Archive | February, 2012

Republicans Snowed Out…

29 Feb

This Party is Crazy--I Have to Get Out!

Not that I have ever been a particular fan of Olympia Snowe  (of course she looks reasonable compared to the rest of her party), but I do admire her honesty and integrity for naming the problem within her party that is causing her not to seek re-election.  Senator Snowe cited “excessive partisanship in the Senate” as the primary driver of her decision.  I guess she has not been paying attention to the misogynistic foolishness in the House of Reps.  It is no small secret that the latest attacks on women’s health by Republicans  has incurred the wrath of both Snowe and Collins (both female Republicans from Maine).

How sad that the lunacy of the right wing Republicans can chase out moderate voices of reason like Snowe–what kind of Carnival has the GOP turned into?  This does not bode well for history.  At present, 21st century Republicans wear the banner of: “We Hate Women; We Hate Gays; We Hate People of Color; We Hate the Poor; We Love Being the 1%.”  One need go no further than to listen to Multi-Millionaire Mitt Romney and the homophobic, woman-hating clown Rick (the P is silent) Santorum to see just how out of touch these people are with Americans.

Snowe dropping out is a much bigger deal than people realize–this may very well be the harbinger of good fortune reasonable Republicans and Democrats have been waiting for.  While Maine did elect the Mad Hatter LePage as their governor, it is doubtful they will elect another toxic Tea Bag, which may create a far more attractive Senate with a new Maine Democrat and a new Massachusetts Democrat.  Perhaps there is some hope for the 99%.

Closing Black History Month for 2012

29 Feb

My hope this year is that I have sufficiently proven how we still need to celebrate Black History Month in the United States; that racism is sadly alive and well and living in every state. Hopefully, TSM has celebrated many folks who have been relegated to corners of history and are rarely celebrated.  I have to confess what a pleasure it was to celebrate amazing black folk who dedicated their lives and continue to dedicate their lives to civil rights and social justice.

Some of my favorites this month (none will surprise the TSM audience) were: Nichelle Nichols — okay how cool is it that Dr. King told her to stay on Star Trek?  Ralph Bunche was another great article — a Nobel Peace Price winner and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt who worked tirelessly for civil rights.  I would like to see John Lewis of Georgia finally receive the Nobel Peace Prize for all of his work for civil rights!  Jacqueline Woodson, an out black lesbian writing books to make the world safer for all youth. I have to say I also fell in love with Alice Dunbar Nelson.  Honestly, I could go on and on here, for there are far too many black folk I want to see celebrated who are missing from American textbooks.

I hope you got the chance to learn about some new people and were able to rejoice in names you already recognized.  Chime in and let me know who were some of your favorites and tell me some people you would like me to add to the list.  I suppose one of the “take-aways” from this series is that until we see African-Americans being represented in all history books and American culture values Black History, we will continue to have the need for Black History Month.

Black History Month 2012: Patricia Roberts Harris

28 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a woman who dedicated her life to social justice and broke the color barrier as the first African-American woman U.S. ambassador, U.S. Cabinet Secretary, and law school Dean: Patricia Roberts Harris. Born in Illinois in 1924, she was committed to her studies and graduated summa cum laude from Howard University. During her time there she also participated in one of the nation’s first lunch counter sit-ins, whetting her appetite for change and social justice. She worked for some years as the Assistant Director of the American Council on Human Rights, a position which she left to attend law school at George Washington University. She graduated first in her class.

She served briefly in the U.S. Department of Justice where she began a friendship with the new U.S. Attorney General, Robert Kennedy. She returned to Howard University and became a professor at its law school. In 1963, President Kennedy appointed her co-chairman of the National Women’s Committee for Civil Rights. She also worked in local D.C. Democratic politics, becoming a delegate to the 1964 convention and working on President Johnson’s re-election campaign (She sounds like an ideal social worker to me). After he won a return to office, he promptly appointed her Ambassador to Luxembourg, making her the first African-American woman to serve as a U.S. ambassador.

She served until 1967 and then returned to Howard, where she was made Dean of the law school in 1969, the first African-American woman to achieve such a post at any U.S. University. In 1972 she left to joint a private D.C. law firm; during this time she also served as a director at IBM. She also continued to work for the Democratic National Committee, including a stint as chair of the credentials committee. In 1977, President Carter appointed her as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Coming in at #13 in Presidential succession, she was the first African-American woman to be in line for the presidency and the first to serve as a Cabinet Secretary.

During her Senate confirmation hearings, one Senator questioned whether a corporate lawyer was well suited to serve the people who most needed HUD’s services. Famous for her blunt, no-nonsense style, she replied:

I am one of them. You do not seem to understand who I am. I am a Black woman, the daughter of a dining-car worker. I am a Black woman who could not buy a house eight years ago in parts of the District of Columbia!

Nice!  I love the way she confronts micro-aggressions.  After two years, she was appointed Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare a position which became Secretary of Health and Human Services during her tenure. She left the Cabinet when Carter was defeated for re-election. She returned to law and in 1982 was appointed a full-time professor at the George Washington National Law Center, a position she served in until her death from breast cancer in 1985 at the age of 60.

Sometimes described as blunt and tough, Harris demanded the best from her staff and herself during her public service. She was an able administrator who reshaped HUD, which was in disarray when she took over the post. Harris worked hard to rebuild urban neighborhoods and to encourage businesses to invest in troubled areas. Whether working for the government or private firms, she also maintained her engagement in social justice contributing time and money to many causes and continuing a life-long involvement with the NAACP. A pioneer in many ways, Harris (a civil rights heroine) is a wonderful role model for the next generation of people striving for social justice.

Black History Month 2012: Malcolm X

27 Feb

Today we honor and celebrate a complex, controversial, and significant figure in the civil rights movement, Malcolm X. Born Malcolm Little to a large family in 1925 in Omaha, he had a tumultuous childhood. His father’s association with Black Nationalism and Marcus Garvey resulted in frequent death threats and family moves. After his father was killed in 1929, his mother’s mental health deteriorated until she was institutionalized and the family was split among numerous foster homes and orphanages. Malcolm was a dedicated student until he was discouraged from his career goal — he wanted to be a lawyer — by teachers who said his race would stop him (Sadly, this still happens today). He dropped out of school and moved around until he eventually settled in Harlem. By then he was engaged in petty crime and eventually escalated to coordinating narcotics, prostitution, and gambling rings.

By 1946, Malcolm had moved to Boston. He and a friend were arrested and convicted on burglary charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison (and served seven). While in prison, he was visited by his brother, Reginald, who had recently converted to Islam. Malcolm began studying the religion and joined the Nation of Islam. He stopped using his birth name, feeling it tied him to white slave owners, and began going by Malcolm X, symbolizing the family name he would never know.

By the time of his parole in 1952, Malcolm X was a firm believer in the Nation of Islam and the leadership of its prophet, Elijah Muhammed. The two worked closely together and Malcolm became an adherent of the black separatist movement. His charisma and passionate presentation made him a natural leader and he was soon an indispensible part of the the Nation of Islam. His firey but reasoned delivery made him a notorious media magnet. In 1959, he was featured in a week-long television special with Mike Wallace, The Hate That Hate Procuced. From that point on he was a household name across America. He married Betty Shabazz in 1958.

In 1963, he learned that Elijah Muhammed was engaged in affairs with at least six women in the Nation of Islam and had fathered children by some of them. Disgusted with this hypocrisy and blatant disregard for the teachings of his faith, Malcolm X eventually left the organization. He began to rethink his strident separatist position and traveled the world for the better part of a year. Upon returning, he stuck with his message that the white power structure was inherently stacked against African-Americans (ever true today), but began to work on more inclusive ways to break down that power structure.

He was an in-demand speaker and still a charismatic leader. He started his own organization, Muslim Mosque, Inc. and co-founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. He made a particular effort to speak on college campuses, believing that students were the foundation for an improved nation. The Nation of Islam was not pleased with his independent success, and he was regularly threatened both by its members and white supremacists. On February 14, 1965, his home was burned to the ground; fortunately the family escaped unharmed. One week later, he was shot to death by three members of the Nation of Islam. He was 39.

Malcolm X is recognized as one of the most significant figures of the 20th Century, especially for improving the situation for African-Americans. His passion — exemplified by his famous line “by any means necessary” —  made him a polarizing force. His willingness to speak the truth even when it was inconvenient (such as his remarks immediately after President Kennedy’s assassination) made him many enemies. His understanding of power structures and ability to speak truth to power, coupled with his growing sense of collaboration, however, made him a force for progress.  The United States owes a great debt to Malcolm X and I hope we revere has for the National Treasure he is, as his legacy lives on in all of us fighting the intersections of oppression.

Black History Month 2012: A Look Back at the Academy Awards

26 Feb

The First Black Winners in each Acting Category

It’s an interesting coincidence that the Academy Awards are given out each year during Black History Month and a bit ironic given Oscar’s poor track record for honoring accomplishments by black members of the Academy. Of the 2809 awards given over the past 83 years, only 31 have been won by black men and women, barely over 1%. Let’s take a look at some of the history and accomplishments of these people working to break the color barrier in film.

Thirteen of the awards have been for acting, but it took decades for black actors to notch a win in each of the four categories. The first ever black nominee was also the first winner: Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Gone With the Wind in 1939. It took another 24 years for the next win, Sidney Poitier’s Best Actor award for Lilies of the Field. He was also the first black nominee in that category the previous year for The Defiant Ones. In 1982, Louis Gossett, Jr. took home the Best Supporting Actor for his performance in An Officer and a Gentleman. Only two other black actors had been nominated by that time, starting with Rupert Crosse for The Reivers in 1969. The longest wait was for Best Actress, which did not happen until the 73rd Academy Awards in 2001. Halle Berry took home the Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball (I strongly recommend this film albeit one of the most difficult movies to watch). Dorothy Dandridge was the first black nominee for Best Actress in 1954.

The year that Berry won was something of a turning point. 2001 saw Denzel Washington take home the Best Actor award, marking the first time that black actors won both leading role Oscars. Up until that point, only six black actors had won Oscars; seven have won between 2001 and 2010. The most successful black actors have been:

  • Denzel Washington, with five nominations and two wins (one Actor and one Supporting Actor)
  • Morgan Freeman, with five nominations and one Supporting Actor win
  • Whoopi Goldberg, with two nominations and one Supporting Actress win
  • Viola Davis, with two nominations (and a possible win tonight)

As with all actors, nominations for playing LGBT roles have been few and far between as well. In the past 84 years, only three actors have been nominated for playing clearly LGBT characters: Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game and Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery in The Color Purple. None of them won.  Our Whoopi was robbed for her stellar performance in The Color Purple.  When will it be safe to be a gay and or black character in Hollywood, or in the United States?   We know that the composition of the people voting is: 94 percent Caucasian, 77 percent are male, and the median age is 62.

Oscar hasn’t been kind in most of the other categories either. Of the high-profile awards the results are dismal.

  • Best Director, only two nominations, no wins
  • Best Picture, three nominations, no wins
  • Best Original Screenplay, three nominations, no wins
  • Best Adapted Screenplay, three nominations, one win — Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious in 2009

Black Academy members have done best in the sound categories:

  • Best Original Score, eight nominations, two wins (Prince and Herbie Hancock)
  • Best Original Song, eighteen nominations, five wins, one pending
  • Best Sound/Sound Mixing, nine nominations four wins (two each for Willie D. Burton and Russell Williams, the only two nominees in this category)

Isaac Hayes was the first black person to win a non-acting award for the Theme From Shaft in 1971. Irene Cara was the first black woman to do so with her shared win for the song Flashdance (What A Feeling) in 1983. Willie D. Burton, Russell Williams, and Denzel Washington are the only black multiple Oscar winners. Burton ties Quincy Jones for the most overall nominations with seven. Jones has won no Oscars but did receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1995. In the categories not yet listed, black men and women have been nominated 12 times in five categories with only one win, Roger Ross Williams in 2009 for the Best Documentary Short Subject Music by Prudence. Besides Quincy Jones, four black performers have won special awards, James Baskett (1948), Sidney Poitier (2002), James Earl Jones (2011), and Oprah Winfrey (the Hersholt in 2011).

One of the best films ever made holds a special, unwanted distinction. The Color Purple holds the record for the most nominations without a single win. With 11 nominations in 1985, it is one of the most nominated films of all time. It received nods for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (two nominations), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Original Score and Best Original Song. Walking away empty-handed, the film tied the record set in 1977 by The Turning Point. What a shameful night for the Academy.

Sadly, this year doesn’t move things forward very much. The wonderful movie The Help is poised to do well with four nominations (Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress (two nominations, including Golden Globe Winner Octavia Spencer)). The only other black nominee is Siedah Garrett with her second nomination for Best Original Song for Rio. While no-one should win an award solely for the color of their skin, it is a sad statement about the motion picture industry that it has taken so long for so few wins. After a strong decade of recognition, this year’s list is unacceptable. Let’s hope next year’s films show greater diversity.

Black History Month 2012: Alice Dunbar Nelson

25 Feb

Today we celebrate noted poet, columnist, diarist, and activist Alice Dunbar Nelson. Born Alice Ruth Moore in New Orleans in 1875, she graduated from Dillard University in 1892 and began a career in teaching. Shortly before moving to New York in 1895, she published her first collection of poems and short stories,Violets and Other Tales. She began a correspondence with poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and moved to Washington, DC in 1898 to marry him. Dunbar was uncomfortable with his wife’s bisexuality and same-sex affairs and they separated by 1902.

She moved to Wilmington, DE at this point, returning to teaching and writing. She married journalist Robert J. Nelson in 1910. In 1915, Alice Dunbar Nelson worked as a field organizer in her region for woman’s suffrage. During World War I, she served with the Women’s Commission on the Council of National Defense and the Circle of Negro War Relief. She helped found the Industrial School for Colored Girls in Delaware, organized for anti-lynching reforms, and served 1928-1931 as executive secretary of the American Friends Inter-Racial Peace Committee.

From about 1920 on, she made a commitment to journalism and was a highly successful columnist, with articles, essays and reviews appearing as well in newspapers, magazines, and academic journals. She was a popular speaker and had an active schedule of lectures through these years. She also engaged in the arts and literature boom known as the Harlem Renaissance, a movement which included such luminaries as Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. She died in 1935 at the age of 60.

Black History Month 2012: Phylicia Rashād

24 Feb

Today we celebrate an actress and activist, the wonderful Phylicia Rashād. Born Phylicia Ayers-Allen in 1948, she has blended her long acting career with a passion for celebrating black history and breaking down barriers. As a child, Phylicia, her older brother Andrew and younger sister, Debbie Allen, lived in Mexico to escape US racism. Rashad is fluent in Spanish and upon returning to the United States, became a champion for civil rights. After graduating from Howard University, she made her early career on the Broadway stage. In 1983, she moved to television, starting with a role on One Life to Live.

Rashād took on the role for which she is best known the following year when she was cast as Claire Huxtable on the long-running sitcom The Cosby Show. Playing a wise, practical mother, she also made a point of injecting black history lessons into a number of shows. During the program’s eight-year run, she was nominated for two Emmy awards. After the series ended, she took on a number of other TV and movie roles. She also returned to the stage as time permitted.

While maintaining an active career, Rashād also worked tirelessly to promote the arts in America, especially the contributions of African-Americans. Her work has been recognized with a number of awards and honorary degrees. When she received an NAACP Image Award in 2009, the presenters called her the mother of the African-American community. In 2008, she also won a Tony Award for her performance in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry‘s A Raisin In the Sun. What is shocking to me is that it was not until 2008 that an African-American won a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play.

Still going strong at 64, Phylicia Rashād has much more to offer and much energy and wisdom to share. Let’s close with her own words:

The stubbornness I had as a child has been transmitted into perseverance. I can let go but I don’t give up. I don’t beat myself up about negative things. There’s always something to suggest that you’ll never be who you wanted to be. Your choice is to take it or keep on moving.

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