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February 28th, 2013
09:58 PM ET

What the "Harlem shake" has to do with Harlem

By Raelyn Johnson and Alicia W. Stewart, CNN

(CNN) - It begins rather innocently.

An infectious track, a conservative, solo dancer and a few oblivious observers.

A mere fifteen seconds of pelvic thrusts, then, a roar of a lion, a drop of a beat...

Then, everyone goes CRAZY.

The “Harlem Shake” is the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 for the second week in a row, a top 10 iTunes download and the meme of the moment. Millions are watching variations on the “Harlem Shake” video theme in which the dance starts with one person thrusting their pelvis or dancing solo for 15 seconds, while the people in the background ignore them. Then when the beat drops, a group joins in bizarre, repetitive movements. The whole dance lasts around 30 seconds.

While this latest trend is built around the “Harlem Shake", it has scant ties with the New York neighborhood, and very little in common with the original dance that shares its name.

So just how did the phenomenon begin? It starts with a dancer in Harlem, a producer from Philadelphia and ends with you.

FULL POST

The voting rights martyr who divided America
Viola Liuzzo's murder made her a scapegoat. It also sparked passage of the Voting Rights Act, which may soon be overturned.
February 28th, 2013
12:36 PM ET

The voting rights martyr who divided America

Editor's note: The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week over a challenge to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The following is an edited excerpt from John Blake's 2004 book "Children of the Movement" about Viola Liuzzo, a Detroit housewife who was killed while working for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. This story contains objectionable language.

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - On March 26, 1965, Penny Liuzzo was watching the "Donna Reed Show" at her home in Detroit when a wave of nausea suddenly swept over her. In an instant, she knew what had happened.

"Oh my God," she thought as she stood up and walked out of the room. "My mom's dead."

When Penny's mother, Viola Liuzzo, had called home a week earlier to tell her family she was going to Selma, Alabama, Penny had been engulfed by a sense of dread. She tried to talk her mother out of going.

"I'm never going to see you again, Mom. I know it. I just feel it. Please let me go in your place. I'll go."

Liuzzo laughed off her daughter's fears. Viola had been determined to help marchers in Selma after watching newsreel footage of civil rights marchers being beaten there. She had cried after the newscast ended. "I'm tired of sitting here watching people get beat up," she told her family before driving off to Selma.

The call came at midnight. After experiencing her bout of nausea, Penny had gone to bed but could not sleep. She heard her father answer the phone. "Penny, your mother's dead! Your mother's dead," he wailed.

Then something happened that Penny still cannot explain 40 years later. Her 6-year-old sister, Sally, walked into the bedroom and said, "No, Mama's not dead. I just saw her walking in the hall."

The murder of Viola Liuzzo was one of the most shocking moments in the civil rights movement. On a winding, isolated road outside Selma, Liuzzo was ambushed and shot to death by a car full of Ku Klux Klansmen.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: History • How we live • Social justice
February 28th, 2013
09:31 AM ET

Parents of transgender first-grader file discrimination complaint

By Ed Payne and Ashley Fantz, CNN

(CNN) - A transgender rights group announced Wednesday that it has filed a discrimination complaint in Colorado on behalf of a first-grader who was born a boy but identifies as a girl.

The filing stems from a decision announced last December by officials at Fountain-Fort Carson School District that Coy Mathis could no longer use the girls' bathroom at Eagleside Elementary.

Mother Kathryn Mathis said she and her husband were shocked.

"We were very confused because everything was going so well, and they had been so accepting, and all of a sudden it changed and it was very confusing and very upsetting because we knew that, by doing that, she was going to go back to being unhappy," she told CNN. "It was going to set her up for a lot of bad things."

Coy was born with male sex organs but has identified as female since she could express herself, her mother said. The child had attended classes during her kindergarten year with no problems and no complaints from anyone at the school, Mathis told reporters at the Colorado Capitol in Denver, where she was flanked by her husband, Jeremy, and four other children.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Discrimination • Family • Girls • Who we are
Justices offer split views on Voting Rights Act enforcement
February 27th, 2013
03:32 PM ET

Justices offer split views on Voting Rights Act enforcement

By

Washington (CNN) – A predictably divided Supreme Court appeared ready to strike down – at least in part – the key enforcement provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, with many conservative justices on Wednesday suggesting it was a constitutionally unnecessary vestige of the civil rights era.

Known as Section 5, it gives the federal government open-ended oversight of states and localities mostly in the South with a history of voter discrimination.

Any changes in voting laws and procedures in all or parts of 16 covered states must be "pre-cleared" with Washington. That could include something as simple as moving a polling place temporarily across the street.

In a tense 80 minutes of oral arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked why the court would rule "in favor of the county that is the epitome" of what caused the law to be passed in the first place.

Her three reliably liberal colleagues appeared to support continued use of the coverage formula run by the federal Justice Department.

But Justice Samuel Alito wondered why some states were subject to oversight and not others.

"Why shouldn't it apply everywhere in the country," he asked. The other four more conservative justices had tough questions for the Obama administration's positions.

This case will be one of the biggest the justices tackle this term, offering a social, political, and legal barometer on the progress of civil rights in the United States and the level of national vigilance still needed to ensure minorities have equal access to the election process.

A ruling in this appeal is expected by June.

FULL STORY

Filed under: History • Politics • Race • Where we live
The new black pioneers
February 27th, 2013
12:30 PM ET

The new black pioneers

(CNN) - As Black History Month draws to a close, we highlight African Americans in the arts, science and business who have carried on the legacy of past innovators in their fields. Click through the photo gallery for more examples.

Zora Neale Hurston, right, is lauded as one of the most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Her work as an author was strongly influenced by her anthropological studies of the Caribbean and the American South. Today, director Ava DuVernay carries on the tradition of mixing art with cultural documentation. Her award-winning film, "Middle of Nowhere," follows the struggles of an African-American woman whose husband is incarcerated.

FULL STORY

Filed under: Black in America • Culture • History • Who we are
Wealth inequality between blacks and whites worsens
Whites have accumulated far more wealth than blacks, according to a new Brandeis University study.
February 27th, 2013
09:00 AM ET

Wealth inequality between blacks and whites worsens

By Tami Luhby @CNNMoney

(CNNMoney) - The wealth gap between blacks and whites has nearly tripled over the past 25 years, due largely to inequality in home ownership, income, education and inheritances, according to a new study by Brandeis University.

That type of inequality can be a drag on economic growth for everyone, said Thomas Shapiro, director of the university's Institute on Assets and Social Policy, which conducted the research.

The difference in wealth between typical households in each racial group ballooned to $236,500 in 2009, up from $85,000 in 1984, according to the study, released Wednesday. By 2009, the median net worth of white families was $265,000, while blacks had only $28,500.

Brandeis researchers looked at the same set of 1,700 families over the 25-year period to see how their actual work and school experiences affected their wealth accumulation.

What they found is that home ownership is driving the growing gap. Price appreciation is more limited in non-white neighborhoods, making it harder for blacks to build equity. Also, because whites are more likely to have family financial assistance for down payments, they are able to buy homes an average of eight years earlier than black families and to put down larger upfront payments that lower interest rates and mortgage costs.

The home ownership rate for whites is 28% higher than that of blacks.

FULL STORY
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Filed under: Black in America • Economy • History • How we live
Opinion: When U.S.A! U.S.A! chant is not patriotic
February 26th, 2013
05:50 PM ET

Opinion: When U.S.A! U.S.A! chant is not patriotic

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor

San Diego (CNN) - It never occurred to me that the chant "U.S.A, U.S.A!" - something you might hear from enthusiastic sports fans at the World Cup or the Olympics - could be used as an insult. That is, until I saw (and heard) it for myself.

Before I tell that story, let's be clear. Chanting "U.S.A, U.S.A!" is fine; what matters is the context, the intent behind the chant. And that isn't always easy to discern.

It's great if the people chanting are just trying to celebrate a magnificent country. Part of what makes the United States so special in the first place is that we're also an extremely diverse country. The national motto may be "e pluribus unum" (of many, one), but Americans should always strive to cherish and celebrate those cultural differences that make us unique. This means respecting one another as equals.

So it's not so great if the idea of raising one's voice in a group display is to try to put another group of Americans in its place by implying - solely because of race, ethnicity, heritage or skin color - that they're not real Americans or "not American enough." Whatever that means.

That is when the chanting can become really offensive. Patriotism is one thing, racial or ethnic putdowns are another. In recent years, we've seen far too many examples of the latter.

In fact, recently, a group of students at Camarillo High School, northwest of Los Angeles, were ejected after leading a rally at a basketball game against a rival school. The students first showed up at the game wearing American flag bandanas, but school officials asked that they remove them. When they refused, they were told to leave the auditorium. They did, but defiantly returned soon after still wearing the bandanas. Then they whipped the crowd into a frenzy by chanting "U.S.A, U.S.A!" That's when they were asked to leave the premises, and report to the principal the next day.

Read Ruben Navarrette's full column
N.Y. state lawmaker apologizes for blackface costume
Dov Hikind, center, is seen in costume with his wife and son. The photo was obtained from what CNN believes to be his son Yoni's Facebook page.
February 26th, 2013
03:44 PM ET

N.Y. state lawmaker apologizes for blackface costume

By Sonia Kennebeck, CNN

New York (CNN) - A New York state lawmaker said Monday he's sorry if he offended anyone by dressing in blackface for a Purim party, but a colleague says his apology doesn't go far enough.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind wore an Afro wig, an orange jersey and had his face painted brown by a professional makeup artist for a weekend party celebrating the Jewish holiday at his home. He told The New York Times that he was supposed to be "a black basketball player."

The Brooklyn Democrat initially tried to dismiss complaints about his costume as "political correctness to the absurd," but reversed himself by Monday afternoon in the face of mounting criticism.

"Anyone who was offended, I am sorry that they were offended," Hikind told reporters at a news conference. "That was not the intention, and that is really all I can say. I just have to reiterate it was Purim. Purim is when people get dressed up."

But Hikind's fellow Brooklyn Democrat, Assemblyman Karim Camara, said the costume was "callous and repugnant."

FULL STORY
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Celebs wear hoodies for Trayvon Martin
February 26th, 2013
08:00 AM ET

Opinion: What we can learn from Trayvon Martin shooting

Editor’s Note: Eric Deggans serves as TV/media critic for the Tampa Bay Times, and is the author of "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation," a look at how prejudice, racism and sexism fuels some elements of modern media.

By Eric Deggans, Special to CNN

(CNN) - One year after an explosion of press attention made it one of the most-covered news stories in the first half of 2012, the question seems obvious:

Has the news media learned anything about covering race issues in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting?

Considering how little attention the case garners today, it is tough to remember just 12 months ago how much journalists obsessed on this story, when unarmed, African-American teen Martin was shot and killed by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in a Sanford, Florida, subdivision on Feb. 26, 2012.

For a time, it was second in coverage only to the presidential election, as Martin’s family pressed a reluctant Sanford police department and Florida prosecutors to arrest Zimmerman for fatally shooting a teenager armed only with a bag of candy and a bottle of iced tea. As condemnation of Zimmerman grew, a cadre of supporters, often in conservative media outlets, arose to decry a rush to judgment while challenging the family’s depiction of Martin as an innocent child.

Too often, news audiences seemed caught in the middle, ill-served by coverage which often seemed focused on serving the news outlet’s own priorities as much as informing the public.

Twelve months later, it may seem as if little has changed. But there are subtle lessons to be learned about the shape of modern media from the impact of the Trayvon Martin case, some that are shared in "Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation:" FULL POST

Opinion: 'In Memoriam' Oscar snub of Lupe Ontiveros reflects limited roles for Latinos
February 25th, 2013
06:10 PM ET

Opinion: 'In Memoriam' Oscar snub of Lupe Ontiveros reflects limited roles for Latinos

Editor's Note: Alberto Ferreras is a New York City based writer and filmmaker, who created the "Habla" documentary series for HBO Latino, and co-creator of "El Perro y El Gato" for HBO Family. He is also the author of  “B as in Beauty” .

By Alberto Ferreras, Special to CNN

(CNN) –When I interviewed Lupe Ontiveros in 2009 for the HBO Latino special "Celebrity Habla", she told me: "You gotta have a lot of chutzpah, cojones, huevos, capisce? Specially a woman middle age like myself,  4-foot-11, and a Latina ... And all I can sell you is ... raw ... survivor ... talent."

Lupe represented a whole generation of talented Hispanic actors who had been denied the chance to play anything but maids, thugs and drug dealers.

According to Lupe, she had played a maid more than 150 times.

But at the time of our interview she was tired of complaining: She had a juicy part in "Desperate Housewives" and  preferred to talk about the roles that she was planning to do "now that things are starting to change".

Stars left out of 'In Memoriam' Oscar tribute

I am tired of complaining, too. Tired of explaining why it's so important for Latinos to see ourselves on the screen, that movies give us the chance to see ourselves as lawyers, doctors, and heroes.

That every time Latinos are acknowledged for their contribution in the media, it makes a huge impact on the dreams and aspirations of the largest minority in the country.

So while I was deeply moved to see Lupe featured in the in memoriam montage of the Screen Actors Guild Awards,  I don't understand why she wasn't included in the Oscars tribute on television. FULL POST

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