Monthly Archives: December 2007



By Mark Stuart Ellison

Associated Content/The People’s Media Company

December 25, 2007

Another internet hoax has ended in tragedy. This one has the stench of a teenage Ku Klux Klan rally supported by a cast of “Twelve Angry Men” characters.

On December 23, 2007, The New York Post reported that John White was convicted of manslaughter in the August 2006 shooting death of 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro. The incident took place in an upscale neighborhood of Suffolk County, New York. White faces up to 15 years in prison.

Mr. White, 54, is black. Ciccario was white. The killing stemmed from an internet chat room message that appeared to have come from Mr. White’s son, Aaron, now 20. The message contained a threat to rape Ciccario’s female friend. It turned out to be a hoax.

That hoax set in motion a series of events ending in Ciccario’s death. Aaron, who was also a friend of Ciccario’s, arrived at a party on that fateful August evening. When the female friend told Ciccario about the message, Aaron was asked to leave. He did. A short time later, Ciccario and four other young white men arrived at Mr. White’s driveway shouting racial epithets. Aaron told his father that the group was going to kill him. Mr. White, a slender man, confronted the teens with a handgun. When Ciccario challenged him, the gun somehow went off, killing the 17-year-old.

The key issue in this case involves the right of a man to defend his life and property from trespassers. But because of the racial makeup of the parties, the nearly all-white jury, and the epithets employed, it has become yet another black-white cause celebre.

The jurors–at least most of them–apparently believed that Mr. White was reckless in approaching the young men with a gun and that he should have stayed inside until police arrived. That would probably have been prudent, but in the heat of the moment, people don’t always do the most rational thing, especially when they’re afraid of dying. What if, before the police arrived, the teens threw a brick or molotov cocktail through Mr. White’s window? Or burned a cross on his lawn? Should he have also turned the cheek then?
It seems that the common law “Castle Doctrine” would apply here. According to this well-established principle, a person has no duty to retreat when he is being threatened on his or her property. Another well-established legal concept is that a person has a right to use deadly force when he or she is motally threatened, or has a reasonable belief that deadly force is imminent. Mr. White is a man of slight build who had five aggressive young men trespassing on his land. According to published reports, Aaron had told his father that they intended to kill him. It would, therefore, seem that Mr. White had a right to defend himself and his son.

Perhaps he went too far. I don’t know because I wasn’t on the scene, nor was I at the trial. We’ll probably never know for sure.

And there’s plenty of blame to go around. Ciccario could have calmly tried to confirm whether Aaron actually penned the message before going vigilante on him. The female friend could have told her parents or the police about the message instead of the hot-headed Ciccario. Then there are the four geniuses who accompanied Ciccario. Had he confronted Mr. White alone, Ciccario would have been less threatening. Under those conditions, use of a firearm would have been less likely.

But one thing is certain: the hoaxer set this deadly process in motion. If not for the hoaxer, none of the parties would have done what they did, and Ciccario would be alive today. Why isn’t anyone in the media talking about this?

In a previous piece, I discussed the case of Megan Meier, a 13-year-old Missouri girl driven to suicide by adults posing online as an amorous teenage boy. Because there was no applicable law, the adults were never charged with a crime.

There may yet be hope for John White. A December 24, 2007 New York Post article indicated that Francois Larche, a white South African immigrant, was bullied by fellow jurors to convict Mr. White. According to the article, Mr. Larche was repeatedly subjected to name-calling and other forms of intimidation. There is also evidence that the trial judge put undue pressure on the jury to come up with a verdict shortly before Christmas. If these allegations are true, they are excellent grounds for appeal.

While there is hope for John White, there is none for Megan Meier and Daniel Ciccario. They’re dead, and they’re not coming back.

Eleven of the twelve jurors in the White case were Caucasian. The lone black juror consistently voted for conviction. In addition to Mr. Larche, a white woman had been holding out for acquittal.


The White and Meier cases indicate the need to identify and punish senders of malicious electronic messages. People can communicate in harmful ways by more traditional means such as snail mail, but electronic communication is much faster and easier. It is also quickly disseminated around the world, posessing an impact unimaginable before the internet existed. Contrary to the old adage, words can kill. Numerous scenarios come to mind. The possibilities are endless.

There should be a Federal law requiring a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for anyone communicating in any medium when they know, or should know, that their message is likely to result in serious bodily injury or death, and such injury or death occurs. In the Meier case, the adults knew Megan suffered from depression and was on medication. The message in the White matter would constitute “fighting words” in any sane court. Civil libertarians will scream First Amendment bloody murder, but with proper safeguards, a law like this can pass Constitutional muster. Call it the Malicious Communications Act of 2008. Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, and Mr. McCain, are you listening?







Rachel, a fellow blogger at Rachels Tavern, originally brought the cases of John White and Renato Hughes to my attention. I posted my thoughts on her blog on the ramifications of both of these cases, and how black citizens fare horribly when it is they who find themselves trying to defend themselves when they kill a white, regardless as to which side of the law they are on.

These two cases(Renato Hughes and John White)  do not surprise me.

�One thing I find striking about both cases is that in both cases black men were charged with crimes. In one case, the black man was part of the home invading group, and in the other case the black man was the home owner. The cases also bring up the issues related to self defense, gun rights, and over zealous sentencing.�

In the first case you mentioned there was marijuana in the white man�s home. Could it be possible that this was a drug deal gone bad? [�Depending on which account you believe, the three men went to the Edmonds� home to buy or steal marijuana (and there was marijuana in the home). The Edmonds� might have been selling drugs, but they are claiming the marijuana was for medicinal use.�]

In the case of drugs being involved, who is going to believe the word of a black man against the word of a white man?

Per the news article:

“On Thursday, a judge granted a defense motion for a change of venue. The defense had argued that he would not be able to get a fair trial because of extensive local media coverage and the unlikelihood that Hughes could get a jury of his peers in the county. A new location for the trial will be selected Dec. 14.

“The sparsely populated county of 13,000 people is 91 percent white and 2 percent black.”

I would definitely say he cannot receive a fair trial by a jury of his peers with the population 91 per cent white and 2 per cent black.


In the second case, it still holds that in the eyes of white-run America back citizens are still not to defend themselves even when they are up against possible murder from a lynch mob/posse of whites.

For centuries, America has said to black citizens [via Justice Taney�s court] that black citizens �have no rights that a white man was bound to respect�. That still holds true in 2007 America.

It has long been understood that black citizens had no right whatsoever to defend themselves against murderous lynch mob whites; that mentality still exists in American society. Never mind that white America is the one that has shown the face of brutality and vicious race hatred against black America for 400 years. Anytime it comes down to blacks defending themselves from whites, in the eyes of America, in the eyes of the courts, blacks always will come out on the short end of the shitty stick in this country.

�Initially, the prosecutor�s charged Mr. White with murder, but the grand jury subsequently reduced charges to manslaughter. Prosecutors have suggested that Mr. White should have locked his doors and called 911, rather than confronting the teenagers with a handgun.

So what do you think?�

Mr. White should not be charged with manslaughter or any charge. He and his son were threatened on their own property. Mr. White had the right to use deadly force. These humans came to HIS home intent on attacking his son. What was he supposed to do? Fall down, beg and plead, �No, no, Massa, please, don�t hurt me or my son?�

Black people are sick and damn tired of white racists who still think they can run rough-shod over black citizens; white racists who still think that the WRITTEN law still states that it is still okay to murder and destroy black citizens, on their own property, such as Mr. White.

Maybe not on paper anymore, but, most definitely still in the minds of racists white supremacists. Obviously 400 years of white rage/hatred against black America always shows its true colors when altercations between black and white occur.

Whites still think they can destroy black life and get off with minimal sentencing.

What the hell, they can, and often do.

Black people can be rest assured that THEY will be painted as the horrible criminals no matter what led up to the incidents, especially in the case of Mr. White.

�One day a black teenager goes to a party where alcohol is served and a white teenage girl asks him to leave because she feels �uncomfortable� around him. He complies and goes home, but the girl then tells a male teenager at the party that the black teen had threatened her once before in an Internet chat room. The white teen then calls the black teen on his cell phone and yells at him using the N-word. Unsatisfied, the white teen then gathers four other white teenagers and they drive to the black teen�s house.�

On the “words” of this fake website by Longo, on the word of the white girl, these �humans� went to the young man�s house, forming a lynch mob bent on attacking him. Ah, yes, the supposed inviolable �purity� of the defenseless, virginal, pure white woman. Her word is always right and true. Many a black man AND woman have lost their lives behind the words of white women.

And white males.

Just as white men could lie on many an innocent black man or woman, and be believed, this case is no different.

On her word……alone.

On his word……alone.

Martin could have reacted differently to this supposed threat of rape from Aaron; she could have alerted her parents/the cops to check out this site instead of telling her boyfriend, but, unfortunately she did not. Did Martin really believe that her boyfriend was not going to go wild and not confront and attack Aaron when she told him of the “rape” threats on the fake myspace site?:

“Those phony messages were soon spotted by the girl. One of them, which threatened rape, particularly disturbed her. She then told Cicciaro what she thought Aaron was planning to do.”

But, she did not tell an adult/parent, and Ciccario is dead.

And Longo, the liar who created this hell that led to Ciccario’s death.

He is the one who is guilty and responsible for Cicciaro’s death.

HE set into motion the chain of events that led up to this murderous altercation.

The blame for Cicciaro’s death lays squarely at his feet, and no one else’s.

Because of Longo, a black father was put into the crucial situation of defending his son against a murderous lynch-mob gang of bloodthirsty whites.

Oh, I forgot.

The word of a white person is inviolable.

The word of a white person reigns supreme over the word of a black person in the good ‘ol USA.

On my blog, I was viciously attacked by male commentors who considered Joe Horn as justified in killing the two alleged burglars who were OUTSIDE his home. Many of the commentors insulted me and railed against the Texas law on the use of �reasonable force� and �deadly force�, showing their utter, complete ignorance of laws that protect BOTH them and the alleged burglars, and that you use deadly force as a last resort, when you are under attack.

I asked one angry commentor if the tables were turned and if Horn was a black man, and the two thieves were UNARMED white males, would he still be calling Mr. Black Horn a �hero�?

I have yet to receive an answer from this commentor.

In America�s eyes, ALL black citizens (male AND female) are murderous brutes who should be put down by any means necessary. Which is why this little known draconian California law is being applied against the black car driver, and which is why the black homeowner is now charged with manslaughter for defending himself against a pack of savage mob depraved, sadistic whites who still think it is open season on black citizens.


Who am I kidding?

America STILL thinks that way towards her black citizens.

She is still intent on wiping us off the face of the earth in whatever way, shape and form she can do it in.

Especially when she gets the law, no matter how racistly it is applied, on her side.


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The first woman and the first black American to represent traditionally conservative Indianapolis in the U.S. Congress, Julia Carson was a bit of an anomoly in Washington. She did not graduate from college, wore big hats and liked to call friends “baby”. Yet in 1996 Rep. Carson won her seat in part by insisting, despite criticism for being soft on crime, that her budget proposals would focus more on computors for education than on pricey anticrime measures. Rep. Carson championed children’s issues, women’s rights and efforts to reduce homelessness. An early opponent of the war in Iraq, Rep. Carson warned in 2003 before the invasion, “We should have learned by the Vietnam War, but we did not.” Rep. Carson, who had lung cancer, was 69.   [Ann]



U.S. Rep. Julia Carson
By Michael Conroy, AP

Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., pauses at the flag-covered casket of Rep. Julia Carson after delivering remarks during funeral services in Indianapolis, Saturday.
By Michael Conroy, AP
Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick, D-Mich., pauses at the flag-covered casket of Rep. Julia Carson after delivering remarks during funeral services in Indianapolis, Saturday.

December 22, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — U.S. Rep. Julia Carson was remembered at her funeral Saturday as a woman who rose from poverty to the halls of Congress and fought tirelessly for the poor.

The 2,200-seat Eastern Star Church was nearly full with those who wanted to honor the six-term Democratic congresswoman, who died of cancer Dec. 15 at age 69.

‘BACK WITH A VENGEANCE’: Ind. lawmaker says she has terminal cancer

Congressional representatives, senators, Gov. Mitch Daniels and Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan all said Carson, the daughter of an unwed teenager mother who worked as a housekeeper, never forgot where she came from.

“She was a simple woman. She was a servant of the poor,” Farrakhan said.

Television and radio host Tavis Smiley said Carson’s “definition of love was this: Everybody is worthy.”

Carson, who was first elected to Congress in 1996, was the first woman and the first black person to represent Indianapolis in Congress.

Former Sen. Birch Bayh said Carson dedicated her life to serving others.

Bayh joked that she would likely be greeted in heaven and appointed to sing in a heavenly choir 24 hours a day — but would quickly organize choir members and fight for better working hours.

“There’ll never be another Julia Carson,” he said. “I think the old man upstairs broke the mold when he made Julia Carson.”

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.



Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007; Page B07

Ted Corbitt, 88, a distance runner who introduced ultramarathon races to the United States and was a quiet, inspirational force in his sport for decades, died Dec. 12 at a Houston hospital. He had prostate and colon cancer and died of respiratory failure.Mr. Corbitt, who lived in New York, competed in the marathon in the 1952 Olympic Games but made his greatest mark by organizing running groups, pioneering the ultramarathon and developing accurate methods of measuring long-distance races.

Ted Corbitt, who was in the 1952 Olympics, often ran as many as 200 miles a week.

Ted Corbitt, who was in the 1952 Olympics, often ran as many as 200 miles a week. (By Don Bray — National Distance Running Hall Of Fame)
As one of the few elite African American distance runners of his time, Mr. Corbitt encountered discrimination on the track and off, but he forged ahead with a stoic determination that earned the respect of generations of runners. While supporting himself as a physical therapist, he spent much of his time in training, often running as many as 200 miles a week.He worked behind the scenes with many running groups, including the New York City Marathon. After helping design the course for the inaugural New York marathon in 1970, Mr. Corbitt, then 51, finished fifth in the race. His time of 2 hours, 44 minutes and 15 seconds was seven minutes faster than his mark in the Olympics 18 years earlier.”He’s sort of the grandfather of our sport,” Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of the New York and Boston marathons, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “He kicked off the modern running boom in America.”

In 1959, Mr. Corbitt organized the country’s first ultramarathon, a 30-mile race through New York and its suburbs that pushed beyond the marathon’s 26-mile, 385-yard limit. (Similar races had been run in Europe since Victorian times.)

Mr. Corbitt won that 1959 race and went on to compete in 50- and 100-mile runs, as well as grueling events in which he ran for 24 hours without stopping. During his career, he competed in 199 marathon or ultramarathon races. The New York Times called him “the patron saint of the ultramarathon in America.”

Although he was not a coach and seldom appeared in the media, Mr. Corbitt helped popularize his sport as president of the Road Runners Club of America, which he helped found in 1957, and the New York Road Runners Club. In the 1960s, he was at the forefront of the important but tedious task of accurately measuring the distances of running routes. He helped develop a technique that employed a calibrated bicycle wheel, with a counter that recorded each revolution of the wheel.

“Long-distance runners have to be very strange people,” Mr. Corbitt once said of his lonely passion. “You have to really want to do it. You don’t have to win or beat someone, you just have to get through the thing. That’s the sense of victory. The sense of self-worth.”

Mr. Corbitt was born in Dunbarton, S.C., on Jan. 31, 1919 — the same date as another trailblazing African American athlete, Jackie Robinson. Mr. Corbitt grew up running on his family’s farm and ran two miles to school. One of his early heroes was Ellison Myers “Tarzan” Brown, a Narragansett Indian who twice won the Boston Marathon and participated in the 1936 Olympics.

Mr. Corbitt was a track star at the University of Cincinnati, from which he graduated. Because of his race, he was sometimes not allowed to compete in meets in the South and Midwest. He began to take his lunches with him — usually a butter and jelly sandwich — so he wouldn’t hold up the rest of the team while trying to find a restaurant that would serve him.

During his Army service in World War II, Mr. Corbitt drank the one and only beer he had in his life. He received a master’s degree in physical therapy at New York University in 1950. He spent many years as chief physical therapist at the International Center for the Disabled in New York and also taught physical therapy at Columbia University and NYU.

He often ran to his office from his home, sometimes completing the 31-mile circuit around the island of Manhattan on the way. He estimated that he had been stopped more than 200 times by the police, who were not accustomed to seeing a black man running through the streets of New York.

Mr. Corbitt lamented his poor showing in the 1952 Olympics, when he finished 44th in the marathon, but he went on to hold the U.S. records for the 25-, 40- and 50-mile runs.

He did a great deal of study on nutrition for runners — he gave up pork and beef in the 1960s — and maintained a weight of 130 pounds on his 5-foot-7 frame.

In the 1970s, Mr. Corbitt developed asthma, which forced him to limit his running. He then turned to walking and could complete a marathon in less than six hours. As recently as 2003, he completed an ultramarathon by walking 68 miles in 24 hours.

He was a member of the inaugural class of the National Distance Running Hall of Fame in Utica, N.Y., in 1988 and was inducted into the American Ultrarunning Hall of Fame in April 2006.

His wife of 42 years, Ruth Butler Corbitt, died in 1989. Survivors include a son, Gary Corbitt of Jacksonville, Fla.



— Brian Sean Griffith, a former bodyguard to figure skater Tonya Harding who admitted a role in the attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan during Olympics tryouts, has died. He was 40.Griffith died Wednesday of what his doctor reported as natural causes, according to the Washington County medical examiner’s office. The specific cause of death is expected to be listed when the doctor files a death certificate, which could take two weeks, the medical examiner’s office said.Formerly Shawn Eckardt, Griffith had changed his name since the attack in an attempt to put it behind him.

Griffith, of Beaverton, was Harding’s bodyguard when the Portland-born skater competed for a spot on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team in 1994.

That January, an assailant clubbed Kerrigan in the knee, forcing her out of the competition. The International Committee of the U.S. Figure Skating Association granted Kerrigan a spot anyway, and she recovered in time to win a silver medal at the Olympics.

Days after the attack, Griffith confessed, detailing a plan that he and Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had hatched. The investigation also eventually netted convictions of Shane Stant, the actual attacker, and Stant’s uncle, Derrick Smith, who drove the getaway car.

Griffith was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early, in September 1995.

He started a computer business, Applied Information Systems Inc., in 2001, but state records show it was dissolved in 2005. He was also sentenced to three years’ probation for misdemeanor assault in 2001.

Family members refused Friday to comment on Griffith’s life before or since the infamous attack.

“Shawn Eckardt died a long time ago,” his brother, Mike Skinner, told The Oregonian. “There is no other person than Brian Griffith.”

Harding has always said she didn’t know of the plan. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder an investigation and was banned from U.S. Figure Skating Association competitions.



December 14, 2007
Press Contact: Nathaniel Frank, Senior Research Fellow, The Palm Center, University of California, Santa Barbara, 805-893-5664,

SANTA BARBARA, CA, December 13, 2007 – Allan Bérubé, who died Tuesday from complications related to stomach ulcers, stumbled onto the “secret world of gay soldiers” in 1979. But he left their world irrevocably changed, as he did the larger universe of gay and community activism which his scholarly spirit indelibly touched. This week, historians and other colleagues and friends of Bérubé, who was 61, remembered not only his pioneering work on gay culture, but his passionate dedication to the many communities and causes he joined since first coming to progressive politics as an opponent of the Vietnam War.

Bérubé’s 1990 book, Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two recounted the personal experiences of the previously invisible gay GIs from that war, and also brought to light the formative influence of military life on both gay culture and the wider American society. It showed how the medical profession joined forces with the military to establish an image of homosexuals as mentally ill non-conformists who were a threat to the military and to society.

The project was born when a neighbor in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district handed him a stack of hundreds of letters written by gay GIs that his friend had discovered in a dumpster. “Reading those letters,” wrote Bérubé ten years later, “changed my life. It made me want to know more about both lesbian and gay GIs in World War II, so I set out to uncover and make public their hidden stories.”

Bérubé was active in the gay liberation movement starting in the late 1960s and inhabited several experimental worlds of queer and artistic collective living. In 1978, he helped found the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project. He took a slide show on the road that depicted women living as men, and soon after, began to research the history of gays in the military.

The successful result was Coming Out Under Fire, which, together with Randy Shilts’ 1993 book, Conduct Unbecoming, became the twin foundational pillars of scholarship on the quiet struggles of gays and lesbians to serve their country with honor. The book won a Lambda Literary Award and helped raise Bérubé’s visibility as a scholar. In 1996, he earned a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant and then received a Rockefeller Residency Fellowship in the Humanities from the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at CUNY. There, he was working on research about gay union men in the 1930s and 1940s. He traveled widely to present his work, and published in many magazines, newspapers and academic volumes, including Mother Jones, The Advocate and Gay Community News.

The book, which was cited on the Congressional floor during the dramatic 1993 hearings on the military’s gay ban, was adapted into a documentary in 1994 by Arthur Dong. Based on newsreels, military film footage, photos and interviews, the film, which won a Peabody Award, followed nine gay and lesbian veterans of World War II. Today, Dong recalled his close collaboration with Bérubé on the film. “Allan’s patience and sly humor were almost angelic,” he said, “along with his knowing smile whenever our production team finally ‘got’ yet another intricate point he was trying to make. I hear his chuckles now and can only be sure that he’s so gratified to be forever a part of the history that he so passionately documented.”

Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center at University of California, Santa Barbara, which studies gays in the military, said the book was instrumental in launching scholarly investigations of gay and lesbian military service. He recalled Bérubé’s commitment to careful research in the challenging context of independent scholarship. “Bérubé’s brave and deeply respectful scholarship stands out among the most meticulously researched, thoughtfully argued and eloquently expressed in the field,” said Belkin. “He wrote his first book without any university sponsorship or financial support, taking day jobs to pay the bills.”

John D’Emilio, professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and another early champion and practitioner of gay studies when such topics were still marginalized, remembered Bérubé’s “great pride in his role as a community historian,” who beamed at having written a book that “made a difference in the world” despite being authored by a college dropout.

Bérubé spent his last years living in Liberty, NY, a slowly re-emerging Catskills resort town of 4,000, where he operated a bed and breakfast and an antiques store, and served as trustee and community-development coordinator of the village. The inn, “Carrier House,” gave discounts to writers, and Bérubé frequently sent his guests on a stroll through his twelve-acre “Carrier Grove” nearby, where they would find peace and inspiration in woods, orchards and a stream running through it.

Lisa Duggan, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University and an author of several books on sexuality and queer culture, knew Bérubé for three decades, and described him as the “heart and soul of the early lesbian and gay community history movement.” She said news of his death came as a “terrible shock and loss” and that his “truly democratic mode of intellectual activism” would be deeply missed.

Bérubé is survived by his partner, John Nelson, his mother and three sisters.

The Palm Center will co-sponsor a forum this spring at CUNY’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in New York City in honor of Allan Bérubé.


The Palm Center, formerly the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military, is a research institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Center uses rigorous social science to inform public discussions of controversial social issues, enabling policy outcomes to be informed more by evidence than by emotion. Its data-driven approach is premised on the notion that the public makes wise choices on social issues when high-quality information is available. For more information, visit



December 22, 2007

Jack Linkletter, who followed in his broadcasting icon father Art’s footsteps in the 1950s and became the host of TV shows such as Hootenanny and special events such as the Miss Universe pageant, died at 70.At 15, he began doing an interview show for CBS Radio, which was soon followed by an hour-long program featuring records and stunts called Teen Time.Linkletter was an English major at the University of Southern California in 1958 when he began hosting the NBC-TV prime-time summer-replacement quiz show Haggis Baggis.

A year later, he was hosting On the Go, a daytime human-interest show in which he and a camera crew visited various locales for behind-the-scenes stories.

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Monday, November 26th by Robert Loblaw

Tabbaa v. Chertoff, 06-0119 (2nd Cir., Nov. 26, 2007)In an interesting civil liberties decision, the Second Circuit has upheld a Homeland Security decision to treat citizens as suspected terrorists based solely on their attendance at a religious conference.Over the Christmas holiday last year, more than 13,000 Muslims from across North America traveled to the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in Toronto Canada. The three-day conference involved “religious and cultural activities, musical performances, a series of prominent Islamic speakers, and communal prayer three times a day.” But the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection believed that something more sinister was taking place, as intelligence indicated that the RIS conference would also serve as a meeting place for terrorists.

Based on this intelligence, the CBP decided to use enhanced screening measures for individuals who crossed the border to attend the RIS. As a result, the plaintiffs – all Muslim citizens with no criminal record or individual connection to terrorism – each spent four to six hours being detained, questioned, fingerprinted, and photographed on their way back from the RIS conference. They sued, alleging that the government’s decision to subject them to the same sort of border search as suspected terrorists violated the First and Fourth Amendments, as well as various federal statutes. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the Second Circuit affirms.

Regarding the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claim, the Second explains that border agents may conduct routine searches and questioning at the border. Although the plaintiffs argued that their experience could not possibly have been “routine” since they were singled out for terrorist-level treatment, the Court disagrees, noting that each individual aspect of the plaintiffs’ experience has been upheld as routine. Although the Second leaves open the possibility that the cumulative effect of being detained and searched and fingerprinted and questioned and photographed during a single border crossing may in some cases amount to more than a routine search, the Court sees no reason to reach that conclusion on these facts. Judge Straub writes,

While plaintiffs were undoubtedly made uncomfortable and angry by the searches, and they may understandably have felt stigmatized, their personal privacy was not invaded in the same way as it would have been had they been subject to a body cavity or strip search, or involuntary x-ray.

Accordingly, the Court sees no Fourth Amendment problem with the border detentions and searches. 

As for the plaintiffs’ First Amendment argument, the Second agrees that the government’s actions significantly burdened the plaintiffs’ associational and religious rights. But the Court concludes that the government has a compelling interest in preventing terrorism, and that there is no way the government could have achieved this interest in a less restrictive manner. Thus, the Court concludes that the CBP’s policy survives First Amendment scrutiny.

(Hat-tip to Decision of the Day, for this post)

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Melbourne, Australia
December 23, 2007

Fans at Australia’s first Test against India could be banned from the Melbourne Cricket Ground for life if they are found to be involved in racial taunting of players and other fans, Cricket Australia (CA) said on Sunday.

Anyone caught doing so by undercover surveillance officers would be ejected from the ground and face further action, a CA spokesperson told Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper.

“Our message to any mindless people who are thinking of going down that path is we won’t tolerate that sort of thing,” CA spokesperson Peter Young told the newspaper.

“We will find anyone who does it, they will be ejected from the ground and they face life bans from ever re-entering the ground.”

Police will also be checking for any offensive or racist slogans on banners while patrons will be encouraged to report any behaviour to groundstaff or the police.

The players’ behaviour will also be monitored.

Australia all-rounder Andrew Symonds was the subject of racial abuse on their tour of India earlier this year.

The first match of the four-Test series between Australia and India begins at the MCG on December 26. – Reuters

(Article courtsey of the Mail & Guardian – Online)

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The New Yorker, July 24, 1994

by Lawrence Wright

Copyright 1994 The New Yorker

Washington in the millennial years is a city of warring racial and ethnic groups fighting for recognition, protection, and entitlements. This war has been fought throughout the second half of the twentieth century largely by black Americans. How much this contest has widened, how bitter it has turned, how complex and baffling it is, and how far-reaching its consequences are became evident in a series of congressional hearings that began last year in the obscure House Sub-committee on Census, Statistics, and Postal Personnel, which is chaired by Representative Thomas C. Sawyer, Democrat of Ohio, and concluded in November, 1993.Although the Sawyer hearings were scarcely reported in the news and were sparsely attended even by other members of the subcommittee, with the exception of Representative Thomas E. Petri, Republican of Wisconsin, they opened what may become the most searching examination of racial questions in this country since the sixties. Related federal agency hearings, and meetings that will be held in Washington and other cities around the country to prepare for the 2000 census, are considering not only modifications of existing racial categories but also the larger question of whether it is proper for the government to classify people according to arbitrary distinctions of skin color and ancestry. This discussion arises at a time when profound debates are occurring in minority communities about the rightfulness of group entitlements, some government officials are questioning the usefulness of race data, and scientists are debating whether race exists at all.Tom Sawyer, forty-eight, a former English teacher and a former mayor of Akron, is now in his fourth term representing the Fourteenth District of Ohio. It would be fair to say that neither the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service nor the subcommittee that Sawyer chairs is the kind of assignment that members of Congress would willingly shed blood for. Indeed, the attitude of most elected officials in Washington toward the census is polite loathing, because it is the census, as much as any other force in the country, that determines their political futures. Congressional districts rise and fall with the shifting demography of the country, yet census matters rarely seize the front pages of home-town newspapers, except briefly, once every ten years. Much of the subcommittee’s business has to do with addressing the safety concerns of postal workers and overseeing federal statistical measurements. The subcommittee has an additional responsibility: it reviews the executive branch’s policy about which racial and ethnic groups should be officially recognized by the United States government.

“We are unique in this country in the way we describe and define race and ascribe to it characteristics that other cultures view very differently,” Sawyer, who is a friendly man with an open, boyish face and graying black hair, says. He points out that the country is in the midst of its most profound demographic shift since the eighteen-nineties–a time that opened a period of the greatest immigration we have ever seen, whose numbers have not been matched until right now.” A deluge of new Americans from every part of the world is overwhelming our traditional racial distinctions, Sawyer believes. “The categories themselves inevitably reflect the temporal bias of every age,” he says. “That becomes a problem when the nation itself is undergoing deep and historic diversification.”

Looming over the shoulder of Sawyer’s subcommittee is the Office of Management and Budget, the federal agency that happens to be responsible for determining standard classifications of racial and ethnic data. Since 1977, those categories have been set by O.M.B. Statistical Directive 15, which controls the racial and ethnic standards on all federal forms and statistics. Directive 15 acknowledges four general racial groups in the United States: American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; Black; and White. Directive 15 also breaks down ethnicity into Hispanic Origin and Not of Hispanic Origin. These categories, or versions of them, are present on enrollment forms for schoolchildren; on application forms for jobs, scholarships, loans, and mortgages; and, of course, on United States census forms. The categories ask that every American fit himself or herself into one racial and one ethnic box. From this comes the information that is used to monitor and enforce civil-rights legislation, most notably the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but also a smorgasbord of set-asides and entitlements and affirmative- action programs. “The numbers drive the dollars,” Sawyer observes, repeating a well-worn Washington adage.

The truth of that statement was abundantly evident in the hearings, in which a variety of racial and ethnic groups were bidding to increase their portions of the federal pot. The National Coalition for an Accurate Count of Asian Pacific Americans lobbied to add Cambodians and Lao to the nine different nationalities already listed on the census forms under the heading of Asian or Pacific Islander. The National Council of La Raza proposed that Hispanics be considered a race, not just an ethnic group. The Arab American Institute asked that persons from the Middle East, now counted as white, be given a separate, protected category of their own. Senator Daniel K. Akaka, a Native Hawaiian, urged that his people be moved from the Asian or Pacific Islander box to the American Indian or Alaskan Native box. “There is the misperception that Native Hawaiians, who number well over two hundred thousand, somehow ‘immigrated’ to the United States like other Asian or Pacific Island groups,” the Senator testified. “This leads to the erroneous impression that Native Hawaiians, the original inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands, no longer exist.” In the Senator’s opinion, being placed in the same category as other Native Americans would help rectify that situation. (He did not mention that certain American Indian tribes enjoy privileges concerning gambling concessions that Native Hawaiians currently don’t enjoy.) The National Congress of American Indians would like the Hawaiians to stay where they are. In every case, issues of money, but also of identity, are at stake.

In this battle over racial turf, a disturbing new contender has appeared. “When I received my 1990 census form, I realized that there was no race category for my children,” Susan Graham, who is a white woman married to a black man in Roswell, Georgia, testified. “I called the Census Bureau. After checking with supervisors, the bureau finally gave me their answer: The children should take the race of their mother. When I objected and asked why my children should be classified as their mother’s race only, the Census Bureau representative said to me, in a very hushed voice, ‘Because, in cases like these, we always know who the mother is and not always the father.'”

Graham went on to say, “I could not make a race choice from the basic categories when I enrolled my son in kindergarten in Georgia. The only choice I had, like most other parents of multiracial children, was to leave race blank. I later found that my child’s teacher was instructed to choose for him based on her knowledge and observation of my child. Ironically, my child has been white on the United States census, black at school, and multiracial at home–all at the same time.”

Graham and others were asking that a “Multiracial” box be added to the racial categories specified by Directive 15–a proposal that alarmed representatives of the other racial groups for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that multiracialism threatened to undermine the concept of racial classification altogether.

According to various estimates, at least seventy-five to more than ninety per cent of the people who now check the Black box could check Multiracial, because of their mixed genetic heritage. If a certain proportion of those people say, ten per cent should elect to identify themselves as Multiracial, legislative districts in many parts of the country might need to be redrawn. The entire civil-rights regulatory program concerning housing, employment, and education would have to be reassessed. School desegregation plans would be thrown into the air. Of course, it is possible that only a small number of Americans will elect to choose the Multiracial option, if it is offered, with little social effect. Merely placing such an option on the census invites people to consider choosing it, however. When the census listed “Cajun” as one of several examples under the ancestry question, the number of Cajuns jumped nearly two thousand per cent. To remind people of the possibility is to encourage enormous change.

Those who are charged with enforcing civil-rights laws see the Multiracial box as a wrecking ball aimed at affirmative action, and they hold those in the mixed-race movement responsible. “There’s no concern on any of these people’s part about the effect on policy it’s just a subjective feeling that their identity needs to be stroked,” one government analyst said. “What they don’t understand is that it’s going to cost their own groups”–by losing the advantages that accrue to minorities by way of affirmative-action programs, for instance. Graham contends that the object of her movement is not to create another protected category. In any case, she said, multiracial people know “to check the right box to get the goodies.”

Of course, races have been mixing in America since Columbus arrived. Visitors to Colonial America found plantation slaves who were as light-skinned as their masters. Patrick Henry actually proposed, in 1784, that the State of Virginia encourage intermarriage between whites and Indians, through the use of tax incentives and cash stipends. The legacy of this intermingling is that Americans who are descendants of early settlers, of slaves, or of Indians often have ancestors of different races in their family tree.

Thomas Jefferson supervised the original census, in 1790. The population then was broken down into free white males, free white females, other persons (these included free blacks and “taxable Indians,” which meant those living in or around white settlements), and slaves. How unsettled this country has always been about its racial categories is evident in the fact that nearly every census since has measured race differently. For most of the nineteenth century, the census reflected an American obsession with miscegenation. The color of slaves was to be specified as “B,” for black, and “M,” for mulatto. In the 1890 census, gradations of mulattos were further broken down into quadroons and octoroons. After 1920, however, the Census Bureau gave up on such distinctions, estimating that three-quarters of all blacks in the United States were racially mixed already, and that pure blacks would soon disappear. Hence-forth anyone with any black ancestry at all would be counted simply as black.

Actual interracial marriages, however, were historically rare. Multiracial children were often marginalized as illegitimate half-breeds who didn’t fit comfortably into any racial community. This was particularly true of the off spring of black-white unions. “In my family, like many families with African-American ancestry, there is a history of multiracial offspring associated with rape and concubinage,” G. Reginald Daniel, who teaches a course in multiracial identity at the University of California at Los Angeles, says. “I was reared in the segregationist South. Both sides of my family have been mixed for at least three generations. I struggled as a child over the question of why I had to exclude my East Indian and Irish and Native American and French ancestry, and could include only African.”

Until recently, people like Daniel were identified simply as black because of a peculiarly American institution known informally as “the one-drop rule,” which defines as black a person with as little as a single drop of “black blood.” This notion derives from a long discredited belief that each race had its own blood type, which was correlated with physical appearance and social behavior. The antebellum South promoted the rule as a way of enlarging the slave population with the children of slave holders. By the nineteen-twenties, in Jim Crow America the one- drop rule was well established as the law of the land. It still is, according to a United States Supreme Court decision as late as 1986, which refused to review a lower court’s ruling that a Louisiana woman whose great-great-great-great-grandmother had been the mistress of a French planter was black–even though that proportion of her ancestry amounted to no more than three thirty- seconds of her genetic heritage. “We are the only country in the world that applies the one-drop rule, and the only group that the one-drop rule applies to is people of African descent,” Daniel observes.

People of mixed black-and-white ancestry were rejected by whites and found acceptance by blacks. Many of the most notable “black” leaders over the last century and a half were “white” to some extent, from Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass (both of whom had white fathers) to W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (who had an Irish grandmother and some American Indian ancestry as well). The fact that Lani Guinier, Louis Farrakhan, and Virginia’s former governor Douglas Wilder are defined as black, and define themselves that way, though they have light skin or “European” features, demonstrates how enduring the one-drop rule has proved to be in America, not only among whites but among blacks as well. Daniel sees this as “a double-edged sword.” While the one-drop rule encouraged racism, it also galvanized the black community.

“But the one-drop rule is racist,” Daniel says. “There’s no way you can get away from the fact that it was historically implemented to create as many slaves as possible. No one leaped over to the white community–that was simply the mentality of the nation, and people of African descent internalized it. What this current discourse is about is lifting the lid of racial oppression in our institutions and letting people identity with the totality of their heritage. We have created a nightmare for human dignity. Multiracialism has the potential for undermining the very basis of racism, which is its categories.”

But multiracialism introduces nightmares of its own. If people are to be counted as something other than completely black, for instance, how will affirmative-action programs be implemented? Suppose a court orders a city to hire additional black police officers to make up for past discrimination. Will mixed race officers count? Will they count wholly or partly? Far from solving the problem of fragmented identities, multiracialism could open the door to fractional races, such as we already have in the case of the American Indians. In order to be eligible for certain federal benefits, such as housing-improvement programs, a person must prove that he or she either is a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe or has fifty per cent “Indian blood.” One can envision a situation in which nonwhiteness itself becomes the only valued quality, to be compensated in various ways depending on a person’s pedigree.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, of Harvard’s Philosophy and Afro- American Studies Departments, says, “What the Multiracial category aims for is not people of mixed ancestry, because a majority of Americans are actually products of mixed ancestry. This category goes after people who have parents who are socially recognized as belonging to different races. That’s O.K.–that’s an interesting social category. But then you have to ask what happens to their children. Do we want to have more boxes, depending upon whether they marry back into one group or the other? What are the children of these people supposed to say? I think about these things because–look, my mother is English; my father is Ghanaian. My sisters are married to a Nigerian and a Norwegian. I have nephews who range from blond- haired kids to very black kids. They are all first cousins. Now, according to the American scheme of things, they’re all black-even the guy with blond hair who skis in Oslo. That’s what the one drop rule says. The Multiracial scheme, which is meant to solve anomalies, simply creates more anomalies of its own, and that’s because the fundamental concept–that you should be able to assign every American to one of three or four races reliably-is crazy.”

These are sentiments that Representative Sawyer agrees with profoundly. He says of the one-drop rule, “It is so embedded in our perception and policy, but it doesn’t allow for the blurring that is the reality of our population. Just look a- What are the numbers?” he said in his congressional office as he leafed through a briefing book “Thirty-eight per cent of American Japanese females and eighteen per cent of American Japanese males marry outside their traditional ethnic and nationality group. Seventy per cent of American Indians marry outside. I grant you that the enormous growth potential of multiracial marriages starts from a relatively small base, but the truth is it starts from a fiction to begin with; that is, what we think of as black-and-white marriages are not marriages between people who come from anything like a clearly defined ethnic, racial, or genetic base.”

The United States Supreme Court struck down the last vestige of anti-miscegenation laws in 1967, in Loving v. Virginia. At that time, interracial marriages were rare; only sixty-five thousand marriages between blacks and whites were recorded in the 1970 census. Marriages between Asians and non-Asian Americans tended to be between soldiers and war brides. Since then, mixed marriages occurring between many racial and ethnic groups have risen to the point where they have eroded the distinctions between such peoples. Among American Indians, people are more likely to marry outside their group than within it, as Representative Sawyer noted. The number of children living in families where one parent is white and the other is black, Asian, or American Indian, to use one measure, has tripled-from fewer than four hundred thousand in 1970 to one and a half million in 1990–and this doesn’t count the children of single parents or children whose parents are divorced.

Blacks are conspicuously less likely to marry outside their group, and yet marriages between blacks and whites have tripled in the last thirty years. Matthijs Kalmijn, a Dutch sociologist, analyzed marriage certificates filed in this country’s non- Southern states since the Loving decision and found that in the nineteen- eighties the rate at which black men were marrying white women had reached approximately ten per cent. (The rate for black women marrying white men is about half that figure.) In the 1990 census, six per cent of black householders nationwide had nonblack spouse–still a small percentage, but a significant one.

Multiracial people, because they are now both unable and unwilling to be ignored, and because many of them refuse to be confined to traditional racial categories, inevitably undermine the entire concept of race as an irreducible difference between peoples. The continual modulation of racial differences in America is increasing the jumble created by centuries of ethnic intermarriage. The resulting dilemma is a profound one. If we choose to measure the mixing by counting people as Multiracial, we pull the teeth of the civil-rights laws. Are we ready for that? Is it even possible to make changes in the way we count Americans, given the legislative mandates already built into law? “I don’t know,” Sawyer concedes. “At this point, my purpose is not so much to alter the laws that underlie these kinds of questions as to raise the question of whether or not the way in which we currently define who we are reflects the reality of the nation we are and who we are becoming. If it does not, then the policies underlying the terms of measurement are doomed to be flawed. What you measure is what you get.”

Science has put forward many different racial models, the most enduring being the division of humanity into three broad groupings: the Mongoloid, the Negroid, and the Caucasoid. An influential paper by Masatoshi Nei and Arun K. Roychoudhury, entitled “Gene Differences between Caucasian, Negro, and Japanese Populations,” which appeared in Science, in 1972, found that the genetic variation among individuals from these racial groups was only slightly greater than the variation within the groups. In 1965, the anthropologist Stanley Garn proposed hundreds, even thousands, of racial groups, which he saw as gene clusters separated by geography or culture, some with only minor variations between them. The paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, for one, has proposed doing away with all racial classifications and identifying people by clines-regional divisions that are used to account for the diversity of snails and of songbirds, among many other species. In this Gould follows the anthropologist Ashley Montagu, who waged a lifelong campaign to rid science of the term “race” altogether and never used it except in quotation marks. Montagu would have substituted the term “ethnic group,” which he believed carried less odious baggage.

Race, in the common understanding, draws upon differences not only of skin color and physical attributes but also of language, nationality, and religion. At times, we have counted as “races” different national groups, such as Mexicans and Filipinos. Some Asian Indians were counted as members of a “Hindu” race in the censuses tom 1920 to 1940; then they became white for three decades. Racial categories are often used as ethnic intensifiers, with the aim of justifying the exploitation of one group by another. One can trace the ominous example of Jews in prewar Germany, who were counted as “Israelites,” a religious group, until the Nazis came to power and turned them into a race. Mixtures of first- and second-degree Jewishness were distinguished, much as quadroons and octoroons had been in the United States. In fact, the Nazi experience ultimately caused a widespread reexamination of the idea of race. Canada dropped the race question from its census in 1951 and has so far resisted all attempts to reinstitute it. People who were working in the United States Bureau of the Census in the fifties and early sixties remember that there was speculation that the race question would soon be phased out in America as well. The American Civil Liberties Union tried to get the race question dropped from the census in 1960, and the State of New Jersey stopped entering race information on birth and death certificates in 1962 and 1963. In 1964, however, the architecture of civil-rights laws began to be erected, and many of the new laws-particularly the Voting Rights Act of 1965-required highly detailed information about minority participation which could be gathered only by the decennial census, the nation’s supreme instrument for gathering demographic statistics. The expectation that the race question would wither away surrendered to the realization that race data were fundamental to monitoring and enforcing desegregation. The census soon acquired a political importance that it had never had in the past.

Unfortunately, the sloppiness and multiplicity of certain racial and ethnic categories rendered them practically meaningless for statistical purposes. In 1973, Caspar Weinberger, who was then Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, asked the Federal Inter-agency Committee on Education (FICE) to develop some standards for classifying race and ethnicity. An ad-hoc committee sprang into being and proposed to create an intellectual grid that would sort all Americans into five racial and ethnic categories. The first category was American Indian or Alaskan Native. Some members of the committee wanted the category to be called Original Peoples of the Western Hemisphere, in order to include Indians of South American origin, but the distinction that this category was seeking was so-called “Federal Indians,” who were eligible for government benefits; to include Indians of any other origin, even though they might be genetically quite similar, would confuse the collecting of data. To accommodate the various, highly diverse peoples who originated in the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, the committee proposed a category called Asian or Pacific Islander, thus sweeping into one massive basket Chinese, Samoans, Cambodians, Filipinos, and others-peoples who had little or nothing in common, and many of whom were, indeed, traditional enemies. The fact that American Indians and Alaskan Natives originated from the same Mongoloid stock as many of these peoples did not stop the committee from putting them in a separate racial category. Black was defined as “a person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa,” and White, initially, as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, or the Indian subcontinent”– everybody else, in other words. Because the Black category contained anyone with any African heritage at all, the range of actual skin colors covered the entire spectrum, as did the White category, which included Arabs and Asian Indians and various other darker-skinned peoples.

The final classification, Hispanic, was the most problematic of all. In the 1960 census, people whose ancestry was Latin- American were counted as white. Then people of Spanish origin became a protected group, requiring the census to gather data in order to monitor their civil rights. But how to define them? People who spoke Spanish? Defining the population that way would have included millions of Americans who spoke the language but had no actual roots in Hispanic culture, and it excluded Brazilians and children of immigrants who were not taught Spanish in their homes. One approach was to count persons with Spanish surnames, but that created a number of difficulties: marriage made some non- Hispanic women into instant minorities, while stripping other women of their Hispanic status. The 1970 census inquired about people from “Central or South America,” and more than a million people checked the box who were not Hispanic; they were from Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi-the central and southern United States, in other words.

The greatest dilemma was that there was no conceivable justification for calling Hispanics a race. There were black Hispanics from the Dominican Republic, Argentines who were almost entirely European whites, Mexicans who would have been counted as American Indians if they had been born north of the Rio Grande. The great preponderance of Hispanics are mestizos–a continuum of many different genetic backgrounds. Moreover, the fluid Latin- American concept of race differs from the rigid United States idea of biologically determined and highly distinct human divisions. In most Latin cultures, skin color is an individual variable–not a group marker–so that within the same family one sibling might be considered white and another black. By 1960, the United States census, which counts the population of Puerto Rico, gave up asking the race question on the island, because race did not carry the same distinction there that it did on the mainland. The ad-hoc committee decided to dodge riddles like these by calling Hispanics an ethnic group, not a race.

In 1977, O.M.B. Statistical Directive 15 adopted the FICE suggestions practically verbatim, with one principal exception: Asian Indians were moved to the Asian or Pacific Islander category. Thus, with little political discussion, the identities of Americans were fixed in five broad groupings. Those racial and ethnic categories that were dreamed up almost twenty years ago were not neutral in their effect. By attempting to provide a way for Americans to describe themselves, the categories actually began to shape those identities. The categories became political entities, with their own constituencies, lobbies, and vested interests. What was even more significant, they caused people to think of themselves in new ways members of “races” that were little more than statistical devices. In 1974, the year the ad-hoc committee set to work, few people referred to themselves as Hispanic; rather, people who fell into that grouping tended to identify themselves by nationality–Mexican or Dominican, for instance. Such small categories, however, are inconvenient for statistics and politics, and the creation of the meta-concept “Hispanic” has resulted in the formation of a peculiarly American group. “It is a mixture of ethnicity, culture, history, birth, and a presumption of language,” Sawyer contends. Largely because of immigration, the Asian or Pacific Islander group is considered the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, but it is a “racial” category that in all likelihood exists nowhere else in the world. The third-fastest-growing category is Other–made up of the nearly ten million people, most of them Hispanics, who refused to check any of the prescribed racial boxes. American Indian groups are also growing at a rate that far exceeds the growth of the population as a whole: from about half a million people in 1960 to nearly two million in 1990–a two-hundred-and-fifty-nine- per-cent increase, which was demographically impossible. It seemed to be accounted for by improvements in the census-taking procedure and also by the fact that Native Americans had become fashionable, and people now wished to identity with them. To make matters even more confounding, only seventy-four per cent of those who identified themselves as American Indian by race reported having Indian ancestry.

Whatever the word “race” may mean elsewhere in the world, or to the world of science, it is clear that in America the categories are arbitrary, confused, and hopelessly intermingled. In many cases, Americans don’t know who they are, racially speaking. A National Center for Health Statistics study found that 5.8 per cent of the people who called themselves Black were seen as White by a census interviewer. Nearly a third of the people identifying themselves as Asian were classified as White or Black by independent observers. That was also true of seventy per cent of people who identified themselves as American Indians. Robert A. Hahn, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, analyzed deaths of infants born from 1983 through 1985. In an astounding number of cases, the infant had a different race on its death certificate from the one on its birth certificate, and this finding led to staggering increases in the infant-mortality rate for minority populations-46.9 per cent greater for American Indians, 48.8 per cent greater for Japanese- Americans, 78.7 per cent greater for Filipinos- over what had been previously recorded. Such disparities cast doubt on the dependability of race as a criterion for any statistical survey. “It seems to me that we have to go back and reevaluate the whole system,” Hahn says. “We have to ask, ‘What do these categories mean?’ We are not talking about race in the way that geneticists might use the term, because we’re not making any kind of biological assessment. It’s closer to self-perceived membership in a population–which is essentially what ethnicity is.” There are genetic variations in disease patterns, Hahn points out, and he goes on to say, “But these variations don’t always correspond to so-called races. What’s really important is, essentially, two things. One, people from different ancestral backgrounds have different behaviors- diets, ideas about what to do when you’re sick-that lead them to different health statuses. Two, people are discriminated against because of other people’s perception of who they are and how they should be treated. There’s still a lot of discrimination in the health-care system.”

Racial statistics do serve an important purpose in the monitoring and enforcement of civil-rights laws; indeed, that has become the main justification for such data. A routine example is the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act. Because of race questions on loan applications, the federal government has been able to document the continued practice of redlining by financial institutions. The Federal Reserve found that, for conventional mortgages, in 1992 the denial rate for blacks and Hispanics was roughly double the rate for whites. Hiring practices, jury selection, discriminatory housing patterns, apportionment of political power-in all these areas, and more, the government patrols society, armed with little more than statistical information to insure equal an fair treatment. “We need these categories essentially to get rid of them,” Hahn says.

The unwanted corollary of slotting people by race is that such officially sanctioned classifications may actually worsen racial strife. By creating social- welfare programs based on race rather than on need, the government sets citizens against one another precisely because of perceived racial differences. “It is not ‘race’ but a practice of racial classification that bedevils the society,” writes Yehudi Webster, a sociologist at California State University, Los Angeles, and the author of “The Racialization of America.” The use of racial statistics, he and others have argued, creates a reality of racial divisions, which then require solutions, such as busing, affirmative action, and multicultural education, all of which are bound to fail, because they heighten the racial awareness that leads to contention. Webster believes that adding a Multiracial box would be “another leap into absurdity,” because it reinforces the concept of race in the first place. “In a way, it’s a continuation of the one-drop principle. Anybody can say, ‘I’ve got one drop of something I must be multiracial.’ It may be a good thing. It may finally convince Americans of the absurdity of racial classification.”

In 1990, Itabari Njeri, who writes about interethnic relations for the Los Angeles Times, organized a symposium for the National Association of Black Journalists. She recounts a presentation given by Charles Stewart, a Democratic Party activist: “If you consider yourself black for political reasons, raise your hand.” The vast majority raised their hands. When Stewart then asked how many people present believed they were of pure African descent, without any mixture, no one raised his hand. Stewart commented later, “If you advocate a category that includes people who are multiracial to the detriment of their black identification, you will replicate what you saw- an empty room. We can not afford to have an empty room.”

Njeri maintains that the social and economic gap between light-skinned blacks and dark-skinned blacks is as great as the gap between all blacks and all whites in America. If people of more obviously mixed backgrounds were to migrate to a Multiracial box, she says, they would be politically abandoning their former allies and the people who needed their help the most. In stead of draining the established categories of their influence, Njeri and others believe, it would be better to eliminate racial categories altogether.

That possibility is actually being discussed in the corridors of government. “It’s quite strange–the original idea of O.M.B. Directive 15 has nothing to do with current efforts to ‘define’ race,” says Sally Katzen, the director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at O.M.B., who has the onerous responsibility of making the final recommendation on revising the racial categories. “When O.M.B. got into the business of establishing categories, it was purely statistical, not programmatic–purely for the purpose of data gathering, not for defining or protecting different categories. It was certainly never meant to define a race.” And yet for more than twenty years Directive 15 did exactly that, with relatively little outcry. “Recently, a question has been raised about the increasing number of multiracial children. I personally have received pictures of beautiful children who are part Asian and part black, or part American Indian and part Asian, with these letters saying, ‘I don’t want to check just one box. I don’t want to deny part of my heritage.’ It’s very compelling.”

This year, Katzen convened a new interagency committee to consider how races should be categorized, and even whether racial information should be sought at all. “To me it’s offensive because I think of the Holocaust- for someone to say what a Jew is,” says Katzen. “I don’t think a government agency should be defining racial and ethnic categories-that certainly was not what was ever intended by these standards.”

Is it any accident that racial and ethnic categories should come under attack now, when being a member of a minority group brings certain advantages? The white colonizers of North America conquered the indigenous people, imported African slaves, brought in Asians as laborers and then excluded them with prejudicial immigration laws, and appropriated Mexican land and the people who were living on it. In short, the nonwhite population of America has historically been subjugated and treated as second-class citizens by the white majority. It is to redress the social and economic inequalities of our history that We have civil-rights laws and affirmative-action plans in the first place. Advocates of various racial and ethnic groups point out that many of the people now calling for a race-blind society are political conservatives, who may have an interest in undermining the advancement of nonwhites in our society. Suddenly, the conservatives have adopted the language of integration, it seems, and the left-leaning racial-identity advocates have adopted the language of separatism. It amounts to a polar reversal of political rhetoric.

Jon Michael Spencer, a professor in the African and Afro- American Studies Curriculum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently wrote an article in The Black Scholar lamenting what he calls “the postmodern conspiracy to explode racial identity.” The article ignited a passionate debate in the magazine over the nature and the future of race. Spencer believes that race is a useful metaphor for cultural and historic difference, because it permits a level of social cohesion among oppressed classes. “To relinquish the notion of race–even though it’s a cruel hoax–at this particular time is to relinquish our fortress against the powers and principalities that still try to undermine us,” he says. He sees the Multi- racial box as politically damaging to “those who need to galvanize peoples around the racial idea of black.”

There are some black cultural nationalists who might welcome the Multiracial category. “In terms of the African-American population, it could be very, very useful, because there is a need to clarify who is in and who is not,” Molefi Kete Asante, who is the chairperson of the Department of African- American Studies at Temple University, says. “In fact, I would think they should go further than that–identify those people who are in interracial marriages.”

Spencer, however, thinks that it might be better to eliminate racial categories altogether than to create an additional category that empties the others of meaning. “If you had who knows how many thousands or tens of thousands or millions of people claiming to be multiracial, you would lessen the number who are black,” Spencer says. “There’s no end in sight. There’s no limit to which one can go in claiming to be multiracial. For instance, I happen to be very brown in complexion, but when I go to the continent of Africa, blacks and whites there claim that I would be ‘colored’ rather than black, which means that somewhere in my distant past- probably during the era of slavery-I could have one or more white ancestors. So does that mean that I, too, could check Multiracial? Certainly light-skinned black people might perhaps see this as a way out of being included among a despised racial group. The result could be the creation of another class of people, who are betwixt and between black and white.”

Whatever comes out of this discussion, the nation is likely to engage in the most profound debate of racial questions in decades. “We recognize the importance of racial categories in correcting clear injustices under the law,” Representative Sawyer says. “The dilemma we face is trying to assure the fundamental guarantees of equality of opportunity while at the same time recognizing that the populations themselves are changing as we seek to categorize them. It reaches the point where it becomes an absurd counting game. Part of the difficulty is that we are dealing with the illusion of precision. We wind up with precise counts of everybody in the country, and they are precisely wrong. They don’t reflect who we are as a people. To be effective, the concepts of individual and group identity need to reflect not only who we have been but who we are becoming. The more these categories distort our perception of reality, the less useful they are. We act as if we knew what we’re talking about when we talk about race, and we don’t.”



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By Robert N. Entman and Andrew Rojecki, authors of “The Black Image in the White Mind”

1.  While Black actors are now more numerous in film, it’s an open question as to how well they’re being represented. In the top movies of 1996:

  • Black female movie characters shown using vulgar profanity: 89%.
  • White female movie characters shown using vulgar profanity: 17%.
  • Black female movie characters shown being physically violent: 56%.
  • White female movie characters shown being physically violent: 11%.
  • Black female movie characters shown being restrained: 55%.
  • White female movie characters shown being restrained: 6%.

2.  Television ads now show many Blacks and eschew stereotypes. However, hidden patterns of differentiation and distance emerge on close analysis. Not surprisingly, for instance, Blacks do not touch Whites in the ads, but (unlike Whites) they rarely even touch each other, conveying a subtle message of Black skin as taboo. A hierarchy of racial preference is embedded within the casting of commercials. Consider these figures from a large prime time sample:

  • Of the 105 commercials for autos or trucks that showed only one race, the percentage all-White: 100%.
  • Of the 74 commercials for perfumes that showed only one race, the percentage all-White: 98%.
  • Of the 47 commercials for jewelry or cosmetics that showed only one race, the percentage all-White: 100%.

3.  Over 70% of Black characters in the most highly rated TV entertainment shows have professional or management positions. However well-intentioned, this utopian reversal imposes a formal distance between Black and White actors, hobbling the audience’s sympathetic imagination. Blacks’ supervisory roles isolate their characters from close peer relationships. Among these actors, 92% of interactions with Whites are restricted to job-related tasks.
4.  Network news tends to “ghettoize” Blacks. Increasingly, African Americans appear mostly in crime, sports and entertainment stories. Rarely are Blacks shown making an important contribution to the serious business of the nation. Sampling network news shows:

  • Number of soundbites on foreign affairs uttered by Whites: 99; by Blacks: 1.
  • Number of soundbites on economics uttered by Whites: 86; by Blacks: 1.
  • Number of soundbites on electoral politics uttered by Whites: 79; by Blacks: 0.
  • Number of soundbites on sports and entertainment uttered by Whites: 35; by Blacks: 11.
  • Number of soundbites on crime uttered by Whites: 149; by Blacks: 24.

5.  Black defendants are simply treated differently on local TV news from their White counterparts:

  • Times more likely that a mug shot of the accused will appear in a local TV news report when the defendant is Black rather than White: 4.
  • Times more likely that the accused will be shown physically restrained in a local TV news report when the defendant is Black rather than White: 2.
  • Times less likely that the name of the accused will be shown on screen in a local TV news report when the defendant is Black rather than White: 2

6.  “Telegenic” figures aren’t always the most representative leaders. Some statistics from 1994:

  • Black adults stating that Jesse Jackson represents Black people “very well”: 40%.
  • Black adults stating that Louis Farrakhan represents Black people “very well”: 11%.
  • Black adults stating they had “never heard of” Jesse Jackson: 0%.
  • Black adults stating they had “never heard of” Louis Farrakhan: 22%.
  • Stories about, or soundbites from, Jesse Jackson on ABC World News: 13.
  • Stories about, or soundbites from, Louis Farrakhan on ABC World News: 25.

7.  The media sowed discord during the affirmative action debate of the 1990s despite the considerable common ground between Blacks and Whites. Reporters often predicted affirmative action would be one of the key issues in the 1996 election because of the “rage” among Whites.

  • Percentage of survey respondents naming affirmative action as their top priority in voting against a presidential candidate, 1996: 1%.
  • Percentage of White men (“angry” or not) surveyed who favored affirmative action programs as is or with reforms: 61%.
  • Percentage of White women surveyed who favored affirmative action programs as is or with reforms: 76%.
  • Percentage of White “persons on the street” supporting affirmative action in a sample of network news: 12.5%. Percentage opposing: 87.5%.

Robert M. Entman and Andrew Rojecki
The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America
©2000, 324 pages
Paper $17.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-21076-6



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Cindy Adams

In some blocks around town, like in Flushing, Queens, it feels like another city.
WE ARE THE WORLD: In some blocks around town, like in Flushing, Queens, it feels like another city.

September 30, 2007 — FORGET that telephone hookup, we who pay New York City taxes are ac tually living in PragueIraqParisDC. We think we’re the capital of the world, center of the Universe? No. We are Planet Earth.

Walk our streets. English is the second language. And if you count New Yorkese – “Yo, man . . . whassup” – it’s the third.

Two days ago a lady, speaking some gibberish that Berlitz doesn’t teach, asked me directions to someplace. I tried but couldn’t understand her. When I wasn’t able to help, she turned in disgust and mumbled to her companion: “She no know English.”

Anyone notice that our previous 7 p.m. dining hour has crept to 7:30? Then 8? Why? South Americans have swarmed in. Their normal dining hour is 11. Now you go into a restaurant and it crowds up at 10 o’clock.

And conversation between New Yorkers going out for dinner? “So how about we do Turkish. We did Turkish last week. OK, French. Why French? We need something different for a change. So let’s have Indian. I don’t know, I was thinking maybe Mexican.” The thought of an Idaho baked potato/Maine lobster/New York sirloin/Georgia peach/California orange/Louisiana gumbo/Texas chili/Maryland crab cake/Iowa corn/New England clam chowder/Southern fried chicken never occurred to them.

Never mind the housing and mortgage situation. Look for a condo in Manhattan and you’ll learn everything’s taken by Europeans. With America’s currency having hiccups, they think $12 million two-bedroom apartments are bargains.

Walk our shopping areas. Check the names – Gucci, Pucci, Fiorucci, Fendi, Ricci, Armani, Missoni, Givenchy, Versace, Miyake, Mori, Prada, Zegna, Burberry, Bally, Chanel, Dior, Vuitton, McCartney, McQueen, St. Laurent, Louboutin, Rykiel, Cardin, Courreges, Gaultier, Dolce & Gabbana, Kenzo, Manolo, Etro, Ferragamo, Valentino, Galliano, Yamamoto, Lacroix, La-dee-dah, La-whatever. And talk to their sales help in English, they don’t even turn around. If you sound American the only language they speak is dollars.

Add to that our influx last week for the U.N. (Useless Nations). A local citizen, who pays taxes here and owns a super-expensive apartment here and had a bad leg, discovered his car was waved blocks away so some yutz from Uruguay surrounded by a detail straight out of a Bruce Willis B-movie could commandeer the whole front of his building. He fumed: “Why kill our whole city? Why not stick this nonproductive organization out in a field someplace – like in Utah – where it doesn’t bother anybody?”

Sen. Chuck Schumer‘s office arranged for my first-ever visit to the Federal Reserve Bank downtown, where they store a few thousand billion in gold bullion. I wasn’t planning to make a deposit or anything. Just that periodically I enjoy experiencing the history of my country, my state, my city and whatever makes us what we are. I arrived at the appointed time Friday. Boy, could The Fed not have cared less. Liberty Street was filled with black SUVs and dudes wearing black shades and black clothes behind windows tinted black. Menacing guys with guns and earpieces, all whispering into their shirt cuffs, ringed the block. And all for some jerk in an ill-fitting suit with plastic gum-soled shoes from some fourth-rate country so small it’s standing in line to dare shake its fist at the United States.

Last Sunday friends tried a restaurant in the Theater District. They’re Yanks. Born here. No immigration hangups. Lou Dobbs wouldn’t have tried to deport them. They have valid driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, passports, subscriptions to Reader’s Digest and CDs of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.”

They were nearly frisked and slammed against a wall when they wanted to use the men’s room. Why? Because the Bruce Willis extras were protecting some ambassador who probably lives in a tent in his native city and comes from some junk place that pays his salary with money borrowed from us. Why? What is that?!

They screw up traffic so we who live here have been late for every appointment. They park in our parking spots, pay no taxes, are immune from all illegalities, live free, eat free, smoke free, are partied and feted and lauded and stay – on the arm – in the best, greatest, thrillingest, most exciting city in the whole world with the sole job of then peeing on us.

And our cops protect them? Our city guards them? Our officials bow to them? Our citizens place second to them? Our TV gives them prime time? Our universities give their madmen a platform? What the hell for? How is this possible? Can you remotely imagine that working in reverse?

How about we find a way to keep them out of here forever. Or at least out of New York. Or at least out of Manhattan. Or at least out of Midtown. Or at least off the street where my hairdresser is.

(Article courtesy of the New York Post)

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By Chris McGreal

In 1810, Saartjie Baartman was brought to Europe from South Africa to be displayed as a sexual freak and example of the inferiority of the black race. Now the remains of the ‘Hottentot Venus’ are finally being returned to her homeland. Chris McGreal reports

Thursday February 21, 2002
The Guardian

The first time Saartjie Baartman was dragged out to squat before the mob at 225 Piccadilly, the show’s promoters billed her genitals as resembling the skin that hangs from a turkey’s throat. For several years, working-class Londoners crowded in to shout vulgarities at the protruding buttocks and large vulva of the unfortunate woman made famous across Europe as the “Hottentot Venus”. The aristocracy were no less fascinated at what they saw as a sexual freak, but they had private showings. Death in Paris a few years later treated the young woman from South Africa’s Eastern Cape little better than life. She was carved up by Napoleon’s surgeon, who made a cast of her body, pickled her genitals and brain, and put her skeleton on display in a museum.But now, nearly two centuries after Baartman was lured on to a ship for England with the promise that she would make her fortune, the Hottentot Venus is to go home. The French senate has voted to release Baartman’s remains from the Musé de L’Homme, where they were on public display until shame caught up with the administrators in 1976. The senate debate was an emotional affair, with the crucial question posed by the man who sponsored the bill, Nicolas About. “This young woman was treated as if she was something monstrous. But where in this affair is the true monstrosity?” he asked.It is a question to which the Khoisan – the first people to inhabit the southern tip of Africa – have a ready answer, and the return of Baartman’s remains is giving them the opportunity to make it heard. “Saartjie Baartman became a symbol of our suffering, and all the misery she went through was a manifestation of how the Khoisan people were treated during that period and beyond,” says Cecil le Fleur, chairman of the National Khoisan Consultative Conference Council. “But the sad thing is that although we knew of Saartjie Baartman when we were growing up, we didn’t really know what happened to her. We only found out a few years ago that her skeleton was in a museum in Paris. The French knew but we didn’t, her own people. They never thought to tell us.”Baartman was born in 1789 in what is now the Eastern Cape – the year of the French revolution, with its ideals of equality and liberty. She was from a clan of Quena people who were among those derided by white settlers as “Hottentots”. Today, the Quena fall under the collective label of Khoisan – grouping all the first peoples of southern Africa.In her late teens, Baartman migrated to Cape Town. Colonial records show that in 1810 she was living in a small shack when a British ship’s doctor, William Dunlop, took an interest in her. He was fascinated by her large backside and genitalia – common to Khoisan people. Dunlop persuaded her to sail with him to London by telling her that she would become rich by displaying her body. No doubt she saw the opportunity to live like the white colonialists in the Cape. Her fate was to be much worse even than that of the Elephant Man.

Baartman was first displayed in Piccadilly. A contemporary account describes how she was paraded on a “stage two feet high, along which she was led by her keeper and exhibited like a wild beast, being obliged to walk, stand or sit as he ordered”. The crowd viewed her as little different from an animal. From Piccadilly she was moved to Bartholomew Fair and Haymarket.

Slavery was a hot topic of the time. A young Jamaican, Robert Wedderburn, who founded the African Association to campaign against racism, pressured the government to end the daily spectacle on the grounds that it amounted to slavery. The attorney general backed him, but the courts ruled that Baartman had entered into a contract of her own free will and the show went on. It is doubtful the Hottentot Venus ever saw a contract.

Four years after her arrival in London, she was moved to Paris – probably sold – where she fell under the control of a “showman of wild animals” at a travelling circus. When she was not being paraded for the mob, Baartman was displayed at society functions. It was at a ball for France’s new establishment – where she arrived dressed in nothing but a few feathers – that Napoleon’s surgeon general, George Cuvier, spotted her and claimed a scientific interest. Over the following year she was repeatedly studied by doctors and anthropologists, who invariably concluded that she was evidence of the superiority of the white race.

The abuse took its toll on her, driving her into prostitution and alcoholism. She died in 1815, just five years after arriving in Europe. It’s not certain what claimed her but the descriptions of her death point to syphilis and tuberculosis. Then Napoleon’s surgeon got hold of her again.

After her remains were pulled from public display at the Musé de L’Homme 26 years ago, they were consigned to a shelf in a back room and largely forgotten until interest in her fate revived with the end of apartheid in South Africa and the Khoisan peoples attempts to reassert their identity.

Le Fleur sees Baartman’s suffering as representative of the entire Khoisan people. “All through the colonial period and the decades of apartheid, our people were robbed of their lives and identity,” he says. “It was one of the master plans of the colonial powers to alienate us from our culture, language and traditions so they could rob us of our land. In the apartheid era they reclassified us as being merely a so-called coloured (mixed-race) person so we could not be distinguished from people with white or black blood.”

Yet Baartman’s return has a greater symbolism than acknowledging past atrocities. There is a sense among many of the estimated 100,000 or more people who claim Khoisan descent that even in the new, democratic South Africa, they are still marginalised. “The Khoisan definitely don’t feel that they are accommodated in the broader South African society as a people,” says Le Fleur. “According to the constitution, we enjoy the same individual rights, but as a group we are not yet recognised as a people. We are not recognised as the first indigenous peoples of South Africa.” But that is changing, and not just because of Baartman’s imminent return.

Many South Africans classified as “coloured” under apartheid feel that affirmative action for black people has once again left them behind, just as white “job reservation” and other apartheid measures did in the old days. To claim their place at the head of the queue, growing numbers of people in the Cape are identifying themselves as “Khoisan”.

Baartman nearly did not come back at all. Nelson Mandela took up the cause when he became president in 1994, pressing François Mitterand to release her remains. But the French were initially reluctant to open what they saw as a Pandora’s box that could lead to plundered artefacts from across the globe, and now filling museums, being returned. Besides which, there was an instinctive desire not to face up to Baartman’s inhumane treatment.

French bureaucrats looked for reasons to shelve the issue. According to the senate’s own report, officials at one point said that since South Africa had not raised the Baartman issue for a few months, there was no need to do anything. But the report brushed aside the doubts by describing the delays in returning her to South Africa as “grave management dysfunction” and “incompetence fighting with absurdity”.

But what of Baartman’s fate now? Who will claim her? Where will she be buried? Some want her interned in the Gamtoos Valley where she is believed to have been born. Others want a grander affair that evokes the national suffering of so many generations of all South Africans.

“That is the million-dollar question,” says Le Fleur. “Irrespective of the fact that she is Khoisan descent, we don’t want to create the impression that we claim her as Khoisan property. Mostly, we want her to have a decent burial and to treat her in death how she was never treated in life.”


By Lucille Davie

12 August 2002

Sarah Baartman, displayed as a freak because of her unusual physical features, has finally been laid to rest, 187 years after she left Cape Town for London. Her remains were buried on Women’s Day, 9 August 2002, in the area of her birth, the Gamtoos River Valley in the Eastern Cape.

Baartman was born in 1789. She was working as a slave in Cape Town when she was “discovered” by British ship’s doctor William Dunlop, who persuaded her to travel with him to England. We’ll never know what she had in mind when she stepped on board – of her own free will – a ship for London.

But it’s clear what Dunlop had in mind – to display her as a “freak”, a “scientific curiosity”, and make money from these shows, some of which he promised to give to her.

Baartman had unusually large buttocks and genitals, and in the early 1800s Europeans were arrogantly obsessed with their own superiority, and with proving that others, particularly blacks, were inferior and oversexed.

Baartman’s physical characteristics, not unusual for Khoisan women, although her features were larger than normal, were “evidence” of this prejudice, and she was treated like a freak exhibit in London.

The ‘Hottentot Venus’
She was called the “Hottentot Venus”, ‘Hottentot’ being a name given to people with cattle. They had acquired these cattle by migrating northwards to Angola and returned to South Africa with them, some 2 000 years before the first European settlement at the Cape in 1652. Prior to this, they were indistinguishable from the Bushmen or San, the first inhabitants of South Africa, who had been in the region for around 100 000 years as hunter-gatherers.

Khoisan is used to denote their relationship to the San people. The label Hottentot took on derogatory connotations, and is no longer used.

Venus is the Roman goddess of love, a cruel reference to Baartman being an object of admiration and adoration instead of the object of leering and abuse that she became.

She spent four years in London, then moved to Paris, where she continued her degrading round of shows and exhibitions. In Paris she attracted the attention of French scientists, in particular Georges Cuvier.

No one knows if Dunlop was true to his word and paid Baartman for her “services”, but if he did pay her, it wasn’t sufficient to buy herself out of the life she was living.

Once the Parisians got tired of the Baartman show, she was forced to turn to prostitution. She didn’t last the ravages of a foreign culture and climate, or the further abuse of her body. She died in 1815 at the age of 25.

The cause of death was given as “inflammatory and eruptive sickness”, possibly syphilis. Others suggest she was an alcoholic. Whatever the cause, she lived and died thousands of kilometres from home and family, in a hostile city, with no means of getting herself home again.

Cuvier made a plaster cast of her body, then removed her skeleton and, after removing her brain and genitals, pickled them and displayed them in bottles at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.

Some 160 years later they were still on display, but were finally removed from public view in 1974. In 1994, then president Nelson Mandela suggested that her remains be brought home.

Other representations were made, but it took the French government eight years to pass a bill – apparently worded so as to prevent other countries from claiming the return of their stolen treasures – to allow their small piece of “scientific curiosity” to be returned to South Africa.

In January 2002, Sarah Baartman’s remains were finally returned, and remained in Cape Town pending a decision on her final burial place.

Marang Setshwaelo, writing for, says that Dr Willa Boezak, a Khoisan rights activist, believes that a poem written by Khoisan descendant Diana Ferrus in 1998 played a major role in helping bring Baartman home. Boezak says: “It took the power of a woman, through a simple, loving poem, to move hard politicians into action.”

Whatever the reason, Sarah Baartman is home, and has finally had her dignity restored by being buried where she belongs – far away from where her race and gender were so cruelly exploited.


A poem for Sarah Baartman
By Diana Ferrus“I’ve come to take you home –
home, remember the veld?
the lush green grass beneath the big oak trees
the air is cool there and the sun does not burn.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white
and the water in the stream chuckle sing-songs
as it hobbles along over little stones.I have come to wretch you away –
away from the poking eyes
of the man-made monster
who lives in the dark
with his clutches of imperialism
who dissects your body bit by bit
who likens your soul to that of Satan
and declares himself the ultimate god!I have come to soothe your heavy heart
I offer my bosom to your weary soul
I will cover your face with the palms of my hands
I will run my lips over lines in your neck
I will feast my eyes on the beauty of you
and I will sing for you
for I have come to bring you peace.I have come to take you home
where the ancient mountains shout your name.
I have made your bed at the foot of the hill,
your blankets are covered in buchu and mint,
the proteas stand in yellow and white –
I have come to take you home
where I will sing for you
for you have brought me peace.”Diana Ferrus
Diana Ferrus, of Khoisan descent, wrote “A poem for Sarah Baartman” while studying in Utrecht, Holland, in 1998. She told Marang Setshwaelo: “One evening I was looking at the stars and I thought to myself, ‘They’re so far away. But if I were home, I’d be able to touch every one of them.’ My heart just went out to Sarah, and I thought, ‘Oh, god, she died of heartbreak, she longed for her country. What did she feel?’ That’s why the first line of the poem was ‘I’ve come to take you home.’”Sarah or Saartjie?
For decades she has been referred to as “Saartjie”, a Afrikaans diminutive form of “Sara”. The diminutive form “tjie” is thought nowadays to be patronising, hence the renaming “Sarah”.

Are the floodgates now open?
Will the floodgates of the issue of returning artefacts and treasures to their countries of origin, be opened by the return of Sarah Baartman? Ethiopia is fighting for the return of the 1 700-year-old Aksum Obelisk, taken by the Italians in the early 20th century.

A film
Zola Maseko’s documentary, The life and times of Sara Baartman, has won half-a-dozen awards, including Best African Documentary. See also Gabeba Baderoon’s article The imagined Black body, published by the University of Cape Town’s African Gender Institute.

More Sarah Baartman links

















  • Sander L. Gilman  (1985). “Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature”. In Gates, Henry (Ed.) Race, Writing and Difference 223-261. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Stephen Jay Gould (1985). “The Hottentot Venus”. In The Flamingo’s Smile, 291-305. New York, W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 0-393-30375-6.
  • Rachel  Holmes  (2006). The Hottentot Venus. Bloomsbury, Random House. ISBN 0-7475-7776-5, ISBN 1400061369 (U. S. edition).
  • Z.S. Strother (1999). “Display of the Body Hottentot”, in Lindfors, B., (ed.), Africans on Stage: Studies in Ethnological Show Business. Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press: 1-55
  • Janell Hobson  (2005).  “Venus In The Dark:  Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture”:


Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture  
Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture by Janell Hobson (Paperback – Jul 15, 2005)
Buy new:
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The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus  
African Queen: The Real Life of the Hottentot Venus by Rachel Holmes (Hardcover – Jan 2, 2007)
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The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman (Born 1789 - Buried 2002)  
The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman (Born 1789 – Buried 2002) by Rachel Holmes (Hardcover – Mar 19, 2007)



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December 18, 2007

El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald

Joanne Chesimard escaped from prison in 1979.
Joanne Chesimard escaped from prison in 1979.

Joanne Chesimard, an African-American militant on the FBI’s most-wanted list who has lived in Cuba since 1984, has started to create curiosity among island residents, even if the official news media doesn’t mention her.

Chesimard, one of about 70 U.S. fugitives who live protected in Cuba, escaped from prison in 1979 while serving a life sentence for the murder of a police officer in New Jersey. The reward for her capture was increased to $1 million in May 2005.

The several hundred people who daily visit the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana can see her FBI wanted poster, distributed more than two years ago, on display there.

Some Cubans have been asking themselves who this woman is, according to residents. Others have searched the Web for information about her, and still others have contacted U.S. publications for details on her case.

On Nov. 13, Havana independent journalist Santiago Du’Bouchet sent a report to the Miami-based New Cuban Press with Chesimard’s phone number and street address in the capital’s Playa municipality.

”This woman strolls unnoticed through the streets of Havana, driving a VW and a black Volvo,” Du’Bouchet reported.

El Nuevo Herald made numerous calls to the number, but it was always busy. Many years ago, Chesimard’s phone number was listed in the Havana directory under the name she uses in Cuba, Assata Shakur. But the listing was later withdrawn.


New Cuban Press director Nancy Pérez Crespo noted what while the Chesimard photographs in her FBI wanted poster are more than 20 years old, her group’s magazine, Enepecé, published a photo that claims to be of Chesimard, taken in February 2005.

The photo was taken when Chesimard was participating in an event for the XIV International Book Fair in Havana, Pérez Crespo said. The photographer, who asked that his name not be disclosed, sent it to New Cuban Press, which published it in mid-2005.

”We published it immediately, but no one [from the FBI] has called me to verify its authenticity or its origin,” Pérez Crespo said.

Chesimard, now 60 years old, is the most notorious of the U.S. fugitives known to be living in Cuba. According to her own testimony, she was welcomed to the island with the personal consent of Fidel Castro, who considered her a fighter for racial equality in the United States.

”To make her look like a terrorist is an injustice, a brutality, an infamous lie. This woman was a role model,” Castro said in a television broadcast in 2005.

Chesimard was joined in Cuba in 1985 by her daughter Kakuya, who had been under her grandmother’s care in New York. She wrote a book, Assata: An Autobiography, in 1987 and is known to have worked as an English-language editor for Radio Habana.

In 1997, she told her experience in a documentary, The Eyes of the Rainbow, by Gloria Rolando. The film was officially premiered in Havana in 2004, in an event promoted by Casa de las Américas, the Cuban government’s main cultural forum.

The status of Chesimard and the other U.S. fugitives in Cuba has come under increased speculation since Castro surrendered power to his brother Raúl in mid-2006.

”They have protection only by . . . Fidel Castro’s decision” said a former Interior Ministry official who was involved in cases of foreigners’ protection in Cuba. “It is probable that things will remain the same if their main supporter disappears, but nobody can guarantee them that once the change takes place, there won’t be negotiations.”


The latest U.S. State Department report on countries that sponsor terrorism, dated in April, noted that the Cuban government permits the presence of U.S. fugitives on the island and does not respond to periodic petitions for their extradition.

”However, Cuba has declared that it won’t be a shelter for new American fugitives who seek refuge there,” the report added.

Since October of last year, Cuba has surrendered to Washington three American fugitives who had apparently arrived recently in Havana.





Assata: Exile since 1979
On May 2 1973, Black Panther activist Assata Shakur (fsn) JoAnne Chesimard, was pulled over by the New Jersey State Police, shot twice and then charged with murder of a police officer. Assata spent six and a half years in prison under brutal circumstances before escaping out of the maximum security wing of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979 and moving to Cuba. 

Assata: In her own words
My name is Assata (“she who struggles”) Shakur (“the thankful one”), and I am a 20th century escaped slave. Because of  government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government’s policy towards people of color. I am an ex political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984. I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I  joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program. because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar  Hoover called it “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and  vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists. 









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An Autobiography (Lawrence Hill & Co.)  
Assata: An Autobiography (Lawrence Hill & Co.) by Assata Shakur and Angela Davis (Paperback – Nov 1, 2001)
4.5 out of 5 stars (56)


Three Black Women of the Sixties  
Autobiography As Activism: Three Black Women of the Sixties by Margo V. Perkins (Paperback – May 2000)
4.5 out of 5 stars (2)  


A Black Woman's Story  
A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story by Elaine Brown (Paperback – Dec 1, 1993)
4.0 out of 5 stars (30)
An Autobiography  
Angela Davis: An Autobiography by Angela Y. Davis (Paperback – Mar 1989)
3.8 out of 5 stars (14)


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Henrietta Bell Wells, a retired social worker living in Houston, was the Wiley College debate team’s only female member.



One of the real students was from Houston

December 22, 2007

MARSHALL — Jurnee Smollett, a 21-year-old actress with Louisiana roots, had never heard of Wiley College when she got the script last year for the movie that just might change her life.She knew nothing of Wiley’s greatest moment, the day in 1935 when a debate team from the struggling black school beat the defending national champions from the University of Southern California in a nationally broadcast debate.”I was ashamed that I didn’t know that story,” she said recently while promoting the film, The Great Debaters, in Dallas. “I didn’t know anyone who did know the story. Why didn’t I know?”Smollett shouldn’t feel bad. Few Texans know it, either.”There are people who live here in Marshall who don’t know the story,” said Haywood L. Strickland, the president of the tiny school.With the release Tuesday of The Great Debaters, that is about to change. The movie, which stars Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker, has been nominated for a Golden Globe award for best drama.With its inspirational message and strong support from Oprah Winfrey, who produced it, it has a good chance of finding an audience.If so, its success would echo the surprise triumph of the 1935 debate team.Strickland is hoping it also heralds the rebirth of the Methodist Church-affiliated college, which has faced decades of dwindling enrollment and finances.”It’s the Goliath and David story in a different kind of setting,” Strickland said. He was describing the appeal of the movie, but he could’ve been talking about Wiley College.The school, a collection of red-brick buildings in Marshall, 150 miles east of Dallas near the Louisiana border, began its decline less than a decade after its debate team’s greatest success.Melvin B. Tolson, the brilliant teacher that Washington portrays, resigned in 1947 to teach at Langston University in Oklahoma.The football program collapsed in the 1960s. The Methodist Church considered closing the school.One of the Wiley students Tolson taught and inspired was Heman Sweat, who would go on to win a lawsuit in 1950 that forced the University of Texas law school to admit African-Americans. Ironically, integration hurt schools such as Wiley as many of the best students and teachers migrated to better-funded white schools.

Wiley officials hope the increased visibility the movie brings will help fundraising and recruitment, but Strickland said the school actually began rebounding several years ago because of renewed emphasis on fundraising and better fiscal management.

“We’re very fortunate that the movie happens to be coming out at a very critical juncture for us,” he said.

For the first time in years, Wiley will end 2007 in the black. Enrollment has increased to 926 today from 520 in 2000 — the highest it has been in decades.

A sign on the campus’ main street boasts: “Home of the Great Debaters.” Similar words greet callers to the school, even though the school hasn’t had a debate program since the 1940s.

Hollywood comes calling

When Washington and three young actors from the movie came to town to host premiere screenings Dec. 13, the actor-director said he wanted to make the boast true again.”We’ll try to help the school and get the debate team back on its feet,” he told journalists. “It seems like the right thing to do.”

The next day, Strickland divulged that the actor had pledged $1 million but asked him to delay announcing it.

Attention drawn to the school because of the movie also was key to Wal-Mart pledging $100,000 for a scholarship fund and a Dallas businessman promising $300,000.

The movie’s local premiere was the biggest event most people here could recall. Politicians and dignitaries from surrounding counties attended a cocktail reception for Washington, who also is the director. People arrived more than an hour early to catch a glimpse of the actor and filmmaker at the town’s only movie theater, where The Great Debaters showed on four screens.

Screams erupted in waves as the purple Wiley College cap Washington wore bobbed into view as he slowly made his way down the red carpet.

“He’s so cute,” one woman gushed, even before she’d had a chance to see him.

The movie fictionalizes the story somewhat. The school defeats Harvard in the movie, for one thing. Also, of the three main debaters, only one represents a real person.

Denzel Whitaker, a 17-year-old actor whose parents named him after Washington, portrays James Farmer Jr., a Wiley debater who went on to found the Congress of Racial Equality, a prominent civil rights organization.

Actors trained at TSU

The other two debaters are fictionalized though they each are largely based on a single person.Smollett, for example, portrays a character named Samantha Booke, but she paid several visits to Houston to get to know Henrietta Bell Wells, a retired 95-year-old social worker who was the debate team’s only female member.

“I visited her, I stayed with her, I sang in her church choir,” Smollett said of Wells.

She recalled Wells stressing how important education was to her as a young woman. “She inspired me greatly,” Smollett said.

Washington also brought the young actors to Houston to train with Texas Southern University’s debate team in a two-day debate camp.

“The first day was training, and then on the second day we debated against TSU’s freshman debate team,” said Nate Parker, who portrays the third debater.

Smollett said of Dr. Thomas F. Freeman, TSU’s head debate coach who organized the program in 1949: “He’s kind of their own Melvin Tolson.”

A TSU spokeswoman pointed out that while the movie’s Harvard debate was fictionalized, “the TSU debate team actually did beat Harvard in 1956 with a team that included the late Congresswoman Barbara Jordan.”



The team’s sole woman and last survivor grew up in the Fourth Ward

December 22, 2007

The Great Debaters, opening in theaters on Christmas Day, tells the story of the triumph of underdogs. It is also Henrietta Bell Wells’ story.Born in Houston’s Fourth Ward on the banks of Buffalo Bayou and raised by a struggling single mother from the West Indies, Wells became the only female member of the 1930 debate team from Wiley College who participated in the first collegiate interracial debate in the United States. She is the last surviving member of the 1930s team coached by Melvin B. Tolson.But for Wells, her involvement in the real life events that inspired the movie that stars Denzel Washington was just about living.”I was just lucky, that’s what I think,” the 95-year-old Wells said at the Houston facility where she now lives. “I just thought I was living my life. I don’t think we thought we were doing any great job. We were in the debate team for fun, just doing our best.”Wells met Tolson, who would later become a role model throughout her college career, in freshman English.

Hectic balancing act

He talked her into trying out for the debate team. Reluctant, she took the stage, stood behind the podium and read for him. Satisfied with her reading, Tolson put her on the team.”I told him I don’t know anything about debating and I don’t have any money to take off from class to be on the debate team,” Wells said. “I was the only girl, and I was the only freshman. They (the boys) didn’t seem to mind me.”

The schedule was hectic. She had to make night practices in addition to attending her day classes, all while working three jobs on campus. She worked at the Wildcat Inn, a student hangout, and did housekeeping in the dorm.

Life for a young black woman during the Jim Crow era presented Wells plenty of challenges.

She remembers her home being searched during the Camp Logan Riots of 1918, being unable to try on clothes in stores and failing a voter registration test in Louisiana.

The family didn’t have much money, but Wells was always a good student, finishing as valedictorian at Phyllis Wheatley High School. Her acumen for learning earned a scholarship to attend Wiley. Even with the scholarship, she had to work for her upkeep. During her time on the debate team, her friends covered her shifts while she traveled with the team. Her need to work eventually led Wells to leave the team.

Still a debater

Friends say that Wells, however, maintained that debating spirit.”If you listen to her, you can hear the debater,” said Glenice Como, a lay minister at St. James Episcopal Church where Wells is a member. “She will hold her ground with you. If she thinks she hasn’t made her point, she’ll do her research.”

There are those who won’t forget what Wells and others from the era contributed to breaking down barriers for black debaters.

Texas Southern University debate coach Thomas F. Freeman called Tolson’s decision to include a woman on his team courageous during a time when a woman’s role was limited. Barbara Jordan was the first woman to travel with the TSU team in 1954. Freeman recalled a time when TSU debaters were not allowed to stay in certain hotels or eat in restaurants when traveling to compete.

“Someone has to be courageous enough to become the first,” said Freeman. “I hope they (students) get a sense of history from it and realization of the problems faced by young people who wanted to forge ahead.”

Wells recalled that the team went up against law students from the University of Michigan in Chicago during that interracial debate. She once wrote of that experience: “It was a non-decision debate, but we felt at the time that it was a giant step toward desegregation.”

She recalled that the judge was quoted in a newspaper as having said that the two teams were evenly matched, an idea she scoffs at.

“You’re talking about a debate team where one member was a freshman. They were all graduate law students. That was a whole lot we were going up against,” she said.

Wells recalled that before the match, Tolson gave her pointers on how to punch up her speech. “He said, ‘You’ve got to put something in there to wake the people up,’ ” she recalled.

The movie has sparked new interest in Wiley College, which has a student enrollment of 926. There is even discussion about revitalizing debating that tapered off after Tolson left the university.

Humbled by the attention

While friends were happy about the film being made, some were disappointed that the female character did not use Wells’ name.Despite this, they knew Wells’ contribution.

“It makes me feel very proud,” said J. Marie McCleary, who was also a student assistant for Tolson. “She wasn’t at all intimidated by working with young men. She just stood out. She spoke very well.”

As for Wells, who was unable to attend the recent screening at Wiley, she can now say that she’s met Denzel Washington. Jurnee Smollett, the young actress who plays the female debater in the film, has come to Houston several times to visit her.

Wells has had the film privately screened for her in her room and gets requests for interviews.

When the movie opens in theaters Tuesday, she will spend it quietly with friends and family in her room. Como said they plan to fill her room with balloons.

Wells is humbled by the attention.

“I hope I live up to the ideals in it,” she said. “The movie is supposed to inspire young people to want to go to college, to try hard, to know it’s not all easy but there’s so much you gain from it.”

(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle)



Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Associated Press  MARSHALL, Texas – Oscar winner Denzel Washington is donating $1 million to Wiley College to reestablish its famed debate team.   

School officials Tuesday announced the gift by Washington, who last week was in Marshall to screen The Great Debaters.

His film about the school’s 1930s debate team has been nominated for a Golden Globe as best drama.

Washington stars as educator and poet Melvin Tolson, who led the all-black college’s elite debate team. He also directed the movie.

Washington, during last Thursday’s appearance, vowed to help the college and get the debate team going again.

Washington won Academy Awards for Glory and Training Day.




From The Eloquent Woman:


Official “The Great Debaters” Website


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