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September 22, 2010

The JOURNAL's Emmy Nominees

Update: THE GOOD SOLDIER WON the Emmy Award! Three JOURNAL programs have been nominated for Emmy Awards: "LBJ's Path to War: A Tale of Two Quagmires," Bill Moyers' interview with writer and producer David Simon and the JOURNAL's presentation of the documentary THE GOOD SOLDIER. You can watch ""LBJ's Path to War" and the David Simon interview in their entirety online below. You can watch an excerpt from THE GOOD SOLDIER too.

And, if you're in New York City you can view THE GOOD SOLIDER at the Quad Cinema, from September 24 through September 30, (34 W. 13th St. (5th & 6th Aves.), 212-255-8800, Showtimes: 1:00, 2:40, 4:20, 6:00, 7:40*, 9:40*)

Continue reading "The JOURNAL's Emmy Nominees" »

April 2, 2010

Towards a More Just Society?

(Photo by Robin Holland)

This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with social justice advocates Bryan Stevenson and Michelle Alexander about the persistence of systemic racial inequalities in American society and Dr. Martin Luther King's vision of a more just society.

Michelle Alexander described her view of a criminal justice system that she sees as discriminatory against minority groups:

"Individual black achievement today masks a disturbing underlying racial reality. To a significant extent, affirmative action - seeing African Americans go to Harvard and Yale and become CEOs and corporate lawyers - causes us all to marvel what a long way we have come. But much of the data indicates that African Americans today as a group are not much better off than they were back in 1968... Just a couple of decades after the collapse of the old Jim Crow system, a new system of racial control emerged in the United States. Today, people of color are targeted by law enforcement for relatively minor, nonviolent, often drug-related offenses - the types of crimes that occur all the time on college campuses, where drug use is open and notorious, that occur in middle class suburban communities without much notice... [They are] arrested, branded felons, and then ushered into a parallel social universe in which they can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in many of the ways in which African Americans were discriminated against during the Jim Crow era."

Bryan Stevenson argued that mass incarceration disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations and is fundamentally incompatible with the core American value of equal justice:

"There are structures and systems that have created poverty and have made that poverty so permanent that, until we think in a more just way about how to deal with poverty in this country, we're never going to make the progress that Dr. King envisioned... We have a criminal justice system that's very wealth-sensitive. Our system treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent... If we keep ignoring the poor, I think we not only undermine Dr. King's vision, but we corrupt our values. The observant said you judge the character of a society not by how you treat the rich and the privileged and the celebrated. You judge the character of a society by how you treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated... We've got to find ways to inspire people, to challenge people, to confront people to recognize that a commitment to justice cannot be reconciled with a commitment to mass incarceration. A commitment to fairness cannot be reconciled with the conditions and demographics that we now see in poor and urban communities."

African American economist Thomas Sowell has suggested that some groups are more likely to have values that are conducive to success in American society than others and, thus, that a level playing field conflicts with the desire for all groups to achieve roughly equal outcomes. In a recent column, he argued that society lacks the ability to compel different groups to achieve the same results:

"Most of us want to be fair, in the sense of treating everyone equally. We want laws to be applied the same to everyone... Whether any human being has ever had the omniscience to determine and undo the many differences among people born into different families and cultures -- with different priorities, attitudes and behavior -- is a very big question. And to concentrate the vast amount of power needed to carry out that sweeping agenda is a dangerous gamble... There is no question that the accident of birth is a huge factor in the fate of people. What is a very serious question is how much anyone can do about that without creating other, and often worse, problems. Providing free public education, scholarships to colleges and other opportunities for achievement are fine as far as they go, but there should be no illusion that they can undo all the differences in priorities, attitudes and efforts among different individuals and groups."

What do you think?

  • Michelle Alexander compares today's struggle to the Jim Crow era. Do you agree? How do you think the quest for a more economically and racially just society has changed over time?

  • In your view, what would constitute a just society? What measures could move the country in that direction?

  • How are you mobilizing to work towards a more just America?

  • February 27, 2009

    Can Americans Speak Frankly about Race?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with scholar John McWhorter about the state of racial discourse in America and his thoughts on Attorney General Eric Holder’s controversial speech last week calling the U.S. a “nation of cowards” with regard to racial matters.

    Holder said:

    "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."

    McWhorter argued that the "conversation about race" called for by Holder excludes the frank opinions of many white people:

    "Over about the last 20 years, saying that we need to have a ‘conversation about race’ is coded... Having the conversation about race – what is generally meant by most people who are saying that – means black people have something to teach white people if white people would just sit and listen. It is not a conversation in the strict sense, it’s not an exchange. In an exchange there would also be room for white people to say ‘Here’s why we think you need to get over racism, here’s why we’re not as racist as you might think, here’s why we’re offended by this or we’re weary of this.’ What most people mean by the conversation would have much, much less room for that than for the teaching that black people are supposed to do."

    What do you think?

  • In America, can people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds speak their minds about race with equal frankness? Why or why not?

  • Do members of some racial groups have more insight into racial matters than members of other groups, as McWhorter interprets Holder to mean? Explain.

  • What do you think can be done to help improve racial relations and discourse in America?

  • June 20, 2008

    Social Programs For All?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In their conversation with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, sociologist Orlando Patterson and economist Glenn C. Loury discussed the possibility of redefining the target populations of social programs. Patterson remarked on one approach:

    “There’s always a huge problem in policies with respect to black Americans, and that is whether they’re going to be targeted towards blacks... or whether it’s gonna be universal. That is, you take the view that it is not a black problem... a shift from the targeted approach to a universal approach, in which affirmative action will be for the white poor as well as the black poor.”

    Loury noted that such a policy would not necessarily produce the same results as the race-based system currently in effect.

    “If we say affirmative action at leading American universities is now open to poor people, regardless of their race, no more of these middle class blacks who have lower test scores getting into places like Princeton or Harvard or any place like that. The result of that, the actual result of doing it, just like that and nothing else, will be for every black that might have benefited, there are going to be ten poor whites who could potentially benefit. It will be a significant reduction of the number of blacks at these institutions. Now, maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s not okay.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you think today’s social programs like affirmative action and desegregation are succeeding?

  • Does class weigh as much race in our nation's divide? Should it weigh as much in social programs aimed at easing racial divisions?

  • How are these programs affected by the growing multiculturalism in the US, when divisions are less black and white?

  • June 6, 2008

    POLL: Is It Possible To Run A Race-Neutral Campaign In America?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week’s JOURNAL, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Ron Walters discussed how race has affected the presidential election process and the media’s coverage thereof.

    Jamieson said:

    “I heard a commentator say, when Senator Obama announced, that he’s running to be 'the first black president'... He’s running to be our president, the president of all of us. And to some extent to say that he’s running to be 'the first black president,' I knew what the commentator meant, but I thought that is problematic for that candidacy.”

    We invite you to discuss in the space below.

    April 25, 2008

    The Controversy Over Wright

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago and Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Il) pastor for more than 20 years, who’s been embroiled in controversy.

    “When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that's not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they wanna do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a "wackadoodle"... I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ... To put an element of fear and hatred and to stir up the anxiety of Americans who still don't know the African-American tradition, know nothing about the prophetic theology of the African-American experience, who know nothing about the black church, who don't even know how we got a black church.”

    Some have argued that TUCC’s “Black Value System,” which emphasizes commitment to the “Black community” and “Black family” rather than to communities and families in general, prioritizes racial identity in an inherently racist way. Arguing that Wright himself might be a racist who holds racial animus against certain groups, commentators have pointed to his statement that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need” and to his accusation that the U.S. government “invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Furthermore, Wright’s association with Louis Farrakhan, whose history of anti-semitic and anti-white statements has been condemned, has brought further controversy.

    In contrast, some have come to the defense of Wright's rhetoric and his notion of “the prophetic theology of the African American experience” and black liberation theology. In today’s Dallas Morning News, Gerald Britt dismisses “attempts to delegitimize Dr. Wright and Trinity United Christian Church for its Afrocentric theological emphasis” and argues that the black church “has been admired for its powerful presence within the African-American community; its worship is envied for its emotional freedom.”

    What do you think?

    March 28, 2008

    Race, Poverty, and the Inner City --- 40 Years Later

    (Harris photo by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with former Senator Fred Harris (D-OK), one of the original members of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission.

    Convened by President Lyndon Johnson in the wake of 1967’s riots among inner-city blacks in Detroit and dozens of other cities, the Kerner Commission sought to learn what had happened, why the riots had occurred, and what could be done to prevent similar events from happening again. The resulting (and immediately controversial) 1968 Kerner Report concluded that the riots emerged from severe poverty and limited opportunity in America’s urban ghettoes, for which the Report blamed institutional racism.

    The report recommended a series of measures to try and change the situation, including using the government to create jobs, expanding affirmative action, and beefing up welfare and other social services. Regarding the Commission’s recommendations, Harris said:

    “I think virtually everything [the Kerner Commission recommended] was right... one of the awfulest things that came out of the Reagan presidency and later was the feeling that government can’t do anything right and that everything it does is wrong. The truth is that virtually everything we tried worked. We just quit trying it. Or we didn’t try it hard enough. And that’s what we need to get back to.

    We made progress on virtually every aspect of race and poverty for about a decade after the Kerner Commission report and then, particularly with the advent of the Reagan administration and so forth, that progress stopped. And we began to go backwards... When we cut out a lot of these social programs, or the money for them... [and] we don’t emphasize jobs and training and education and so forth as we had been doing, there are bad consequences from that... I think what you need to do is to help people up, give ‘em a hand up. And recognize the kind of terrible conditions that they’re grown up in.”

    Moyers also interviewed Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who offered his own perspective:

    "The knee jerk reaction [is] to spend more money. Well, you know what? I can show you places in the city of Newark where we're doing more with less simply because we have good people stepping forward and saying, "I'm not gonna tolerate this any more in my nation, in my community, on my block." They're doing mentoring programs. You have grassroots leaders... Because it's all about the spirit. It all comes down to a spiritual transformation... At some point in America, we're going to have to get beyond blame and start accepting responsibility."

    What do you think?

  • Are the Kerner Commission’s findings relevant today? Why or why not?

  • Are the Commission’s recommendations of more government-created jobs, expanded affirmative action, increased welfare, etc. a practical strategy for helping inner cities? Why or why not?

  • Which do you think is the more effective approach to tackling the problems of the inner city --- Fred Harris' top-down government strategy or Cory Booker's emphasis on individual and grassroots responsibility?

  • January 18, 2008

    Moyers on Clinton, Obama, King and Johnson

    LBJ and Martin Luther King, Johnson Library
    Watch Video

    We invite you to respond by commenting below.

    January 11, 2008

    Grievance, Black Politics, and Black Identity

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, scholar Shelby Steele said the following:

    I am black and happy to be so, but my identity is not my master. I’m my master. And I resent this civil rights leadership telling me what I should think and what issues I should support this way or that way. And that’s where, in black America, identity has become almost totalitarian... You [must] subscribe to the idea that the essence of blackness is grounded in grievance, and if you vary from that you are letting whites off the hook. And we’re gonna call you a sell out. We’re gonna call you an ‘Uncle Tom’... I was gonna have a life or I was just going to be a kind of surrogate for blackness... but you enter an exile where the group identifies you as someone who is a threat, and part of being black is despising or having contempt for people like me.

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree with Steele's contention that today’s black identity is “grounded in grievance?”
  • Is ideological diversity within the black community limited by an imperative to not "let whites off the hook?"
  • To what extent are racial divisions and classifications reinforced by minority group identity?

  • December 13, 2007

    Obama and His Base

    Dr. Ronald Walters, in his interview with Bill Moyers this week, Daily News coverexplains that he believes some African Americans have not embraced the Presidential candidacy of Barack Obama because the Senator is focused on a national middle ground, and thus unable to highlight the core issues of the African-American community. Walters states:

    Barack Obama has to maintain that middle. And, therefore, he has to marginalize, to a great extent, over hot button racial issues...

    ...His campaign has said that, "We have to continue to develop our base in the white community. We have, therefore, to continue to make them comfortable with the idea of your candidacy. We can't do that if we're going to bring up these hot button racial issues."

    What do you think?

  • Can a Presidential candidate, searching for a multi-racial national base in order to be elected, avoid alienating his/her own minority base?

  • November 20, 2007

    Bill Moyers Asks: What is the Meaning of the Nooses?

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers put the following question to Dr. James Cone:

    BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the current spate of the appearances of the noose again? Up comes this story right here from the suburbs of New York -- a noose found in the basement locker room of the village police department. The deputy chief of police is black. And then you've got Jena and you've got what happened at Columbia [University], near your office.

    Do you think these people understand what that's the symbol of? Of what actually happened to human beings when that noose was placed around the neck? Or is this just some kind of grim game?

    We invite you to discuss your answers to Bill Moyers' question below.

    Photo: Robin Holland

    November 2, 2007

    News Polarization & Ethnic Media

    In this week’s JOURNAL, WVON Chicago radio program director Coz Carson says:

    “There’s a great deal of mistrust for mainstream media when it comes to African-American issues. So when we approach people, when we ask them to speak to us, they feel like they’re speaking with family, they’re speaking with people who understand their plight.”

    A paper from Stanford University's Political Communications Lab about political preferences and news polarization argues that since “people prefer to encounter information that they find supportive or consistent with their existing beliefs” there is a “real possibility that news will no longer serve as the ‘social glue’ that connects all Americans… [as they turn] to biased but favored providers.”

    What do you think?

  • Can this conclusion be applied to ethnic media as well?
  • Does news coverage from specific ethnic media outlets for specific ethnic groups contribute to the polarization of the news?
  • Do ethnic media serve their communities in ways the mainstream media can’t? If so, how?

  • May 17, 2007

    Racism, Misogyny and Hip-Hop

    The recent firing of Don Imus for making racial slurs on the radio has stirred up much discussion about racism in America, particularly the role that certain derogatory words play in fanning the flames of social bigotry.

    Russell Simmons, founder of legendary hip-hop label Def Jam, has been at the forefront of this debate recently, pushing for a ban on the use of 3 words in hip-hop lyrics that he deems sexist and racist:

    "The words 'bitch' and 'ho' are utterly derogatory and disrespectful of the painful, hurtful, misogyny that, in particular, African-American women have experienced in the United States as part of the history of oppression, inequality, and suffering of women.

    The word 'nigger' is a racially derogatory term that disrespects the pain, suffering, history of racial oppression, and multiple forms of racism against African-Americans and other people of colour."

    --Russell Simmons

    But Melissa Harris-Lacewell, with whom Bill Moyers talks this week on THE JOURNAL, believes that banning certain words only serves to "cover over racism" and that truly facing the issue of bigotry in America today requires new tools:

    "I hope by the end of my class though, they would be saying, 'Look, we recognize that even if we got rid of every derogatory, racial utterance, even if no one ever, black or white, used the 'N' word again, that this would not actually end racial inequality in America.'

    I hope that my students have learned something about the structural nature of inequality and the way that racism gets perpetuated through our assumptions and our history and our culture, and not just through bad words or language."

    --Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell

    What do you think? How important are words in fighting prejudice in America?

    Photo: Robin Holland

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