2016 Terror Attack!!

The language and framing of the Oregon standoff case shows again the huge disparity in not only how we talk about protest, violence and terrorism, but how we as a nation think about these things.

Someone forget to rest the chill button for 2016.  Just few days into the new year we have a terrorist attack right here in America, and what’s worse, there seems to be some sort of news blackout going on. What’s the haps?!

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is that….?

Here’s the scoop:

On Saturday afternoon about 300 Muslims gathered to protest government abuse.  After a peaceful march, a splinter group of jihadists–some known to police and the FBI for previous radical activities–broke off to head to a federal airport.  They occupied a local federal building-an empty airport terminal-and reports of 15-150 people with an unknown quantity of guns have said thy are now prepared to hold the airport hostage for “years.” One of the leaders involved told a reporter they are willing to “kill and be killed” in the name of Allah.

Wait, no that’s all wrong. There is no armed muslim extremist group holding federal land.  Besides, if there was, would Fox news be referring to them as Patriots? Hell no.

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hold on a sec.

On Saturday afternoon about 300 Black Lives matter protesters gathered to protest police brutality.  After a peaceful march, a splinter group of BLM leaders–some known to police and the FBI for previous standoff in Baltimore–broke off to head to a federal courthouse closed for the holidays.  They occupied a local federal building-the courthouse-and reports of 15-150 people with an unknown quantity of guns have said thy are now prepared to the courthouse  for “years.” One of the leaders involved  told a reporter they are willing to “kill and be killed.”

Oh, wait, totally wrong again.  Despite many, many protests in support of the movement for Black Lives, no part of the movement has staged an armed takeover.  No leader of the movement has advocated kill or be killed. Fox called them Anarchists.  I call them citizens acting within their constitutional right.

Here’s the real story:

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yeah, this ones real

On Saturday afternoon about 300 people gathered to protest government abuse.  After a peaceful march, a splinter group of militia leaders–some known to police and the FBI for a previous standoff on the Clive Bundy ranch–broke off to head to a federal wildlife preserve.  They occupied a local federal building on the preserve and reports of 15-150 people with an unknown quantity of guns have said thy are now prepared to occupy the preserve for “years.” One of the leaders involved, Ryan Bundy, told a reporter they are willing to “kill and be killed.” Despite the fact that an armed militant group has taken over federal property, listed demands, and is holding territory with weapons, no law enforcement has engaged with–or even driven out to monitor more closely the movements of the armed militants.

Yes, that story is correct.  Now check out story 1 and story 2:  can you imagine them ending with police falling back?  would this ever happen?

Despite the fact that armed jihadists have taken over federal property, listed demands, and are holding territory with weapons, no law enforcement has engaged with–or even driven out to monitor more closely the movements of the extremists.

Or this?

Despite the fact that  armed Black radicals have taken over federal property, listed demands, and are holding territory with weapons, no law enforcement has engaged with–or even driven out to monitor more closely the movements of the armed radicals.

Nope, never going to happen.  The language and framing of the Oregon standoff case shows again the huge disparity in not only how we talk about protest, violence and terrorism, but how we as a nation think about these things. It is not just the way one group is treated, but the differential in validation, blame and punishment between groups where modern racism is at its most visible.oregon-under-attack-armed-militia-takeover-government-building.jpg

Apologists for the Oregon armed invaders are already lining up to minimize, deflect and defend. They are quick to point out that there is no looting. No looting?  Don forget the deamnds.  These “protesters” are demanding the federal government give them  federal land–how’s that for looting?

Stay tuned.

 

 

Hero With A Thousand Faces: Deal With It

Yesterday, in case you didn’t feel the ground shake, the full length trailer for the New Star Wars movie premiered during Monday Night football.  First, enjoy…

Fans of Star Wars crashed servers watching the hell out of the trailer, but it didn’t take long for the interwebz to raise one of its uglier heads.  A hashtag # BoycottStarWars appeared just hours after the trailer debuted, accusing the film of promoting White genocide.  Why the freak out?

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The main character, played by John Boyega is –wait for it–a black man. The idea that a black man is a lead, a hero and alive in outer space seems to be sending some people, well, into outer space.  Now, of course, these boycotters should feel stupid; it’s 2015, Black people are not some situation that Jim Webb controls and so you are going to see–thank God–some diversity in film.

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But when you’re done shaking your head at how cray-cray these boycotters are, consider this:  they are right in pointing out the significance of casting Boyega in the lead.  We know already that there is a real drought when it comes to lead actors of color playing the hero.  Go ahead–quick–name 5 movies with hero of color….I’ll wait while you Google it……..

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The UCLA diversity report  released in 2015 looked at films 2011-2013 and found that whites are overrepresented and minorities are underrepresented.

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When we look even more closely at the most iconic heroes conquering the silver screen, there are even fewer characters of color.  When Idris Elba’s name came up as a possible casting choice for the new James Bond, strong backlash erupted, and not just from internet trolls.  James Bond author Anthony Horowitz called Elba “too street” to play Bond.  Hey, hey, he wasn’t being racist,   just saying that Idris- friggin-Elba is “not suave” enough. What?!

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But I digress…. Celluloid heroes have always been white, sometime even when they were not supposed to be.  Remember that above all, studios are looking for products they can bank on.

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Rest easy, Star Wars producers.  Casting John Boyega as the lead is not only a good move to increase the now-dismal diversity in Hollywood films, it turns out its also good for business.  The same UCLA deviltry report found that films that featured 40% characters of color did better at the box office. Turns out, trolls, that diversity pays.

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Hollywood and the smaller tubes around are taking note of the importance of embracing diversity in order to reflect an increasingly diverse audience watching in the real world. I’m not saying Hollywood is getting it right, but they have at least identified it as an area in need of improvement.  In an increasingly diverse country, It makes good business to get out ahead of an unstoppable trend.

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Make no mistake; Star Wars is no ordinary film.  It is modern myth.  Based on the work Hero With a Thousand Faces by anthropologist Joseph Campbell, Star Wars is not just the story of a hero, it is the story of all heroes.  It is the right thing to do to create myths that reflect our culture.  We live in a world with heroes of every race, and film is long overdue to reflect this.

Boycott if you want trolls–that just leaves more seats for the true fans–those who know space has no limits.

Obligatory ‘You’re Fired’ Themed Headline

It looks like NBC isn’t going to wait until primary season to dump the Trump.  The network announced to day that it would be cutting all ties with the billionaire bombast, including Trumps once-bold-now-old reality show The Apprentice.

The Donald wasted no time before taking to the airwaves and blaming the break on political correctness.  Trump released a statement today on Instagram which said in part “NBC is weak and like everybody else is trying to be politically correct…” showing that he is powerfully incorrect in his understanding of the current state of America.

Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and murders.  That’s not edgy commentary; he is stating this as fact, going so far as to double down in his statement this afternoon.  The fact that NBC is cutting ties with Trump before the GOP which has some heavy lifting to do with Latino voters if they are to have any kind of shot in 2016.

Political correctness is a term so loaded as to lose any real meaning.  Most often it is swung like a bat at women and people of color who asked to be spoken to with dignity and respect.  The always implied idea is that those who want said respect are overreacting, need to get over it, are whining and bitching and basically ruining everyone else’s fun.

But we all pay–in one way or another–for the media messages we consume.  We pay cable bills and cell providers, click ads and pay with our time or attention.  Sometimes we pay with a vote for the messages we want to hear.  Why would any group of people want to be insulted by choice and on their own dime?  Why should any group allow themselves to be unfairly characterized just to bolster someones dogmatic campaign?  You, Trump can say what you like, and the people have the right to tell you to go screw.

Latinos make up 17% of the American population.  Other oft-dissed groups: women make up 50% of the population, African Americans at 12% , Asians at 7%–that all adds up to a lot of people.  People want to see themselves reflected and represented in a way that is respectful.  That’s not to say people can’t disagree, but slandering 55 million people isn’t respect.

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As America grows into a country lush with diversity, our entertainment, political and social dialogue should reflect.  Media celebrities complaining about political correctness are behind the curve. Plenty of smart edgy controversial people talk about identity, but the days of being able to be outright offensive without people calling you on your shit are over.  This isn’t Mad Men, Trump, and you are no Don Draper.  Connecting rape and murder to an entire race of people isn’t politically incorrect, its just incorrect.

Pass To Power: The Truth About “Trans-Racial”

The news cycle giveth–and it taketh away.  After days of international hubbub over fake black “trans-racial” Rachel Dolezal claiming that blackness is something one can choose to be, we see the powerful and very real consequences that still lie at the heart of race in America.   In Charleston, South Carolina, 9 people were shot by a lone gunman as they attended a prayer circle. Officials and investigators are labeling it a hate crime.  No one of those eight lost souls had the chance to stop a bullet and say they identified as white.  None of those people had the right to self identify their way out of the hate.

It’s not a weave or a rap or a twerk that makes a person black.  Race operates on multiple levels at the same time.  We each experience race at the individual level: your own racial identity and your way of thinking and understanding race ; at the interpersonal level: in the interactions and relationships we have with others; at the institutional level:  the schools, organizations, and churches we belong to; and at the ideological level: where the ideas that undergird these systems lives.  While Dolezal has gotten us to talk about race at the individual level, what the crazy-talk about trans-racial ignores is the very real way that race operates on those other levels.

Before we get into the trans-racial take down, a word about words.  Transracial is already a word used to describe an adoption process when members of one race adopt a bona fide member of another race, who remain that other race their whole life.   Lots of TRAs are heated about their term being used incorrectly on this rare occasion when it is used in the mainstream media at all.   There are tens of thousands of transracial adoptees in the US, many of us proving Dolezal wrong–you can have a white mother of a black adopted child.  I know: I have one!

Why call Dolezal’s ask for a pass transracial?  She’s trying to skate on the cool response that Caitlyn Jenner got  just a couple weeks ago.   Cue the meme! (BTW, note that they didn’t have to change Caitlyn’s cover to match Rachel’s face!)

It’s not just an image trade. A very real and complex conversation has popped up to answer the question if transgender is a thing, and race and gender are both constructs, then isn’t transracial a thing? My answer is an emphatic no, with a not now coda.

Race is not biologically assigned, true.  Since it’s socially constructed, we could socially reconstruct or deconstruct it.  Of course.  Race hasn’t always been this way, so it can be something completely different at some point in the future. Yup. And if race is made up by people we can all change our mind and then we can be whatever race we want and tomorrow we’ll be post racial hooray!  No, stop right there.

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Even though race is socially constructed, it’s not constructed primarily at the individual level (remember those levels).  An individual cannot make the decision alone to change the categories–otherwise the census form would be really really long.  Like we said in part 1, even if we all wake up tomorrow trans-racial, race as a construct would need to be dismantled in our systems and institutions.  We can’t agree on much politically–do you really think a referendum recatagorizing all Americans–including Mexican Americans, I’m looking at you Donald Trump–would stand a chance of passing? Not a Dolezal’s chance in hell.

But is someone feels–I mean really feels–like they are black, then why not?  Hmm, notice there is no one saying that black people also have the right to change it up.  In fact, blacks that were caught passing weren’t given a pass–they lost school and work opportunities , social status and in some cases suffered violence.  If whites can become black and blacks cannot become white, then trans-racial is just the penultimate expression of white privilege–the privilege to choose black, and be rewarded.

Besides, how white do you have to go to be considered white?  Lightened skin, straightened hair and white cultural moves might get you paid, but it doesn’t make you white. The costume of whiteness is all around us–and is a multibillion dollar industry.  From 28 inch silky to skin whitening candy (for real) there are any number of products to kick you down Von Luschen’s chromatic scale, but none will give you entrance to whiteness.

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The borders between black and white in this country are still strictly enforced.  There benefits of whiteness are protected in big and small ways from the ballot box, to massive cultural hegemony in media.  The consequences of blackness are enforced with a heavy hand: uneven sentencing laws, banking practices like redlining, not to mention the raw brutality of police killings of black men and women.

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And now Charleston.  People shot dead because they are black.  Not because of a head of fake dreads or a particular shade. The killer didn’t check their black cards before unloading his weapon.  He just shot them.  Because they are black. And no amount of self-identification will bring them back.  They do not have a choice.  They didn’t have Dolezal’s choice.

To say that race is a choice indicates that people can choose.  And if you are suffering, and you choose not to help yourself, well, then your problems become your fault.  Like slaves that didn’t run away. Like blacks that were in the ‘wrong place’. Like Selma marchers.  If race is a choice, then your oppression becomes your own doing. Entertaining that race–and all the consequences that come with it are a choice is offensive given the blood, sweat and tear-gas tears that  have soaked our cities this year alone.  Race is an actively enforced construct at this time in America, so the mutability of race at the individual level is trumped by strict enforcement in our political, economic and cultural spheres. 

As long as blacks still suffer injustice and cruelty at the hands of white supremacy, transracial will remain an offense to people who care about the struggle to move past systems of oppression.  Someday, will we all be able to trade race like we change hair?  Maybe one day, in a lovely dream of a world.  But the struggle is too real in the streets right now to entertain that.The theoretical conversation about what transracial could mean ignores the lived realities of race.   So no to trans-race.  Maybe not ‘no’ forever-f-or evea evea?–but definitely no for now.

Why So Serious, Jerry?

Jerry Seinfeld let drop in a recent interview that he doesn’t play the college circuit because those meanie students cry racism and sexism too much.

Seinfeld said college students don’t understand racism and sexism. “They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist;’ ‘That’s sexist;’ ‘That’s prejudice.’ They don’t even know what the f—k they’re talking about.”

Well, as a professor, I know that not every student does their homework, but maybe what Seinfeld is seeing is a generation of kids that don’t want to be racist of sexist, so they call out what they see.  Does PC catch some of the wrong fish in its net?  Sometimes.  But to blame the death of comedy on people who don’t think racism and sexism are funny?  Hold on.

Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and Margret Cho are all top billed comedians with long careers who do talk about race and sex without dragging out the PC police every time.  Comedy should talk about our most sticky issues–a little humor makes the hard things easier to say and think about–but it takes a comedian who can write a joke AND understands these issues.   If Seinfeld can’t talk about women or people of color without being offensive, then just stick to what he truly does well–jokes about nothing.  As for college students learning about racism and sexism, leave that work to us in the class.

How Black am I?

We love to take pictures of ourselves.  We love youth.  So, its only a matter of time that we get an app that looks at our selfies and answers the age old question: do I look old?  How-Old.net is a simple site that allows you to choose a picture and, using facial recognition software, it will guess your age.  While trying to find a picture that would tell me I looked young, I found something interesting.  The site told me I was not-so-old (great!) but at least it could see me–my Ghanian husband: not so much.

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The site had a hard time seeing dark-skinned black faces, whether in the bright sun with plenty of light

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Or sipping cappuccinos with pinkies up, the app couldn’t recognize my fabulous husband or his friend.

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It’s bad enough that black lives have to demand that they matter to be visible.  Now they are erasing us from our selfies?

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Justin Bieber in a recent move to upgrade his flagging career got an upgrade of his own from the Photoshop gods.  Hot on the heels of some steamy Calvin Klein shots featuring an oh-so-grown Biebs complete with a baby Bieber bulge comes the (shock!) word of Photoshopping.

ivb55wzlf1zgn6qvamfuTurns out the bulge was more baby than Bieber.  Photos from the photo shoot before the Photoshop were released and showed a decidedly less buff Biebs with a  decidedly more baby baby bulge in his Calvin Kleins.  Luckily for him, some things do come between him and his Calvin’s–Adobe CS6.

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A little digital nip and tuck later, naked Biebs is wearing some extra muscle, some darker skin , more body hair and a bigger boxer bump.  Can it be that the forever-young jailbait Bieber is trying to rebrand himself as a big boy?  He’s got lots of company.

Marky-MarkThe black-and-white-naked-and-cut look has been a fav of pouty pop stars trying to prove they’ve passed puberty.

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Justin Timberlake Wallpaper @ go4celebrity.com

I’d say I hop it works as well for JB as JT, but that would be a lie.  Besides, teen hearthrob comes with an expiration date, so my advice for Beiberbait?  Put your pants on and hit the studio.

The Unbearable Whiteness of Singing

When Kanye mounted the stage and took the mic from a shell-shocked Taylor Swift, a nation wept for her embarrassment and heartbreak.

Revenge, best served cold, is Taylor’s.

Five years after Kanye questioned her winning over Queen B, Swift has solidified her name as Pop music’s Queen Dujour, ruling in the kingdom of pop with her princes from One Direction.  No bows down to Beyonce, no calls of hip hop hooray.  Even Pharrell’s ubiquitous “Happy” lost out to Katy Perry.

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Given the list of the AMA’s winners yesterday, I wonder if pop music will continue its trend of decreasing diversity.  Last years biggest records sported a roster of mostly white performers.  Makes sense in a country that is majority white, right?  Well , given the history of music and the massive popularity of hip Hop and rap, the last decade  provided a more diverse cast of artists than recent years.  America itself is increasingly diverse, with nearly 30% of Americans belonging to a minority group.  When it comes to the young ‘uns–kids under 1–over half of them are minorities.  So the future of music looks diverse but…..

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If this year’s AMA’s are any indication, this years top selling songsters this year may again check the same box off on the census.  Is the audience shifting, are results skewed by sophomore social media voters, or are the times a-changing? Weigh in below!

When Your Choices Are Someone Else’s

Recently I had the pleasure of taking a helicopter ride over Boston. Apart from being super fun, the trip, riding high above my usual haunts, gave me a different perspective on the world I live in every day. In my normal existence, I do things you might do: I go to work, I get the items I need to eat and live, and I make an effort to get off the beaten path and enjoy nature.

What I saw from the air was that every livable space was designed, pre-planned. Every place where I could take a step had been planned and designed for the movement of humans and human activity. There was no “free” space, no place that I could go that someone else–a thousand some one else’s–hadn’t already gone. I experienced my day to day world as a place where I decided where I would go, but in fact, my space, like my activities are programmed and structured by any number of systems and institutions around me. What I experience as freedom is really just a very large maze designed to engage me in pro-social choices, like going to work, buying consumer goods, and contributing to the tax base.

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It was with this fresh in my mind that I read an article about black women’s bodies by the fab Gail Dines. The article is a solid review of the “issue” of the black booty, placing hypersexual images of black women’s backsides in a historical context.  But Gail reports that the push back to her article comes from third wave feminists– women who care deeply about women’s rights and who believe it is a woman’s choice to use her body freely in any way she chooses, including using it in hypersexual displays, pornography, commodification, etc. Women do have the right to express themselves as they see fit. But critical thinking requires that we examine the result of that expression–especially when done in public for money.

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Can’t you just break out it of the chains of narrative and do what you like? Of course you can. You can do anything that you want. But while you are yelling, “Yolo!” and waving your shirt over your head–why not? you have the right to!–consider that if you do it in public–say, on camera–and you do it for money you have gone from just expressing your self to being a part of the massive chain of production that is media. And you don’t get to decide alone how people who see your tape will make sense of it. Mass media uses all kinds of visual and verbal codes to tell stories, frequently shuffling out old ideas from history dressed in new duds. Just like those paths I saw from the sky, we should understand that media messages travel along lines planned out before we were even here, referencing–and reinforcing– history, symbolic codes and dominant ideology.

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When it comes to Nicki Minaj, or any other recording artist for that matter, we have to remember that “she” is not simply the human born as Onkia Maraj , she is the commodified, processed version of herself, created by a multi-pronged corporate team and packaged for mass consumption in order to make a profit. Sure Onika is some part of that construction, but she and hundreds of other pop stars are part of a very large system, one designed for the primary purpose to make cash.

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The surest way for the pop industry to make money is to stick to the low-hanging fruit–sex, scandal, salaciousness. We are cheeky monkeys after all. When we see Nicki posing butt out, its not because her label said, “We want you to explore the deeper aspects of your sexuality in a way that gives voice to your womanhood.” They said, “Sex sells.”

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Her displays are calculated business maneuvers designed not by Minaj alone but by a team, one which she herself has said is mostly male. In fact, when the initial cover for her latest single Anaconda was released many were shocked, and Minaj tweeted out that the cover art would be changed. Hmmm, just like when Kanye West leaked his Monster video–where Minaj guest-spit–only to add a disclaimer to it after everyone was shocked by the content. Artistic freedom? Nope, just a clever marketing strategy to drive eyeballs pre-release.

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No doubt Nicki is an interesting artist and we can’t dismiss all of what she makes as sheer profiteering–but that Roman phase, tho, dismiss dismiss!  She is not always bubble gum barbie, and love her or hate her she is engaging to watch and super creative.  Beyond the mass marketed hits we occasionally glimpse other dimensions to the character Nicki Minaj, some unexpected, like this sweet video off her upcoming album The Pink Print with The Game.

Most of what we see from Minaj, though is hip-pop designed to reach a massive audience for maximum profit complete with wild outfits and an over the top persona.  What makes her popular is her mashed up expression of contemporary cultural tropes–sex, barbie and bubble gum raps

Think of this horrible idea for comedy: Russell Simmons produced this sketch where Harriet Tubman agrees to sleep with master in trade for cash. Hey, it was just an humorous expression playing with the narrative of slavery and redefining it, right? Nah. The skit was roundly condemned, and even Hustle had to apologize.

Propagating idea that slaves had agency in their own oppression via mass media is tricky to say the least:  even if you have the artistic right to play on old tropes, to do so for mass entertainment in a era still so rife with racism, keeping the old narrative alive in new clothes, is calculated profiteering at best and racist at worst.

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Leaving slavery days behind, we can look at our own post racial still racist world. Black women are free, have the vote, and are the fastest growing demo in college. Sounds pretty free right? The legacy of racial oppression in this country persists, despite the good news.  Nickki Minaj is popular in part because she represents typical media representation of black women–hyper sexual, wild and unpredictable.

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Few casual fans will even dig deep enough to find a more complex expressions of Nicki Minaj, leaving us simply with her most visible incarnation-a new era Jezebel.  Even as she talks about her new natural look, she reveals the calculated way that she thinks about her image, and that her previous incarnations are not a reflection of her playing with power, but masking insecurities.

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We black women are treading paths that have been set up in this country for centuries. Even as we choose new destinations, and walk with more power in our stride, we still live in a country rife with racial inequity. While many of us as individuals may have freed ourselves from slave mind, we live in a country where the image of blacks has been deeply carved in a fresco of oppression from slavery, through Jim Crow to our own modern, sublimated Jim Crow 2.0. We’re individuals and we live in a culture and are a part of democratic and capitalist systems at the same time. We can’t ignore the ways those levels constantly interact.  While the power of the individual has primacy in our culture, taking the macro view to better understand the paths that we’re treading will allow us to move off the paths of the past and blaze a truly new future.

Unprotected Skins

The fight against the Redskin’s racist team name and NFL team owner Daniel Snyder, who has said he would never change the name, heated up this week when the US patent office entered the fray. The patent office has suspended the team’s trademark on the grounds that it is disparaging to Native Americans.

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Before the good people breathe a sigh of relief, let me deliver the bad news: the Washington Redskins remain named so, and will for the foreseeable future while the appeal the team is already generating works it’s way through the courts. Team owner Daniel Snyder has yet to cry uncle.

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What is exciting here’s that the government is taking a legal position, declaring racist language unacceptable, even in the service of massive profits. Native Americans and their allies have asked for a name change for years, but now both public pressure and the law are weighing in to tag team the team. Still, despite the widespread support, there is little that can legally be done to force a change. Even this week’s suspension of the trademark is not the first time the USTPO has taken a shot at Snyder–back in 1999 the office revoked the team’s patent, but the ruling was later overturned on appeal. One step forward two steps back.

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Fear not, there is good news here. The recent dust up with the Washington team and the ongoing drama happening in L.A. with Donald Sterling means the courts will be forced to take up both cases. Can someone be forced to abdicate their business or their team traditions if they are found to be acting in a racist manner? The possibility exist for the courts to set new precedents that protect minorities from racism in ways that hold real consequences to those previously rendered untouchable.

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The legal system has not, on the whole, done well to support the rights of minorities: slavery, Jim Crow, and today’s unfair prison sentencing policies are clear examples where our laws allowed blacks and other minorities to be oppressed without the perpetrators running the risk of repercussions. In fact, even if all Americans held hands, sang kumbaya and vowed to embrace diversity, we would still find that racist laws and policies continue to perpetuate racism. Systemic racism is pernicious and dangerous. Until racism is removed from the law, we cannot truly have a democracy that holds all men and women are created equal.

We have believed, much to our detriment, that racism is just about individuals who hold hate for others. The real heart of racial hate beats not in the chest of a man, but in the laws and policies of our nation’s systems. Public opinion is slowly moving towards inclusivity, but the courts and laws must follow or we will have done little eradicate racism. So pause, now to celebrate the courts arrival at the fight.

And lace up your gloves. We’re not done yet.