How do you start a conversation with children on America’s legacy of racial injustice? You wittell them the story of an artist who confronted segregation and exposed that legacy. A new picture book, Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America, takes on the admirable task of translating challenging material to readers ages 5 to 8. Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jamey Christoph, the book traces Parks’ journey from Fort Scott, Kansas, to Washington, D.C., as he nurtured his interest in photography as a way to document and expose oppression in the United States.
Inspired by Parks’ focus on Washington, D.C., in particular, Weatherford and Christoph produced writing and illustrations that highlight a very real American urban setting. While working on the project, Christoph retraced Parks’ steps in D.C., wandering through the same streets and landmarks to immerse himself in the environment. “It was so exciting,” Christoph said to The Huffington Post, “to be able to just go walk around and be inspired by the actual areas that he walked.”
Parks’ career blossomed in the nation’s capital, but eventually took him to Harlem, where he would shoot for Vogue and Life magazine, taking iconic portraits of Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael and Muhammad Ali, among others. He’d go down in history for these thoughtful photo essays addressing prejudice and activism in the U.S., along with his forays into a variety of other artistic forms. You might also remember him as the director of the 1971 film “Shaft.”
Weatherfords’ book, though, keeps the scale small, honing in on the staging of Parks’ most famous piece, “American Gothic, Washington, D.C.” The photograph plays off the classic Grant Wood painting, replacing the memorable Iowa-bred couple, the man with a pitchfork in hand, with a lone black woman named Ella Watson, shown holding cleaning supplies in front of an American flag.
Picture book portraits
The portrait is a heavy photograph for any age demographic. According to the Library of Congress: “[Watson] had struggled alone after her mother had died and her father had been killed by a lynch mob. She had gone through high school, married and become pregnant. Her husband was accidentally shot to death two days before their daughter was born. By the time the daughter was eighteen, she (the daughter) had given birth to two illegitimate children, dying two weeks after the second child’s birth. What’s more, the first child had been stricken with paralysis a year before its mother died.”
“Through Gordon’s lens, her struggle gained a voice,” writes Weatherford, proving that clarity is the best tool for addressing heaviness. When discussing the difficulty of capturing that scene in illustration, Christoph stressed how he tried to preserve its simplicity. “That was the genius of the photo,” he said. “It’s just her with the tools of her trade in front of the American flag. So stark.”
And how have young readers received that narrative so far? Christoph reports that the images are already provoking discussion. The illustrator recounted how at a recent reading, inquisitive hands shot up immediately to ask about his segregation imagery. “Some of the first questions were, ‘Why did they have those signs?’ They couldn’t process that,” he said. With just a short picture book, the difficult conversation had begun.
This conversation-starter arrives at a time of renewed focus on Parks’ life and oeuvre. The Boston Museum of Fine Art’s exhibition “Back to Fort Scott” displays a series of Parks’ photographs investigating segregation in his hometown. Last week, the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner saw the likes of Usher and Pharrell Williams take the stage to honor Parks’ legacy.
Weatherford and Christoph, though, pay homage to the artist in a different way: not with flashy performances but by translating his ideas to young audiences. Their work, like Parks’, challenges even young readers to ask what struggles lie unexposed — and how they can be given a voice.
Speaking at memorial for Ethiopian Jews who died making their way to Israel, PM says he has set up a ministerial committee to eradicate racism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at racism in Israeli society on Sunday, telling Ethiopian Jews that there is no place for it in Israel.
Netanyahu was speaking at an official ceremony to mark a memorial day for the 4,000 Ethiopian Jews who died on their way to Israel. The Mount Herzl ceremony, which takes place on Jerusalem Day, was this year was punctuated by the protests by community members in recent weeks, over claims of a general discrimination, racism and police brutality.
“Two weeks ago I met with some of you,” Netanyahu told those present. “It was an emotional meeting. Let me even say stirring. I heard complaints about racism, discrimination, deprivation and excess use of force, and of fear to walk down the street because of the color of your skin.
“I cannot accept this. Not in our country. Not in the Jewish state. I have set up a special ministerial committee to deal with these issues. One principle is clear: There is no place for racism and discrimination in our society.”
Those who perished during the wave of Ethiopian immigration to Israel mostly died walking to Sudan or during the wait in refugee camps there.
Netanyahu said: “When I was a soldier walked many kilometers through the Negev and the Galilee, from sea to sea, but your journey was unparalleled. A journey of weeks and sometimes months; a journey of uncertainty.”
President Reuven Rivlin, who also spoke, said that Israel had not treated its Ethiopian community fairly.
“This year something happened. In recent weeks we have seen and heard all the cries of pain of Ethiopian Israelis,” Rivlin said. “The protesters in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa have exposed an open wound, alive and bleeding inside Israeli society. It was the wound of a community uttering a heartfelt cry of discrimination, racism, insult and neglect.
The most polarizing photo of Tyler Shields’ career shows a naked black man hanging a Klansman.
The Ku Klux Klan is not happy about it, Shields says. Nor are a number of his artist friends, who claim the image is so loaded with painful iconography that they worry how viewers will react to it.
“It was too much for them,” Shields told Mic in an interview. “I have a photographer friend who looked at the image and freaked out: ‘You can’t put this out there. It’s too crazy. It’s too much.’
“[They] kept telling me, ‘People are going to ask you too many questions,'” he said. “‘I wouldn’t even know what to say.'”
None of this fazes Shields, however; in fact, it’s kind of the point. For him, the “challenge” of disseminating images like this lies precisely in not having a prepped explanation for what they signify.
“A lot of artists want an exact statement for everything they do,” he said. “But I never want to not create something because I’m afraid of what it might say.”
Even so, you might assume that the 33-year-old photographer from Jacksonville, Florida — who built his newest photo series around the civil rights era’s most potent images and symbols — is at least somewhat politically driven.
You might also assume that he has much to say about the state of American race relations, especially since the high-profile police killings of black men and boys like Walter Scott and Michael Brown.
But you’d be wrong — to a point. For starters, Shields is clear about how little he follows current events.
“I live in my own world,” he said. “I try to get my news the old-fashioned way, through word of mouth. So when it finally gets to me, it’s usually already a big story.”
And he’s relatively adamant about his lack of political involvement.
“I think this is the first time I’ve commented on anything politically,” he said. “I try not to be influenced by things.”
HBO’s upcoming documentary, “Southern Rites“, delves into the role of race in modern day America. It’s a hefty subject, but the film has been expertly handled by a talented team of individuals, which includes Grammy Award-winning singer John Legend.
John Legend, who is an executive producer of the film, joined “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” on Monday to discuss the project and his thoughts on people who dismiss today’s race issues.
“Some racism is very easy to identify… but a lot of racism is structural, and in the criminal justice system it often plays out in sentencing and who gets charged for what, in how juries are picked,” he explained. “All these things that end up discounting the value of black lives versus other lives.”
In light of Glenn Beck’s take down of Michelle Obama for speaking about her experiences with racism during her commencement speech at Tuskegee University earlier this week, John Legend gave his perspective on the defensiveness of white conservatives.
“We don’t want to talk about racism all the time. If it weren’t here, if we didn’t have to deal with it everyday, we would love for it not to be a subject of conversation,” Legend admitted. “We would love to just live our lives in equality and in justice for all. We would love that…but it’s killing our kids, it’s resulting in so much pain and suffering for our community so we have to bring it up.”
The U.N. human rights office says France is not doing enough to stop racism against minorities in poor suburbs or to prevent abuse of Roma people and migrants seeking asylum.
In a report released Friday, the Geneva-based agency also urged France to do more to fight online extremism and anyone who incites racist or anti-Semitic hatred. The government has been increasing its tools to do both since terrorist attacks in January.
The agency criticized “territorial ghettos” in poor suburbs where immigrants and minorities are concentrated and urged the government to better monitor and prevent discrimination there. It said the government should do more to stop politicians from inciting racial hatred, notably against Roma, also known as Gypsies.
The report’s recommendations are not binding but put public pressure on governments.
Compared to African-Americans, Israel Ethiopians are in a far better position to succeed in a white-dominated society. But they should learn from Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas – salvation won’t come from politics.
For those of us fortunate enough to have been born with a shade of skin color considered “white,” it’s hard to understand how others contend with a world where race counts for so much.
Each time a bus driver closes a door before you can board, or your daughter comes home from school with a poor grade, or a colleague at the office acts standoffish, a black person can’t help but consider the race factor. Jews have to cope with anti-Semitism, but on a day-to-day basis, we have the option of staying anonymous in the great white crowd.
After decades of struggle over the course of the 20th century, the principle of racial equality has been firmly established in the law and, theoretically, in most peoples’ minds. But as Damas Pakada, the Israeli army soldier of Ethiopian origin beaten up by a pair of policemen last month, could attest, not just America and Europe but Israel has a long way to go.
No wiggle room for racists
Coincidentally, just two months before the attack on Pakada, an interesting bit of research was published. Two economists at the University of Queensland in Australia conducted an experiment with a mix of testers of different ethnic groups and sexes who boarded a bus with an empty fare card. In each of the 1,500 times the experiment was performed, the testers told the driver they had no money and asked if they could ride anyhow.
Naturally drivers were more willing if it was nighttime or rainy, but they were also far more willing to let white testers ride for free (72% of the time) than black ones (36%).
Interestingly, racial prejudice outweighed any considerations about the tester’s social status. Black testers wearing business suits were turned down more often than white testers and, as Pakada would learn to his misfortune, serving your country in the army doesn’t entirely overcome the race factor either.
White testers in army uniform were allowed to ride for free 97% of the time; blacks in only 77% of the cases.
Race and racism is an issue in Israel, but the nature of our problem isn’t like the one America suffers. In America, confrontations between black men and the police are usually in the context of a crime being committed, or suspected, and the sworn officers of the law responding by shooting and killing. The deaths are not commensurate with the alleged crimes and the pattern bespeaks of the social pathology of the African-American underclass and America’s hair-trigger attitude towards guns. (Americans can thank the NRA and Hollywood in equal measures for that.)
Twenty-one years old and an orphan who emigrated from Ethiopia with his four siblings seven years ago, Pakada’s personal story could have easily produced the kind of young black man who populates America’s inner cities. As a soldier, he certainly has access to guns and training.
But, as the video clip of his encounter with the police show, Pakada was doing nothing that could be interpreted as suspicious, much less criminal. He acted with restraint given the abuse he was subjected to, as did the Ethiopian community in the two protests that followed.
The incident makes the police’s actions even more reprehensible, but importantly, Pakada gives racists no wiggle room for excusing the police’s behavior.
Underclass Israel Ethiopians making great strides
Make no mistake, Israel Ethiopians are one of Israel’s underclasses. How frequent is abuse by police and how much petty racism the average Ethiopian suffers is hard to document, but there are enough data to make clear they lag behind Israel’s Jewish population on nearly every socio-economic indicators.
In the schools, a higher percentage of their children are in special education. They perform more poorly on the high school matriculation (bagrut) exam and they account for a smaller share of young people in higher education than their share of the overall population. The average income of an Ethiopian Israeli household is 35% below than the national average.
But the great majority of Ethiopians have only been in Israel for a generation or two, and only a tiny minority of the immigrants had even a basic education to build on when they arrived. Israel Ethiopians have entered the social-mobility contest late and with a handicap, but they are moving forward in spite of it. Second-generation Ethiopians are succeeding much better than first-generation ones in high-school matriculation exams, school dropout rates are declining and their labor force participation is higher than among all Israeli Jews. More families are likely to have two breadwinners.
Can Israel Ethiopians close the gap? The unpromising message is that nowhere in the world has any society anywhere wholly overcome the race factor and provide a role model. But in Israel, Ethiopians have the somewhat dubious advantage of being in a society where the brunt of prejudice is directed against Israeli Arabs. More positively, Israel also has an economy that is growing relatively quickly and faces a worsening shortage of skilled labor.
Strong as racist attitudes are, they rarely present serious competition to economic imperatives. Indeed, sustained economic growth is worth a lot more to Ethiopians than government social programs.
Written by Simon Kuper
I know a well-off black American who travels a lot. He rents apartments through Airbnb. But often the deal falls through after the flat’s owner sees his photograph. Many people won’t rent to black people.
This man is many social classes removed from last month’s rioters in Baltimore, or the more than 1,000 would-be migrants to Europe who drowned when theirboats sank in the Mediterranean in April. However, they all experience structural racism — the system of inequality that benefits whites. Structural racism mostly goes unnoticed in an era when only verbal racism tends to get punished. Events in Baltimore, in the Med and on Airbnb raise the question: when and how does the majority decide to act on structural racism?
Everyday structural racism
For minorities, structural racism is every day. A non-white person in a western country typically attends an inferior school, gets hassled by police, suffers job discrimination, and dies poor.
But white people hardly ever see structural racism. Its victims generally inhabit invisible zones: ghettos, migrant detention centres and, especially in the US, prisons. Anyway, structural racism suits the majority. In the past, poor non-white males were needed to perform boring physical labour. Today, with white women working in offices, poor non-white females are needed as a carer-cleaner class. Some non-whites inevitably get good jobs but the majority would rather keep those for itself.
Instead of worrying about structural racism, the white majority worries chiefly that minorities have become spoiled — that they are living like kings thanks to state benefits, open borders, affirmative action and white guilt that lets a “community organiser” such as Barack Obama get a job above his station.
And so structural racism thrives. But what’s taboo now is verbal racism. Western ideology today demands that we all pretend to treat everyone equally. Consequently, anyone saying anything overtly racist gets punished (unless it’s about the Roma in Europe).
Take the case of Justine Sacco, described in Jon Ronson’s recent book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Sacco was a PR executive in New York until she tweeted just before flying to Cape Town: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!” Half of Twitter mocked her as racist. By the time Sacco’s plane landed, her career was over. In fact, her tasteless tweet was pretty accurate: HIV prevalence among South African whites is 0.3 per cent, compared with 13.6 per cent for blacks, according to the country’s Human Sciences Research Council.
That didn’t help Sacco. She was fed into a modern ritual: the human sacrifice of anyone who breaks anti-racist speech codes. The ritual allows the persecutors to say: “We’re not racist!” That’s why France’s Front National suspended its founder Jean-Marie Le Pen for racist remarks. This ritual doesn’t stop structural racism, and it isn’t meant to.
Only one kind of event sometimes changes structural racism: televised death or violence. Ugly images push the majority to act. Martin Luther King grasped this first. His marches for black voting rights in 1965, early in the TV age, seemed designed to create televised violence: state troopers beating peaceful demonstrators. The pre-announced marching routes allowed unwieldy TV cameras to be present. Immediately after the televised violence, President Lyndon Johnson presented the Voting Rights Bill to Congress. The same mechanism operates today. Televised terrorism in Paris in January sparked a French debate on domestic apartheid. No matter that the terrorists were entirely atypical: of several million French Muslims, almost none commit terrorism. Then, after the migrant boats sank, European leaders changed policy to try to stop more boats sinking. No matter that the boats are atypical too: fewer than one in 100 migrants arriving since 1990 in Spain, the European country nearest Africa, came through “irregular boat migration”, writes Ruben Andersson in Illegality, Inc. Televised death prompts action to stop televised death.
In the US, televised black riots traditionally prompt brief debate about structural racism. Traditionally, as President Obama has noted, nothing ensues.
What has changed in the US in recent months is that a new kind of violence is getting televised: police violence. This used to be almost invisible. On local TV news, civilians committed the violence, and cops played the heroes.
Police still try to control which violence gets televised. During the riots in Ferguson and in Baltimore, police arrested photojournalists. The thinking was, how dare they film our violence? But now smartphones rather than TV cameras tell the national story. Freddie Gray’s brutal arrest in Baltimore was nothing new; the novelty was that it was filmed on smartphones, and televised. One man who filmed it was duly arrested at gunpoint but smartphone videos are hard to control.
The technological shift will change policy, at least a bit. The one area where Obama has risked being a “black president” is justice. He has wound down the “war on drugs”, and now campaigns against police violence. His administration is helping police departments buy body cameras, to record police dealings with citizens.
American police violence will now probably start to decline. After all, we Europeans manage to maintain structural racism without needing much police killing. But structural racism will diminish only when we figure out how to capture it on smartphone videos.
During a passionate address at historically black Tuskegee University Saturday, Michelle Obama said she refused to let the “sting” of racial bias define her.
“Over the years, folks have used plenty of interesting words to describe me. One said I exhibited a little bit of ‘uppityism,'” Michelle Obama said. “Cable news charmingly referred to me as ‘Obama’s baby mamma.’
“All of the chatter, the name-calling, the doubting, all of it was just noise,” the US first lady said. “It did not define me, it didn’t change who I was, and most importantly, it couldn’t hold me back.”
Conjuring up the incidents in Ferguson and Baltimore, Michelle Obama told graduates, “Here’s the thing, the road ahead is not going to be easy. It never is, especially for folks like you and me.
“There will be times, when you feel like folks look right past you or they see just a fraction of who you really are,” she said.
The first lady recalled watching passersby cross the street when they saw her, as though afraid for their safety, and department store clerks who kept extra close watch on her and her husband.
“But graduates, today I want to be very clear that those feelings are not an excuse to just throw up our hands and give up, not an excuse to lose hope,” she said. “We can take on these deep rooted problems and together, together we can overcome anything.
“Vote, vote, vote, vote, that’s how we move forward,” Obama said, telling graduates to focus on their own truth.
“I love our daughters more than anything in the world, more than life itself. And while that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league educated lawyer, it is truly who I am. So for me, being mom-in-chief is and always will be job number one,” she said.
Speaking of mothers — the first lady had a “public service announcement” for her audience: “For anyone who hasn’t bought the flowers or the cards or the gifts yet … I’m trying to cover you.”
Dr. Robin DiAngelo explains why white people implode when talking about race.
I am white. I have spent years studying what it means to be white in a society that proclaims race meaningless, yet is deeply divided by race. This is what I have learned: Any white person living in the United States will develop opinions about race simply by swimming in the water of our culture. But mainstream sources — schools, textbooks, media — don’t provide us with the multiple perspectives we need. Yes, we will develop strong emotionally laden opinions, but they will not be informed opinions. Our socialization renders us racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race.
Mainstream dictionary definitions reduce racism to individual racial prejudice and the intentional actions that result. The people that commit these intentional acts are deemed bad, and those that don’t are good. If we are against racism and unaware of committing racist acts, we can’t be racist; racism and being a good person have become mutually exclusive. But this definition does little to explain how racial hierarchies are consistently reproduced.
Social scientists understand racism as a multidimensional and highly adaptive system — a system that ensures an unequal distribution of resources between racial groups. Because whites built and dominate all significant institutions, (often at the expense of and on the uncompensated labor of other groups), their interests are embedded in the foundation of U.S. society. While individual whites may be against racism, they still benefit from the distribution of resources controlled by their group.
Yes, an individual person of color can sit at the tables of power, but the overwhelming majority of decision-makers will be white. Yes, white people can have problems and face barriers, but systematic racism won’t be one of them. This distinction — between individual prejudice and a system of unequal institutionalized racial power — is fundamental. One cannot understand how racism functions in the U.S. today if one ignores group power relations.
This systemic and institutional control allows those of us who are white in North America to live in a social environment that protects and insulates us from race-based stress. We have organized society to reproduce and reinforce our racial interests and perspectives. Further, we are centered in all matters deemed normal, universal, benign, neutral and good. Thus, we move through a wholly racialized world with an unracialized identity (e.g. white people can represent all of humanity, people of color can only represent their racial selves). Challenges to this identity become highly stressful and even intolerable. The following are examples of the kinds of challenges that trigger racial stress for white people:
• Suggesting that a white person’s viewpoint comes from a racialized frame of reference (challenge to objectivity);
• People of color talking directly about their own racial perspectives (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race);
• People of color choosing not to protect the racial feelings of white people in regards to race (challenge to white racial expectations and need/entitlement to racial comfort);
• People of color not being willing to tell their stories or answer questions about their racial experiences (challenge to the expectation that people of color will serve us);
• A fellow white not providing agreement with one’s racial perspective (challenge to white solidarity);
• Receiving feedback that one’s behavior had a racist impact (challenge to white racial innocence);
• Suggesting that group membership is significant (challenge to individualism);
• An acknowledgment that access is unequal between racial groups (challenge to meritocracy);
• Being presented with a person of color in a position of leadership (challenge to white authority);
• Being presented with information about other racial groups through, for example, movies in which people of color drive the action but are not in stereotypical roles, or multicultural education (challenge to white centrality).
Not often encountering these challenges, we withdraw, defend, cry, argue, minimize, ignore, and in other ways push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium. I term that push back white fragility.