Reclaim and Renew the Indigenous Image

Dolce & Gabbana face criticism after they debuted these earrings at Milan Fashion Week.

On Halloween people who are aware of cultural appropriation get increasingly squeamish about the slew of “tribal” costumes – Native American headdresses and even blackface. Although Halloween is often blatant in its racist and insensitive displays, cultural appropriation is a regular occurrence in Western fashion, art and media. Recently, Dolce & Gabbana drew criticism after they sent racist “Blackamoor” earrings down the runway. These images are recognizable in the U.S. as “Aunt Jemima” figures and demonstrates blatant insensitivity to their connection to colonialism and slavery.

Approximately 350 million indigenous people – identified as descendants of people who lived in a country before the conquest or settling of dominant groups – live in over 70 countries today. Recognition and protection of indigenous people’s rights is, unfortunately, deplorably low. In Africa, only the Republic of Congo has enacted laws to enforce indigenous peoples’ rights. It is crucial for dominant cultures to respectfully relate to the culture of indigenous groups and for indigenous people to have a voice in contemporary culture.


War on Drugs or War on Democracy?

In one week, most of us will head to the polls to cast our vote. This year’s decisive election will mean that every vote will count, especially in swing states where there is a tight race between the candidates. Unfortunately, 5.85 million Americans will not be able to voice their political views this November due to voting regulation laws which deny convicted felons the right to vote in most states. Since the 1970s, there has been a 500% increase in felon disenfranchisement due to the War on Drugs, which disproportionately affects poor, African American and Latino communities. This means that 7.66% – 1 out of every 13 African Americans – will be barred from the vote, an estimate that is four times greater than the rate for people who are not of African American descent. Out of the 10 states with the highest disenfranchisement rates, 7 are in the South. Florida, a state that is almost always critical to an election victory, has the highest disenfranchisement rate in the country with 23.32% of its African American population unable to vote. Disenfranchisement laws have swung Presidential elections (more…)

Our Dreams Do Not Fit in Their Ballot

With Election Day creeping closer I have voting on my mind. Or maybe it is not voting that is on my mind. With each year of my adult life I have become more cynical, jaded and critical of our current political system. While the two major candidates – Mitt Romney and Barack Obama – speak about issues like health cares, education and equality, my political interests are not represented in any meaningful way.


No Justice, No Peace

Today marks Stop Police Brutality Day, a day of action used to expose the lasting effects of police abuse. As many people of color know, police brutality often goes beyond the context of excessive physical force and can also include verbal intimidation or degradation. A study performed by Steven A. Tuch and Ronald Weitzer, titled “Race and Perceptions of Police Misconduct” shows how African American communities have different perceptions of police presence:

…verbal and physical abuse, unwarranted stops—are likely to be experienced as unfair, disrespectful, and intrusive “procedures.”

Unfortunately, cases of verbal abuse or everyday intimidation are not likely to be in the news. Weitzer and Tuch point out that “…more Americans believe that police verbally and physically abuse citizens than the number who report a personal experience with these actions.” With only a portion of police brutality getting noticed, extreme cases, like Rodney King’s, make headlines. The public is only being made aware of a fraction of this epidemic.


Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect

Like I tell them [police officers], I’m on your side to make sure there is courtesy, professionalism and respect. Isn’t that what you advertise on the side of your car? Seems like you’d want me to do it, unless what you’re providing is not courtesy, professionalism and respect.

Meet Joseph Hayden, Harlem’s 71 year-old horn blowing police watchman.

Having grown up during a time of extreme police brutality against Black Americans, he sees it as a personal responsibility to ensure that the NYPD is continually held accountable for their actions. To promote police transparency, he patrols Harlem in his old jeep and captures their actions on film with a hand-held video camera.


Expect Us: A Work-in-Progress Screening of “Black and Cuba”

We’re teaming up with Occupy the Hood for a free Work-in-Progress Screening of Black and Cuba on Sunday, October 28th at 7:30pm at the Brecht Forum located at 451 West Street between Bank St and Bethune St as part of HoodWeekNYC. The screening will come after two panel discussions on the importance of Black Media (6-6:45 PM) and the Past, Present and Future of Liberation Movements (6:45-7:30 PM). We encourage you to check out these free events and stay for the film, which will be followed by a talkback discussion with Producer and Director, Robin J. Hayes. We look forward to seeing you there!

Happy Black Studies Halloween!

While in grad school, my friend Chrissy and I had many conversations about how lonely academic work can be. We wished there were more ways to bring together our friends – who were from a variety of backgrounds – to celebrate the Black history and culture we were learning about in school and had grown up with.

We decided to throw a Black Studies Halloween party – All Things Cosby. In between enjoying Jello Pudding Pops, dancing to the original Fat Albert’s junkyard band and singing along to Jasmine Guy’s signature hit “Try Me,” we crowned the winner of our costume contest (who came as both Freddie and Shazza from A Different World). So many of our friends who are now pursuing careers as professors, doctors, lawyers and community organizers learned our first lessons about appreciating our neighborhoods, historically Black colleges and universities, the struggle against apartheid and African American art from Dr. Cosby’s televised imagination. It was fun to emulate our favorite scenes and characters and reflect on how we were inspired by them.


A Pastor for Peace

Rev. Lucius Walker in Seattle, 1999. Photo: Bill Hackwell

Black religious leaders have long played an important role in political activism since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2008, Jesse Jackson was an important endorsement for Obama and has since backed Obama’s support of gay marriage by framing it as a contemporary civil rights issue.

In October 1988, Reverend Lucius Walker–former director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO)–founded Pastors for Peace. Walker was a powerful, and often contentious, figure in the media and in the national political landscape. IFCO,

…acted as a bridge between predominantly mainline churches and community groups conceived of and run by people of color… and as a resource bank supporting the work of congregations and organizations engaged in the work of community-building.

This willingness to cross boundaries and mobilize tight-knit religious communities were crucial to Walker’s success as an activist.


Unequal Protection Under the Law

Please be aware this video uses strong language. Due to the nature of the topic, we felt it was appropriate to include this taped encounter in the post.

This past summer, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) released a smart-phone app to record stop-and-frisk activities by police. The NYCLU has said that the Stop-and-Frisk Watch App “will empower New Yorkers to monitor police activity and hold the NYPD accountable for unlawful stop-and-frisk encounters and other police misconduct.” Similarly, the ACLU-NJ released Police Tape, an app that can be used to record police interactions in a secure fashion. Both apps allow people to activate a recording device that can record police activity discreetly. Once recording has been completed, the data can be instantly submitted to the ACLU or NYCLU. They can store it in case your phone is destroyed or confiscated and evaluate it to see if any rights have been violated. The apps also offer legal information to help users better understand their own rights. These programs work to encourage police accountability by making their interactions with citizens easy to report and accessible to the public.


Dismantling Democracy One Voter at a Time

African Americans demonstrate in favor of a strong civil rights plank outside GOP convention hall, Chicago, Illinois, July 1960. Photo: Francis Miller/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

This past August at the Republican National Convention, Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan stated, “The right that makes all the difference now is the right to choose our own leaders.” Despite the recent victory in Pennsylvania, voter ID laws continue to threaten to disenfranchise an alarming 21 million eligible voters, something that does not echo Ryan’s patriotic affirmation. These laws require specific forms of picture identification – which are not widely used nor easily obtained. Opponents of the new legislation claim that the laws will disproportionately restrict the voting rights of African Americans, Latinos, elderly, poor, and college students.

Advocates of the strict laws claim they’re designed to prevent in-person voter fraud. But fraud prevention is a fallacy. An independent study from News21 negates the existence of in-person voter fraud.  And State Rep. Mike Turzai’s assertion that “[The] voter ID [law]… is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” only affirms that the laws are motivated by partisan politics rather than justice. These laws are dangerous because they do not protect the democratic process – they dismantle it. Voter suppression plants seeds of discouragement, instilling a sense helplessness to those most affected and lessening the civic participation that democracy should be dependent on.