Juan Flores (1943-2014): A Remembrance of a Great Scholar

Deep in the labyrinth of the CUNY Graduate Center in 2004, a seminar on Afro-Latin@s in the United States was being offered via the city-wide consortium. I was nearly done with my doctoral course work in Public & Urban Policy at the New School and needed a couple of electives before the dreaded qualifying examination. One of the program’s advisors at the time, concerned that the seminar would be missing “policy relevance” I needed for my dissertation, had planted seeds of doubt. But it was the interdisciplinary instructor of the course (whose Ph.D was in German Literature), who upon listening to my potential dissertation topic during first day introductions, interrupted me mid-sentence with his signature smile and said: “You really need this course.”

On December 2, 2014, Juan Flores, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, passed away in Durham, North Carolina, a few weeks after he had contributed to an academic conference at Duke University. An award-winning and prolific scholar on Puerto Rican, Latin@ and Afro-Latin@ culture and identity, it is not an understatement to write that Juan’s contributions not only left an indelible mark across multiple disciplines, but also amongst his former students. When Juan interrupted my own train of thought in that moment in 2004, it was clear that he had deliberately attempted to interrupt my research. At the time, I had specifically been exploring the roots of the ethnic enclave in Miami and proposed to rehash a theory that popped up in the sociology and economics literature in the 1980s, one that suggested that such notoriously segregated bastions of exploitation could actually be beneficial for newcomers. If the “ethnic enclave” was argued to be so good for the 1960s Cuban exiles and subsequent generations, would the same hold true for black Cubans? While few black Cubans ended up in Miami overall, even after the more diverse Mariel boatlift (1980), for those that did, how did they fare as compared to their “white” counterparts and other Latin@s in the region? Did the “owners” and progenitors of the newly ballyhooed “ethnic economy,” once viewed by the Chicago school as a necessary “decompression chamber” before eventual socioeconomic integration for children of immigrants, extend the same privileges to their black co-ethnics? If not, how should the state respond?

When Juan Flores became my professor, he challenged the methodological contours of my scholarly inquiry, despite feeling fields away in the land of urban policy analysis. His Socratic intervention was desperately needed at a time when “numbers” dominated my method of inquiry, economic theories were my prevailing explanatory referent, and my application of interdisciplinary and transnational perspectives was minimal. But to get there, Juan taught me through expertise and exposure, I needed theoretical understandings of race and racialization in the Americas, particularly Cuba. I (read: we) needed to dig deeper into Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz’s view of Cubanidad, which Juan had us critique in the seminar, as an expression of “color-blind” nationalism that seemed to involve everyone but Afro-Cubans. We needed to understand how the “Latin@ propensity to uphold mestizaje (racial and cultural mixture),” as he and fellow collaborator and life partner Miriam Jiménez Román wrote in the Afro-Latin@ Reader, was indeed an “exceptionalist and wishful panacea,” deeply embedded in the contours of anti-blackness (Román and Flores, 2010: 3).

We needed to understand how the stigma of claiming a black identity contributed to the undercounting (hence statistical understanding and political mal-representation) of our Afro-Latin@ herman@s here and abroad, evidence of his deep understanding of the crucial role of the state on peoples’ everyday livelihoods. In essence, we needed broad, interdisciplinary understandings of not just the oppressive structures of the United States (which dominates the urban policy literature on U.S. Latin@s), but also the present racial inequalities deeply rooted in the colonial contours of Latin America, with specific attention to the racial baggage that accompanies migration and transnational processes.

Juan’s death is a tremendous intellectual loss. As a peer eloquently echoed in conversation over Juan’s contributions, he knew how to enlarge and expand the theoretical and content knowledge of his students and colleagues, interventions and “interruptions” so crucial and necessary for student activism and scholarship that informed Puerto Rican/Latin@ Studies during its formative years, and now the burgeoning Afro-Latin@ Studies field. To borrow from one of the many “tweets” reflecting on Juan’s impact on our lives: Rest in Power, hermano.

Alan A. Aja is Assistant Professor & Deputy Chair in the Department of Puerto Rican & Latin@ Studies at Brooklyn College (CUNY). His sole and collaborative research on inter-group disparities has been published in Latino/a Research Review, Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics & Culture, Social Research, Dissent, Ethnic Studies Review (forthcoming), the Huffington Post and the Washington Post. Aja recently completed a manuscript on the Afro-Cuban experience in South Florida.

Remembering Stuart Hall: Socialist and Sociologist

On Monday February 10th 2014, news broke that Stuart Hall had passed away. He was 82 years old.  Regarded by many as one of the most important public intellectuals of our age, Hall’s oeuvre is hard to categorize and adequately summarize because it is so varied and his achievements so vast.

Stuart Hall

Despite some lazy reductionism within the media that curiously labeled him “the Godfather of multiculturalism” – a term I have never heard applied to Hall in the two decades I’ve been reading his work – Hall was largely known for his key contributions to and involvement with British politics and his prolific writing career that incredibly spanned six decades. Among other things, Hall was a founding member of the New Left Review; the intellectual most associated with challenging the crude economic reductionism that plagued Marxist accounts of culture, offering instead a radically contextual approach that eventually led to the creation of Cultural Studies as an academic field of study; the writer who first recognized the political importance of neo-liberalism and coined the term Thatcherism; an ardent critic of New Labour and Tony Blair; a key figure within the Black British visual arts movement; and perhaps the most astute theorist of the political predicament of living with difference in our post/colonial moment.

Stuart Hall

Hall was also, for almost two decades, a Professor of Sociology at the Open University. But Hall’s sociological approach is directly at odds with what passes for sociological enquiry today, especially as practiced by American professional sociologists. It’s worth remembering that Hall didn’t have a PhD in Sociology – in fact, he never finished his doctorate on Henry James – and he never published an article in any major sociology journal. Despite being one of the most of widely read, cited and influential sociologists of his generation, Hall would never likely have been hired by an American sociology department. This is just as well as he wouldn’t have wanted to be there either. This curious fact of Hall’s anti-sociology sociological approach is worth reflecting upon as it tells us more about the current state of American academia and of US sociology (and therefore how it might be changed) than it does about any “failing” on Hall’s part.

Hall observed when he was President of the British Sociological Association (1995-1997) that Cultural Studies, as practiced at the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University, from the very start set itself in opposition to the naive positivism of American sociology.  Hall said during his BSA Presidential address, and only slightly tongue in cheek, “whatever Talcott Parsons rejected, we went and read closely”.  As a young graduate student in the audience that day, Hall’s model of sociology seemed so much more attractive than the anodyne sterility of traditional sociology, constrained as it is by artificial boundaries and a penchant at times for mindless apolitical empiricism. As Hall once remarked, “although sociology thinks it’s a predictive science, it doesn’t predict anything very much, very well” (seen in this short video clip from MEF, 6:08):



Instead, Hall offered a more creative and exciting sociology focused on interrogating the complex economic, social, and above all political conjunctures. While Henry Louis Gates’ pronouncement that Hall was “the Du Bois of Britain” obscures as much as it highlights, it is true that both proffered a version of sociology driven by a concern to address and intervene into the political conditions of the day and both wrote with unique and brilliant clarity on the vexed question of national belonging and racial dislocation.

The week since Hall’s passing has also been notable for “the appalling absence of any notice of his death in the U.S. mainstream press as well as the alternative media”, as Larry Grossberg stridently put it. There was a short piece on NPR and a few other outlets carried obituaries and short reflections, but not many. Some of this can be explained by American cultural insularity and a certain intellectual myopia in which the American public sphere struggles to engage with debates occurring beyond its borders.

Stuart Hall

But it also perhaps relates to the hyper segregation of the American academy and how disciplinary gatekeepers have fought to preserve their status and power from the perceived threat of “British Cultural Studies”. The area where Hall’s work has undoubtedly been recognized and celebrated is within the alternative public sphere of African American Studies and other allied areas of study.  As Cornel West noted many years ago, “The thing you have to understand…is that we all grew up reading Stuart. We wouldn’t be here without him. We all stand on his shoulders”.  Similarly, the cultural theorist and critic Mark Antony Neal suggested that everything he had ever written about black popular culture had been shaped by Hall’s ideas. High praise indeed.

For those of us influenced by Hall, his ideas, his mentorship, his kindness, his generosity, his brilliance, it’s easy (and perhaps understandable), to feel an overwhelming sense of loss in this moment that threatens to produce a certain inertia.  Yet the way to honor Hall, as rampant neo-liberal managerialism threatens to expunge the resistant spirit from academic life, is to return to the motivating impulses that Hall embodied and helped to usher in, namely a socialist commitment to a better tomorrow, rooted in a serious analysis of contemporary conjunctures in which nothing is guaranteed politically and a pedagogical commitment to collaboration that avoids, in Suzanne Moore’s words, “the conservatism of academia, with its fetishizing of autonomous scholarship.”

Hall has departed from the stage but thanks to his legacy we are now better equipped to engage the political struggles against injustice and to remake the future.

~ Guest blogger Ben Carrington is Professor of Sociology, UT-Austin. Follow him on Twitter: @BenHCarrington.

Racism in 2012: Year End Review

As 2012 draws to a close, I pulled together some of the biggest news in racism for the year.

Election Politics – Of course, much of the year we were focused on the racism in election politics.

White Male Shooters  – In some of the saddest news of the year, 2012 was bracketed by white male shooters unleashing violence on innocent strangers.

  • In January, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on a crowd at an Arizona political rally, killing 6 and injuring 14.
  • In August, white supremacist Wade M. Page walked into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, where he shot and killed 7 people.
  • In December, Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children at an elementary school in Connecticut. With this most recent shooting, some in the mainstream press began to identify white men as a group that “should be profiled,” a point that Joe Feagin has been making for many years.



Racial Profiling – Racial profiling was in the news a great deal this year, and was implicated in at least one death.

  • The senseless killing of teenager Trayvon Martin seemed to be case of racial profiling taken to a violent extreme when volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman perceived the unarmed Martin as a “threat” and shot him.
  • Racial Profiling is not only an issue in the U.S., it is also characteristic of policing in France as well.
  • In the city where I live, racial profiling combines with racial disparities in marijuana arrests and results in over 400,000 Black and Latino young men needlessly caught up in the criminal justice system each year.

Law & Economy  – Institutions, such as the law and the economy, are fundamental to the perpetuation of racism.

Athletics – There were some new stars in athletics who faced racism. 

  • Gabrielle Douglas won a gold medal in gymnastics at the Olympics, yet faced a huge wave of criticism about her hairstyle, which many saw rooted in racism.
  • Jeremy Lin played in the NBA after a less-than-stellar college basketball career, and sparked “Linsanity” from enthusiastic fans; others made racist jokes at his expense.
  • There remain significant racial barriers to becoming a coach in the NFL, as Michael R notes here.

Passages – We lost some people who played a role in racial politics.


  • Rodney King, focus of a shocking video of police brutality, and when officers were acquitted in that beating, he famously tried to quell rioting by asking “Can’t we all just get along?” – died.  He was 47.
  • Russell Means, a leader of the American Indian Movement (AIM), and an Ogala Sioux Indian, died.  He was 72.


Personal Essays – We were delighted to post a couple of really moving personal essays from guest bloggers.


Hate & Violence – Overt racist hate and violence continued in 2012.

Technology – Despite claims that Internet technology would usher in a new era in which “there is no race,” racism continues to be built into our technologies.



Culture – Sometimes, when I consider the progress that’s been achieved around racism, I think some of the most important progress is achieved in culture, both popular culture and more rarefied high culture.


Viral Videos – The year 2012 was a good one for viral videos about racism.

  • Stuff White Girls Say took off and made a point about the racism of white women.
  • Similarly, Randy Newman skewered white people in his spoof of his old song “Short People.”
  • Somewhat unintentionally, the highly crafted marketing video “Kony 2012” ended up being about racism as well in its facile portrayal of ‘evil’ in Africa in need of ‘white saviors.’

Documentaries – I continue to believe that documentaries can be a crucial tool in the effort to bring about racial justice.


May 2013 bring more racial justice!




Rodney King (1965-2012)

This Sunday marked the passing of Rodney King, and perhaps fittingly, that same day tens of thousands participated in a Silent March down Fifth Avenue to protest the stop-and-frisk practices of the NYPD.


There have been quite a few write ups about his passing, and the significance of his life, around the web and here are a few of those:

  • Touré writes in his Elegy for Rodney King: It was the media that transformed King’s horrific ordeal into a moment that would never die. That’s why the moment sits on a gruesome continuum of other horrific moments that were captured by the media and thus swelled to have a forceful impact on America. From Emmett Till in 1955, who was killed and beaten beyond recognition and memorialized by a photograph of his mutilated corpse lying in its coffin, to Trayvon Martin this year, whose moment of death was captured by multiple pieces of audio that seem to paint a frightening portrait of his last moments. These three are martyrs who were crucified, their bodies sacrificed, and their moment recorded and disseminated, thus showing black pain and revealing American injustice and accessing the moral power that was necessary to inspire change. …. But despite the nation watching in horror and feeling for Rodney King, another Rodney King incident could happen today.
  • Jamil Smith, producer at MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show, writes: Rodney King nearly became the subject of one of those signs, but he survived. His battle was one which African Americans had fought many times before outside of the glare of the cameras — and yet, despite the presence of a camera, had to fight again. The cameras, in a sense, later turned on him, repeating another theme of cultural strife in this country: subjecting those symbols of those of us who must suffer with its negative effects daily to the media microscope, chipping away at dignity all the while. There’s a reason why you’re seeing a lot of “flawed” and “complicated” in headlines about King’s death, as if having been an addict somehow validated him being beaten to within an inch of his life by L.A.’s Finest. (Aren’t we all flawed and complicated?)
  • Davey D points out that “Even, in Los Angeles the place where Rodney King’s beating was supposed to spark improvement within LAPD we see that police killing civilians is up a whopping 70%. … One would think after the King beating we would’ve witnessed a sea change of improvements within the police departments. sadly what we’ve seen is fast track to enhanced, new and improved forms brutality and harassment. Since the killing of Trayvon Martin we’ve had over 30 Black people alone killed by police. That speaks volumes.”
  • Dr. Jelani Cobb writes: “The removal of Police Chief Daryl Gates and the subsequent appointment of Willie Williams, the first black police chief in L.A. history, was directly related to King’s beating. But in 2009, television viewers saw grainy footage of another black man lying prone at the feet of a California police officer, this time in Oakland. The man, Oscar Grant, had been shot and killed. Earlier this year, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a reportpointing out that in 2011 the N.Y.P.D. conducted nearly six hundred and eighty-six thousand stop-and-frisks, with blacks and Latinos accounting for more than eighty-six per cent of those targeted by police.
  • Dr. James Braxton Peterson reminds us that: “Although Rodney King escaped death that night [he was beaten by LAPD], his life was irrevocably altered; his history became inextricably linked with the violent history of police brutality, racial profiling, and racialized injustice.”


  • Dr. Marc Lamont Hill spoke with Rodney King a couple of months before his death, and asked him if he thought the US could erupt in violence again if, for example, George Zimmerman were acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.  When King said he didn’t believe it would, Hill chided him for his optimism, then he writes:  “Given everything that we’d seen and done as a country, how he could he be so invested in the goodness of America? He said that like all people, he had doubts. But his faith in God and America were stronger than those doubts.   That, in a nutshell, is who Rodney King was.  Not the lawless monster portrayed by the LAPD. Not the walking punch line depicted in both Black and mainstream culture. And not the unrepentant addict who never conquered his demons. Rather, Rodney King was someone who desperately aimed to love his way through the absurdity of America’s racial condition.”




Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial: Why It Matters

Today, we mark the national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. The memorial is the first to honor an African American on the National Mall and its adjoining memorial parks and is the result of more than two decades of planning, fund-raising and construction. The efforts began early on by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity (King had been an active member). It was dedicated in October,2011, making today the first time that we’ve celebrated the holiday with a national monument in King’s honor.

Critics of the memorial, such as this one writing at The Economist, object to the memorial on both aesthetic and political grounds, calling it a ‘blockheaded’ design that is merely state-sponsored ‘propaganda,’ not in keeping with the values of equality that King championed. (One suspects that this critique is rooted as much in xenophobia about the Chinese sculptor and imported granite as it is in the objection to honoring King, but I digress.)

I couldn’t disagree more. I think the King memorial matters for our national conversation about race.


(Photo credit: Julie Netherland)

On a recent visit to the memorial, I was struck by conversations happening all around me about civil rights, about Dr. King’s legacy, about racial equality and justice. (There’s a great art / ethnographic project to be done here, setting up audio recorders to grab snippets of conversations heard around the memorial.)

Along with individual kids with their moms or dads, there were also small and large groups of students with teachers and guides, talking about the quotes by Dr. King etched in stone along the wall behind the large statue, using the monument as a way to teach about civil rights.

Given the monument’s significance as a place for enabling the ‘teachable moment,’ it’s also important to get it right.

One of the inscriptions on the monument reads “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” The problem? King never said those words, at least, not exactly. The actual quote comes from this sermon about a eulogy someone might give at his funeral, and it goes like this:

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.”

As Maya Angelou notes the shortened, paraphrased text misleads:  “The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit. He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply. He had no arrogance at all. He had a humility that comes from deep inside. The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient. Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.”

Secretary of the Interior Salazar has issued a statement saying that the quote will be corrected.

Perhaps most striking moment for me on my visit  was the scene inside the gift store near the monument. There are no t-shirts or mugs or bobble-head dolls inside, only books and DVDs about the civil rights movement and Dr. King, many of these children’s books. Because the memorial is part of the National Park Service, the bookstore is staffed by Park Rangers.

And, while I was there, you could hear the voice of a Park Ranger reading a children’s book about the civil rights movement to a group of school children sitting on the floor in a circle.

That’s why the monument is important. Attacking Dr. King and his legacy is a key strategy of opponents of civil rights.   It’s an object that officially recognizes King’s legacy and contribution to civil rights in the U.S., and it opens up a space for having a conversation about what the legacy means and how it’s relevant today.

And that, I think is priceless.

Racism in 2011: A Year End Review

As the year 2011 ends, there are several good year-end reviews about racial justice, this video from Colorlines and this post from a David J. Leonard writing at New Black Man, are both excellent.  We here at Racism Review offer this as our own brief, and necessarily incomplete, recap of some of the notable events in the struggle for racial justice. Be sure to scroll all the way to the end, there are some victories there, too ~ and a challenge for you at the end.

We lost some fierce champions and scholar-activists:

  • Manning Marable, aged 60, died in April, just days before his epic biography of Malcolm X was published.
  • Derrick Bell, aged 80, a founder of critical race theory who famously resigned his tenured position at Harvard Law School in protest over their failure to hire any women of color, died in October.

Lots of things happened in 2011 which illustrate just how entrenched racial inequality (still) is, including:

  • the execution of Troy Davis and the ongoing racism of the New Jim Crow. I argued here at the time of Davis’ execution that the U.S. death penalty is akin to the American practice of lynching in which black and brown people, especially men, are executed in disproportionately high numbers as a means of social control.
  • the Occupy Wall Street movement, initiated and led predominantly by white people, missed the racial significance of the “occupy” terminology, and thereby missed an opportunity to galvanize a movement across racial boundaries.  Dick Gregory said in October that the Occupy movement had a ‘whiff’ of the civil rights movement, with a key difference: “The difference between this movement and our movement is that white people — rich, poor, educated — are born with 300 years of white privilege. So there are certain things that you don’t do to me when you’re born with privileges. When it was us, the cops could do anything they wanted to. You can’t do these children like this.”
  • the racism in presidential politics has been off the hook this year, with the Republicans on center stage as they search for a viable opponent to defeat President Obama.  This is not to say that Democrats are not capable of practicing racism in the service of a political goal, it’s just that the Republicans have been taking up all the air time. From the buffoonery of Herman Cain and the strategic racism of his Koch brothers’ supporters, to the ‘food stamp president’ racism of Newt Gingrich, to the white-supremacist-supported campaign of Ron Paul, it’s been an epic year for racism in presidential politics.
  • immigration reform has stalled and deportations have increased under President Obama. In 2010, the U.S. government deported some 400,000 people, more than in the entire decade of the 1980s. However, it’s not all immigrants who are being targeted; research indicates that Asian and European immigrants are almost never deported, yet blacks and Latinos are deported in large numbers.
  • Facebook (and YouTube) racism continue. In a move that continues to baffle me (you know we can see what you’re saying, right?), white people continue to post racist crap to Facebook, YouTube and any other form of social media.  One of the more infamous examples from 2011 was Alexandra Wallace, former UCLA college student, who posted a racist video of herself mocking her Asian American classmates. She later left UCLA amid reported death threats. More recently, the racist postings on Facebook by NYPD cops was exposed.
  • Islamophobia on the rise, and mass murder in Norway. In July, Anders Breivik opened fire on a Norwegian camp killing about 90 people, many of them children. He was said to be upset about “immigrants” especially Muslim immigrants that were supposedly “destroying Europe.”  In the U.S., Rep. Peter King (R-NY), led the way in fomenting Islamophobia through a series of congressional hearings that targeted Muslims living in the U.S. as potential terrorists. King refused to focus any of his congressional hearing on predominantly white militia groups or white supremacist organizations.

A few things that happened in 2011 which might be helping create a more just world (and which you could do in 2012):

  • Changing the language we use. The Drop the I-Word campaign, to get people to stop using the word “illegal” and terms like “anchor baby” has been extremely successful and even got the New York Times to remove the word “illegal” from its official style guide.
  • Documentaries and digital videos that tell different stories. Independent non-fiction visual media, such as documentaries and DIY digital video, have become increasingly accessible to everyday users and that means that there has been a proliferation of the kinds of stories people can tell. These stories often run counter to the dominant narratives and have the power to change things.  Stories like those told in “The Interrupters,” about young people working to end gang violence, can open up new dialogues and create new opportunities for change. The easy access to digital video allows people to reframe media stories in which they are subjects, re-positioning themselves as narrators of their own stories.
  • Research that exposes racism and chips away at the liberal ideology that we live in a ‘post-racial’ society.  All the many contributors here at the RR blog try to do this, along with lots of other scholar-activists.
  • Celebrating differences. Audre Lorde wrote “It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.” Some women who are putting that philosophy into practice are these Latina Moms who have been active in publicly supporting their LGBT kids. Embracing this kind of practical intersectionality undermines those political strategies that try to divide and conquer us.  It’s this kind of effort that is the heart of coalition building, and we need lots more of it.
  • Social media campaigns that push back against racism.  There have been some clever social media campaigns to push back against racism, including a (now defunct site) called “PWSNT” which is an acronym for “People Who Said [the N-word] Today,” with the tag line, “every morning, the hottest, freshest screenshots of white people using the n-word.”  Just as the name of the site promises, it posts the photo and full name of people who have used the n-word in their social networking site profile. Although no longer active, there are other sites like this which have sprung up in its place, like this Tumblr site, “I’m not a racist, but…”
  • The international human rights campaign to end the death penalty. Amnesty International mobilized people to save Troy Davis’ life, and when that failed, continued to mobilize concerned people to make abolishing the death penalty an international human rights issue.  In my view, making the criminal justice system in the U.S., and especially the blatantly racist death penalty, a human rights issue will be an important wedge in ending this injustice.
  • The nascent Occupy the Prison Industrial Complex movement. In the final hours of 2011 as I was finishing this post, some protesters from the Occupy movement were headed to a Manhattan correctional facility to begin an ‘occupation’ there. Occupy DC has already started mobilizing against Wells Fargo and their funding of private prisons. The massive prison industrial complex, which is premised on the elite privilege of a few white people, is funded my large banks, ‘profiteers of misery,’ who make money from the incarceration of millions of people, almost all black or brown. If the Occupy movement is really concerned with addressing the stark inequality between the 1% and the 99%, and wants to do that important work of coalition building, I can think of no better place to start than with those who seek to make a profit from the New Jim Crow.

What will you do in 2012 contribute to the struggle for racial justice?

Manning Marable, African American Studies Scholar, Dies at 60

Manning Marable, the author of a long-awaited new biography of Malcolm X to be published Monday and director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, died Friday at the age of 60, his wife, Leith Mullings, has confirmed to the New York Times.   His new biography of Malcolm X is scheduled to be published on Monday by Viking.


Here is his website on Malcolm X. Our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.  He was a great scholar and a kind man.  He will be missed.

Martin Luther King: Speech about South Africa

Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, I wanted to share one of King’s lesser known speeches, about South Africa.   In the speech, delivered at my institution Hunter College in 1965 (h/t colleague Larry Shore), King addresses media portrayals of Africa as ‘barbaric,’  the institution of white supremacy in South Africa, the connection between black Americans and Africa, and the hope of progressive political action between blacks and whites.


(Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Dakota Blue Harper)

In the opening of his 1965 speech, given on Human Rights Day (December 10), King addresses the common stereotype about Africa and calls out the system of white supremacy:

“Africa has been depicted for more than a century as the home of black cannibals and ignorant primitives. Despite volumes of facts contraverting this picture, the stereotype persists in books, motion pictures, and other media of communication. Africa does have spectacular savages and brutes today, but they are not black. They are the sophisticated white rulers of South Africa who profess to be cultured, religious and civilized, but whose conduct and philosophy stamp them unmistakably as modern-day barbarians. We are in an era in which the issue of human rights is the central question confronting all nations. In this complex struggle an obvious but little appreciated fact has gained attention-the large majority of the human race is non-white-yet it is that large majority which lives in hideous poverty. While millions enjoy an unexampled opulence in developed nations, ten thousand people die of hunger each and every day of the year in the undeveloped world. To assert white supremacy, to invoke white economic and military power, to maintain the status quo is to foster the danger of international race war . . . What does the South African Government contribute to this tense situation? These are the incendiary words of the South African philosophy spoken by its Prime Minister, Dr. Verwoerd: “We want to keep South Africa white. Keeping it white can only mean one thing, namely, white domination, not ‘leadership’, not ‘guidance’, but control, supremacy.”

The South African Government to make the white supreme has had to reach into the past and revive the nightmarish ideology and practices of nazism. We are witnessing a recrudescence of the barbarism which murdered more humans than any war in history. In South Africa today, all opposition to white supremacy is condemned as communism, and in its name, due process is destroyed; a medieval segregation is organized with twentieth century efficiency and drive; a sophisticated form of slavery is imposed by a minority upon a majority which is kept in grinding poverty; the dignity of human personality is defiled; and world opinion is arrogantly defied.”

Few people celebrating King’s legacy today realize that in addition to being a civil right leader in the U.S., King also saw that struggle as connected to other struggles for human rights around the globe.  King was also presciently aware of the connection between white supremacy in the U.S. and the system in South Africa, several decades before anti-apartheid became a popular political movement here.     King goes on the speech to highlight a Pan-African sensibility, explicitly drawing connections between the continent of Africa and, in the language of his day, “the American Negro.”  He goes on to extend the struggle to include whites as well:

“For the American Negro there is a special relationship with Africa. It is the land of his origin. It was despoiled by invaders; its culture was arrested and concealed to justify white supremacy. The American Negro’s ancestors were not only driven into slavery, but their links with their past were severed so that their servitude might be psychological as well as physical. In this period when the American Negro is giving moral leadership and inspiration to his own nation, he must find the resources to aid his suffering brothers in his ancestral homeland. Nor is this aid a one-way street. The civil rights movement in the United States has derived immense inspiration from the successful struggles of those Africans who have attained freedom in their own nation’s. The fact that black men govern States, are building democratic institutions, sit in world tribunals, and participate in global decision-making gives every Negro a needed sense of dignity.

In this effort, the American Negro will not be alone. As this meeting testifies, there are many white people who know that liberty is indivisible. Even more inspiring is the fact that in South Africa itself incredibly brave white people are risking their careers, their homes and their lives in the cause of human justice. Nor is this a plea to Negroes to fight on two fronts. The struggle for freedom forms one long front crossing oceans and mountains. The brotherhood of man is not confined within a narrow, limited circle of select people. It is felt everywhere in the world; it is an international sentiment of surpassing strength. Because this is true, when men of good will finally unite, they will be invincible.”

On this day, on what would have been Dr. King’s 82nd birthday, we still need those of good will to finally unite in the cause of human justice.

If you’d like to know more about the connection between white supremacy in the U.S. and in South Africa, I recommend any of the books by George Frederickson on this subject, including the classic White Supremacy: A Comparative Study of American and South African History (Oxford University Press, 1982).    And, if you’d like to learn more about the connections between U.S. and South Africa, I encourage you to check out Larry Shore and Tami Gold’s documentary, RFK in the Land of Apartheid: Ripple of Hope.

ABC Privileges Breitbart, Source of Anti-Sherrod Myths

We got this letter today from colorofchange.org about how conservative white media pundits/activists get no penalty for extreme and biased antiback reports:

Dear Friends, Remember Andrew Breitbart? He was the man who used selectively-edited video to paint Shirley Sherrod as a racist, to smear the NAACP, and to accuse the Obama administration of reverse racism. It was all a big, premeditated lie. Unbelievably, ABC News now plans to have Breitbart participate in their Election Night coverage, despite his history as a deceitful operative who distorts, lies, and race-baits. ABC’s decision is a slap in the face to Shirley Sherrod, to Black America, and to everyone who believes in the value of telling the truth….It’s why I’m joining ColorOfChange in calling on ABC News and its parent company Disney to drop their plans to include Breitbart now

They summarize what Breitbart did:

The video pushed by Breitbart showed Ms. Sherrod telling a story about how she once was asked for help from a White farmer, and how she didn’t “give him the full force of what [she] could do” to help him, because of his race. … Breitbart touted the video as evidence that the NAACP and the Obama administration tolerated racial discrimination against White people…. Breitbart’s doctored video and false storyline moved quickly to FOX News, where on-air personalities called for Sherrod’s firing…. Sherrod was forced to resign from her post at the USDA

The problem is that this was a mythology created apparently for political purposes:

The truth is that Sherrod was telling a 25-year old story about her work for a non-profit organization whose mission was to help Black farmers. Discrimination against Black farmers was rampant, and she described how she was first reluctant when approached by a White farmer named Roger Spooner for help (in her speech, Sherrod connects her reluctance to the fact that her father was killed by a White farmer 45 years ago). But after seeing that no one wanted to help Spooner, she worked to save his farm, and eventually became good friends with his family.

Once called out, Breitbart did not apologize and persisted in attacking the NAACP. Sherrod is now suing him. ABC is keeping him on in spite of the great opposition that has grown about him getting such a commentary job. The color of change folks ask for help:

It’s not too late for ABC to do the right thing. Please join us in demanding that they do: [go here]

In Memory: Elmyra Jemison (1980-2010)

When Joe and I re-designed this site about a year or so ago, I reached out to a web designer I’d met online, Elmyra (Myra, who also went by Ellie) Jemison.  She was the Ultimate Geek Girl (the name of her site), and did a great job.  Along the way, she also became a friend.

I recently learned that she died unexpectedly and much too young.   I will miss her.

In lieu of flowers, her family asks that people consider donating to the American Stroke Association in her name. You may also contribute in Myra’s name with gifts of time, talent or treasure in your community to causes that were significant to her including homeless shelters, food pantries, rape crisis centers, and domestic abuse shelters.