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Between the Trayvon Martin tragedy and the recent spate of high-profile hate crimes, there has been plenty to keep those of us who care about civil rights busy in the Obama era. But it’s always refreshing when fellow advocates for equality and justice call attention to those major civil rights battles often overlooked by the mainstream media. The kinds of meaningful, substantive battles that can change lives and make the world a better place for future generations. Obviously when most of us think “meaningful,” “substantive” and “civil rights,” we think The Bachelor. When I first read that a class-action suit had been filed against the masterminds behind the reality TV juggernauts The Bachelor & The Bachelorette for casting discrimination, I assumed I was reading a headline from The Onion. But after realizing that the reports were not in fact a joke (even though I think this lawsuit is) I was speechless. (Those of you who know me personally or have merely been annoyed by me on television know that this is a rare occurrence.) I can think of a laundry list of civil rights battles that still loom large for people of color, even in the age of the first black president. Among them, the issue of racial profiling which has finally been thrust into the national spotlight due to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, employment discrimination so blatant that white men with criminal records still have a leg up over black men without one, and yes, the lack of diversity in quality entertainment, as demonstrated by the recent backlash to the new HBO show, Girls. But part of why I was so shocked by the lawsuit is because if I were to name two places in which my people are unjustly overrepresented, the first would be prisons and the second would be bad reality television. There are certain entities and institutions where no group should aspire to greater representation because doing so does not improve the standing, quality, or equality, of said group, but actually devalues the group as a whole. Reality television is one such vehicle. As I clarified while discussing this subject on MSNBC , I’m not referring to shows like American Idol that actually require a legitimate talent or skill. I’m referring to shows that claim to showcase the lives of “real people” who are “just like the rest of us.” Only the real people selected all seem to have severe emotional problems or criminal tendencies, or in the case of many of the cast members of color they select, both. At this point I’m starting to believe that’s not an accident. I didn’t have to look very far for validation of my theory when the very week The Bachelor critics filed their lawsuit, a cast member of a show called Basketball Wives filed a lawsuit against another cast member, who has since been charged with misdemeanor assault. For those who missed it, the women (and make no mistake, these are full-fledged adults over the age of 30, not kids who don’t know any better) got into a verbal altercation that resulted in one hitting another, while another woman removed her shoes and climbed over a table to continue said altercation. Did I already mention the part about these being adults? As embarrassing as this altercation is, or at least should be, for all parties involved, it’s not nearly as embarrassing as the fact that it’s not the first physical altercation that’s happened on the show. But even more embarrassing? The fact that this formula — angry women of color getting into fistfights, catfights and weave-pulling smackdowns — seems to have become the go-to reality TV recipe for success, with Basketball Wives joined by shows like Real Housewives of Atlanta, Bad Girls Club, and others to perpetuate a stereotype so enduring and pervasive that First Lady Michelle Obama expressed her own fears about it just months ago: the image of the angry black woman. These shows send the same message. No matter how much you dress us up, or how much money we may have, lying underneath it all for every woman of color is a neck rolling, finger pointing, profanity using stereotype ready to solve any dispute with physical violence because that’s how we “keep it real.” Only that’s not how most of us “keep it real.” But you wouldn’t know that by watching reality TV. In the early days of the genre, even those shows that did not encourage physical violence, per se, seemed to encourage the perception that one of the black cast members would resort to it if they felt the need to (think Omarosa on season one of The Apprentice and Kevin on season one of The Real World ). Now here we are years later and though the diversity of reality TV shows has expanded, the depiction of people of color on them hasn’t really. So is the answer a lawsuit to make shows like The Bachelor more inclusive? I would say the answer is a lot simpler than that. Even more embarrassing than the behavior of the women of color on some of these shows is the fact that there are women of color who help keep them on the air. If you are one of these women who watch these shows dismissing them as “harmless,” then you can’t be outraged the next time some conservative shock jock tries to stereotype Michelle Obama as an angry black woman. You’re helping to perpetuate that stereotype. As the saying goes, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. After all, when Don Imus called black women “nappy-headed hoes” and Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut,” we were outraged. Yet you will hear women — of all colors — called much worse than that in ten minutes of a Real Housewives or Basketball Wives reunion show. Where’s the outrage then? For the record, I know that these types of shows don’t exactly present any group of people at their best. And I don’t believe that media should be required to depict any group of people in an exclusively positive light, including black Americans. But black people are approximately 13% of the population and yet if you were to take a look at reality shows, or at least the coverage of them, you would think that we are responsible for the overwhelming majority of threatening behavior in social settings. (Click here to see a list of some of the worst reality tv moments.) While white Americans enjoy multi-faceted representation in mainstream media — from Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady to Bridesmaids — to balance out the Jersey Shore s of the world, we are left portraying maids on our best days (the Oscar-winning film The Help ) and real-life women who beat up other women on our worst (such as on most of these reality shows.) Filing a lawsuit against The Bachelor may not be the answer, but voting with your eyeballs in support of programming that does actually “keep it real” when it comes to depicting us, may be. Just as we worked together to send a message to Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh about the perils of demeaning women, why haven’t we sent the same message to the people peddling this dehumanizing content? For those who think I’m overreacting, I have a trivia question for you. What has served as the greatest recruitment tool in the history of the Ku Klux Klan? You give up? The answer is a movie, Birth of a Nation. Released in 1915, it was filled with every negative stereotype of black Americans (or white actors in blackface portraying them) imaginable. We were depicted as lazy, over-sexualized and violent. Sound familiar? Its release caused Klan membership to skyrocket nationwide. Now nearly 100 years later, the imagery of us hasn’t progressed all that far. But today the culprits responsible for such imagery are not white actors in blackface, but black people willing to take on the role of modern day minstrel for a quick buck and black producers willing to sell out their own people for a check. (I’m looking at you Shaunie O’Neal, producer of Basketball Wives. ) But she’s not alone. Like many of the white record executives during the era in which gangsta rap reigned supreme, Andy Cohen, the Bravo svengali behind the Real Housewives franchise, continues to serve as a modern-day D.W. Griffith (the director of Birth of a Nation ), serving up devastating and dehumanizing stereotypes, but all in the name of “entertainment.” But it’s okay. I’m sure he has a black friend. And perhaps he or she thinks his programs are all just harmless fun. To some people, they probably are. But tell that to the hate groups whose memberships have been increasing in recent years, or to those who have experienced the recent rise in hate crimes firsthand. But Ms. O’Neal and Mr. Cohen are probably too preoccupied to notice or care. After all, they’re busy laughing all the way to the bank. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared.
This week a $25 billion settlement was announced in which big banks pay up for a portion of their bad deeds in the home foreclosure crisis. Everyone is trying to determine whether this is a good deal or a bad deal. Here is how I score it. This deal represents small progress on a small problem. Now it’s time to make big progress on the big problem. Don’t count on finding many good points in the deal itself, because there aren’t a lot. In fact, the main win can be found in what’s NOT in the deal. A truly horrible deal would have let the banks write a small check and then seal the door on all further investigations and pursuits of accountability. This deal does NOT do that. Because this settlement limits legal immunity for banks, this deal does not automatically let the banks off the hook for all of their wrong-doing. Except for a few issues like robo-signing, state attorneys general can still fight for more compensation and relief for the banks’ victims. Government officials can proceed with investigating and prosecuting banks for their role in crashing the economy and the housing market. In other words, the door is still open to solve the much bigger problems we face. Our fight for justice can, and will, continue. That is small comfort, perhaps, but it was hard won. So we should honor the hard work of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and others, including many grassroots progressive organizations like New Bottom Line. They fought courageously to prevent a total sweetheart deal for the banks. This outcome is the result of determined activism, and without this heroic effort, the deal would have been drastically worse. That said, there is a reason why many progressives and housing advocates are furious, and why many struggling homeowners are left wondering, “How does this help me?” Millions of homeowners and families are still suffering under the tremendous weight of a debt blanket that is smothering the economy. This $25 billion settlement helps only a fraction of those homeowners and addresses only a very limited set of fraudulent behaviors. A number of homeowners will get some cash payments, but the amounts are negligible compared to the pain and injustice they have experienced. The actual total cash paid out by the banks is only $5 billion dollars, to be split among the nation’s largest banks — hardly a stiff penalty considering that the six largest banks in the U.S. paid $144 billion in bonuses last year. And enforcement mechanisms remain murky. We must not forget the more than 14 million homeowners (one in five) whose homes are underwater, beneath a crushing total $700 billion in negative equity. We must not forget the more than 4 million families who have lost their homes. We must not forget the millions of families who are in some form of foreclosure proceedings on this very day. These are the Americans who have suffered and continue to suffer. They are worried today, like yesterday, whether they will still have a home to live in tomorrow. They are the ones who must choose every month whether to pay bills or to feed their children. Here are three things that must happen next: 1) The U.S. Department of Justice and state attorneys general must investigate and prosecute banks more aggressively than ever, at a much larger scale than anything that has happened to date. 2) We must force banks to make massive principal reduction of hundreds of billions of dollars, to immediately relieve the 14 million homeowners in the country who have underwater mortgages. 3) We must change laws and regulations to prevent this kind of crisis and fraud from ever happening again. Two weeks ago, I called for hundreds of billions in principal reduction for homeowners. This would free up Americans to start new businesses, spend money on worthwhile products and services, and invest in their children’s futures. We still need to address the $700 billion in negative equity, which in turn is only part of the nearly seven trillion dollars in total lost equity created by the banks’ irresponsible, and in some cases, illegal practices. We need a solution at the scale of the problem, so that families can get back on their feet, the economy can get working, and people can reach for their American dreams again instead of watching them drown. That is why I say: $25 billion down, $675 billion to go.
Whenever he was asked about the impact of his race on the 2008 election, President Obama would predict that while his race may cost him some votes, it might gain him some votes, just like a lot of other characteristics over which he has little to no control. Of course, as we later learned, there was another trait President Obama has little control over that had, and continues to have, the potential to cost him and other candidates even more votes than race: perceived religious beliefs. The fact that one in five Americans believe President Obama is not a Christian and view that as a justification for questioning his leadership and patriotism represents a political landmine for the president, one that increasingly his 2012 GOP opponents are in danger of stepping on as well. Newt Gingrich’s win in South Carolina has now made the unthinkable not just possible but virtually certain: a non-evangelical Christian is poised to become the Republican nominee for president. Of the four remaining candidates, just one Dr. Ron Paul, is a protestant. Two, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, are practicing Catholics, while former frontrunner Mitt Romney is Mormon. Though I know this will elicit a lot of angry comments from Paul supporters, by now everyone besides them seems to know that he has as much chance of becoming the GOP nominee as I do. This means that the party for which faith has been as fundamental as family values (in messaging at least) will soon join the thousands of Americans each year who embrace another religion for love, or more specifically for marriage; in this case, a political marriage of convenience. (It’s worth noting that Gingrich did this, quite literally, converting to Catholicism at the behest of his third wife.) But here’s a question. As we have evolved into a country in which divorce, out-of-wedlock births, premarital sex and other religion-inspired one-time taboos have lost most, if not all, of their stigma, why do we continue to be a country in which our religious beliefs significantly affect how we vote? A Gallup poll taken just months ago found that 22% of Americans — across party lines — will not vote for a Mormon candidate. Keep in mind that like discussions of race and sex, religion is a topic about which some people lie out of embarrassment, which means the number of Americans possessing some religious bias about Mormons, or any other group, is likely even higher than the numbers contend. A 2007 survey found that 46% of Americans said they would be less likely to vote for someone who is Muslim but that pales in comparison to the number who said they were less likely to vote for an atheist: 63%. As of 2011 that number is still holding pretty steady at 61%. In fact a separate study released just last month found that atheists are as distrusted by Americans and Canadians as rapists. Yes, rapists. (Click here to see a list of atheists who have been elected to office along with other religious trailblazers in American politics.) Religious prejudice has officially become one of the last remaining bastions of surface-based voter bias, with the number of Americans saying they would not vote for a racial minority, a woman, or a gay American decreasing significantly in recent decades. This is somewhat surprising for a number of reasons. For one, it is arguable that religious labels alone mean very much. For instance, Sen. Ted Kennedy and his brothers were devout Catholics, yet their interpretation of their faith and its role in their politics is miles apart from the interpretation of Sen. Santorum. But perhaps the most ironic thing about all of this is that according to yet another study, an overwhelming majority of those who believe in God are ignorant of basic Biblical facts, and facts about other religions. A 2010 Pew study found only 2% of those surveyed could answer 29 of the 32 questions asked correctly. Most could answer about half. This means that people who aren’t well-versed in their own religious beliefs, or anyone else’s, are making decisions in the voting booth fueled by prejudice that isn’t even well-informed prejudice. You know who is well versed in religion, and well-informed too? Atheists, that’s who. They were among the top scoring groups on Pew’s religion pop quiz. Mormons also scored well. (You can test your own knowledge with questions from the quiz here .) So this begs the question. If most of us are not knowledgeable enough of our own faiths to truly know if another faith is at odds with our own, then how can a vote based in part on someone else’s designated religion be rooted in anything other than prejudice? Though the Romney campaign has certainly been plagued by its own share of candidate-made missteps, it is hard to believe that were he a Methodist, instead of a Mormon, that Mitt Romney would be struggling the way that he is. As far as candidates go, he is practically perfect on paper, checking every box a political consultant could dream of for a “Franken candidate” resume, except of course one. (Some political analysts have even speculated that his tax release debacle was bungled in part out of fear of allowing already jittery evangelical voters to see just how much of his fortune the governor has donated to the Mormon Church over the years.) When family values obsessed, evangelical die-hards who normally consider one divorce grounds for suspicion, two divorces grounds for derision, and proven adultery grounds for candidate ineligibility, choose Newt Gingrich over the guy who’s been with his wife for life but just so happens to be Mormon, that tells you something about the role religious prejudice continues to play in American politics. The bigger question of course becomes whether or not Mitt Romney will ever have the temerity to say so out loud, or if it will take losing the nomination for him to finally understand and acknowledge that forms of bigotry still exist in America, and still hold people back. For some people it may be their skin color keeping them from a job that they need. For others it may be their religion keeping them from the presidency they so desperately want. Question: Would you be willing to vote for a candidate who practices a different religion than your own or doesn’t practice one at all? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate , a novel about a black, Jewish candidate for president. She is a contributing editor for Loop21.com where a version of this post originally appeared.
Every year, we pay homage to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the month of January. Most offices are closed, kids are home from school and people generally enjoy the day off from their normal routines. But how many of us take the time to emulate Dr. King’s teachings? How many of us actually understand the fight he waged on our behalf? How many of us emulate his nonviolent dedication to defending the poor and seeking economic justice in society? In 2012, instead of just verbally praising Dr. King, we should continue his quest for equality and tackle today’s greatest civil rights challenges: leveling the playing field for everyone, fighting voter suppression, establishing stricter gun laws, a commitment to end international potential warfare and providing a quality education in our most impoverished areas. Then and only then will we truly understand the depth and meaning of celebrating Dr. King’s life, legacy and purpose. One of Dr. King’s last efforts prior to his untimely death was the Poor People’s Campaign. Combating issues of economic justice and housing for the poor, the campaign included an ‘Economic Bill of Rights’, and efforts to lobby elected officials to pass progressive legislation. Because Dr. King intently understood that the most vulnerable and disenfranchised in society were the poor, he dedicated much of his own life to giving them a platform, fighting for their rights and creating a society where they would no longer be dehumanized. Today, as many politicians cut vital programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance, the poor are increasingly watching their concerns fall on deaf ears and their voices drowned out in a sea of political wrangling. That is precisely why we cannot sit silently in the face of oppression. Until the weakest among us are afforded the same opportunities as the wealthiest, we cannot in good conscious accept that the fight for justice is complete. One of the greatest civil rights achievements we ever obtained was the capability to vote. Long denied the very basic ability to participate in the electoral process of the nation we helped construct, African Americans spent years post-slavery battling poll taxes and other discriminatory practices in order to secure the promise of one man, one vote. After some literally gave their lives so that others could one day participate in the democratic process of this nation, we are now watching that very core human right once again under attack. Passing ‘voter ID requirements’, several states have taken it upon themselves to alter the way in which citizens elect their next leaders. A poll tax by a new name, these voter ID laws are nothing more than intimidation tactics to keep the poor and people of color away from the polls. It is the most egregious and outrageous form of voter suppression we have ever witnessed in our lifetimes. And it is a blatant attempt to reverse the very work Dr. King dedicated his life to. When it comes to communities of color in the U.S., one of the most tragic realities we face is the rampant rise in gun usage and violence. We can argue as to the root causes of this rise — whether it be poverty, lack of jobs, inadequate schools, lack of opportunities — but the fact remains that it is our children we are burying and our families that are being torn apart. The larger question is, why are these guns so readily available? As the national rise in violence reaches epic proportions, we must create strict national gun laws, and we must establish programs to diminish this senseless violence. Whether it’s conducting gun buyback events, creating more alternatives for people to resolve their disputes, providing counseling where it’s often needed and seeking increased employment/opportunities for the disenfranchised, we must work together to save all of our collective futures. If Dr. King were alive today, another issue he would tackle head on would be increasing warfare around the world. As a man of the cloth and someone who embodied peaceful protest, he was always fervent in his anti-war stance. At a time when potential international warfare threatens stability in many nations and pushes us at home into deeper debt, we must look at potential conflicts through his lens. And finally, no society can advance to the next level if all of its children do not receive the same quality education. As I’ve stated many times in the past, education is often times the key that opens the door to entirely new possibilities and helps to equalize the playing field like nothing else can. But when a child doesn’t receive adequate education because of his/her socio-economic status, then we have failed as a nation. As perhaps our greatest modern civil rights struggle to date, good education is something we must ensure all children receive regardless of their race or income status. We agreed that ‘separate but equal’ was separate and unfair; now let’s work to create a united, equal educational system for all. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” were words spoken by the great Dr. King. As we gather to honor this civil rights advocate, let’s remember to pick up the mantle and continue the good fight, for there are many obstacles which remain. So let us not celebrate in silence, but commemorate with our actions; do something today to bring justice for tomorrow. Reverend Al Sharpton is the president of National Action Network and host of PoliticsNation on MSNBC.
Martin Luther King day is one of our only national holidays committed to honoring social and racial justice. Yet too often it has been watered down to a Hallmark card — a weak commemoration of one of the most inspiring individuals and formative eras in American history. It’s time for a true celebration of Martin Luther King Day. This week, Americans everywhere will remember the selfless and historic contributions made by one of the most important figures of the 20th century. Rebuild the Dream members are hosting MLK Day Movement Meet-ups to celebrate Dr. King and link the Civil Rights Movement with today’s struggle for an economy that works for all. We will come together to reflect on the struggles of our past, and unite to secure our future. This is a chance to touch base with people who are passionate about fighting for Dr. King’s dream. Neighbors and friends will gather in schools, libraries, community centers, and living rooms to watch a short video and open up a discussion on how we can strengthen our movement in 2012. If you would like to attend an MLK Day Meet-up, you can find one here. MLK day is a chance to look back and look ahead — let’s reflect on one of the most important movements of our past as a springboard for the ongoing fight for justice. There is a lot left to fight for, and every day people are continuing Dr. King’s struggle. With a powerful movement sweeping the country, we must gather together and ask: What would Dr. King and other civil rights leaders do today? How can we continue their legacy in 2012 and beyond? While the founding reality of America fell short of our ideals, we also had a founding dream that was beautiful — is beautiful — and is inherently about equality. The story of America is a story of an imperfect people struggling day after day, year after year, decade after decade, and now century after century to bring that unequal reality closer to our beautiful founding dream. That was Dr. King’s dream. That is what our movement is today. 2012 will be groundbreaking, so we have to get together and get ready. It’s our turn. Let’s honor the inextricable link between the struggles of our past and the struggle for our future.
Last week, while most of us were still recovering from holiday meal hangovers, Rick Perry sent a message to those who thought that his anti-gay “Stronger” ad was the epitome of desperation and pandering that you ain’t seen nothing yet. (Click here to see Perry’s “Stronger” ad, Ron Paul’s abortion ad, and others from the primary campaign.) Perry announced in an Iowa town hall that he had undergone a “transformation” regarding his position on abortion and now believes that the procedure should not be permissible in cases of rape or incest. Around the same time, Ron Paul became the fifth GOP candidate to sign what is known as the Personhood USA Pledge . The pledge, which has also been signed by candidates Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, and Santorum to date, reads , in part, “I support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.” It goes on to state, “If elected President, I will work to advance state and federal laws and amendments that recognize the unalienable right to life of all human beings as persons at every stage of development, and to the best of my knowledge, I will only appoint federal judges and relevant officials who will uphold and enforce state and federal laws recognizing that all human beings at every stage of development are persons with the unalienable right to life.” Proponents of the pledge have previously acknowledged that it could criminalize birth control , a fact that, when made public, played a key role in torpedoing a personhood measure on the Mississippi ballot last fall. While abortion remains one of America’s most divisive issues, birth control and the issue of abortion in extreme circumstances are not. According to the CDC, 99 percent of sexually active American women use birth control, and though recent polls indicate that Americans are split equally on whether or not abortion should be legal, an overwhelming majority — more than 80 percent — believes it should be legal in cases of rape or incest, and nearly 90 percent believe it should be legal to save the life of a mother. Mitt Romney, who has staked much of his Iowa victory on whether or not voters will believe that, like Perry, he underwent a conversion of his own on the issue of abortion, has not signed the Personhood USA Pledge. But if various reports are to be believed, his own positions on abortion have fluctuated from pro-choice to even more extreme than those of his personhood-pledging counterparts. A new book contends that as a Mormon bishop, Romney tried to dissuade a woman from terminating a pregnancy that doctors warned was causing her internal bleeding. Despite Romney going so far as to follow the woman and her husband to the hospital, the couple made the decision to go forward with the procedure, which allegedly prompted Romney to track down her parents to get them to intervene. It is reported that her father instead decided to throw Romney out. But perhaps even more disturbing than that anecdote is that it is also alleged that while plotting his political rise, Romney met with Mormon leaders to map out an abortion strategy. It is reported that after consulting with them, a plan was adopted regarding how he would discuss the issue in order to be successfully elected in a left-leaning state like Massachusetts. This allegation plays into Romney’s most enduring criticism, namely that the man is incapable of saying what he believes — ever — just what he thinks will be the most politically expedient, even if it’s a matter of life or death. (To be clear, in this instance I am referring to the life and death of women coping with the dangers of pregnancy.) Nearly 40 years after Roe v. Wade , the current incarnation of the Republican Party seems determined to set the health of American women back by more than a century, with targeting abortion no longer enough. Birth control rights are increasingly in the line of fire. Perhaps even worse, the current crop of GOP presidential candidates seems determined to treat the health, safety, and rights of American women much like those cultures they often discuss with such scorn and superiority. ” Sharia law ” has become the dirtiest of dirty words in the culture wars, particularly in America’s post-9/11 political landscape. Yet I’m at a loss to see any real difference between the manner in which Sharia law penalizes women who are raped and the efforts of Perry and his Personhood cohorts to penalize American rape survivors with a nonconsensual pregnancy. It would almost be funny if it weren’t so sad and scary, and there’s the irony of President Obama being the subject of countless rumors and innuendo about alleged Muslim ties and efforts to inject Sharia law into the upper reaches of our government, while his strongest competition is trying to outdo one another to become the presidential poster child for the Westernized version of the very extremist laws they are busy warning the rest of us about (you know, when they are not trying to enact them on American soil, that is). The verdict may still be out on who wins Iowa, but one thing’s for sure: if any of these extremists wins, women will lose. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com , where this column originally appeared.
In June of 2009, the economic recession was officially declared over. Despite the fact that millions remained unemployed, families were still foreclosed upon in record numbers and more children went hungry than most of us could have ever imagined, many had us buy into the notion that the worst was behind us and things were on an upward trajectory. Well, for the African American community, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Black layoffs have only skyrocketed since that time as the public sector – heavily comprised of a Black workforce – continues to slash jobs. And as a result, not only has Black wealth diminished, but so too has the existence of much of this nation’s Black middle class itself. Black, White or Brown – that is a startling reality that should have all of us deeply concerned. According to a study released earlier this year by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Blacks were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector. And while the private sector has added 1.6 million jobs as reported in a recent New York Times piece, public employment has seen massive layoffs across the board. Whether it’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, or any other form of municipal work, the public sector has been under attack from Wisconsin to NJ and everywhere in between. From losing their bargaining rights to bearing the brunt of city and state budget cuts, public service employees are watching their entire life savings disappear. And because about 1 in 5 Blacks work in civil service, we are disproportionately suffering yet again during these tough times. In the U.S. postal service alone, about 25% of employees are Black. It is precisely because of work in this industry and in other government entities that we were finally able to climb the economic and societal ladder, and eventually begin to achieve the proverbial American dream of home ownership. An entire Black middle class emerged via civil service jobs, and we are now tragically close to witnessing the greatest stumbling block to progress that will literally set us back decades. But we can – and we must – do something to halt this injustice that so clearly threatens our immediate future. On December 9th, my organization, National Action Network, will do its part to address this issue and more as we mobilize a 25-city simultaneous day-of-action around Jobs and Justice. A follow-up to our October 15th rally in Washington, D.C., the December 9th march will continue to focus on growing economic disparity, lack of employment, and equality issues surrounding our current economic state. We will call attention to disproportionate layoffs of Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed groups, attacks on the public sector and the ever-growing wealth gap. We will push for economic growth, job creation and concrete, substantive ideas that truly begin to get people back to work. And we will call out all those who stand in the way. While doing nothing but obstructing every proposal put forth by the President and Democrats, Republicans have made it their mission to paint public workers – the ones that clean our streets, educate our children, deliver our mail, protect our streets and more – as the enemy. They continue to find ways to eliminate their organizing abilities, and blame them for all of our ills, while trying to protect the corporate cronies that got us all into this mess. And of course, they have openly stated that they are willing to let all of our lives hang in the balance while they play dirty politics. But we, the American people, will not remain silent and watch the very things we worked so hard to create fall apart before our eyes. It isn’t fair to the Black community that broke through impossible blockades to create a middle class; it isn’t fair to civil service employees who make life as we know it possible; and it isn’t fair to you and I. Join us on December 9th as we raise our voices in unison across the country for Jobs and Justice.
The big buzz on cable news this week is that the Super Committee failed when it couldn’t come to a compromise on how to cut the federal budget by $1.5 trillion. But the truth is that the American people won. And now, we must keep on winning. We won when Democrats on the Super Committee held their ground on the expiring Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. Instead of focusing like a laser on job creation, conservative Republicans in Congress held our nation’s finances hostage in July. To appease the hostage-takers, Congress created a closed-door committee to force through major cuts this fall. Thankfully, enough Democrats held together on the Super Committee to stop severe cuts from going through. Many proposed to seek revenue from small tax increases for the wealthy and a tiny “Wall Street Tax” on risky stock trades. But those cries from the 99% fell on the deaf ears of conservatives on the Super Committee. Progressives don’t often battle the concentrated forces of corporations and their armies of lobbyists to a stalemate. For that reason, we can stop, reflect on a job well done, and thank the congressmen and women who stopped the worst from getting through. But we’re not out of the woods yet. The so-called economic recovery hasn’t reached the vast majority of jobseekers and homeowners who have been battered by the financial collapse and its aftermath. And the bill that created the Super Committee mandated massive cuts to education, health care, environmental regulation, and job creation in 2013. So we still have some work to do. In fact, the fights coming up are likely to be brutal. The Super Committee trigger does not identify where the domestic cuts are coming from. And conservatives are already trying to roll back the trigger’s cuts to the defense budget and replace them with deeper cuts to domestic programs. So we need to keep fighting if we want to protect the EPA, science, energy research and development, home weatherization, and other vital programs. We also need to prepare for the fact that the deficit reduction battle will continue to rage in different forms, between now and the end of 2012. Throughout the election season, the same battle about extending Bush tax cuts for the rich (and maybe all the Bush tax cuts), cutting social programs and cutting defense will continue. There is the possibility for a good outcome. Democrats have a tremendous amount of leverage, because the Bush tax cuts will automatically expire at the end of next year and $600 billion of cuts in defense will go into effect automatically [which would be truly historic] in January 2013 if Congress does nothing. They can do it — if they show the courage that we saw in the past few weeks by the Occupy The Highway marchers. A handful of activists this week walked more than 200 miles to D.C. from Occupy Wall Street’s “Liberty Park.” They did so to make sure that Washington heard the cries of the 99% for fair treatment. They pointed out that many students have already mortgaged their future for their education, only to graduate off a cliff into the worst job climate since the Great Depression. Seniors and veterans have already given much to this country and deserve fair treatment in return. These groups did not cause our fiscal and financial calamities. The culprits are Bush’s tax giveaways for the rich, lax oversight of Wall Street and endless wars. Any sacrifices to solve the problem should come primarily from those who enjoyed the tax breaks, bonuses and bailouts, not those who suffered. Coming off this victory, people of conscience in Congress should follow the example of these marchers — and go the extra distance to find real solutions for our country.
Every campaign a candidate says something that he or she ends up regretting, usually because an opponent or critic manages to prove the statement wrong in some factual or philosophical way. But rarely does a candidate prove one of his own statements wrong in the extraordinary manner that Herman Cain has managed to do in recent weeks. Six weeks ago Cain said , “I don’t believe racism in this country today holds anybody back in a big way.” In the last month he’s learned firsthand just how laughable that statement really is. To those who have decided that based on the previous sentence, this blog post is laughable — I ask you to first consider two questions. Question number 1: If Cain’s Libya gaffe — and without a doubt it was a doozy — renders him unqualified and unelectable for the presidency, then how do we explain the election of George W. Bush? His foreign affairs pop quiz failure during the 2000 presidential campaign makes Cain’s mishap look mild and yet somehow he didn’t become campaign roadkill. (Click here to see a list of some of the most embarrassing campaign flubs.) Question number 2: What if Cain’s sexual harassment accusers were black? (Let the eye rolls, hate mail and angry comments commence.) As I mentioned on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show , shortly after the Herman Cain harassment story broke, the first question I asked a fellow writer is, “Do we know the race of the accusers?” I asked not because I care, but because I knew that some voters would — namely many of the voters Mr. Cain needed to win a GOP primary. How do we know that some of them care? A 2010 Pew Research poll found that while nearly 85% of millenials of all races support interracial marriage, only 52% of white Baby Boomers do and only 36% of whites over age 65 do. Pew data also shows the average age of registered Republicans rising to 48 and the party’s greatest bloc of support remaining overwhelmingly white and in the South. This means that the voters least likely to approve of sexual contact between members of different races are the very voters Cain’s political survival has depended on. Therefore it was a given that his survival would become tougher if the number of attractive white women accusing him of not so attractive behavior increased. What’s ironic is that despite his earlier declaration that racism doesn’t hold any of us back in any meaningful way, Cain later asserted that being a black conservative played a role in the allegations against him — specifically making him an attractive target of both liberals and the media. He was at least partially right. The fact that Cain is black and his accusers (so far) are reasonably attractive blondes did impact coverage of this story regardless of whether we in the media wish to acknowledge it. Though we don’t like to admit it there are countless factors that determine which stories we cover and how we cover them, including factors that should not, such as race. The disproportionate coverage media outlets extend to cases of attractive white women who go missing in comparison to the coverage extended to missing minorities, is so well documented that it enjoys a permanent catchphrase among media critics: “Missing White Woman Syndrome.” (Fingers crossed I don’t go missing anytime soon because the odds are not in my favor in terms of coverage.) When it comes to allegations of sexual impropriety the same calculations that lead some reporters, producers, and editors to determine that a missing poor, overweight African-American woman may not be as newsworthy as a missing attractive, wealthy white woman can also come into play. So what does this mean for Herman Cain? For starters, as long as his accusers were white, reasonably attractive and not completely incoherent, they were going to be extended a measure of coverage — and credibility — they may not otherwise. As such, they, unfairly or not, saddled Cain with the very albatross he has tried desperately to avoid. Herman Cain spent a lifetime defying racial stereotypes, both professionally and politically. Now he has cartoonishly morphed into the embodiment of one of America’s most unflattering, yet enduring, racial stereotypes: that of the black man that despite seeming to have it all, still sexually wants a white woman more than anything. Though his supporters were quick to hearken back to Clarence Thomas as a model for how a black conservative could survive similar allegations, they seemed to forget one key fact: Anita Hill, Thomas’s accuser, is black. This fact still matters, even 20 years later, and if you are a black man running in a GOP primary the race of your accuser matters even more. Don’t get me wrong. When it’s all said and done Cain’s candidacy will ultimately have been done in by his own hand; his poor early response to the harassment crisis that engulfed his campaign, his bumbling response to the question on Libya. But that doesn’t change the fact that the bar has always been set higher for African-Americans (apologies Mr. Cain. I know you hate that term) seeking to break barriers, with less room for errors. There is not a black person on the planet that believes President Obama could survive an impeachment scandal like President Clinton did. Just as we all accept the fact that no black candidate as inarticulate as President George W. Bush would have ever been considered a viable contender. At the end of the day I guess Mr. Cain and I don’t disagree all that much. He believes that race may have played some role in his demise, as do I. I guess the only real difference between us, is I always knew it was a possibility that his race could hold him back in some meaningful way. But it took a losing campaign, and abandonment by his fellow conservatives to teach Mr. Cain that lesson. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this piece originally appeared. Check out her website here .
After attending Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne concert I remarked on Facebook that I enjoyed the show — the feminist in me notwithstanding. Between the two of them there are plenty of lyrics that would make any self-respecting feminist cringe, but there is one song that some feminists may expect me to find offensive, yet I don’t: the Kanye West hit “Gold Digger.” Let me clarify. It’s not that I don’t find the song offensive. It’s just that I’m not nearly as offended by the lyrics as I am by the women that inspired them. Before my fellow feminists in cyberspace grab their pitchforks, let me start by saying I know not every woman is a gold digger. I just wish so many women out there would stop perpetuating the stereotype that most of us are. I was reminded of this when the media became obsessed with the latest celebrity babymama drama , this time starring teen heartthrob Justin Bieber. (Click here to see a list of the most high profile celebrity paternity cases.) For starters, as I’m sure has already been stated by others, part of what’s troubling about the case is that if the gender roles were reversed and a nineteen-year-old man had impregnated a sixteen-year-old girl I don’t think everyone would have initially treated the matter as a boys-will-be-boys like joke. But the equally disturbing issue is that Bieber’s accuser follows a long line of women who not only use their sexuality to get ahead, but their wombs. The act of becoming pregnant on purpose with the goal of landing financial security has become viewed as such a common practice that it is regularly joked about whenever stories like this become public. Bloggers, commenters and commentators use language like “just became pregnant with eighteen years of security” or “she just hit the lotto” to describe women announced to be carrying the children of rich men, particularly men they were not in serious relationships with but will now be linked to, both personally and financially, for life. From Mick Jagger, to Hugh Grant and countless professional athletes, the notion these women (and the men involved), help perpetuate is that there is another option besides appearing on a reality show for those who don’t want to work for a living. (And yes I consider parenting, at least being a good parent, the hardest job in the world, but you get my meaning.) What’s disconcerting is the message that the high profile stories of Bieber and other celebrities, combined with the success of programs like Basketball Wives , (which features few wives, but many women whose lives of luxury are bankrolled by the wealthy athletes they’ve had multiple children out of wedlock with) sends to girls everywhere: Why bother spending money on a college degree, when if you play your cards right and don’t use a condom — or poke holes in one — you can be financially set for life. (Yes you read that right. As recounted to me by multiple aides, staffers and ex-girlfriends of professional athletes there are women who go to elaborate lengths to become pregnant by them. Poking holes in condoms is just the tip of the iceberg, no pun intended.) As I made clear on The Dylan Ratigan Show , I’m not letting the men off the hook when it comes to their responsibility in situations like these. If a man truly doesn’t want to be a father, he should take the precautions necessary not to become one. If he doesn’t, then he’s a fool. Any man who creates a baby has a responsibility to that child. But a woman will always have more responsibility — at least in the beginning. Why? Because ultimately it will always be our choice, as women (at least here in America) whether or not a baby ends up in this world. Any woman who disagrees with that statement is in essence disagreeing with the very premise of a woman’s right to choose. After all, we fought long and hard to defend the mantra, “My body, my choice,” something I will believe in and defend until the day I die. But if we are going to demand that men respect the mantra “My body, my choice,” and if it is ultimately our choice and we want to protect the legal right to keep it ours and ours alone, then we can’t turn around and blame someone else for the irresponsible choices we make with our bodies. We also can’t get mad when someone calls us out for such choices. We simply can’t have it both ways ladies. I do believe feminism is about a woman’s right to choose, but I also believe feminism is about taking responsibility for the choices that we make. Having unprotected sex with a wealthy stranger whom you then conveniently sue for a lot of money afterwards is not a brand of feminism in my book. Furthermore, women who make the choice to use their bodies to create children primarily for the purpose of financial gain, not only go against everything feminism stands for, but they go against the very idea of responsible parenting. Kids should not be created to be anyone’s retirement package, whether your last name is Lohan, Jackson or Yeater (of Bieber fame.) And as long as women are afraid to confront and challenge other women who embody the negative gender stereotypes we battle every day, they will continue to prevent the rest of us from achieving the progress and equality we desire and deserve. So the next time you hear the song “Gold Digger,” ladies try to reserve your outrage for the individual who actually deserves it. Not Kanye West, but whatever woman, or women, that inspired the song. Keli Goff is the author of The GQ Candidate and a Contributing Editor for Loop21.com where this post originally appeared. www.keligoff.com