Why It Isn’t Possible For Black Americans To Appropriate African Culture

By Julia Craven, Politics Reporter, The Huffington Post

(Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images) Parade participants march with a tribal themed group wearing colorful face paint. The 46th Annual African-American Day Parade was held in Harlem; the spectators, politicians and prominent members of Harlem's black community celebrated the historically-rich NYC community of those from different African heritages.

(Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Parade participants march with a tribal themed group wearing colorful face paint. The 46th Annual African-American Day Parade was held in Harlem; the spectators, politicians and prominent members of Harlem’s black community celebrated the historically-rich NYC community of those from different African heritages.

Columbus Fortune was the name given to my great-great grandmother’s grandfather. I only know this because my Nana is a stickler for attempting to compose family trees. I say “attempting” because, with the exception of what has been told to us, it is difficult to recount an undocumented lineage.

My grandfather was an enslaved African. He was 18 when slavery was abolished in the United States and I don’t know if he knew his mother, his father, his brothers, his sisters or his grandparents. I do not know if he knew what tribe he hailed from.

For black Americans, tracing our lineages back to their African origins is almost impossible (unless we use DNA testing). African enslavement left us devoid of a way to define ourselves. It severed familial ties and deprived us of any viable opportunity to reclaim them. When we go looking for our ancestors and their culture, we’re chasing shadows.

This is why it hurts when native Africans criticize black American attempts to regain a lost portion of ourselves. Writer Zipporah Gene, who identifies as both British and Nigerian, wrote a post earlier this month claiming that black Americans can appropriate African culture — since we are American — by wearing tribal garb to be “trendy.” Backlash to her piece led her to write an equally obtuse follow-up declaring that, based on her own experiences, it is unnecessary for black people to showcase their Africanness…

It is understandable why an African woman might look at a picture of Afropunk’s New York festival attendees, recoil and believe her culture is being used as a costume (though The Root pointed out that, because of New York’s diversity, whether or not the people in the photo are African-American or African immigrants cannot be determined). But cultural appropriation requires a degree of economic and political privilege black Americans simply do not have. We cannot oppress Africans, shame their cultures, claim it for ourselves and then decide it’s trendy. Even if we could, that’s certainly not what’s happening here, by any stretch of the imagination…


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Jeb Bush, ‘Free Stuff’ and Black Folks

By Charles M. Blow, the New York Times

Jeb_BushAt a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked how he planned to include black people in his campaign and get them to vote for him.

Bush responded, “Our message is one of hope and aspiration.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued: “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

…Not only is there a supreme irony in this racial condescension that casts black people, whose free labor helped establish the prosperity of this country and who were systematically excluded from the full benefits of that prosperity for generations, as leeches only desirous of “free stuff,” this line of reasoning also infantilizes black thought and consciousness and presents an I-know-best-what-ails-you paternalism about black progress.

One of the houses in the Bush family compound in Maine.

One of the houses in the Bush family compound in Maine.

It echoes the trope about lazy “welfare queens,” although as a report last year from the Congressional Research Service makes clear: “Historically, nonwhite women had a higher labor force participation rate than did white women. This especially held true for married women.”

Furthermore, although blacks are disproportionately the recipients of programs likes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a 2013 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that most households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult receiving the benefit work, and of those with families, “almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.”

Can't survive on min wageThe problem isn’t refusal to work, but inability to find work that is stable and pays a living wage, thereby pushing them out of need and eligibility.

Bush’s comment also hints at the role of black men without acknowledging the disastrous toll racially skewed patterns of mass incarceration have taken on the fortunes of black families by disproportionately ensnaring black men.

All history and context are cast aside in support of a specious argument: That the black community is plagued by pathological dependence and a chronic, self-defeating posture of victimization…

Black folk don’t want “free stuff” as much as the fulfillment of the promise of freedom: true equality of access, opportunity and justice. Bush — and America — would do well to consider that.

Read the full article here.

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Art Student Hangs ‘Black Only’ And ‘White Only’ Signs Around University Campus

By Priscilla Frank, Arts Writer, The Huffington Post



On Wednesday, Sept. 16, students of the University of Buffalo were shocked to find “White Only” and “Black Only” signs hung near campus bathrooms. Students were sickened and traumatized by the apparent act of racism; by 1 p.m., the police had received 11 phone calls regarding the signage.

It was later revealed, however, that the signs reminiscent of the Jim Crow era were put on display by graduate fine arts student Ashley Powell, who is black, as part of an art project.

Before Powell admitted to hanging the signs at a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting on Wednesday night, students and faculty were left wondering about the source of the racist designations. “We didn’t know it was an art project, it could’ve been an act of terrorism,” a student explained to The Spectrum, the independent campus newspaper.

When Powell revealed that she was behind the act, a project for her “Installation: Urban Spaces” class, which requires students to install art in a public space, many students stormed out of the BSU assembly, some in tears. “It brought up feelings of a past that our generation has never seen, which I think is why it was so shocking for us to see,” Micah Oliver, president of the BSU, told ABC.

whitesonlyAs an artist, I respect you as an artist,” said student Jefry Taveras in the BSU meeting. “But you should know racism isn’t art, it’s a reality and traumatizing.”

In a statement to The Spectrum, Powell explained the reasoning behind her installation, which addresses issues of non-white suffering and white privilege. “I apologize for the extreme trauma, fear, and actual hurt and pain these signs brought about,” she wrote. “I apologize if you were hurt, but I do not apologize for what I did.”

She went on to expand upon the motivations behind the project, which was intended to spark outrage and discomfort in viewers.

“My art practice is not an act of self-policing meant to hide my rage. Instead, it uses pain, narrative, and trauma as a medium of expression and as grounds for arguing a need for change in the first place. I understand that I forced people to feel pain that they otherwise would not have had to deal with in this magnitude. But I ask, should non-white people not express or confront their trauma? Should we be content with not having to confront that pain? We know it exists, and it often causes many of us immediate discomfort. Should we not be in a state of crushing discomfort?

These signs made you feel discomfort. They are tangible objects that forced you to revisit your past, to confront your present, and to recognize here and now the underlying social structures that are directly responsible for your pain and suffering. This project makes forceful what has been easy for you to ignore.”

Read Powell’s statement in full here


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Richard Sherman Says He Supports Black Lives Matter, But ‘Black-On-Black’ Crime Needs To Stop First

By Matt Ferner, National Reporter, The Huffington Post

Seattle Seahawks’ star cornerback Richard Sherman says he supports the Black Lives Matter movement, but believes that the issue of “black-on-black” crime needs to be resolved first.

Sherman made the impromptu remarks before reporters Wednesday in response to a controversial website comment about the Black Lives Matter movement that many had incorrectly attributed to him. And while Sherman denied that he wrote the post Wednesday, he did take several minutes to offer a heartfelt statement on his thoughts regarding Black Lives Matter and police-community relations in the inner-city.

“As a black man I do understand that black lives matter,” Sherman said. “I stand for that, I believe in that wholeheartedly. I also think there’s a way to go about things and there’s a way to do things.”

Sherman, a Stanford graduate who was born and raised in Compton, California, suggested that the black community needs to address “internal” issues like “black-on-black crime” before police are blamed. He shared a personal story from his past about a “best friend” who, Sherman says, was killed by two 35-year-old black men…

“If black lives matter, then they should matter all the time,” Sherman said.

The concept of black-on-black crime is a controversial one. And while it has existed in American culture for decades, Jamelle Bouie detailed in The Daily Beast that there is a huge problem with the phenomena: It does not actually exist. The issue of black-on-black crime is no more real than the one of “white-on-white crime.” Bouie writes:

Yes, from 1976 to 2005, 94 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders, but that racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime—86 percent were killed by white offenders. Indeed, for the large majority of crimes, you’ll find that victims and offenders share a racial identity, or have some prior relationship to each other.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates To Write New Black Panther Comic Book Series For Marvel

By Matt Ferner, the Huffington Post

Ta-Nehisi Coates will be writing a new Black Panther comic book series for Marvel, The New York Times announced Tuesday.

Cover art for the first issue of the upcoming Black Panther comics series

Cover art for the first issue of the upcoming Black Panther series

Coates, 39, a national correspondent at The Atlantic, National Book Award nominee, and author of the recent New York Times bestselling book Between The World And Me, is one of the most thoughtful and provocative writers about the African-American experience, America’s long struggle with racism and issues of social and criminal justice. He’s also a Marvel Comics superfan and living encyclopedia on the subject.

“How often do you find a literary voice as singular and powerful as Ta-Nehisi Coates, who also happens to be a hardcore fan of the Marvel mythology?” Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso told The Huffington Post about the announcement. “Through comic books’ first and greatest black super hero, and the fictional kingdom over which he presides, Ta-Nehisi will shed unique insight into the world in which we live.”…

Coates told the Times that the Marvel universe was “an intimate part” of both his childhood and adulthood.

“It was mostly through pop culture, through hip-hop, through Dungeons & Dragons and comic books that I acquired much of my vocabulary,” Coates said.

Black Panther, the first black superhero, was created in 1966 by Marvel comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby…

The storyline to be written by Coates is titled “A Nation Under Our Feet.” It’s inspired by Steven Hahn’s book of the same title

New and more diverse characters are becoming a trend at Marvel. Recently Michael B. Jordan stepped

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates

into the role of the Human Torch in the latest Fantastic Four reboot. Earlier this year Marvel reintroduced their classic Thor hero as a female. A black teenage girl is the new “Moon Boy” in Marvel classic Devil Dinosaur. There’s also a new black-Hispanic Spider-Man and a new Pakastani-American Muslim Ms. Marvel.

“The Marvel Universe is at its best when it reflects the world outside your window — and that world looks different in 2015 than it did in 1963,” Alonso told HuffPost in an earlier interview

Read the full article here.

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Viola Davis Becomes 1st Black Woman to Win Emmy for Best Actress in a Drama

By Yesha Callahan, theRoot.com

It was Viola Davis’ night and the rest of the nominees in the Emmy category for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series were along for the ride. Davis, who was joined by Taraji P. Henson in the same category, won for her role on How to Get Away With Murder.

During Davis’ emotional acceptance speech, her words particularly resonated with every black actress in Hollywood. Davis opened her speech regarding her history-making win as the first black woman to be awarded in the category with the words of Harriet Tubman:

“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful, white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.”

“The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” Davis added during her speech. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”viola_davis

Davis then gave shout-outs to other black actresses, including Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union and Kerry Washington…

During a moment at the beginning of the show, host Andy Samberg joked about the lack of diversity among the award’s nominees that is usually the case, but this year was different.

“This is the most diverse group of nominees in Emmy history, so congratulations, Hollywood, you did it!” Samberg announced to the crowd. “Yeah. Racism is over! Don’t fact-check that.”…

And Samberg is right. Don’t fact-check his statement. Davis’ win is monumental for those black women in Hollywood out there trying to make it and get recognized. It’s also monumental because Davis commanded the stage with a powerful speech that proved there are difficulties in Hollywood when you’re a black woman. But just because black women have made strides, it doesn’t mean they should stop striving for more.

Read the full article here.

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Horror Drove Her From South. 100 Years Later, She Returned.

By Dan Barry, New York Times

In 1915, Mamie Kirkland and her family fled Ellisville, Miss., in fear that her father would be lynched. She swore she would never return. But at age 107, she made the journey.

NAACP flyer showing that John Hartfield's lynching was planned ahead.

NAACP flyer showing that John Hartfield’s lynching was planned ahead.

…[Kirkland’s] father, Edward Lang, a laborer and aspiring minister, roused the house at 12:30 in the morning. “Rochelle, I got to leave,” she remembered him saying to her mother. “Get the children together.”

Family lore has it that people wanted to lynch her father and a friend named John Hartfield, and that the two men fled that night. The rest of the Langs — a mother and five children, including baby Lucille, who was nursing — left by train in the morning. It was 1915.

“We were just shaking,” Ms. Kirkland said.

They settled in East St. Louis, Ill., where word later came that Mr. Hartfield had returned to Ellisville to be with his white girlfriend. This is undocumented family gospel. What is documented is that on June 26, 1919, white townspeople lynched him for allegedly raping a white woman.

The front page of The Jackson Daily News announced that Mr. Hartfield would be lynched at 5 p.m. “Governor Bilbo Says He Is Powerless to Prevent It,” the headline read. “Thousands of People Are Flocking Into Ellisville to Attend the Event.”

The [Ellisville, Mississippi,] population of 1,700 instantly multiplied as crowds spilled out of the Hotel Alice and into the open space along the train tracks. A postcard depicting the scene bears the caption: “Waiting for the Show to Start.”

The lynching of  John Hartfield was attended by thousands.

The lynching of John Hartfield was attended by thousands.

Mr. Hartfield was dragged to a big gum tree and strung up. A rain of bullets from the crowd seemed to reanimate the corpse, which finally fell to the ground and was burned to ashes. Some took body parts as souvenirs.

In the Ellisville of today, little recalls the moment, other than the Hotel Alice. In a mayoral portrait gallery at City Hall, for example, the officeholder in 1919 is absent. And at Jones County Junior College, Roll 539 of the microfilm for the local newspaper, The Laurel Daily Leader, jumps from May 27, 1919, to Aug. 22, 1919 — as if the June lynching of Mr. Hartfield had never happened.

Ms. Mamie Kirkland, age 107, speaking with the mayor of Ellisville, Mississippi.

Ms. Mamie Kirkland, age 107, speaking with the mayor of Ellisville, Mississippi.

But it remained seared in collective memory. “I never saw him in my life, but I remember his name,” Ms. Kirkland said, adding, “Could have been my father.”

By then, it appears, the family had already endured mayhem in East St. Louis, where thousands of Southern black men like her father found work in industrial plants. In 1917, when Ms. Kirkland was 9, rioting white men, incensed by the job competition and changing demographics, burned down black neighborhoods and shot at those who fled. Dozens of black residents, maybe many more, died, and thousands were left homeless.

Read the full story here.

Read an eyewitness account of the lynching of John Hartfield by a reporter here.

Read more Breaking News here.

Suit Alleges ‘Scheme’ in Criminal Costs Borne by New Orleans’s Poor


Alana Cain at the Orleans Parish Criminal Court on Thursday. She spent a week behind bars for failure to pay court fees. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

Alana Cain at the Orleans Parish Criminal Court on Thursday. She spent a week behind bars for failure to pay court fees. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

NEW ORLEANS — Late at night, after the lawyers had gone home, Alana Cain washed the floors at a downtown firm. One morning, a ring disappeared; Ms. Cain, 26, was charged and eventually pleaded guilty. The judge ordered her to pay $1,800 in restitution. He also imposed roughly $950 on top of that in court fines and fees.

LA prisoners NewOrleansTimesPicayune

Prisoners in a Louisiana jail

She paid in installments, coming to the collections office with $50 every two weeks for more than a year. Once, after too long a jobless spell, she was late with her payment. She phoned the court collections officer and told him she was getting the money. It was in her pocket when the police pulled over the car in which she was riding, citing a broken taillight. There was already a warrant; she spent a week in jail before she could see a judge.

On Thursday, Ms. Cain joined five other plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the criminal district court here, among others, alleging that judges and court officials have been running an “illegal scheme” in which poor people are indefinitely jailed if they fall behind on payments of court fines, fees and assessments. The suit describes how fees are imposed with no hearing about a person’s ability to pay, and how nearly all components of the local criminal justice system — the judges, the prosecutors, the public defenders — benefit financially to some degree.

“The extent to which every actor in the local New Orleans legal system depends on this money for their own survival is shocking,” said Alec Karakatsanis, a founder of Equal Justice Under Law, a civil rights group, and one of the lawyers who filed the suit….

…[I]n general, said Mr. Karakatsanis, who filed a similar suit in Ferguson, Mo., in February and helped force changes to jailing policies in Montgomery, Ala., last year, “the effort to fund local court systems on the backs of the very poor is not an aberration.”…

The fees can begin accumulating immediately after an arrest, as soon as a bond is set. While a federal court in 1991 struck down a state law allowing New Orleans judges to take a percentage of each bond, a subsequent law mostly reinstituted this arrangement — but split up the percentage among the other actors in the criminal justice system.

Read the full article here.

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Racial Bias Affects How Children Are Treated For Pain

By Kathryn Doyle, Reuters

Race appears to affect the odds that a child or teen with appendicitis, a painful condition requiring surgery, will get pain medication, particularly opioid medication, according to a new study.

childcare“I’ve seen a lot of patients with appendicitis, it’s a very painful surgical condition,” said lead author Dr. Monika K. Goyal of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C…

“We were surprised that less than 60 percent of all kids received any analgesia . . . and among the kids that actually received it, why there were such marked racial differences in use of opioids,” she said.

Previous studies have documented racial disparities in emergency department treatment or management of adult patients, but these results specifically among children are particularly striking, she said.

Goyal and her coauthors used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey from 2003 to 2010 on almost one million patients age 21 or younger who were diagnosed with appendicitis in an emergency room.

Only 57 percent received some kind of pain medication. Roughly 41 percent received an opioid medication. Twenty-one percent of black children, compared to more than 40 percent of white children, received an opioid, the researchers reported in JAMA Pediatrics.

After taking into account patients’ age, sex, pain intensity, insurance status and other factors, black children were 80 percent less likely than white children to receive opioids for their pain.

Black children with moderate pain were less likely to receive any pain medication than white patients, and black patients with severe pain were less likely to receive opioids than white patients…

The study wasn’t designed to investigate why these racial disparities exist, but there are likely many important factors, including conscious and unconscious bias on the provider level, institutional practices, parental practices and societal preferences, Goyal said.

Race, socioeconomic status and insurance coverage should not affect pain management for appendicitis in the emergency room, she said.

“Really understanding racial disparities in healthcare is extremely important,” Goyal said. “Once we acknowledge that these types of disparities exist, we can move on to developing interventions to achieve health equity.”…

Read the full article here.

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MSA president speaks out about racist incident

By Ruth Serven, the Columbia Missourian

Payton Head said the first time he was ever called the “N-word” was behind a fraternity house in Greektown when he was walking a friend home from campus at night last spring.

Payton Head, President of the Missouri Students Association

Payton Head, President of the Missouri Students Association

“I’d had experience with racism before, like microaggressions, but that was the first time I’d experienced in-your-face racism,” Head, now a senior and president of the Missouri Students Association, said…

Then on  Friday night, Head said he was walking down Hitt Street when a pickup passed him and a passenger repeatedly shouted racial slurs at him.

“Some guys in the back of a pickup just started yelling the ‘N-word’ at me,” Head said Monday.

This time, his response was a Facebook post on Saturday that brought it to the attention of the MU community.

“I could either not say anything and go about my night, or I could finish my term and stay angry, or I could say something,” Head said in the interview.

In his online post, Head expanded his experience beyond racism and addressed issues of exclusion that multiple MU minority groups face.

“I really just want to know why my simple existence is such a threat to society,” Head wrote. “For those of you who wonder why I’m always talking about the importance of inclusion and respect, it’s because I’ve experienced moments like this multiple times at THIS university, making me not feel included here.”

In his post, Head mentioned aggression against a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, a transgender student who was spat on downtown and students with disabilities trying to navigate Memorial Union. He talked about women who feel uncomfortable walking outside at night.

In both the post and the interview, he described his experience walking past a bar with his partner and having drinks thrown at them.

“I could have easily made this post about myself, but it’s my job to think about the whole community,” Head said.

Head said he wants to challenge the respectability many people think MU has and the notion that racist incidents don’t happen in Columbia, or that the MSA president would be exempt from racism…

“These are some of my experiences and the experiences of the ones closest to me,” Head said in his Facebook post. “This is what I’m fighting against every day in boardrooms, conferences, meetings, classrooms, the Capitol, and in my daily life. This is my reality. Is it weird that I think that I have the right to feel safe here, too? If you see violence like this and don’t say anything, you, yes YOU, are a part of the problem.”

More than 684 people liked Head’s post as of 9:30 p.m. Monday, and there were 645 “shares.” Cathy Scroggs, MU vice chancellor of student affairs, posted on Head’s Facebook page: “Payton is a profile in courage.”…

After the first time he was called a racist insult, Head said, “I didn’t want to be (at MU) anymore.” But this time, he said his duty as president is to make sure MSA and the MU community know that students face racism and other aggression.

“Mizzou is home,” Head said. “But if I don’t expose the issues going on in my own home, how will anything change?”

Read the full article here.

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