Separate Goodbyes: Segregated Proms in the South

There’s a lot of buzz on the ‘net about a story in The New York Times Magazine titled A Prom Divided. The article is about the continuing practice in the South of having separate high school proms for blacks students and white students.

The article is accompanied by a compelling photo/audio slide show.

It’s definitely worth a read.

The Times article also talks about the documentary, “Prom Night in Mississippi,” which will be shown on HBO in July. The documentary is about actor Morgan Freeman’s offer to pay for a first-of-its-kind integrated prom at Charleston High School in Mississippi, which is his home state. This is an excerpt from the documentary:

Some thoughts on all of this are provided by the blogs Stuff White People Do and Abagond.

Good News: Number of Blacks in Prison for Drug Offense Declines

It seems like black folks are always waking up to some kind of bad news involving the social conditions of our community. Indeed, there are blogs on the Internet whose sole purpose seems to be to highlight all that’s wrong and pathological in African American society.

So, it’s great to report some good news: the number of African Americans in prison for drug related offenses has declined in recent years. A report from The Sentencing Project, titled The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs, found that the number of African Americans in state and federal prisons for a drug offense declined by 12.2% from 1999-2005, for a reduction of just under 21,500 persons.

There was a decrease in the number of black drug offenders in state prisons for 1999-2005, and an increase in blacks in federal prisons for drug offenses during the same period. But the total change did represent an overall decline:

Blacks held in Prison FOR DRUG RELATED OFFENSES
Blacks-in-Prison-Drugs
Source: Prepared from the report The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs, by The Sentencing Project

Interestingly, the number of drug arrests has gone up since 1999: that year there were 1,557,100 drug arrests, compared to 1,846,351 in 2005, according to the Sentencing Project report. Also, the estimated percentage of drug users who are African American has gone up, too: blacks were an estimated 13.4% of drug users in 1999, versus 14.0% of drug users in 2005.

But despite the drop in the count of black drug offenders held in prison, the total drug offender prison population has gone up, from 322,957 prisoners in 1999 to 348,511 prisoners in 2005. The reason for the increase: there are now more white Americans in jail for use or sale of drugs. Whites in prison for drugs grew from 67,192 in 1999 to 94,551 in 2005, an increase of 40.7%.

A link to the entire Sentencing Project report is at the top of this post. It’s highly recommended reading.

Poor Race/Gender-speak from Obama’s Supreme Court Nominee

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.
– Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor, in a speech as quoted by the New York Times

Freedom of speech… just watch what you say…
-Rapper Ice-T, “Freedom of Speech”, from the album The Iceberg/Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say

So here you have a racist. You might want to soften that, and you might want to say a reverse racist. And the libs, of course, say that minorities cannot be racists because they don’t have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone, because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he’s appointed one.
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh, as quoted in Media Matters

Yes… watch what you say.

Right wing extremist and talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh is apparently using the above comments from Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to paint the narrative that the Judge is racist. I doubt that charge will stick, but this is a cautionary tale about watching what you say in matters concerning gender and ethnicity.

Judge Sotomayor, whose family is from Puerto Rico, made those comments while giving a speech about diversity in the Judiciary.

And certainly, there is value in having diversity in the American Judiciary, as with the rest of American society. That value was certainly a factor in her being selected by President Barack Obama to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice David Souter.

The sentiment in Judge Sotomayor’s comment was well-intentioned, and not at all vile or pernicious. But it does violate one of the rules of talking about ethnicity, gender, and race: never say one group is better at doing something than another. And as a corollary: never say that being in one group somehow makes you better at doing something than a person of another group.

Just imagine if a white person had said: “Being white, I feel that I can adjudicate lots of cases better than non-whites, who don’t have my breadth of experience.” That would set off some fireworks, and deservedly so.

Again, I doubt that the Sotomayor’s faux pas will derail her placement on the Supreme Court, Limbaugh’s comments notwithstanding. She has a solid resumé and more than enough experience. But it does show that if you’re a public official in any kind of setting, you need stay aware of the rules and etiquette associated with comments on gender or ethnicity. Failure to do creates grist for the mill of the haters, and that’s certainly not helpful for career advancement.
***

UPDATE: A story in the New York Times reports:

The White House said Friday (5/29/09) that Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, used a poor choice of words in a speech eight years ago when she suggested that a Latina judge would reach a better conclusion than a white male judge who doesn’t have the same life experiences.

“I think she’d say that her word choice in 2001 was poor, that she was simply making the point that personal experience are relevant for the process of the judging,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary.

I think this is a good move from the White House. By admitting it was a bad choice of words, they’re no longer in the position of having to “defend” the comment. And it shows the White House has some sensitivity (empathy?) for the concerns that have been raised about the comment.

This won’t make the controversy go away, though. Her comments will be a point of contention until her confirmation, and maybe beyond.

Obama Sends Wreath to African American Civil War Memorial Site (Plus Details of My Visit to the Memorial)

In response to a controversy over the honoring of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, Barack Obama became the first president to send a wreath of flowers to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC.

As reported by the New York Times,

Last week, a group of university professors petitioned the White House to end a longstanding practice of sending a wreath to a monument to Confederate soldiers on the cemetery grounds. The petitioners, including William Ayers, the University of Illinois at Chicago education professor whose acquaintance with Mr. Obama has been controversial, said the monument was “intended as a symbol of white nationalism” and gave “encouragement to the modern neo-Confederate movement.”

Instead of ending the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate monument, historian Kirk Savage, writing in the Washington Post, offered this:

Many of my colleagues in academia are urging President Obama to pull the plug on this tradition. I doubt that he will, for the simple reason that the men buried around the Confederate memorial sacrificed, suffered and died just as the black and white soldiers of the Union did. Most of the descendants of those Confederates, whatever their political stripe today, would be loath to deny their ancestors a simple gesture of recognition.

President Obama, why not send two wreaths? One to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington Cemetery and another to the African American Civil War Memorial in the District, which commemorates the 200,000 black soldiers who fought for liberation from slavery in the Union armed forces. Here is an opportunity to remind us what real reconciliation, in this day and age, would mean. Send two wreaths with one common message: that the descendants of slaves and the descendants of slaveholders should recognize each other’s humanity, and do the hard work of reckoning with the racial divide that is slavery’s cruelest and most enduring legacy.

Obama seems to have followed Savage’s advice. As mentioned in the Times article, Obama did send a wreath to both the Confederate monument and the African American Civil War Memorial.

It remains to be seen if this will quell the controversy. As the comments to this posting on the liberal/Democratic blog Daily Kos indicate, there are many people who are upset with honoring the Confederate soldiers under any circumstances… and many people on the Democratic side who favor honoring the Confederate soldiers.

I do hope that this will result, at the least, in increased awareness of the role of blacks in the Civil War. I happen to live in Washington, DC, where the African American Civil War Memorial is located. I visited the site today (Memorial Day), and I was disappointed at how few people were visiting it. I was there for about an hour around noon, and no more than a handful of people beside me were there to visit. Note that, the Memorial is located right at a subway stop, so the site is certainly not hard to get to.

I took some video of the site, which immediately follows. The Memorial includes a life size sculpture; a wall that includes the names of all the soldiers who fought in the Civil War Colored Troops, as their regiments were called; and a small Museum.

As an aside, there were two wreaths at the site, neither of which was spectacular. It wasn’t obvious to me that either was from the White House, but I wasn’t looking for that when I made my visit. The wreaths are not quite visible in the video; I moved them aside while shooting the footage.

See also: 20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

This is the 20th anniversary of the Academy Award-winning film Glory, that magnificent ode to the African American soldiers who served during the Civil War. Glory is considered one of the best Civil War movies ever made, due to its outstanding cinematography, excellent use of civil war reenactments, and inclusion of the perspective of African Americans on the Civil War (which was shockingly absent in many previous Civil War films).

The film, which was released in December 1989, did a modest box-office of $26,593,580. I understand that it’s had good video rental and sale numbers, fueled in part by its use in schools.

The fact-based movie, which was directed by Edward Zwick, stars Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Cary Elwes. Washington won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film also won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing.

Glory-Morgan-Freeman
Morgan Freeman in Glory

Glory is a war film about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men (not including the officers). As described in Wikipedia,

The regiment was authorized in March 1861. The 54th Massachusetts primarily was composed of free men. A number of the recruits were from states other than Massachusetts, with several coming from Pennsylvania and New York. Two of the recruits were sons of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The 54th trained at Camp Meigs in Readville near Boston. While there they received considerable moral support from abolitionists in Massachusetts including Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The film is told mainly from the viewpoint of the 54th’s Commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). The movie shows how Shaw and his black soldiers grow from an initial period of unease bred of ignorance and lack of trust, to feelings of respect and pride in each other.

In July of 1863, Shaw volunteered the 54th for the honor of leading the charge against South Carolina’s Fort Wagner, a mission that means almost certain death. The end of the film, which stunningly showcases the horror and destructiveness of war, is a classic piece of moviemaking.

One of the most chilling and memorable scenes in the movie is the flogging of Private Trip, a runaway slave played by Denzel Washington, for insubordination. When Trip defiantly removes his shirt so that he can be whipped, it reveals a back filled with scars from prior beatings. These scars symbolize both the horrors of slavery, and the desire to face all afflictions, no matter the source, in order to achieve freedom.

Historians have pointed out that flogging was banned in the Union Army in 1861, and that it was unlikely that a private like Trip would have been whipped, at least by someone such as Colonel Shaw, who was known to be a stickler for rules.

Continue reading

The Homeownership Boom and Bust for Blacks and Hispanics

A recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center looks at homeownership in the United States, and not surprisingly, finds huge differences in the ownership rates for whites and non-whites:

The boom-and-bust cycle in the U.S. housing market over the past decade and a half has generated greater gains and larger losses for minority groups than it has for whites, according to an analysis of housing, economic and demographic data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

From 1995 through the middle of this decade, homeownership rates rose more rapidly among all minorities than among whites.

But since the start of the housing bust in 2005, rates have fallen more steeply for two of the nation’s largest minority groups — blacks and native-born Latinos — than for the rest of the population.

Overall, the ups and downs in the housing market since 1995 have reduced the homeownership gap between whites and all racial and ethnic minority groups. However, a substantial gap persists. As of 2008, 74.9% of whites owned homes, compared with 59.1% of Asians, 48.9% of Hispanics and 47.5% of blacks.

HomeOwnershipRtes

The article on the report not only discusses homeownership rates, but it also looks at factors that affect homeownership, including the use of subprime loans.

The report itself, Through Boom and Bust: Minorities, Immigrants and Homeownership, can be found here.