Editor's Note: Tiya Miles is chairwoman of the Department of Afro-American and African Studies, and professor of history and Native American studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of "Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom" and "The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story." She is also the winner of a 2011 "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation.
By Tiya Miles, Special to CNN
(CNN) – African American history, as it is often told, includes two monumental migration stories: the forced exodus of Africans to the Americas during the brutal Middle Passage of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the voluntary migration of Black residents who moved from southern farms and towns to northern cities in the early 1900s in search of “the warmth of other suns.” A third African-American migration story–just as epic, just as grave–hovers outside the familiar frame of our historical consciousness. The iconic tragedy of Indian Removal: the Cherokee Trail of Tears that relocated thousands of Cherokees to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), was also a Black migration. Slaves of Cherokees walked this trail along with their Indian owners.
In 1838, the U.S. military and Georgia militia expelled Cherokees from their homeland with little regard for Cherokee dignity or life. Families were rousted out of their cabins and directed at gunpoint by soldiers. Forced to leave most of their possessions behind, they witnessed white Georgians taking ownership of their cabins, looting and burning once cherished objects. Cherokees were loaded into “stockades” until the appointed time of their departure, when they were divided into thirteen groups of nearly 1,000 people, each with two appointed leaders. The travelers set out on multiple routes to cross Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas at 10 miles a day with meager supplies.
At points along the way, the straggling bands were charged fees by white farmers to cross privately owned land. The few wagons available were used to carry the sick, infant, and elderly. Most walked through the fall and into the harsh winter months, suffering the continual deaths of loved ones to cold, disease, and accident. Among these sojourners were African Americans and Cherokees of African descent. They, like thousands of other Cherokees, arrived in Indian Country in 1839 broken, depleted, and destitute.
In addition to bearing the physical and emotional hardships of the trip, enslaved Blacks were enlisted to labor for Cherokees along the way; they hunted, chopped wood, nursed the sick, washed clothes, prepared the meals, guarded the camps at night, and hiked ahead to remove obstructions from the roads.
One Cherokee man, Nathaniel Willis, remembered in the 1930s that: “My grandparents were helped and protected by very faithful Negro slaves who . . . went ahead of the wagons and killed any wild beast who came along.” Nearly 4,000 Cherokees died during the eviction, as did an unaccounted for number of Blacks. As one former slave of Cherokees, Eliza Whitmire, said in the 1930s: “The weeks that followed General Scott’s order to remove the Cherokees were filled with horror and suffering for the unfortunate Cherokees and their slaves.”
Although Black presence on the Trail of Tears is a documented historical fact, many have willed it into forgetfulness.
Some African Americans avoid confronting the painful reality of Native American slave ownership, preferring instead to fondly imagine any Indian ancestor in the family tree and to picture all Indian communities in the South as safe havens for runaway slaves.
Some Cherokee citizens and Native people of other removed slaveholding tribes (Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles) have also denied this history, desiring to cordon off forced removal as an atrocious wrong that affected only Native Americans. By excluding Blacks (many of whom had Native “blood”) from a claim on this history, these deniers also seek to expel the descendants of Freedmen and women from the circle of tribal belonging. For it is the memory of this collective tragedy, perhaps more than any other, that binds together Cherokees who draw strength from having survived it. FULL POST
Editor's note: The next Latino in America documentary focuses on Latino voters and airs in October 2012. Follow @cnnlia for more updates on other Latino in America stories.
By Nick Valencia, CNN
(CNN) - It’s a Thursday in early February, and Fernando Romero, the Godfather of Latino politics in Nevada, is stressed out. Two days ago, Ruben Kihuen, the Democrat who was trying to become the state’s first ever Latino congressman announced he was dropping out of the race.
“It’s a big let down for the community,” Romero says of Kihuen’s decision. “The [Latino] voters were inspired to come out to vote, but right now we’re finding it difficult to burn a fire under their butts.”
Nevada’s Latino population grew 81 percent from 2000 to 2010, and many here thought this candidate and this race would be their chance to flex some new political muscle and be represented by one of their own. “We were hanging our coats on him,” Romero says of Kihuen.
Turns out a lot of people were “hanging their coats” on this little-known newcomer who went from 9-year old immigrant from Mexico to invited guest at the president’s most recent State of the Union address. Democratic strategists hoped the excitement surrounding his race would lead to big Latino voter turnout that would in turn help President Obama’s bid for a second term.
Latino voters across the country, not just in Nevada, are this presidential election’s “Florida Florida Florida.” Both parties—and the national media—are focusing on this group, waiting to see how or if they will vote in November. This week’s cover story in Time Magazine, “Why Latino Voters Will Swing the 2012 Election” says it’s a numbers game.
By Allen Huntspon and George Howell, CNN
Atlanta (CNN) - Take a moment and think of all the teachers you had between pre-K and twelfth grade.
Now, how many of them were black men?
For most people, this question won’t take too long to answer. That’s because less than two percent of America’s teachers are black men, according to the Department of Education.
That is less than 1 in 50 teachers.
Terris King, 25, a kindergarten teacher at the Bishop John T. Walker School in Washington D.C., believes that for African-American children, having a strong role model in front of them can make a huge difference.
“I fit a void in their lives,” King says, “A lot of them have never felt what it feels like to shake a man’s hand, [have him] look them in the eye, and tell them right from wrong. They need those things. They need someone in their lives who’s strong—they need an African American male in their lives that’s positive.”
This year, King has just over fifty African-American children from low-income households in his classes.
“I look out of my window, and I see gentlemen that are standing on the corner, and I look at my boys, and I can say to myself what I’m going to teach in a day about what’s right and what’s wrong, might turn the path a little bit.”
It’s this kind of impact that Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he is trying to replicate in classrooms around the country. He launched the Teach campaign and is actively trying to recruit more African-American men to go into teaching straight out of college.
“I think all of our students benefit from having a black male in the classroom,” Duncan says, “But particularly our young black males. I think what we haven’t talked about enough is that we’re competing with the gangs, we’re competing with the drug dealers on the corner, and when students fall through the cracks, when young people don’t have that positive mentor, in a school setting, in the church or community, there’s always a guy on the street corner that can say come my way.”
But if you ask most African-American men why they don’t teach, they’ll tell you—-it just doesn’t pay the bills. King says, “Historically in our society there is an expectation that a man provides for their family. This is an added pressure, that warns against men becoming teachers because of the salary.”
“I just want our teaching workforce to reflect the tremendous diversity of our nation’s young people. [But] I think fundamentally we have done a poor job as a country, historically, of making the teaching profession attractive,” Duncan says. FULL POST
Editor's note: Farai Chideya is a journalist and the author of four nonfiction and fiction books, and she blogs at Farai.com. She is a spring 2012 fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
By Farai Chideya, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Over President’s Day weekend I traveled from the halls of Harvard to my childhood home in Baltimore, a city far better known for The Wire than its education system. On Saturday night, I heard my mother coach a parent by phone on ways to ensure her child was focused and ready to study. My mother retired as a Baltimore City school teacher several years ago, but she still puts in the time to tutor kids through a program run by a local church. She cared about students then, and she cares now. And, although you would not know it from statements like Rick Santorum's attack decrying the "factories called public schools," dedicated teachers like my mother are not an exception. Not all teachers are great; nor all public schools. But the reason I have been at Harvard, twice - once for my undergraduate education, and now again as a teaching fellow at the Institute of Politics - is based on my parents’ efforts and the excellence that was present in public schools.
That's right - excellence. It's there. A couple of years ago, I had the chance to explain how I benefited from just one of the many extraordinary teachers in my life in a public service ad encouraging people to teach.
Now, to say that excellence is embedded in public schools does not mean every school is excellent. My mother had to push and advocate for me to switch schools between first and second grades, because the neighborhood school I started at just was not up to snuff. (In fact, a few years later, it was shut down.) Not every child is lucky enough to have a parent who is a warrior for their child, who makes sure that in a district of mixed educational outcomes, their kid gets the best education he or she can. There is a vast inequality in education not only between school districts, but within them.
But I've had just about enough of the attacks on the integrity of teachers and public schools. Many of them are fighting heroic battles on behalf of America's children. No one with a lick of sense goes into teaching to get rich. Some people do drift into the profession with a lack of vision, training, or both. Yes, America's classrooms can be unforgiving, both to students and teachers. But within the tapestry of American education, with all of its rips and holes, there are also diamonds woven into the fabric - teachers of imagination, skill, and perseverance against all odds.
My mother stayed in the City schools when she could have made more money in the County. She chose lower-income schools, including one that was walking distance from the house I grew up in, when she had the seniority to go to cushier, more well-funded neighborhoods with more classroom resources. She spent her own money on supplies for her sixth grade science class, and once had to buy a heater because in the dead of winter, her classroom was freezing cold. 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.
On February 15, Vanessa Satten, the editor-in chief of XXL Magazine responded again to the growing furor and calls for her resignation. Read her statement here.
By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Outrage continues to build over a video that ran on the magazine XXL’s website featuring the rapper Too $hort dispensing advice to middle-school boys on how to “turn girls out.”
As the mother of a teenage girl and a pre-teen boy, I found the video abhorrent because it promotes sexual violence against young women. As a lawyer, I found both the video and XXL’s publication of it irresponsible and reckless.
A boy who took Too $hort’s advice could find himself in real trouble, because the behavior he encourages may, in fact, violate a multitude of state and federal laws. Pushing a girl against a wall and sticking a finger inside her underwear would likely constitute sexual harassment and/or a criminal charge of sexual assault.
Sexual harassment in schools is a violation of Title IX, the federal statute that prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of sex. Schools that receive federal funding are required under Title IX to take action against sexual harassment. Most school districts have enacted policies prohibiting sexual harassment as part of their Title IX enforcement obligations. For example, in the New York City Department of Education Discipline Code, punishment for sexual harassment ranges from a parent conference to suspension, and even expulsion in some cases. The victim may also have other avenues for legal recourse, including filing a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or filing a lawsuit in federal court.
In addition to violating Title IX and school policy, the behavior Too $hort advocates could be criminal. The rapper directed his advice at boys in middle and early high school. Children in these grades generally are legally below the age of consent. The age of consent to sexual contact in the United States varies by state, but generally ranges from 16 to 18. Consent is a factor in the majority of sex crimes. Depending on the ages of the victim and the perpetrator, the conduct advocated in the video could meet the description of a number of felony and misdemeanor criminal acts under the New York Penal Code, including sexual assault, sexual misconduct, forcible touching, and sexual abuse. FULL POST
Editor’s Note: Raquel Cepeda is an award-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker and author of the forthcoming book, "i, latina?: My Year of Tripping Through my Ancestral DNA, Running The Fukú Down, and Making Peace with my Dad along the Way" (Atria, Simon & Schuster). She’s currently in production on "Before I Deconstruct", a documentary exploring Latino-American identity through the eyes of teenage girls from a Bronx, NY-based suicide prevention program. Follow her on Twitter @RaquelCepeda.
On February 15, Vanessa Satten, the editor-in chief of XXL Magazine responded again to the growing furor and calls for her resignation. Read her statement here.
By Raquel Cepeda, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Here, some “fatherly advice” for middle school aged boys from one Todd Anthony Shaw: "You push her up against the wall,” and then, “You take your finger and put a little spit on it and you stick your finger in her underwear and you rub it on there and watch what happens."
No, the man isn’t a convicted child sex offender or pornographer. He isn’t a New York City teacher’s aide accused of lewd acts with a minor, either. Shaw is Too $hort, a 45 year-old hip-hop artist who became a household name when he stepped onto the scene in the early 1980s.
So, when my dear friend and colleague, author Joan Morgan—she coined the term “hip-hop feminism” in 1999—tweeted me a link to a story in which the rapper, on XXL magazine’s website, gave boys advice on how to “turn girls out,” I thought it must have been a mistake.
Surely, something like this wouldn’t happen today. Our aging hip-hop artists have become adults now, businessmen, television executives, stockholders, and excellent, responsible fathers like Eminem, Run-D.M.C.’s Rev. Run, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Master P, and Jay-Z. I mean, have you heard the man rap about the euphoric rites of passage that is fatherhood on his chart-busting track “Glory”? We know better, now, don’t we?
Apparently, Too $hort and, more predictably, XXL magazine proved that I was sorely wrong.
This week, a barrage of tweets have come in from hip-hop’s literary feminists. The writer and filmmaker Dream Hampton tweeted, “There's a war on Black girls @XXLStaff let us know where they stand by posting this near-criminal @TooShort video.” Joan Morgan tweeted under her handle, @milfinainteasy, “Really wondering why when it comes to violating the bodies and spirits of black women and children are apologies expected to be enough?” Veteran journalist Kierna Mayo, co-founder of the multicultural women's magazine, Honey (which went out of business after being bought out by Harris Publishing, also the publisher of XXL Magazine) and current editor-in-chief at Ebony.com tweeted, “So this is why hip hop is STILL conflicting for a sis…” FULL POST
Editor's Note: Terrie M. Williams is the author of "Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting" and the co-founder of The Stay Strong Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter @terriewilliams.
By Terrie M. Williams, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Another one of our greats has fallen. It was only a week ago that I was moved to put pen to paper about the suicide of Don Cornelius. Now it’s Whitney Houston. This was a slow suicide, but a suicide nonetheless. We won’t know for weeks whether it was accidental, on purpose or even related to drugs at all. But it almost doesn't matter, because most of us saw this coming.
Sure, we hoped, prayed, and thought she was going to make it through – that the years of drug and alcohol abuse, the destructive marriage, the waning career, and an increasingly impaired voice weren’t going to break our beloved soul princess. We just knew that our unbelievably gifted church girl from Jersey with the noble music pedigree was going to be alright. She was our gift to the global stage. Our Barbra Streisand. We wanted so desperately to believe her when she said in the 2009 Oprah interview that God, her family, a couple of stints in rehab, and divorcing Bobby had helped her make it through the fire and on to the other side. But in May of last year, after a world tour that garnered poor performances and vicious reviews, she voluntarily entered an outpatient program for drug and alcohol treatment. We knew then that everything was not well.
Now we want someone to blame – the enabling entourage, the music industry, the tabloids, and, indeed, Whitney herself. Why would someone with so many riches – model good looks, a voice from the heavens that made her millions, a beautiful daughter, and a loving family throw it all away just to get high? Was her constitution that weak? Why couldn’t she just snap out it? We’d seen so many other talented entertainers, like Samuel L. Jackson and Mary J. Blige, battle their demons and, seemingly, win.
I asked psychotherapist friend, Mary Pender Greene, her thoughts on Whitney’s inability to overcome her struggles even though she clearly had a strong faith in God, a loving family, and, in fact, she did seek treatment. She said, “It is clear in the end that she could not, had not repaired her damaged self, reconciled her feelings toward her failed relationship, confronted her dependency issues, or accepted that her voice had suffered. It also appears that being involved in an unhealthy relationship helped to cause her to lose her sense of self, her personal power and her footing, all of which helped to further weaken her self-esteem.”
As one who has been there and is still there, I second that emotion. The relationship we have with ourselves is the most important one we will ever have. If it is strong, it can help buffer you from the outside influences and the kind of pressure that caused Whitney to fall. Personal pain obviously caused Whitney to be her own worst enemy. I strongly believe that a consistent relationship with a therapist would have allowed her to have a different ending.
Editor's Note: Sheryl Lee Ralph is a Tony award nominee for her work in the original case of Dreamgirls on Broadway. She has appeared in TV and films alongside stars such as Denzel Washington, Robert DeNiro, Whoopi Goldberg and Eddie Murphy. She is founding director of The DIVA Foundation and author of an upcoming book "Redefining DIVA," which will be released next month.
By Sheryl Lee Ralph, Special to CNN
(CNN) – Like so many others, I was stunned into shocked silence when I was told of Whitney Houston’s death. I thought about Whitney and her battles with music and misery over the years. She was so very different from when I saw her for the first time back in 1981 and said to myself, ‘oh my, that’s a “Dream”!’
I was on Broadway at the time making my mark playing Deena Jones in the original cast of Dreamgirls. We were a hit, a bonafide smash. Night after night at the Imperial Theatre, we ended every show with the kind of applause that brought people to their feet. But just up the street in a club called Sweet Water, there was a teenager doing the same thing: her name was Whitney Houston. She was as fresh and as fabulous as we were, a real life Dreamgirl who was also giving audiences moments they would never forget. I know I will never forget how in that little club, sitting with my Dreamgirls co-star Loretta Devine, we both thought, ‘Wow, this girl is the real deal.’ But just as fame came calling on us, it came for Whitney too, and it wasn’t always nice.
Everybody wants Fame, but Fame is a very difficult friend to keep. It can be like a jealous lover who wants you all to himself and when threatened, will beat you up, ruin your good looks, tear down your self-esteem and even kill you. In order to call Fame your friend, you have to have it all together. You have to be ultra-strong, solid to the core and know that God is good. Fame will build you up just to crush you down. You have got to have faith along with fame. You have got to know who you are or Fame will take you out. We have seen it happen over and over: Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Zerlina Maxwell is a political analyst and staff writer for Loop21.com, where she writes about national politics, candidates, and cultural issues. She writes frequently about domestic violence, sexual assault, victim blaming and gender inequality. Her writing has appeared in JET Magazine, The Huffington Post, TheRoot.com, Salon.com, and TheGrio.com.
By Zerlina Maxwell, Special to CNN
As if it were primed right on time for Black History Month, Professor Cornel West has yet again candidly expressed his true feelings on the first black president and his supporters. His target of ire this time: MSNBC host Professor Melissa Harris-Perry who Dr. West calls a “fraud.”
Dr. West’s dislike for President Obama and by extension those who support the administration is nothing new. This time Dr. West shared his displeasure with Obama in an interview with Diverse magazine where he slammed the president yet again for what West sees as a failure to address the issue of poverty in America.
Over the past 3 years, Dr. West, once a vocal Obama supporter, has turned into one of the most vocal naysayers of not only the President’s policies but also who the president is. Apparently unwilling to restrict his criticisms to the Obama administration, Dr. West recently singled out and implied that MSNBC hosts Reverend Al Sharpton and Dr. Harris-Perry were actually pawns of the liberal media establishment.
Last May, Professor Cornel West went “ballistic” in an interview with Truthdig.com and offered a scathing critique of President Obama calling him, a “black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” This description by Dr. West was intended to be a critique on the president’s economic policies and team, namely Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and former economic advisor Lawrence Summers.
At the time, the interview inspired a response in The Nation from Dr. Harris-Perry which then resulted in a joint interview where the two academics appeared back to back, but not head to head, to share their distinct viewpoints and political analysis on President Obama’s tenure. Unfortunately, Dr. West’s critiques neglected to include any process analysis, where the Republican filibuster, and not President Obama’s lack of backbone or disregard for the concerns for the poor are to blame for the slow pace of change.
Dr. West appears to have held onto some angst from that dust up and in this recent interview with Diverse, called Dr. Harris-Perry a “liar” saying that, “[s]he’s become the momentary darling of liberals, but I pray for her because she's in over her head. She's a fake and a fraud. I was so surprised how treacherous the sister was.” Dr. Harris-Perry is a newly minted host on MSNBC.
In defense of Dr. Harris-Perry, her MSNBC colleague Rev. Al Sharpton told TheGrio.com, West’s comments were “arrogant” and “disingenuous,” saying that “[w]e are not arguing about issues here, we’re arguing about personality.”
With this personal attack on Dr. Harris-Perry, Dr. West has officially exited the arena of intellectual jousting that normally is focused on the merits of an argument and has entered into the realm of petty pot shots. A public intellectual of his stature should be above infantile insults. FULL POST
Editor’s note: Kris Marsh is on the faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is on Facebook and on Twitter @drkrismarsh.
By Kris Marsh, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Recently, the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank released a study, "The End of the Segregated Century." Highlights of the study hit the press like wildfire. Headlines like “Segregation hits historic low” jumped off the page, and articles declared the findings to be proof that “the legacy of the civil rights era is still strong.”
Given that one of my areas of emphasis as a sociologist and demographer is racial residential segregation, I was saturated with emails, Facebook posts, and Tweets asking for my reaction. Above all, my main response is that we must be careful as consumers of information; in this case, readers who stop at the headlines are in danger of overlooking the fact that race still maters and that blacks are still highly segregated in the United States.
As social scientist, we employ three overarching theories to explain the existence and persistence of racial residential segregation: economics, preferences and discrimination.
Historically, there was a time when only the small population of free blacks were able to own property. This set the groundwork for the wealth disparities between blacks and whites that persists today. In general, unlike potential white home seekers, potential black homebuyers often do not inherit wealth from the previous generation. In most cases, blacks do not have the flexibility to borrow money from parents to purchase their homes. This potentially limits blacks’ ability to purchase homes in certain locations causing middle class blacks homeowners to live in close proximity to the black poor and reside in suburban areas less substantively white and affluent than their white middle class counterparts.
By way of illustration, consider Baldwin Hills, California. Baldwin Hills is a predominantly black area in Los Angeles County. This area encompasses both multi-million dollar homes and a housing project with a reputation so dangerous that during the 1980s and 1990s, it was commonly known as “The Jungle.” In the 2001 Denzel Washington film Training Day, this housing project was used as the location for a scene in which a police detective engages in a midday gun battle. That same year, the director of the film Love and Basketball chose a multi-million dollar home in the same area to represent the residence of a former professional basketball star.
This divergent cinematic representation of Baldwin Hills illustrate the propinquity of the black middle class and the black poor and provides a dramatic example of a widespread phenomenon: that the black middle class is a spatial and social buffer between the white middle class and the black poor. 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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