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When the past is present…

“…The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.” James Baldwin


Teacher sues CPS after suspension for slur during ‘teachable moment’

Lincoln Brown, 48, says he used the n-word in front of his majority African-American class at Murray Language Academy on Oct. 4 last year after one of his students passed a note to a girl with rap lyrics including the n-word. He discussed the use of the racial slur in Huckleberry Finn in an attempt to show “how upsetting such language can be,” but just as he used the n-word, the school’s principal, Gregory Mason walked into the classroom, the lawsuit alleges.

Brown — who grew up in Hyde Park and has taught in black neighborhood schools for 21 years — “attempted to give his own denunciation of the use of such language” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday.

Lincoln Brown, public school teacher in chicago, suspended for saying "n****r" while teaching about hurtful language

Lincoln Brown, public school teacher in Chicago, suspended for saying the word "n****r" while teaching about hurtful language

“It’s so sad — if we can’t discuss these issues, we’ll never be able to resolve them,” Brown said Thursday as he prepared to begin his suspension from the Hyde Park school just a few blocks from President Barack Obama’s Kenwood home.


Slavery Homework Problem: Another Georgia Elementary School Under Fire For Math Problem Referencing Slaves (VIDEO)

“A plantation owner had 100 slaves,” the question read. “If three-fifths of them are counted for representation, how many slaves will be counted?”

A school spokesperson said the question was meant to educate students on both social studies and math, and that the teacher would not be punished.

The incident is reminiscent of a similar controversy at another Georgia school that erupted in January. Parents were outraged after students were sent home with math word problems using explicit examples of slavery.

“Each tree had 56 oranges,” the first question starts. “If 8 slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

Slavery Math Problem

Slavery Math Problem

“If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?”


The Bullet Next Time: An Open Letter to My Unborn Son

A father instructs his son on the dangerous and degrading realities of life as black male in America.


Racism Is the Problem Here

The Stand Your Ground law does not permit the use of deadly force against an initial aggressor unless “the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger.” Ordinarily, one would expect that a reasonable force requirement would provide ample protection against idiosyncratic or morally suspect behavior. But this is not the case when victims happen to be black.


Is Trayvon Martin this generation’s Emmett Till?

Trayvon Martin may very well become this generation’s Emmett Till.

The February 26th shooting death of the 17-year-old Martin by George Zimmerman — a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Florida — has captured national attention and garnered universal outrage. Nearly six decades ago, Emmett Till was murdered at a time when the lives of black boys were not highly regarded, and the rights of black Americans were under siege.

The Trayvon Martin case is now a turning point in American history, and not just for African-Americans. And you’ll find this case at the intersection of racial violence, civil rights and criminal justice.

One Million Hoodie March for Justice for Trayvon Martin in NYC

One Million Hoodie March for Justice for Trayvon Martin in NYC


Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law

There’s been a lot of talk about Florida’s Stand Your Ground (SYG) Law since the death of Trayvon Martin.  So I decided to take a look at this law (which approximately 20 other states have adopted).  The law allows gun owners to shoot (and kill) in self-defense if they feel threatened. Before Stand Your Ground, gun owners had to retreat in such situations, unless they were in their homes. There was a high legal threshold to cross before shots could be fired justifiably on streets, sidewalks or in other public settings.

Reports of justifiable homicides in Florida have spiked. For the first half of this decade, the state counted an average of 34 justifiable homicides a year, as few as 31 and as many as 43. In 2009: 105.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin, 17 y/o, shot and killed in Florida while walking home from the store.

The first six months of 2010: 44.


Family Tree’s Startling Roots

Thirty-nine lashes “well laid” on her bare back and an extension of her indentured servitude was Elizabeth Banks’s punishment for “fornication & Bastardy with a negroe slave,” according to a stark June 20, 1683, court document from York County, Va. That record and others led to the recent discovery that Banks, a free white woman despite her servitude, was the paternal ninth great-grandmother of Wanda Sykes, the ribald comedian and actress.

The unique thing about Wanda is that she descends from 10 generations of free Virginia mulattos, which is more rare than descendants of mixed-race African-Americans who descend from English royalty. More than 1,000 mixed-race children were born to white women in colonial Virginia and Maryland, but their existence has been erased from oral and written history.

Ms. Sykes’s family history was professionally researched for “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” a new series that has its debut Sunday on PBS.

Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes


“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” Published This Date in 1852

Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly is an anti-slavery novel by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. was the best-selling novel of the 19th century and the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible.

It is credited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. The book and the plays it inspired helped popularize a number of stereotypes about black people. These include the affectionate, dark-skinned “mammy”; the “pickaninny” stereotype of black children; and the “Uncle Tom”, or dutiful, long-suffering servant faithful to his white master or mistress. In recent years, the negative associations with Uncle Tom’s Cabinhave, to an extent, overshadowed the historical impact of the book as a “vital antislavery tool.”

Engraving in "UncleTom's Cabin"

Engraving in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" – Eliza says goodbye to Uncle Tom as she leaves to escape slavery.


Reel Soul on “Blaxploitation” and Action Films

This webisode of Reel Soul takes a look at the “Action” Genre and as it turns out, both of our selections came from the Blaxploitation era.  That era of Black film is a complicated one from almost any vantage point one wishes to take. For some, it was a powerful response from a populace informed by both the Black Power movement and the Black Arts Movement, demanding to see themselves represented onscreen. The studio system had collapsed and producers, in a panic to attract moviegoers, took note of the epic box office generated by the Black community in support of Van Peebles “Sweetback”. My question is, are we now in another Black Exploitation era ?

Reel Soul #2

Reel Soul #2


African American Smokers at Higher Risk Than Whites

Smoking among African Americans is a serious problem as this population suffers disproportionately from deadly and preventable diseases associated with smoking.  Compared to white Americans, African Americans are at increased risk for lung cancer even though they smoke about the same amount.

African American communities are bombarded with cigarette advertising. Money spent on magazine advertising of mentholated cigarettes, popular with African Americans, increased from 13 percent of total ad expenditures in 1998 to 49 percent in 2005. The former Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company (now part of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company) ran a campaign for Kool cigarettes aimed at black youths in 2006 that featured hip-hop DJ competitions, themed cigarette packs, and was billed as a “celebration” of hip-hop music and culture.

Dying for a Menthol?