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Posts from the ‘Race’ Category

Learning from Lyndon: How America Should Respond to Ferguson

By Austin McCoy

"It would be grossly unfair to omit recognition of a minority of whites who genuinely want authentic equality…But they are balanced at the other end of the pole by the unregenerate segregationists who have declared that democracy is not worth having if it involves equality. The great majority of Americans are suspended between these opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.” In the wake of Michael Brown’s killing and the Ferguson uprising, I am reminded of these passages written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the Kerner Commission. Both quotes reflect hard truths about the history of black uprisings in the U.S.—they are not the products of criminality or pathology; they are responses to longstanding grievances against racial and economic inequality. And in light of the Ferguson uprising, we should all take note of one argument advanced by Dr. King and the commissioners: America refuses to acknowledge how generations of structural racism have created the conditions for black rebellions.

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The Right to Water in Detroit

by Austin McCoy

Detroit's movement to oppose the city's water and sewage department's draconian bill collection program won a significant victory on July 29. The city's Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, extended more control over the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) to Mayor Mike Duggan. While Orr retains the authority to restructure the DWSD, the announcement means that the DWSD will suspend its bill collection program temporarily. In March, the DWSD announced that it would shut off its delinquent customers' water. To date, thousands of Detroiters have experienced shut offs already. According to the Detroit Free Press, the DWSD shut off water to 7,556 customers. If the DWSD’s goal was to pass the costs of its financial crisis to its customers, the program appeared to work, as up to 17,000 Detroiters have entered into payment plans. Unfortunately, the DWSD turned its fiscal emergency into a human rights issue, a public health and political crisis.

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What Claire Fraser Didn’t Know About J. Marion Sims

by Carolyn Herbst Lewis

I have a not-so-secret weakness for historical fiction series. I think, in some roundabout way, this is what started me on the path to studying history. I read the Little House on the Prairie books as a child, John Jakes' North and South series as a tween, and it's been my genre-of-choice ever since. But there is one series in particular that really is my favorite. Maybe even an obsession. I have no idea how many times I've read and reread the now eight volumes in the series. I've even considered going on one of those themed-vacations, where you visit sites featured in the books. It's that bad. My obsession, I mean. The books are simply that good.

When I say that I'm talking about the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, I imagine that most of you who have read the books will know what I am talking about. I say "most" because I have heard that there are people who have read the books and didn't like them. Seriously, what's not to like? There is adventure. There is drama. There is time travel. There is really great sex. Unlike so many other titles in this genre, the storyline and many of the characters are decidedly feminist. I could go on, but I think I've gushed enough to give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Here I actually want to focus on a particular facet of the series: Gabaldon's careful attention to the history of medicine.

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Paranoia on the Border: Immigration and Public Health

By Adam Turner

Like others, I find the growing humanitarian crisis in Texas deeply troubling. The number of minors making this dangerous journey alone, in search of a better life away from violence and poverty, is overwhelming and heart-wrenching, not least because they've been met with more hostility than sympathy at the US end of their long trek. The vitriol with which anti-immigration protesters have met these children and adolescents is both disturbing and nationally embarrassing. I don't dispute anybody's right to disagree over immigration policy, but I don't believe that the privilege of having been born in the United States entitles anybody to aggressively refuse assistance to children so obviously in crisis. I don't intend to discuss the merits of one solution over another here, though. Instead, I want to highlight the particularly worrisome -- but sadly familiar -- paranoia about these refugees bringing disease into US border communities.

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Hip Hop Breaks Silence on Mental Health: Pharoahe Monch’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

By Austin McCoy

While some hip hop artists and groups have addressed the issue of healthy eating, few have tackled mental health. Hip hop’s distant relationship with mental health should not be surprising, as many African Americans have considered issues such as depression, suicide, and other mental and psychiatric ailments taboo. Last month, the suicide of For Brown Girls' creator and blogger, Karyn Washington, served as a reminder of the enduring silence of African American depression sufferers. Washington’s death provoked conversations among black members of the media about mental health. Coincidentally, rapper Pharoahe Monch released his fourth album—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—a week after Washington’s passing. In the album, Monch highlights the intersections of the stresses of inner city life, drug use, suicide, and the structural and cultural barriers to pursuing mental health care. PTSD just might serve as the perfect opening to a conversation on African American mental health.

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Obama, Ryan, O’Reilly, and the Poverty of the Political Imagination

By Austin McCoy

President Obama, Paul Ryan, and Bill O’Reilly walk into a bar. Rather than engage in abstract conversations about the role of America in the world or the federal government’s role in the market, they decide to talk about an issue where they can forge some common ground. What issue could the three men come together around? It is probable they would likely converge around trying to explain and address the poverty of black men and women in the United States. This common ground is possible because national conversations about public policy never seem to escape the orbit of culture, meritocracy, colorblindness, and normative understandings of gender and family. More specifically, Ryan’s, Obama’s, and O’Reilly’s recent comments on the subject revolve around two political archetypes—the heteronormative family and the black male. When considered together, they take a special place in our nation's "gendered imagination."

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Renisha McBride and the Killing of Black Bodies

By Austin C. McCoy

Renisha McBride’s death once again reveals how the criminalization and dehumanization of black youth and the violent policing of black bodies persists in spite of triumphant declarations of post-racial America. On November 2, nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride became the latest African American to die because someone perceived her presence as a threat. That night, McBride was involved in a car accident with a parked car in Detroit. Two hours later, she was shot dead in the face at a house in Dearborn Heights. McBride’s parents claim she was looking for help. The homeowner thought she was trying to break into his home, and his gun discharged accidentally.

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My Children and the Limits of White Privilege

By Danielle Swiontek

The community in which I live held a march in memory of Trayvon Martin two weeks ago. It seemed so dated, in a way. In this 24-hour news cycle that we live in, it feels like forever ago since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on February 26, 2012. It seems like ages since the jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of his death this past July. Yet the killing of Trayvon Martin continues to haunt me, as it probably does the people who joined the march. The news cycle has moved on, but the issues that Trayvon Martin's death brought to the forefront have not. When I first heard about Trayvon Martin's death, it made me fear for my son. That fear has not gone away in the last two months. It will probably never go away.

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A Historian’s Guide to Summer: Back-to-School Mixtape

By Adam Turner

Here in the Pacific Northwest the days are long and hot and the raspberries are ripening, which means that a new school year is upon us. For teachers, it's time to set aside the summer projects, chapters, and books, make a late-summer beverage, and think about teaching. In the interest of celebrating the end of summer, here are some songs that work well in the classroom.

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Don Lemon, Jay Z, and the Dilemmas of Black Bourgeois Politics

By Austin C. McCoy

Rap superstar Jay Z and CNN news anchor Don Lemon added some extra hot sauce to the “conversation about race” in the wake of one of the “hottest” and racially-charged summers in recent memory. In a July 24 interview with journalist Elliot Wilson, Jay Z responded to a series of comments that Harry Belafonte made about Jay Z, Beyoncé, and other black celebrities in an interview last year. When asked to respond to Belafonte’s lamentation about current black celebrities’ inability or unwillingness to use their fame to advocate for social change, Jay Z shot back: "I'm offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama's is. Obama provides hope..."

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