With the national euphoria of inauguration, the multi-billion dollar corporate bailouts, and even the historic economic stimulus all recent memories, one untold story of the early days of Barack Obamaâ€™s presidency remains-the advent of a concise, bold and fearless new racial politics. â€œSubverting race,â€ Jabari Asim, editor of the Crisis magazine, calls it in his important new book What Obama Means . And President Obamaâ€™s uncanny knack for it takes on even greater significance post election-not simply avoiding the predicable knee-jerk behavior of traditional politics that for too long has governed race business, but advancing a more enlightened, informed and balanced racial outlook that shifts the debate at the same time. Itâ€™s a new racial politics for a US president that, if maintained and amplified in the days ahead, will fly in the face of Barack Obamaâ€™s predecessors. Although there have been other sightings (Attorney General Eric Holderâ€™s statement in February that when it comes to race, America â€œis a nation of cowards,â€ for example), mostly this new racial politics has come in the form of Obamaâ€™s foreign policy overtures: toward European leaders as partners we actually respect, and the recognition of Iran, Korea, Cuba and others as sovereign nations with their own national interests. Of course there was also President Obamaâ€™s strike back at the handshake backlash: â€œItâ€™s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.â€ A New York Times/ CBS poll released last week hints that something is afoot. Its chief finding was that Americans across race since the election of Barack Obama were more optimistic about race relations. 66 percent surveyed last month said race relations are good, compared to 53 percent who said the same nearly a year ago. The right, which has long advocated the old racial politics at home and abroad, especially when dealing with non-Western (read: black and brown) leaders, has spent much of the last three months struggling for a response. This has meant rifling through their well-worn playbook and hurling literal sticks and stones like â€œdictators,â€ â€œnational security,â€ and â€œanti-Americanism.â€ All seem desperate attempts to maintain a global racial politics perfected during the Bush years, especially when one of the â€œdictatorsâ€ in question is the democratically elected leader of his country. What else could have pushed former Vice President Dick Cheney to make more prominently positioned media appearances in a week than during most of the last eight years? â€œHe has gone to Europe, for example, and seemed to apologize profusely,â€ Cheney said expressing his disdain for the new presidentâ€™s way of engaging world leaders , â€œand then to Mexico, and apologized thereâ€¦Both our friends and our foes will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think theyâ€™re dealing with a weak president or one who is not going to stand up and aggressively defend Americaâ€™s interests.â€ Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential hopeful in-waiting, added to this in his April 21st appearance on Fox News : â€œIf the president recently bowed to the Saudi King, he has been friendly to the Iranians . . . he basically backed off his threat to the North Koreans, he has made life easier for the Castro dictatorship in Cuba, why not be friendly with Hugo Chavez? It sends a terrible signal . . . to how the administration regards dictators.â€ From Cheney and Gingrich right on down the food chain, these proclamations parallel the stuff of the slave codes of the 18th and 19th centuries, those laws enacted to govern behavior between whites and blacks in order to ensure that white supremacy wouldnâ€™t be a matter of chance. If both are as fixated on symbols as their comments suggest, are these metaphoric calls for the return to the good old days? Luckily for the future of the country, Americans across the board arenâ€™t buying in. The same New York Times / CBS poll referenced above found Barack Obamaâ€™s job approval rating (68 percent) to be higher than any recent US President. Such support is fortunate, as President Obama attempts to swing the pendulum on race. It turns out that the â€œchange we can believe inâ€ includes a change in racial politics after all. Who knew? To be sure, as is the case of any social transformation, real progress is going to take the effort of everyday people. And that will require organizations like the NAACP, Urban League, and emerging activists of the younger generation to get out of the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights awe of having elected the first Black president. Instead, now is the time to begin to supplement these new day efforts.
May 6, 2009No CommentRead More
Walter Kimbrough, the 41 year-old president of Philander Smith College, speaks with Bakari Kitwana about the current state of Historically Black College and Universities. â€œHBCUs will be irrelevant without a revolution of leadership,â€ says Kimbrough, who shares success stories from his own experience as president for the last four years. Kimbroughâ€™s strategies at Philander Smith have resulted in increased enrollment as other HBCUs have suffered a recent decline. For Kimbrough, whoâ€™s regularly on Facebook communicating with students and who hosts the popular hip-hop lecture series on his campus, â€œBless the Mic,â€ direct, personal contact is the key. Dr. Kimbrough also speaks here about his forthcoming book, which continues his research into Black Greek letter organizations-observing that when it comes to the new Black leadership in the Obama administration: â€œitâ€™s devoid both of HBCU graduates and members of Black fraternities and sororities.â€Â He insists that this a historical shift, and â€œa wake up call,â€ for these nearly century-old Black institutions. Walter Kimbrough is president of Philander Smith College, a leading researcher on Black Greek letter organizations, and the author of Black Greek 101. WATCH THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW HERE:
April 24, 2009No CommentRead More
From HuffingtonPost.com: Dr. John Hope Franklin , the wildly accomplished historian who documented Blacksâ€™ place in the great American story, firmly believed in reparations â€” the idea that the descendants of slaves in the United States should be compensated for the centuries of free labor that enriched slaveowners and their descendants and the American empire. It is a fact overlooked by the recent flurry of mainstream media coverage commemorating his life work. (He died at the age of 94 late last month.) But it is no small detail. Consider his response in 2007 to state legislators in North Carolina and Virginia who balked at apologies for slavery introduced by their peers. For him a mere verbal apology wasnâ€™t enough. Click here to read more. CLICK HERE for JHF: By The Numbers!
April 7, 2009No CommentRead More
I recently caught up with longtime Black political activist Haki Madhubuti to discuss the Obama economic stimulus package and the economic downturnâ€™s impact on Black America. Here, Madhubuti delves deeply into some of the economic maneuverings that derailed the US economy. He also spoke about Obamaâ€™s cabinet picks, particularly those in education and foreign policy. I wanted to know, given Madhubutiâ€™s extensive career as an educator (he and his wife, Dr. Carol Lee, founded New Concept Development Center in 1972), how he felt about the selection of Chicago Public Schools head Arne Duncan as Education Secretary. Being from Chicago, like Duncan, he cut to the chase. Likewise, Madhubuti is a Little Rock, Arkansas native and held no punches when speaking of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and how former president Bill Clinton complicates her role. Given whatâ€™s at stake in the arenas of the economy, education, foreign policy in the days ahead, Madhubuti offers a crash course. Haki Madhubuti is university professor at Chicago State University, the founder of Third World Press and the author of over 20 books, including the most recent, Yellow Black. WATCH the interview here:
March 24, 2009No CommentRead More
For nearly an entire week, the Chris Brown/Rihanna alleged abuse incident has dominated major news media headlines. Unfortunately, these sensationalized reports did less to elucidate the national epidemic of violence against women and more to cement into our national psyche the idea that the new face of domestic abuse is young, Black and hip-hop. Instead of accepting sole responsibility for one of Americaâ€™s most neglected pathologies, young Americans should turn this tragedy into an opportunity. In the last two election cycles, hip-hop led the way in making involvement in national elections fashionable among youth. Hip-hop political organizers could do the same in extending that influence into the arena of public policy with the goal of establishing an innovative solution to abuse that shifts the way the nation thinks about its treatment of women. The election of President Barack Obama, with young people across race supporting him long before even the African American communityâ€™s vote was solidified, marked the first political victory for this generation. Two-thirds of the 23 million young Americans 18-29 who voted in the 2008 presidential election voted for Barack Obama. These same young people taking the lead on a public policy solution to end dating violence would be an important second act. Contrary to public opinion the hip-hop community has a long history of resisting the status quo of domestic abuse, misogyny and gender inequity. From books like Tracy Sharpley-Whitingâ€™s Pimps Up, Hos Down and films like Aishah Simmonsâ€™ No! The Rape Documentary to organizations like the Center for Young Womenâ€™s development and Industry Ears, Inc. , there is an emerging hip-hop generation leadership that has its finger on the pulse of a change agenda for women. Such an agenda is reflected in the nearly 5000 comments posted on Blackplanet.com responding to Chris Brown and Rihanna newsone.com updates. The overwhelming mood of these comments was that the Black community needed to separate itself from stereotypes of domestic violence. Blackplanet.com members even spontaneously created online discussion groups to address the issue. The mediaâ€™s obsession with the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident, alongside a new administration that seems to take the debt it owes young voters seriously, offers young political organizers a rare opportunity for this generation to take the lead on dating and domestic abuse. Although hip-hop didnâ€™t create Americaâ€™s gender problem, its mainstream dominant representations certainly helped reinforce it. Todayâ€™s young Americansâ€”especially those in the Chris Brown and Rihanna age group and the legions of even younger fans who idolize themâ€”have come of age consuming a steady diet of these images. Few would argue that they are healthier or wiser as a result. At the same time, there are very few places in our culture where we require young men to learn appropriate behavior for engaging their female counterparts, especially when relationships turn sour. (Rhode Island and Virginia law for high school instruction on dating are rare exceptions.) This advancing the status quo, alongside our failure as a society to entrench a workable solution into the fabric of our culture, is a deadly combination. A recent report from the Bureau of Justice found that 1 in 3 girls in the US is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. 13 percent of teen girls say they were physically hurt or hit and 40 percent of teenage girls 14-17 years old say they know someone their age that has been hit by a boyfriend. And a 2003 nationwide survey from the Center for Disease Control of 15,000 9-12 grade high school students found that nearly 9 percent experienced physical dating violence, with rates among Black females (14 percent) nearly twice their white counterparts (7 percent). The rate for Latino females was 9.3 percent. Now is not the time for young people inspired during the last election cycle to fall back into complacency. Instead this energy should be channeled into the creation of a concrete national agenda committed to ending domestic violence. This certainly will require an institutional approach. In the same way that sex education worked its way into our schools, we need a similar curriculum from the earliest grades upward to change the ways Americans think about dating violence, domestic abuse and gender equity. At a bare minimum, this curriculum must teach boys that physical and emotional violence toward their girlfriends or any boys or men toward women is never an option. Such a move would have several benefits: it would help create the major societal shift needed to curtail violence against women; it would allow hip-hop to reveal to the world that it has a moral center; and it would solidify a new movement for a new generation. All are important steps on the road to transforming America into a county that reflects, more accurately than our media representations, the generation currently preparing to inherit it. Bakari Kitwana is the co-author of the forthcoming Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era (Third World Press, 2009) and a visiting scholar at Columbia Collegeâ€™s Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media. RELATED: GALLERY: Celebrities Who Overcame Domestic Abuse | CLICK HERE GALLERY: Chris Brown & Rihanna, Happy Days | CLICK HERE GALLERY: Chris Brownâ€™s Court Hearing | CLICK HERE
March 18, 2009No CommentRead More
Yesterday, as I prepared for the kick-off to the national discussion tour focused on the theme â€œIs America Really Post-Racial?â€ which will convene in ten US cities this spring, I received emails from around the country commenting on The New York Post cartoon that depicts a chimpanzee being shot by two white police officers. The cartoon prominently displays one of the officers saying, â€œTheyâ€™ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.â€ The commentary comes on the heels of the historic election of Barack Obama as the nationâ€™s first Black president. During the campaign, Obama had been likened to the famed childrenâ€™s book protagonist and monkey, â€œCurious George,â€ and numerous Americans openly expressing their discontent with the very idea of the US president for the first time not being a white male. Likewise, the recurring backdrop to the historic campaign with an African American as frontrunner was the need for secret service protection for Obama due to the overwhelming number of death threats and the subsequent concern that some nut case might attempt to bring him harm-an idea reiterated by at least one attempted plan in Colorado to make good on the threats during the Democratic National Convention. One of the routines that have long played out in American electoral politics when it comes to race is politics by suggestion and association. Willie Horton ads, Bill Clintonâ€™s remark about Sister Souljah in 1992, the racially-charged commentary at McCain-Palin rallies during the primaries-all were designed with the intent that Americans would make an emotional connection to previously held ideas about race, racial cues if you will. This cartoon is no different. Media and political elites intent on playing the game of Americanâ€™s old racial politics have in the last several decades become quite adept at two primary tried and tested strategies: feigning innocent when they get called on their racist behavior; and when that doesnâ€™t work, defending racist ploys by claiming those offended should get over their sensitivities and toughen their skin. While it is true that a pet chimpanzee was shot days ago in Stamford, Connecticut that chimpanzee had absolutely nothing to do with the economic stimulus bill. President Barack Obama, by contrast, has been associated with the economic stimulus package from nearly day one of his administration. So it is nearly impossible to not make some association between the Sean Delonas cartoon and recent current events. And it was painfully obvious to see those on the wrong side of the issue do this usual dance. The good news is that those strategies have run their course. And like other divide and conquer approaches, such tactics, I believe, will continue fall flat in a post civil rights politics environment. Make no mistake. The problem with the cartoon is that those not offended by it either donâ€™t get it or donâ€™t want to. If Delonas didnâ€™t realize how the cartoon would be perceived, certainly the editorial staff at the post should have. Itâ€™s hard to fathom that given the history of derogatory references to people of African descent as â€œmonkeysâ€ that The Postâ€™s editorial team wouldnâ€™t anticipate that African Americans would take offense. Either both The New York Post and Delonas were asleep at the wheel and failed in their professional responsibility or there was intent on the part of one or both to fan the flames of Americaâ€™s old racial politics. Either they lack cultural sophistication, desire a tantalizing media buzz, or they simply just donâ€™t care. There really is no middle ground. Almost a year ago on March 18th, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama gave a speech entitled â€œa more perfect unionâ€ in which he challenged Americans to own up the to fact that race is an issue â€œthis nation cannot afford to ignore .Â . ., a part of our union we have yet to perfect.â€ This cartoonâ€™s arrival on newsstands is way out of step with the times. Regardless of its intention, it reinforces the notion that national conversations on race are long over due. Bakari Kitwana is the CEO of Rap Sessions and the author of Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes and The New Reality of Race in America.
February 20, 2009No CommentRead More
In anticipation ofÂ Inauguration Day, NewsOneâ€™s Bakari Kitwana sat down with Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for a brief discussion.
January 20, 2009No CommentRead More
Bakari Kitwana Asks: Common What will an Obama Presidency mean to young Americans? Bakari Kitwana sat down with Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist and actor Common to discuss the significance of Barack Obamaâ€™s presidency for young Americans, one of Obamaâ€™s key voting blocâ€™s in yesterdayâ€™s election. In their conversation, Common talks about the impact of hip-hop culture on Americaâ€™s racial landscape. What was it like to grow up in Windy City during the historic campaign and mayoral reign of Mayor Harold Washington? Common makes it plain: â€œBrother Haroldâ€ loomed large, but Obama even before last night had already taken on an even greater local significance, says the Chicago native. In the interview, he makes projects about what President-elect Obamaâ€™s victory will mean to America and the world. Finally, Common carefully delves into some of the highs and lows, innovations and missteps of election 2008â€”from heartfelt moments of his involvement with the making of Will.i.amâ€™s â€œYes We Can,â€ video to the impact of Reverend Jeremiah Wright on the nation during the primary and beyond. Throughout Barack Obamaâ€™s nearly 2-year journey to the White House, his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright is the question that wouldnâ€™t go away. Common, a long time member of Wrightâ€™s Trinity Church of Christ talks about the impact of Wright on his own development and shares why he thinks Wright is misunderstood. Common is an author of The Mirror and Me. His new album out next month is entitled U niversal Mind Control (GOOD Music/Geffen) a nd his upcoming film is Terminator Salvation (May 2009).
November 6, 2008No CommentRead More
HARTFORD, CT â€œI wanted to dwell over the line I drew to help the electronic scanner read my vote for Obama. That black line burst not only with history, but mainly for what it will mean for us: an opportunity to build a new kind of covenant within America and between America and the world. Today was the day when the â€˜still small voiceâ€™ vibrated, allowing the heart to pant, life to glow, and struggles to envelop us, not saying â€˜noâ€™ alone but also â€˜this way forward.â€™ -Vijay Prashad, Director of International Studies at Trinity College and author of The Darker Nations: A Peoples History of The Third World KINGSTON, NY â€œI was really anxious yesterday until I spoke to my Mom and little brother. My brother reminded me that no matter what happens tonight weâ€™ve already won when you consider that black people couldnâ€™t vote 50 years ago. My Mom advised me to tune out the polls, the media, and the emails and feel the spirit of this time weâ€™re in. â€˜When have you ever known a candidate to be internationally lifted up by so much goodwill and prayer, she asked. Stopped thinking of this as an election, and see it for the movement of sheer will and Spirit it is.â€™ I took my son and a picture of my deceased Dad in the booth with me today when my son and I pulled the lever. We wanted to share the glory of this day with our Ancestors so humbled and grateful, am I for the sacrifices theyâ€™ve made to bring us here. And that, my brother, is where I am. The curry goat deh a fire. The champagne is chilling in the fridge. I am confident, grateful and peaceful. Congratulations Barack Hussein Obama. Let the work and the healing begin.â€ -Joan Morgan Journalist and author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost MILWAUKEE, WI â€œToday I traveled from my solidly blue Illinois to the nearby swing state (and my native state) of Wisconsin to work the Obama campaignâ€™s Get Out the Vote effort. After having spent the last few weekends canvassing in less than sympathetic white suburbs of Milwaukee, I was thrilled today to instead be in the cityâ€™s black neighborhoods where I grew up. We hit the block of my high school sweetheartâ€™s house, over to the park where I learned how to swim, and up to the North Lawn projects-where a passing woman asked â€˜Is your name Maryâ€™ and we realized we had gone to high school together. Tiffany was on her way to vote. Today, I felt like after months of fooling with the â€˜undecidedâ€™ voters, it was OUR turn to bring it on home and we were bringing our A-game. Passing the long lines of black folks at polling places and the vans full of volunteers fanning out to bring more people to vote, and chatting it up with a man sporting his â€˜I voted todayâ€™ sticker while drinking his morning beer, I thought of one of Obamaâ€™s stump lines and smiled: We are the people weâ€™ve been waiting for!â€ – Mary Pattillo , author of Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City and Professor of Sociology and African American Studies at Northwestern University SAN JOSE, CA â€œBy all accountâ€™s what we are witnessing today is a historic turn in all of American history. While one should never make predictions in politics, by all accounts it looks like the people are speaking primarily on Barack Obamaâ€™s behalf and, in particular youth and people of color. After today, in many ways we will live in a different America and in many ways our struggles will remain the same, if not more intense. Itâ€™s a sight to behold, and it is powerful contemplating the possibilities of such a new future with such a chaotic and unknowable backdrop helping to direct the course: the economy, the war, global warming, health care and a slew of other critical issues confronting our country and a new administration, party and president to confront them.â€ – Shamako Noble aka The Sword of the West, Executive Director-Hip Hop Congress ATLANTA, GA â€œItâ€™s a crisp, perfect fall night in Atlanta and you can feel that current of excitement. I just drove past the King Center. The streets are choked with traffic, helicopters buzz overhead and people are jammed along the sidewalks waiting for word of the returns. It reminds me of watch parties Black people held on the eve of emancipation. The polls close here in six minutes and all the talk is of projections and returns. Across town a security guard was struggling to maintain order at one of the dozens of watch parties in the commercial district. I asked him if he thought heâ€™d live to see this. â€˜I never contemplated it,â€™ he told me. â€˜But itâ€™s going to happen because they canâ€™t stop that brother now.â€™â€ – Jelani Cobb , author of The Devil and Dave Chappelle and Professor of History at Spelman College CLEVELAND, OH â€œI left my state of Texas to help Ohio for we all know what happen in 2004 and can afford to allow that to happen again in this great state. It is too historic to miss this opportunity. We need Ohio; America needs Ohio to put the Senator Obama in the White House to Change America for the better.â€ – Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee, to those in line waiting to go in to early vote Sunday night outside from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio.
November 5, 2008No CommentRead More
Outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland yesterday, it was like a block party. It was ten minutes after 1 p.m., the official closing time, but the office was still open. A line of several hundred people waiting to vote wrapped around the building and down the block. Nearly all the folks in line were young Blacks in their 20s and 30s. Seasoned Obama staffers, anticipating long lines, and concerned folks might give up and go home, had arranged for a live hip-hop DJ to entertain the throng. Across the street on the corner of Euclid and 30th, music blared from speakers and a makeshift booth set up on the sidewalk outside the Methodist church there. DJ Chela, from Raleigh, N.C., played classic hip-hop, funk, soul and even some gospel. No one seemed to mind the wait. Some people even came over to make requests. Chela had been in town for week, volunteering. She said sheâ€™d be back tomorrow, and the next day. Law enforcement was on hand, but their presence was not overbearing. Everyone who was on line before 1:30 p.m. got to vote. After that, they started turning people away. All of the components of what has made this election year historic were on display: folks from all racial backgrounds eager to cast their vote, younger Black voters anxious to get their slice of the American dream, and older folks of all races proud to pass the baton to another generation of Americans.
November 3, 2008No CommentRead More
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