Editor's note: Erika Peterman is a writer and editor who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the co-founder of the blog Girls Gone Geek and is a regular contributor to CNN's Geek Out blog.
By Erika Peterman, Special to CNN
(CNN) - When you really love a book, the characters live and breathe in your imagination. No matter how the author describes them, you form your own ideas about how they look, which is why fans become deeply (and I mean deeply) invested in the choices of actors to portray them onscreen.
Like the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” nerds before us, we devotees of “The Hunger Games” spent a lot of time discussing and debating those choices before the film’s release. In the case of an undisputed phenomenon — the movie passed the $300 million mark over the weekend — some controversy is inevitable.
But there’s one sentiment I wasn’t prepared for. In short: “What the hell are black people doing here?”
Editor's note: Maytha Alhassen is a doctoral student in American studies and ethnicity at University of Southern California, a performer for "Hijabi Monologues," and a contributor to "I Speak For Myself," a book on American Muslim women's narratives.
By Maytha Alhassen, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Shaima Alawadi was killed in her home. The note next to her severely beaten body read “go back to your country, you terrorist," according to her daughter. She was a 32-year-old Iraqi mother who wore a hijab. Was this why she was murdered? Did this piece of clothing frighten someone so much that they were motivated to end another human being’s life?
The fatal beating of Alawadi in El Cajon, California - in the midst of nationwide Million Hoodie Marches, hoodie solidarity commemorations on Facebook and Twitter, "I Could Be Trayvon" Tumblr pages and viral petitions to prosecute 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's killer - must push us to change the national dialogue to that of transforming the conditions that created these murders: the institutionalized fear industry that is fueled by this country’s fixation on war and incarceration.
Editor's Note: Christy Oglesby is the quality assurance manager for CNN/U.S. She lives in Atlanta with her 13-year old son, Drew. She wrote this in 2012 when the U.S. Justice Department decided to investigate Trayvon Martin’s death. We're resurfacing this piece in light of a verdict in the George Zimmerman case. Listen to a CNN Radio interview with Oglesby and her friend, Sandra Bemis, whose son is pictured above.
By Christy Oglesby, CNN
(CNN) – I spend a lot of time gasping. I’m the mother of a boy, a testosterone-poisoned boy. Whether it’s rock climbing or four-story tall cliffs that beg him to jump to the sea, my son just isn’t interested in activities that don’t require me to sign a waiver promising not to sue someone.
I spend a lot of time praying. I have to. My son is black. His race gives me much more to fear than his fearlessness. Today, people are learning that the U.S. Justice Department will investigate Trayvon Martin’s death. That’s the black Florida teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watchman last month.
Trayvon didn’t have a gun. He was just walking home from a convenience store to the home of his dad's fiancee. The neighborhood watch captain said Trayvon looked “suspicious.” George Zimmerman said he shot Trayvon in self defense. I’ve worried about my Drew dying like that since a few days after giving birth to him 13 years ago.
It’s tough finding the balance between encouraging a black boy to storm the world with confidence and at the same time to fear for his life. But that’s what I must do. I know that at this very moment some have just sucked their teeth in disgusted disbelief and decided that I’m exaggerating. I wish that I was. I’m not. If I were, Trayvon would be alive. FULL POST
Editor’s note: Carolyn Edgar is a lawyer and writer in New York City. She writes about social issues, parenting and relationships on her blog, Carolyn Edgar. You can follow her on Twitter @carolynedgar.
By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Imagine the following scenario:
You are a 17-year-old boy in Sanford, Florida. You are visiting your father and his fiancée at your soon-to-be stepmother’s home in a gated community. You decide to make a late-night candy run to your local 7-Eleven. It’s nighttime and drizzling, so you are wearing a hooded sweatshirt. At the store, you buy a package of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea, then head back home.
As you are walking home, you notice a man in an SUV following you. The man gets out of the car. He’s a big guy who outweighs you by 100 pounds. He doesn’t identify himself as a police officer – in fact, you don’t know who he is. What should you do next?
Editor's note: Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College (CUNY), is the author of "Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present" and the "U.S. Constitution: An African-American Context." The Founder/Director of The Law and Policy Group, Inc., she is a former civil rights attorney, and a freelance correspondent covering the U.S. Supreme Court.
By Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Special to CNN
(CNN) –I was born into a country with immense opportunity and a deep history of racism.
Jennifer Gratz, the plaintiff in Michigan’s “reverse discrimination” case, and other opponents of affirmative action inherited this conflicted state of affairs as well. Yet, they want the great weight of America’s racial legacy to fall only on the shoulders of people of color. This inheritance belongs to all of us.
In the fall, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Abigail Fisher v. University of Texas. Then, the Court may deem affirmative action in higher education as unconstitutional, thus locking generations of people of color into an inherited inequality. In its present eviscerated state, affirmative action may be a mere bandage on the festering wound of American racism. It is neither a panacea nor a cure-all. However, for now, it is quite necessary.
Challengers of affirmative action focus on the last thirty years of alleged inequality. Unfortunately, for all of us, the seeds of racial injustice were planted centuries ago. Africans were part of the Jamestown Colony before the landing of the Mayflower. Anthony and Mary Johnson, a married African couple, with servants and land, resided in that Virginia colony in the 1600s. Before the century ended, laws were enacted to take their land and create chattel slavery. This is American history. For nearly 300 years, legal inequality subjugated people of color who lived, loved, hoped, and died praying for justice.
When slavery ended due to the efforts of Black and White abolitionists, the 14th Amendment was ratified. The 14th Amendment gave citizenship and equal protection to African-Americans whom the U.S. Supreme Court had previously designated under the Dred Scott decision as non-persons, outside the protection of American laws. The backlash was immediate. African-Americans became the object of terrorism unprecedented in American history. This malevolence by law and tradition would continue for 100 years, assuring every inch of progress would be hard fought and uncertain. Despite Black Codes designed to re-enslave African-Americans and Jim Crow segregation, the quest for equality under law remained the battle cry of people of color.
For one shining moment, equality under law appeared to be more than an American dream. Decades of protest, during which lives and livelihoods were lost, resulted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat from Texas. Johnson, who knew well the depths of racism in America, signed Executive Order 11246, creating a policy referred to as “affirmative action,” in September of 1965. However, it was a Republican, Richard Nixon, from California, who in 1969, began the Philadelphia Plan, an affirmative action initiative in employment. FULL POST
Editor's note: The next Latino in America documentary anchored by Soledad O’Brien focuses on Latino voters. Click the Latino in America tag below or follow @cnnlia for more updates on other Latino in America stories. This is the third part of a CNN In America documentary series on American voters. Airing October 2012.
By Robert Howell, CNN
(CNN) – Redrawing Congressional voting district maps is never easy. But in Texas, in the midst of this election year, the already contentious process has been made even more volatile with its mix of race and politics.
When 2010 Census numbers showed that Texas’s population had grown enough to gain four new congressional seats, the process of drawing new maps began. U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez, also the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says with nearly 70% of Texas’s population growth coming from Latinos, he and others in the community had hoped to see a proportional amount of “Latino opportunity districts” in the new plan.
The early maps–created by the Republican-controlled state legislature–left many Democratic lawmakers and minority groups unsatisfied—so much so that they sued in federal court to have the maps redrawn. The protracted fight has caused national ripples as well. The presidential primary has been pushed back twice.
After months of legal wrangling, the case was finally settled late last month by a federal court in San Antonio, but not everyone is happy with the results.
“In this case, the racial gerrymandering, this is probably the worst in 50 years.” That is how lawyer Luis Vera sums up the disputed maps that have come out of the redistricting battle in Texas. FULL POST
Editor's note: Russlynn Ali is the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. She was a teacher, an attorney and worked at the Children's Defense Fund, and she has also taught law at the University of Southern California Law Center. Ali was appointed to the Department of Education by President Barack Obama in 2009.
By Russlynn Ali, Special to CNN
(CNN) – If a society based on the ideal of fundamental equality is to fulfill its promise, it cannot afford to look away when confronted with stark inequity. Last week, the Department of Education released a trove of data from Part II of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), a self-reported survey of more than 72,000 schools that serve 85 percent of the nation’s students.
The findings demand our attention.
This survey quantified how school resources are distributed in schools and districts; whether in teacher salaries, the assignment of experienced teachers, or access to college and career preparatory coursework like algebra, calculus or gifted and talented programs. And it showed that African-American and Latino students routinely receive less.
These disparities stand out even more when contrasted with the one area where African-American and Latino students are consistently overrepresented – discipline, including the rates of suspension, expulsion, and in-school arrests.
Editor's note: Baratunde Thurston is a comedian, writer, co-founder of the black political blog, Jack and Jill Politics and director of digital for The Onion. His first book, “How To Be Black,” was published this month by Harper Collins.
Christian Lander is the creator of the popular blog, Stuff White People Like and the author of two best-selling books, "Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions" and "Whiter Shade of Pale."
By Sarah Edwards, CNN
(CNN) – Though the title might fool you, Baratunde Thurston’s new book “How To Be Black” is not a do-it-yourself guide. It is instead a memoir which illustrates Thurston's sometimes funny and sometimes tragic life story. Through a mix of personal narrative, humor and satire, Thurston allows the reader to think about–and laugh about–race in a safe, non-judgmental space.
Christian Lander, Baratunde's friend, is a Canadian-born writer and satirist whose experience and upbringing may not parallel Thurston’s, the inner-city D.C. kid who graduated from Harvard; but it is clear that their brands of irreverent humor and frank discourse are what they share. When Lander, who was interviewed in Thurston’s book, got together with Thurston for CNN In America to chat about “How To Be Black,” the result was a freewheeling discussion on race fatigue, Norbit and 21st Century Blackness. FULL POST
(CNN) – Rush Limbaugh may have offered a tepid apology to Sandra Fluke for his vicious, unprincipled attack, but it’s doubtful Limbaugh is truly sorry for his choice of words. By painting Fluke, the Georgetown University law student whom he excoriated for her pro-birth control testimony before Congress, as a “slut” who wants taxpayers to pay her to have sex, Limbaugh attempted to give the GOP more weapons to use against President Obama and the Affordable Care Act. In typical Limbaugh fashion, his methods may have been sloppy, but effective.
Limbaugh’s reframing of health insurance coverage for birth control – a right supported by the Bush Administration without question for over a decade – as yet another “entitlement” sought by greedy liberals was not lost on conservatives, even as they chided him for his poor choice of words. A Wall Street Journal opinion writer, for example, argued that Fluke “went to Congress looking for a handout.” Never mind that Fluke spoke not of her own sex life and her own personal use of birth control, but of the experiences of friends who were denied access under Georgetown’s student health plan to birth control pills used to treat a variety of medical conditions. Notable in Fluke’s testimony was the story she told of a friend who lost an ovary to polycystic ovarian disease because Georgetown refused to provide her birth control pills even though, as a lesbian, the woman was not concerned about pregnancy prevention.
Referring to insurance coverage for birth control as an “entitlement” is false and misleading. Fluke did not go to Congress seeking “free birth control,” but to argue in favor of a principle that has been law for over a decade. In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn't provide birth control violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the EEOC ruling, employers who offered men preventative care medicine such as erectile dysfunction treatment also had to provide women preventative care medicine such as birth control.
As working Americans know, employer health insurance coverage is not free. Employees pay part of the cost for these insurance programs through payroll deductions. Most employer insurance programs require co-pays for doctor visits; thus, obtaining a prescription for birth control isn’t “free” for most employees, with or without a prescription co-pay. University student health plans also typically require students to pay annual premiums, along with tuition payments and other expenses. It is a gross mischaracterization to claim that a woman who expects the insurance she pays for to cover the medication she needs is looking for taxpayer-funded “entitlements.”
Limbaugh is merely the latest conservative to speak of birth control as something used only by women with loose morals so they can have free, easy sex. Rick Santorum has said about contraception: “It’s not OK, because it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” In other words, it’s bad for women to have sex without the fear of conception. Conservatives deny waging a war on women and women’s health, yet they continue to speak of women’s sexuality in Victorian terms. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Michael Sidney Fosberg is a writer and actor and director who turned his memoir, "Incognito: An American Odyssey of Race and Self Discovery" into a one-man stage play.
By Michael Sidney Fosberg, Special to CNN
(CNN) – In 1991, my biological mother of Armenian descent abruptly filed for divorce from my Swedish stepfather – who after marrying my mother, adopted me when I was four. I was thirty-two at the time, and although an adult living on the west coast, the event turned my world upside-down. Up to that point I had lived a fairly common existence, having grown up in a working-class town just north of Chicago. But the consequence of this seismic shift in my family order was the reconstitution of a dormant desire to search for my biological father.
Armed solely with his name and the city where he had last lived, I set out for the library. Copying down several near identical listings, I raced home and nervously dialed the first number on the list. Miraculously, I discovered I had found my biological father in that first phone call. After several self-conscious moments of awkwardly nervous conversation, he suggested there were "a couple of things I'm sure your mother never told you." Since she had told me nothing much beyond his name, he could have been referring to almost anything! First he told me that he loved me and had thought of me often. Then inserting a wedge of silence as if to heighten the drama, he told me he was African-American. I thought, “Who/what am I now?!"
At the time of that first call, upon hearing the words "African-American", I remember catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror across my tiny room. Had I changed suddenly? Was I now black? Would I be pulled over for “driving while black”? If only I had known before I filled out applications for college! Did this explain the 'fro in high school? Or the outrageous outfits of platform shoes, multicolored rayon shirts, wide purple pants, topped off with the kinky hair and the wide-brim hat? Is this why a high school girlfriend's parents questioned my nationality upon first meeting? Was this the reason for owning the entire James Brown catalogue on vinyl? Or my obsession with Richard Pryor? How many other stereotypical traits might I conclude from this race-altering discovery? What was nature, and what was nurture?
More importantly, why hadn't my mother told me?! FULL POST
What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the accent in your words, the make up of your family, the gender you were born with, the intimate relationships you chose to have or your generation? As the American identity changes we will be there to report it. In America is a venue for creative and timely sharing of news that explores who we are. Reach us at email@example.com.
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