Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Washington Watch: "Return of the Old South"

Fannie Lou Hamer in 1964. From Wikipedia.
"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist who fought for the right to vote in the 1960's. She faced many trials including being jailed and severely beaten. She fought not only the racists in the Southern States that did not want blacks to vote...but also her own Democratic Party that did not want to seat her "Freedom Democrats" at the 1964 convention -- instead choosing to appease the all-white Southern delegation.

Hamer was indeed a tireless fighter for voting rights, and her famous quote is: "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." She is long gone but the fight continues, particularly after the Supreme Court overturned a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

Southern states (and some in the North that are controlled by conservative-leaning Governors or Legislators) are chomping-at-the-bit to restrict voting for large segments of the populace. Specifically, the groups that tend to favor Democrats. They say they are combating voter fraud...although there is little voter fraud taking place.

North Carolina struck last week with their own 'voter restriction bill.' North Carolina Policy Watch summarizes the draconian 'anti-voter' items in the bill:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 25 -- "Obama Steps Up"

On Week 25 of his second term, President Obama spoke to the nation as a black man living in America. Reminiscent of the speech he gave on race during his first campaign, this 'impromptu' and unexpected talk before an afternoon press briefing surprised even the reporters who were gathered. They did not expect to see him, and neither did we. So glad he showed up.

NPR's "Obama Explains Black America To White America," sums it up best:
The president did something no other holder of his office has ever had the life experience to do: He used the bully pulpit to, as an African-American, explain black America to white America in the wake of last week's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.
Appearing unannounced before surprised reporters who were expecting the White House press secretary, it was Obama — "the bridge" as New Yorker editor David Remnick has called him — trying to span a divide. It was Obama trying to help white Americans comprehend black America's reaction to the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy.

The President confirmed what we all know. As an American of African-descent he has experienced racism and profiling. He spoke of instances before he was President, however, many in the black community believe the vitriol and disrespect shown him as President is also tainted by racism.

For goodness sake, he HAD TO SHOW HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE to quiet the rantings of fools who never should have been taken seriously! He WAS CALLED A LIAR from the House floor while giving a state-of-the-union-address! You had parents in an uproar because he wanted to address students at the beginning of a school year and encourage them to succeed!

But more ominously, you have a group of Republicans in the House who oppose EVERYTHING he puts forward (even if they were once for it) and who go to great lengths to keep the President from succeeding.

Politics as usual? No.

The recent New York Magazine piece "Anarchists of the House" describes this rampant dysfunction. among House Republicans. The subtitle says: "The Republican Congress is testing a new frontier of radicalism—governmental sabotage." In describing GOP strategy at the beginning of the president's first term:
"If some of them supported Obama’s proposals, they would only help the proposals seem more sensible. “It was absolutely critical that everybody be together,” Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell later said, “because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is okay.”
And so the Republican strategy during Obama’s first two years was almost total gridlock. Republican leaders aggressively pressured their members to withdraw support for any major Obama initiative, even denouncing ideas they themselves had previously endorsed."

It would be naive to think this anti-Obamanism does not have at least some racial undertones. As do the cartoons and caricatures of the President displayed in conservative-leaning papers across the country.

A large part of the response to President Obama probably has to do with fear of the diverse coalition that elected him.  America is changing. We now live in a multi-ethnic society. Many of us have family members who are of a different race. Census figures show a younger, more diverse nation in the years ahead. These Americans will demand a 'seat at the table'...and the right to walk home without being followed and attacked.

So with this backdrop, the President personalized the plight of black men in this country without castigating the system that gave us the verdict. He simply described the real world -- reminding us who we are and how we got here. Illustrating that even though he has reached the highest office in the land, he understands from personal experience the legacy of discrimination.

Here is the transcript of his speech.  Here is the video:

TourĂ© did a fine job of explaining the risks the President took with the speech in a Time mag op-ed entitled: The Bravery of Obama’s Trayvon Speech, saying:
"It was a treacherous speech politically because for one part of the divide the answer to black pain is: get over it, as Representative Andy Harris recently said. Racism is in the past, white privilege is a myth, profiling is a ghost: Doesn’t Obama’s election prove we’re beyond all that? The President knows better. He asked, in his 19-minute address, that black pain be acknowledged, that internalized bias be taken seriously, that history be understood as not done with us yet."

The President, who was raised by a white mom and white grandparents, understands our differences and the need to 'explain' us to each other. In addition, he continues his quest to unite us. He did so with this recent speech, as with his first speech on race, "A More Perfect Union" in 2008, in which he stated:
"I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one."

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 24 -- "After Trayvon Does it Matter?"

Following the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder case, and recent news concerning the status of people of color in the country (particularly African-Americans), we are tempted to wonder if what happens in Washington really matters.

Let's look at both sides of the battle -- what we face, and why we keep going:

Being Black in America Today

There is no doubt we suffered greatly from the effects of the recession. So much black wealth -- mostly tied to home ownership -- was lost.

Here are some recent headlines that bring home our challenges in the years ahead: (Click on links to read full stories.)

Young, black and buried in debt: How for-profit colleges prey on African-American ambition --
Kai Wright, Salon, 6/9/2013
"It’s true that the country’s middle class is collapsing for everyone, but that trend is most profound among African-Americans. In 2008, as black folks flocked into higher ed, the Economic Policy Institute found that 45 percent of African-Americans born into the middle class were living at or near poverty as adults."

Middle Class Jobs, Income Quickly Disappearing (INFOGRAPHIC)
Jan Diehm & Kay Hall, Huffington Post, 6/7/2013
"Deep job losses in occupations such as construction, information technology, manufacturing and insurance are not likely to recover. Middle-class families also saw nearly 30 percent of their wealth disappear over the past decade, while the cost of goods and services they rely upon steadily climbed."
Riva Gold, The Atlantic, 7/9/2013
"At a time when non-whites make up roughly 37 percent of the U.S. population, the percentage of minorities in the newsroom has fallen to 12.37 percent from its 13.73 percent high in 2006." 
"This means that fewer minorities are getting the opportunity to work in news, and news organizations are losing their ability to empower, represent, and -- especially in cases where language ability is crucial -- even to report on minority populations in their communities."

Racial Diversity Efforts Ebb for Elite Careers, Analysis Finds 
Nelson D. Schwartz and Michael Cooper, New York Times, 5/27/2013
"While about 12 percent of the nation’s working-age population is black, about 5 percent of physicians and dentists in the United States are black — a share that has not grown since 1990, according to an analysis of census data that was prepared for The New York Times by sociologists at Queens College of the City University of New York. The analysis found that 3 percent of American architects are black, another field where the share has not increased in more than two decades.
The share of the nation’s lawyers who are minorities and women, which had been growing slowly but steadily for years, fell in 2010 for the first time since NALP, the National Association for Law Placement, began keeping statistics in 1993."

Black Chefs Dig Into Restaurant Industry's Lack Of Diversity....
Huffington Post, 7/11/2013
"It's difficult to get in the door in a lot of upscale places," sous chef Karl Adams told Redd. "A lot of time, they'll see my resume and when I step in I'll get the eye, like they can't match up the resume to a black person."
And while opportunities aren't handed out to African Americans at the same rate they are to chefs of other ethnicities, they're also often taken away, Adams adds. "We don't get the promotion, we don't get the experience or we're stuck in one station for one year, two years," he said."

My climb out of poverty wouldn’t be possible today
Bernardine Watson, Washington Post, 6/27/2013
"The welfare benefits I received under the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program were barely enough to live on, but they paid for housing, food and medical care while I pursued my education. I was poor, but hopeful about the future.
I don’t see the 1970s as a panacea for the disadvantaged in this country. I also know that policy makers and social scientists disagree about whether the social programs of the 1960s and ’70s had much impact on poverty. Still, if I had to be a poor, single mother in this society, I’m glad it was then and not now."

Yet, Still We Rise

In spite of....and BECAUSE of what we as African-Americans face in today's America -- giving up is not an option. Here is why:

If men, women, and children brought here in chains, and treated as chattel, did not give up their fight for dignity, neither will we.
If the civil rights workers who were spat on, beaten, jailed, and killed so that we could have the right to vote, did not give up their fight for equality, neither will we.
If the masses who spent MANY hours in line to vote in Florida in 2012, in spite of those who try to take away our voting privileges...well they did not give up.  Even when they were told Barack Obama had won, they still stood in line to cast their ballot.  They did not give up their right to vote, neither will we.

We will not give up.

For our future....
For our children...
For Trayvon Martin...

We will not give up on the promise of America.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Washington Watch: Week 23 -- "The Greatest"

This past week we celebrated the 237th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.

Yes...our issues are many, and our Congress is in gridlock, and there are those who will never accept the diversity of our country....still, we can fight for our freedoms in ways others around the world cannot.

And, despite all those who disparage him simply for who he is...America ELECTED Barack Hussein Obama, as our President -- TWICE!!

The ideals upon which our country began are to be remembered, celebrated, and always held in esteem as our battle cry.

As described so eloquently by Jefferson, (who penned the first draft)....and subsequently edited by the Congress at the time, led by chosen editors, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin -- the opening of our Declaration of Independence speaks to our goals as a nation:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Surely, some of the founders of our great country understood the hypocrisy of slavery as juxtaposed with the above line...and yes, they had to have known there would one day be judgment.

Indeed, the famous statesman, abolitionist, and former slave Frederick Douglass described it adequately in his speech and essay:  "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?"

Still -- the document...the words...stand as our goal.  Equal rights for ALL remains our ideal. The fight continues...

Celebrate with Red, White, and Blues

The White House has made available videos of "Performances at the White House" where the East Room of the White House has been transformed into a concert stage many times the past few years..  

Here's are some performances from "Red, White, and Blues" a salute to the blues,featuring: (each performance is a separate video on the White House site)

B.B. King & Ensemble  "Let the Good Times Roll"
Trombone Shorty  "St. James Infirmary"
Buddy Guy & Jeff Beck    "Let Me Love You"
Mick Jagger & Jeff Beck   "Commit a Crime"
Shamika Copeland & Gary Clark Jr.  "Beat Up Old Guitar"
Gary Clark Jr.   "Catfish Blues"
Keb' Mo'  "Henry"
Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, & Warren Haynes  "I'd Rather Go Blind"
Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Gary Clark Jr., & Jeff Beck  "Five Long Years"
Buddy Guy & Ensemble (Finale)  "Sweet Home Chicago"   Watch the President sing.

PBS (not just the home of Big Bird) also has the entire show as well as other White House Performances shows celebrating jazz, Motown, country, classical, Latin, Memphis soul, spoken word, etc.)


President Obama's First Term

By Linnie Frank Bailey
After celebrating the nation’s birthday with military families at the White House, the Obama family left the country for a trip to Russia, Italy and Ghana. In what will be one of the most moving experiences for people of African descent the world over—in Ghana on Friday, President Barack Obama will visit the Cape Coast Castle, where enslaved Africans were once held before being loaded into ships and traded in the Americas and Caribbean. READ BLOG.