- Created on 21 November 2013
I grew up in a family of storytellers. Around our dinner table, stories of 1950′s era Harlem flow freely, as my grandparents talk about coffee dates with James Baldwin and nights that included live sets at the Cotton Club with Billie Holiday. As a child, these stories were the norm, and I never had a question about why photos hung in our living room of three figures: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and former President John F. Kennedy.
Very early on, I learned Nov. 22, 1963 was a day of sadness and violence, uncensored and broadcast across the world, with no parental guidance label. It was real life. John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, TX, with the world watching.
My mother was only 6 years old when JFK was assassinated 50 years ago tomorrow, on a Friday afternoon. The impact of his short time in office had a huge magnitude on a life my mother knew and one that's only known to my generation through history books.
In just two years in office, JFK made a dent in a myriad of crises during his administration, and set the groundwork for the changes that rippled after his assassination. As the first "TV President," he became the face of the nation: a charismatic president with an accessible first family. First Lady Jackie Kennedy was the first to welcome the nation into the White House with television broadcasts capturing her family at play and on holidays.
JFK ran on ideals of hope and change that inspired millions of African Americans and young people on college campuses in a way never seen prior. He was young, and fostered the idea that any man could achieve greatness and enjoy a slice of the American dream, regardless of their ancestry or economic standing. The effects were two fold: the media lens also made him the first modern president to have his personal life in tabloids, and his ideals were mired as radical and harmful to the nation's status quo.
In New York, my parents grew up with nuclear bomb drills in school and were carefully kept out of the racially charged areas of the South. They received all of their news on a small black and white TV, from the Jackson 5′s first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," to watching Lee Harvey Oswald get shot in cold blood live on television. It was an era where reality TV resulted in mandatory drafts that claimed a fresh batch of 18 year olds for war, young men (and their families) praying that their birthdate wouldn't appear on the screen.
Although JFK's steps into civil rights war were weary, he did forge ahead with the idea that all men are deserving of inalienable rights, regardless of skin color. For this reason, African Americans supported his administration, as a new day seemed not so far out of reach. Throughout the violence, water hoses, and church bombings, African Americans held forthright to the idea that civil disobedience and resolve would overcome the barriers.
JFK represented a symbol of hope for the underserved and grossly overlooked citizens. For the first time in our nation's history the youth vote and African Americans mattered.
An outpouring of grief in the form of mailed letters delivered to the White House the days following the assassination. Letters ranging from impressionable 5 year olds who saw JFK as "TV dad" to 95 year olds who expressed their apologies for turning a blind's eye to prejudice they knew were unjust.
Civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in June, just two months before JFK was killed. His widow, Myrlie Evers, reached out to Jackie Kennedy along with the 800,000 Americans who wrote the First Lady in the weeks following the assassination. Race and political belief aside, the two young widows lost their husbands to the same brand of evil that left their young children fatherless.
50 years later, the nation remembers John F. Kennedy's assassination. The events of 1963 impacted a nation, and is a reminder of just how far we've come, and how far we can always go as a nation united.
- Created on 18 November 2013
In this Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013 file photo, New York Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio embraces his son Dante, left, daughter Chiara, second left, and wife Chirlane McCray after polls closed in the city's primary election in New York. (AP Photo / Kathy Willens, File)
Another milestone is passing in America's racial journey: The next mayor of New York City is a white man with a black wife.
Even in a nation with a biracial president, where interracial marriage is more accepted and common than ever, Bill de Blasio's marriage to Chirlane McCray is remarkable: He is apparently the first white politician in U.S. history elected to a major office with a black spouse by his side.
This simple fact is striking a deep chord in many people as de Blasio prepares to take office on Jan. 1, with McCray playing a major role in his administration.
"It reflects the American values of embracing different races, ethnicities, religions. I think it's just a great symbol," said William Cohen, the former Maine senator and Secretary of Defense, who is married to a black woman.
Cohen was already a senator when he started dating Janet Langhart, a black television journalist. He proposed several times, but she feared that her race would hurt Cohen's political future. They married in 1996, a few weeks after Cohen announced he would not seek a fourth term.
"There has been that fear (of interracial marriage) on the part of politicians. I didn't have it," Cohen said. He noted that a few white politicians have married Latino or Asian women, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife is from Mexico, or Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is married to the Taiwan-born former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
There have been black men in politics who have been married to white women, such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas or former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Brooke. And high-profile women such as South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, whose parents are from India, and Mia Love, the black mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, are married to white men.
Yet unions of white men and black women have retained a forbidden aura, Cohen said.
"It's black and white, it's slavery and Jim Crow and the fact you can't talk about it," he said. "Black and white has been more of a taboo in the eyes of enough people to be a deterrent."
The taboo is declining, polls show.
In July, a Gallup poll found that 87 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage - the highest rate ever - compared with 4 percent in 1958. In 2010, more than 15 percent of all new marriages were interracial, according to the Pew Research Center.
Yet statistics also indicate why de Blasio and McCray are such a rarity.
The Gallup poll showed that 14 percent of white people did not approve of intermarriage, compared with 2 percent of black people. And white men are the least likely to marry outside of their race - more than 97 percent of white men are married to white women (82 percent of black men, 65 percent of Hispanics and 48 percent of Asians marry within their own group). The figures are based on 2005 census data analyzed by Michael Rosenfeld, a Stanford University sociologist who studies interracial marriage.
Much has been made of the difficulties black women have in selecting husbands from a pool of eligible black men shrunk by unemployment and incarceration. Among black women age 35 and over, more than 25 percent have never been married, compared with about 7 percent of white women, census figures show. Black men also are twice as likely as black women to marry outside of their race, according to Rosenfeld.
American history and culture, meanwhile, are littered with troubled tales of interracial couples. There have been centuries of debate over President Thomas Jefferson fathering children with his slave Sally Hemings; Sen. Strom Thurmond fought for segregation after having a child with a black housekeeper. In his 1991 film, Spike Lee dubbed interracial sex "Jungle Fever."
All of which helps explain why many saw the matrimonial script being flipped by McCray and de Blasio.
"We're seeing black women loved in a way we have not seen before," said Aja Monet, a poet and New Yorker.
She sees this trend in real life and fiction, from McCray to first lady Michelle Obama to the Olivia Pope character in "Scandal," the hit TV show about a powerful black political operative in a relationship with a white president.
Monet has black, Cuban, Jamaican and Puerto Rican heritage. Her boyfriend is Korean-American. She noted that McCray and her brown children not only helped de Blasio connect with black voters - "their love functioned like a political technology" - but McCray also was a key player in de Blasio's campaign and will be an important part of his Democratic administration.
"It's fair to say the most important voice in my life is Chirlane McCray," de Blasio said after his victory.
As de Blasio and McCray celebrated on election night with their two children, Tiya Miles saw them on television and stopped in her tracks. "I was very moved," she said.
Miles, a black University of Michigan professor, recently wrote a column about being stung by the sight of so many successful black men choosing white wives. It feels like "a personal rejection of the group in which I am a part, of African American women as a whole, who have always been devalued in this society," Miles wrote.
"I think black women sit there with these feelings and they fester, and they take little bits of us over time," Miles said in an interview. "We can deal, we can manage, we keep on moving because that's our job in life, but it still affects us."
So for her, de Blasio and McCray's victory feels like confirmation - especially since McCray does not resemble the type of black woman that mainstream America usually deems beautiful, like Halle Berry or Beyonce.
"A woman who has darker skin and natural hair, and a white man," Miles said. "To see a black woman who is in a long-term relationship with children and her partner, who does not fit that stiff, narrow, idealized image of what a black woman should look like, I think is powerful."
It's more a simple sign of progress for Love, the mayor from Utah and a rising Republican star.
"I tend not to look at race in any issue," she said. However, "the fact that people are able to marry someone outside of their race without feeling as if they are going to have any issues or repercussions is a great thing."
Interracial marriage is not entirely accepted. A recent Cheerios ad featuring an interracial family inspired so many racist remarks that YouTube stopped allowing comments on it. And there remains some black resistance to marrying white people - it's widely accepted that if President Barack Obama had married a white woman, or even a light-skinned black woman, black voters would have caused him problems.
De Blasio was elected in New York, perhaps the most diverse city in America. But he is connecting with people across the country, especially the children of interracial marriages.
"Thank you, New York City, for this gift," wrote Liz Dwyer, whose father is white and mother is black, on her losangelista.com blog.
"It's just the resonance of it. How much it means for families to see a family like them in a visible place," said Ken Tanabe, a New Yorker with a Japanese father and Belgian mother. He is the founder of the Loving Day organization - http://www.lovingday.org - which organizes annual events celebrating the 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down laws against interracial marriage.
"Within our community, when someone does well, it feels like an affirmation," he said. "Not on the scale of a Barack Obama, but sort of a local version of that."
Said Cohen, the former defense secretary: "It says a lot about this country. Where we've come from, how far."
"The mayor," he said, "has shattered an image."
- Created on 14 November 2013
Despite having been granted a new trial in September, Marissa Alexander will have to wait until the New Year to find out if she will be freed on bail.
Alexander had been sentenced to 20 years for firing a warning shot into a wall during a fight with her husband, whom she alleged had abused her.
During a hearing yesterday, the judge declined to rule. Her lawyers had argued that she should go free because her ex-husband Rico Gray has demonstrated that he isn’t in fear of her, and was even texting her, asking for sex, after the incident when she fired the warning shot.
Reports NBC News:
Marissa Alexander’s attorneys argued in a Jacksonville, Fla., court Wednesday that she should be granted bond pending trial because there is no longer animosity between her and her ex-husband.
The state, however, said she should remain incarcerated.
Judge James Daniel said he will likely not rule until another pretrial hearing scheduled for Jan. 15 because of a backlog of cases, WJXT TV in Jacksonville reported.
And according to the Florida Times-Union:
During a hearing Wednesday to determine whether Alexander should get bail while awaiting a new trial, her attorneys said she received texts from Gray asking if he could keep having sex with her. This happened after Alexander’s second arrest involving domestic violence against Gray and after a judge ordered her to stay away from him.
The text is important because it demonstrates that Gray is not afraid of his estranged wife, and if he isn’t in fear of her, there’s no reason for Alexander to remain in jail, said attorney Bruce Zimet.
As previously reported, an appellate court ruled that during Alexander’s trial, the judge had made a mistake when shifting the burden to Alexander to prove she was acting in self-defense. He told the jury that she had to prove she was being battered by Gray, but the appellate court ruled that the prosecution had to prove Alexander was not acting in self-defense.
- Created on 15 November 2013
Now in its second week, the first trial challenging the voter ID law in the state of Wisconsin highlights what appears to be a growing trend across the nation to hamper the voting process. The federal lawsuit, brought by civil rights group Advancement Project with co-counsel Arnold & Porter, brings to light the restrictive nature of the state’s law. According to accounts from witnesses, the law is discriminatory and will have an impact on people of color, the elderly, and also the poor.
Several witnesses took the stand last week railing against the ID law. One woman in particular, 93-year-old Lorene Hutchins, testified from her wheelchair and delivered an eloquent rebuke regarding the law:
I feel there is a strategy to keep minorities and older people from voting. Most of us who migrated to Northern states do not have birth certificates, a prerequisite for obtaining the photo ID required to vote. I’ve been voting since the 1940s when I voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It would be devastating to lose the right to vote now, after all these years.
Ms. Hutchins was born in Mississippi during a time when Black patients were not accepted at hospitals. She was born at home in Lee County like many others and did not receive a birth certificate. Her daughter, Katherine Clark, reportedly worked feverishly for many years to obtain birth certificates for her and her mother and finally was successful.
“If it had not been for my daughter Katherine who had the time and money to fight to get me a birth certificate, I would have been barred from voting,” Ms. Hutchins said.
Many of the Advancement Project/Arnold & Porter witnesses migrated from the South to Wisconsin — all with the common thread of not having means to obtain birth certificates. Without that document, these individuals will not be able to obtain voter IDs and thus will be barred from participating in the voting process.
- Created on 12 November 2013
When the going gets tough, the tough get going is an affirmation that has always applied to Black women and a new report released by the Center for American Progress has the numbers to prove it.
Despite continued racial disparities and inequities in healthcare, education, politics and unemployment, Black women are the fastest-growing entrepreneurs in the United States, starting businesses at six times the national average.