- Created on 10 December 2012
Keep the concept of privilege-clinging in the back of your mind as you check out the work and words of Dr. Yaba Blay, the driving force behind "Who Is Black in America?" the fifth installment of CNN's "Black in America" series. Using Blay's Kickstarter-funded multimedia collaboration with photographer Noelle Theard as a starting point, the show focuses on how people of African descent practice colorism, enforce identities based on appearance and the challenges of self-definition for multiracial people who aren't recognizably black. I caught up with Blay, an assistant professor of Africana Studies at Philadelphia's Drexel University (and, full disclosure, a Facebook-buddy-turned-friend), a few days after she co-hosted a special screening of the program on campus. Here, an edited, condensed version of our discussion.
So what's the origin of the (1)ne Drop Project?
Oftentimes we do research that's reflective of our lived experiences. So I've been personally impacted by colorism growing up as a West African, dark-skinned girl in New Orleans where you've got [self-described] black, white and Creole [cultures] and skin color politics are at the forefront of our social relationships there. I've always been very aware that I'm dark-skinned, in fact very dark-skinned. ... I looked at colorism from the standard direction as far as how we look at the disadvantages of having dark skin in a racialized society. But there was always a part of me that wanted to explore the other side of this. ... And actually, the first iteration of this project was called "The Other Side of Blackness," but "(1)ne Drop" just emerged [as a] more catchy name. I've always known that light-skinned people were having their own experiences with skin color politics, but I wasn't necessarily sure how to approach the question. There are black people all over the world, but the imagery connected to [blackness] has been more nebulous. If I take my students on study abroad, say in Brazil, will they be able to recognize the black people? Or are they just living with the idea that the black people are the ones who look familiar?
A lot of scholars, writers and activists have asked these kinds of questions. So how did you move transform an intellectual question into material for a Kickstarter video, a web site, the coffee table book of portraits you have in the works, a Facebook page and, ultimately, the CNN documentary? What was the spark?
I always talk about this experience of being on a  panel about skin color politics at [New York City's] Caribbean Cultural Center. They wanted me to speak specifically about my work about skin bleaching [and] about colorism. I remember sitting next to Rosa Clemente, who was referring to herself as a Black Puerto Rican woman from the South Bronx and feeling—I don't want to say uncomfortable, but preoccupied with the way she was self-referencing.
Why would that make you uneasy?
Because it was completely new; it was outside of my framework of personal experience. I see it differently now, but in that moment there was a distinction between people of African descent and black people.
What was the distinction?
In that moment?
Yeah. In that moment. [Laughs.]
It's a consciousness. So there's a quote-un-quote genetic and historical reality of having black people in your gene pool. But it's another thing to claim it, mean it and say that you are black. In my experience, I have come across people who are technically of African descent but use all kinds of nomenclature to describe themselves. I had been moving through the world with these assumptions that reflected an internalized negativity that a lot of us deal with. So [before that panel] I knew that Puerto Rican people are of African descent, but I also knew that they get to call themselves Puerto Rican rather than black. And here was Rosa saying "I am a black Puerto Rican." As a professor who teaches about the black diaspora, I was [thinking] I'm supposed to know this stuff! [Laughs.] I was sitting on this panel with all of these questions to the point of distraction.
For you, what's the significance of using "black" as opposed to, say, "African-American"?
Because "black" is a powerful word to me. It is my word of choice. I prefer it to "African-American" even though technically I am African-American. But I like what "black" represents because it's connected to a Pan-African perspective that I hold.
Talk about what it means for you, a dark-skinned woman who has dealt with colorism, to be the person shepherding a project like this. How did you prepare yourself?
I didn't prepare myself at all. I feel like I just jumped into it in the same way that I've done my other work. I started with people I knew and the first five to 10 interviews allowed me to work it out so by the time I got to interview 15, I had it down pat.
In an interview for another platform you talked about one of your subjects, Danielle. You two had classes together in the Africana Studies department at Temple University, but weren't friends at all.
They'll show a little bit of her story in the documentary. But, in short, I had always found her standoffish. We would speak to one another but that was the extent of it. Then a mutual professor encouraged me to talk to her for (1)ne Drop. When I approached her, she asked me very honestly how light-skinned people would be portrayed in this project because some of the things I had said about light-skinned privilege within the department. We just had to build mutual trust.
What surprised you about her story?
I remember during an interview Danielle asking me, "Why are you looking at me like that?" and I was looking at her like that because what she was saying completely disrupted the perception that I had of her. She grew up in Lancaster County in a Mennonite community with a white Mennonite mother and an African-American father who died when she was 13. In that [predominantly white] space, she was black as hell to everybody; there was nothing else for her to be. She tells this story of her going to a flea market with her aunt and somebody walking up and asking, "Oh, is this your Fresh Air Fund child?" She also talks about how classmates completely ignored her. She didn't have friends and the only time they would talk to her would be to ask her to jump into fights on their behalf because the assumption was that as the black girl, she could fight. Where it was unquestionable who she was and then for her to come somewhere like Philadelphia where people were like, "Are you Italian? Are you Puerto Rican? You grew up where? With horses and buggies? Well then hell no, you ain't black." I remember leaving that interview and transcribing it immediately because I couldn't believe that I'd heard what I'd heard.
I haven't seen the CNN show—I wanted to talk to you about (1)ne Drop pre-CNN with a clean slate. But in one of the teasers you make a point about the so-called one drop rule that could be construed as an endorsement of what has become a matter of custom but was used to terrorize us.
Clearly, the one-drop rule is racist as hell and comes out of a white supremacist foundation. But it is still at the core of how blackness is defined in this country and we haven't spent enough time unpacking it. When I say "we" I mean black people in this context. This definition has come from a source external to us who did it for the sake of controlling us. Now that we seek to control our own identity and exact some agency we need to really look at what it means to some of us. I don't have to define my blackness; I live it. But what does it mean to the biracial woman who has people jumping out of the car or following her down the street asking her to take a picture and demanding to know what she is? What does it mean to people who appear to be light-skinned to some but are the darkest people in their family?
Cable news isn't known for capturing subtleties. You're bound to have some people misinterpret your intention. How will you deal with that now that your work is no longer in your hands?
I'm not prepared for that, either. [Laughs.] The truth is we've gotten a lot of support, but there has also been pushback. The other day on Twitter, a white woman called me a racist c**t who hated my people. Then I've had good friends of mine question why I was examining skin color politics from the perspective of light-skinned and multiracial people. One said she saw it as a distraction—as if giving attention to colorism from this direction would invalidate what dark-skinned women have been saying about it. It was if we were in a gang and I was crossing sides. [Laughs.] But we've got to look at these things holistically. I want to have a holistic conversation about skin color politics because it really doesn't do us any advantage to only sit in the space of victimhood, the space of being disadvantaged. I don't think these two conversations negate one another. They are equally valid. So I'm not trying to get into that comparative framework. It's not better, it's not worse. It's different and it's theirs.
"Who is Black in America?" will air on CNN on Sunday, December 9th at 8 PM ET/PT.
- Created on 07 December 2012
Story by Kate Sosin, courtesy the Windy City Times:
A new poll suggests that a majority of Illinoisans support same-sex marriage.
Public Policy Polling (PPP) has released a poll that suggests that Illinois voters favor same-sex marriage 47/42, and that support increases among younger voters and voters of color.
Fifty-eight percent of voters under age 45 support marriage equality, compared with 37 percent who oppose it, the poll found. Black voters supported same-sex marriage 60/16, PPP said. Latinos supported Illinois marriage equality at 70/23. The majority of white voters did not support same-sex marriage in Illinois with 40 percent supporting and 51 percent opposing.
- Created on 05 December 2012
WILMINGTON, N.C – Former New Hanover County prosecutor James Jay Stroud is "delusional" for still defending his "frame-up" of the Wilmington Ten 40 years ago, says Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the leader of the group.
Referring to Stroud's recent remarks in a local newspaper interview last week, Chavis told The Wilmington Journal: "Stroud's latest admissions of his zeal to unjustly convict us is just another fact why the Wilmington Ten should be granted a pardon of innocence by Gov. Perdue. Stroud is still delusional 40 years later about basic fairness and equality under the law. I pray that Stroud will one day find it in his heart to repent for the wrong that he has done with respect to the Wilmington Ten."
Chavis was reacting to Stroud's remarks confirming for the first time that recently discovered handwritten trial notes documenting the former prosecutor's attempt to
Pick White racists and malleable Blacks for Wilmington Ten jury were indeed his.
In a Nov. 28 Wilmington StarNews interview reportedly conducted in October, but published online only after the North Carolan NAACP's Nov. 27 press conference in Raleigh calling on Gov. Perdue to pardon the Wilmington Ten, Stroud was reportedly shown copies of his handwritten notes from the June 1972 trial by a reporter, and confirmed their authenticity.
During jury selection for the June 1972 trial of the 10 activists charged with conspiracy in the firebombing of a White-owned grocery store during racial violence a year earlier, Stroud wrote "stay away from black men," sought only "Uncle Tom type" Black jurors, and numerously wrote "KKK...OK" next to the names of several prospective White jurors.
But the former prosecutor denied that racism, as the North Carolina NAACP maintains, played any role in his jury selection. The "KKK...good" reference Stroud wrote in variations next to several white potential jurors' names on the legal pad, for example, "...was a strike against the juror because of the potential of a hung jury," Stroud said.
"I could have had an all-white jury, but I didn't want to do that," Stroud told The StarNews. "Why would I leave a KKK on the jury?"
Chavis said, "Facts are facts, and it is an irrefutable fact that all the members of the Wilmington Ten were completely innocent in 1972 of the racially-motivated framed-up charges filed against us by prosecutor Jay Stroud. It is a fact that the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned our unjust convictions on December 4, 1980. Today in 2012, we, the Wilmington Ten, are still innocent of Stroud's unjust and illegal fabrication."
Stroud's negative ratings for potential jurors were unmistakable. Next to several on his list, especially if they had a "B" for blacks written in front of their names or numbers, Stroud wrote, "Leave off" or "stay away from," but never "good" as he did for the "KKK" jurors he wanted impaneled.
Stroud further told the StarNews that he wanted "conservative blacks" on the jury, later specifying that "Uncle Tom-type" means, "blacks that could be fair."
Because a jury of 10 Blacks and two Whites was finally impaneled during the June 1972 trial, Stroud, citing "illness," forced a mistrial to get a jury and judge more to his favor, the state NAACP says. His own handwritten notes on the back of a legal pad, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a mistrial, betrayed his intent, the civil rights organization says.
A reporter for the StarNews said Stroud was asked about his mistrial notes, and while he didn't deny he did write them, he also claimed that he really did get sick, so the paper never printed his answer.
Even now, if Stroud admitted that he forced a mistrial in the June 1972 proceedings because he didn't like the mostly Black jury, he could be charged with a crime, legal experts say.
It was in the second trial in September that year –with a jury this time of 10 Whites and two Blacks – that the nine African-American males, led by civil rights activist Rev. Benjamin Chavis, and one White female, were falsely convicted. They were all sentenced to 282 years in prison, some of which they served, before they were released from prison early after immense public pressure.
In the StarNews article, former prosecutor Stroud still maintained that despite a federal appellate court's 1980 ruling – which not only overturned all of the Wilmington Ten's convictions, but also cited him specifically for gross prosecutorial misconduct – the Wilmington Ten were guilty, and deserved to go to prison.
"They got more than a fair deal as far as I'm concerned," Stroud was quoted as telling the Wilmington newspaper. "I think they should have had to serve their sentences like any other convicted felon."
Ironically in that same StarNews article where Stroud is convinced that the Wilmington Ten couldn't have possibly been anything but guilty, he adamantly agreed that prosecutorial frame-ups do exist – against him.
When asked about his 12 convictions over the past six years, mostly in Gaston County, N.C. for charges ranging from domestic violence to repeatedly ramming cars because, the former prosecutor told a judge, "Satan was with [the drivers]," Stroud, who lost his license to practice law in 2008 replied, "I am not guilty of any of the charges that were leveled against me as stated in the warrants. All of the charges were false and fabricated."
Jay Stroud did serve time in jail for several of those charges. He told the Gaston Gazette that he's suffered from a bipolar disorder since his time in college.
Attorney Irving Joyner, who, along with James Ferguson, the lead defense attorney 40 years ago for the Wilmington Ten, filed the pardon petition papers last May requesting that Gov. Beverly Perdue grant pardons of actual innocence to each member of the Wilmington Ten, was outraged by Stroud's remarks..
"We have never presented any information regarding the Wilmington Ten case which has not been fully vetted and determined to be absolutely accurate," Joyner, a law professor at the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham, told The Wilmington Journal.
"Jay Stroud did no more than acknowledge the obvious with respect to his authorship of the racially-inspired efforts to prevent African-Americans from serving on the Wilmington Ten jury. In the same handwriting, he also described his successful effort to fake an illness, misrepresent his medical condition to the court, and to deliberately perpetrate a fraud in Court, a criminal offense," Joyner continued.
"The comments and notes, which Stroud made, speak for themselves, and further support the obvious conclusion that the persecution of the Wilmington Ten was racially inspired and constitutionally deficient.
"It is now up to the governor of North Carolina to determine whether she is going to correct an injustice, or stand on the side of a racist and illegal persecution in the name of the state of North Carolina."
- Created on 06 December 2012
(The Root) -- On Nov. 30, President Obama issued a proclamation to mark the 30th anniversary of Minority Enterprise Development Week. The proclamation reads in part:
The belief in tomorrow's promise is guiding minority entrepreneurs across our country to start the kinds of businesses that make up the backbone of our economy.
The proclamation goes on to highlight the importance of minority entrepreneurs to the American economy and communities at large. One thing the proclamation does not specify is the importance of minority entrepreneurs to African-American communities, particularly when it comes to addressing one of the most daunting issues the Obama administration has struggled to address: African-American unemployment.
While the Obama campaign received a boost from a relatively positive jobs report released just before Election Day, not all Americans were celebrating. African-American unemployment rose from 13.4 percent in September to 14.3 percent in October while the jobless rate for black teens rose to 40.5 from 36.7 percent. The administration's lack of progress on this issue has been a source of criticism and concern, even among some of his supporters, including Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), outgoing chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, who shared his disappointment in a previous interview with The Root.
But while some have argued that the president needs to focus on improving the overall economy -- which will then ultimately help all Americans, including black Americans, improve their opportunities for employment -- one of the most potentially effective solutions has not received that much coverage. According to research, increasing the number of minority entrepreneurs has an automatic net positive effect on minority employment numbers. The reason? Minority employers are statistically more likely to hire other minorities.
To put in perspective just how important the issue of diversifying the employer pool is to diversifying the ranks of the employed, consider this. A Princeton study conducted just over five years ago found that white males who report a felony conviction on an employment application were nearly twice as likely to receive a callback for that job as a black applicant without a felony conviction. This means that just a year before our nation elected its first black president, being black was proved to be a significant barrier to even being interviewed for a job -- not just hired for one.
According to Tarrus Richardson, CEO of IMB Development Corp., minority entrepreneurship plays a crucial role for African-American job seekers and the African-American community at large. "It creates jobs and institutional stability to our community. Research has shown that minority businesses are three times as likely to hire minorities as non-minority-owned businesses," he said. "Statistics have shown minority-owned businesses are more likely to hire our own, buy from our own and support local institutions. It [minority entrepreneurship] is the fuel that helps build jobs, wealth and stronger institutions in our community."
For this reason, Richardson left a lucrative career working in financial institutions for others, including stints at Gold Coast Securities and Salomon Smith Barney, to join the ranks of African-American entrepreneurs by launching IMB. The company's core mission is to help increase the number of African-American entrepreneurs. "Those who have and can must be committed to building large minority-owned businesses," Richardson said. "So we [he and his co-founders] decided to build a billion-dollar minority-owned business that we can all be proud of the next seven to 10 years, and that will help other minority businesses along the way."
The work of Richardson and others could also prove helpful to the Obama administration as it seeks to finally address the issue of unemployment that has plagued one of the president's most loyal constituencies, one that played a key role in his re-election: African Americans.
- Created on 04 December 2012
More than 60 of America's leading civil rights, social justice, business and community leaders gathered today in Washington, DC to discuss how to provide positive solutions to "key" issues in the Black community as President Obama embarks upon his second term.
The meeting was convened by Marc H. Morial, President & CEO, National Urban League, Rev. Al Sharpton of The National Action Network, Ben Jealous, NAACP National President; Melanie Campbell, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and numerous others.
"We leaders in the African American community are gathered here today to convey our priorities for an agenda that moves our community towards economic empowerment and prosperity," said Morial.
"We embrace our historic role as the conscience of the nation. We are united in our mission to support and protect the well being of the African-American community."
The leaders outlined steps to develop a public policy agenda for Black America. The communique was as follows:
*Achieve Economic Parity for African-Americans
*Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity
*Protect and Defend Voting Rights
*Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Healthcare Disparities
*Achieve Comprehensive Reform of the Criminal Justice System
"The plight of the African-American community underscores the urgency of our demand. The African-American community was disproportionately battered by the Great Recession, and has benefited the least from the fragile economy recovery.
Unemployment remains unacceptably high; income inequality and the ever-widening wealth gap threaten to relegate the black community to perpetual underclass status. Those who wish to curtail investment education and career preparation further dim the prospects for upward mobility for our young people," the leaders wrote.
The leaders also pledged to vigorously oppose any effort by federal, state or local government to roll back the right to vote by supporting federal election reform, including the Voter Empowerment Act so that long lines at the polls will not be the rule instead of the exception.
"We are taking this from rhetoric to results," said Rev Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network has been widely credited with successfully pushing back on voter suppression and getting out the Black vote, two key components of Obama's re-election, "from people saying that we need an agenda to us sitting down and collectively coming up with one."