinder to it almost exactly a hundred years later, by another assassin’s shot echoing the one that murdered Abraham Lincoln. Apparently gunfire is the common American answer to those who call upon a common destiny for the America of our dreams. Of the 10 sentences that constitute the entirety of President Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg—following the battle there of the previous summer and on the occasion of a mass burial—eight are about the speech’s inadequacy. The final two have rendered inadequate almost everything that’s been said or written about them...

Civil-Rights Law Dodges a Bullet in Mount Holly

AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File
Late last week, there was a very rare piece of good news involving civil rights and the Roberts Court. The news was good because a crucial civil-rights case will no longer involve the Roberts Court. The township of Mount Holly, New Jersey settled a lawsuit brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and in so doing thankfully deprived the five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court of another opportunity to take a meat axe to federal civil-rights protections. The suit involved a plan by the township to "redevelop" Mount Holly Gardens, a low-income neighborhood with predominately African-American and Hispanic residents. As detailed by MSNBC's Adam Serwer, under the plan Mount Holly would "buy the aging homes, raze them and replace them with higher-end housing the residents couldn’t afford." Because of a variety of factors including the bursting of the real-estate bubble, much of the demolition went forward but the redevelopment didn't. Residents of Mount Holly Gardens brought suit...

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