| Chap. 1 | Chap.
2 | Chap. 3 | Chap.
4 | Chap. 5 | Chap.
6 | Chap. 7 | Chap.
This final chapter introduces the evolving
history of African America into the 21st Century by exploring
new directions, new issues and new identities. The first vignette
points this out by describing the changing pattern of black internal
migration. For most of the 20th Century African Americans moved
from farm to city and from the South to the North and eventually
to the West. Sometime in the 1970s that tide reversed and black
people from northern and western cities are returning to, and
in some instances moving to the urban South. This change is profiled
in Black Migration: The Return South. Although feminism is hardly
a “new” direction for black women, this perspective
was dramatically sharpened by the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas episode.
Three vignettes, Feminism and Black Women in the 1990s, Anita
Hill Testifies Before Congress and African American Women in Defense
of Ourselves reflect that trend. Two additional vignettes suggest
themes that grow out of the changing gender dynamic in the black
community. The Gender Gap in the 21st Century explores the relative
success of black women in higher education and the workplace in
comparison to black men while The Sexist in Me addresses the largely
silent but nonetheless widespread issue of violence between the
In the three decades since Loving v. Virginia there has been an
exponential increase in interracial marriage and a growing population
of bi-racial children. That development is addressed in The 2000
Census: Two or More Races Population and Which Side Are You On?
Identity issues around sexual preference are addressed in a series
of vignettes beginning with Huey P. Newton on the Gay and Women’s
Liberation Movements and including What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
and Does Your Mama Know About Me?
The rapid growth of the African-born population
in the United States is explored in Out of Africa: African Immigration
to the United States and Goodwin Ajala At The World Trade Center.
In Barack Obama Keynote Address at the Democratic National Convention,
2004 we are reminded of both the impact of African immigration
and the changing nature of politics for African Americans. Hip-Hop
Nation illustrates how music of the underclass is now the music
of the United States and the World. The two final vignettes
address the environment in differing ways. African Americans
and Environmental History: A Manifesto argues that both traditional
environmentalist organizations and African Americans need to
find common ground. In The Eye of the Storm: Race and Katrina
shows the disproportionate impact of a hurricane on the fortunes
of thousands of African Americans.
BLACK MIGRATION: THE RETURN TO THE SOUTH
The following vignette acknowledges a movement
of African Americans to the South which has been accelerating
for the past three decades.
Decades of vacating Dixie are reversing,
reports The Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan research organization.
According to “The New Great Migration: Black Americans'
Return to the South, 1965 2000,” during the latter part
of the 1990s, the South was the only region in the U.S. that
saw an increase in black residents.
In fact, the study shows that over the last three decades, the
South has become a "magnet" for black Americans, particularly
college educated professionals. In the 20th century, there was
an exodus of blacks from the South, while the Northeast, Midwest,
and West saw an increase in African Americans during the Great
The tide started turning during the 1970s,
mostly due to economic factors. The Northeast and Midwest regions
of the country began losing manufacturing jobs to the Sunbelt,
which led to black migrants preferring Southern destinations
in the late ‘90s: 85% of blacks residing in the Northeast
headed south. For the first time in several decades, the Western
and Midwestern parts of the country saw decreases in black residents.
From 1995 to 2000, urban areas around Los Angeles, Chicago,
and San Francisco lost 3% to 6% of their residents. Conversely,
newcomers made up 5.5%, 7.6%, and 9.6% of the growing black
populations in Dallas, Charlotte, and Atlanta, respectively.
This reverse migration, primarily attributed to an improved
racial climate, employment opportunities, and historical ties,
differs greatly from the large numbers of blacks who initially
headed north, says Roderick Harrison, director of Databank at
the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington,
D.C. Migration north was mainly rural to urban, but movement
south has been primarily from major cities to growing metropolitan
Source: “Black Migration in Reverse,”
Black Enterprise (May, 2005): 40.
FEMINISM AND BLACK WOMEN IN THE 1990s
In the article below cultural critic and university
professor, bell hooks challenges the assertion that feminism
is incompatible with the aspirations and progress of black women.
It is obvious that most black men are not
in positions that allow them to exert the kind of institutionalized
patriarchal power and control over black women's lives that
privileged white men do in this society. But it is undeniable
that they do exert a lot of power over black women and children
in everyday life. Most of us are, however, reluctant to admit
that male domination causes much of the gender conflict and
pain experienced in black women's lives.
Whether a man demands that "his" woman turn her signed
paycheck over to him or forces his female companion to do the
"wild thing" without a condom (because "the condom
hurts" him), such assertions of power are sexist and abusive.
And even if black women do not have to face the sexist threats
of male domination in the home, all too often when we walk down
the streets, it is the brothers, not white men, who address
us with sexual taunts. And if we do not respond, they become
hostile and scream epithets at us like "Bitch, you think
you too good to speak to me?" And when sexist incidents
like this occur, black women feel afraid that we may be hit,
raped, robbed or some combination of the above.
Yet in spite of the fact that thousands of black women are assaulted
by black males on the street or the home every day, in most
of these cases our male offenders do not believe that they've
done anything wrong. Note recent conversations among black folks
about the Tyson case, where, by and large, men and women tend
to see the woman as guilty, even though Tyson's own public history
reveals him to be a man who has consistently abused women.
It is also no comfort to any of us that so much black popular
music--especially the growing subgenre of women-hating rap--encourages
black males and every other listener to think there is nothing
wrong with abusing women in general and black women in particular.
That a black male rap group like N.W.A. can become richer and
even more famous than they already are by pushing woman-bashing
lyrics is a sign of how dangerous these times are for women.
And if any of us should think the boys are just having a little
fun at our expense, we should take note of the fact that one
of the group members is being sued for assaulting black female
television host Dee Barnes in an L.A. club. He has responded
by bragging in Rolling Stone: "It ain't no big thing--I
just threw her through a door." Let's face it, abusive
black male domination of black women and children is so much
a regular part of everyday life that most black folks do not
take it seriously.
Every black person concerned about our collective survival must
acknowledge that sexism is a destructive force in black life
that cannot be effectively addressed without an organized political
movement to change consciousness, behavior and institutions.
What we need is a feminist revolution in black life. But to
have such a revolution, we must first have a feminist movement.
Many black folks do not know what the word feminism means. They
may think of it only as something having to do with white women's
desire to share equal rights with white men. In reality, feminism
is a movement to end all sexism and sexist oppression. We need
to find ways to address the specific forms that sexism takes
in our diverse communities. We must start by educating our communities--at
the grassroots level--as to what sexism is, how it is expressed
in daily life and why it creates problems. Today many black
women and men are afraid that if we say that we support feminist
movements, we will either be seen as traitors to the race or
be privately or publicly humiliated by other black people. In
the past few months I have talked at colleges around the country
where young black men are physically threatening and assaulting
black female students for criticizing and resisting black male
sexism, for starting black female consciousness-raising support
groups and even for taking women's studies courses. A feminist
movement that addresses the needs of black women, men and children
can strengthen our bonds with one another, deepen our sense
of community and further black liberation. We must not be afraid
to create such a movement.
Source: Essence Magazine, July 1992, p. 124.
ANITA HILL TESTIFIES BEFORE CONGRESS
What follows are excerpts from the testimony
of University of Oklahoma Law Professor Anita Hill before the
Senate Judiciary Hearings on the confirmation of Judge Clarence
Thomas for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991
Ms. HILL. Mr. Chairman, Senator Thurmond,
members of the committee, my name is Anita F. Hill, and I am
a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma. I was born
on a farm in Okmulgee County, OK, in 1956. I am the youngest
of 13 children. I had my early education in Okmulgee County.
My father, Albert Hill, is a farmer in that area. My mother's
name is Erma Hill. She is also a farmer and a housewife.
My childhood was one of a lot of hard work and not much money,
but it was one of solid family affection as represented by my
parents. I was reared in a religious atmosphere in the Baptist
faith, and I have been a member of the Antioch Baptist Church,
in Tulsa, OK, since 1983. It is a very warm part of my life
at the present time.
For my undergraduate work, I went to Oklahoma State University,
and graduated from there in 1977… I graduated from the
university with academic honors and proceeded to the Yale Law
School, where I received my J.D. degree in 1980.
Upon graduation from law school, I became a practicing lawyer
with the Washington, DC, firm of Wald, Harkrader & Ross.
In 1981, I was introduced to now Judge Thomas by a mutual friend.
Judge Thomas told me that he was anticipating a political appointment
and asked if I would be interested in working with him. He was,
in fact, appointed as Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil
Rights. After he had taken that post, he asked if I would become
his assistant and I accepted that position….
After approximately 3 months of working there, he asked me to
go out socially with him… I declined the invitation to
go out socially with him, and explained to him that I thought
it would jeopardize…a very good working relationship...
I was very uncomfortable with the idea and told him so. I thought
that by saying "no" and explaining my reasons, my
employer would abandon his social suggestions. However, to my
regret, in the following few weeks he continued to ask me out
on several occasions. He pressed me to justify my reasons for
saying "no" to him… My working relationship
became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work
situations to discuss sex. On these occasions, he would call
me into his office…or he might suggest that…we go
to lunch to a government cafeteria. After a brief discussion
of work, he
would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters.
His conversations were very vivid. He spoke about acts that
he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as
women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or
rape scenes. He talked about pornographic materials depicting
individuals with large penises, or large breasts individuals
in various sex acts. On several occasions Thomas told me graphically
of his own sexual prowess. Because I was extremely uncomfortable
talking about sex with him at all, and particularly in such
a graphic way, I told him that I did not want to talk about
these subjects. I would also try to change the subject to education
matters or to nonsexual personal matters… My efforts to
change subject were rarely successful….
When Judge Thomas was made chair of the EEOC, I needed to face
the question of whether to go with him. I was asked to do so
and I did. The work, itself, was interesting, and at that time,
it appeared that the sexual overtures, which had so troubled
me had ended… For my first months at the EEOC, where I
continued to be an assistant to Judge Thomas, there were no
sexual overtures However, during the fall and winter of 1982,
these began again… He commented on what I was wearing
in terms of whether it made me more or less sexually attractive.
The incidents occurred in his inner office at the EEOC.
One of the oddest episodes I remember was an occasion in which
Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the
table at which we were wording, went over to his desk to get
the Coke, looked at the can and asked, "Who has put pubic
hair on my Coke?" On other occasions he referred to the
size of his own penis as being larger than normal and he also
spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had given to women
with oral sex. At this point, Late 1982, I began to feel severe
stress on the job… I began to be concerned that Clarence
Thomas might take out his anger with me by degrading me or not
giving me important assignments. I also thought that he might
find an excuse for dismissing me.
In January 1983, I began looking for another job… In February
1983, I was hospitalized for 5 days on an emergency basis for
acute stomach pain which I attributed to stress on the Job.
Once out of the hospital. I became…committed to find other
employment and sought further to minimize my contact with Thomas.
In the spring of 1983, an opportunity to teach at Oral Roberts
University opened up…. I agreed to take the job, in large
part, because of my desire to escape the pressures I felt at
EEOC due to Judge Thomas. On…the last day of my employment
at the EEOC in the summer of 1983, I did have dinner with Clarence
Thomas. We went directly from work to a restaurant near the
office…He said, that if I ever told anyone of his behavior
that it would ruin his career. This was not an apology, nor
was it an explanation. That was his last remark about the possibility
of our going out, or reference to his behavior…
It is only after a great deal of agonizing consideration that
I am able to talk of these unpleasant matter to anyone, except
my closest friends...I may have used poor judgment early on
in my relationship with this issue. I was aware, however, that
telling at any point in my career could adversely affect my
future career… It would have been more comfortable to
remain silent. It took no initiative to inform anyone. I took
no initiative to inform anyone. But when I was asked by a representative
of this committee to report my experience I felt that I had
to tell the truth. I could not keep silent.
Source: “Testimony of Anita F. Hill,”
Hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States
Senate on the nomination of Clarence Thomas to be Associate
Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (October 11,
AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN IN DEFENSE OF OURSELVES
The legacy of challenge to both sexism and
racism by African American women continues into the contemporary
era as reflected in this statement placed in the November 17,
1991, issue of the New York Times in the aftermath of the Anita
Hill-Clarence Thomas controversy. This statement was signed
by over 1,600 black women.
We are particularly outraged by the racist
and sexist treatment of Professor Anita Hill, an African American
woman who was maligned and castigated for daring to speak publicly
of her own experience of sexual abuse. The malicious defamation
of Professor Hill insulted all women of African descent and
sent a dangerous message to any woman who might contemplate
a sexual harassment complaint.
We speak here because we recognize that the media are now portraying
the Black community as prepared to tolerate both the dismantling
of affirmative action and the evil of sexual harassment in order
to have any Black man on the Supreme Court. We want to make
clear that the media have ignored or distorted many African
American voices. We will not be silenced.
Many have erroneously portrayed the allegations against Clarence
Thomas as an issue of either gender or race. As women of African
descent, we understand sexual harassment as both. We further
understand that Clarence Thomas outrageously manipulated the
legacy of lynching in order to shelter himself from Anita Hill's
allegations. To deflect attention away from he reality of sexual
abuse in African American women's lives, he trivialized and
misrepresented this painful part of African American people's
history. This country, which has a long legacy of racism and
sexism, has never taken the sexual abuse of black women seriously.
Throughout U.S. history black women have been sexually stereotyped
as immoral, insatiable, perverse, the initiators in all sexual
contacts--abusive or otherwise. The common assumption in legal
proceedings as well as in the larger society has been that black
women cannot be raped or otherwise sexually abused. As Anita
Hill's experience demonstrates, Black women who speak of these
matters are not likely to be believed.
In 1991, we cannot tolerate this type of dismissal of any one
Black woman's experience or this attack upon our collective
character without protest, outrage and resistance.
We pledge ourselves to continue to speak out in defense of one
another, in defense of the African American community and against
those who are hostile to social justice, no matter what color
they are. No one will speak for us but ourselves.
Source: New York Times, November 17, 1991,
Reprinted in Essence, 22:11 (March 1992), p. 56.
THE GENDER GAP IN THE 21st CENTURY
In a 2003 Newsweek article, Ellis Cose describes the growing
economic divide between African American women and men and its
implications for gender relations between the two groups. An
excerpt of his article appears below.
“I know what every colored woman in this country is doing...
Dying. Just like me. But the difference is they dying like a
stump. Me, I'm going down like one of those redwoods."
America was in a very different place in 1973, when novelist
Toni Morrison put those words in the mouth of the doomed yet
defiant Sula, whose triumph lay solely in the fact that she
could meet death on her own terms. Who then could have imagined
that an African-American female would one day stand atop the
nation's foreign-policy pyramid? Who could have predicted that
black women would, educationally, so outstrip black men? Who
could have dreamed the day would come when black women would
lay claim to "white men's" jobs-the phrase used by
banking executive Malia Fort's former boss as he reminded her
of the time when "the only thing a black woman could have
done in a bank is clean up"? Today a black woman can be
anything from an astronaut to a talk-show host, run anything
from a corporation to an Ivy League university. Once consigned
to mostly menial work, black women (24 percent of them, compared
with 17 percent of black men) have ascended to the professional-managerial
This is not to say that black women have climbed the storied
crystal stair.... Nearly 14 percent of working black women remain
below the poverty level. And women don't yet out-earn black
men. But the growing educational-achievement gap portends a
monumental shifting of the sands. College educated black women
already earn more than the median for all black working men
or, for that matter, for all women. And as women in general
move up the corporate pyramid, black women, increasingly, are
part of the parade. In 1995 women held less than 9 percent of
corporate-officer positions in Fortune 500 companies, according
to Catalyst, a New York-based organization that promotes the
interests of women in business. Last year they held close to
16 percent, a significant step up. Of those 2,140 women, 163
were black-a minuscule proportion, but one that is certain to
These days, few black women are willing to settle for Sula's
life. There is a search not only for recognition but for "models
of happiness," in the words of Veronica Chambers, author
of a new book called "Having It All.' But that quest brings
with it a host of questions... Is this new black woman finally
crashing through the double ceiling of race and gender? Or is
she leaping into treacherous waters that will leave her stranded,
unfulfilled, childless and alone? Can she thrive if her brother
does not, if the black man succumbs, as hundreds of thousands
already have, to the hopelessness of prison and the streets?
Can she, dare she, thrive without the black man, finding happiness
across the racial aisle? Or will she, out of compassion, loneliness
or racial loyalty "settle" for men who-educationally,
economically, professionally-are several steps beneath her?
Such questions are now being debated because black men and women
are, increasingly, following different paths. As choreographer
Fatima Robinson put it: "I love brothers ... But there
is such a gap that I think I may not end up with a black man."
In 1970 the numbers of black males and females in college....
Today twenty-five percent of young black males go to college;
35 percent of women do. Only 13.5 percent of young black females
are high-school dropouts; more than 17 percent of young black
men are. The notion that college was a place to find a man has
slowly given way to the conviction that decent, educated black
men are rarer, to borrow Shakespeare's words, than pearls in
beauteous ladies' eyes.
Daven Jackson, a 25-year-old veterinary student at Alabama's
predominantly black Tuskegee University, thinks she understands
why. In her high school in Thomasville, Ga., recalls Jackson,
"most black males were encouraged to be athletes,"
not scholars. None made it big as jocks; instead, "over
half of the males who graduated with me are in jail." ....Not
just teachers but the entire educational support system now
favors girls over boys, argues Monette Evans, a Tuskegee vice
president. There is also the powerful drive of the women themselves.
"Oftentimes women go into higher education and beyond because
they can't depend on anyone else to support them or their children"
Evans points out. And whereas boys typically lack focus, girls
show up with a sense of purpose. "Females had no excuses
about anything;' says Kevin Cook, an administrator at Arizona
State University. They arrive with an attitude that quietly
announces, "We're here. It's tough. We're black. We're
As they graduate and move into the work world, many black women
stay just as tough-minded... "Nobody reaches out to [black
women] ... And when they reach out, the door gets slammed in
their face; says Ella L. J. Bell, a professor at Dartmouth's
Tuck School of Business and coauthor of "Our Separate Ways"
a study of black and white women in corporations...
Still, for significant numbers the atmosphere in corporate America
is changing. In a recently released study of corporate women
of color, Catalyst found that 57 percent had been promoted between
1998 and 2001. According to that study, 62 percent of black
women reported having mentors, up dramatically from three years
earlier, when the number was 35 percent.... Corporate types
may still not see black women as members of the club, but they
"don't feel threatened by us" notes Gwen DeRu, vice
president of a black owned consulting firm in Birmingham, Alabama.
In fact...the most difficult challenge black women face today
may lie closer to home.... In bars, colleges and other gathering
spots across America, the question is much the same: where are
the decent, desirable black men? "When I left high school,
I had a boyfriend, but that went down the drain," confides
Tametria Brown, 23. As an undergraduate at the University of
Virginia, she found " a lot of people dating the same guy...
The dating scene was not good." The marriage scene may
be worse. According to the 2000 Census, 47 percent of black
women in the 30-to-34 age range have never married, compared
with 10 percent of white women...
Gwen McKinney considers herself among the blessed in being married
to a black man (a systems engineer) who is unthreatened by her
success as a Washington public-relations-firm owner.... McKinney
believes her husband's comfort level stems from the fact that
they got involved before her business took off "Most of
the time it doesn't work unless those relationships are forged
before the woman's ascendancy," she says...
Underappreciated by black men, many black women are looking
elsewhere. Connie Rice, a Los Angeles civil-rights attorney
and Radcliff graduate, puts it plainly: "If you have to
have the same race, your choices are limited." For years,
there has been a general assumption that while black men were
comfortable dating white women, black women...generally steered
clear of white men. Certainly, statistics show that interracial
black-white unions, while relatively rare, have been much more
common between black men and white women. But the marriage statistics
are shifting.... [T]the dating wall of Jericho is tumbling.
In a survey of residents of 21 cities....78 percent of black
men (average age: 32) had dated interracially at least once,
as had 53 percent of black women (average age: 34)...
Instead of crossing the racial line, others are trying to navigate
the currents of interclass romance. Ellen Lewis, 32, a product
manager for Oscar Mayer in Phoenix, Ariz., is married to a trucker.
With a marketing degree and business experience, Lewis makes
more than double her husband's salary. When they began dating,
she hid all evidence of her success. "After a while, I
could see he could probably handle it." But even now, says
Lewis, "it's hard not to sense his resentment and his attitude
that black women have it easier." Birmingham banker Malia
Fort, who had a child (and is in a long-term relationship) with
a laborer, has found the going somewhat smoother-in part because
her expectations were brutally realistic. "He doesn't fit
into my professional world, but he doesn't have to," she
Cassaundra Cain prepared her two daughters (now college-age)
early on for the possibility of being alone. A divorced postal
worker living in Atlanta, Cain says she "always stressed
the Prince Charming thing wasn't our reality." She warned
her daughters against getting "caught in what they saw
young mainstream girls do ... I tell them they're young black
girls-that they may end up on their own and alone." Even
for women in "mainstream" white America, says [sociologist
Donna] Franklin, hard times may lie ahead. Black women may be
the leaders in the trend of marrying less successful men, but
white women are surely following. And, argues Franklin, they
will reap the same consequences-more domestic tension and higher
divorce rates. Professor Bell agrees: "Nothing lies in
isolation in a culture this fluid. So what happens to us will
happen to them." But what exactly will happen to "us"?
Bell concedes that black women, particularly young, black, educated
women, are journeying into uncharted waters. "They have
a degree of liberty no other group of black women have had ...
It'll be interesting to see what they do with it."
Interesting, indeed. There are several competing visions. In
the most bleak, more and more black women will lead lives of
success but also of isolation, as poorer, less well-prepared
black women raise the community's children and perpetuate the
existence of the "underclass." Then there is another
view... [where] black women are weathering a period of transition,
after which they will find a way to balance happiness and success-and
perhaps even serve as an inspiration for their sisters across
the color line. It is, admittedly, the rosier view; but it is
not necessarily less realistic. Given the history of black women
on this planet, one would have to be supremely foolish to believe
that there is any challenge they cannot overcome.
Source: Ellis Cose, “The Black Gender Gap,” Newsweek
141:9 (March 3, 2003): 46-51.
THE SEXIST IN ME
In the following account journalist, writer
and activist Kevin Powell in a 1992 article in Essence described
his own attempt to deal with his stereotypes about women that
in turn impact his relationships.
My girlfriend and I had been arguing most of the day. As we
were returning from the laundromat, she ran ahead of me to our
apartment building. I caught up with her at the front door,
dropped the clothes at her feet, went inside and slammed the
door behind me. She carried the bundle in, set it down and started
back outside. Enraged, I grabbed her by the seat of her shorts
and pulled her back into the apartment. We struggled in the
kitchen, the dining area and the bathroom. As we were moving
toward the living room, I shoved her into the bathroom door.
Her face bruised, she began to cry uncontrollably, and I tried
to calm her down as we wrestled on the living-room floor. When
she let out a high pitched yell for help, I jumped to my feet,
suddenly aware of what I was doing. Shaking with fear and exhaustion,
I watched my girlfriend run barefoot out of our apartment into
I still shudder when I think of that scene one year later. It
was my first serious relationship and, notwithstanding my proclamations
of "I'm one Black man who's gonna do the right thing,"
I managed to join the swelling ranks of abusive men with relative
ease. Soon after "the incident," accusations of sexism
flooded my guilty conscience. Like a lot of men, I tried to
pin much of the blame on my now ex girlfriend. She must have
done something to provoke my outburst, I rationalized to myself
But I couldn't delude myself for too long. I kept thinking of
all the women I had ill treated in some way. Without fully realizing
it, I had always taken women for granted, but it wasn't until
I committed a violent act that it hit me how deeply I believed
women to be inferior to men.
Ashamed of what I had done, I knew that if I didn't deal with
my deeply rooted sexism -that desire of man to dominate women
-I could not seriously enter into another emotionally intimate
relationship with a woman. Psychologically drained, I consulted
young women friends my own age, older Black women and men, and
any book that dealt with the issue at hand. Everywhere I turned,
I found someone who was pointing out the dangers of exhibiting
For example, one woman friend drew an analogy to racism. If
a child is taught from an early age to dislike another child
because of his or her race, she said, the former is likely to
become a hardened racist by adulthood. The same logic, she offered,
applies to sexism.
Keeping in mind my friend's analogy, I recalled my childhood.
I evolved as many boys do in this society: Machismo gripped
my psyche, and by the time I reached my teen years we "boys"
did whatever we felt like doing--which ran the gamut from squeezing
girls' buttocks in gym class to "gang-banging" girls
in abandoned buildings.
My chauvinistic demeanor merely ripened with
age, and even after my political consciousness blossomed in
college, I self righteously continued to rationalize that the
real battle was against racism, and if the "sistas"
on campus couldn't fall into line, well, then, those women weren't
really down with the program anyway.
In retrospect, what happened in my relationship was inevitable.
Left unchecked my entire life, my sexist inclinations were building
up to a breaking point. Unable to handle the pressures of a
serious relationship, I first sought to "control"
my girlfriend through verbal tirades and then finally through
violence -the highest form of sexism.
The entire experience has been incredibly stressful -including
writing about it now. I will never be able to remove the pain
I inflicted on my ex-girlfriend, but at least I've taken measures
to ensure that it will not happen again.
Acknowledging my inherent sexism was the first step. I then
had to recognize that women are not footstools or servants or
punching bags, but my equals on every level. And as I've struggled
against my own sexism, I've also had to struggle against it
when it manifests in my male friends. I can no longer tolerate
the use of words like bitch or skeezer to describe women. Silence
is acquiescence and acceptance. Moreover, true manhood does
not rest on the subjugation of women -verbal or physical -and
meaningful relationships between men and women won't exist until
we men understand that.
Source: Kevin Powell, "The Sexist in Me," Essence
(September, 1992), p. 48.
THE 2000 CENSUS: TWO OR MORE RACES POPULATION
Responding specifically to the growing number of bi-racial (mainly
black-white) children in the United States, the Census Bureau
created a new category called two or more races for the 2000
Census. Here is a discussion of that category and preliminary
information about this population based on the most recent census.
Census 2000 showed that the United States population on April
1, 2000, was 281.4 million. Of the total, 6.8 million people,
or 2.4 percent, reported more than one race. Census 2000 asked
separate questions on race and Hispanic or Latino origin. Hispanics
who reported more than one race are included in the Two or more
This report, part of a series that analyzes population and housing
data collected from Census 2000, provides a portrait of the
Two or more races population in the United States and discusses
its distribution at both the national and subnational levels…
The term “Two or more races” refers to people who
chose more than one of the six race categories. These individuals
are referred to as the Two or more races population, or as the
population that reported more than one race. Data on race has
been collected since the first U.S. decennial census in 1790.
Census 2000 was the first decennial census that allowed individuals
to self-identify with more than one race.
For Census 2000, the question on race was asked of every individual
living in the United States and responses reflect self-identification.
Respondents were asked to report the race or races they considered
themselves and other members of their households to be. The
question on race for Census 2000 was different from the one
for the 1990 census in several ways. Most significantly, respondents
were given the option of selecting one or more race categories
to indicate their racial identities. The Census 2000 question
on race included 15 separate response categories and 3 areas
where respondents could write in a more specific race…
The six race categories include: White, Black or African American,
American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian and
Other Pacific Islander, Some other race.
People who responded to the question on race by indicating only
one race are referred to as the race alone population, or the
group who reported only one race. For example, respondents who
marked only the White category on the census questionnaire would
be included in the White alone population. Individuals who chose
more than one of the six race categories are referred to as
the Two or more races population, or as the group who reported
more than one race. For example, respondents who reported they
were “White and Black or African American” or “White
and American Indian and Alaska Native and Asian” would
be included in the Two or more races category…
In the total population, 6.8 million people, or 2.4 percent,
reported more than one race. Of the total Two or more races
population, the overwhelming majority (93 percent) reported
exactly two races. An additional 6 percent reported three races,
and 1 percent reported four or more races… Of the total
Two or more races population, 40 percent lived in the West,
27 percent lived in the South, 18 percent lived in the Northeast,
and 15 percent lived in the Midwest. The West had the largest
number and the highest proportion of respondents reporting more
than one race in its total population: the Two or more races
population comprised 4.3 percent of all respondents in the West,
compared with 2.3 percent in the Northeast, 1.8 percent in the
South, and 1.6 percent in the Midwest.
The ten states with the largest Two or more
races populations in 2000 were California, New York, Texas,
Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, Michigan,
and Ohio. Combined, these states represented 64 percent of the
total Two or more races population. These states contained 49
percent of the total population. Three states had Two or more
races populations greater than one-half million: California
was the only state with a Two or more races population greater
than one million, followed by New York with 590,000, and Texas
with 515,000. These three states accounted for 40 percent of
the total Two or more races population.
There were fourteen states where the Two or more races population
exceeded the U.S. rate of 2.4 percent, led by the western states
of Hawaii (21 percent), followed at a distance by Alaska (5.4
percent), and California (4.7 percent), and the southern state
of Oklahoma (4.5 percent). The other ten states included the
western states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon,
and Washington; the northeastern states of New Jersey, New York,
and Rhode Island; and the southern state of Texas. No midwestern
state had greater than 2.4 percent of its population reporting
more than one race. Four states — California, Hawaii,
New York, and Washington — were represented in the top
ten states for both number and percent reporting more than one
race. There were five states where the Two or more races population
represented 1.0 percent or less of the total population: Alabama,
Maine, Mississippi, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
Census 2000 showed that, of all places in the United States
with populations of 100,000 or more, New York with nearly 400,000,
and Los Angeles with nearly 200,000, had the largest Two or
more races populations. These places were also the two largest
places in the United States. Four other places (Chicago, Houston,
San Diego, and Honolulu) had Two or more races populations greater
According to Census 2000, about one in three people in the Two
or more races population also reported as Hispanic. About 6
percent of Hispanics reported more than one race, in contrast
to 2 percent of non-Hispanics.
The White population, and the Black or African American population
had the lowest percentages reporting more than one race. Of
the 216.9 million respondents who reported White alone or in
combination, 2.5 percent, or 5.5 million, reported White as
well as at least one other race. Similarly, of the 36.4 million
individuals who reported Black or African American alone or
in combination, 4.8 percent, or 1.8 million, reported Black
or African American as well as at least one other race.
The Asian population, and the Some other race population had
somewhat higher percentages reporting more than one race. Of
the 11.9 million individuals who reported Asian alone or in
combination, 13.9 percent, or 1.6 million, reported Asian as
well as at least one other race. Similarly, of the 18.5 million
individuals who reported Some other race alone or in combination,
17.1 percent, or 3.2 million, reported Some other race as well
as at least one other race.
The American Indian and Alaska Native population, and the Native
Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander population had the highest
percentages reporting more than one race. Of the 4.1 million
individuals who reported American Indian and Alaska Native alone
or in combination, 39.9 percent, or 1.6 million, reported American
Indian and Alaska Native as well as at least one other race.
Similarly, of the 874,000 individuals who reported Native Hawaiian
and Other Pacific Islander alone or in combination, 54.4 percent,
or 476,000, reported Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
as well as at least one other race.
People who reported more than one race were more likely to be
under age 18 than those reporting only one race. Of the 6.8
million people in the Two or more races population, 42 percent
were under 18. This is higher than the one race population.
Of the 274.6 million people who reported only one race, 25 percent
were under 18...
All levels of government need information on race to implement
and evaluate programs, or enforce laws. Examples include: the
Native American Programs Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity
Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Public
Health Act, the Healthcare Improvement Act, the Job Partnership
Training Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Fair Housing
Act, and the census Redistricting Data Program. Both public
and private organizations use race information to find areas
where groups may need special services and to plan and implement
education, housing, health, and other programs that address
these needs. For example, a school system might use this information
to design cultural activities that reflect the diversity in
their community. Or a business could use it to select the mix
of merchandise it will sell in a new store. Census information
also helps identify areas where residents might need services
of particular importance to certain racial or ethnic groups,
such as screening for diabetes…
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, The Two or More Races Population:
2000 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 2000), pp. 1-9.
WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
In the following account Arvli Ward, who is
both African American and Japanese American, describes his reaction
to the Rodney King Uprising in his hometown, Los Angeles, in
I keep thinking back to a moment that occurred
sometime after midnight on the first night of burning and looting.
I am standing against a low wall at the edge of a parking lot
near Florence and Vermont, watching people stream to and out
of a trashed-up supermarket when two men pass me.
"Black power," one of them says in an offhand way.
It strikes me as a remarkable utterance. I am speechless for
a moment. “Black power,” I finally sputter. In my
memory I see the moment punctuated-—as if it were a scene
out of a movie—by an exploding transformer box that lights
up the undersky with a brilliant blue flash before casting the
entire area into total darkness.
It was Black Power, wasn't it? This feeling in the soot-filled
air. Deep in the African ghetto of Los Angeles where some of
the city's poorest live, people are moving casually against
property, that concept around which lives are wrapped in this
free market world, taking what they please. Authority, in the
form of the police, won't show anytime soon; it's clear that
some institutions don't apply tonight.
Someone sits a few feet away from me smoking a cigarette and
begins to tell it to no one in particular. "Niggas breaking
up the slave quarters…looting the goods... overseer can't
do a damn thing about it…" From the handful assembled
there comes chorus of chuckles, a murmur of agreement.
I thought of the Last Poets and their refrain: "Black day
is coming…Black day is here." I can't deny the exhilaration
I felt at that moment. I know I was raised better, but it was
a glorious moment. It looked as if the revolution had arrived.
But my mind keeps returning to another moment,
this one occurring about twelve hours later. In that moment,
I see two faces I recognize as Japanese, though everyone else
takes them for Korean. They are the faces of a middle-aged couple
in a yellow Cadillac with white interior decorated with crocheted
doilies. They are traveling west—out of the ghetto where
they may live, perhaps behind the old Crenshaw Square in a manicured
duplex—slowing to turn southward on La Cienega, when a
bare-chested Crip wearing work gloves and a bandana tied around
his face bandit-style, rushes the car and throws a bottle of
beer through the driver's side window. The old man takes the
exploding window and bottle in the side of the head and neck.
He keeps driving, hands clenched at the top of the wheel. His
mouth is agape. He spits shards of glass from his lips. His
wife cries out, takes out her handkerchief and begins to reach
up to dab his bloody face. Just then, our eyes seem to meet.
Does she recognize me, I wonder, as I recognize her? Her face
is so much like my mother's, I imagine, and in her eyes I sense
a question. I flinch and look away.
A year later, my memories of the 48 hours
I roamed the burning city are dominated by images of love and
suffering like these. I have since quit trying to make sense
of them, because I can't make the choices necessary. How do
you balance Jubilation Day, as the Rasta on 54th called it,
with all the Asian ass-kicking you see? Or as James Jenkins,
my boyhood friend, used to ask me: "Is you a Jap, or is
you a nigga?"
My father was born in rural Georgia to the
15-year-old daughter of a sharecropper. From the little he told
me about his early years, I fashioned together a picture that
remains as remote to me as literature. There was a farm, just
a mean patch of land, an anchor into penury. A childhood without
shoes. There was a town, Elberton, whose status as the granite
capital of Georgia ensured magnificent monuments to the Confederacy.
My father left the farm, moved on to the city, and lived by
his wits like many black men in this society. Soon he joined
the Marines and shipped out for the Korean War to kill Koreans
and Chinese in the name of freedom. Eventually he was stationed
in Japan at a base on the beautiful inland sea that faces China
and there he met my mother, the displaced daughter of a Kobe
shopkeeper. Their courtship was carried out at the Bar Happy,
where jazz-loving Japanese women and black servicemen mingled.
They married a year later and soon afterwards were disowned
by their families. My father died before he could square things
with his relatives who continued to believe that it was Georgia
anti-miscegenation laws and not their bigotry that kept him
away. My mother's rapprochement was finally complete nearly
40 years later, although the elder brother who removed her from
the koseki—the Japanese family registry that would establish
the racial purity of your pedigree—was too senile before
his death to notice that she had come back.
My father eventually moved us to Southern California, where
I grew up in the racially jumbled milieu of a military town.
We were the children of enlisted Marines, the Black, white,
Latino, Native American and Samoan poor who came from ghettos,
farms, and factory towns to make up the lower ranks. We were
crowded into the "Posole," a Chicano barrio and the
only neighborhood where nonwhites were free to buy. We were
a motley assortment, many of us half something, born at stations
in the Philippines, Korea, Guam, Japan and wherever else they
sent Marines. We grew up gray girls, black cholos, pop-locking
Asians, but Black was the dominant esthetic, absorbing youth
of all groups, and I grew up thinking I was Black.
When the 29th of last April arrived, I was already wondering--something
I thought I had quit doing long ago-what it meant to be African,
what it meant to be Asian. It began when I found myself in an
argument on a flight from Washington D.C. to Memphis. Although
I was in the practice of denying it, I had been through this
many times before. This time it was with a member of the Black
Freedom Fighters Coalition, or so his jacket, which was covered
in epigrams and names from Black history, said.
A few minutes into our flight, he noticed that I was reading
Shelby Steele's The Content of our Character. Since he asked,
I started to tell him what I thought I understood of the conservative
Steele's ideas. I couldn't abide by them, I told him, but I
must have sounded like an asshole anyway. "Why do you clutter
up your mind with all that stuff?" he asked, his voice
dripping with drama like a preacher's.
For the next couple of hours he loomed over me, his large body
spilling into my seat, and preached. He asked me what right
I had to say I was Black. Yeah, I had black skin, he agreed,
but I didn't sound Black, and if he had to guess, my ideas weren't
very Black. At a couple of spots in the conversation, he'd pause
and ask me: "You Filipino right?” It was meant as
an insult, a reminder that what I claimed to be was irrelevant.
"It is people like you that will sell us out when the revolution
comes," he said. At one point he challenged me to tell
him who the people inscribed on his jacket were: Nat Turner,
Bob Marley, Paul Robeson et al. When I proved up to the simple
quiz, he looked at his girl and said: "You see what they
throw at you?" She smiled knowingly.
What he meant was that I was a "race spy," someone
who knew about being Black, but wasn't Black. I was a danger,
a potential sellout stuck on succeeding at the expense of real
black folks. Would I join the FBI, he asked, if I wasn't already
He had found the button. Could he have known that all my life,
I struggled for black acceptance, many times at the expense
of my Asian side? Moments like these, long repressed and smoothed
over it the making of my personal myth, sprang up. I was kissing
his ass—in the same way I had done in these situations
since I learned long ago what being half-black and half-Japanese
meant—begging him to deem me worthy of being called a
"Every brother ain't a brother," he told me, invoking
After a while, it got nasty. The white folks began looking around.
We landed and I switched seats in Memphis
for the rest of the flight back to California. When he found
out that I was moving to another seat, he stood up and looked
back at me with an expression of utter disappointment and disgust.
But he was right, and it was useless to argue:
He was blacker than me.
And he may have been right about even more. I probably was a
race spy. And like a spy, I felt no real allegiance to Africa
or Japan, especially on the 29th as I watched the events. All
I could do was celebrate the love and feel the suffering.
Source: Arvli Ward, "Which Side Are You On?" Pacific
Ties 16:5 (April 1993), 41-2.
HUEY P. NEWTON ON THE GAY AND WOMEN’S
In the following statement Huey P. Newton, Supreme Commander
of the Black Panther Party attempts to ally the organization
with progressive elements of the Gay Liberation and Women’s
During the past few years, strong movements have developed among
women and homosexuals seeking their liberation. There has been
some uncertainty about how to relate to these movements.
Whatever your personal opinion and your insecurities
about homosexuality and the various liberation movements among
homosexuals and women (and I speak of the homosexuals and women
as oppressed groups) we should try to unite with them in a revolutionary
We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect
and feelings for all oppressed people. We must not use the racist
type attitudes like the white racists use against people because
they are black and poor. Many times the poorest white person
is the most racist because he's afraid that he might lose something
or discover something that he doesn't have. You're some kind
of threat to him. This kind of psychology is in operation when
we view [other] oppressed people and we're angry with them because
of their particular kind of behavior or their particular kind
of deviation from the established norm.
Remember we haven't established a revolutionary value system;
we’re only in the process of establishing it. I don't
remember us ever constituting any value that said that a revolutionary
must say offensive things toward homosexuals or that a revolutionary
would make sure that women do not speak out against their own
particular kind of oppression.
Matter of fact, it's just the opposite, we say that we recognize
the woman’s right to be free. We haven't said much about
the homosexual at all and we must relate to the homosexual movement
because it is a real movement. And I know through reading and
through my life experience, my observation, that homosexuals
are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in this society.
Maybe they might be the most oppressed people in the society…
That's not endorsing things in homosexuality that we wouldn't
view as revolutionary. But there is nothing to say that a homosexual
can not also be a revolutionary… Maybe a homosexual could
be the most revolutionary.
When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies and demonstrations,
there should be full participation of the Gay Liberation Movement
and the Women's Liberation Movement...We should never say a
whole movement is dishonest when in fact they are trying to
be honest; they're just making honest mistakes. Friends are
allowed to make mistakes. The enemy is not allowed to make mistakes
because his whole existence is a mistake and we suffer from
it. But the Women's Liberation Front and Gay Liberation Front
are our friends, they are our potential allies and we need as
many allies as possible.
We should be willing to discuss the insecurities that many people
have about homosexuality. When I say, "insecurities"
I mean the fear that there is some kind of threat to our manhood.
I can understand this fear. Because of the long conditioning
process that builds insecurity in the American male, homosexuality
might produce certain hangups in us… We should be careful
about using terms which might turn our friends off. The terms
"faggot" and "punk" should be deleted from
our vocabulary and especially we should not attach names normally
designed for homosexuals to men who are enemies of the people
such as Nixon or Mitchell. Homosexuals are not enemies of the
ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!
Huey P. Newton,
Black Panther Party
Source: Gay Flames Pamphlet, No. 7, 1970
WHAT BECOMES OF THE BROKEN HEARTED
In the following vignette novelist E. Lynn Harris describes
his first encounter with homophobia from an unlikely source,
his stepfather’s reaction to Harris’s new Easter
overcoat in 1964.
Easter Sunday 1964 finally arrived. After my bath, I raced into
the tiny room I shared with my two younger sisters and saw the
coat laid out on my twin bed. It was red, black, and green plaid
with gold buttons. Daddy and I had picked the coat out together
at Dundee's Men's Store. The coat had been on layaway since
the day President Kennedy was shot in 1963. It's strange how
vividly I remember that rainy and dreary day and how I tried
to contain my excitement about getting out of school early while
all the teachers at Bush Elementary were in tears over the news
they'd heard over the intercom system.
After I got home that day, Daddy and I walked in the cold to
the edge of downtown Little Rock. At first I thought that maybe
I was going to the President's funeral when Daddy said he and
his little man "Mike" were going to Dundee's to buy
new suit coats. I realized that this was not the case when Daddy
handed over five one dollar bills and the elderly white man
gave him a gray payment book. The coat was the first piece of
clothing that I could remember that hadn't come from J C Penney's
or Kent Dollar Store and was the first piece of clothing I had
picked out. Now Easter was here and I could wear my new jacket.
Mama had assembled it alongside a pair of black pants, white
shirt, and red and black clip on bow tie, and the shoes my daddy
had polished to perfection sat under my bed.
I quickly put on my new clothes, and I could see my sisters,
Anita and Zettoria, who were five and three, slip on new dresses
over their freshly pressed hair. Anita had on a blue taffeta
dress, and Shane (our nickname for Zettoria, since her name
was so hard to pronounce) had on an identical one in pink. Their
dresses were pretty but didn't compare to my coat.
From the bathroom, Mama urged us to hurry, while Daddy called
from the living room for us to gather for a final inspection
before we left for Sunday School. My sisters grabbed their new
black patent leather pocketbooks and raced to the living room
to greet Daddy. I peeked from the corner of our room to watch
"Look, Daddy. Don't we look pretty?" Anita said as
she twirled around. Shane giggled as she put her pocketbook
strap to her mouth.
"You sure do look good. Look at my little girls. Shane,
take the purse out of your mouth, baby," Daddy said.
After Anita and Shane had accepted their compliments from Daddy,
he called me in for inspection.
"Where is my little man? Come out here and let Daddy see
that new coat," he said.
I quickly buttoned up each of the three gold buttons and dashed
to the living room for Daddy's endorsement of my outfit.
"Look, Daddy. Look at me," I said with excitement
as I twirled around like my sisters had moments before. Suddenly
Daddy's bright smile turned into a disgusted frown. What was
wrong? Didn't he like my new coat? Had Easter been canceled?
"Come here. Stop that damn twirling around," Daddy
I stopped and moved toward Daddy. He was
seated on the armless aqua vinyl sofa. Before I reached him,
he grabbed me and shouted, "Look at you. You fuckin' little
sissy with this coat all buttoned up like a little girl. Don't
you know better? Men don't button up their coats all the way"
Before I could respond or clearly realize what I had done wrong,
I saw Daddy's powerful hands moving toward me. His grip was
so quick and powerful that I felt the back of my prized coat
come apart. A panic filled my tiny body when I saw his hands
clutching the fabric. I began to cry as my sisters looked on
in horror. I could hear Mama's high heels clicking swiftly as
she raced to the living room from the kitchen.
"Ben, what are you doing?" Mama asked.
"Shut up, Etta Mae. I'm taking
care of this. Stop all that damn crying. Stop it now!"
Daddy said to me.
I couldn't stop crying as I saw one of the
gold buttons roll under the metal television stand into the
corner of room.
"If you don't stop that crying,
I'm gonna whip your little narrow ass," Daddy warned as
he released me.
Now I was crying harder than before. Snot
dripped from my nose to the top of my lip as my mother inspected
my badly torn coat.
"Come here, baby. Stop crying,"
she said as she pulled me close to her chest.
"Let him go. Stop babying him,"
Daddy said as he pulled me from my mother's embrace. "How
is he ever gonna become a man with you babying him all the time!"
Mama didn't answer. She never did when he
talked in this tone. She knew this routine too well.
"Stop that sniffling and clean
your face, you little sissy," he said to me. "What
are you going to wear to church now?"
I didn't answer, and I wiped my nose with
the arm of my prized jacket and began crying once again.
"If you don't stop that damn crying,
I'm going to make you wear one of your sister's dresses to church."
I caught myself and stopped crying. Daddy meant what he said.
I would be the laughingstock of the entire neighborhood. It
wouldn't matter that I had the longest and most difficult speech.
I could see all my friends pointing and laughing at me.
I looked at the anger in Daddy's eyes and
the fear on my mother's face as I blinked back tears. The small
four room clapboard house was silent with the exception of my
sniffles. The living room suddenly felt too small, the ceiling
too low. I looked around the room at my mother and sisters and
then out the window, and watched the cars race past our house
on East Twenty-first Street.
I don't remember much after my mother pulled
me back into the bedroom. I remember standing before the packed
church that Easter Sunday and hearing my name being called and
the older ladies of the church adorned in their Easter Sunday
finery saying, "Go 'head, baby. Preach the word."
I said my speech, each word of the twenty
two lines. I could hear the polite applause and "amens"
that followed, as I, with my head held low, took my appointed
seat on the pew with the other children from my Sunday School
class, dressed perfectly in their finest clothes. I don't remember
what I wore that Easter Sunday or many Easters that followed.
All I recall is that I wasn't wearing a dress, and I remember
what my daddy had said to me. I didn't know what a sissy was
and why Daddy despised them so. All I knew was that I was determined
never to be one.
Source: E. Lynn Harris, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted: A
Memoir (New York: Doubleday, 2003):10-13.
DOES YOUR MAMA KNOW ABOUT ME?
In the essay below which appeared originally in 1992, Essex
Hemphill protests the discrimination by white gays against gay
African American men. But his essay also calls on black gay
men to return to the African American community to help confront
issues such as AIDS which afflicts black people regardless of
At the baths, certain bars, in bookstores and cruising zones,
Black men were welcome because these constructions of pleasure
allowed the races to mutually explore sexual fantasies, and,
after all, the Black man engaging in such a construction only
needed to whip out a penis of almost any size to obtain the
rapt attention withheld from him in other social and political
structures of the gay community. These sites of pleasure were
more tolerant of Black men because they enhanced the sexual
ambiance, but that same tolerance did not always continue once
the sun began to rise.
Open fraternizing at a level suggesting companionship or love
between the races was not tolerated in the light of day. Terms
such as "dinge queen," for white men who prefer Black
men, and "snow queen," for Black men who prefer white
men, were created by a gay community that obviously could not
be trusted to believe its own rhetoric concerning brotherhood,
fellowship, and dignity. Only an entire community's silence,
complicity, and racial apathy is capable of reinforcing these
Some of the best minds of my generation would
have us believe that AIDS has brought the gay and lesbian community
closer and infused it with a more democratic mandate. That is
only a partial truth, which further underscores the fact that
the gay community still operates from a one-eyed, one gender,
one color perception of community that is most likely to recognize
blond before Black, but seldom the two together.
Some of the best minds of my generation believe AIDS has made
the gay community a more responsible social construction, but
what AIDS really manages to do is clearly point out how significant
are the cultural and economic differences between us; differences
so extreme that Black men suffer a disproportionate number of
AIDS deaths in communities with very sophisticated gay health
The best gay minds of my generation believe that we speak as
one voice and dream one dream, but we are not monolithic. We
are not even respectful of one another's differences...
We are communities engaged in a fragile coexistence
if we are anything all. Our most significant coalitions have
been created in the realm of sex. What is most clear for Black
gay men is this: we have to do for ourselves now and for one
another now, what no one has ever done for us. We have to be
there for one another and trust less the adhesions of kisses
and semen to bind us. Our only sure guarantee of survival is
that which we construct from our own self-determination. White
gay men may only be able to understand and respond to oppression
as it relates to their ability to obtain orgasm without intrusion
from the church and state. White gay men are only "other"
in society when they choose to come out of the closet. But all
Black men a treated as "other" regardless of whether
we sleep with men or women--our Black skin automatically marks
us as "other."
Look around, brothers. There is rampant killing in our communities.
Drug addiction and drug trafficking overwhelm us. The blood
of young Black men runs curbside in a steady flow. The bodies
of Black infants crave crack, not the warmth of a mother's love.
The nation's prisons are reservations and shelters for Black
men. An entire generation of Black youths is being destroyed
before our eyes. We cannot witness this in silence and apathy
and claim our hands are bloodless. We are a wandering tribe
that needs to go home before home is gone. We should not continue
standing in line to be admitted into spaces that don't want
us there. We cannot continue to exist without clinics, political
organizations, human services, and cultural institutions that
we create to support, sustain, and affirm us.
Our mothers and fathers are waiting for us.
Our sisters and brothers are waiting. Our communities are waiting
for us to come home. They need our love, our talents and skills,
and we need theirs. They may not understand everything about
us, but they will remain ignorant, misinformed, and lonely for
us, and we for them, for as long as we stay away, hiding in
communities that have never really welcomed us or the gifts
Source: Essex Hemphill, "Does Your Mama Know About Me?"
in Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (Plume Books, 1992): pp. 41-42.
OUT OF AFRICA: AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS TO THE UNITED
Approximately 1.7 million people in the United States claim
descent from the 640,000 immigrants who have arrived in the
United States from African since 1970. The vignette below describes
the rapid growth of that population and traces the differences
and similarities with Americans of African descent who arrived
in the colonial era and with Caribbean immigrants who represent
a different wave of immigration.
Over the past 30 years more Africans have
come voluntarily to this country than during the entire era
of the transatlantic slave trade that transported an estimated
half a million men, women, and children to these shores. But
this contemporary migration although larger in strictly numerical
terms, and concentrated over a much shorter period forms only
a trickle in the total stream of immigrants to the United States.
Nevertheless, small as it is still today, the African community
has been steadily and rapidly increasing. Sub Saharan Africans
have recently acquired a high level of visibility in many cities.
Close knit, attached to their cultures, and prompt to seize
the educational and professional opportunities of their host
country, African immi¬grants have established themselves
as one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial groups in the
Who are the migrants and why do they come? Immigration from
sub¬-Saharan Africa dates back to the 1860s when men from
Cape Verde, the then Portuguese controlled islands off the coast
of Senegal, made their way to Massachusetts. They were seamen
and most were employed as whalers. Women soon followed, and
after the demise of whale hunting, Cape Verdeans worked mostly
in textile mills and cranberry bogs. A small number of African
students sent by Christian missions and churches to historically
black colleges and universities were also present from the end
of the 19th century. The trend continued in the early 20th century.
Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first Nigerian president, and Kwame Nkrumah,
Ghana's first president, both studied at Lincoln University
and pursued graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
Traditionally, Africans had primarily migrated
to their former colonial pow¬ers Great Britain, France,
and Portugal and more than a million Africans presently live
in Europe. But beginning in the late 1970s, these countries
froze immigration due to economic slowdowns. The United States
became an option.
At the same time, increasing numbers of students
and professionals decided to remain in America due to political
and economic problems on the continent.
Concurrently, the mounting debts, sluggish
growth, exploding populations and high unemployment at home
were pushing many Africans to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
In the 1990s, emigration was also spurred by the Structural
Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund
and the World Bank, which resulted in cuts in education and
health services, the discharge of public servants, private sector
bankruptcies, and a decrease in middle class standards of living
with¬in African nations. In addition, in 1994 more than
a dozen French speaking coun¬tries devalued their currencies
by 50 percent, resulting in a restructuring of the public sector,
numerous layoffs, more bankruptcies, and fewer prospects for
college graduates were the consequences.
Emigrants were not only pushed out of their countries, they
were also pulled to the United States. A number of favorable
immigration policies enabled them to make the journey in much
greater numbers than before.
Census Department estimates of immigrants,
particularly those without documentation, are traditionally
unreliable. For example, the 1990 census counted 2,287 Senegalese,
even though various studies showed at least 10,000 living in
New York City. The 2000 census reports between 511,000 and 746,000
sub-Saharan Africans, with West Africans (36 percent) in the
lead, followed by East Africans (24 percent). About 6 percent
of the sub-Saharan Africans are South Africans, many of whom
are white. A small percentage of East Africans are of Asian
Nationwide, 1.7 million people claim sub-Saharan
ancestry. Africans now repre¬sent 6 percent of all the immigrants
to the United States. It is a recent phenomenon; about 57 percent
immigrated between 1990 and 2000. People of sub-Saharan African
ancestry now represent almost 5 percent of the African American
communi¬ty. Those who were actually born in Africa form
1.6 percent of the country's black population. Over the past
ten years, this group has increased 134 percent.
Africans are dispersed throughout the country,
and in no state are they fewer than 150. New York has the largest
African community, followed by California, Texas, and Maryland.
However, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Rhode Island
have the highest percentages of Africans in their total populations.
With 136,000 officially recorded immigrants, Nigerians are the
number one sub-Saharan African community; Ethiopians (69,500)
and Ghanaians (65,600) come far behind.
Although media coverage of African immigrants
is most often devoted to the refugees, they represent a minority
of the African community. From 1990 to 2001, 101,000 African
refugees 10 percent of all refugees who entered the country
were admitted to the United States. More than 40,000 were Somalis,
and close to 21,000 came from Ethiopia, while 18,500 arrived
from the Sudan.
Africans are highly urban; 95 percent live
in a metropolitan area and, like most immigrants, they tend
to settle where other countrymen have preceded. A few Senegalese
put down roots in New York in the early 1980s; today most Senegalese
can still be found there. A large number of Nigerians reside
in Texas. Their homeland is a major oil producer and they have
experience in that industry. Washington, D.C., the headquarters
of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other
inter¬national organizations, has attracted large numbers
of highly educated Africans.
The Twin Cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis,
have America's largest Somali pop¬ulation, estimated at
30,000. Many are refugees relocated directly from camps in East
Africa. But the overwhelming majority, attracted by job opportunities,
family reunification and educational possibilities, are now
coming in a secondary migra¬tion from Texas, Virginia, and
Because sub-Saharan Africans live in higher
income...areas than other people of African descent, they are
largely segregated from African Americans and Caribbeans. Although
this trend is somewhat in decline, it still holds true for New
York and Atlanta, two cities where Africans are quite numerous.
....Besides their migration experience, the
most significant characteristic of the African immigrants is
that they are the most educated group in the nation. Almost
half have bachelor's degrees or higher compared to 26 percent
of native born Americans. Contrary to popular belief, the most
substantial part of African emi¬gration is thus directly
linked to the "brain drain," not to poverty. In fact,
98 per¬cent are high school graduates.
Sub Saharan nations bear the great cost of
sending students abroad who will continue their education in
the West and may not return home during their most productive
years. As renowned Nigerian computer scientist Philippe Emeagwali
puts it: "The African education budget is nothing but a
supplement to the American education budget. In essence, Africa
is giving developmental assistance to the wealthier west¬ern
nations which makes the rich nations richer and the poor nations
According to the United Nations Economic Commission
for Africa and the International Organization for Migration,
27,000 intellectual Africans left the con¬tinent for industrialized
nations between 1960 and 1975, while 40,000 followed them from1975
to 1984. Between 1985 and 1990 the figure skyrocketed to 60,000,
and has averaged 20,000 annually ever since.
At least 60 percent of physicians trained
in Ghana during the 1980s have left their country, and half
of Zimbabwe's social workers trained in the past ten years are
now working in Great Britain...This substantial brain drain
is a significant obstacle to development, but African expatriates
stress that poor economic conditions and political repression
are often responsible for their leaving. They also point out
that low salaries, lack of adequate equipment and research facilities,
and the need to provide for their extended families are the
reasons for their emigration, not individualistic motivations.
Besides professionals who work in the United
States, more than 32,000 under¬graduate and graduate students
from sub Saharan Africa are enrolled in American universities.
They pump more than half a billion dollars into American universities
and the general economy each year. As a point of comparison,
the total U.S. eco¬nomic aid to sub Saharan Africa is slightly
more than $1 billion annually.
A significant proportion of African immigrants
have "made it" in this country. Besides a few millionaires,
38 percent hold professional and managerial positions. The Africans'
average annual incomes are higher than those of the foreign
born population as a whole. More than 45 percent earn between
$35,000 and $75,000 a year, and because of the immigrants' disproportionately
high education levels ¬exceed the median income of African
Americans and Caribbeans.
The fact remains, however, that the Africans' income levels,
high though they may seem, do not mirror their academic achievements.
As the most highly educated community in the nation, they should
occupy many more top level professional and managerial positions.
There are several reasons for this. Degrees earned overseas
are sometimes not readily transferable, so the immigrants must
enroll in school once more, holding low wage jobs to pay for
their schooling. "It is at times degrading when you come
here and find that all the education you have from home does
not mean anything here. It is a shock. We had to start over
from nothing," sums up a Sudanese social worker in Philadelphia.
Others, though possessing outstanding qualifications,
cannot find adequate employment because of their status as undocumented
aliens. Finally, the Africans must confront the same problems
as other people of color racism and job discrim¬ination
that result in lower incomes, the employment of overqualified
people in lesser positions, and the lack of adequate promotion.
Although unemployment is rare among Africans, poverty does exist,
particular¬ly among the undocumented who are underpaid and
live precarious, stressful lives. But poverty is usually mitigated
by solidarity and communal life, as compatriots
Source: Howard Dodson and Sylvaine Diouf,
eds., In Motion: The African
American Migration Experience (Washington, D.C.: National
Geographic Society, 2004), pp. 199-205.
GODWIN AJALA AT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER
Godwin Ajala, one of the thousands who perished in the World
Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001, is described in the
article below. Ajala, a native of Nigeria, was typical of the
over one million African immigrants who have arrived in the
United States since 1990.
Godwin Ajala was a striver. Hard work was his ticket to the
American Dream. And he strove mightily to reach it -- even at
the cost of his life. A lawyer in his native Nigeria, Ajala
came to the U.S. in 1995, during a time of political unrest
in his country. His goal: pass the New York state bar exam and
practice law in New York City. It was against great odds. He
was a stranger in a strange land with no money. But he rose
to the challenge with grit and determination--working odd jobs
to pay for his legal studies while supporting his wife and three
children in Nigeria.
Ajala eventually found steady work as a Manhattan security guard.
But fortune turned to tragedy on Sept. 11 when 33-year-old Ajala
became one of 11 guards, employed by a company called Summit
Security Services Inc., who died at the World Trade Center.
Scores of elevator operators, guards, porters, food handlers
and other service workers perished in the attack. Like Ajala,
huge numbers of them hailed from nations such as Mexico, China
and Albania. All could be called American success stories in
the making until they were cut down that day.
The son of a retailer from a small town in Eastern Nigeria,
Ajala was too poor to attend a U.S. law school. So he found
another way to pursue his goal. He sank his salary into prep
classes for the bar exam and tried to pass the test on his own.
It was the same verve he showed in winning a law degree in Nigeria.
Though untrained in U.S. law, Ajala bet his knowledge of Commonwealth
Law would help him bridge the gap. After relentless effort,
he was close to proving himself right.
By day, Ajala rode elevators and walked floors of the 110-story
tower at the Two World Trade Center, helping secure the building
and attending to small emergencies. "He worked as a guard
from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the afternoon. Then he came back and
studied late into the night," said Christopher Onuoha,
who shared a modest apartment with Ajala in Queens, N.Y. Outside
class, Ajala spent his nights in study, grappling with legal
terms and principles. He mastered the vagaries of contract and
criminal law, with hours of reading and note taking. When he
made errors, he tried to learn from them. Ajala accepted without
complaint that he had to pay his dues, despite already having
been a lawyer in Nigeria. Ajala flunked the New York bar exam
three times, common in a state where the exam's especially tough.
But he never gave up. "He was hoping to pass it in February
when the Trade Center happened," Onuoha said. "He
had nothing. No good dress clothes...nothing. But he kept trying."
Still, for all the hardship in Ajala's life, friends recall
a caring, spiritual man with a sense of duty to his job. A devout
churchgoer, Ajala believed his focus had to be on others before
himself. He was quick to extend a helpful hand to friends and
strangers -- using his experiences as an émigré
to encourage them through life's struggles. He was always ready
to extend the odd dollar or the meager possession despite his
own needs. He made sure he spent less money on himself so he
could send money back home.
"He was a generous, caring person, a sociable guy. I miss
him a lot -- every little thing," Onuoha said. Though Ajala
was already sending thousands of dollars home a month to support
his wife Victoria, and his three children, he felt duty-bound
to help the children of other relatives in Nigeria through college.
"He was helping four or five of his relatives' kids through
school," said security guard Christopher Iwuanyanwa, a
Sept. 11 would have been one of Ajala's last
days of work before taking a trip to Nigeria to visit his wife
and children. The trip would have been a steppingstone to bringing
them to the U.S. -- something Ajala looked forward to for years.
Ajala's spark inspired his peers. He was elected a steward for
the Service Employees International Union Local 32 BJ, which
represents 70,000 porters, guards, doormen and other service
workers. He put his legal training to good use. Amid tangled
union and management politics, Ajala used his skills to unravel
legal issues for other union members. "He never supported
a measure that would have a bad effect. He had integrity,"
All those points came to the fore on Sept. 11. Ajala was helping
evacuate thousands of people from a street-level security post
inside the lobby of Two World Trade Center when the second plane
hit the building. It was his moment of truth. "He was on
the ground floor. He could easily have run away," Iwuanyanwa
said. Ajala didn't run. He came out of the burning tower only
once before it fell -- to hold the door open for people running
out. Then he went back inside to guide more people out of the
blazing structure. That was the last time anyone saw Godwin
Source: Doug Tsuruoka, "Godwin Ajala, An American Success
Story Cut Short," Investor's Business Daily, December 11,
2001, p. A04.
BARACK OBAMA KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT THE DEMOCRATIC
NATIONAL CONVENTION, 2004
On July 27, 2004 Illinois Senatorial Candidate
Barack Obama was propelled onto the national stage when he was
chosen to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National
Convention assembled in Boston. Obama, then an Illinois State
Senator, easily won his campaign the following November and
became the fifth African American to sit in the United States
Senate. Part of his keynote address appears below. To read this
speech in its entirety, please visit TheBlackPast at www.blackpast.org.
On behalf of the great state of Illinois,
crossroads of a nation, Land of Lincoln, let me express my deepest
gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention. Tonight
is a particular honor for me because — let’s face
it — my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My
father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village
in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof
shack. His father — my grandfather — was a cook,
a domestic servant to the British.
But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard
work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in
a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom
and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying
here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the
other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil
rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after
Pearl Harbor my grandfather signed up for duty; joined Patton’s
army, marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised
their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After
the war, they studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through
F.H.A., and later moved west all the way to Hawaii in search
of opportunity. And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter.
A common dream, born of two continents.
My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an
abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would
give me an African name, Barack, or ”blessed,” believing
that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.
They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even
though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America
you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential. They
are both passed away now. And yet, I know that, on this night,
they look down on me with great pride.
I stand here today, grateful for the diversity
of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on
in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story
is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all
of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on
earth, is my story even possible.
Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness
of our nation — not because of the height of our skyscrapers,
or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our
pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration
made over two hundred years ago: “We hold these truths
to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they
are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...”
This year, in this election, we are called
to reaffirm our values and our commitments, to hold them against
a hard reality and see how we are measuring up, to the legacy
of our forbearers, and the promise of future generations. And
fellow Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents —
I say to you tonight: we have more work to do. More work to
do for the workers I met in Galesburg, Ill., who are losing
their union jobs at the Maytag plant that’s moving to
Mexico, and now are having to compete with their own children
for jobs that pay seven bucks an hour...
Now don’t get me wrong. The people
I meet — in small towns and big cities, in diners and
office parks — they don’t expect government to solve
all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get
ahead — and they want to. Go into the collar counties
around Chicago, and people will tell you they don’t want
their tax money wasted, by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon.
Go into any inner city neighborhood, and
folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach
our kids to learn — they know that parents have to teach,
that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations
and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that
says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those
People don’t expect government to solve
all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that
with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that
every child in America has a decent shot at life, and that the
doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do
better. And they want that choice...
You know, a while back, I met a young man
named Shamus [Seamus?] in a V.F.W. Hall in East Moline, Ill.
He was a good-looking kid, six two, six three, clear eyed, with
an easy smile. He told me he’d joined the Marines, and
was heading to Iraq the following week. And as I listened to
him explain why he’d enlisted, the absolute faith he had
in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service,
I thought this young man was all that any of us might hope for
in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as
well as he is serving us? I thought of the 900 men and women
— sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and
neighbors, who won’t be returning to their own hometowns.
I thought of the families I’ve met who were struggling
to get by without a loved one’s full income, or whose
loved ones had returned with a limb missing or nerves shattered,
but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they
When we send our young men and women into
harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the
numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to
care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to
the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war
without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and
earn the respect of the world.
Now let me be clear. Let me be clear. We
have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found.
They must be pursued — and they must be defeated. John
Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate
to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam,
President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military
might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes in
America. And he knows that it’s not enough for just some
of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there’s
another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we’re
all connected as one people. If there is a child on the south
side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even
if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen
somewhere who can’t pay for their prescription drugs,
and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes
my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandparent. If there’s
an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of
an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
It is that fundamental belief, it is that
fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my
sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s
what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still
come together as one American family. E pluribus unum. Out of
Now even as we speak, there are those who
are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad
peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I
say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative
America — there is the United States of America. There
is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America
and Asian America — there’s the United States of
The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice
our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for
Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news
for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States,
and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our
libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue
States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red
States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there
are patriots who supported the war in Iraq...
I believe that we can give our middle class
relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity.
I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless,
and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence
and despair. I believe that we have a righteous wind at our
backs and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we
can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face
America! Tonight, if you feel the same energy
that I do, if you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel
the same passion I do, if you feel the same hopefulness that
I do — if we do what we must do, then I have no doubts
that all across the country, from Florida to Oregon, from Washington
to Maine, the people will rise up in November, and John Kerry
will be sworn in as president, and John Edwards will be sworn
in as vice president, and this country will reclaim its promise,
and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will
Thank you very much everybody. God bless
you. Thank you. Thank you, and God bless America.
Source: Vital Speeches of the Day, 70:20 (August
1, 2004), pp. 623-625.
Born in Bronx high rise housing project in 1971, hip-hop by
1999 had become the nation’s most popular music at least
as represented in CD, tape and album sales. Time Magazine recognized
its rise in its February 8, 1999 by featuring Lauryn Hill on
its cover and profiling the music’s rise as the issue’s
major article. Part of that article appears below.
Music mixes with memory. As we think back over the 20th century,
every decade has a melody, a rhythm, a sound track... And how
will we remember the last days of the '90s? Most likely, to
the rough-hewn beat of rap. Just as F. Scott Fitzgerald lived
in the jazz age, just as Dylan and Jimi Hendrix were among the
rulers of the age of rock, it could be ar¬gued that we are
living in the age of hip-¬hop. "Rock is old,"
says Russell Sim¬mons, head of the hip-hop label Def Jam,
which took in nearly $200 million in 1998. "It's old people's
s__. The creative people who are great, who are talking about
youth culture in a way that makes sense, happen to be rappers."
Consider the numbers. In 1998, for the first
time ever, rap outsold what previ¬ously had been America's
top-selling for¬mat, country music. Rap sold more than 81
million CDs, tapes and albums last year, compared with 72 million
for country. Rap sales increased a stunning 31% from 1997 to
1998, in contrast to 2% gains for coun¬try, 6% for rock
and 9% for the music industry overall. Boasts rapper Jay-Z,
whose current album, Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life (Def Jam), has
sold more than 3 million copies: "Hip-hop is the rebel¬lious
voice of the youth. It's what people want to hear."
Even if you're not into rap, hip-hop is all
around you. It pulses from the films you watch (Seen a Will
Smith movie late¬ly?), the books you read (even Tom Wolfe
peels off a few raps in his best-selling new novel), the fashion
you wear (Tom¬my Hilfiger, FUBU). Some definitions are in
order: rap is a form of rhythmic speaking in rhyme; hip-hop
refers to the backing music for rap, which is often composed
of a collage of excerpts, or "samples," from other
songs; hip-hop also refers to the culture of rap. The two terms
are nearly, but not completely, in¬terchangeable.
Rap music was once called a fad, but it's
now celebrating a 20th anniversary of sorts. The first hip-hop
hit, Rapper's De¬light by the Sugar Hill Gang, came out
in 1979. Hip-hop got its start in black America, but now more
than 70% of hip¬-hop albums are purchased by whites. In
fact, a whole generation of kids-black, white, Latino, Asian—has
grown up im¬mersed in hip-hop. "I'm hip-hop every day,"
declares 28-year-old Marlon Irv¬ing, a black record-store
employee in Portland, Ore... Says Sean Fleming, a white 15¬-year-old
from Canton, Ga.: "It's a totally different perspective,
and I like that about it." Adds Katie Szopa, 22, a white
page at NBC in New York City: "You do develop a sense of
self through it. You listen and you say, Yeah, that's right.’”
…Hip-hop is perhaps the only
art form that celebrates capitalism openly. To be sure, filmmakers
pore over weekend grosses, but it would be surprising for a
character in a Spielberg film to suddenly turn toward the camera
and shout, "This picture's grossed $100 million, y'all!
Shout out to DreamWorks!" Rap's unabashed materialism distinguishes
it sharply from some of the dominant musical genres of the past
century. For example, nobody ex¬pects bluesmen to be moneymakers—¬that's
why they're singing the blues…Rappers make money without
remorse. These guys are so real, they brag about money,"
says Def Jam's Simmons. "They don't regret getting a Coca-Cola
deal. They brag about a Coca-Cola deal."
Madison Avenue has taken notice of rap's
entrepreneurial spirit. Tommy Hil¬figer has positioned his
apparel company as the clothier of the hip-hop set, and he now
does a billion dollars a year in over¬size shirts, loose
jeans and so on. "There are no boundaries," says Hilfiger.
"Hip-¬hop has created a style that is embraced by an
array of people from all backgrounds and races." However,
fans are wary of profiteers looking to sell them back their
own culture. Says Michael Sewell, 23, a white congressional
staff member and rap fan: "I've heard rap used in advertising,
and I think it's kind of hokey—kind of a goofy version
of the way old white men perceive rap."
…The hip-hop world began in the
Bronx in 1971. Cindy Campbell needed a little back-to-school
money, so she asked her brother Clive to throw a party. Back
in Kingston, Jamaica, his hometown, Clive used to watch dance-hall
revelers. He loved reggae, Bob Marley and Don Drummond and the
Skatalites. He loved the big sound systems the deejays had,
the way they'd "toast" in a singsong voice be¬fore
each song. When he moved to the U.S. at age 13, he used to tear
the speakers out of abandoned cars and hook them onto a stereo
in his room.
The after-school party, held in a rec room
of a Bronx high-rise, was a success: Clive and Cindy charged
25¢ for girls and 50¢ for boys, and it went till 4
a.m. Pretty soon Clive was getting requests to do more parties,
and in 1973 he gave his first block party. He was Kool Herc
now—that was the graffito tag he used to write on subway
cars—and he got re¬spect. At 18 he was the first break-beat
deejay, reciting rhymes over the "break," or instrumental,
part of the records he was spinning. He had two turntables go¬ing
and two copies of each record, so he could play the break over
and over, on one turntable and then the next... He had dancers
who did their thing in the break-break dancers, or, as he called
them, b-boys. As they danced, Herc rapped, "Rocking and
jamming/ That's all we play/ When push comes to shove/ The Herculoids
won't budge/ So rock on, my brother..."
Joseph Saddler loved music too. He thought
Kool Herc was a god—but he thought he could do better.
Saddler figured most songs had only about 10 seconds that were
good, that really got the party going, so he wanted to stretch
those 10 seconds out, create long nights of mixing and danc¬ing.
Holed up in his Bronx bedroom, he fig¬ured out a way to
listen to one turntable on headphones while the other turntable
was revving up the crowd. That way a deejay could keep two records
spinning seamless¬ly, over and over again. Herc was doing
it by feel. Saddler wanted the show to be perfect.
So he became Grandmaster Flash. He played
his turntables as if he were Jimi Hendrix, cuing records with
his elbow, his feet, behind his back. He invented "scratching"-spinning
a record back and forth to create a scratchy sound. He tried
rapping, but he couldn't do it, so he gath¬ered a crew around
him-the Furious Five, rap's first supergroup.
Things happened fast. This is the re¬mix.
There were start-up labels like Sugar Hill and Tommy Boy. Then
in 1979 came Rapper's Delight—the first rap song most
people remember. Grandmaster Flash warned, “Don't touch
me ‘cause I'm close to the edge.” Then there was
Run-D.M.C. rocking the house, and the Beastie Boys hollering,
"You gotta fight for your right—¬to party!"
and Public Enemy saying, "Don't believe the hype,"
and Hammer's harem-style balloon pants. Then gangs¬ta rap:
N.W.A. rapping "F__ tha po¬lice"; Snoop drawling
"187 on an under¬cover cop"; and Tupac crying,
"Even as a crack fiend, mama/ You always was a black queen,
mama." Then Mary J. Blige singing hip-hop soul...the Fugees
"Killing me softly with his song"; Puffy mourning
Biggie on CD and MTV…
All major modern musical forms with roots
in the black community-jazz, rock, even gospel—faced criticism
early on. Langston Hughes, in 1926, defended the blues and jazz
from cultural critics. Hard¬core rap has triumphed commercially,
in part, because rap's aesthetic of sampling connects it closely
to what is musically palatable. Some of the songs hard-core
rap¬pers sample are surprisingly mainstream. DMX raps about
such subjects as having sex with bloody corpses. But one of
his songs, I Can Feel It, is based on Phil Collins' easy-listening
staple In the Air Tonight. Jay¬Z's hit song Hard-Knock Life
draws from the musical Annie. Tupac's Changes uses Bruce Hornsby.
Silkk the Shocker samples the not-so-shocking Lionel Richie.
The underlying message is this: the violence
and misogyny and lustful materi¬alism that characterize
some rap songs are as deeply American as the hokey music that
rappers appropriate. The fact is, this country was in love with
outlaws and crime and violence long before hip-hop—¬think
of Jesse James, and Bonnie and Clyde—and then think of
the movie Bon¬nie and Clyde, as well as Scarface and the
Godfather saga. In the movie You've Got Mail, Tom Hanks even
refers to the God¬father trilogy as the perfect guide to
life, the I-Ching for guys. Rappers seem to agree: Snoop Dogg's
sophomore album was titled The Doggfather... On his song Boomerang,
Big Pun echoes James Cagney in White Heat, yelling, "Top
of the world, Ma! Top of the world!"
Corporate America's infatuation with rap
has increased as the genre's political content has withered.
Ice Cube's early songs attacked white racism; Ice-T sang about
a Cop Killer; Public Enemy chal¬lenged listeners to "fight
the power." But many newer acts such as DMX and Mas¬ter
P are focused almost entirely on pathologies within the black
community. They rap about shooting other blacks but almost never
about challenging govern¬mental authority or encouraging
social activism. "The stuff today is not revolu¬tionary,"
says Bob Law, vice president of programming at WWRL, a black
talk-radio station in New York City. “It's just, ‘Give
me a piece of the action.’”…
In Mill Valley, Calif., in a one-bed-room
apartment above a coin-operated laundry; Andre Mehr, a white
17-year-old with a crew cut, and Emiliano Obiedo, a pony tailed
16-year-old who is half white and half Hispanic, are huddled
over a PC. A beat spirals up. Obiedo offers some advice and
Mehr clatters away at the keyboard. They are mak¬ing music.
Once they settle on a beat, Obiedo will take a diskette bearing
a rhythm track home and lay down some rhymes. Soon they hope
to have enough for a CD. Boasts Obiedo: "I'm going to change
Across the country, similar scenes are playing
out as kids outside the black com¬munity make their own
hip-hop or just listen in. Some say they don't pay much attention
to the lyrics, they just like the beat. "I can't relate
to the guns and killings," says Mehr. Others are touched
more deeply. Says 15¬-year-old Sean Fleming: "I can
re¬late more and get a better under¬standing of what
urban blacks have to go through."
Todd Boyd, a professor of critical studies
at the Uni¬versity of Southern Cal¬ifornia, says rap
can bring races to¬gether: "It's a little more difficult
to go out and talk about hate when you music collection is full
of black artists. That is not to say that buying an OutKast
record is the same as dealing with real people, but it is reason
to hope.” Ice Cube is a bit more cynical: ‘It’s
kinda like being at the zoo. You can look into that world, but
you don’t have to touch it. It’s safe.”…
You are at the Emporio Armani store on Fifth
Avenue in downtown Manhat¬tan. There's a benefit here tonight
for the Refugee Project, a nonprofit organization Lauryn Hill
founded to encourage social activism among urban youth. Hill
is here, and the cameras are flashing. Her musical performance
on Saturday Night Live has boosted her album back to the upper
reaches of the charts. In a few days she will receive 10 Grammy
nominations, the most ever by a female artist... She says she
feels too connect¬ed to hip-hop to do a movie or TV role
that might compromise the message in her mu¬sic. She addresses
the crowd. "I'm just a vehicle through which this thing
moves," she says. "It's not about me at all…."
Source: Christopher John Farley, “Hip-Hop Nation,”
Time, February 8, 1999, pp. 54-64.
AFRICAN AMERCIANS AND ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY:
Carl Anthony, an official with the Ford Foundation
and former Professor of Architecture at UC-Berkeley and founder
of Urban Habitat in (Year), wrote “Reflections on the
Purposes and Meanings of African American Environmental History”
for the anthology To Love the Wind And Rain. In the article
he describes the crucial importance of African Americans to
the discourse on the environment both historically and in the
contemporary era. Part of the article appears below.
…Much of environmental history
has been written out of concerns for the fate of nature in Western
culture—the destruction of the forests; the degradation
of landscapes; the loss of wolves, bears, cats, and birds; the
uprooting of indigenous people. These concerns should and will
continue to have force. Yet environmental history from an African
American must incorporate an additional theme that is typically
overlooked: the importance of inclusion of the stories of African
Americans who helped to lay the foundations of the nation, in
the face of an atmosphere of hostility and disregard…
The earth is the ground we walk on, the sea
and air, the soil that nourishes us, the sphere of mortal life,
the third planet in order from the sun, near the center of the
Milky Way galaxy. Everything that we do, or aim to do, is governed
by our relationship with the earth—to its inspiration
and resources, to our consciousness of its relationship to the
cosmos, to our affinity with human and other-than-human life.
Our knowledge and affinity with the earth, in all of its richness
of life and diversity, stretches from the tiniest particles,
waves and cells, to its plant forms and ecosystems, its rivers,
mountains, and seas, to the majesty of our solar system, galaxies,
and outer edges of the universe. The knowledge of the earth,
and of our place in its long evolution, can give us a sense
of identity and belonging that can act as a corrective to the
hubris and pride that have been weapons of our oppressors…
What follows from this realization? I began
to conduct a little internal audit, a quick survey to think
of how this fourteen-billion-year framework could help me to
be clearer about my own being. What sort of orientation do I
need to have toward these fourteen billion years of life in
order to do what I need to be doing in my daily life and my
Around that time I came across a very important
book by Thomas Berry, called The Dream of the Earth. Berry proposed
that, in order to get our bearings in terms of our current ecological
crisis, .we need a new story about who human beings are in relationship
to the story of the earth. Berry outlines the story of the earth
and the place of human beings in it. I really liked that. It
gave me a starting point for working through these issues.
At the same time, I found I had an uneasy
feeling about the book because it didn’t appear to include
black people at all. There was wonderful talk of Native Americans—the
ecumenical spirit, the struggle against patriarchy, etc., were
reflected—but where were the black people? In fact, African
Americans’ experiences were not included in any of the
environmental literature I could get my hands on about people’s
relationship to the land. Thoreau, David Brower. . . none of
them reflected black people’s experience.
How could this be? What was I to do with this?
One day, while reading a Civil War book, I came across a map
of North America showing where black people lived on the eve
of the Civil War. There is a coastal belt that stretches from
the tidewaters of Virginia to the Atlantic coast, to middle
Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Along this
particular belt were counties that were 50 to 75 percent black.
At the same time, while reading about the earth’s evolution,
I found a map of the North American continent as it was shaped
fifty million years ago. The continent was the same shape then
as it is today, with one exception: the areas where black people
lived just prior to the Civil War were underwater…
What does all this mean? How does this set of facts illuminate
anything of significance? What I concluded was that there is
a much bigger story about my relationship to North America than
the story I was carrying in my head. The story in my head was
that black people were brought here in 1619 by some pirating
Dutchmen and then forced to work as slaves for hundreds of years.
By no means am I saying that this is not a central part of the
story. Yet there is also a much bigger story…
As I began to think about the origins of some of my African
ancestors, I came to realize what should be obvious to everyone:
In some sense, we are all African American. Everyone has African
heritage. What happened to that part of the story? What about
the first million years of human evolution? The dominant theory
of the history of how the human race emerged, in the rainforest
and savannah regions of Africa, is a central part of the narrative
that needs to be articulated…
This reflection on the elements of African American environmental
history calls attention to much that has been missing in the
conventional story about people and the land in North America.
The hidden narrative of race is more than a collection of episodes
and facts that have been overlooked. The lesson that comes out
of this ensemble of facts has to do with the fragmentation and
disruption of personal and community life, and therefore, the
quest for wholeness.
African Americans have a long, if not well-understood,
relationship to the land in North America. The ancestors of
African Americans were uprooted from the land in Africa, transported
thousands of miles away, and forced to work the land without
remuneration for the benefit of another people. But African
Americans survived, and they now live in the cities…The
city, in its multiple manifestations, is the largest human invention
on the planet… This impulse of species to come together
has a deeply rooted biological basis, as evidenced by schools
of fish, flocks of birds, etc. We are following a deep-seated
trait that is grounded in all of these other species.
The city is also the largest intervention
of humans in relationship to the natural world. We shape the
cities, and the cities in turn shape us. An inquiry into the
character of this relationship necessarily involves an understanding
of ecological dependence of urban populations upon the hinterlands
for food, building materials, energy, and disposal of wastes.
The connection between the city and the rural
environment has always been historically clear. What hasn’t
been clear is the relationship of this process to the people
who lived in those places. You could never live in the cities
if the food, the drinking water, the forests that make paper
and buildings, the natural resources to produce electricity,
weren’t coming from somewhere. City building has been
based on extracting resources from the surrounding areas, and
on exploiting the people who are making these resources available
without giving them anything back, without honoring them or
We need a new story about race and place
in America. This new story is not only about toxic waste dumps
and hazardous materials; it is about the fundamental right of
a people to have a relationship with all of creation…
All people have their story. Every people
comes from a story that is grounded in the evolution of the
earth. We all need to come to terms with our own stories, while
knowing that we share a common longing and a common struggle:
everybody is struggling for a sense of feeling at home on this
Source: Carl Anthony, “Reflections on
the Purposes and Meanings of African American Environmental
History,” in Dianne D. Glave and Mark Stoll, eds., To
Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental
History (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2006),
pp. 200- 208.
IN THE EYE OF THE STORM: RACE AND HURRICANE KATRINA
In an article titled “A City of Lies,”
Rolling Stone reporter Scott Spencer discusses the aftermath
of Hurricane Katrina.
Is it too soon to suggest that half of what
was ever said about New Orleans was a bald-faced lie? Now, with
the massive destruction visited upon that fragile, beautiful
city, there is a rush to immerse our collective memories of
it in a warm bath of nostalgia. Richard Ford, for example, writing
in the New York Times, mourns for "our great iconic city,
so graceful, livable, insular, self-delighted, eccentric . .
." It's true: New Orleans is one of those cities about
which songs are written, a place that has offered a refuge from
the fundamentalist South, a haven to artists, gays and sundry
misfits from all over, who found in this permissive port city
a place to live, even as the real business of the port - the
unloading of slaves, or coffee, or oil - was conducted with
ruthless efficiency. Even those New Orleanians who moved north
remained enraptured by memories of home. The sound of a steam
whistle, the smell of an oncoming rain, the stifling heat of
a sticky day was always enough to plunge the New Orleanians
I knew into a bout of homesickness.
Surely, a great deal needs to be granted
to a city that can inspire such longing, but the epic inequality
we saw when the storm tore the Mardi Gras mask off that make-believe
city was certainly there all along. When the vast majority of
those who are most profoundly afflicted by the storm and its
aftermath are African-American; when the city's primary shelter
is compared to the hull of a slave ship by Jesse Jackson; when
white leaders such as Rep. Richard Baker, a Louisiana Republican,
are quoted as saying, "We finally cleaned up public housing
in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did," it is
impossible to escape the conclusion that—we are once again
witnessing a playing out of the deepest and most persistent
of all the American tragedies: racism.
Less than two weeks before Katrina, the Associated
Press reported a local university experiment meant to determine
the attitude that residents in a poor New Orleans neighborhood
have toward violence and the police. Seven hundred blank rounds
were shot off in a single afternoon, and sure enough there was
not one call made for help. In a city where the murder rate
was nearly ten times the national average for similar-size cities,
and where the police force has earned a reputation not only
for being on the take but for rape and murder for hire, citizens
in poor neighborhoods were stranded in dire circumstances long
before Katrina swept through.
Was New Orleans more racist than other cities?
It's a hard thing to measure. But it was a city with a forty
percent illiteracy rate, in a state where 50,000 children were
absent from school every single day, where 350 kids dropped
out every week, never to return. One of my closest companions
fled the public schools - and the city itself- at age seventeen.
During the next twenty years, we visited her old hometown regularly.
In the beginning, despite her words of caution, I was unprepared
for the casual racism we encountered. On the streets I saw a
population in love with soul food and soul music, with a talent
for pleasure and a predilection toward sexual irony; in the
drawing rooms, something quite different. On a tour through
one graceful home, the lady of the house pointed out a room
that had been transformed from "nigger pink" to a
more neutral shade, then served us soul food - red beans and
Just as the city had learned to live below
sea level and build its stately mansions with the hope that
the levees would stave off the forces of nature forever, many
of the white people of New Orleans had figured out a way to
enjoy black culture while protecting themselves from the people
whose history that culture represented. If the African American
citizens of New Orleans were frightened, then so were their
white neighbors. I hardly met a white [person] who didn't own
a gun, who didn't, when venturing out after dark, keep in touch
with one another on their cell phones, like astronauts maintaining
radio contact with planet Earth.
Catastrophes reveal the nature of not only
people but of governments and places. When New York was attacked
on September 11th, there was throughout the city a sense of
passionate civic pride. Here was a tragedy that cut across class
and ethnic lines--bankers and busboys died together, or were
saved together-- and this democracy created a sense of commonality
and equality in the city. Now, four years later, many in New
York still look back at 9/11 and its aftermath as one of the
proudest moments in the city's history. Will the same be said
by the people of New Orleans?
Even as we fervently hope for the city's speedy recovery, it's
impossible not to wonder how the hucksters, hometown boosters
and nostalgia merchants will ever induce anyone to forget the
horrifying, shameful images of thousands of stranded African
Americans trying to stay alive in a city whose well-off residents
had already fled, a city where the likelihood of survival could
be accurately predicted by class and race.
When New Orleans is rebuilt, I wonder if its reputation as a
place "that care forgot," as Richard Ford ironically
put it in his Times piece, can ever be restored now that we've
seen the truth. And when the people return, I wonder if some
of them will have more trouble than ever looking their neighbors
in the eye.
Source: Scott Spencer, “A City of Lies,”
Rolling Stone, 984 (October 6, 2005), p. 116.
AFRICAN AMERICAN POPULATION OF THE UNITED STATES, 1900 2000
Year Black Population % of Total Population
% of Total Population