From Wakanda to Gettysburg

The CrisisSince I saw Black Panther (twice), I have been ruminating on Killmonger’s final words “Nah, bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.” When I heard this quote for the first time, I was nearly sobbing. It gave me a great sadness to think of my ancestors who clearly did not jump into the ocean, or else I wouldn’t be here. It brought to mind the great weight of slavery that those of us still bear, generations later.

And yet…the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. Killmonger’s ancestors didn’t jump into the ocean, or else he wouldn’t be alive. Most African-Americans are here because our ancestors didn’t or couldn’t jump into the ocean, and those who did weren’t any braver than our actual ancestors who bore the brunt of slavery. We can’t possibly know what our ancestors did upon enslavement, how they may have fought, or tried to run away from their captors. We do know they survived, and that we are a testament to their ability to make their way through a horror that we can only imagine.

There is much to unpack in the movie Black Panther and the many emotions it evokes in those who feel an attachment to Africa or are just happy to finally have a movie that features mostly black/African characters in a positive light. Africans who can call white characters “colonizers” and who have built a society mostly untouched by European values around beauty and culture.

By chance, I also happened to read the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, right after seeing Black Panther. The book evoked a whole new set of emotions in me, as I was pulled into the stories of two families of Africa, divided by an ocean, and ultimately reunited in the present day. I felt that I could finally grasp some of the rationale behind the slave trade for the Africans who were involved – and that understanding was deepened by a recent visit to the African-American Heritage Museum (AAHM) at the Smithsonian. While the colleagues I was with went for an overview of the museum, I spend most of the two hours I had there on the first level, engrossed in the stories of the European and African sides of the slave trade. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn – how race became defined, and slavery justified, then turned into a lifelong sentence not only for the initial person enslaved, but for their offspring.

And then a seminal moment in American history – Gettysburg. Where so many died over this “peculiar institution.” President Lincoln’s short, yet influential address is often the first thought that comes to mind, and I was reminded of the following words from the address:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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I also couldn’t help but think of the individuals who fought on these fields, and lost their lives, some to save the union, others to maintain a system of chattel slavery that supported an agricultural economy that was destined to fail.

The occasion for my visit to the AAHM and Gettysburg was my son’s 8th grade spring break trip to Washington, D.C. I didn’t expect it to have such an impact on my own journey of discovery. After our visit to the battlefield, we went to a nearby historic tavern, that had been a stop on the underground railroad. The students were entertained by a very talented actor, impersonating President Lincoln. I was particularly impressed with his very clear statement that the cause of the civil war was slavery – with no equivocation. Being at a battlefield where so many had died for this cause, dining at a stop on the underground railroad, and hearing such a clear statement on the cause of the war left me deep in thought.

Particularly over the past year, I feel that I have gained a more spiritual connection to my African ancestors, those who were enslaved in the American south (Louisiana, Virginia and Georgia, best I can tell), my own parents and the trials they must have experienced being born during the Depression era. There are so many stories…including my own, that tell of a world that is much more complicated and dangerous than what I want for my sons.

So I dive deep into the history, trying to find some answers to the hate that I see on display. The brutal beatings and murders that still happen in the America of the 21st century. We dream of a Wakanda where we can be safe, but even Wakanda isn’t safe. Internal strife can divide us, as it did in the America of the 1860s. Of course, it all comes down to power, but slavery and racism is a deep, bitter poison that is still infecting the bodies politic of both sides of the Atlantic today. It is the casual institutional racism that leads to the burnout of an academic. It is the brutal system of incarceration that preys on brown bodies, attempting to maintain the racial hierarchy that fueled industry and the growth of this country for centuries.

I cannot forget Gettysburg – so many dead. The will to keep this country united. The desire of so many abolitionists to fight for the rights of my ancestors. The blood of both white and black bodies that cry out from the soil, asking if their deaths were in vain. Those of us who are still in the fight carry a heavy burden. I dream of Wakanda, but I know that I live in the country that is still bearing a burden that cannot be cast down until we truly come to grips with what we fought for and continue to fight for – what so many continue to lose their lives for. And I must find a way to go on, for my sons, and for those future generations who deserve so much more…and with so many retiring, it will be with new voices in these halls after this November where change must continue…

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College access: Improving the odds

Also posted on LinkedIn

As I toured the USC campus with my son Andrew, I couldn’t help but be excited for the opportunities that he would have as he entered college. Andrew is a junior in high school, and we began our college visits at one of his top choices. It didn’t disappoint. He was impressed with the resources, the interdisciplinary programs (he’s interested in majoring in History and Film) and the research support available to even first year students. But it was our tour guide who impressed Andrew with her enthusiasm and love of the school. The other schools we visited on that trip were also impressive, and Andrew found much to like in our tour of Los Angeles area schools.

Although I had been telling Andrew for the last year that he would love USC, it was still difficult for me, a Stanford and UCLA grad, to be on that campus. But I hope he continues to do well in school this year and gets into one of his top choices. I’m not worried, I know he will do well no matter where he goes, but as his mother, I want the best for him. I also know that he is getting the benefit of parents who are college graduates, including a mother who is a college administrator. We have gotten a head start on his college visits, we are making sure he is staying on top of all the deadlines for SAT testing, AP tests, and summer classes to show that he is college ready.

As my career has developed, I have become more concerned with issues of access and inclusion in the education arena, particularly here in Silicon Valley where issues of diversity are a constant concern. I feel like my son’s high school is a microcosm of the disparities that plague the area. My son is an example of the advantage that privilege gives on the path to college. It is not necessarily wealth that is a determining factor, but there is a difference in schools and parental knowledge that can impact the choices that students have. Many organizations are working to change the odds for students from less-privileged backgrounds. It has become clear to me that Higher Ed and K-12 need to work more closely together to help bridge the gaps and support all who want and need post-secondary education. Just as important, we need to support those students when they get in, so that they can succeed after they get in to college.

Going forward, I will be expanding on my work with organizations and companies in the area to try to tackle some of the issues that I have raised here. Much needs to be done, and it will take support from educators, non-profit organizations, industry and our political representatives to find answers that will help our students succeed in this very competitive environment. In the meantime, I will also continue to support my son in his college choices, even if it ends up being USC.

See also: OPINION: Changing the ‘narrow and sometimes elitist image of higher education’

What next?

A year ago, reeling from an election that had gone horribly wrong, many of us were looking for ways to resist the impending storm. Things have gone as badly as expected. We await an inquiry with the hope that those who are guilty of wrongdoing will be held to account, but what will follow? I heard David Brooks on NPR today make the comment that he hoped that the current breaking of of norms would lead to a renewed push for civility, ethics and adhering to common norms again in politics. I’m skeptical, but we must continue to resist, and push for a politics that embraces all. It feels as if we are careening towards a future that excludes all but the one percenters. That cannot be a lasting equilibrium, and the kleptocratic leadership must know that – but the focus on short-term gains seems to eclipse any acknowledgement of long-term realities.

It’s not just about race, or women, or LGBTQ people. It’s about basic human decency. It’s about people being able to find housing, have access to decent healthcare without going bankrupt, about having access to education and technology. It’s about every one of us taking responsibility – it’s not a situation in which some of us can decide we don’t care about politics. Politics is life in this country – we don’t have the luxury for anyone to say they don’t care…

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It’s not about the national anthem, Rosa Parks wasn’t protesting the bus.

I posted this on Facebook after reading one too many posts that chided NFL players for not standing during the national anthem. Many people, including veterans, police officers, senators, etc…have stated their support for the right to protest. However, passions have been high – I have seen many discussions turn into rants followed by name calling. What is it about this particular issue that has led to such passionate responses? [a rhetorical question]

For many African-Americans, this is a time of heartbreak. Not particularly because of Trump – we have seen many like him in our lifetimes. No, the heartbreak comes from learning that many we consider friends, even family, have little or no empathy for the situation we are facing today. We cannot ignore the bigotry and racism that are coming to the fore, something we had hoped our children wouldn’t have to deal with.

Many who have protested the protest say that players are being disrespectful to those who have given their lives for the US and the flag. Others argue that players are privileged and don’t have a right to complain. My nephew, Anthony Givens, captured my and many others’ thoughts on this:

If you ever speak to me, or have posted about these “ungrateful” athletes disrespecting a piece of cloth, but you have never once spoken to me about the disrespect shown to the founding ideals of America by literal nazis in Charlottesville, or you have never once spoken to me about the murders of young black men that were handcuffed, on the ground, unarmed, and executed by those who we have entrusted to protect all Americans, or never once called out the systemic racism and fear that all minorities must live with everyday in a country that has a president who is the embodiment of privilege and a constant reminder of the promises that have been broken…if this is you, a person that I know, then we are done. We are and cannot even be acquaintances, much less friends anymore. There cannot be middle ground on racism and misogyny. #TakeAKnee

Whatever happened to the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave?” When and where are we “allowed” to protest – if it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, what’s the point? I grew up in the military, my father was a 20-year man, who was greatly disrespected during his time in the military, but never lost his love for this country. We protest because we want America to live up to it’s promise. We want a country where I don’t have to worry about my boys being stopped by the police because of the color of their skin. We want a country where we can truly live free.

 

What I saw in Washington, D.C.

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I will be writing about my perspective on the political implications of the November, 2016 election in other outlets, but the shift in the country is having many personal impacts that I will be writing about in the coming months.  I have been dismayed by the racism, xenophobia, misogyny and anti-lgbtq sentiment on display in the last few months, the blatant use of power by ICE and CBP agents, stopping individuals from places like Australia and even the former Prime Minister of Denmark at airports (not that these types of stops are new). The weekend that the first executive order on immigration was released I barely slept – but quickly realized that I couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. We are in a marathon not a sprint. I’ll have to pick my battles carefully and not get caught up in every issue where I have some expertise.

My last trip to D.C. was in 2013 for Barack Obama’s second inauguration. Since then, the country has, of course, gone through some major changes that I could not have foreseen at that time. I expected a very different place when I took a quick trip to Washington D.C. in late February. This trip was for a meeting at the American Political Science Association, and I was curious to see what the atmosphere would be like under the new administration.

I arrived early evening to my hotel and immediately headed to one of my favorite restaurants near Dupont Circle for some dinner. I rarely watch TV news, I tend to listen to NPR, but CNN seemed much more relevant as I sat at the restaurant bar in our nation’s capital. CNN was reporting on the breaking news that Reince Priebus had asked the FBI to discount the reports that Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russian officials. As I sat enjoying my meal, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of twenty-somethings discussing the political situation.  I chatted with them for a bit, sharing our interest in politics, and the need to understand populism and racism in the current climate.

The next day I made my way to the White House and was surprised to find it surrounded by fencing and no trespassing signs.

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The obstructions are there ostensibly because of the inauguration, but this is the longest it has ever taken to tear down the stands and construction after the inauguration. It also conveniently keeps protestors away from the White House. I did find the peace protestors who have had a long-standing presence near the White House and they explained the situation – the Park Service has been accommodating, but they are subject to the dictates of the White House. It does not feel like the people’s house anymore. I’m glad I was able to visit with my boys while Obama was still President.

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Later I met with friends who talked about how the helicopters used by Trump and Pence would “buzz” the bike paths and I even noticed how the helicopters would fly low over residential areas – under Obama the helicopters would do their best to fly over the Potomac and avoid residential areas and the park. Friends who work in government agencies are concerned that they still don’t have agency heads, don’t know what will happen to their funding, and are concerned that programs that provide a lot of bang for the buck will no longer be funded, hurting the U.S,’s standing in the world.

These are the small changes that don’t get into the news – but they have great impact on those who work and live in DC, and ultimately, the way our government functions. We need to pay attention to all of these changes.

France, Muslims and Terrorism

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As noted in this mini-documentary from CBS news “It sucks to be a Muslim in France”…

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/les-banlieues-seeds-of-terror

[I consulted with the producer of the mini-documentary as an expert on the topic]

One of my first trips to Paris as a graduate student in 1995 coincided with a series of terrorist bomb attacks, likely by Algerian Islamic extremists (CNN, 1995), that led to the removal of all garbage cans in the city. Many years later, as a professor working on a book project, I happened to stay in a hotel which was about a block away from where one of the busses had blown up during the 7/7 bombing attacks. Many have written about whether or not terror attacks like the 7/7 bombings or 9/11 have led to a securitization of immigration policy. What is different now is that Europe is currently experiencing the largest flow of refugees since the end of World War II, and most of those refugees are coming from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, meaning many of these migrants are Muslims.

Many European countries have faced terror attacks over the years and have taken a variety of measures to improve security. However, even though new measures may be taken to deal with security, such as stricter screening of immigrants and refugees, most European countries, including countries like Germany, France and Sweden, have remained open to refugees fleeing violence, whether they were Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Balkans or Iraqi minorities fleeing sectarian violence.

Europe has faced a challenge integrating Muslims from various countries and backgrounds. However, it is important to keep in mind that the recent attacks in Paris appear to have been perpetrated by so-called “home grown terrorists,” i.e., radicalized Muslims who were born and raised in Europe. This makes the connection between terrorism and refugees rather tenuous.

Perhaps a larger issue, in terms of integration, is the situation for immigrants, ethnic minorities and Muslim citizens, given that many of them live on the margins of society. Many are the targets of racism, but also have to deal with living in places like the suburbs (banlieus) of Paris where they have little educational and job opportunities. France has been trying to address this issue for many years, with a variety of policies, including antidiscrimination policy, as described in my book, Legislating Equality. Although the French government initially embraced antidiscrimination policy through its equality body, politics eventually reduced the impact of its activities related to racism.

Journalist and documentarian Rokhaya Diallo has examined these issues through the lens of Americans visiting France in her recent work, Steps to Liberty. Going back to the 1995 movie, La Haine (Hate) it seems that little has changed. However, I have seen a new awareness developing among various groups including Muslims and those who now consider themselves black and French. I have written about the impact of racial equality legislation on blacks in France in the book Invisible Minorities. These groups have the potential to develop as voting blocks and to impact politics in France, as well as other European countries. These political developments can be important to the integration of minority groups and may ultimately create a new outlet for the frustrations that can lead to radicalization.

 

 

 

 

 

From Ferguson to Austin – Many Questions, Fewer Answers

“What the people want is very simple – they want an America as good as its promise.”  Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan

     I feel like whatever I write tonight will be unsatisfying, but maybe these words will touch someone, somewhere. I happened to go running this morning in a different direction than my normal route, along Shoal creek and under 35th St. It only occurred to me on the way back that I was running past yet another location where an unarmed black man had been killed, Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr.  It was a beautiful morning, but I couldn’t escape the reality that is America today. In this case, the detective involved was indicted.
     It has been an interesting week, to say the least. I feel exhausted from the range of emotions that have come from the barrage of news from immigration, to sexual assault, to Ferguson. With the news that there would be no indictment in the case of Michael Brown Monday evening, I saw similar responses from most of my African American friends — we are all tired. We are tired because yet again we have to come to grips with an institutional structure that devalues the lives of black and brown people. We are tired because we have to explain to our children why people are so frustrated. We are tired of being angry. And yet we soldier on, we try to understand, we create communities online and in real life to try to learn, teach and share so that we can somehow chip away at the underlying issues that lead to these incomprehensible outcomes.
     I believe and hope that we are at a turning point because of the fact that so many African Americans, along with their allies, are in a position to be heard on these issues. We are professors at universities, speaking on radio and television. We are trying to find answers from our research and sharing it on social media. We are marching, taking care of our families, taking care of our careers.
     Today I have been reading the news, blog posts by friends, social media. I see calls for coming together as a community, maintaining hope for the future. I can’t help but be hopeful, it’s my nature. I have to believe that we can find answers to these vexing questions that make me fear for the future of minority communities, and even my own children. For at least the last year or so I have thought long and hard about the issue of social justice, what it means, and what I can do to promote it. I’m disappointed that I’m still trying to find the answer to that question, but I know that there are many of us out there in the same situation.
     So I proudly wore my shirt today, declaring myself “unapologetically black” and that is how I will continue to carry myself. I am cheered by the conversation I had with a friend last week, who will benefit from the President’s executive action on immigration. She is very excited by the fact that for the first time in over 20 years she may be able to go and visit her parents in Mexico with her son who was born here. We all have our struggles, and change is slow. The future is murky, and there are no guarantees that things will improve, but I often describe myself as a change agent and I will rest, rejuvenate and take that next step, hoping that those of us who believe in justice, despite being bloodied and bruised, will go on to fight another day.
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