Race & Ethnicity

When Tea Partiers Try to Show Their "Diversity"

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect Judging from the matching red t-shirts, bottled water, snack stands, and cover band playing a passable version of Marvin Gaye’s classic, “What’s Going On?”, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume there was a large and elaborate family reunion yesterday, held on the Capitol. But, in fact, it was a rally—organized by the Black American Leadership Alliance, a right-wing group with ties to white nationalists —to oppose the comprehensive immigration bill that has passed the Senate, and is fighting to survive in the House of Representatives. Two things stood out about the event. First, even in the shade—and even with fans placed strategically around the area—it was hot. I would say it was too hot to be outside in the first place, but obviously, several hundred people disagreed with me. Or at least, opposed immigration reform enough to tolerate the conditions. And second, despite its organizers and its speakers—who were predominantly African American—the large...

Bastille Day Blues in the Big Easy

A walk through New Orleans the day after the Zimmerman verdict. 

AP Images/Mel Evans
Like, I imagine, a whole lot of people, I spent last Saturday night online, venting about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and taking what solace I could in everybody else’s equally futile vents. But I knew I couldn’t keep at it forever, and not only for my blood pressure’s sake. I wanted to make sure I’d be up in time for Sunday morning’s wreath-laying. No, not in Trayvon Martin’s memory. This one was at Joanie on The Pony’s statue in honor of Bastille Day. Summoning Decatur Street’s T-shirt shops to battle from her gilded mount at the French Market’s upper tip, she’s better known to history as Joan of Arc, and her statue has a special meaning for me. Partly thanks to George Bernard Shaw, who wrote a not-bad play about her, Joanie on The Pony is my favorite saint -- a category, I suspect, especially dear to atheists – and my first sight of her more or less sealed the deal on my wife and I moving here. Admittedly, my Francophilia is a form of Stockholm syndrome. Due to my...

Is "Justice for Trayvon" Even Possible?

Elvert Barnes / Flickr
Elvert Barnes / Flickr For all the anger and disappointment that’s come with George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin, it’s important to recognize that simply having this trial—regardless of the outcome—was a victory. Remember, the Martin saga began with outrage over the conduct of the Sanford, Florida police department. Zimmerman killed Martin, claimed self-defense, and was released after a night of questioning from Sanford detectives, who never challenged the claim. If not for six weeks of protests and demonstrations, which pressured Sanford police into bringing charges, Zimmerman would have walked away without having to account for his actions. If police had immediately arrested Zimmerman, there never would have been a national movement around Trayvon. It was the lack of action, as well as the circumstances—a young black man, killed by a young white one, in a small Southern town—that sparked comparisons to the long history of unpunished violence against African...

When Justice Is Blind and Deaf

AP Images/Matt Smith
AP Images/Matt Smith I f justice is a conspiracy between moral logic and the law, then the revelation of the 36 hours following the George Zimmerman verdict is just how complete justice’s failure has been. The shambling closing statement at the trial last Thursday by attorney Bernie de la Rionda was a testament to how fully the state was seduced—with only occasional bulletins from some larger perspective by fellow prosecutor John Guy—into allowing the terms of the contest to be defined by Zimmerman’s counsel, Second City-wannabe Don West and Mark O’Mara, who was his own greatest competition in the sweepstakes for who could make the proceedings’ most flabbergasting comment. After telling the apparently beguiled jury that his client wasn’t accountable for a single moment of the events of February 26, 2012, that led to the death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, O’Mara declared at Saturday night’s press conference that had the ethnicities of defendant and victim been...

The Zimmerman Acquittal Isn't about "Stand Your Ground"

AP Photo/Mike Brown
AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Anda Chu Y esteday, a jury in Sanford, Florida acquitted George Zimmerman, who had been charged with second-degree murder (with a lesser-included charge of mansluaghter) for shooting and killing the unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. That Zimmerman was not punished for kiling Martin is certainly disturbing. But it is disturbing for somewhat different reasons than much of the case's media coverage posits. The problem with the Zimmerman acquittal was not Florida's ill-conceived "stand your ground" law. The problem with the acquittal was not a racist and unreasonable jury, either. Rather, the acquittal of Zimmerman reflects something else equally serious and unsettling: the failure of the law in many states to keep up with the realities of America's gun culture. In a society in which many African-Americans are presumed to be criminals and large numbers of people carry concealed deadly weapons, some ways of defining self-defense (even if they do not entail...

It's Not All Bad News with the GOP and Latinos

pamhule/Flickr
If comprehensive immigration reform were guaranteed to give votes to Republican politicians—and presidential candidates in particular—there would be no argument about passing it in the House of Representatives. It would be a done deal. But there’s a real question as to whether Republicans will reap any gains from passing the bill, or at least enough to outweigh their skepticism for some of its provisions. David Brooks is on the side of those who want a bill, and in his column this morning, he warns that Republicans are dooming themselves to irrelevance by opposing reform: Before Asians, Hispanics and all the other groups can be won with economic plans, they need to feel respected and understood by the G.O.P. They need to feel that Republicans respect their ethnic and cultural identity. If Republicans reject immigration reform, that will be a giant sign of disrespect, and nothing else Republicans say will even be heard. Whether this bill passes or not, this country is heading toward a...

Affirmative Action's Ominous Future

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak O ne thing the three most anticipated cases of the recently completed Supreme Court had in common: They left the big questions unanswered. Hollingsworth v. Perry , by ducking the question on jurisdictional grounds, left the constitutional status of state bans on same-sex marriage unresolved. Shelby County v. Holder theoretically permitted Congress to update the preclearance formula to put the teeth back into the Voting Rights Act. However, the Court gave lower courts and future Supreme Courts no useful guideline for how Congress could proceed. (Admittedly, the answer for how Congress can constitutionally proceed, at least for the Roberts Court, is almost certainly "it can't.") The term's clearest passing of the buck was the decision in the affirmative-action case, Fisher v. University of Texas . While many people (including me) expected the Court to use the case as a vehicle to declare virtually all affirmative action in public higher education...

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Gay Equality 1, Civil Rights 0 – join us in wondering how to celebrate this Fourth of July. (Hint: not by seeing Johnny Depp’s new movie, that’s for sure.)

AP Photo/The Omaha World-Herald, Brynn Anderson
AP Photo C all it coincidence, but my bedside reading for the past couple of weeks has been the new two-volume boxed set of the Library of America’s Reporting Civil Rights . Awe-inducing and frequently thrilling, this monumental anthology of on-the-scene coverage of the fight for black equality features contributions by scores of writers, some rightly renowned—James Baldwin, Garry Wills, et. al.—and some unjustly obscure. Part One deals with the years 1941-1963; Part Two tackles the pressure-cooker decade that followed King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Each volume also includes a sheaf of photographs, primarily of the writers themselves at the time. They’re often evocative ones, even if the era’s great photojournalism—no less worthy of commemoration—gets short shrift as a result. Anyway, I won’t pretend I’ve made much more than a dent in the set’s almost 2,000 pages. But that’s not the point, since Reporting Civil Rights could easily keep my idle hours occupied until Christmas. (Not...

Class-Based Affirmative Action Is Not the Answer

Economic diversity is just as irrelevant to actual equality as racial diversity has been.

 

AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Images/Charles Rex Arbogast T he reason affirmative action matters is not because of the possible educational benefits of diversity but because it raises a more fundamental question: do race-conscious admissions policies amount to unjustifiable discrimination against white people or are they an appropriate response to both past and present discrimination against black people? But even though racism against blacks and Latinos remains a real issue in American society (the idea that whites are also its victims is a joke the Supreme Court has never gotten), the fundamental inequalities in American life today—the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer—are not produced by discrimination and cannot be resolved by anti-discrimination. And affirmative action—whether class-based or race-based—is only a way of buttressing those inequalities. As is, indeed, the entire emphasis on education as the key to a more economically just society. In other words, the reason both affirmative action...

Four Lessons Learned from This Year's Stuffed Supreme Court Docket

flickr/quinn.anya
(AP Photo/J. David Ake) A momentous Supreme Court term concluded on Wednesday with historic decisions on same-sex marriage. But while the previous term will be forever defined by the Court's narrow upholding of the Affordable Care Act, the 2012-3 term had an unusual number of important decisions for a contemporary court. There are several important lessons to take from the term as a whole: On Civil Rights and Liberties: One Step Up, Two Steps Back. As Philip Klinkner and Rogers Smith observed (among many others) in their book The Unsteady March , progress on civil rights isn't a linear progression in which things start off terribly and keep getting better. Progress achieved in one generation can be substantially rolled back in the next; civil rights often advance for some groups while backsliding for others. (World War II catalyzed substantial civil rights advances for African-Americans; Americans of Japanese origin and suspected political radicals, conversely, saw substantial...

The Class-Based Future of Affirmative Action

Progressives must move on from the idea of race-based admissions policies. 

AP Images/Paul Sakuma
Although many liberals have expressed initial relief that the Supreme Court decision in Fisher v. University of Texas did not kill affirmative action outright, when the dust settles it will become clear that the ruling made it substantially harder to justify race-based affirmative-action programs. The Court adopted a new, higher standard, requiring that judges "must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity." Unlike the earlier ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger , the Court won't simply take the word of universities that race is a necessary consideration; universities will receive "no deference" on that issue, the Fisher Court ruled. Procedurally, the Justices simply sent the case back to the lower court, but make no mistake: The ability to use race as a qualification for admission has been scaled back by this decision. Counterintuitive as it may seem, this step back represents a unique opportunity for...

America's Fatigue in the Fight Against Racism

White House
White House “The stated purpose of the Civil War Amendments was to arm Congress with the power and authority to protect all persons within the Nation from violations of their rights by the States,” writes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent against the five justices who ruled to overturn Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) today. The reason for citing this fact of history is straightforward: In it resides the core dispute of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder , the case decided by the Supreme Court this morning. The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was the last of the three Civil War amendments and arguably the most controversial. It was one thing to emancipate the slaves (the Thirteenth Amendment) or guarantee equal protection under the law (the Fourteenth Amendment), but the Fifteenth granted suffrage to black men, which was a bridge too far for many whites, in both the North and South. To Southern politicians of the time, it was “the most revolutionary measure” to...

The Supreme Court's War on the Great Society

The ignoble American tradition of using "states' rights" to trump real, fundamental human rights carries on with the Roberts Court's decision gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

AP Images/Yoichi Okamoto
AP Images/Yoichi Okamoto The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) is arguably the most important and successful civil rights legislation passed by the United States Congress. Today, without remotely adequate justification, a bare majority of the Supreme Court cut the heart out of the centerpiece of the Great Society. That this outcome was expected doesn't make it any less outrageous. The key issue in Shelby County v. Holder is the "preclearance" provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Section 4 of the VRA "covers" numerous jurisdictions—predominantly but not exclusively Southern—with a history of vote discrimination and Section 5 of the VRA requires the covered jurisdictions to get approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws. We should start with the explicit constitutional authority for this legislation. The majority opinion asserts that "the Framers of the Constitution intended the States to keep for themselves, as provided in the Tenth Amendment, the power to...

Is Racism Over? The Supreme Court says, "Who knows?"

AP Images/Susan Walsh
For the Supreme Court, the key question in Fisher v. University of Texas was this: “Is diversity in college admissions a compelling interest for the government, and are race-conscious policies a legitimate way of pursuing that interest?” Put another way, is racism over and do we still have to deal with it? To my—and many other’s—surprise, the Court decided to sidestep this question. Rather than support UT’s claim that its race-conscious policies fall within the Court’s standards for affirmative action, or Fisher’s claim that race-consciousness has no place in the business of college admissions, the Supreme Court—in a 7–1 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy—sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on a technicality. Writing for the majority , Kennedy notes that the University of Texas’ affirmative action plan could only withstand constitutional scrutiny if “no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” The problem...

Los Infiltradores

How three young undocumented activists risked everything to expose the injustices of immigrant detention—and invented a new form of protest. 

Stephen Pavey
Michael May's radio version of this story appeared on This American Life . The photos accompanying this story are drawn from the book by Steve Pavey and Marco Saavedra, Shadows Then Light , that chronicles the undocumented youth movement in words and pictures. W hen Marco Saavedra was arrested for the first time, during a September 2011 protest against U.S. immigration policy in Charlotte, North Carolina, he thought he was prepared. It was what he’d come to do. Still, he was taking a risk. Saavedra is undocumented, and he was aware that the Charlotte police had an agreement with the federal government, under what’s known as the 287(g) program, that gave them the power to apprehend illegal immigrants and turn them over for deportation. Saavedra, who was then 21, had known dozens of undocumented activists who’d been arrested without being deported. But as he was sitting, handcuffed, in a gray-brick holding cell at the county jail, it was hard to suppress the fear. He’d felt it most of...

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