- Created on 16 January 2013
(CNN) -- Massacres such as Newtown are horrifying and heart-rending. They are also nothing like the typical American gun murder.
The typical murder has one victim, not many. The typical murder is committed with a handgun, not a rifle. And in the typical murder, both the perpetrator and the victim are young black men. Blacks are six times as likely as whites to be the victim of a homicide. Blacks are seven times as likely to commit a homicide.
The horrifying toll of gun violence on black America explains why black Americans are so much more likely than whites to favor gun control.
Conversely, fears of being victimized by violence explain why so many white Americans -- especially older and more conservative white Americans -- insist on the right to bear arms in self-protection. They see gun violence as something that impinges on them from the outside. They don't blame guns for gun violence. They blame a particular subset of the population. And they don't see why they should lose their right because some subset of the population abuses theirs.
A writer I greatly admire, Rod Dreher, an independent-minded conservative, gives voice to such feelings in an article posted this weekend on the American Conservative website. Dreher expresses himself forcefully and frankly. That frankness should be welcomed, because the more clearly a mistaken idea is put, the faster we can reach a better understanding.
"Yesterday the Baton Rouge Advocate published a lengthy analysis of the 2012 murder stats in the city. Take a look at this PDF of one of the inside pages. Last year, 83 people died by homicide in Baton Rouge. Of that number, 87% were black, and 87% were male. Two-thirds had been in trouble with the law before, and one-third had been in trouble with the law for drugs. The median age of victims: 26.
"Of the perpetrators, the median age was 22. Get this: 96% of them were black, and 90% were male. Almost two-thirds had previous arrests. One out of four had a drug record.
"Most of the murders took place in the poorest parts of the city.
"What can we learn from these statistics? That murder in Baton Rouge is almost entirely about young black men from the poor part of town killing other young black men from the poor part of town. It's mostly a matter of thugs killing thugs."
If you look at the world that way, gun control must seem a pointless diversion from the real problem: not guns, but one particular group of gun owners. Somebody else's problem. But life is not so neatly separated.
Guns offer equal opportunity tragedies. More than 8,000 white Americans had to be treated for nonfatal gun injuries in 2008. Eighty percent of those who commit suicide with a gun are white males. The gun that the suburban family buys to protect itself from "thugs killing thugs" ends up killing its own: One important new study finds that a gun kept in the house is 43 times more likely to kill a household member than to be used in self-defense.
Thugs killing thugs? Maybe. But many of those seeming thugs are carrying guns for the same reason that people who consider themselves respectable carry them : in a futile quest to protect themselves with greater firepower. One person can find safety that way. But if two people carry firearms, a confrontation that might otherwise have ended in words or blows ends instead with one man dead, and the other man on his way to prison for life.
Louisiana sends more people to prison than any other state, at a total cost of almost 7% of its state budget. Prison is always expensive, but the incarceration of murderers costs the most, because they remain in prison to the end. The oldest of Louisiana's prisoners cost the state almost $80,000 a year, including their health care.
Widespread gun ownership means not only more gun killings, but also more gun maimings and cripplings. The National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre hailed the ability of a "good guy" with a gun to stop a "bad guy" with a gun. Sixty seconds later, however, that bad guy may need a wheelchair for life. We can't dismiss these human costs as pertaining to only somebody else. They are all part of us.
Yet the urge to subdivide runs strong among Americans. Monday on Fox News, the popular conservative commentator Ann Coulter claimed that the murder rate among white Americans is as low as the murder rate in Belgium. "So perhaps it's not a gun problem," she concluded. "Perhaps it's a demographic problem."
But countries cannot dismiss the sufferings of great blocks of their people by dismissing some "demographics" as unworthy of attention.
If you ignore America's poor, you can make all kinds of problems disappear from view. Not counting the poor and minorities, the country does not have an obesity epidemic. Not counting the poor and minorities, the United States has perfectly adequate schools. Not counting the poor and minorities, America would have a higher average income.
Likewise, not counting hurricanes, America would not have so many natural disasters. Not counting divorces, America would have more intact families. Not counting wars, America would have a smaller public debt. But what's the point of this exercise? The people who make up America count as Americans, and their problems count as America's problems. Their problems do not occur in isolation, but are manifestations of failures to which all Americans contributed together.
Those young men in Baton Rouge who are killing each other in such horrific numbers do not manufacture their own guns. They did not organize the gun trade that brings the guns to their town. They did not write the laws that prevent their town government from acting against guns. They carry guns -- and misuse guns -- thanks to a national system of gun regulation that makes guns easily accessible to those least likely to use guns responsibly.
The gun laws intended to put guns into the hands of "good guys" are the laws that also multiply guns in the hands of "bad guys" -- bad guys who might not have become such bad guys if the guns had not been available to their hands.
The price of redefining gun violence as an issue pertaining only to "those people" -- of casting and recasting the gun statistics to make them less grisly if only "those people" are toted under some different heading in some different ledger -- the price of that redefinition is to lose our ability to think about the problem at all.
- Created on 15 January 2013
When President Barack Obama is sworn in for his second term, his hand will rest not only on President Abraham Lincoln's Bible, but on Dr. Martin Luther King's, too.
As the ceremony falls on the federal holiday celebrating Dr. King's birth, the civil rights leader would no doubt be proud as an African-American president is sworn in on the steps of a Capitol built by slave labor, about 170 miles from Jamestown where slave ships landed.
We have come a long way.
But Dr. King would not be satisfied. He marched to his own drummer, and wanted to be remembered as a "drum major for justice." He worked tirelessly for change, but he never took his eyes from the prize.
He understood there must be a creative tension between the political and the prophetic.
The political seeks the popular, and attempts the possible. The prophetic seeks the moral, states the truth, and challenges the limits.
For Dr. King, bipartisan agreement had little value in itself. There was bipartisan agreement on slavery. Abolition was outside the consensus. There was bipartisan agreement on segregation. The Montgomery bus boycott, the Selma march for voting rights were outside the box. When Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Voting Rights Act, stating that "We shall overcome," Dr. King praised him. But he challenged Johnson's war in Vietnam, and the retreat on the war on poverty. He spent part of his last birthday organizing a poor people's march on Washington, prepared to commit civil disobedience to force the nation's attention on the poor.
We know what Dr. King would be focused on today. Nearly one in four children are being raised in poverty. More than 46 million people struggle with poverty in this wealthy nation.
Nearly 18 million households are "food insecure."
Millions are facing foreclosure. School budgets are being starved, even as jails are stuffed. An extreme and obscene gulf exists between rich and poor, with working families suffering mass unemployment, falling wages and increasing insecurity. There is a growing racial polarization as African Americans and Latinos, the greatest victims of the Great Recession, are the last to recover from it. Schools today are more segregated than they were in Dr. King's time, but now no one talks about it.
The U.S. also has a larger military budget than at the height of the Cold War, and drones in six countries are likely generating more terrorists than they are killing.
Dr. King would no doubt celebrate the re-election of an African-American president, but he would not stop there. He would challenge the limits of the current debate. He would be organizing mass civil disobedience to call the nation back to its senses — and to demand action against poverty, violence and the endless war that has shredded our Constitution, wasted lives and squandered scarce resources.
The partisan is too petty to address the unpopular. The bipartisan is too limited to speak the truth. Dr. King told us that "there comes a time when silence is betrayal." He understood that the movement for justice would often offend the majority. We would make progress, he argued, "not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority."
The second inauguration of Barack Obama on the day we celebrate Dr. King's birthday reminds us how far we have come. But Dr. King would demand that we look clearly at how far we have to go. It is not a time for complacent celebration.
We cannot accept mass unemployment, grinding poverty and endless war as a new normal.
On Dr. King's birthday, it's time to mobilize the creative maladjustment of citizens of conscience once more.
- Created on 11 January 2013
The hit television show Scandal, starring Kerri Washington, and created by Chicago native Shonda Rhimes, returned from holiday hiatus last night to continue its steamy storyline.
Washington plays Beltway insider and fixer, Olivia Pope, who was once the communications director in the administration of President Fitzgerald T. Grant who is also her paramour. Her character is based on real life Washington fixer Judy Smith.
Though both Pope and the married POTUS try to keep their amorous relationship in check, the sparks continue to fly. Pope even re-engages with former lover and Senate President, Edison Davis, to help her get over the President.
POTUS and his pregnant wife, Mellie, are on their way to his black tie birthday celebration when a gunman shoots the President and kills his communications director. Pope steps in to her old position in the interim as the female Veep, Christian conservative Sally Langston, is temporarily sworn into office.
Suspicion for the assassination attempt turns to a member of Pope's fixer team, Huck, who happens to be a former CIA operative with a license to kill. He is, however, being framed by long time billionaire Senator Hollis Doyle to cover up voter irregularities orchestrated during Grant's election. This senator, who enlisted the assassin, is now firmly ensconced as a confidant to acting President Langston.
Meanwhile, POTUS' chief of staff, Cyrus, who knows about the voter deception, works to keep his husband, a member of the White House press corp, off the trail of this explosive story by offering to finalize the long promised adoption he has been pestering Cyrus about. Spoiler alert: the middle age white males are adopting a black baby girl.
Huck, who was taken into custody at the end of the previous episode, is being held under the Patriot Act and is being subjected to some nasty interrogation methods including water-boarding. Tactics that sicken Assistant U.S. Attorney. David Rosen, who eventually helps free Huck.
Pope has sought to keep her distance from the President as he fights for his life in a coma, and has literally been barred from his side by the First Lady who knows of their relationship. FLOTUS is no shrinking violet and once the alliance between acting President Langston and Senator Doyle comes to light, she forges her husband's signature to a letter saying he is fit to assume his duties even though he is still comatose.
Pope's team springs into action to support this scenario as they, in tandem, try to free Huck and flush out the real assassin. They do this by saying the President will be recuperating at Camp David, forcing the assassin, herself a paramour of Olivia's operative, Huck, to seek to finish her assignment.
Meanwhile, Pope can no longer keep her distance from POTUS, and literally climbs into his hospital bed offering the closeness that both of them need so desperately.
Huck tracks his paramour Becky to her rooftop perch rifle in hand - love the twist of a female assassin - effectively solving the crime of the decade. And just as all of the team, including Olivia, are packing it in as part of the now former administration, phones start to ring all over Washington. Pan to Walter Reed where a wane and weak President Grant utters his first 'tentative 'hello' via phone to Olivia.
Whew, I was tired just watching, and the buzz on Facebook was epic. We were all SCANDALIZED!!!!! Rhimes, who also brought us Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice, has done it again.
- Created on 14 January 2013
Did your kids moan that winter break was way too short as you got them ready for the first day back in school? They might get their wish of more holiday time off under proposals catching on around the country to lengthen the school year.
But there's a catch: a much shorter summer vacation.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a chief proponent of the longer school year, says American students have fallen behind the world academically.
"Whether educators have more time to enrich instruction or students have more time to learn how to play an instrument and write computer code, adding meaningful in-school hours is a critical investment that better prepares children to be successful in the 21st century," he said in December when five states announced they would add at least 300 hours to the academic calendar in some schools beginning this year.
The three-year pilot project will affect about 20,000 students in 40 schools in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee.
Proponents argue that too much knowledge is lost while American kids wile away the summer months apart from their lessons. The National Summer Learning Association cites decades of research that shows students' test scores are higher in the same subjects at the beginning of the summer than at the end.
"The research is very clear about that," said Charles Ballinger, executive director emeritus of the National Association for Year-Round School in San Diego. "The only ones who don't lose are the upper 10 to 15 percent of the student body. Those tend to be gifted, college-bound, they're natural learners who will learn wherever they are."
Supporters also say a longer school year would give poor children more access to school-provided healthy meals.
Yet the movement has plenty of detractors — so many that Ballinger sometimes feels like the Grinch trying to steal Christmas.
"I had a parent at one meeting say, 'I want my child to lie on his back in the grass watching the clouds in the sky during the day and the moon and stars at night,'" Ballinger recalled. "I thought, 'Oh, my. Most kids do that for two, three, maybe four days, then say, 'What's next?''"
But opponents aren't simply dreamy romantics.
Besides the outdoor opportunities for pent up youngsters, they say families already are beholden to the school calendar for three seasons out of four. Summer breaks, they say, are needed to provide an academic respite for students' overwrought minds, and to provide time with family and the flexibility to travel and study favorite subjects in more depth. They note that advocates of year-round school cannot point to any evidence that it brings appreciable academic benefits.
"I do believe that if children have not mastered a subject that, within a week, personally, I see a slide in my own child," said Tina Bruno, executive director of the Coalition for a Traditional School Calendar. "That's where the idea of parental involvement and parental responsibility in education comes in, because our children cannot and should not be in school seven days a week, 365 days a year."
Bruno is part of a "Save Our Summers" alliance of parents, grandparents, educational professionals and some summer-time recreation providers fighting year-round school. Local chapters carry names such as Georgians Need Summers, Texans for a Traditional School Year and Save Alabama Summers.
Camps, hotel operators and other summer-specific industries raise red flags about the potential economic effect.
The debate has divided parents and educators.
School days shorter than work days and summer breaks that extend to as many as 12 weeks in some areas run up against increasing political pressure from working households — 30 percent of which are headed by women. These families must fill the gaps with afterschool programs, day care, babysitters and camps.
"Particularly where there are single parents or where both parents are working, they prefer to provide care for three weeks at a time rather than three months at a time," Ballinger said.
The National Center on Time & Learning has estimated that about 1,000 districts have adopted longer school days or years.
Some places that have tried the year-round calendar, including Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and parts of California, have returned to the traditional approach. Strapped budgets and parental dissatisfaction were among reasons.
School years are extended based on three basic models:
—stretching the traditional 180 days of school across the whole calendar year by lengthening spring and winter breaks and shortening the one in the summer.
—adding 20 to 30 actual days of instruction to the 180-day calendar.
—dividing students and staff into groups, typically four, and rotating three through at a time, with one on vacation, throughout the calendar year.
At the heart of the debate is nothing less than the ability of America's workforce to compete globally.
The U.S. remains in the top dozen or so countries in all tested subjects. But even where U.S. student scores have improved, many other nations have improved much faster, leaving American students far behind peers in Asia and Europe.
Still, data are far from clear that more hours behind a desk can help.
A Center for Public Education review found that students in India and China — countries Duncan has pointed to as giving children more classroom time than the U.S. — don't actually spend more time in school than American kids, when disparate data are converted to apples-to-apples comparisons.
The center, an initiative of the National School Boards Association, found 42 U.S. states require more than 800 instructional hours a year for their youngest students, and that's more than India does.
Opponents of extended school point out that states such as Minnesota and Massachusetts steadily shine on standardized achievement tests while preserving their summer break with a post-Labor Day school start.
"It makes sense that more time is going to equate to more learning, but then you have to equate that to more professional development for teachers — will that get more bang for the buck?" said Patte Barth, the center's director. "I look at it, and teachers and instruction are still the most important factor more so than time."
The center's study also found that some nations that outperform the U.S. academically, such as Finland, require less school.
Many schools are experimenting with the less controversial, less costly interim step of lengthening the school day instead of adding days to the school year.
Chicago's public schools extended the school day from 5 hours and 45 minutes to 7 hours last year after a heated offensive by unionized teachers and some parents. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former chief of staff to Duncan's boss, President Barack Obama, initially pushed an even longer school day — a major sticking point in this year's seven-day teachers' strike. He and other proponents argued that having the shortest school day among the nation's 50 largest districts and one of the shortest school years had put Chicago's children at a competitive disadvantage.
Wendy Katten, executive director of Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, said opponents held back a push for a 7.5-hour school day, and got an extra staff person assigned to each school to handle the additional hour and 15 minutes of school time.
In San Diego, year-round school has been a reality since the 1970s.
District spokesman Jack Brandais said the concept was initially intended to relieve crowding, not improve performance test scores. The student body and staff were divided into four groups, with three attending school at any given time.
Through decades of fine-tuning, Brandais said the district now runs both traditional and year-round tracks simultaneously.
A 2007 study by Ohio State University sociologist Paul von Hippel found virtually no difference in the academic gains of students who followed a traditional nine-month school calendar and those educated the same number of days spread across the entire year.
Amid budget cuts and teacher layoffs, San Diego has cut five instructional days from both year-round and traditional schedules since last year.
- Created on 10 January 2013
Sil Lai Abrams shares her thoughts on The Grio.
At this point, most black people with an Internet connection have heard the news that the Oxygen network has a new reality show in the pipeline that revolves around G-Unit rapper Shawty Lo and the relationships he has with the ten mothers of his eleven children. The public outcry in response to the press release announcing that All My Babies' Mamas would be added to the network's Spring 2013 lineup has been swift and appears to have been effective. Several petitions on Change.org were posted in the aftermath, the most successful one being from bestselling author Sabrina Lamb, which as of press time has gained over 33,000 signatures in just a few days.
Through a spokesperson, Oxygen President Jason Klarman issued a tepid response to an email from the New York Chapter of the NAACP requesting that the show be canceled. "[W]e are highly attuned and sensitive to your concerns and our diverse team of creative executives will continue their involvement as the special is developed," his statement read.
Yet, over the course of a few days and in the face of increasingly louder voices of criticism, it seems that Klarman may have done an about face on the show. On Monday according to the Associated Press, Rod Aissa, Oxygen's programming head, met with network television writers to discuss new shows such as Find Me My Man, Too Young to Marry? and Fat Girl Revenge.
Which show was missing from the presentation? You guessed it: All My Babies' Mamas
Still, this show is just a speck in a dust storm of devilment. Over the past several weeks networks have been steadily releasing their upcoming programming schedule. Out of the 46 new reality shows slated for the spring, 45 percent are comprised of an exclusively white cast, 28 percent are predominantly black, and 26 percent have multicultural cast members (including Kimora Lee Simmons's show and the Dominican cast of Washington Heights). Black Americans make up 13.7 percent of the U.S. population, but we are represented in almost 30 percent of the new reality shows, many of which perpetuate some of the most damaging racial stereotypes.
Take the TLC network (which ironically stands for The Learning Channel) that recently began airing The Sisterhood, a reality show featuring the wives of preachers that one reviewer said, "is nothing more — or less — than the Real Housewives of Atlanta, but co-starring God."
TLC also seems to be hell bent on making a mockery of black spirituality with another show, Best Funeral Ever, which essentially highlights the intersection of grief and materialism with over the top homegoing services with perhaps no point other than to make black people appear to be flamboyant, materialistic, shuck and jive-loving coons even at the end of their lives.
The underlying message most of these shows send about blacks is that we're shallow, impulsive creatures lacking in self-control without any vision of life that doesn't include vacations (or funerals) they can't afford, slanging rhymes, having too many children, and shopping oneself into bankruptcy. But I digress.
I understand that not all forms of reality television are bad. But this article isn't about Tia & Tamera or R&B Divas. Yes, this is a historic time in television history, with Kerry Washington being the first black woman to star in a network show since Diahann Carroll in the '70s with Julia. Yet in spite of this achievement, we cannot believe this one show can ameliorate the fact that, although we comprise a little more than a tenth of the U.S. population, roughly half of all reality shows on TV are made up of all black or partially black casts whose behavior reinforces damaging stereotypes.
In the decades since the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the imagery of black people in media, particularly on television, has changed considerably. Now, I'm not a sociologist, but it is my guess that the materialism and "success at any cost" mindset that pervades modern popular culture today is likely a reaction to the economic uncertainty and hopelessness that is the true reality for many black people.
As a single mother who has struggled against many of the same systemic issues that affect our community (should I list the issues? I think we know them...) I understand the need for escape. Let's face it: life is hard. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise deserves a serious double side eye. This entertainment is a form of escape.
The "overnight success" stories of individuals who are as a whole largely without any real discernible talent are the driving force behind the most popular shows such as Love & Hip Hop and Basketball Wives. Reality show "stars" present what appears to be an attainable, glamorous lifestyle to a group of women who may not have the wherewithal or resources needed to carve out a financially stable life for themselves realistically.
But, in the process of enjoying this escape, we are ignoring the emotionally abusive and disrespectful behavior of male cast members such as L&HH's Stevie J that reinforces the idea that a black man's power is best expressed through unbridled and unprincipled sexual behavior, as just one example of these show's many horrible messages.
Read the entire story at The Grio.