Category Archives: African Americans

Beer Summit for Black Woman?

Will the Black woman who was removed from Claire McCaskill’s town hall meeting on health care get a “beer summit” at the White House? Turns out she was reacting after a white woman snatched a poster of Rosa Parks out of her hand. The white woman then ripped up the poster. After the Black woman reacted, she was quickly removed from the town hall meeting. According to MSNBC, the white woman was not. McCaskill tries to explain what happened to the crowd, but quickly aborts that attempt as boos erupt from the audience.

Here’s the video–notice the freeze frame of the “angry Black woman.”

Obama, hello?



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Classy (Black) Ladies: Why Some People Are Hating on Wanda Sykes

I came across this cartoon while reading the New York Times’ Week in Review this morning.

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

Cartoon by Steve Kelley The Times-Picayune

This cartoon put me into a momentary rage for a number of reasons.

First of all, Wanda Sykes was just down-right funny at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

Secondly, I am tired of the silent conversation we are having about race, class, gender and Michelle Obama. I’ve been traveling a good deal lately and have overheard more than my fair share of these conversations in cramped airplanes and somewhat less cramped airport bars. They go a little something like this: “…and how about that Michelle Obama. She is just so (a pause to search for the right word)…classy.”

Now, I’m a big Michelle Obama fan too. I love her style and her arms. But I don’t love how the the word “classy” is silently standing in for a a host of other words often used to describe the type of Black woman that Michelle Obama is not i.e. the term used with alarming frequency at the moment: ghetto. In short, Michelle Obama is not a “ghetto chick” (or any other equally derogatory term used to describe poor, Black women) and that’s why so many ladies (and men) –white and Black–love her.

It is the casual illustration of this hierarchy of Black femininity that put me into my momentary rage. Sykes is a comedian. Her jokes, like those of Stephen Colbert, who provided an expert performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner during the Bush Administration years, are open to criticism. But to say that she has no class is to critique her performance as a particular type of Black woman. To dismiss her in this way is to say that the loud, aggressive, (lesbian) Sykes is somehow less of a respectable woman than the reserved, resilient, and appropriately ladylike Michelle Obama. It is to say that Michelle Obama is “good” and Wanda Sykes is “ghetto.”

And that is not funny at all.


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Filed under African Americans, feminism, race, Uncategorized, women

Why I Love Black Women

Two words: Wanda Sykes.

If you haven’t seen Wanda Sykes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner take a moment and check it out. The only disappointment: no riffs on Obama’s weak public stance on gay marriage.



Filed under African Americans, marriage, Proposition 8, TV, Uncategorized, women

Black Women & the Radical Tradition-this Saturday!


If you’ll be in New York, or want a very good excuse to come to the City, check out the Brooklyn College for Worker Education sponsored conference on black women and radicalism. The registration fee is crazy, but I’m not convinced that one might not be able to tip in un-noticed—but you didn’t hear that from me.

Speakers include: Angela Davis, Manning Marable, Genna Rae McNeil, Leith Mullings, Erik McDuffie, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Gerald Horne, Frances Fox Piven, Mary Louise Patterson, Carole Boyce Davies, Ericka Huggins, Eileen Boris, Premilla Nadasen, Jeanne Theoharis. Black women’s activism, both historic and contemporary, in a range of movements will be discussed and debated. The site details and conference schedule are here.

I’ll be adding some trans-Atlanticness to the proceedings by presenting on Olive Morris. It’s the same plenary as Carole Boyce Davies’ work on the fabulosity that is Claudia Jones, as well Erik McDuffie who is doing great new work on black American Communist women.

Radical bookstore, Bluestockings will be on hand selling books after the conference. Credit crunch be damned! I’m glad to see a non-mainstream bookstore surviving and look forward to stocking up with them.

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Filed under African Americans, feminism, race, Social Justice, social justice movements, women

USA-style prisons coming to Britain

barcodeI like to share Britishism with my folks and we did get a chuckle out of the notion of U.K. inmates being euphemistically called , “guests of the Queen.”

Alas, when one considers rising incarceration rates of people of color in the U.K., and Britons in general, it’s not so funny.

  • There are 158 prisons in the U.K. and ten immigration detention centers.
  • Despite being only eight percent of the population, in 2006, people of color make up 26% of the prisoners in England and Wales.
  • While there are a mere 8,000 men of Afro-Caribbean descent in higher education, there are 11,800 in prisons.
  • Though they are assumed to be the liberal party (read: interested in racial justice, though I’ve seen little evidence of that after living here for five years), the Labour Party has enacted 3,600 new criminal offense laws since coming into power in 1997—that’s ONE PER DAY.

In essence, we are seeing the criminalization of Britons and a fast drive toward the U.K.’s own prison industrial complex. And while I am weary of folks in the U.K. attempting to blame every ill on American influence, you got me on this one. My America’s bad. The companies bringing a bit of repressive America to the U.K. are some of the same ones that have colonized communities in the U.S., including Corrections Corporation of America. (I believe CCA is changing their name to do business in the U.K., but it’s still the same exploitative fruitstand selling bad apples.) Continue reading

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Change is so. . . change-like

So far in Week 1, Obama has announced plans to close Gitmo, declared he will dismantle the system of American secret prisons abroad, and has rolled back the global gag rule. Had I been able to pen Obama’s first-week To Do list myself, these three things would have been pretty close to the top of the list.

As I watched the decisions unfold this week, I realized that my life on the Left has made me virtually unprepared for this sort of success. I supported Bill Clinton, and he gave us Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Welfare-to-Work programme. I supported Hillary and watched her get more and more hawkish as she tried to prove she was a tough as the boys. My whole adult life, I’ve been told by the mainstream radical Left (if I can be forgiven the seeming contradiction in terms) that the American political process was fundamentally bankrupt and that there was no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans. I never believed it so much that I voted for Nader, but I believed it enough to cast my votes for Gore et al wearily and warily.

Now it seems that the American democratic process has actually produced something very like…a difference. People seemed to want to take a new direction, and they seemed to see that new direction in Barack Obama–both because of his policies and because by electing a black man America offered itself, and the world, a dramatic symbol of America’s ability to transform and progress. And then, in his first week in office, Obama actually went and did different things from what your average Democrat, much less your average Republican, would have done. Things, moreover, that he had promised to do.

As I’ve watched myself struggle to take in this unprecedented series of events, I’ve realized that it’s not just the pessimism build from years of Democratic betrayal that has made it so difficult to take this on board. It’s also a certain Left-academic habit of mind which reacts to every seeming victory by looking for the underlying defeat. Don’t get me wrong: this kind of critical thinking is an indispensable political tool. We do need to remember how quickly conservative forces recoup movements to the Left for their own purposes–as when the 1960s radical rhetoric of empowerment was transformed into a means of arguing that welfare only increased ‘dependency’ among the poor. But when that is our only approach to events, we find ourselves baffled by an actual, straightforward victory. Of course Obama is going to make mistakes and make political decisions that genuine progressives, of which he is still not one, find reprehensible. But apparently he is also going to make some decisions that we can endorse wholeheartedly–provided we can figure out how.



Filed under African Americans, election 2008

Mr. President

These words juxtaposed with Obama’s face on the Chicago Sun Times unleashed a torrent of tears on Oprah today. She held up the soon to be iconic covers during her interview with James Smith, the Page One Editor of the Sun Times.

The front page featuring the Bushes greeting the Obamas with the caption “welcome” was a tearjerker too.

This is what Smith said of what he was thinking when he created the headline: “Slaves built the White House.”

And I wondered at the sudden mood of racial reconciliation. Where did it come from, in an era where national discussion of race have been confined to a few series on CNN and in the New York Times? This marvel that Obama was elected because of his qualifications, and his appeal, not because of his race?

Has it been simmering under the surface this 10 years now, simmering like our apparent national shame of the Bush administration, unleashed in a torrent of flag waving on the mall as Obama was sworn in?

I’ve always loved the idea of America. I am simply amazed to see that I wasn’t alone in that love, and for the first time, this week, I felt proud of the actuality of the U.S.


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Filed under African Americans, election 2008, race, Social Justice