April 21st, 2010, by SEAN BROOKS

This is an excerpt from a post first published at the Progressive Policy Institute.

Millions of Sudanese have just finished voting in their country’s first multiparty elections in 24 years. Election officials estimate that, in a relatively peaceful process, turnout of registered voters exceeded 70 percent nationwide, including up to 55 percent in one state in war-ravaged Darfur.

The voting period was extended from three to five days due to a host of technical problems and irregularities. Sometime this week, the National Election Commission will announce the

Yet despite the higher than expected estimated turnout, the election should hardly be a cause for celebration among advocates for democracy. At the top of the ballot, Sudanese leader and indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir’s name appeared as his party’s candidate for president.

Bashir took power via military coup in 1989. In the years since, his regime prosecuted a war in the south from 1989 through 2005 and, more notoriously, has conducted a deadly policy of mass murder and displacement in Darfur since 2003.

On the surface, the Bashir government has made all the right moves, urging all Sudanese parties to participate and asking the international community to observe the process. But the facts on the ground show a government that has engaged in political repression and intimidation, and an election that fell short of international standards.

Citing the restrictive environment, in the last week of the campaign period leading opposition parties announced a general boycott of the elections. As the results from the election are counted up, one thing is clear: A “democratically elected” Bashir government will be no less ruthless and oppressive than the Bashir military dictatorship.

Yet since last fall, the Obama administration has avoided directly challenging the credibility of Sudan’s elections, despite being heavily engaged in mediation efforts across Sudan. Many analysts feel that the U.S. merely wants to get past the elections in order to focus on the critical referendum for south Sudan scheduled for January 2011 — a vote that many expect will lead to the south’s secession from Sudan. It’s an outcome that the U.S. favors, predicting that the south will be a reliable, oil-producing ally in restive East Africa.

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In a bid to set the table for next year, the administration has seemed ready to accept the legitimization of the Bashir regime in this month’s vote in exchange for his cooperation on the referendum.

But with the election’s legitimacy in tatters, President Obama must be clear that the election of Bashir will have no effect on how the U.S. views those in power in Khartoum — as an unrepresentative clique that refuses to loosen their firm grip on the country.

And regardless of the results, the administration must continue to pressure all parties to bring comprehensive and durable peace to Darfur, implement the final stages of the north-south peace agreement that mandates the 2011 referendum, and carry on the long process of democratization that serves as the most solid foundation for durable peace.

Sean Brooks is a policy analyst at the Save Darfur Coalition. He recently returned from a month-long  trip to Sudan.

Previous Posts in ‘Africa’
VIDEO | Team Darfur co-founder, Joey Cheek
BLOG  | War Child
BLOG  | Leaders Look Away, but Students STAND

April 13th, 2010, by

The facts say it all. About 17% of American children ages 2-19 are obese. Obese children are more likely than other children to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. They are also more likely to be obese as adults.

Add in the fact that obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years and we have ourselves a serious problem.

So what to do about it?

First Lady Michelle Obama says Let’s Move. Her new inter-agency task force to eradicate childhood obesity had a summit at the White House last week.

Some of the solutions bandied about at the meeting focused on advertising, marketing, food labels, the food supply in schools, nutrition assistance programs, the high cost of healthy food, breast feeding, physical activity and educating both adults and children about healthy lifestyle choices. The task force will report their recommendations to President Obama in May.

But is that enough? What do you think? What’s the solution?

And if 34% of adults are obese, how do we ensure that our children make healthy choices? 

April 7th, 2010, by

In March, the Obama administration threw its weight behind the University of Texas at Austin in a high-profile affirmative action case in which the university’s “race-conscious” admissions policies were challenged by two white students who were denied admission to the school.

The Obama administration argued in a brief filed with the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:

In the view of the United States, the University’s limited use of race in its admissions program falls within the constitutional bounds delineated by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).

The University’s effort to promote diversity is a paramount government objective. See Grutter, 539 U.S. at 330-331. In view of the importance of diversity in educational institutions, the United States, through the Departments of Education and Justice, supports the efforts of school systems and post-secondary educational institutions that wish to develop admissions policies that endeavor to achieve the educational benefits of diversity in accordance with Grutter.

The losing side in the pending case will likely take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What do you think? Are admissions policies that include considerations of race and ethnicity a form of discrimination or simply a method for achieving much-needed diversity in education?

Share your thoughts with us and they may be used in an upcoming video blog.

April 1st, 2010, by
A clown performs during the traditional march through central Kiev to mark April Fools' Day on April 1, 2010.

If you intended to Google your pesky neighbor this morning only to find that you were forced to “Topeka” his name, then you fell for an April Fools’ prank.


Here’s a quick round-up of all things foolish so that you won’t get caught off guard again.

1) See here, here and here for explanations of the origins of the day.

2) TechCrunch is providing a “Definitive List” of April Fools’ 2010 pranks with grades. They give YouTube an “A” for offering a “text only mode” for videos, and Starbucks gets a “B+” for its “micra” and “plenty” sizes.

3) The Christian Science Monitor provides a list of past pranks from around the world.

4) If you want to play a prank but are out of ideas, here’s a list of low-tech gags. It includes time-honored practical jokes like glueing coins to the ground and saran-wrapping a toilet seat.

5) And if you were thinking of playing any pranks at work, here’s a warning.

So, how was your April Fools’ Day? Did you fall for a banana in the tailpipe? Share your April Fools’ jokes, pranks and stories with us.

March 29th, 2010, by DAVID SHENK

In 1994, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray warned us in The Bell Curve that “genetic partitioning” was increasingly responsible for economic and intellectual disparity. “Success and failure in the American economy, and all that goes with it,” they wrote, “are increasingly a matter of the genes that people inherit.”

They were neither the first nor the last to insist in the idea of a genetic underclass. In fact, we’ve all been taught to think that humans are somewhat segregated from one another by lucky and unlucky batches of good and bad genes. Some groups, or random individuals, are said to be genetically less intelligent than others, while other groups have gene-driven athletic or musical or artistic ability.
I believe science now strongly suggests that this gene-gift paradigm, which so powerfully has shaped our thinking for a century, is fundamentally incorrect. There is no genetic underclass or overclass, and most of us are not genetically doomed to mediocrity. Quite to the contrary: the human genome that we all share is itself designed to respond to challenges and demands, and that — as Cornell University developmental psychologist Stephen Ceci says — “We have no way of knowing how much unactualized genetic potential exists.”

Because we have been trained to think about “nature vs. nurture” in such stark terms, a lot of people will read the above statement and think that I’m just trying to swing us back to the nurture side of the argument and am denying the influence of genes. But I’m really not.

There’s a whole new way to think about these matters, one which embraces genetic differences and their profound influence. We now have an opportunity to help the general public understand what geneticists and most other scientists have already understood about genes for years: that all genetic influence happens in dynamic interaction with environmental inputs.

“There are no genetic factors that can be studied independently of the environment,” explains McGill University’s Michael Meaney. “And there are no environmental factors that function independently of the genome. [A trait] emerges only from the interaction of gene and environment.”
Genes are not like robot actors who always say the same lines in the exact same way. It turns out that they interact with their surroundings and can say different things depending on whom they are talking to. This obliterates the long-standing metaphor of genes as blueprints with elaborate predesigned instructions for eye color, thumb size, mathematical quickness, musical sensitivity, etc. Instead, genes are more like volume knobs and switches that get turned up/down/on/off at any time — by another gene or by any minuscule environmental input.

This flipping and turning takes place constantly. It begins the moment a child is conceived and doesn’t stop until she takes her last breath. Rather than giving us hardwired instructions on how a trait must be expressed, this process of gene-environment interaction drives a unique developmental path for every unique individual.

And here’s the best part: we can impact that process. We can’t ever control it completely, of course, but as parents, as teachers, and as a culture, we can impact it. I was thrilled to talk to Tavis about how this works. It begins with an understanding of what genes really are, and continues with revelations about the real sources of intelligence and abilities.

David Shenk is an award-winning author of six books. His most recent, The Genius in All of Us, has been hailed by The New York Times as “deeply interesting and important.” For more about Shenk and his book, visit GeniusBlog.

March 29th, 2010, by

When you read about the unemployment rate in this country, which has been hovering around 10% for a while now, it’s easy to forget that the rate is different depending on where you live in the country, whether you are a man or a woman and whether you are Black, Latino or white.

The Joint Economic Committee released a report this month which found that although “African Americans make up 11.5% of the labor force, they account for 17.8% of the unemployed, 20.3% of those unemployed for more than six months and 22.1% of the workers unemployed for a year or more.”

African Americans are the face of what is known as the chronically unemployed. And while they have been severely impacted by The Great Recession, a report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that within the African American community, high unemployment rates pre-dated the recession.

That report goes on to state that lower educational attainment of Blacks is not the only contributing factor. According to the study, “In the three years before the recession, the unemployment rate for African American’s with bachelor’s degrees was 7.5 percent. This rate was closest to the rate for whites with only a high school diploma, 6.3 percent.”

And according to the National Urban League’s annual report, “The State of Black America,” Latinos “are faring better than Blacks,” though not by much.

The Congressional Black Caucus took up the issue of the chronically unemployed last week, in a hearing called “Out of Work But Not Out of Hope: Addressing the Crisis of the Chronically Unemployed.”

CBC Chair Barbara Lee had this to say about the JEC report:

“While there is no question that all Americans are hurting, today’s report clearly illustrates that racial disparities existed before the recession and those gaps have only grown. Although recent economic data has shown signs of improvement, this study indicates the pace of the recovery has been uneven, with African Americans lagging behind.”

What do you think? Is Congress doing enough? What’s the solution? 

March 24th, 2010, by RON ELDRIDGE

This is an excerpt from a post first published at AnythingUrban.

I recall living in a predominately white neighborhood for a short time as a youngster. On the surface, social life was fine for me and my two younger sisters; we played with a large number of children that lived in the area — most of them were white.

But behind the curtains, the parents of these children were not so comfortable. Why? Because we were Black?

My family never received a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift. But ultimately, we did receive something that really hurt — a petition.

Several families in the area decided to flex their racist muscles by mobilizing and voicing their displeasure towards us, hoping that this would pressure us to move. The petition asked us to do just that — move.

I don’t know if folks were trying to protect their property value, their property itself, or if they simply could no longer stomach the anger as they watched their kid play with…us. We ended up moving away from the neighborhood. At the time, my mom never explained to me and my sisters why we left.

Fast Forward

I recently read about an incident where Black students were under siege on a daily basis by racist schoolmates. There was constant intimidation, from threats of “lynching” to the N-word etched on the walls of bathroom stalls.

The story is a sad one, but it especially angers me because as I grew up in the 70’s, often in segregated schools, I never experienced racism on any large scale in grade school, middle or high school. So now I’m thinking, are race relations getting worse? Does this incident represent just how much more work we still need to do to combat racism and bigotry?

Stories like this remind me that while we may not be able to reach and teach all, we can never underestimate how important it is to simply speak up and talk about it.


As our family packed our bags to move, it never occurred to me to ask Mom why. But as a 9-year-old, I wonder if it would have helped me to know…that I would be treated differently because of the color of my skin. Sometimes I just don’t think so.

Ron Eldridge is the publisher of He has also written for and

March 19th, 2010, by
Sandra Bullock accepts the Best Actress award during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in March.

The Blind Side is based on a true story about a homeless teen who finds a home with a “well-to-do” family in Memphis. The film was directed by John Lee Hancock, based on a book by Michael Lewis and brought Sandra Bullock the Best Actress Academy Award.

Does it matter that the homeless teen was Black and the family who adopted him was white?

Actress Vanessa Williams — who is not affiliated with the film — thinks the ethnicity of the characters does matter. While guest-hosting on ABC’s The View, Williams took umbrage at the idea that a white family swooped down and rescued a poor Black teen:

“It brings up a theme for Black folks that ‘OK, here’s another white family that has saved the day.’ In terms of another Black story that has to have a white person come in and lift them up. And I’m not saying it’s not true and it didn’t happen, but it’s one of those ‘do I really want to see the same theme again?'”

Barbara Walters did not agree and shot down Vanessa Williams’ argument saying that it was “a story of closeness between two races.”

But in a recent conversation on Tavis’s show, Tom Burrell — marketing communications pioneer and author of Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority — said that Americans have been brainwashed to believe that Blacks are inferior and whites are superior.

Burrell added that The Blind Side served audiences “visual and verbal cues” that feed into the idea of Black inferiority and white supremacy.

Here we have a situation where the Black family throws the kid away, the Black coach and his wife let him sleep on the couch for a couple of days, and then in comes this wonderful white family who embraces this big, oafish kind of kid who doesn’t know anything, big gentle giant, takes him in.

He is barely literate; he is barely able to function. Then we see him going into his neighborhood with this woman who is his new mother and it’s a menacing place, and she’s going to get out of the car and he grabs her — “Don’t get out.” These are some dangerous people out there. Then you see the most menacing group of Black guys that you can imagine, and you see in their eyes a thuggishness and you see these potential rapists.

There is no positive Black family image portrayed whatsoever, but you have this sharp contrast between good and bad and white and Black. I’m not saying that white families haven’t adopted Black kids, but you know something? Black families have adopted Black kids, and you have to ask yourself the question, would that be a movie?

What do you think? Was Vanessa Williams onto something? Is The Blind Side evidence of a brainwashed nation? Does the film reinforce the concept of Black inferiority? Share your thoughts below.

March 17th, 2010, by MICHELLE ALEXANDER

This post was first published at TomDispatch.

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality. There’s an implicit, yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you. If you are poor, marginalized or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you. Trust us. Trust our rules, laws, customs and wars. You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand. Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this. It makes them angry. In the “era of colorblindness,” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race. Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

* There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

* As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

* If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste — not class, caste — permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

Excuses for the Lockdown

There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime. We’re told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years. Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades — they are currently at historical lows — but imprisonment rates have consistently soared. Quintupled, in fact. And the vast majority of that increase is due to the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone account for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population and more than half of the increase in the state prison population.

The drug war has been brutal — complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers and sweeps of entire neighborhoods — but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought. This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth. Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data. White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders. In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.

This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime. That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs. Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell. It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime.

Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. From the outset, the war had little to do with drug crime and nearly everything to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially-coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities. The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores and drug-related violence. The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.

The plan worked like a charm. For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news. Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes — sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.

Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs. In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.” The facts bear him out. Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations. He and the “new Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life. Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labeled a felon.

Facing Facts

But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn’t the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that’s where the violent offenders can be found? The answer is yes: in made-for-TV movies. In real life, the answer is no.

The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders.  Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales. Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity. In fact, during the 1990s — the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war — nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.

In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time, a new Jim Crow system. Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.

Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality. Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers — not to mention president of the United States — causes us all to marvel at what a long way we’ve come.

Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. Nearly a quarter of African Americans live below the poverty line today, approximately the same percentage as in 1968. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that’s with affirmative action!

When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colorblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure — the structure of racial caste. The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.

This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. This is not the promised land. The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.

Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness and the former director of the Racial Justice Project of the ACLU in Northern California. She currently holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

March 12th, 2010, by TRACI L. LEE

This is an excerpt from an article first published at BabyGirlz Magazine.

On a February 16, 2010 episode of The Tyra Show, there was a segment titled: “I’m 9 and I Hate my Face.” There were several girls featured, but the caption belonged to a young African-American girl that felt un-pretty based on negative comments that had been made to her by someone she thought was her friend. To feel pretty, she said, her preference was to have lighter skin and lighter eyes because in that way, she’d get more attention from boys — like her friends.

When I was 12, my “friend” and I were sitting on the stairs to our apartments. It was a nice sunny day and I was sitting a few stairs down from her — yet facing her — which meant, I was facing the sun. She looked at me and said, “You would be so pretty if you had light-colored eyes.” That stung. She would go on to tell me that if my complexion was lighter, I would be pretty. Basically, my brown skin was not enough to qualify for “pretty.” Wow. Two things that I could never change as I was born with both.

So, there it was, at the age of 12. If my own friends didn’t think I was beautiful, I couldn’t possibly be, right? Your friends know the most and tell you the truth about everything, right?

Not necessarily. Yet I believed it for years. For years, I died my hair because I believed that lighter-hued hair would give the facade of a shade not as dark as my own.

Then there were the boys. I thought I was in place to be Ronnie’s girlfriend. We spent time together outside with everyone else. Me, often with his arm wrapped around my shoulder, or him, holding my hand — nice moments. Until Angel moved into the neighborhood. Angel with the curly hair, light skin and green eyes. It was as though Ronnie never met me. His attention diverted to her…and there it remained. I was devastated. Further devastated when the same friend told me that, “He chose Angel because she has ‘good hair’ and those pretty eyes.”

Those were defining moments in my life — and moments that turned into years of me doubting that I was anywhere near pretty, beautiful, gorgeous — or if I would ever graduate from “cute.”

One day, I don’t remember quite when it was, things changed. I stopped dying my hair and a real friend said to me, “So, you are finally happy with the way you look?”

I hadn’t even realized. It was just something that kind of happened, I guess. I was happy when it did, but I can’t, with all honesty, say the exact moment. I do know it made me think long and hard about that road I’d just traveled. At some point, without even knowing it, I embraced ME.

Traci L. Lee is Editor-in-Chief of BabyGirlz Magazine, an online resource for young girls of color. She has also written for Moms of Hue.

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