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COMMENTARY: Shame and Shade in Birmingham: In Praise of Angela Davis

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “…Davis, a lifelong human rights activist, is concerned about the humanity of Palestinian people, as well as other people. And she is rightfully concerned, as many of us are, about the spate of laws recently passed that downright outlaw the BDS movement.”

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By Julianne Malveaux, NNPA Newswire Contributor

If anyone deserves a civil rights award, Angela Davis certainly does. The activist and scholar has been on the front lines of the civil rights movement all of her life. She has been especially active in prison reform matters, but she has also been involved in other civil and human rights issues. When I learned back in October that she would get the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, I was absolutely delighted. I imagined the wide smile the daughter of Birmingham must have flashed when she learned that she would be honored.

Everyone in Birmingham wasn’t thrilled though. Some people in the conservative Southern town seemed disturbed that she had been a member of both the Black Panther Party and the Communist Party. Others were concerned about her support of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement) against the Israeli occupation. She has said that she stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and advocates for their fair treatment in Israel.

Angela Davis (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Angela Davis (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Some ill-informed people consider the BDS movement “anti-Semitic.” They suggest that any questions that one raises about Israel shows a bias against Jewish people. But Davis, a lifelong human rights activist, is concerned about the humanity of Palestinian people, as well as other people. And she is rightfully concerned, as many of us are, about the spate of laws recently passed that downright outlaw the BDS movement. According to the Middle East Monitor, a teacher in Texas, Bahia Amawl, refused to sign an oath that required her to pledge that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she will not boycott Israel and that she will “refrain from any action that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.” Texas is among some 25 states that have passed laws forbidding the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel! It will also not invest pension funds in companies that support BDS. Thirteen more states including Washington DC, have similar laws to the Texas law pending, pitting people’s first amendment rights of free speech against support for Israel. And Florida Senator Marco Rubio, in the middle of a government shutdown, had the nerve to introduce national legislation that mirrors the Texas law (actually, Illinois was the first state to pass this discriminatory law).

Lots of people in Birmingham aren’t having it. Though the “Civil Rights Institute” has rescinded its award to Dr. Angela Davis, there has been significant protest about the decision. Birmingham’s Mayor, Randall Woodfin, who is a non-voting member of the Museum Board and did not participate in the decision to rescind the award (the city provides the museum with about a million dollars a year in operating funds) has expressed his dismay about the decision. Three board members have resigned from the board. And Alabama columnist Roy S. Johnson has written a fiery column accusing the Civil Rights Institute of insulting Rev. Shuttlesworth and staining its own legacy. Johnson says the Birmingham Jewish community may have been the loudest, but not the only folks pushing for Davis’ award to be rescinded.

Who rescinds an award after it has been granted for statements that were not recently made, but are a matter of record? Angela Davis has long been an outspoken activist, just like Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was. Nothing had been changed from the time Davis was notified of the award and January 4, when it was rescinded. The BCRI did not have to honor Davis, but their canceling the award is a special kind of insult. Fortunately, Angela Davis has a thick skin, and she knows exactly who she is. She didn’t cringe when then-California governor Ronald Reagan had her fired from UCLA for her membership in the Communist Party. She didn’t flinch when she was incarcerated for a crime she did not commit. And she will not tremble because the BCRI rescinded the award.

Indeed, demonstrating the indomitable spirit that she is known for, Angela Davis will travel to Birmingham in February for an alternative event. And the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum has egg on its face. That city showed a young Angela Davis who they were when the Four Little Girls, some of whom she knew, were killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. And they are showing her who they are once again. Shame and shade!

Unfortunately, I’m not surprised. One of the founders of the Women’s March has demanded the resignations of Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour because they attended one of Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Savior’s Days. Marc Lamont Hill lost his CNN commentary gig because he spoke up for Palestinian rights. Alice Walker has been criticized because she supports BDS. Now Angela Davis is being denied an award. When is enough going to be enough?

For the record, I support Palestinian rights. And I support Israel’s right to exist. Are the two incompatible? I think not. The one-state solution, with a right to return, and full citizenship rights for Palestinians makes sense. But Israel is not about to budge, and BDS as an attempt to influence it. States passing laws to outlaw free speech erodes the first principle of our Constitution and undercut the actions at the very foundation of our nation. Remember the folks who dumped tea into the Boston Harbor because of an unfair tax? Today that action might be against the law!

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via www.amazon.com for booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit www.juliannemalveaux.com 

Activism

Jasmine Market Encourage Unity in Marin City

During the event, Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, and Tammy Lai discussed how to raise the awareness of the various ethnic groups to each other in Marin City. A mobile clinic provided free COVID-19 vaccines.

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Top: The Jasmine Market at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Bottom: Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, Tammy Lai (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

The First Marin City’s Jasmine Market was an inclusive, outdoor market celebrating Asian joy and intercultural solidarity in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May.

It was hosted by the Marin City Community Development Corporation (MCCDC) and was held at the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City on May 28, 2021.

A Marin City Librarian read an AAPI story. Sammy Brionnes gave a musical performance. Natalie Nong performed a Spoken Word poem.

During the event, Jong Lee, Caitilin Damacion, and Tammy Lai discussed how to raise the awareness of the various ethnic groups to each other in Marin City. A mobile clinic provided free COVID-19 vaccines.

Lee is the director of Women’s Rights and Peace Bay Area, and a board member for the Asian American Alliance of Marin. She is involved in advocating for ethnic studies in the Marin County School District and is working to spread awareness of the “comfort women” from Korea and other Asian nations. These women were forced to serve as sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII.

Tammy Lai is the CEO at Foundation for Justice and Peace (jpf.world).

Damacion, who lives in the East Bay, is the Micro-Enterprise Program Manager at the MCCDC.

During the discussion, Lee says that God created people in his image. We need to treat people in the image of God.

Lee really wants to see Asians, especially women, integrate with the other minorities, such as Koreans, who can become culturally isolated, and spoke to the need to bridge and understand other ethnic groups. “We need to step forward to meet each other halfway, and to reach out to understand each other,” Lee said.

Lai says that we have this opportunity, as we question ourselves in this cultural landscape, to build bridges. Communities become healthier when its members take one step toward one another to understand, listen and to build something better together.

Damacion, who is Filipino and mixed-raced, feels very strongly about building connections that are positive and beneficial to a community. Through her work with the MCCDC, she will work to advance diversity in Marin City, and will shed a light on the beauty she sees in Marin City and how people in the community took care of each other for generations.

Lai’s family immigrated from China to America after the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882. Her family history has brought her a deeper awareness of her identity. It becomes important to carry these conversations forward and share them with others.

“We all have our stories and should be open to tell them. There is nothing new under human history so we should learn to share them. You become much closer to each other,” says Lee.

For more information, go to www.marincitycdc.org/jasmine-market

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Art

In Colorizing the Characters in ‘Hamilton,’ Playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda Whitewashes History

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

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Photo of Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton courtesy of cinemablend

Is there any doubt that Ishmael Reed is Oakland’s writer of conscience and consequence?

He was my teacher in graduate school at Washington University in St. Louis, MO. From him I learned a number of truisms about writing. Like, for me, when in doubt, put in the Filipinos. Don’t take them out!  Another one was career advice. The more money you make, the less you get to say. Conversely, the less you make, the more you get to say. And that brings me to the topic of this column.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “In the Heights,” opened the movie version of the musical last week. It’s a gushing hydrant of diversity. It should make a lot of money. But when I talked to him a few weeks back I wanted to talk about his other monster hit, “Hamilton,” where Miranda applied what I call a little affirmative action. He put the Black and the Brown actors in the white parts.

The Founding Fathers got “Hamiltoned.” Revolutionary?

“Well, it’s interesting,” he said. “The idea when I picked up the book was it’s an R&B hip-hop musical so, of course, Black and Brown actors would play those roles. As I’m reading the book the first time, I’m picturing which of my favorite hip-hop artists should play Hercules Mulligan or George Washington. They were always people of color, and the music reflects that…I was sort of more surprised that everyone was surprised when we finally came out.”

“I think it kicks open the door,” he added. “Why are we so literal when it comes to this stuff? And you know, I see Shakespeare with people of every ethnicity playing the roles. Why can’t that be the case with our founders? We know what they look like – they’re on our f***ing money. So, like, let’s move forward here. But I think once you see a show that has had the diversity that we have on stage, it’s very hard to go back to sort of these all-white productions because you’ve got to ask why, what stories aren’t we getting when you see that?”

You still have to ask what you’re getting. Miranda got comfortable enough to cuss and didn’t like the term “affirmative action.” But was he rehabbing Hamilton, making him and the others better than they were by applying the hip-hop beat?

It was the perfect opening to ask a question about Reed, the MacArthur ‘genius’ award-winning novelist, satirist, and playwright who last year wrote  “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda,” a play that takes Miranda to task for the failure to highlight the real history of Hamilton.

Hamilton and his in-laws, the Schuyler family, were slave owners.

Miranda may have given the actors some tone, but the historical soul remains the same. Just obscured. Reed sees Miranda as duped by the Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow, which Miranda used as the main source for his skin-deep musical that glosses over our racist founders.

“I think seducing thousands of children and even the inaugural poet Amanda Gorman into believing that Hamilton and the Schuyler girls were ‘ardent abolitionists,’ must rank as a cultural crime,” Reed said to me.

As I asked Miranda my question about Reed, the PR rep cuts in: “We are actually out of time.”

Then Miranda says, “I got a long schedule, sorry. Thank you.”

It would have been interesting to hear his answer, with “Hamilton” beginning a new tour in August.

But this is megabuck showbiz, and the PR juggernaut must go on.

So, Miranda wiggled his way out. He could have answered. I gave him a shot.

Then again, Miranda’s got this new property to sell that’s a lot more cleansing and joyful. “In the Heights” is the feel-good movie of the post-pandemic, you know. All the fire hydrants are gushing.

But he should also make sure we all know Hamilton was no hip-hop hero, just another founding slave holder. Miranda’s color change doesn’t change history, nor make it less distasteful.

In fact, the 2021 tour for “Hamilton” is coming to San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose for multiple-week runs in August through October.

Will he come clean by then? Or come up with a new song? In the meantime, you should read Reed’s “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.”  There’s no music to wash away the truth.

Emil Guillermo is a veteran Bay Area journalist and commentator. He vlogs at www.amok.com Twitter @emilamok

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Commentary

Biden’s “Plan” to Address the Racial Wealth Gap Won’t Cut It. Only Reparations Can Do That

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris/ Featured Web

OPINION

On June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, President Joe Biden announced a plan to support Black homeownership and Black-owned businesses, which he said was aimed at closing the racial wealth gap between Black people and white people. The plan received praise from those who celebrated Biden’s apparent attempt to address the gap, which his administration has identified as a key policy goal.

The plan included steps like establishing a federal effort to address inequality in home appraisals and using government authority to boost support for Black-owned businesses, including through business grants. 

These are all great steps worth taking, but we shouldn’t pretend like they will do anything to meaningfully narrow the racial wealth gap. Only reparations can do that.

According to a recent New York Times piece by Duke University economist William Darity, the wealth gap between Black and white Americans ranges from somewhere between nearly $54,700 a person and $280,300 a person. 

Using the larger estimate, which Darity argues is more appropriate, the total racial wealth gap amounts to $11.2 trillion–“a figure that implies that incremental measures will not be sufficient” to close it, he wrote. 

Another 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development suggests that white households are worth nearly 20 times more than Black households on average, and that it would take 228 years for Black folks to catch up. That’s assuming white people’s collective wealth doesn’t increase at all during that time. 

And that was before our households and businesses took the devastating economic hit of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addressing discrimination in homeownership and supporting Black entrepreneurship are worthwhile policy endeavors. But we should be honest about what they represent in the grand scheme of things: At best, they are marginal steps in the right direction. And that’s not going to cut it. If we are serious about addressing the racial wealth gap, then we must get serious about reparations. There’s no way around it. The numbers speak for themselves.

If our elected officials aren’t prepared to go that route, fine — but we should stop letting them pretend like they are serious about the racial wealth gap. A gap created out of centuries of stolen labor, stolen land, and stolen wealth and resources can’t be addressed by a new housing policy or small business grant program.

During the 2020 campaign, then-candidate Biden said he supported H.R. 40, a bill that would commission a congressional study on reparations to determine what that could actually look like. The House passed the bill last year. Biden should push the Senate to pass it, too–and then sign it. 

And even that would only be the beginning.

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