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.

Hero of the Week Award: February 24, Karen Golinski

24 Feb

Hero of the Week

In case after case, the forces of inequality are losing ground as courts make fair decisions. This week we are pleased to present the HWA to a woman who stood up for her rights and made progress for all of us. Karen Golinski  has worked for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for two decades. When California law allowed her and her partner, Amy Cunninghis, to marry, they joyfully did so. Since she had a legal spouse under California law, Golinski sought spousal insurance coverage from her employer. Because of the nefarious “Defense of Marriage” Act (DOMA), the federal court denied her claim (talk about lack of civil rights).

Karen Golinski did not give up. She followed each step in the tortuous path to receive the legitimate benefits, culminating with a lawsuit. This week, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White ruled that by creating an unequal class of married persons, DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Fighting this kind of legal battle is demanding, even when you know you are right. The LGBT community and everyone interested in equal rights for all owe Ms. Golinski and Ms. Cunninghis a debt of gratitude for standing up for their rights.

Honorable mention in this case goes to the couple’s superior legal team and to Judge White. The Judge presented a strong decision based on numerous cases in recent years that declares clearly that centuries of oppression are not legal grounds for discrimination. While the forces of bigotry will certainly appeal this decision, the reasoning is sound and in the long term equality will prevail. For a detailed legal analysis, visit the legal scholar at Towelroad.

Bigot of the Week Award: February 24, Gov. Chris Christie

24 Feb

Bigot of the Week

Surprising no-one, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie bucked the trend of equality sweeping the nation this week by vetoing a marriage equality bill passed by his state’s legislature. Thank you to my friend and LGBT ally Sara Carmona for her nomination of Christie. Despite pressure from advocacy groups, local politicians of both major parties, and a phone call from Washington Governor Christine Gregoire (who had just signed a similar law), Christie played politics with the civil rights of thousands of New Jersey citizens.

The Governor continues to hide behind a two-pronged attack on equality. First, he maintains that changing marriage law should be put to a vote of the people, an absurd claim that civil rights require a stamp of majority approval. This is also an ironic dodge given that all recent polls show a safe majority of New Jersey citizens supporting full marriage equality. Second, Christie points to New Jersey’s civil union law, saying that separate but equal should be just fine for the gays. REALLY? Wasn’t that concept thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court fifty years ago, Governor?

It’s very clear that Christie is playing the political odds here. He wants to run for president in 2016 (being too afraid to challenge President Obama this year) and can’t risk a pro-equality vote that would alienate the slavering hordes of tea party types that vote in Republican primaries. As equality sweeps the nation, however, that move may be a major miscalculation as equality may well be the standard by the time he tries to run. He certainly wasn’t prepared for the strong backlash as demonstrated in this bloviating, ineffective attempt at defending his position.  Christie, yet another Republican on the wrong side of history!  Christie better be careful, for the Gay Agenda will be watching his actions!

A sad dishonorable mention this week goes to Daniel Porkorney, the mayor of La Grande, Oregon, who posted anti-equality statements (including approval of Christie’s action) on his Facebook page. He quickly learned the lesson so many celebrities have learned — online words will bite you — as his community mounted a petition demanding his resignation and forced a strong apology.

Black History Month 2012: Alexander Twilight

23 Feb

Today we celebrate another early pioneer who broke multiple color barriers in the 19th Century: educator, legislator, and clergyman Alexander Twilight. Born in Corinth, VT in 1795, Twilight was probably of mixed race although hi’s parents are recorded in the town archives as “the first negroes” to settle in the area. As a youth he performed farm work while pursuing his education. He entered Middlebury College as Junior in 1821. When he graduated two years later, he became the first African-American to receive a degree from an American college.

He began teaching in Peru, NY, where he met and married Mercy Ladd Merrill. He also continued his studies, focusing on theology. After a few more years of teaching in various north Vermont towns, he was invited to be the principal of the Orleans County Grammar School in Brownington, VT, the only school serving two counties. After settling into his post he also became the minister of the local Congregational church. His school grew quickly, and he did not have room for boarding students. He pressed his board for funds and when turned down found independent funding to build Athenian Hall. Now know as the Old Stone House, it was the first granite building in the state and was large enough to house the Twilight family, boarding students and some school business functions. It is now a museum for Orleans County.

Alarmed by plans to split his district in two — he stridently maintained that one good district was far superior to two mediocre ones — Twilight sought a seat in the Vermont General Assembly. When he won the office, he became the first African-American elected to a state legislature. Most historians agree that he was in fact the first African-American elected official of any sort in the country.

Known for his iron will as well as his grace and humor, Twilight continued to butt heads with his board, eventually resigning and moving to Quebec. After four years the school was on the brink of closure and he was invited back. He resumed his posts as principal and minister. Twilight suffered a stroke in 1855 and was forced to retire. He died two years later and was buried in Brownington. A number of buildings and schools around the country have been named in honor of this pioneer.

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