When the past is present…
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When the past is present…
Edward Baptist’s New Book Follows the Money on Slavery
“Have you been happier in slavery or free?” a young Works Project Administration interviewer in 1937 asked Lorenzo Ivy, a former slave, in Danville, Va. Ivy responded with a memory of seeing chained African-Americans marching farther South to be sold.
“Truly, son, the half has never been told,” he said.
This anecdote is how Edward E. Baptist opens “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,” an examination of both the economic innovations that grew out of the ever-shifting institution of slavery and the suffering of generations of people who were bought and sold.
Mr. Baptist, a history professor at Cornell, said in an interview that his book represented his decade-long effort to blend these two aspects. Published in September, “The Half” joins a new wave of scholarship about the centrality of slavery — and the cotton picked by slaves — to the country’s economic development.
Mr. Baptist shows the ways that new financial products, bonds that used enslaved people as collateral and were sold to bondholders in this country and abroad, enriched investors worldwide. He also emphasizes viciously enforced slave labor and migration. The cotton boom led planters to sell slaves — one million moved from old to new slave states from the 1790s to the 1860s. Productivity, he argues, came through punishment….
As he writes in the book: “The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African-Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.”
Suresh Naidu, a Columbia University economist who also studies slavery, said economists would call for even more quantitative evidence for Mr. Baptist’s arguments but said his book was a “great interpretation of slavery.” Economic historians have tended to focus on how market forces blunted the worst aspects of slavery, Mr. Naidu said, but Mr. Baptist demonstrates how the drive for profit exacerbated physical punishment and forced migration….
His own journey into that past was intellectually satisfying but sometimes emotionally challenging, Mr. Baptist said. He recalled reading an interview with a woman whose enslaved mother toiled in the fields of a small Kentucky farm in the 1850s, sometimes returning home to discover that another child of hers had been sold away.
“In 1850, people could have given up,” Mr. Baptist said. “There was no reason to expect this would end anytime soon. That was a moment, reading that interview, that brought home all the implications of the history.”
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“All right, hear me out,” begins the young black woman in a video uploaded to the website LiveLeak last Friday. “There is no such thing as ‘talking white,’ … it’s actually called ‘speaking fluently,’ speaking your language correctly. I don’t know why we’ve gotten to a place where as a culture—as a race—if you sound as though you have more than a fifth-grade education, it’s a bad thing.”
She continues like this for nearly two more minutes, emphasizing the point that her speech reflects proper English and attacking the idea that it’s a deviation from black identity.
If she was hoping for a positive response, she got it. In addition to thousands of shares and tweets, it reached more than 560,000 views and made the front page of Reddit.
Not that this was a surprise. The main ideas—that black Americans disparage “proper English” and education and use a “broken” version of the language—have wide currency among many Americans, including blacks.
“Ebonics” is mocked as a fake language, and efforts to use it in schools have
sparked vocal opposition. When the Oakland, California, school board approved Ebonics for use in its schools in 1996, a flurry of public figures condemned the decision. “I understand the attempt to reach out to these children, but this is an unacceptable surrender, bordering on disgrace,” said the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who later reversed his stance, but not before he was endorsed by a wide range of people.
At the time, linguists protested the criticism, noting the extent to which Ebonics—officially known as African American Vernacular English—is recognized as a language system with its own grammar and pronunciations, with roots in the regional dialects of 17th-century Great Britain. Far from being slang or broken, AAVE is a distinct form of English used by many blacks in informal settings.
Still, it is true that so-called “proper English”—otherwise known as Standard English—is associated with white people. And there are many anecdotes and stories of black teenagers disparaging one another for using Standard English or “talking white,” which also tends to come with accusations of “acting white.” And, as we can see from the video, it’s these accusations that stand as Exhibit A in arguments for the existence of black pathology.
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It’s one of the most precious resources on Earth, but its importance seems forgotten in the western world where its ease of access is often instantaneous. But for 768 million people worldwide, it’s a daily struggle to find safe water, and in result, 1,400 children under the age of five die from water-based diseases every day.
Inspired to offer solution to this issue in a creative way, designer Arturo Vittori invented stunning water towers that can harvest atmospheric water vapor from the air. The nearly 30-foot tall WarkaWater towers can collect over 25 gallons of portable water per day, and are comprised of two sections. The first is a semi-rigid exoskeleton built by tying stalks of juncus or bamboo together; the second, an internal plastic mesh similar to the bags oranges are packed in. The nylon and polypropylene fibers act as a scaffold for condensation, and once droplets of dew form, are funneled by the mesh into a basin at the base of the structure.
The crisis of water shortage caught Vittori’s attention while traveling through Ethiopia. “There, people live in a beautiful natural environment but often without running water, electricity, a toilet, or a shower,” he says. It’s common for women and children to walk miles to worm-filled ponds which are contaminated with human waste. There, they collect water in trashed plastic containers or dried gourds, then carry the heavy load on treacherous roads back to their homes. This is a process which takes hours and endangers the children by exposing them to dangerous illnesses. It also takes them away from school – ensuring that a cycle of poverty repeats.
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As of press time, the first Ebola victim had been diagnosed here in the U.S.—and approximately 3,000 people have died because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, but what has been neglected and underreported are the children the dead are leaving behind. West African orphans, many of them with one or both parents deceased, are being shunned by their surviving relatives who are scared to take them in for fear that the children have contracted Ebola as well, Al Jazeera reports.
“Ebola is turning a basic human reaction like comforting a sick child into a potential death sentence,” Manuel Fontaine, a regional director with UNICEF, explained.
“These children urgently need special attention and support; yet many of them feel unwanted and even abandoned.”
UNICEF is making it its mission to tend to the people who are infected with the virus and also their families who are indirectly affected as well. The agency has asked the international donor community for $200 million in that regard. A quarter of that ask has been met.
The U.S. has taken the lead in the global effort to put a stop to the epidemic. Of the 3,000 troops that President Barack Obama said he would send to the region to help coordinate the emergency-response efforts, 150 were dispatched Tuesday.
“We are supporting U.S. government and international relief efforts by leveraging our unique U.S. military capabilities,” said Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Pentagon’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Al Jazeera reported that a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report warned that the number of Ebola infections will double every 20 days if response efforts don’t ramp up.
Ben Carson, the Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon-turned-Republican star, believes that the “likelihood is strong” that he will end up running for president in 2016.
“Unless the American people indicate in November that they like big-government intervention in every part of their lives, I think the likelihood is strong,” he said Monday on radio’s The Hugh Hewitt Show, according to the Washington Times.
Of course Carson, popular in conservative circles, is not rushing his decision, saying that he’s listening to voters as well as monitoring the 2014 landscape before making his final decision, which will come by May 2015 at the latest.
“I think the chances are reasonably good of that happening,” the Republican star added. “I want to make sure that it’s clearly something my fellow Americans want me to do. And I’m also waiting to see what the results are in November, because if the people indicate that they truly do want a nation that is for, [of] and by the people, then I—along with, I hope, many other people—would be willing to give it everything we possibly have.”
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CONYERS, Ga. — Since moving to this small city on the eastern flank of Atlanta’s suburban sprawl, Lorna Francis, a hairdresser and a single mother, has found a handsome brick house to rent on a well-groomed cul-de-sac. She has found a good public school for her teenage daughter.
Something Ms. Francis, who is black, has not found is time to register and vote. She was unaware that the most recent mayoral election was held last November.
“Life’s been busy — I’ve been trying to make that money,” Ms. Francis said one morning this month from her two-car garage, where she was micromanaging a particularly complex hairdo for a regular client. “And honestly, I only vote in major elections.”
That kind of disengagement is one of the many reasons that only one of the six elected positions in this municipality of 15,000 is held by an African-American, even as a wave of new black residents has radiated out from nearby Atlanta, creating a black majority here for the first time in the city’s 160-year history.
Disparities between the percentage of black residents and the number of black elected officials are facts of life in scores of American cities, particularly in the South. The unrest that followed the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., has emphasized how much local elections can matter, and prompted a push there for increased black voter participation.
The disparities result from many factors: voter apathy, especially in low-visibility local elections; the civic disconnect of a transient population; the low financial rewards and long hours demanded of local officeholders; and voting systems, including odd-year elections, that are often structured in a way that discourages broad interest in local races.
But Ferguson has become a vivid example of the way a history of political disengagement and underrepresentation can finally turn toxic.
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John Matteson, Distinguished Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, talks about slavery within the context of American law, and how slavery may have helped frame today’s attitudes and behaviors.
Recent events haunting black communities like ghosts of a violent era that many thought long gone—such as the tragic deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown—hark back to a collective memory of enslavement.
John Matteson, Distinguished Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, believes that the violence exhibited today is contextually linked to slavery and has become part of the culture over time.
“Slavery was a form of privatized law enforcement,” Matteson explained to The Root. “What it did was take a number of the powers that are typically reserved to the government—the power to discipline … the power over another person’s life—and it conferred those powers on private individuals. And there’s this continuing undercurrent in particularly Southern culture where there’s a reluctance to get the government involved if you can avoid it, because there’s just a sort of general distrust of centralized authority.”
These are some of the connections that Matteson hopes students taking his free eight-week course, Literature & Law of American Slavery, will be able to absorb and question as they go through his class….
“In terms of the underlying interest, one of the things that I’m really fascinated by is the way in which this epoch in our history, which seems to have taken place so long ago, continues to rear its head and to affect attitudes in our culture, ranging from law enforcement to race relations to the ways that parents treat their children,” Matteson continued.
He referenced an August segment on MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry’s show, in which she spoke about the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement and the correlation to the infamous Supreme Court Dred Scott decision in which then-Justice Roger Taney said in 1857 that the black man has “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”…
Of course, these matters aren’t solely about race; they also have a lot to do with the generational nature of violence. “I would suspect also that when you find a violent cop, or somebody who’s excited about the prospect of vigilante justice, I would guess … that you’re going to find that those abusive cops and the gun-toting nuts are very often people who themselves have experienced abuse,” Matteson said.
“Because abuse, as we know, is something that replicates itself from generation to generation,” he continued, “and if people start their lives by viewing everything through a lens of violence, it’s going to turn up in racial violence, but it’s also going to turn up in domestic violence. It’s going to turn up in the dysfunction of the individual human being in a myriad of ways.”
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will resign his post, the Justice Department said Thursday. Mr. Holder will remain in office until a successor is nominated and confirmed.
Mr. Holder, the 82nd attorney general and the first African-American to serve in that position, had previously said he planned to leave office by the end of this year.
Particularly in President Obama’s second term, Mr. Holder has been the most prominent liberal voice of the administration.
The Justice Department said Mr. Holder finalized his plans to leave in an hourlong conversation with Mr. Obama at the White House over Labor Day weekend.
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A lot of people in the television business are said to be curious to see how “black-ish,”ABC’s new comedy, is received when it has its premiere on Wednesday night. What they should really be curious about, though, is where the series goes after its funny but talking-point-heavy first episode.
The sitcom centers on a black family in Los Angeles, the Johnsons, struggling with prosperity. Andre (Anthony Anderson) works at an advertising agency; in the premiere, he’s on the verge of a major promotion. Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is an anesthesiologist. Their four children are smart and adorable.
If this puts you in mind of the Huxtables of “The Cosby Show,” that’s no accident. But more than the Huxtables ever were, the Johnsons are wrestling with whether their comfortable lives are causing them to forget that they’re black.
Well, Andre is doing most of the wrestling. The other family members display varying degrees of indifference to the issue, and therein lies the comedy. Andre, we learn in an introductory voice-over, grew up in less-than-middle-class fashion, and success leaves him conflicted.
“I guess for a kid from the ’hood, I’m living the American dream,” he explains. “The only problem is, whatever American had this dream probably wasn’t where I’m from. And if he was, he should have mentioned the part about how when brothers start getting a little money, stuff starts getting a little weird.”
The episode then visits in rapid succession — always comically — a formidable range of issues Andre encounters as a result of this duality. At work, he worries that he is receiving a promotion only because he’s black. At his computer, he laments that white celebrities are intruding on black culture.
At home, he tells his lighter-skinned wife — a “pigment-challenged mixed-race woman,” he calls her — that she’s not black enough. He is dismayed that his older son is trying out for field hockey instead of basketball. The dinner table discussion (yes, we’ve found the last family in America that still eats together around a dinner table) focuses on whether the children know that Barack Obama is the first black president. Even fried chicken comes in for scrutiny, although not from Andre, but from his father, winningly played by Laurence Fishburne.
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FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) — Anger spilled over Tuesday after fire destroyed one of two memorials on the street where Michael Brown was killed, a site that has become sacred to many in Ferguson and others nationwide focused on interactions between minorities and police.
How the fire happened wasn’t immediately clear, but it stoked fresh resentment among those who question whether the shooting of the unarmed, black 18-year-old by a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9 is being adequately investigated.
“It’s the same as if somebody came and desecrated a grave,” Anthony Levine of Florissant, another St. Louis suburb, said as he studied the charred scene and shook his head.
Many who gathered at the site Tuesday blamed police for the blaze, even as the chief said officers did everything they could to keep the stuffed animals and other items from burning….
Two memorials were put up the day Brown was killed. The one not damaged by fire is in the middle of Canfield Drive — a narrow band of stuffed animals, crosses, handmade signs and other items at the exact spot where Brown was shot.
The smaller memorial that burned sat a few feet away with teddy bears, blankets and signs circling a light post. It often included candles that were sometimes lit.
Many residents at the fire scene doubted a candle was the culprit, though. Most were certain someone set the blaze. Some said they smelled gasoline….
Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said in an emailed statement that the fire left him “saddened.” He said the first officer on the scene tried to extinguish the blaze but couldn’t. The Fire Department eventually put it out.
By late morning, the memorial already had been rebuilt with fresh teddy bears, a blanket and new signs. The light post and sidewalk remained charred. About 75 people joined hands in prayer, shouting, “We are Mike Brown!”
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