discrimination

Why I don’t understand the black affluent class

The black middle class is talking of values and civility as many Americans of colour continue to languish in poverty.

by

 

Sen Cory Booker pauses while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US on July 25, 2016 [Mike Segar/Reuters]
Sen Cory Booker pauses while speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US on July 25, 2016

It’s amazing how similar middle-class and well-positioned African Americans are to white elites in their perspectives on US politics. They continue to play in the sandbox of respectability politics and civility, as if only since the election of Donald Trump as president has racial and socioeconomic progress been in jeopardy.

Take Washington Post columnist Colbert I King’s reaction to US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement last month. The “honor – or from, my point of view, blame” for strengthening the right-wing hold on the Supreme Court “goes to those citizens who did not vote for a presidential candidate in 2016,” he wrote in a recent column. He added, “I thought the case [for Hillary Clinton] was strong. Sadly … Black voter turnout fell from 66.6 percent of eligible voters in 2012 to 59.6 percent four years later.”

King’s words reflect the thoughts of many middle-class and affluent African Americans who’ve despaired over Trump and the GOP’s control of all three branches of government as a sign of the apocalypse. Like King, many have scorned black voters who decided to abstain from voting or not vote for Clinton because they didn’t see her as having African Americans’ interest in mind or working to combat poverty, as her campaign platform demonstrated.

The reality is that every president since Lyndon Johnson has forgotten about America’s poor, and especially, poor Americans of colour. Most politicians rarely use the words “poor” and “poverty” in their speeches, unless they intend to criticise the poor for their lot in life.

Yet the black affluent class continues to emphasise racial progress and social mobility as if it’s 1978, with Jimmy Carter as president and sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (starring black actors Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges) an NBC primetime hit.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker implied as much last month in his defence of Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who, last month, was asked to leave a restaurant by its owner. “Not to lead with love and to do it in a way that is more reflective of the values we are trying to reject in our country is not acceptable to me,” Booker said on MSNBC.

These words and “values” ring hollow to anyone who’s experienced extreme hunger and homelessness, a “Jane Crow” removal of children, or a white person threatening to call the police on them for existing.

Emphasising harmony while knowing that millions of Americans of colour are living off the crumbs of alleged racial progress is the mentality of an affluent African American who’s struck a Faustian bargain.

Another example of this contradiction would be Trump’s predecessor. Barack Obama’s presidency oversaw a rapid rise in the racial wealth gap and more than 2.5 million deportations of mostly brown undocumented people.

President Obama’s lofty language often contained thorns of chastisement towards blacks living in poverty. During his Dallas speech in July 2016, Obama said to “protesters” of police brutality, “You know how dangerous some of the communities where these police officers serve are. And you pretend as if there’s no context.”

As crunk feminist Brittany Cooper put it in her book “Eloquent Rage”, the absurdity of this is that most middle-class blacks are “only 1.5 generations” removed from black poverty.

A black middle class that cares more about civility and less about speaking out about structural racism and inequality is one that is difficult to understand. It makes them unwitting partners in white supremacy, patriarchy and socioeconomic inequality.

I’ve found that I’ve needed to reassess my own thinking about the contradictions between racial and class-based oppression and my own middle-class strivings. I turned 11 in December 1980, a month after the election of Ronald Reagan, the champion of the “welfare queen” and “strapping young buck” myths, which denigrated black and poor Americans.

I didn’t know I was growing up in working poverty in suburban New York until I entered my middle school magnet programme in 1981. There, I found myself in a classroom with affluent white and middle-class black kids for the first time.

At age 13, I learned that poverty was like Dante’s nine circles of hell after my mother lost her Mount Vernon Hospital job. Our family fell into welfare poverty during the double-dip recession in 1983. Between the ages of 18 and 29, I went through three periods of unemployment and a two and a half years of underemployment.

My delayed entry into the middle class was no accident. Since the days of President Richard Nixon, nearly every president, every Congress, and every Supreme Court has worked to weaken reproductive rights, affirmative action, criminal justice protections, and social welfare programmes. All these actions and more have stalled social mobility in the US, especially for Americans of colour living in poverty.

It didn’t matter that I exercised middle-class pragmatism and voted for “the lesser of two evils” President Bill Clinton while living in Pittsburgh in 1992 and 1996. It didn’t matter that I wrote “Jesse Jackson” on my New York State absentee ballot when I voted in 1988. That I and others managed to “make it” in this 50-year-old war against poor people is somewhere between a miracle and dumb luck.

I am not suggesting that African Americans like myself should forsake a more prosperous life, but beyond the practical considerations of paying off debt and having wealth to manage, blacks and other Americans of colour should ask if being middle class in thought and politics is really worth it. Especially if the endgame only leads to a larger class of Americans engaging in structural racism and class oppression through rhetorical flourishes and support of racist and anti-poor policies.

READ MORE AT: https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/don-understand-black-affluent-class-180718064315291.html

Summer Reading: Recommended New Books on the Black Experience

With summer quickly approaching, I have compiled a list of recommended new non-fiction books. All of these books, which were published as early as February or will be published this summer, offer valuable insights on the Black experience in the United States and across the globe. Collectively, these books deepen our understanding of race and racism, and provide the necessary tools for antiracism work. The list is organized alphabetically.

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Tera Eva Agyepong,The Criminalization of Black Children: Race, Gender, and Delinquency in Chicago’s Juvenile Justice System, 1899–1945(University of North Carolina Press, April 2018).

In the late nineteenth century, progressive reformers recoiled at the prospect of the justice system punishing children as adults. Advocating that children’s inherent innocence warranted fundamentally different treatment, reformers founded the nation’s first juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. Yet amid an influx of new African American arrivals to the city during the Great Migration, notions of inherent childhood innocence and juvenile justice were circumscribed by race. In documenting how blackness became a marker of criminality that overrode the potential protections the status of “child” could have bestowed, Tera Eva Agyepong shows the entanglements between race and the state’s transition to a more punitive form of juvenile justice. In this important study, Agyepong expands the narrative of racialized criminalization in America, revealing that these patterns became embedded in a justice system originally intended to protect children. In doing so, she also complicates our understanding of the nature of migration and what it meant to be black and living in Chicago in the early twentieth century.


Despair and mourning after the election of an antagonistic or polarizing president, such as Donald Trump, is part of the push-pull of American politics. But in this incisive book, historian Mary Frances Berry shows that resistance to presidential administrations has led to positive change and the defeat of outrageous proposals, even in challenging times. Noting that all presidents, including ones considered progressive, sometimes require massive organization to affect policy decisions, Berry cites Indigenous peoples’ protests against the Dakota pipeline during Barack Obama’s administration as a modern example of successful resistance built on earlier actions. Beginning with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Berry discusses that president’s refusal to prevent race discrimination in the defense industry during World War II and the subsequent March on Washington movement. She analyzes Lyndon Johnson, the war in Vietnam, and the antiwar movement and then examines Ronald Reagan’s two terms, which offer stories of opposition to reactionary policies, such as ignoring the AIDS crisis and retreating on racial progress, to show how resistance can succeed. The prochoice protests during the George H. W. Bush administration and the opposition to Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, as well as his budget cuts and welfare reform, are also discussed, as are protests against the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act during George W. Bush’s presidency. Throughout these varied examples, Berry underscores that even when resistance doesn’t achieve all the goals of a particular movement, it often plants a seed that comes to fruition later.


Keisha N. Blain,Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Penn Press, February 2018).

In 1932, Mittie Maude Lena Gordon spoke to a crowd of black Chicagoans at the old Jack Johnson boxing ring, rallying their support for emigration to West Africa. In 1937, Celia Jane Allen traveled to Jim Crow Mississippi to organize rural black workers around black nationalist causes. In the late 1940s, from her home in Kingston, Jamaica, Amy Jacques Garvey launched an extensive letter-writing campaign to defend the Greater Liberia Bill, which would relocate 13 million black Americans to West Africa. Gordon, Allen, and Jacques Garvey—as well as Maymie De Mena, Ethel Collins, Amy Ashwood, and Ethel Waddell—are part of an overlooked and understudied group of black women who take center stage in Set the World on Fire, the first book to examine how black nationalist women engaged in national and global politics from the early twentieth century to the 1960s. Historians of the era generally portray the period between the Garvey movement of the 1920s and the Black Power movement of the 1960s as an era of declining black nationalist activism, but Keisha N. Blain reframes the Great Depression, World War II, and the early Cold War as significant eras of black nationalist—and particularly, black nationalist women’s—ferment. In Chicago, Harlem, and the Mississippi Delta, from Britain to Jamaica, these women built alliances with people of color around the globe, agitating for the rights and liberation of black people in the United States and across the African diaspora. As pragmatic activists, they employed multiple protest strategies and tactics, combined numerous religious and political ideologies, and forged unlikely alliances in their struggles for freedom. Drawing on a variety of previously untapped sources, including newspapers, government records, songs, and poetry, Set the World on Fire highlights the flexibility, adaptability, and experimentation of black women leaders who demanded equal recognition and participation in global civil society.


Howard Bryant, The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism (Beacon Press, May 2018).

It used to be that politics and sports were as separate from one another as church and state. The ballfield was an escape from the world’s worst problems, top athletes were treated like heroes, and cheering for the home team was as easy and innocent as hot dogs and beer. “No news on the sports page” was a governing principle in newsrooms. That was then. Today, sports arenas have been transformed into staging grounds for American patriotism and the hero worship of law enforcement. Teams wear camouflage jerseys to honor those who serve; police officers throw out first pitches; soldiers surprise their families with homecomings at halftime. Sports and politics are decidedly entwined. But as journalist Howard Bryant reveals, this has always been more complicated for black athletes, who from the start, were committing a political act simply by being on the field. In fact, among all black employees in twentieth-century America, perhaps no other group had more outsized influence and power than ballplayers. The immense social responsibilities that came with the role is part of the black athletic heritage. It is a heritage built by the influence of the superstardom and radical politics of Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos through the 1960s; undermined by apolitical, corporate-friendly “transcenders of race,” O. J. Simpson, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods in the following decades; and reclaimed today by the likes of LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick, and Carmelo Anthony. The Heritage is the story of the rise, fall, and fervent return of the athlete-activist. Through deep research and interviews with some of sports’ best-known stars—including Kaepernick, David Ortiz, Charles Barkley, and Chris Webber—as well as members of law enforcement and the military, Bryant details the collision of post-9/11 sports in America and the politically engaged post-Ferguson black athlete.


Brittany Cooper, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower(St. Martin’s Press, February 2018).

So what if it’s true that Black women are mad as hell? They have the right to be. In the Black feminist tradition of Audre Lorde, Brittney Cooper reminds us that anger is a powerful source of energy that can give us the strength to keep on fighting. Far too often, Black women’s anger has been caricatured into an ugly and destructive force that threatens the civility and social fabric of American democracy. But Cooper shows us that there is more to the story than that. Black women’s eloquent rage is what makes Serena Williams such a powerful tennis player. It’s what makes Beyoncé’s girl power anthems resonate so hard. It’s what makes Michelle Obama an icon. Eloquent rage keeps us all honest and accountable. It reminds women that they don’t have to settle for less. When Cooper learned of her grandmother’s eloquent rage about love, sex, and marriage in an epic and hilarious front-porch confrontation, her life was changed. And it took another intervention, this time staged by one of her homegirls, to turn Brittney into the fierce feminist she is today. In Brittney Cooper’s world, , neither mean girls nor f***boys ever win. But homegirls emerge as heroes. This book argues that ultimately feminism, friendship, and faith in one’s own superpowers are all we really need to turn things right side up again.


Anna-Lisa Cox, The Bone and Sinew of the Land: America’s Forgotten Black Pioneers and the Struggle for Equality(PublicAffairs Books, June 2018).

The American frontier is one of our most cherished and enduring national images. We think of the early pioneers who settled the wilderness as courageous, independent–and white. This version of history is simply wrong. Starting in our nation’s earliest years, thousands of free African Americans were building hundreds of settlements in the Northwest Territory, a territory that banned slavery and gave equal voting rights to all men. This groundbreaking work of research reveals the lost history of the nation’s first Great Migration. Though forgotten today, these pioneers were a matter of national importance at the time; their mere existence leading to fierce political movements and battles that tore families and communities apart long before the Civil War erupted. The Bone and Sinew of the Land is a story with its roots in the ideals of the American Revolution, a story of courageous pioneers transformed by the belief that all men are created equal, seeking a brighter future on the American frontier.

Roxane Gay, ed.Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture(HarperCollins Publishers, May 2018).

In this valuable and revealing anthology, cultural critic and bestselling author Roxane Gay collects original and previously published pieces that address what it means to live in a world where women have to measure the harassment, violence, and aggression they face, and where they are “routinely second-guessed, blown off, discredited, denigrated, besmirched, belittled, patronized, mocked, shamed, gaslit, insulted, bullied” for speaking out. Contributions include essays from established and up-and-coming writers, performers, and critics, including actors Ally Sheedy and Gabrielle Union and writers Amy Jo Burns, Lyz Lenz, Claire Schwartz, and Bob Shacochis. Covering a wide range of topics and experiences, from an exploration of the rape epidemic embedded in the refugee crisis to first-person accounts of child molestation, this collection is often deeply personal and is always unflinchingly honest. Like Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to MeNot That Bad will resonate with every reader, saying “something in totality that we cannot say alone.” Searing and heartbreakingly candid, this provocative collection both reflects the world we live in and offers a call to arms insisting that “not that bad” must no longer be good enough.


Jean Hatzfeld, Blood Papa: Rwanda’s New Generation (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2018).

In Rwanda from April to June 1994, 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbors in the largest and swiftest genocide since World War II. In his previous books, Jean Hatzfeld has documented the lives of the killers and victims, but after twenty years he has found that the enormity of understanding doesn’t stop with one generation. In Blood Papa, Hatzfeld returns to the hills and marshes of Nyamata to ask what has become of the children—those who never saw the machetes yet have grown up in the shadow of tragedy. Fabrice, Sandra, Jean-Pierre, and others share the genocide as a common inheritance. Some have known only their parents’ silence and lies, enduring the harassment of classmates or the stigma of a father jailed for unspeakable crimes. Others have enjoyed a loving home and the sympathies offered to survivor children, but do so without parents or an extended family. The young Rwandans in Blood Papa see each other in the neighborhood—they dance and gossip, frequent the same cafés, and, like teenagers everywhere, love sports, music, and fashion; they surf the Web and dream of marriage. Yet Hutu and Tutsi children rarely speak of the ghosts that haunt their lives. Here their moving first-person accounts combined with Hatzfeld’s arresting chronicles of everyday life form a testament to survival in a country devastated by the terrible crimes and trauma of the past


Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”(HarperCollins Publishers, May 2018).

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States. In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War. Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.


Martha S. Jones, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (Cambridge University Press, June 2018).

Before the Civil War, colonization schemes and black laws threatened to deport former slaves born in the United States. Birthright Citizens recovers the story of how African American activists remade national belonging through battles in legislatures, conventions, and courthouses. They faced formidable opposition, most notoriously from the US Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott. Still, Martha S. Jones explains, no single case defined their status. Former slaves studied law, secured allies, and conducted themselves like citizens, establishing their status through local, everyday claims. All along they argued that birth guaranteed their rights. With fresh archival sources and an ambitious reframing of constitutional law-making before the Civil War, Jones shows how the Fourteenth Amendment constitutionalized the birthright principle, and black Americans’ aspirations were realized. Birthright Citizens tells how African American activists radically transformed the terms of citizenship for all Americans.


Keisha Lindsay, In a Classroom of Their Own: The Intersection of Race and Feminist Politics in All-Black Male Schools(University of Illinois Press, July 2018).

Many advocates of all-black male schools (ABMS) argue that these institutions counter black boys’ racist emasculation in white, “overly” female classrooms. This argument challenges racism and perpetuates antifeminism. Keisha Lindsay explains the complex politics of ABMS by situating these schools within broader efforts at neoliberal education reform and within specific conversations about both “endangered” black males and a “boy crisis” in education. Lindsay also demonstrates that intersectionality, long considered feminist, is in fact a politically fluid framework. As such, it represents a potent tool for advancing many political agendas, including those of ABMS supporters who champion antiracist education for black boys while obscuring black girls’ own race and gender-based oppression in school. Finally, Lindsay theorizes a particular means by which black men and other groups can form antiracist and feminist coalitions even when they make claims about their experiences that threaten bridge building. The way forward, Lindsay shows, allows disadvantaged groups to navigate the racial and gendered politics that divide them in pursuit of productive—and progressive—solutions. Far-thinking and boldly argued, In a Classroom of Their Own explores the dilemmas faced by professionals and parents in search of equitable schooling for all students—black boys and otherwise.


Darnell L. Moore, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America(Nation Books, May 2018).

When Darnell Moore was fourteen, three boys from his neighborhood tried to set him on fire. They cornered him while he was walking home from school, harassed him because they thought he was gay, and poured a jug of gasoline on him. He escaped, but just barely. It wasn’t the last time he would face death. Three decades later, Moore is an award-winning writer, a leading Black Lives Matter activist, and an advocate for justice and liberation. In No Ashes in the Fire, he shares the journey taken by that scared, bullied teenager who not only survived, but found his calling. Moore’s transcendence over the myriad forces of repression that faced him is a testament to the grace and care of the people who loved him, and to his hometown, Camden, NJ, scarred and ignored but brimming with life. Moore reminds us that liberation is possible if we commit ourselves to fighting for it, and if we dream and create futures where those who survive on society’s edges can thrive. No Ashes in the Fire is a story of beauty and hope-and an honest reckoning with family, with place, and with what it means to be free.


Donna Murch, Assata Taught Me: State Violence, Mass Incarceration, and the Movement for Black Lives(Haymarket Books, August 2018).

Black Panther and Cuban exile, Assata Shakur, has inspired multiple generations of radical protest, including our contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Drawing its title from one of America’s foremost revolutionaries this collection of thought-provoking essays by award-winning Panther scholar Donna Murch explores how social protest is challenging our current system of state violence and mass incarceration. Murch exposes the devastating consequences of overlapping punishment campaigns against gangs, drugs, and crime on poor and working- class populations of color. Through largely hidden channels, it is these punishment campaigns, Murch says, that generate enormous revenues for the state. Under such difficult conditions, organized resistance to the advancing tide of state violence and incarceration has proved difficult. This timely and urgent book shows how a youth-led political movement has emerged since the killing of Trayvon Martin that challenges the bi-partisan consensus on punishment and looks to the future through a redistributive, queer, and feminist lens. Murch frames the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement in relation to earlier struggles for Black Liberation, while excavating the origins of mass incarceration and the political economy that drives it. Assata Taught Me offers a fresh and much-needed historical perspective on the fifty years since the founding of the Black Panther Party, in which the world’s largest police state has emerged.


Nell Painter, Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over(Counterpoint Press, June 2018).

How are women, and artists, “seen” and judged by their age, race, and looks? And how does this seeing change, depending upon what is asked of the viewer? What does it mean when someone states (as one teacher does) that “you will never be an Artist”—who defines “an Artist,” and all that goes with such an identity, and how are these ideas tied to our shared conceptions of beauty, value, and difference? Old in Art School represents an ongoing exploration of such questions, one that ultimately honors curiosity, openness, and joy—the joy of embracing creativity, dreams, the importance of hard work, and the stubborn determination of your own value. Nell Painter’s journey is filled with surprises, even as she brings to bear the incisiveness of her insights from two careers, which combine in new ways even as they take very different approaches—one searching for facts and cohesion, the other seeking the opposite. She travels from her beloved Newark to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design; finds meaning in the artists she loves, such as Alice Neel, Faith Ringgold, or Maira Kalman, even as she comes to understand how they are undervalued; and struggles with the ever-changing balance between the pursuit of art and the inevitable, sometimes painful demands of a life fully lived.


Imani Perry, May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem(University of North Carolina Press, February 2018).

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song’s creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day. In this rich, poignant, and readable work, Imani Perry tells the story of the Black National Anthem as it traveled from South to North, from civil rights to black power, and from countless family reunions to Carnegie Hall and the Oval Office. Drawing on a wide array of sources, Perry uses “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as a window on the powerful ways African Americans have used music and culture to organize, mourn, challenge, and celebrate for more than a century.


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Wresting with the Devil: A Prison Memoir (The New Press, March 2018).

Wrestling with the Devil, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s powerful prison memoir, begins literally half an hour before his release on December 12, 1978. In one extended flashback he recalls the night, a year earlier, when armed police pulled him from his home and jailed him in Kenya’s Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison, one of the largest in Africa. There, he lives in a prison block with eighteen other political prisoners, quarantined from the general prison population. In a conscious effort to fight back the humiliation and the intended degradation of the spirit, Ngũgĩ—the world-renowned author of Weep Not, ChildPetals of Blood; and Wizard of the Crow—decides to write a novel on toilet paper, the only paper to which he has access, a book that will become his classic, Devil on the Cross. Written in the early 1980s and never before published in America, Wrestling with the Devil is Ngũgĩ’s account of the drama and the challenges of writing fiction under twenty-four-hour surveillance. He captures not only the excruciating pain that comes from being cut off from his wife and children, but also the spirit of defiance that defines hope. Ultimately, Wrestling with the Devil is a testimony to the power of imagination to help humans break free of confinement, which is truly the story of all art.

 

READ MORE AT: https://www.aaihs.org/summerreading-recommended-new-books-on-the-black-experience/

Study shows hair care products targeted to black community contain harmful chemicals

Certain hair products — many of which are used on black girls from birth to help straighten their hair — have been linked to such health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

Certain hair products — many of which are used on black girls from birth to help straighten their hair — have been linked to such health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

 

Hair products that for years have been targeted at the African American community may be causing health problems for its customers.

Researchers at the Silent Spring Institute, working with epidemiologist Tamarra James-Todd at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, measured the concentrations of chemicals in 18 of these products. What they found was that each product contained four to 30 types of chemicals.

Many of the products contained fragrances with phthalates, which have been linked to obesity and increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, pre-term birth, preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, says James-Todd.

James-Todd says that after Native Americans, black women have the highest prevalence of diabetes in the US. She says they also have the highest proportion of pre-term births and are more likely to be overweight or obese.

“When you’re thinking about a lot of these metabolic or reproductive health outcomes, it’s really important to consider why that might be occurring and not simply attribute it to, ‘Oh, there must be some inherent underlying genetic differences,’” she says.

James-Todd, who is African American, says women in the black community have for decades felt social and cultural pressures “regarding what is seen as beautiful, with straight long hair being kind of the stamp of beauty,” especially in Western culture.

“And so, people will do different things to try to adhere to that standard of beauty,” she says.

What the majority of the public does not know, she says, is that currently there are no laws that require personal care product companies to disclose all of the substances that are going into their products, due to trademark agreements. There is movement in the US Senate to enact the Personal Care Product and Safety Act, which would develop a protocol by which products are tested before being placed on store shelves.

“We’re completely relying on the companies to test for the safety of our products,” James-Todd says. “That seems like a conflict of interest. The company is trying to make a profit … [even though] the average consumer thinks that if it’s on the shelf, it’s safe.”

Seeing the connections

James-Todd became interested in the topic of what chemicals go into hair products while a master’s student at Boston University. She read about a study that compared a magazine advertisement for an anti-aging cream in Ladies’ Home Journal, a publication targeting white women, versus an ad for a placenta-based product  — sheep placenta has become a mainstay ingredient in lots of leave-in conditioners — in Essence magazine, which targets black women.

“I’d walk into a black hair supply or hair care store, and see placenta and just wonder, what exactly is that for? Why are people using that?” she says. “Around that same time, an issue of Time magazine had come out, querying why were girls starting their periods earlier and earlier. And somehow that just kind of clicked for me.”

Shortly thereafter, there was a large study done that reported that 60 percent of black girls had reached their period by age 12, compared to about half of that for white girls.

“As a master’s student, that piqued my interest,” James-Todd says.

When she was working on his doctoral degree at Columbia University, James-Todd led a study around hair products being used in the greater New York metro area. The results backed up her theory: More girls were using hair oils for a longer period of time and those girls were much more likely to have their period earlier, which can significantly increase the likelihood of breast cancer.

Another study that served as inspiration, James-Todd says, was one in which four African American girls, ranging from four months to four years of age, showed they had all been developing breast and pubic hair — all of whom had mothers who were using hair oils and different types of products on them. An independent laboratory test confirmed that there were three types of estrogen found within the collection of products being used.

James-Todd says it is now known that about 50 percent of the products marketed to black women contain these controversial chemicals, compared to only about seven percent of products targeted to white women.

When James-Todd was conducting the hair products study in New York, several men would approach her and ask if they could take part as well. At the time, she was focused on breast cancer relating to women.

“It was kind of an ‘aha’ moment and so the reality is that black men are using these products, too,” she says. “Oftentimes, they wear shorter hairstyles and so if you think about it, the application of some of these products is that much more close to the scalp and absorbed through the scalp, and could have some similar health implications for diseases that are linked to some of these endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”

James-Todd has let her own natural hair be as curly as it wants to be ever since she was a girl growing up in Tennessee and saw her hair fall out after having a perm. She remembers, though, being an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt University and getting judgmental looks from fellow black women for choosing to not straighten her hair. Many thought she was from a different country.

“If I was American, I would not wear my hair this way,” she says of their collective thoughts. “And it’s been beautiful to see people embracing their hair. I am fragrance-free. I’ve been using the same product now for the past 30-plus years. Thank goodness it’s still on the market.”

James-Todd also uses the same product on her young daughter. She is a proponent of minimizing the amount of hair products one uses.

“As far as advocating for other women, I understand that some people don’t feel as comfortable doing that, or they think that it’ll affect their job or other issues,” she says. “But I think as society changes its standards of beauty, it’s been nice to see that being embraced.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-18/study-shows-hair-care-products-targeted-black-community-contain-harmful-chemicals

Why the extraordinary story of the last slave in America has finally come to light

Oluale Kossola was taken from the Yoruba kingdom of Takkoi to Alabama in the 19th century.
Oluale Kossola was taken from the Yoruba kingdom of Takkoi to Alabama in the 19th century. Photograph: Courtesy of McGill Studio Collection, The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama

“We stand as living monuments,” wrote the historian Len Garrison, of the black British descendants of slavery and empire. “For those who are afraid of who they must be, are but slaves in a trance.” For Garrison, the idea of the African diaspora as “living monuments” was to some extent figurative. But a new book makes it literal. Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave presents the remarkable fact that there were people alive in America who had experienced abduction from Africa – being examined, displayed, traded and enslaved – well into the 20th century.

The book is the story of Cudjo Lewis; a man born Oluale Kossola in the Yoruba kingdom of Takkoi. Kossola was the last survivor of the last known slave ship to sail from the African continent to America with a human cargo. Written in the 1930s, but hidden away from a public audience until now, it is also perhaps the last great, unpublished work by the Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston.

The word “barracoon” refers to the enclosures in which captives were held on the coast before being loaded on to ships. In Kossola’s case it was the Alabama vessel the Clotilda, which played its own gruesome part in the slave trade in 1860, half a century after its official abolition, transporting 130 men and women from the west African kingdom of Dahomey – modern day Benin.

By 1931, when Hurston interviewed Kossola – sweetening him with peaches, Virginia hams and late summer melons –, he was around 90 years old, and yet able, over a period of three months, to recall his life in Takkoi in great detail; his grandfather, an officer of the king; his mother and siblings; law and justice; love and adolescence. He spoke in heartbreaking detail of watching his community annihilated during a raid by Dahomey’s female warriors, leading to his capture and enslavement, the torture of the “middle passage”, and life in 19th and 20th century Alabama. Through all these years – many more lived in America than he had spent in his African birth nation – he never let go of the unspeakable loss of his homeland. When Hurston takes his photograph, Kossola dresses in his best suit, but removes his shoes, telling her: “I want to look lak I in Affica, ’cause dat where I want to be.”

The Point of No Return monument in Ouidah, Benin.
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The Point of No Return monument in Ouidah, Benin. Photograph: Gallo/Getty Images

The uniqueness of the story and that of the writer who tells it are layered and intertwined. The old, poetic Kossola, generous with his parables and storytelling, is one of almost four million Africans enslaved late in the history of the transatlantic trade. And while the full history is documented in countless accounts of slave traders, merchants, plantation owners and masters, ledgers and auction records and court documents, the number of first-hand accounts of Africans forced to become Americans can be counted on two hands. It is Hurston, and perhaps Hurston alone, who could have drawn this heavy tale out of the often melancholy old man, and have the vision and skill to make it sing, in the way that Barracoon does, for reasons rooted deeply in her own life story.

Hurston was born in 1891 in Eatonville, Florida, a small town with an entirely black population, which she would later describe as “the city of five lakes, three croquet courts, 300 brown skins, 300 good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools and no jailhouse”. She would keep close links to her hometown, despite leaving when she was just 13, and then drifting – working as a manicurist and achieving a degree part time at Howard University – until she arrived in New York in 1925. By then she was in her mid 30s (but convinced those whom she met that she was a full decade younger) and had – as she wrote later in her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road – “$1.50, no job, no friends, and a lot of hope”.

Hurston began studying anthropology at Barnard College and, having received a fellowship to gather material in her home state, set about documenting African American folk traditions in towns like Eatonville, and later in the southern states, the Bahamas and Haiti. It was during this period, right at the beginning of her career, that she first met Kossola, interviewing him several times in the late 1920s. It was her first major project, but also her first major failure. An article she published about Kossola in the Journal of Negro History would be accused of plagiarism, allegations which scholars now contest, and which in any event drove Hurston to return to Alabama, to conduct the series of interviews that would form the core of Barracoon, and, this time, to do so in a manner that would cast the work beyond any doubt.

Zora Neale Hurston.
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Radical approach … Zora Neale Hurston. Photograph: © Barbara Hurston Lewis, Faye Hurston, and Lois Hurston Gaston

Around this time, black art began asserting itself brazenly in an America still emerging from four centuries of slavery and legalised white supremacy, and the belief that the African had no civilisation to offer. By the time of her death in 1960, Hurston would have published more books than any other black woman in America. But it wasn’t until she caught the attention of sociologist Charles S Johnson, champion of the Harlem Renaissance and the editor of Opportunity, the official journal of the National Urban League (which published her work as well as that of Claude McKay, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen), that she got her break.

Even within the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston’s approach was radical. Inspired by her Eatonville roots, she was instinctively compelled by the folklore, the idioms, customs, worksongs, spirituals, sermons, children’s games, folktales and practices of African American communities of the south. While other members of the black intelligentsia were celebrating racial uplift, and while hundreds of thousands fled the rural south in the “great migration”, in search of what they imagined to be progress in northern cities, Hurston was interested in “the Negro farthest down”. Her goal as an author, anthropologist and essayist, was – the scholar Karla Holloway has said – “to render the oral culture literate”.

“The unlettered Negro,” Hurston wrote, was “the Negro’s best contribution to American culture.” It was this belief which inspired Barracoon – a book in which there is little of Hurston herself, but plenty of her ideology, in capturing Kossola, a man whose culture slavery both created and destroyed. Like the language of some of Hurston’s later works – Mule Bone, the play she would write with Hughes in 1931; Mules and Men, a compilation of oral folklore in 1935; and her most famous work, the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937 – Kossola’s narrative plays the music of history itself within its tonalities, rhythms and inflections. But the narrative, like Kossola, stands apart from Hurston’s others; his speech is more a recognisably African Creole than the African American vernacular, and despite all his decades living in America, Kossola is steeped in the thought of Africa, the world – as he calls it – “in de Affica soil”. Hurston’s fidelity to the manner and content of Kossola’s storytelling is the book’s strength. Yet within it were also contained the seeds of Barracoon’s downfall. When Hurston took the manuscript to publishers, they wanted her to anglicise his English, which she resolutely refused to do.

American slaves on a plantation in South Carolina, 1862.
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American slaves on a plantation in South Carolina, 1862. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

“Hurston was not interested in, as Toni Morrison might put it, the white gaze, and how ‘they’ would perceive us,” explains Deborah Plant, a Hurston scholar who edited Barracoon. “She was interested in what was specific in African American culture, those aspects which were rooted in African tradition, African history, African civilisation, because in that authenticity lay the genius – the spirit, as Hurston describes it – that which the soul lives by.”

For Cheryl Wall, Zora Neale Hurston professor of English at Rutgers University, “this impatience with Hurston’s determination to transcribe Kossola’s speech faithfully is enormously frustrating”. It was “part of the pattern of Hurston’s life that she had to fight so hard to have her voice heard, and the voices of those whose stories she wanted to tell. We are told the dialect is too difficult. Is it really any more difficult than the dialect of Mark Twain or James Joyce? Yes it requires some extra effort, but it’s the kind of effort we usually put into a literary text without complaint.”

The irony is astounding. Kossola, a man denied his home and his voice by American racism, would have the telling of his story silenced too. Barracoon, having been met with intransigence by publishers, remained unpublished, ending up in a private collection that was passed to the archive at Howard University in 1956, where it remained inaccessible to all but a handful of scholars who read it and cited it in their work.

Hurston found her own life mirroring this cycle of narration and dispossession. After the success of her work in the 1930s and 40s, her hugely productive career spiralled downwards. She lived hand to mouth, writing articles for magazines while working at odd jobs, including one stint in Miami for an employer who saw her byline in the Saturday Evening Post and tipped off a reporter that the author was her maid. Hurston was humiliated, and spent the next decade in a series of small towns in Florida, plagued by health and money problems, until she ended up in a welfare home where she died, penniless, of heart disease in 1960.

A slave’s cabin at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
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A slave’s cabin at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Edisto Island, South Carolina. Photograph: Courtesy of NMAAHC

At the time of her death, none of her seven previously published books was in print. Neighbours collected money for her funeral and it made front page news in the local black weekly, the Fort Pierce Chronicle. But she was buried in a segregated cemetery, in an unmarked grave.

For the novelist and feminist Alice Walker, who in 1973 set out to discover what had become of Hurston, finding this grave in a “field full of weeds” was a devastating experience. “There are times,” wrote Walker, “and finding Zora Hurston’s grave was one of them, when normal responses to grief, horror and so on do not make sense because they bear no real relation to the depth of emotion one feels.” Walker was determined to restore Hurston’s legacy and reputation. She obtained a gravestone, and had it inscribed with the words: “Zora Neale Hurston – A genius of the south. Novelist. Folklorist. Anthropologist.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, still considered Hurston’s greatest work, was soon back in circulation. That edition, by the University of Illinois Press, sold more than 300,000 copies, making it, as Wall says, “one of the most dramatic chapters in African American literary history”.

The publication of Barracoon thus represents a recovery within a recovery; the works of Hurston having been so dramatically resurrected, but this one languishing in obscurity until now. And its publication comes at an emotive moment in the African American experience – an experience loaded not just with historical trauma, but very contemporary pain. Alice Walker writes, for example, in the foreword to the book, that in reading Kossola’s story, African Americans “are struck with the realisation that he is naming something we ourselves work hard to avoid, how lonely we are too in this still foreign land”.

Karla Holloway, professor of English at Duke University, says: “The irony is that the loneliness that echoes through Kossola’s account, and that Walker so poignantly notices, is our collective legacy.

“We work hard to escape and slip past that loneliness, but inevitably we are captured, again, by the wake of slavery, a tidal wash as reliable as moonrise.”

The era of Black Lives Matter, of harassment in coffee shops, of a president who has been both overtly racist and also dismissive of racism, and of the disappointment at the first black president having been able to make little real change to poverty, criminalisation and exclusion, has produced a moment in which the struggle has never been more apparent, yet the cultural expression of that suffering has never been more visible.

Illustration by Swain, from 1835, of slaves being put into the hold.
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Illustration by Swain, from 1835, of slaves being put into the hold. Photograph: Rischgitz/Getty Images

“I do think one of the reasons that the book is so attractive right now is that there is this longing for African Americans to have access to a pre-US life – a connection to Africa,” says Autumn Womack, an assistant professor of English and African American studies at Princeton University. “If nothing else, Barracoon announces the desire for this kind of connection, even if it’s never really fulfilled. People are searching for a vocabulary to make sense of that.”

That struggle is finding expression in film, TV and theatre that focuses on the experience of slavery; from the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, the remake of the memorable series Roots and the multi-award-winning musical Hamilton. It is present in pop culture, with the recent phenomenon of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”, whose video references the violent brutalisation of African Americans. There are new museums – America’s first of African American history, which opened in 2016; the Whitney Plantation, the first plantation museum on American soil; and the nation’s first memorial to the horrors of lynching, in Alabama.

It is abundant in literature too; Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and other influential books such ass Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, which tells the story of the Great Depression in new and profound detail; Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi, which chronicles the lifespan of American racism; Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, radicalising readers of young adult fiction to the injustice of police killings; and Jesmyn Ward’s devastating Sing, Unburied, Sing.

The pathos of the African American experience, told with such tenderness in Barracoon, is matched by its complexity. Hurston herself remarked that in writing Kossola’s harrowing account of how the king of Dahomey profited from raiding and selling members of neighbouring kingdoms, she was deeply affected by the question of African complicity in the slave trade. “The inescapable fact that stuck in my craw,” Hurston wrote, “was my people had sold me and the white people had bought me. That did away with the folklore I had been brought up on – that white people had gone to Africa, waved a red handkerchief at the Africans and lured them aboard ship and sailed away.”

And yet Barracoon also helps deepen the understanding of the context in which slavery took place. “This idea of ‘African complicity’ is more myth than a reality,” Plant says. “Because at that point in history, there was no such thing as an ‘African’. People on the African continent did not self identify as Africans; instead there was a self identity in relation to specific ethnic groups and specific kingdoms, religions or language. So many of us don’t know, because we don’t have these nuances about our history.”

The absence of stories like Kossola’s has hardly helped bring these nuances to the fore. There are other difficult questions arising from the book about the extent to which the African American victims of slavery internalised the attitudes of their oppressors. Kossola recalls how his children in particular endured bullying from neighbouring African Americans, for having two African-born parents.

“All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat,” Kossola recounts in Barracoon. “Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey … It hurtee dey feelings.”

“Those acculturated African Americans could have been more open, more receptive, compassionate, and they weren’t,” Plant says. “They were a source of hostility to Kossola and his community. We can explain or rationalise it, but it doesn’t justify it.” The book’s uniqueness is in its recounting of a story in which we are all equally bound up by this cycle of oppression – the former slave plagued by the trauma of losing his homeland and family, the writer whose work survived the desire of intellectuals for white approval, the reader forced to challenge their own ideas about race and the internalisation of oppression. But more than anything it brings an African past up close to an African American present, at a time of great searching. “Throughout her life, Hurston fought against this idea that there was no connection to Africa once people arrived on these shores, and everything was forgotten,” Wall says. “We know that’s not true. But a book like this really brings that to life.”

Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave by Zora Neale Hurston is published by HarperCollins.

READ MORE AT:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/26/why-the-extraordinary-story-of-the-last-slave-in-america-has-finally-come-to-light

It’s Time for Police to Start Snitching

Communities of color are actually disproportionately likely to report crimes—it’s police themselves who have maintained a corrosive culture of silence.

 

Sacramento police officers block the entrance to the Sacramento City Council chambers from demonstrators protesting the shooting death of Stephon Clark. Rich Pedroncelli / AP

IBRAM X KENDI   May 14, 2018

A 911 caller living in a nonwhite neighborhood snitches.

A man wearing a black hoodie “busted both my truck windows out,” the caller reported on March 18, “and he’s in people’s backyards right now.” Two officers, Terrence Mercadal, a black man, and Jared Robinet, a white man, arrived on the nighttime scene in South Sacramento. Several minutes later, Mercadal and Robinet were running up a dark driveway, pursuing the suspect, flashlights clearing their sight. “Hey! Show me your hands! Stop! Stop!” one shouted. They turned a corner and through the glare of their flashlights saw a 22-year-old black male in his own backyard.

“Gun, gun, gun!” an officer yelled seconds later. Body-cam footage showed Stephon Clark seemingly abiding by their last order, turning to them to show them his hands, one of which clasped his white iPhone. A belief “the suspect was pointing a firearm at them,” to quote the Sacramento Police Department’s statement, is all police need to become executioners. Police officers do not require certainty to exact the certainty of death.

Both officers unloaded 20 shots into the darkness, at the darkness. “Are you hit?” one officer asked after the 20th shot. “No, I’m good,” the other responded.

Minutes later, a police sergeant arrived. The sergeant escorted Mercadal and Robinet to the street. “Hey mute,” the sergeant said, as he reached for his body camera. The audio of the Mercadal’s and Robinet’s body cameras fell silent, like Clark’s unarmed body nearby. More officers arrived on the scene and muted the audio of their body cameras, as shown in the more than 50 videos and two audio clips that Sacramento Police Department released in April.

Nearly two months have passed and only protesters have been arrested. Was justice muted in those critical moments after the shooting? What were those officers saying that they did not want investigators to hear? Will the Stephon Clark death story begin and end like far too many high-profile officer-involved death stories? A citizen, living apparently in a no-snitch black culture, snitches to police. Officers arrive, use lethal force, claim no misconduct, and every officer on the scene refuses to say otherwise. All too often, police officers appear dead-set on ensuring such incidents do not end how they began—in snitching.

Americans have talked constantly about a no-snitch black culture hampering police investigations, leaving violent criminals on the streets. But what about the no-snitch police culture that has hampered investigations into officer misconduct, leaving violent criminals on the streets?

Police officers should lead the way in fostering an American civic culture of reporting lawbreakers. It is their professional duty to snitch, to enforce the law first and foremost against themselves. How can they expect citizens to snitch to them if they refuse to snitch? How can they expect citizens to trust the criminal-justice system if they don’t trust the criminal-justice system? Snitching on each other remains their only salvation from this hypocrisy, their best tool for building trust with the communities they purport to serve and protect. But first, they’ll have to grapple with an empirical truth: Communities of color are actually disproportionately likely to report crimes—it’s police themselves who have maintained a culture of silence.

That’s not something most law-enforcement leaders seem inclined to acknowledge. “Law enforcement as a whole has been unfairly maligned and blamed for the unacceptable deeds of a few bad actors,” complained Attorney General Jeff Sessions in February. “There is no ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ … meaning no cops are covering for cops in Las Vegas,” an apparently all-knowing Las Vegas real-estate investor and police watchdog claimed in the Las Vegas Sun. “It’s not that we’re all out here covering for one another,” said Sergeant Dan Hils, president of the Cincinnati police union. Loyalty “ends with criminal activity.”

Since the 1980s, police officers have grumbled of a growing no-snitch culture—not within their own ranks, but outside their blue wall in black and Latino neighborhoods. “I have been in hospital rooms, even on the street standing over somebody being loaded into an ambulance, and they refuse to talk, and you think, ‘What in the world are we here for?’” Sergeant Mike Huff said recently in Tulsa. “But you know this violence is going to spread.”

The mix of neighborhood anecdotes, police reports, media stories, no-snitch videos, apparel, television shows, and music lyrics have baked the popular belief in a no-snitch black culture, even among black people. The “no-snitch mentality is killing the black community,” a black prisoner serving a life sentence proclaimed in the Toledo Blade in 2014.

Police defenders like to point to the falling clearance rate for homicides as proof not of the falling clearance rate, but of the no-snitch black culture. In 1965, the rate of homicide cases ending in an arrest was more than 90 percent. By 2015, the rate had fallen to 64.1 percent.

Anecdotal evidence persists about individuals of all races refusing to report crimes. But evidence of uniquely black cultural hostility to snitching does not exist—it is yet another racist idea without any evidentiary standing. But when did Americans ever need evidence to believe something was culturally or behaviorally wrong with black people as a group? Racist ideas are believable, not provable.

The evidence points to black communities perhaps being more likely to snitch than white communities—and Latino communities being the most likely to snitch. The National Crime Victimization Survey compiled each year by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found in 2010 that violence against black people and white people were reported at nearly identical rates (blacks slightly higher), while violence against Latinos was the most likely to be reported. The latest National Crime Victimization Survey in 2016 again found violence against Latinos (52 percent) was more likely to be reported to the police than violence against blacks and whites (40 percent alike). For serious violent crimes, violence against Latinos (65 percent) and blacks (60 percent) was far more likely to be reported to the police than violence against whites (45 percent). But these statistics did not inflame the policing community to start lamenting about a no-snitch white culture.

Black youth are especially branded with a no-snitch culture, without evidence, and in the face of evidence to the contrary. Preliminary data from a survey administered to 1,500 community college students showed that if the perpetrator was a relative or a friend, whites were less likely to snitch than non-whites, despite whites reporting they trust the police far more than blacks, and despite twice as many blacks reporting they listened to music that ridiculed snitching.

Urban, black high-school dropouts may be the most maligned for not reporting crimes to police officers. And yet, police officers, ironically, rely on snitching especially from the hyper-incarcerated population of black high-school dropouts. The staggering volume of arrests of black and Latino youth over the last four decades would have ground the criminal-justice system to a halt if every single case went to trial. Plea agreements—defendants snitching on themselves and often snitching on others in exchange for more lenient sentences—have become as endemic as police informants in black and Latino neighborhoods. Over nine out of 10 federal cases, for example, end in plea agreements.

Police officers, however, do not appear to be commonly snitching on themselves, and accepting plea agreements. There is a no-snitch police culture that may be as widespread and harmful as the myth of a no-snitch black culture. The National Institute of Ethics surveyed 3,714 officers and academic recruits from 42 states in 1999 and 2000. A no-snitching code of silence commonly exists, responded 79 percent of officers. More than half of the officers said this no-snitch code does not bother them. Nearly half of the officers reported witnessing misconduct and not reporting it. That’s probably because 73 percent of responding officers said they’d be fired if they snitched. And 73 percent of the officers said the individuals pressuring them to keep quiet were leaders.

In 2001, a national survey of police attitudes conducted by the Police Foundation found that a majority of officers said turning a “blind eye” to police misconduct was not unusual. Meanwhile, roughly two-thirds reported they “did not always report serious criminal violations” by fellow officers and they’d be given the “cold shoulder” if they did.

In his forward to that report, the Police Foundation’s president, Hubert Williams, wrote, “Most of America’s police officers are honest, dedicated, hard-working public servants, and it is they, as well as the public they serve, who are victims of the ‘bad’ cop.” If most police officers are good, then they are being forced to operate in a bad policing culture where the personal desire to report misconduct is tempered by the top-down forces to remain silent—or, by their own self-interest of keeping their jobs and staying out of prison.

Even when undercover Atlanta officers fired 39 shots at 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in 2006 after busting into the wrong home, they refused to snitch. They planted drugs to cover themselves. Caught in their lies, two officers finally pled guilty and received reduced sentences. Three officers were imprisoned. Two years ago, when San Francisco officers accused a sergeant of making racist and sexist comments, the former head and acting consultant of the city’s police union called them “snitches.”

And then there’s the tragic death of 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald in 2014. Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke claimed he opened fire after the teenager lunged at him with a knife, a claim backed up by on-the-scene reports from three other officers. The dashcam video contradicted their claims, sparking protests that compelled Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel to acknowledge the “blue wall of silence” in 2015. The Justice Department’s recent investigations of the Chicago and Baltimore police departments discovered broken systems of silence. When officers have stepped forward in Baltimore, the report found, “fellow officers have retaliated against them.”

In 2011, when a Baltimore detective asked a sergeant about reporting two fellow officers who brutally beat a suspect, he says the sergeant replied: “If you are rat, your career is done.” The good cop decided to be a rat. And the good cop’s career in Baltimore is done. The day before Baltimore detective Sean Suiter was scheduled to testify in a grand-jury hearing against fellow officers, he died from a shot by his own handgun. His death in November remains unsolved—one of the only unsolved deaths of a police officer in Baltimore’s history.

When will police departments focus more on rooting out their own no-snitching culture that undermines their job duties than on attacking a no-snitch black culture that does not exist? Not snitching is not a black problem nor a white problem nor a poor problem nor an urban problem nor a youth problem. Not snitching is an American problem—across races and spaces. When will police officers model for Americans the difficult civic duty of snitching against partners, against close friends, against violent neighbors? When will they show us by their actions that legality must trump loyalty and career and fear?

I want police officers to be comfortable snitching and I want to be comfortable snitching to them. Too often the response to the report of a minor crime like breaking car windows—or no crime at all—has ended in a life being lost and an officer back on duty weeks later. Part of me wants to keep police guns as far away from black bodies as I can. Because we fear their guns. They fear our bodies. Why would I want to play Russian roulette by reporting a crime?

It would be much easier for me to snitch if I trusted police officers around black bodies; if police officers always took the time to defuse and save; if black life mattered more than police fear; if arrests actually reduced crime; and if I saw resources going to rehabilitate human beings, rather than to cage human beings like they are animals.

Black people, in other words, have every reason not to snitch. And yet, the evidence shows, we still do—even as we are ridiculed for not doing so. Police officers have every reason to snitch. And yet they still commonly do not—and get praised as if they commonly do.

Stephon Clark’s death story could end differently if a Sacramento police officer steps forward to lead us all to justice. Police-involved death stories could end in justice if police officers everywhere are willing to do what black people do: start snitching.

READ MORE AT: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/05/quis-custodiet-ipsos-custodes/560324/

Brittney Cooper Being a black woman in America means realizing that doing everything right may not be enough

The gospel of neoliberalism is a gospel of choices. But for black Americans — especially black women — this gospel is a lie.

 

Image: Strong Black Woman

The systematic denial of choices to black people and the increasingly high stakes of the choices we do have is infuriating.Victor_Tongdee / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Brittney Cooper is associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University. May.15.2018 / 4:56 AM ET
The gospel of neoliberalism is a gospel of choices. It says that the pathway to a better life is found in the quality of what and how we choose. For adherents to this perverse form of a social gospel, good choices include doing well in school, saying no to drugs, avoiding teen pregnancy, staying out of debt and never committing any kind of crime. If you break one of these rules and terrible consequences befall you, just remember that this is a world of your own making. For black Americans — especially black women — this gospel is a lie.

Racial disparities in maternal health throw this lie into especially sharp relief. Research shows that for black women, the choice to birth children is frequently a life or death decision. Maternal mortality is now worse in this country than it was 25 years ago and black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy related causes. In the 1990s, Dr. Arline Geronimus argued that as a consequence of continuous and heightened stress, black women’s bodies experience what she termed “weathering.” The idea was that our bodies literally age more quickly than white bodies, putting both ourselves and the babies we carry at risk of premature death.

I am now 37 years old. Last year, I received tenure from the institution where I work as a professor. I am the only person in my family’s generation who has not had children; my mother is the only one of her siblings who is not a grandparent. As I continue to recover from the stresses of my eight-years long, grueling tenure process — not to mention the otherwise stressful life of a professional black woman overachiever — I am left to wonder whether my body is too weathered to successfully carry both me and a baby through a pregnancy.

The idea that the choices and accomplishments that I worked so hard to achieve might be the things preventing me from having the personal and lifestyle choices that I wanted is devastating.

The idea that the very choices and accomplishments that I worked so hard to achieve might be the very things preventing me from having the kinds of personal and lifestyle choices that I wanted is — in a word — devastating.

Because my single mother preached her own Southern, black, Christian version of this gospel of neoliberalism sermon for the entirety of my childhood, I did make excellent choices, reminded as I always was, that “Baby, the only person who you can control is you.” I was particularly obsessed with avoiding premature parenthood, so much so that I treated sex a contagion, whose influence would spread and engulf my life if I came into contact with it even one time.

My mother had been a teen mom, a choice that curtailed her educational prospects and limited her economic power. I was acutely aware that having a baby too young could derail all my future plans, too. Although many of my feelings were shaped by both the Christian “True Love Waits” campaign of the 1990s and a society morally panicked about a teen pregnancy epidemic, much of my angst also had to do with being a finicky, nerdy black girl, lacking in confidence and uncomfortable in my own skin.

Neoliberal thinking can make you feel like you are in charge of your own destiny. It can make you believe that through sheer strength of will and good choices alone, you can rule your own world.

But because the stakes were so incredibly high, it was exceedingly difficult not to become a steadfast adherent to the dictates of neoliberalism. Neoliberal thinking can make you feel like you are in charge of your own destiny. It can make you believe that through sheer strength of will and good choices alone, you can rule your own world.

Then, you reach adulthood, have success and accomplishments in spades and you begin to wonder if perhaps you have overplayed your hand. The indefatigable reach of systems of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism shatters the Invictus-fueled fantasy that most of us are taught to believe. We are not the masters of our fate.

Despite delaying motherhood until I reached a required level of “social fitness” to mother, I now find that traditional mothering might not be within reach. Thankfully, I’m not wed to birthing a child, but the systematic denial of choices to black people and the increasingly high stakes of the choices we do have is no less infuriating.

Professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore has argued that racism should be understood as “the state-sanctioned and/or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death.” When black mothers and children are dying at increasingly worse rates, despite following the state-sanctioned ideological ruse of making good choices, the connection of racism to the production of premature death in black communities becomes exceedingly and excessively clear.

Black mothering has always been caught in the tricky maze of power relationships that shaped the founding of the United States. Black women were transported here as breeders to provide birth free laborers for the American republic. After emancipation, black women struggled to protect their progeny, and to resuscitate black motherhood from conservative narratives about welfare queens draining public resources. My mother came of age in the aftermath of the infamous Moynihan Report and became a teen mother one month after Ronald Reagan was elected to the presidency.

Many of my choices as a young black woman growing up in post-1980s America were shaped by a desire “not to become a statistic.” Like Scylla and Charybdis, an impeccable grind and an unstoppable hustle might help you to outrun the statistical narrative, but weathered health brought on by too many years of stress and struggle might have the last, cruel laugh.

Black activist jailed for his Facebook posts speaks out about secret FBI surveillance

By SAM LEVIN

Exclusive: Rakem Balogun spoke out against police brutality. Now he is believed to be the first prosecuted under a secretive US effort to track so-called ‘black identity extremists’

Rakem Balogun on being secretly watched by the FBI: ‘It’s tyranny at its finest.’
Rakem Balogun on being secretly watched by the FBI: ‘It’s tyranny at its finest.’

Rakem Balogun thought he was dreaming when armed agents in tactical gear stormed his apartment. Startled awake by a large crash and officers screaming commands, he soon realized his nightmare was real, and he and his 15-year-old son were forced outside of their Dallas home, wearing only underwear.

Handcuffed and shaking in the cold wind, Balogun thought a misunderstanding must have led the FBI to his door on 12 December 2017. The father of three said he was shocked to later learn that agents investigating “domestic terrorism” had been monitoring him for years and were arresting him that day in part because of his Facebook posts criticizing police.

“It’s tyranny at its finest,” said Balogun, 34. “I have not been doing anything illegal for them to have surveillance on me. I have not hurt anyone or threatened anyone.”

Balogun spoke to the Guardian this week in his first interview since he was released from prison after five months locked up and denied bail while US attorneys tried and failed to prosecute him, accusing him of being a threat to law enforcement and an illegal gun owner.

Balogun, who lost his home and more while incarcerated, is believed to be the first person targeted and prosecuted under a secretive US surveillance effort to track so-called “black identity extremists”. In a leaked August 2017 report from the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit, officials claimed that there had been a “resurgence in ideologically motivated, violent criminal activity” stemming from African Americans’ “perceptions of police brutality”.

The counter-terrorism assessment provided minimal data or evidence of threats against police, but discussed a few isolated incidents, notably the case of Micah Johnson who killed five officers in Texas. The report sparked backlash from civil rights groups and some Democrats, who feared the government would use the broad designation to prosecute activists and groups like Black Lives Matter.

Balogun, who was working full-time for an IT company when he was arrested, has long been an activist, co-founding Guerilla Mainframe and the Huey P Newton Gun Club, two groups fighting police brutality and advocating for the rights of black gun owners. Some of the work included coordinating meals for the homeless, youth picnics and self-defense classes – but that’s not what interested the FBI.

A march in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at police hands.
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A march in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at police hands. Photograph: Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Investigators began monitoring Balogun, whose legal name is Christopher Daniels, after he participated in an Austin, Texas, rally in March 2015 protesting law enforcement, special agent Aaron Keighley testified in court.

The FBI, Keighley said, learned of the protest from a video on Infowars, a far-right site run by the commentator Alex Jones, known for spreading false news and conspiracy theories.

The reference to Infowars stunned Balogun: “They’re using a conspiracy theorist video as a reason to justify their tyranny? That is a big insult.”

Keighley made no mention of Balogun’s specific actions at the rally, but noted the marchers’ anti-police statements, such as “oink oink bang bang” and “the only good pig is a pig that’s dead”. The agent also mentioned Balogun’s Facebook posts calling a murder suspect in a police’s death a “hero” and expressing “solidarity” with the man who killed officers in Texas when he posted: “They deserve what they got.”

Keighley, however, later admitted the FBI had no evidence of Balogun making any specific threats about harming police.

At the time of his Facebook posts, Balogun said he was angry and “venting” about the high-profile cases of police killing innocent black men and women in America, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. He was particularly disgusted with the way the media and law enforcement portrayed the killings as justified and said that when he wrote those posts “I just mimicked their reactions to our killings.”

In a letter Balogun wrote to the Guardian from jail, he said he felt he had been “abducted” by the FBI, a “prisoner of war on free speech and the right to bear arms”. Authorities were targeting him for promoting black-led community groups and fighting “government abuse”, he wrote, adding he was never a threat to anyone: “Violence is the method of our oppressor, our method is hard work, love and unity.”

When he was arrested, police confiscated his .38-caliber handgun and an unloaded AK-style assault rifle – and also, he said, took his book Negroes with Guns by the civil rights leader Robert F Williams.

“They were really desperate,” Balogun said. “This is pretty much like Stalin 1950 – ‘You show me the man. I show you the crime.’”

The prosecution’s case eventually unraveled – but in the process, so did Balogun’s life.

‘Punished for political activity’

The government’s own crime data has largely undermined the notion of a growing threat from a “black identity extremist” [BIE] movement, a term invented by law enforcement. In addition to an overall decline in police deaths, most individuals who shoot and kill officers are white men, and white supremacists have been responsible for nearly 75% of deadly extremist attacks since 2001.

The BIE surveillance and failed prosecution of Balogun, first reported by Foreign Policy, have drawn comparisons to the government’s discredited efforts to monitor and disrupt activists during the civil rights movement, particularly the FBI counterintelligence program called Cointelpro, which targeted Martin Luther King Jr, the NAACP and the Black Panther party.

Rakem Balogun in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, days after being released from prison.
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Rakem Balogun in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, days after being released from prison.

Michael German, a former FBI agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, said the BIE assessment was “extraordinarily overbroad” and that the concept was spreading to law enforcement agencies across the US as more black activists were facing surveillance and police harassment.

Authorities have not publicly labeled Balogun a BIE, but their language in court resembled the warnings in the FBI’s file. German said the case also appeared to utilize a “disruption strategy” in which the FBI targets lower-level arrests and charges to interfere with suspects’ lives as the agency struggles to build terrorism cases.

“Sometimes when you couldn’t prove somebody was a terrorist, it’s because they weren’t a terrorist,” he said, adding that prosecutors’ argument that Balogun was too dangerous to be released on bail was “astonishing”.

“It seems this effort was designed to punish him for his political activity rather than actually solve any sort of security issue.”

The official one-count indictment against Balogun was illegal firearm possession, with prosecutors alleging he was prohibited from owning a gun due to a 2007 misdemeanor domestic assault case in Tennessee. But this month, a judge rejected the charge, saying the firearms law did not apply.

For Balogun, who said that the Tennessee case stemmed from a dispute with a girlfriend and that he was pressured to plead guilty to get out of jail, the decision felt like a “victory”.

But since his release one week ago, Balogun has also been forced to confront the harsh reality of life post-incarceration: He lost his vehicle, job and home; his son was forced to move and transfer schools and Balogun missed much of the first year of his newborn daughter’s life.

“This has been a nightmare for my entire family,” he said, adding that he was still recovering from the monotony and isolation of incarceration: “It was like living like a dog confined to a small backyard.”

Balogun said he also had to accept the fact that the government would likely continue to monitor to him and could seek new ways to disrupt his life. But the threat wouldn’t stop him from organizing and speaking out, he added: “As long as my community needs me to serve them, I’ll be there.”

READ MORE AT: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/11/rakem-balogun-interview-black-identity-extremists-fbi-surveillance

Melanin Under Attack: Study Shows How Toxic Hair Products Are To Black Women

 

Melanated women have overcome crazy obstacles despite the growing list of things that threaten their health, livelihood and overall well-being.

One of the things on that list includes hair care products: the everyday items used by Black women to smooth strands, lay edges, and moisturize manes. Studies have blown the lid wide open on the toxic chemicals in those products and linked them with illnesses. However, one new Silent Spring Institute study is the first to measure how much of those chemicals are present in Black hair care products.

Black women are routinely over-exposed and under-protected from toxic chemicals, which cause problems affecting the body’s hormones and its endocrine system. Yes, this exposure has spurred large health disparities among African-American women and other racial groups.

How these chemicals keep being used in products is beyond insane. The chemical usage also shows that fattening cosmetic industry profit margins sometimes comes at the expense of Black health.

The problems with these chemically laden products start upon their manufacturing. The items on shelves in drugstores and more places are mostly untested and rarely regulated, Jessica Helm, PhD, a Silent Spring scientist and the study’s lead author, said. Also, a lot of manufacturers don’t include a full product ingredients list.

What Researchers Did

Researchers looked at 18 products — hot oil treatments, anti-frizz hair polishes, leave-in conditioners, root stimulators, hair lotions, and hair relaxers — chosen as popular among surveyed Black women. Brands included Lusters, PCJ and Soft & Beautiful.

The researchers connected the dots between 66 chemicals and health problems affecting Black women, who have higher rates of hormone-mediated problems including pre-term birth, uterine fibroids and infertility than other racial groups. Black women also suffer from increased rates of breast and endometrial cancers as well as maternal-related deaths.

What Researchers Found

Forty-five endocrine disruptors were detected by researchers in Black hair care products, with between 6 and 30 chemicals in each product. Another startling find? Eleven products had seven chemicals banned by the European Union or regulated under California’s Proposition 65, commonly known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.

A lot of these chemicals are found in everyday personal care items marketed to women but are found in higher concentrations in products for Black women. Also, Black women buy and use more hair items than other groups.

What Researchers Hope Will Happen

The study gives insight into the thinking that drives the cosmetic industry and its attack on Black health and Black pride. How can women fight back?

Demanding safer products and more disclosure about ingredients is a big step, researchers said. Women can also choose “paraben-free” or “fragrance-free” products as well as ones that are plant-based or made with organic ingredients. It’s clear that it’s time to stand up and boycott these health threats.

READ MORE AT:https://newsone.com/3795488/black-melanin-women-hair-products-study/

Black prisoners more likely to be put in solitary, even as overall use declines

The Texas prison system has shifted more than 4,000 inmates out of solitary confinement over the past decade – but those who are still there are increasingly likely to be African-American, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice data.

At the end of the 2008 fiscal year, 17.7 of the prisoners in administrative segregation were black; by the end of the last fiscal year, 24.7 percent were black.

Over the same time frame, the portion of administrative segregation inmates who are white decreased by 4 percentage points and the portion who are Hispanic dropped by just over 3  percentage points. Across all groups, the number of inmates in administrative segregation dropped.

Even as those shifts occurred, the overall prison demographics moved in the opposite direction. The portion of the prison population that is black was about 4 percentage points lower last year than it was in 2008, while a slightly larger fraction of TDCJ inmates are white or Hispanic.

Even though the percentage of black inmates in administrative segregation is on the rise, it’s Hispanic prisoners who are most noticeably overrepresented there. The overall prison population was about a third white, a third Hispanic and a third black as of the end of fiscal 2017 – but roughly half the administrative segregation population is Hispanic, a long-standing trend possibly tied to gang affiliation.

Administrative segregation is used to house prisoners deemed a security threat due to gang affiliation, escape risk or other evidence of ongoing danger to staff or fellow inmates.

The prison system reduced its reliance on administrative segregation through the use of innovative programs like Gang Renouncement and Disassociation. And in September, TDCJ eliminated the use of solitary confinement for punitive purposes, a change that impacted roughly 75 inmates still being isolated for rule-breaking.

A prison spokesman did not offer comment on the reasons behind the changing administrative segregation demographics.

The percent of the Texas prison ad seg population that is African-American has increased over the past decade, even as the total number of prisoners in ad seg has decreased significantly. Photo: Charles Apple

New York statue of the Dr. (monster) who experimented on black women will be removed

 

 

By

Following recommendations from the commitee appointed to conduct a 90-day review of the city’s monuments and markers that could be deemed “symbols of hate,” Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered the removal of a statue of Doctor J. Marion Sims, credited by many as the father of modern gynecology.

For years, East Harlem residents and local officials have advocated for the removal of the statue, located in Central Park near Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street near the Museum of the City of New York, but it wasn’t until last year as the city prepped to remove Confederate monuments and other markers, that renewed calls surfaced for the statue of Sims.

The statue, which acknowledges Sims’s medical achievements, overlooks the fact that between the years 1845 and 1849, he performed gynecological exams on 12 enslaved women without anesthesia.

The statue of Dr. James Marion Sims will be removed on Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. and relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where Sims is buried. Per the city’s Park Department, plans are being developed to commission a new monument at the site

READ MORE AT:https://ny.curbed.com/2018/4/16/17244504/j-marion-sims-central-park-statue-removed-nyc

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