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Hollywood Takes Up School Reform’s Latest Agenda in ‘Won’t Back Down’

By Julianne Hing of Colorlines

Can a Hollywood movie spark a political movement?


Nona Alberts (Viola Davis) and Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal) share a triumphant moment with Nona’s son and Jamies daugher. Kerry Hayes/Walden Media, LLC

The nation is about to find out the answer with the debut [today] of “Won’t Back Down,” a 20th Century Fox film which gives the Hollywood treatment to a hot button education policy fight raging across the country. Who said school reform can’t be sexy, or at least bring you to weepy tears?

The film…depicts the fictional fight of two women, one a teacher, who want to take over their struggling Pittsburgh public school. With Viola Davis as the devoted but weary schoolteacher and Maggie Gyllenhaal playing the spunky and fierce single mom, the two team up to win over a conflicted schoolteacher played by Rosie Perez and against a villainous union boss played by Holly Hunter to overhaul the school.

It’s got all the tropes of the current education reform debate—inspiring and frustrated parents, underhanded teachers unions, dead-eyed teachers and features as its policy centerpiece parent empowerment laws which have fired up the country’s school reform debate. And the film has got all the emotional highlights of the current fight as well.

But “Won’t Back Down” is not just a feel-good Hollywood flick. It’s a well-funded political tool to advance a hot-button school reform policy around the nation. The film, using the current national debate around school reform as its ideological foundation, challenges viewers: In the fight for educational equity and individual justice, who will win? Teachers unions or the rest of the nation?

Read more here.

Watch the trailer of Won’t Back Down here.



“Living Color” Looks at Migration and Globalism’s Impact on Biology

By Joshua R. Weaver,

Even in today’s not-so-post-racial landscape, skin color plays a large and political role. From medicine to social sciences, our skin color has arguably become an essential trait in our being.jablonski_livingcolor_400jrw

Nina G. Jablonski’s Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color delivers an open, frank and important dialogue on the causes and effects of pigmentation on our biological and social lives — all from an anthropological perspective.

Beyond race, Jablonski focuses specifically on pigment and how migration and an increased globalism have helped change the biology of skin color. Living Color investigates the changing perceptions of skin color throughout history, as well as the various social and political roles skin pigmentation has taken throughout the modern and postmodern eras.

The Root‘s editor-in-chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls Living Color, “[a] groundbreaking book [that] brings the biological and social meanings of skin color into dialogue with one another, creating an open, rich and essential conversation.”

Jablonski is a distinguished anthropology professor at Penn State. Living Color is available online and in bookstores on Sept. 27.

Watch Jablonski’s TED talk about her subject:


Will ‘White’ and ‘Black’ Lose Their Meaning?

Browner America: Rep. Keith Ellison says the new focus will be on who is “structurally left behind.”

By Jenée Desmond-Harris

Recent census data reveal that, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half of all children born in the United States, with 50.4 percent of children under age 1 identified as Hispanic, black, Asian American or members of another ethnic minority group.

Keith Ellison

Congressman Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota and the only Muslim in Congress, was sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran.

In terms of the overall population, African Americans are the second-largest minority group in the nation (after Hispanics), with a 1.6 percent increase between 2010 and 2011. Minorities now make up nearly 37 percent of the overall U.S. population, and it’s predicted that by 2042, a minority of Americans will be non-Hispanic whites. What do all of these numbers mean for our understanding of race, for the issues that affect communities of color and for our very concept of who is a “minority” in this country?…

…We spoke to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim member of Congress, who has been an outspoken advocate against Islamophobia and has asserted that the GOP is “basically a bigoted party.”

The term “white,” he told The Root, is “an invention to suit the slaveocracy in America during [the] antebellum [period],” and the term “minority” “may just sort of become an anachronism.” He shared what he predicts the results of America’s demographic changes will be for race-specific policies, electoral politics and the very words we use to describe one another.

Read the interview with Keith Ellison here.


This Day in History: The “Little Rock Nine” Desegregated Central High School

By Amanda Galiano, Guide

Imagine that you are a black student in 1957 preparing to go to Little Rock Central High School to attempt what seemed impossible — the integration of public schools. These students were aware of what the public thought of their entering into a “white” high school. They didn’t worry about fitting in. Most whites, including the governor at the time, Orval Faubus, stood against them. Most troubling to the students was the fact that many blacks thought that the integration of Central would cause more trouble for their race than good.

The night before Thelma Mothershed, Elizabeth Eckford, Melba Pattillo, Jefferson Thomas, Ernest Green, Minniejean Brown, Carlotta Walls, Terrence Roberts and Gloria Ray, or the “Little Rock Nine” as history remembers them, were to enter into high school was not a peaceful night of sleep. It was a night filled with hate. Faubus declared that integration was an impossibility in a televised statement and instructed the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High and keep all blacks out of the school. They did keep them out for that first day of class.

[An adult activist] Daisy Bates instructed the students to wait for her on Wednesday, the second day of school, and planned for all nine students and herself to enter the school together. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the nine, did not have a phone. She never received the message and attempted to enter the school alone through the front entrance. An angry mob met her, threatening to lynch her, as the Arkansas National Guard looked on. Fortunately, two whites stepped forward to aid her and she escaped without injury. The other eight were also denied admittance by the National Guard who were under orders from Governor Faubus.

LRCH 9-25-57. Remember Little Rock, p42

Federal troops escorting the Little Rock Nine into Central High for the first time. Photo credit: Bettman/CORBIS.

[Finally, on September 25th,] President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to protect the nine students. Each student had their own guard. The students did enter Central High and were protected somewhat, but they were the subject of persecution. Students spat at them, beat them, and yelled insults. White mothers pulled their children out of school, and even blacks told the nine to give up. Why did they stay under such hostile situations? Ernest Green says “We kids did it mainly because we didn’t know any better, but our parents were willing to put their careers, and their homes on the line.”

…These nine students, although they didn’t realize it then, made huge waves in the civil rights movement. Not only did they show that blacks COULD fight for their rights and WIN, they also brought the idea of segregation to the forefront of people’s minds. They showed the nation what extreme and horrible measures some whites would take to protect segregation. No doubt, the events at Central High inspired many lunch counter sit ins and Freedom Rides and inspired blacks to take up the cause of Civil Rights. If these nine children could take on the huge task, they could too.

Read the full article about the “Crisis,” as it is called in Little Rock, here.

Additional resources here.


How White Ideals Color US Race Relations

Author Joan Walsh on her book and the notion that minorities get handouts while whites work hard

By Edward Wyckoff Williams,

In her new book,What’s the Matter With White People?: Why We Long For a Golden Age That Never Was, Joan Walsh, editor-at-large for, tells the story of the white working class in 20th- and 21st-century America.


Author Joan Walsh and her new book “What’s the Matter With White People?” Taylor Hill/Getty Images; Wiley

Using her personal journey growing up in a blue-collar, Irish Catholic family, Walsh offers a window into the hopes, fears, racial anxieties and political leanings of a group who have become in some ways all but invisible in a post-All in the Family era.

Walsh also uses the election of the nation’s first African-American president – and subsequent backlash from the far-right – as an opportunity to explore racial politics, given that mainstream American identity is largely defined vis-a-vis whiteness. As the browning of America continues, the Republican Party’s platform is increasingly invested in using race to divide and conquer. Walsh explores the dog-whistle politics – particularly around the issue of welfare – that have been central to America’s political discourse since the implementation of Nixon’s Southern strategy and the rise of the Reagan-Democrats: namely, disgruntled white working-class voters who are socially conservative and have been encouraged, often unknowingly, to resent the black, the brown and the poor.

Her book examines the fallacy that minorities have benefited from affirmative action at the expense of whites and explains why many poor and middle-class white Americans vote Republican, even against their own economic interests.

Read the interview with Joan Walsh here.


Empty chair ‘lynchings’: Anti-Obama protests gone too far?

By James Eng, NBC News

At least two recent incidents in which empty chairs were hung from trees by rope have critics decrying what they say are racially offensive displays meant to symbolize the “lynching” of President Barack Obama.

lynching chair Austin

A folding chair and an American flag hang from a tree in front of a home in northwest Austin, Texas. Courtesy of Burnt Orange Report

In Austin, Texas, a homeowner hung an empty folding chair from a tree branch in front of his house and later attached an American flag to it. He reportedly told a Democratic political blogger who said she had concerns, “You can take it and go straight to hell and take Obama with you.”

In Centreville, Va., an empty chair with a sign reading “Nobama” was strung from a tree in or near a park. “In short, this appears to be a crude metaphor for the lynching of President Obama,” wrote the blogger who posted the photo.

The image of an empty chair has been associated with Obama ever since Clint Eastwood’s headline-grabbing, non-conformist speech at the Republican National Convention three weeks ago in Tampa, Fla. The 82-year-old actor-director talked to an empty chair as if the Democratic president were sitting in it, criticizing and mocking the “invisible Obama” for 12 minutes.

“When somebody doesn’t do the job, you’ve got to let them go,” Eastwood said before making a throat-slashing gesture.

Read more here.

Lynching chair VA

A chair with an anti-Obama slogan hangs from a tree in Centreville, Va. Courtesy of Blue Virginia.


Former Slave Founded the Extraordinary Atlanta Life Insurance Co. in 1905

From the website of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company

On this date in 1905, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company was founded by a former slave, Alonzo Franklin Herndon. It is the largest black-owned stockholder insurance company in America.

Alonzo Herndon

Alonzo Herndon, the former slave and sharecropper who founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Co. in 1905.

A sharecropper from Social Circle, GA., Herndon parlayed his haircutting skills into the finest men’s barbershop in Atlanta, catering to the white businessmen who populated Peachtree Street until his shop was damaged during the 1905 Atlanta race riots. An indomitable entrepreneur, Herndon was a real estate investor, a world traveler, an amateur architect, a pillar of black Atlanta, and its wealthiest black man. His mansion, built by black artisans in 1910, today abuts the Morris Brown College campus and is listed on the national register of historic homes on Diamond Hill.

The company that Herndon founded with a $140 investment was the outgrowth of one of the many benevolent societies catering to low and moderate-income consumers. Salesmen sold the company’s low cost industrial insurance door-to-door at a time when, perhaps, they were the only black men passing through a southern town wearing suits and ties.

Continuing to serve its traditional customer base, Atlanta Life became a household name to black families throughout 17 states. Its salespeople collected premiums weekly and the company became woven into the fabric of the communities it served through its strong civic involvement and through its pivotal role in the underpinnings of the civil rights movement. For instance, it was quietly responsible for providing bail for countless students arrested during the sit-in movement. Atlanta Life continues to serve its community by sponsoring cultural and educational events.

Read more here.


ALIC headquarters building at Herndon Plaza, Atlanta, Georgia


Anti-Amalgamation Law Passed This Day in 1664

From the African American Registry

On this date in 1664, Maryland passed the first anti-amalgamation law. This law was intended to prevent marriages between Black men and English women.

Miscegenation pamphlet

A pamphlet warning that the election of Abraham Lincoln would bring back miscegenation (racial mixing).

Interracial marriage was a fairly common practice during the colonial era among white indentured servants and black slaves as well as in more aristocratic circles.

Subsequently, similar laws were passed in Virginia 1691, Massachusetts 1705, North Carolina 1715, South Carolina 1717, Delaware 1721 and Pennsylvania in 1725. Intermarriage bans were lifted during Reconstruction in the early 1870′s, but by the end of the decade mixed marriages were declared void. It wasn’t until the 1950′s and 1960′s that all of these laws were lifted again.

Lovings1Grey Villet of LIFE mag

In 1967, Richard and Mildred Loving took their case for the freedom to marry across racial lines to the Supreme Court and won. (Photo: Grey Villet, Life Magazine)

However in October, 1958, a Virginia grand jury indicted Mildred Loving and her white husband for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. Each pleaded guilty and received a one-year sentence. Their sentences were suspended providing they leave Virginia and not return for twenty-five years. The Loving’s appealed that decision to the U. S. Supreme court in Loving v. Virginia in 1967 and won. The Supreme Court struck down the Virginia law and similar laws in fifteen other states at the time.

Read more here.


“In My Genes,” Feature Debut By Lupita Nyong’o, Actor in “12 Years A Slave”

By Tambay A. Obenson, Shadow and Act


Movie poster for “In My Genes”

The first feature-length documentary by talented Kenyan director Lupita Nyong’o, In My Genes, follows eight individual Kenyans who have one thing in common: they were born with albinism, a genetic condition that causes a lack of pigmentation.

In many parts of Africa, including Kenya, it is a condition that marginalizes, stereotypes, and even endangers those who have it. Though highly visible in a society that is predominantly black, the reality of living with albinism is invisible to most. Through her intimate portraits, Ms. Nyong’o lets us see their challenges, their humanity, and their everyday triumphs.

[In addition to her filmmaking, Ms. Nyong'o has] been cast in quite a meaty role in Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years A Slave. [Produced by Brad Pitt, this movie in production also stars Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and other well-known actors.]

Lupita Nyong'o

Lupita Nyong’o, filmmaker and actor.

Read more about the filmmaker and the film In My Genes here.

12 yrs a Slave

Cover of Solomon Northup’s memoir, “Twelve Years a Slave,” upon which the new movie of the same name is based.

Read more about Twelve Years a Slave here.




9-year-old Brooklyn rapper pens rap against pants sagging, ‘Pull Ya Pants Up’

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill for

Nine-year-old Amor “Lilman” Arteaga of Flatbush, Brooklyn is so irate over the continuing pants sagging trend that he wrote a rap about it — aptly titled “Pull Ya Pants Up.”

The song sends a punch with the catchy hook, “Think that your swaggin’, ’cause your pants are saggin’? Pull your pants up! Pull your pants up!”

Amor punctuates his message with the line, “It’s not just your pants, your pulling us all down!”

His message is catching on. The pint-sized performer has already debuted his first single to “cheering crowds,” according to the Daily News….

In fact, pants sagging is seen as so distasteful that some locales across America have passed ordinances banning the practice. Even President Obama has weighed in on the style, stating “brothers should pull up their pants. You’re walking by your mother, your grandmother, and your underwear is showing.”

Amor’s inspiration for penning the timely ditty with his dad, Juan, was similar to those feelings voiced by the president.“It’s disrespectful showing your butt off,” the fourth grader said. “I’m always seeing boys, girls, rappers, singers — everyone is sagging out.”

Amor hopes to next bring “Pull Ya Pants Up” to the airwaves with appearances on BET and radio play. Until then, he will continue creating music focusing on social issues such as violence.