Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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History 322:
Timbuktu to Katrina
Manual - Chapter 8
Into the 21st Century, Complicating Identities

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8

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 genders.

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.


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 Migration.

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 areas.

Source: “Black Migration in Reverse,” Black Enterprise (May, 2005): 40.


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.


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, 1991).


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.

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 class.

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 grow.
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 alone."

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 says...

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.


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 the street.

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 sexism.

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.

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 races population.
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 than 50,000...

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.


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 1992.

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 in it?

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 brother.

"Every brother ain't a brother," he told me, invoking Chuck D.

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.

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 Liberation Movement.
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 fashion…

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 people…

Huey P. Newton,
Black Panther Party
Source: Gay Flames Pamphlet, No. 7, 1970

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 Daddy's reaction.

"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 yelled.

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!" he yelled.

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.

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 gender orientation.
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 conditions.

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 care services.

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 we bring.
Source: Essex Hemphill, "Does Your Mama Know About Me?" in Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry (Plume Books, 1992): pp. 41-42.

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 United States.

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 origin.

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 California.

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 poorer."

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, 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 close friend.

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," Iwuanyanwa said.

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 Ajala alive.
Source: Doug Tsuruoka, "Godwin Ajala, An American Success Story Cut Short," Investor's Business Daily, December 11, 2001, p. A04.


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 things.

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 were Reservists.

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 many, one.

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 America.

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 us.

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 come.

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 rap."

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.


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 practice?

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 their story.

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 planet...

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 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 rice.

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.


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