African American
18
Jan

Coffee and Bias

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Next month Starbucks will close 8,000 of its locations for implicit bias training. This is in the wake of the incident you’ve probably heard of: the Philadelphia Starbucks store manager who called the cops that led to the arrests of two black men.

What we know about the incident: the two black men said they were waiting for a friend to show up for a meeting. The manager denied the men use of restroom because they didn’t order food or drinks. The store manager asked the men to leave, and then called police when they refused to leave. As video rolled, the friend arrived as police led the pair away in handcuffs. They were later released when Starbucks didn’t press charges. In the video, they are neatly groomed, and not causing any disturbance.

Starbucks is doing damage control in the wake of extensive criticism. The company’s executive chairman Howard Schultz appeared on CBS This Morning for a sit down interview with co-host Gayle King. Schultz told King in the interview that the store manager at the center of the controversy has “left the company.”

“I think you have to say in looking at the tape that she demonstrated her own level of unconscious bias,” Schultz went on to say. “And in looking at the tape, you ask yourself whether or not that was racial profiling.”

What we don’t yet know: whether that manager had treated people of different races in the same way in the past. Does everyone who asks to use the restroom before ordering get denied? Has the management asked people who don’t buy anything to leave? Have they called the cops in the past? If these practices are applied only to African American men, well, that’s a pretty good indicator of bias. If not, well, maybe it has a policy of no loitering.

Then again, isn’t Starbucks known as a gathering spot? Has anyone ever seen an employee asking anyone who’s not making a ruckus to leave? How many writers have bought one coffee and stayed working on a laptop for three hours? Or has this changed? I have heard about a Starbucks in Los Angeles that removed many of its electric outlets to prevent people from staying all day.

The Starbucks incident is the latest in a long string of bias allegations made by black patrons against businesses. Recently there were accusations by Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe that she was racially profiled at a Chanel store.

Starbucks is reviewing its policies.  It’s pretty clear that whatever those policies are, they should be applied fairly for all races – whether they’re dressed in suits, baggy pants, with dreadlocks, etc.

 

 

22
Jan

Census may ask black Americans their ethnic origin

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As the 2020 census approaches, there is much thought about how to greater reflect the ethnic and racial diversity among people living in this country. Some advocates have already begun that process by requesting that the data collection allow opportunities for more categories for persons of black ancestry. Up until now, census forms allowed people to mark black or African-American. But according to NPR, the 2020 census will ask blacks to be more specific.

For the 2020 census, the U.S. Census Bureau is changing how it will ask black people to designate their race. Under the check box for “Black or African American,” the bureau is adding a new space on the census questionnaire for participants to write in their non-Hispanic origins, according to a recent memo from the head of the 2020 census. “African American,” “Jamaican” and “Nigerian” are listed as examples of origins on a questionnaire the bureau is testing for 2020.

The change means many black people in the U.S. may have to take a closer look at their family trees to answer what can be a thorny question: Where are you really from? While many black immigrants can cite ties to a specific country, that question is difficult, if not impossible, for many U.S.-born African-Americans to answer.

According to NPR researchers at the bureau have said they have been trying to respond to requests for “more detailed, disaggregated data for our diverse American experiences as German, Mexican, Korean, Jamaican, and myriad other identities.”

There is often an assumption that “black” is synonymous with “African-American.” Many black Americans, or, African Americans, will use the terms interchangeably. Many say it’s no big deal.  But some do think it’s important. There are blacks living in this country with direct African or Caribbean ancestry who culturally and ancestrally identify with those places. They are counted in the same category with black Americans, who may be the descendants of enslaved Africans brought to this country and have a very different cultural experience and heritage.

 

 

 

17
Jan

“Those people” and white racial resentment

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There’s a story in the Washington Post today about how Trump supporters trust him to do the right thing on health care, no matter what the evidence shows them.

Near the end of the story is a telling anecdote that shows how easy it is for whites to blame non-whites for their economic insecurity. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. In this case a mom, Nancy Ware who has helped her 35-year-old son find an insurance plan and complains about the lack of competition in the exchange in Nashville making her premiums too high. Legitimate complaint. But who does she blame? Not the insurance companies or Tennessee’s political leaders who wouldn’t expand Medicaid. She points the finger at… you know.

Ware is a landscaper and often works near Section 8 housing in the Nashville area, and she becomes furious when she sees residents who “drive better cars than I do, they have weaves and hair color better than I can, they have manicures.” As Ware, who is white, waited in line for the rally to start, a group of young African American protesters walked by, and she yelled at them, “Go cash your welfare checks!”

“He gets penalized on his income taxes, while these people that don’t know how to pull their pants up can go get it for free,” said Ware, whose employer covers the full cost of her health care. “Make it even. Make it balanced.”

Anyone remember Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen driving a Cadillac” anecdote? Now that welfare queen has health care and a better manicure than white people, apparently.

We’ve been told again and again how the Trump vote was all about economic insecurity. Perhaps. But the blame for that economic insecurity, as it has been throughout American history, is cast on the most convenient scapegoat. In this case, the welfare queen with the better hair color has stolen a white woman’s health care. Because… just because.

And Trump? He’s been doing what race-baiting politicians have always done. Except they used to do it in coded ways, dog whistles like “welfare queen.” The dog whistle is gone. The megaphone is here.

 

26
Jan

Black women who did the math that put men on the moon

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We guarantee your reaction to this will be: why didn’t we hear about this before?

Imagine, it’s the Jim Crow South, mid-20th century. Black girls – women but they were called girls then – were working at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. But they weren’t maids or service staff. They were doing the math that made planes safer and, in a few years, they were the human computers that helped put men on the moon. As black women at the time, they had two glass ceilings to break through. Math was considered “women’s work,” if you can believe it.

Listen to this NPR interview with Margot Lee Shetterley, a Hampton, Va., native and daughter of a former Langley scientist, who discusses her new book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book has already been adapted for big screen; the film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Butler and Janelle Monae premieres in January.

From the interview:

You know, the Russians had got a real head start into space, America was playing catch up. And this was also a moment where electronic computers were taking over the task of much of the calculating that was necessary for these increasingly complex missions.

But as sort of a hand off moment between human computers and electronic computers, John Glenn asked Katherine Johnson — he actually asked “the girl” — all of the women working at that time were referred to as “girls.”

And he said: “Get the girl to do it, I want this human computer to check the output of the electronic computer and if she says they’re good, you know, I’m good to go as part of one of my pre-flight check lists.”

So the astronaut who became a hero, looked to this black woman in the still segregated south at the time as one of the key parts of making sure his mission would be a success.

 

 

06
Jan

Racial Battle Fatigue

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Over ten years ago University of Utah researcher William A. Smith coined the term “racial battle fatigue” while studying how racial “microagressions” marginalized black students at predominately white colleges and universities. Racial Battle Fatigue, he wrote, meant African descent constantly worry, have trouble concentrating, become fatigued, and develop headaches when navigating personal and professional spaces that have historically favored white people.

More recently a series of studies have built on Smith’s findings, with researchers coming to similar conclusions about what has been described as the pitfalls of living while black. ThinkProgress details one of the latest academic works, featured in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders, focused on generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — defined as more than six months of severe worrying and tension.

Researchers examined data from the National Survey of American Life, a study of more than 5,800 American adults -– 60 percent of whom were African American, nearly 25 percent were Afro-Caribbean, and 15 percent were non-Hispanic whites. More than 40 percent of the African Americans surveyed recounted receiving some form of racial discrimination, and nearly 5 percent suffered from GAD. Meanwhile, nearly 39 percent of Afro-Caribbean respondents said they received discrimination, and less than three percent developed GAD.
Whites who suffered from GAD in the study did so because of other forms of discrimination, head researcher Jose Soto, Ph.D. told PscyhCentral.com. For all races, non-racial discrimination counted as a source of GAD. Soto acknowledged that Afro-Caribbean respondents had less of a sensitivity to racial discrimination — perhaps a result of their different history. Even so, Soto said that people of the black diaspora entering unwelcoming environments endure stress that can become mental illness, similar to what soldiers face on the field.
“The results of our study suggest that the notion of racial battle fatigue could be a very real phenomenon that might explain how individuals can go from the experience of racism to the experience of a serious mental health disorder,” said Soto, head investigator at Pennsylvania State University. “While the term is certainly not trying to say that the conditions are exactly what soldiers face on a battlefield, it borrows from the idea that stress is created in chronically unsafe or hostile environments.”

Black people aren’t making it up. And given events like the most recent shooting of a black man, execution-style, by cops, it doesn’t look like this fatigue is likely to let up.

27
Jan

#ActorsSoWhite

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First, the outcry over the lack of people of color in the Oscar Nominations – leading the Academy to follow the dramatic change in membership qualifications to increase diversity – and now, this. A biopic of Michael Jackson is going to be played by Joseph Fiennes. Who, as you may recall, is white.

Sure, you can say that Michael Jackson’s skin became whiter over the years, and his nose became, well, odd but thinner, too.

But, just no:

Even long after he had made his physical transformation and black people accused him of racial self-hatred, he was still a guy who spoke unabashedly about how poorly the music industry has treated black artists in comparison to white ones. And even more obviously, you don’t cast a white actor to play Michael Jackson, because you’ve learned from the years of Hollywood whitewashing leading all the way up to last year, when Emma Stone was cast as an Asian character in Aloha.

Just say no.

22
Jan

Needed: more black teachers

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Nina Simone didn’t sing these lyrics, but today to be young, gifted and black means being cheated out of the “gifted” track, according to an essay at National Public Radio.

The essay, “To Be Young, Gifted And Black it helps to have a black teacher,” looks at a recent study on the low numbers of students of color in gifted programs. The study notes that the students are “high-achieving,” yet under-represented.

A new, national study finds that black students are about half as likely as white students to be put on a “gifted” track — even when they have comparable test scores. Previous surveys have found a similar gap, but the researchers here — Jason Grissom and Christopher Redding at Vanderbilt University — looked only at students attending schools with gifted programs. So the disparity can’t be accounted for by, say, the fact that black students are more likely to attend under-resourced schools.

Only one factor erased this disparity between students: the race of their teachers.

Some reactions in comments section of the NPR Ed article, ask if the writer is calling for a return to segregation. Nope. In case it wasn’t clear, it’s a call to usher more teachers into the education field who are able to relate to black students.

14
Jan

#oscarssowhite

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And the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has done it again. It’s proved that it may be many things, but it is not reflective of the U.S.

Actors of color were shut out of the nominations again. And people are noticing. There is a #oscarssowhite twitter account. In fact all of social media is a-twitter about the whiteness of the nominees.

It isn’t like there weren’t any great performances of people of color. As the media site Vulture points out, candidates Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation), Benicio Del Toro (Sicario), and Michael B. Jordan (Creed) all received awards buzz in the weeks leading up to the nominations (Jordan took home a National Society of Film Critics award for Best Actor) but none were nominated. And:

In addition to the individual snubs, the Academy didn’t recognize Straight Outta Compton, a movie with a largely black ensemble, in either the acting or Best Picture categories, leaving us with no Best Picture nominees that feature a nonwhite lead or a predominantly nonwhite cast. (Straight Outta Compton did receive a nomination for Best Original Screenplay — which was credited to four white writers.)

Part of the problem is that the Academy itself doesn’t look like America. It’s members are overwhelmingly white, male, and older. From the LA Times:

A Los Angeles Times study found that academy voters are markedly less diverse than the moviegoing public, and even more monolithic than many in the film industry may suspect. Oscar voters are nearly 94% Caucasian and 77% male, The Times found. Blacks are about 2% of the academy, and Latinos are less than 2%.Oscar voters have a median age of 62, the study showed. People younger than 50 constitute just 14% of the membership.

So there it is, then.

08
Jan

White Americans angrier than Black Americans

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Here’s a survey that should take a bite out of the persistent meme that blacks are the Angriest Americans. American Rage, a survey commissioned by NBC and Esquire magazine, showed that whites and Republicans are the angriest Americans.

In a response to the question “About how often do you hear or read something in the news that makes you angry?” 73 percent of whites said they get angry at least once a day, in contrast to 66 percent of Hispanics and 56 percent of blacks.

Seventy-seven percent of Republicans also said they get angry at least once a day, compared to 67 percent of Democrats. Fifty-two percent of Americans said the American Dream “once held true but does not anymore.” Thirty-nine percent think that race relations have become worse since President Obama was elected.

From Esquire:

Indeed, despite having what many would consider a more legitimate case for feeling angry, black Americans are generally less angry than whites. Though they take great issue with the way they are treated by both society in general and the police in particular, blacks are also more likely than whites to believe that the American dream is still alive.

There are some other seemingly contradictory findings about demographics and views of Black Americans:

- Blacks are more likely than whites and Hispanics to think that the American Dream still holds true.
- Blacks are more likely to think that the recent killings of African American men by police are part of a larger pattern in the police’s treatment of African Americans.

Read more about the methodology here.

05
Jan

Ben Carson releases hip hop ad

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You’ve heard of Ben Carson by now. He’s the one besting Trump at the moment for the GOP nomination. Ben Carson who believes the pyramids in Egypt were built for storing grain among many, many other, um, questionable theories about everything.

He’s also a retired neurosurgeon. And he’s black. The second point is salient because he’s released a new rap ad aimed at young black voters.

Carson’s campaign enlisted a rapper, Aspiring Mogul, for the ad in the hopes of reaching young African-American voters “in a language that they prefer” and “in a cultural format that they appreciate.”

Oh, so it was for the black voters, not because Carson himself is black. Okay then. The GOP might see a chance to win over black voters with Carson. They head of a GOP Super PAC said so recently.

It would not take many black votes to complicate the Democrats’ electoral map. Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster working for a super PAC supporting Bush, said in an e-mail that the “demographic challenges” facing the eventual GOP nominee are “real and significant,” but fixable.

“The payoff can be significant,” Newhouse said. “It doesn’t take much of a swing in minority votes to make a difference. Winning even 10 to 14 percent of African American votes in states like Ohio, Florida or Virginia could put those states in the GOP column in ’16.”

It’s rare for a Republican candidate to pick up more than 10 percent of the black vote in any election, anywhere in the country. Will Carson’s new appeal to young black voters? Remember, he has to win the nomination first, and young black voters – you know, the kind he thinks his rap video will appeal to – make up a negligible percentage of the GOP primary voters in GOP primaries. There are even fewer of them in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two voting states, which have, interestingly, a very small black population statewide.

If he’s wooing primary voters with the video, he’s spent a lot of money to persuade – I think we’re being generous here – about a dozen voters. If it’s laying the groundwork for the general election, well, his investment may pay off.

There’s only one problem with a Carson candidacy though. His views on things – we are being less generous here – are crazy. Just. Crazy. It’s not just the pyramids comments. He doesn’t seem to have a scientific grasp on science.

But even that might not matter. If he’s really serious in reaching out to black voters, he has to reach out to Democrats and swing voters, because there just aren’t enough in the GOP to make a difference. And if that’s his long term plan, he may be crazy like a fox.