Archive for October, 2007

Another Day, Another Noose

October 27, 2007

In what seems to be an alarming trend as of late, a high school principal in New York was mailed a noose. Authorities are treating the incident as a hate crime

Tyona Washington, an African-American woman who is principal of Canarsie High School in Brooklyn, was mailed both a noose and a racist letter on Tuesday.

According to an article in the New York Times, the letter said; “I’ll give you enough rope to hang yourself.”

This incident is one of many that has occurred in New York in recent weeks. A Columbia University professor had a noose hung on her office door. A noose was also found at a police department in Long Island.

The New York State Senate is responding to the flurry of nooses by trying to pass an anti-noose law.

On Monday, the Senate proposed a bill that would make it a crime to use a noose to threaten someone. The proposed bill would make it a felony to display a physical or visual image of a noose.

Building a Black Coalition in Support of Gay Marriage

October 27, 2007

A group in Maryland is trying raise support among African-Americans for gay marriage, according to an article in the Baltimore Sun.

The Maryland Black Family Alliance is trying to link blacks’ struggle for civil rights in the 1950’s to the current struggle of gay Americans..

The article mentions a 2004 study by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which showed black opposition to gay marriage was stronger than opposition by the general American public.  Forty-six percent of blacks surveyed said they opposed gay marriage compared to 36 percent of the public.

Dan Furmansky, the executive director of Equality Maryland  who was interviewed  for the piece, had this to say: “No two civil rights struggles are ever exactly the same,” he said. “But there is certainly inspiration to be gained from the bravery and the heroism of African-Americans and the struggles they faced to be treated with dignity, respect and equality over generations.”

A New Coversation about Race

October 27, 2007

In the Oct. 29 issue of Newsweek, Ellis Cose writes Democrats need to change the way they talk about race. Cose writes that race and class are “the most loaded issues in politics” and that most politicians, especially on the Republican side, have an indirect, coded way to talk about it.

Cose says Democrats are uneasy with their political base, which is made up of labor union supporters, social liberals and African-Americans, qmong others. To unify this base, Cose says, Democrats need to rely on a new strategy: “Democrats should rely on positive, explicit racial appeals by evoking ideals like fairness, equality and common destiny.”

Read Ellis Cose’s column here.

Obama Gospel Tour Angers Gay Constituency

October 25, 2007

The Obama campaign has organized a gospel concert tour in the South to draw in black voters, but some gay rights group are steaming about the inclusion of a gospel singer whom they say is outrightly homophobic.

Donnie McClurkin, a well-known gospel act, has frequently said he believes homosexuality is wrong, though he admitted to struggling with “homosexual demons” for over 20 years.

Obama later issued a statement claiming that while he is honored McClurkin will perform, he seriously disagrees with his views on homosexuality.

But many people, from gay rights groups to bloggers, are saying Obama has made a serious misstep. Read reactions below:

National Black Justice Coalition “NBJC Responds to Obama/Donnie McClurkin Gay Gospel Controversy”

The Carpetbagger Report “Obama Adds Gay Minister to Gospel Concert”

You Decide 2008 “Barack Obama Alienating Gays and Christians”

Keith Boykin “Barack Obama and the Gay Issue”

New York Times “Gay Rights Group Criticize Obama”

Human Rights Campaign statement on Obama’s South Carolina tour

Color Complex

October 21, 2007

Apparently, if you’re a  light-skinned black woman in Detroit, you can get into a nightclub for free. At least that’s what one promoter decided, to the dismay of thousands of darker-hued black women in the Motor City.

Ulysses Barnes, a DJ and promoter in Detroit, had scheduled a “Light Skin Libra Birthday Bash” this month. All light-skinned women would get in for free, while every other shade had to pay. Barnes says the skin color-themed party would be the first of many. A “Sexy Chocolate” and “Sexy Caramel” party were to follow.

Though Barnes decided to cancel the party after he was flooded with negative responses, his party idea has once again brought up a debate in the black community about skin color preferences.

These color preferences date back to slavery, when fairer-skinned slaves were allowed to work inside the home, while darker slaves belabored in the fields of the plantation. Centuries later, that bias still lingers. It’s seen in music videos, where a white chocolate femme fatale is usually the object of affection for a male superstar, and in numerous magazines that feature light-skinned, silky haired African-Americans.

Deborah Douglas, a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, reported on just how deep-seated the color bias is among African-Americans:

Lighter-skinned “sistas” often complain they’re unfairly treated by darker-skinned black women because they have some perceived light-skinned privilege. Myriad dark-skinned black women can relate anecdotes detailing slights and rejection by men or other black women because of their natural hue. For both groups, these feelings of rejection can last a lifetime, making us second-guess our self-worth, overcompensate or be just plain evil sometimes.

But the color complex goes beyond superficiality. Studies have shown that employers are more likely to hire light-skinned African-Americans. A 2006 study done by a Ph.D candidate at the University of Georgia showed light-skinned African-American men and women were preferred over their darker counterparts. The study placed the photos and resumes of blacks with the same credentials before a panel of white men and women. The panel overwhelmingly favored the fairer-skinned candidates.

The Sun-Times’ Douglas, who is a dark-skin black woman, said enough is enough. It’s time to break the color ceiling:

If anybody wonders if these are the musings of a bitter black girl, the answer is yes, so save your letters and e-mails. Just know that spending a lifetime of having my own people discount my brains and beauty because I’m packaged in dark wrapping doesn’t negate my point. We don’t put up with this nonsense when other groups of people are involved. We shouldn’t put up with it now.

The Pitfalls of Genetic Testing

October 20, 2007

Genetic testing has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among African-Americans. But an article to be published in the journal Science is claiming genetic testing may be alluring, but does not provide an accurate picture of someone’s ancestral heritage.

Researchers are recommending that genetic testing facilities and associations put out disclaimers that clarify the limitations of genetic testsing. The authors of the study say a lot of Americans are attracted by the allure of finding out about their pasts, but blacks are more inclined to undergo genetic testing because they are part of the African Diaspora.

“This search for a homeland is particularly poignant for African Americans, who hope to recapture a history stolen by slavery,” the study’s authors said. 

That search is so poignant that a PBS documentary was devoted to the subject. The 2006 documentary, “African-American Lives,” allowed prominent African-Americans like Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Tucker, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey to trace their African heritage. But now, with the release of this study, those results could be called into question.

Limitations of Genetic Testing, according to study:

  • Most tests trace only a few of your ancestors and a small portion of your DNA.
  • Tests are unlikely to identify all of the groups or locations around the world where a test-taker’s relatives are found.
  • Tests may report false negatives or false positives
  • Limited sample databases mean test results are subject to misinterpretation
  • There is no clear connection between DNA and racial/ethnic identity
  • Tests cannot determine exactly where ancestors lived or what ethnic identity they held.

Relavant Links:  Atlanta Journal Constitution article on genetic testing and Fox News report on study’s findings.

Affirmative Action Not Helping Low-Income Blacks

October 20, 2007

A study released this year by researchers at UPenn and Princeton shows race-based admissions at universities are more beneficial to upper-income and foreign blacks than to low-income blacks whom the policy supposedly targets.

Key Statistics:

  1. At highly selective colleges and universities, 27 % of black students had at least one parent born outside the U.S.
  2. Of these students, 43% had Caribbean heritage and 29% were of African descent.
  3. At the eight Ivy league schools, over 40% had at least one parent who was foreign-born.
  4. Of American-born black students at the 28 schools, 25% came from families with incomes of $100,000 or more (the national average is just 7%).
  5. Of American-born blacks, 27 % graduated from private high schools

Several newspapers have explored the issue. A Toledo Blade article, Affirmative Action: Which Blacks Benefit Most? provides an interesting look at this discrepancy. 

Nooses, Nooses, Everywhere

October 20, 2007

noose-2.jpg

The noose, by definition it’s just a piece of coiled rope. But it has such history that it evokes a passionate reaction from almost everyone who sees it.

Now it seems as though nooses are everywhere, making unwanted appearances in the most random places—from on a tree in a small Louisiana town to the New York City office door of an Ivy League professor.

Last week a noose was found hanging from the office door of Madonna Constantine, a black professor at Columbia University. No one knows who did it, but Constantine thinks it may have been either a disgruntled colleague or a student upset about his/her grade.

Two days after the noose was found at Columbia, another one was found outside a post office near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

A third noose was also found at a police department in Long Island, New York.

These incidents are reminiscent of what occurred in Jena Louisiana, where racial tensions inflamed when three nooses were hung from a tree after black students sat underneath it.

For African-Americans, nooses remind them of a time when their humanity wasn’t acknowledged and their skin color could prove fatal.

Arguably, much has change in America since then, but one has to wonder why in 2007 someone would choose to make this kind of statement?

Some people have argued the reappearance of nooses may be either one of two things: a symbol of enduring prejudice in America or simply copycat, prankish behavior. 

But that doesn’t ease the tension for some folks. Rev. Roderick Pearson, president of a Long Island chapter of the NAACP, told Newsday that nooses are shameful to  America: “It embarrasses our country, it embarrasses our culture,” he said. “It is just another setback in American history.”

The noose controversy will be examined in a CNN special airing Tuesday, October 23 at 8 p.m. The special is called The Noose: An American Nightmare. 
 

Breast Cancer Death Rates

October 18, 2007

A study released Monday reported breast cancer death rates dropped more than two percent from 2002-2004, more than double the rate in the preceding decade. But rates for African-American women have increased in recent years. Though they are less likely to get breast cancer than white women, they are almost 80 percent more likely to die from it.

On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force released its own study and recommendations for decreasing the growing rates of breast cancer among black women.

Even before the recommendations were released, one group in Chicago was working to remove barriers to treatment. The Chicago Chapter of Sisters Network –the only breast cancer support group for African-American women in the U.S.– is launching a new initiative to improve quality of care for black women.

The group will partner with Chicago-area hospitals to send trained volunteers to help breast cancer patients navigate the medical system, get referrals to social workers and provide transportation and babysitting for patients. These efforts echo some of the recommendations made Wednesday by the Task Force.

Key Recommendations from the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force: 

  • Provide expanded insurance coverage and expanded availability of disability coverage
  • Educate providers regarding cultural barriers to care and addressing issues of cultural beliefs, health literacy and trust in the medical system
  • Minimize logistical barriers to care, such as transportation and childcare.

No Black Models Need Apply

October 18, 2007

Amid the rococco red, freesia and metallics on the runway this fashion season, one color was noticeably absent: black. During Fashion Week in New York, Paris and Milan, which began in September and concluded the first week in October, hardly any black models graced the runways.

Only a third of the shows in New York used any black models at all, with only one or two black faces visible in a blond-haired and blue-eyed monochromatic sea.

The New York Times reported on this fashion faux paus Monday, saying the lack of black models on the runway has implications that extend beyond the fashion industry:

“It is not just a handful of genetically gifted young women who are hurt by this exclusion,” wrote Guy Trebay. “Vast numbers of consumers draw their information about fashion and identity from runways, along with cues about what, at any given moment, the culture decrees are the new contours of beauty and style.”

Black women have rarely appeared on the cover of Vogue, W and Harper’s Bazaar or modelled for high fashion houses like Givenchy, Prada or Yves St. Laurent. Though white models have typically outnumbered black models, some fashion heavyweights have become so vexed that they launched an anti-racism protest against the fashion industry, saying the industry is more racist than it has ever been. Notable names like Iman, Tyson Beckford, Liya Kebede, Tyra Banks, and Naomi Campbell are involved. Campbell  is now boycotting British Vogue.

But not every fashion show is absent of black models. Designers Heatherette used 10 black models in their show during Fashion Week. The duo appeared on the Tyra Banks Show to talk about diversity in the fashion industry.

tyra – heatherette on black models