By Alex P. Kellogg, Special to CNN
(CNN) - By just about every measure, life is significantly better for African-Americans and Latinos in small and medium-sized cities and towns in the South and West, according to a recently released report by Urban Institute.
The Washington, DC-based think tank found that the “opportunity gap” that separates African-Americans and Latinos from whites is the largest in the Midwest and Northeast and the smallest in the South and West.
Its study examined factors such as residential segregation, the quality of public schools, neighborhood home values, employment rates and rates of home ownership.
Editor's Note: James Braxton Peterson is the Director of Africana Studies and an associate professor of English at Lehigh University. He is also the founder of Hip Hop Scholars, LLC, an association of Hip Hop generational scholars dedicated to researching and developing the cultural and educational potential of Hip Hop, urban and youth cultures. You can follow him on Twitter @DrJamesPeterson.
By James Braxton Peterson, Special to CNN
(CNN) - I don’t think that anyone would consider me a fan of Beyonce’s music. Any of my students will tell you that generally speaking, R&B is not my musical genre of choice.
That said, I feel compelled to speak to some of the unspoken issues regarding university courses revolving around prominent pop cultural figures. There has been a bevy of media coverage on this kind of course, most recently directed towards Kevin Allred’s “Politicizing Beyonce ...” course in Rutgers University’s Women and Gender Studies department. Coverage of Allred’s course seems to be garnering more overall positive support than some previously taught courses like Michael Eric Dyson’s Jay-Z class at Georgetown University, but I still think that many folk outside of the academy, particularly those who dismiss this kind of coursework, do not fully appreciate the war zone the academy has become.
We are at war. We are fighting for the right to reach students, especially students frustrated with the homogeneity of the educational curriculum, especially students whose lived experiences are not reflected in the curriculum as it is currently constructed. We are fighting for innovation in the Humanities but also in the social and so-called "hard" sciences.
Too many college classrooms are like mausoleums. For all of our smart technology and tentative embrace of the digital age, too many courses are not willing to integrate currency into the classroom space. And that is part of what this war is about. Allred’s course speaks to young people, especially young people of color, women, and the LGBT community, in ways that too many other courses simply will not and some others simply cannot.
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.
By Carolyn Edgar, Special to CNN
Now that Bishop Eddie Long has apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for a service at his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church that purported to crown him a “king,” one has to wonder what Long was thinking.
With all the scandal that has surrounded him recently, Long and the New Birth leadership should have anticipated that the video of the New Birth service would attract a great deal of attention, including from Jewish groups. Even if Long were unfamiliar with Jewish rituals and traditions, he might have guessed that having himself wrapped up in a Torah scroll might be considered controversial. Long rightly apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for misusing the holy Hebrew scriptures and Jewish rituals in his “coronation” ceremony.
However, Long still owes some apologies.
First, he owes his New Birth congregation an apology. Long should have apologized to his church a long time ago for the scandal that originally rocked New Birth. When four young men who were former members of New Birth accused Long of coercing them into sexual relationships as teens and young adults, Long vehemently denied the charges. Later, he quietly settled with the plaintiffs. He has not admitted guilt, but he also has not refuted the charges in a way that removes even the most basic doubt. Long should have stepped down from his position as head of New Birth. Instead, he returned after a brief hiatus, and sought to restore his congregation’s belief in his leadership by subjecting his church to a ritual without foundation in either the Christian or the Jewish faith – in which it was claimed that Long has a “king chromosome,” among many outrageous assertions. It is clear that those who remained faithful to New Birth wanted to see their disgraced leader returned to his former power and authority. Long could have orchestrated a service that uplifted him spiritually and gave his members reason to cheer without including made-up Jewish rituals. Instead, Long perpetrated a fraud on the people who stuck by him and his church long after many others, including Rev. Bernice King, a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., left.
Second, Long owes an apology to Christians. As offended as members of the Jewish community may have been by the New Birth service, it was equally offensive to Christians. Many people noted that Jesus Christ refused kingship, yet Long had the hubris to participate in a ceremony that claimed to make him some kind of king. In his apology, Long retreated by saying he is “a mere servant of God,” but he needs to do more, and apologize to the Christian community for a service many Christians also found abhorrent. FULL POST
By Terrie M. Williams, Special to CNN
Trouble in mind, that's true.
I have almost lost my mind.
Life ain't worth livin.
Sometimes I feel like dyin'.
–"Trouble in Mind," a 1926 Blues standard by Richard M. Jones
We are all mourning the loss this week of "Soul Train" creator and cultural icon, Don Cornelius. An American success story, Don left us with a 35-year history lesson in business acumen, cultural exportation, and community uplift. We need only call the first names of the greats who performed on Soul Train’s multi-colored stage since it premiered in 1970 - Stevie, Gladys, Tina, Aretha, Michael - while we pop locked along in front of the TV screen in our polyester silk with a hair full of Afro Sheen. Thanks to traditional and social media, we’ve been able to share and celebrate these memories from friend to friend, generation to generation, and across the world. It was, indeed, the “hippest trip in America.”
That’s all good. We should take some time to measure and celebrate Don’s legacy. Don dreamed big. He changed our lives and, more importantly, changed overnight how the world saw us. We cannot say enough about this pioneer. The doors he opened. The life he lived. That’s easy. What’s not easy is to say, is how and why he died. Yes, he hid his demons well. But, clearly they were there because this 75-year-old icon with a body of work most of us will never achieve, chose to end his own life with a gunshot to the head.
“Private. Guarded. All business.” These are reoccurring words that people close to Don - his son, his long-term business partners, former dancers and employees - have used to describe him. I experienced that myself on those few occasions when I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with him in person. Though reports say he didn’t seem despondent or upset in the weeks before his suicide, this silent warrior was clearly suffering. We don’t know for sure if it was a long-standing disenchantment with the entertainment industry, residual pain from a brain surgery, a bitter divorce, or all of the above that led to his obviously depressed mental state. Said his son Tony yesterday on "CBS This Morning", “My father was extremely private. Unfortunately, when you’re a private person, you keep things inside.” And, that “people all over the world” is what this is all about. We did not have to lose Don this way. This silence – which kept us safe during slavery times – is now killing us. Depression is real. It is deadly. And, it does not discriminate.
By Alex P. Kellogg, Special to CNN
Among university departments that study African-American history, Latin American or Chicano cultures and all varieties of ethnicities and nationalities, there's a relatively obscure field of academic inquiry: whiteness studies.
While there are no standalone departments dedicated to the field, interdisciplinary courses on the subject quietly gained traction on college and university campuses nationwide in the 1990s. Today, there are dozens of colleges and universities, including American University in Washington, D.C., and University of Texas at Arlington, that have a smattering of courses on the interdisciplinary subject of whiteness studies.
The field argues that white privilege still exists, thanks largely to structural and institutional racism, and that the playing field isn't level, and whites benefit from it. Using examples such as how white Americans tend not to be pulled over by the police as often as blacks and Latinos, or how lenders targeted blacks and Latinos for more expensive, subprime loans during the recent U.S. housing crisis, educators teach how people of different races and ethnicities often live very different lives.
Most of the instructors specialize in sociology, philosophy, political science and history, most of them are liberal or progressive, and most of them are, in fact, white. Books frequently used as textbooks in these courses include "How the Irish Became White" by Noel Ignatiev, an American history professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and "The History of White People" by Nell Irvin Painter, a professor emeritus of American history at Princeton; but the field has its roots in the writings of black intellectuals such as W.E.B. DuBois and author James Baldwin.
In the past, detractors have said the field itself demonizes people who identify as white.
But today, academics who teach the classes say they face a fresh hurdle, one that has its roots on the left instead of the right: the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president.
Editor's note: Sophia A. Nelson, Esq., is the author of "Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama" She is a blogger and contributor to media outlets such as Essence, Heart & Soul, USATODAY, Fox News and NPR.
By Sophia A. Nelson, Special to CNN
Finally! The American media is beginning to take a sober and candid look at the real lives of 21st century black women, beyond the stereotypical and often angry images portrayed of us on TV reality shows or in the media. Shows like “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”, “The Game” and “Basketball Wives” portray us as morally loose, angry and even physically violent. Rap video vixens show our young sisters’ bodies writhing and shaking their rumps wildly. And movies like “The Help," Oscar-nominated or not, and Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” portray us either through a historical lens as the saintly and weary mammy who saves the day for everyone but herself or as broken, battered, confused, too independent or too driven.
The truth is we are none of those things. Not really. Sure we have bad days. Sure we make bad choices. Sure we get angry. Doesn’t everyone? We are human after all. So why, then, are we the only group of women on the planet to have been so deftly defined and labeled as "angry" all the time? I suggest it is because we have never really defined ourselves and that needs to change.
Black women living in the “Age of Michelle Obama” are normal, everyday women, who want what everyone wants: love, connection, great relationships, a great mate, a strong and personal relationship with their creator (GOD), success in our careers, marriage (if it comes), babies (if they come), good health, happiness and fulfillment.
A recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey on black women affirms many of my book’s findings relative to black women, but we also have some divergent points because the focus of my Accomplished Black Women Sample Survey was more specifically on college-educated, professional black women. This is a critical difference because black women who are educated have taken the brunt of criticism around not living balanced and fulfilled lives (i.e. not being able to find and keep a man, marry and have children.) Now thanks to Michelle Obama, we can be seen as a norm, and no longer the "exception.”
Editor's note: Yaba Blay, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Africana studies who teaches courses at Lafayette College. Her research focuses on black identity, with specific attention to skin color and hair politics. She is the recipient of a 2010 Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant through which she embarked upon the book project, (1)ne Drop: Conversations on Skin Color, Race, and Identity.
This is part of a three-part series. Read Don Lemon's column, "It only takes one drop."
By Yaba Blay, Special to CNN
I always thought I could spot a Black person anywhere. My eyes were trained in New Orleans – home to a historically preeminent group of folks who self-identify as “Creoles.” Many of them would make it a point to announce that they are different—not White, not Black, but “Creole.” A mix of African, Native American, French, and sometimes Spanish heritage, some Creoles are light-skinned enough to be mistaken for— or “pass”—for White people. We call them “passé blanc.”
One of my favorite pastimes as a youth in New Orleans was “picking out Black people” – people whom everyone else might have thought were White or “something else,” but whom I knew for a fact were Black. Somehow. Without even knowing it at the time, I had blindly accepted the “one-drop rule,” the early 1900’s law turned social rule that held that anyone with 1/32 of “African Black blood” was Black. And somehow I made it my mission to identify that “one-drop” any chance I could get. Maybe it was my way of retaliating against those who didn’t want to be associated with my kind – those whom I felt were somehow rejecting their own kind.
In my limited experiences, it seemed that people whose physical appearance gave them the “option” to be something else, chose to be something else. So in my adult life, when I left New Orleans and began to meet people who were very adamant about their black identity, even though they could have easily identified as “mixed” or “Latino” or “Creole” or could have even “passed” for white, I found myself intrigued. On one particular occasion, I was on a panel hosted by the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI); and for as “learned” and as well-versed as (I thought) I was in global skin color politics, I found myself somehow taken aback each time either of my co-panelists, whom I would have identified as “Latino/a,” self-identified as “Black” and “African.” In that moment, I felt ashamed of myself for questioning their identities based upon the stereotypical visions of "Blackness" that lived in my head. Afterwards, as I continued to struggle with myself, I knew that I wanted to do something with my feelings that could be useful to others like myself. I wanted to explore the “other” sides of Blackness.
So began my journey into the (1)ne Drop project.
Editor's note: David Oyelowo plays Joe "Lightning" Little in the film "Red Tails." He was raised in England and Nigeria and trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He was the first black actor to play a Shakespearean monarch at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and appeared in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "The Help."
By David Oyelowo, Special to CNN
(CNN) - My journey toward the hallowed ground of Moton Field, where the brave Tuskegee Airmen learned to fly, began with me receiving a script called "Red Tails" in the winter of 2008. I had never heard of the Tuskegee Airmen, nor was I aware of their adopted nickname "Red Tails," but the story as told in the script blew me away.
As I always do before auditioning for a role, I went about my research and was amazed and ashamed that I knew nothing of their immense contribution to the war effort in the 1940s. Thankfully I got the role and was then able to exercise my newfound obsession to do these men right by participating in telling their story.
We shot the film in Prague and Croatia in 2009 and did reshoots in 2010 and 2011 to really nail the complex dogfights depicted in the movie. The process of bringing the film to fruition was a mammoth collaborative process that involved a deep commitment from the actors, our director, Anthony Hemingway, the genius of the folks at Industrial Light and Magic, and the comforting overseeing eyes of both Rick McCallum, our producer, and George Lucas, who had been pregnant with the project for more than 20 years.
Cut to this past Monday, just a few days before this nerve-wracking Friday, the day on which the film will be released. I and my fellow actors Nate Parker, Terrence Howard and Elijah Kelley find ourselves at Tuskegee University as we draw to the close of an extensive press tour that has taken us from L.A. to New York and most places in between.
Editor's note: Don Lemon anchors CNN Newsroom during weekend prime-time and serves as a correspondent across CNN's U.S. programming. He is the author of the memoir "Transparent."
This piece is part of a three-part series tied to the (1)ne Drop Project.
By Don Lemon, CNN
(CNN) - For years, the woman on the left in the photograph below could not be friendly to her own husband in public. She would pretend she didn’t know him or tell people he was her driver. She didn’t want him to be beaten in public as he had many times before.
She learned that particular survival technique from the woman in the photograph on the right, her mother and my grandmother, who had to use it from the 1930s until my grandfather died in the 1960s. Both women were often mistaken for white. And for whatever privileges my aunt and grandmother might have received for their light skin, their husbands paid for it by beatings or threats from white men. One handed-down family story that sticks with me is how my uncle was lucky to have survived a savage throttling in the 1950s after exiting a ferry crossing the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to Port Allen. Apparently, he and my aunt had let down their guard. They never did it again.
Heck, as a child, I wasn’t even sure about my grandmother or my aunt. “Is Aunt-ee Lacy white?” I’d ask. “Lacy’s black,” an adult would say. Of course the reply was followed by a big laugh and a phrase I’d never forget: “It only takes one drop.” Meaning it only takes one drop of “Negro” blood to make you black.
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) - How would you feel living in a museum?
It’s a thought that popped into my head the night I dined with a civic group at the White House, after which, to our delight and surprise, the president took us on a tour of the family’s private quarters. The first lady wasn’t present. She was strong-willed; criticized by the press for inserting herself in policy decisions. After I’d walked up the stairs and had a few historical curios pointed out to me, I realized that the rooms were grand, but the space was far less private than the single family homes many parents and children live in. As I imagined what it must be like to live there, my reaction was less “how cool,” more “how weird.”
Those were the Clinton years, not the Obama years. But now, a new book called "The Obamas" is resurfacing the themes of a family’s private life squeezed into a public space - and a strong woman taken to task for stepping out of her perceived role. The White House has reacted to the book by New York Times’ correspondent Jodi Kantor in a way that’s somewhere between meticulous fact-checking and obsession. First, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Kantor hadn’t spoken to the Obamas since 2009 and that the book wove the couple’s inner-life out of “the author’s own thoughts.” Then, the first lady herself gave a rare interview, speaking to her friend Gayle King at CBS.
The first lady acknowledged she hasn’t and won’t read the book, but said based on descriptions of the work it conveyed “....an image that people have tried to paint of me since Barack announced [his run for the presidency], that I’m some angry black woman.”