BTSF in chronological order (most recent articles appear first):

Friday, September 30, 2011

Remembering A Legend: Dorothy Dandridge

This article was originally published by @Brotherfuture94 on September 30, 2011 at FilmSwag:

46 years ago this month, the world said goodbye to Dorothy Dandridge.

Dorothy Dandridge is a name that is too often forgotten when it comes to women in the early days of Hollywood. Everyone has heard of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and the like. Well, Dandridge was every bit the onscreen presence these women were, but as a black actress in the 40s and 50s it was hard to get noticed and even harder to find consistent work. Hell, truth be told it's still hard for women of color to find steady work in Hollywood and get recognized (see Taraji P. Henson).

What makes Dandridge so compelling is the fact that she wasn't just an actress, but a singer as well. She was what you would call an all around entertainer. Perhaps best known for her work as Carmen in the movie 'Carmen Jones,' Dandridge was electrifying on screen and would even garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1954. She didn't win, but maybe more importantly, she proved she belonged.

Sadly, 'Carmen Jones' proved to be the high point of Dorothy's career as she would spend the next decade with diminishing roles and increasingly high personal debt. The fact that she was even able to get prominent roles in Hollywood films could be seen as an accomplishment in itself considering the rampant racial discrimination of her era. Dandridge's career might best be described in the last line of her biography on her IMDB page: "Had she been born 20 years later, Dorothy Dandridge would no doubt be one of the most well-known actresses in film history."

See Also:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friday Round Up (09/30/11)

On Fridays, we post a round up of the week's happenings.

Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit items you feel should be included during the week. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

Weekly Round Up:
  • Accord1: Multi-tiered ministry to bring reconciliation to the body of Christ

These are some of our favorite links this week. What are yours?

See Also:
Troy Davis: Georgia's Strange Fruit
Growing up White and 'Normal'
Model Minority

Monday, September 26, 2011

Troy Davis: Georgia's 'Strange Fruit'

We know Georgia for it's peaches, but on 9/11/2011, it bore 'Strange Fruit.'
The facts are these: 
  • Troy Davis was executed on September 11, 2011 11:08 PM. His death certificate reads 'homicide.'
  • Mark MacPhail was shot and killed on August 19, 1989. No gun was ever found. No DNA evidence exists.
  • Nine witnesses initially testified that Davis was the one to commit MacPhail's murder. Seven of these have since changed their testimony. Several cited police coercion as their original motivator for false witness. Police deny coercion was ever used.
  • Of the two witnesses that remain, one has not spoken about the case at all since the original 1991 trial. The other himself has been suspected of committing the murder.  
  • In 2009, the United States Supreme Court gave Davis a new hearing, but because it is a post-conviction, such hearing function as 'guilty until proven innocent.' Not all of the witness mentioned above were called upon during the new hearing, and without the gun or DNA evidence, Davis was unable to prove his innocence.
Of course, Davis's case is convoluted that has a long history, but his story reflects an ever growing pool of dubious convictions that carry profound consequences 

From the early 1900's the fallibility of eyewitness testimony has been well established. The Innocence Project has helped exonerate 273 people of crimes they did not commit and states that "eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing." Many cases like Davis's have occurred before, with varying results (hear one compelling story on This American Life).

These cases are scary because it feels like such twists of fate could happen to any of us. But it is more likely to happen to some than others...

Racial inequality in the American justice system is rampant. Daily, people of color across the country are disproportionately suspected of crime based on their race, and police bias has lead to fatalities on numerous occasions. Almost 50% of prisoners serving life sentences, and 38% of all prisoners, are black (iconograph). These numbers reflect neither total US population demographics (less than 13% black), nor the demographics of actual crime being committed (eg. marijuana convictions). Furthermore, courts are more likely to impose the death penalty when the victim is white, clearly demonstrating which lives are more valued. 

There is also significant disparity across SES. Those that cannot afford their own lawyers are assigned to overwhelmed court-appointed public defenders. But US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observes that "people who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty."

And so we are left wondering what Davis's fate might have been if he had been white. Maybe it would have been the same. Or maybe his case would have been dismissed like that of Strauss-Kahn's, or maybe he would have acquitted like Casey Anthony. Or maybe he would have been given a short prison sentence and then released on bail, like Johannes Mehserle (who was video taped shooting his unarmed victim). Or maybe the victim's family might have declined the death penalty, like James Anderson's did. Or the Georgia Board of Pardons could have commuted Davis's sentence, like they did for Samuel David Crowe (who confessed and plead guilty to murder). 

No one of these cases or statics, proves racial bias. But it's the frequency of copious examples that horrifies me. So though Davis's case makes us pause to think how the flawed justice system is, I know I will probably never actually have to worry about it.

In closing, let us be mindful how easy it is to defend the life of someone we believe is innocent (Recall humbly Romans 5:7-8). But what if we knew for a fact he was guilty? It is more difficult to say 'I am Lawrence Brewer' (the white-supremacist convicted of hate-murder, and executed the same day as Davis). 

Typically, white Evangelical Christians are in favor of the death penalty, but this is the same group that is so animatedly pro-life in other situations, insisting that all life is sacred. Yet one cannot help but recall Jesus's answer to demands for the adulteress's execution.  

Sister Helen Prejean famously observes "The profound moral question is not, 'Do they deserve to die?' but 'Do we deserve to kill them?' The UMC Discipline also affirms: ‎"We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings."

As for myself, I believe that the business of ranking sins, or the value of a person's life, is way above my pay-grade.

    See Also:

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Friday Round Up (09/21/11)

    Each Friday, we post a 'round up' of the week's internet happenings.

    Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit during the week items you feel should be included. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

    Weekly Round Up (09/21/11):

    This week's main post will be on Troy Davis, so links relating to him will appear at that time.

    See Also:
    Model Minority
    Georgia's Strange Fruit
    What is a post-9/11 American?

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    Troy Davis: Georgia's 'Strange Fruit'

    We know Georga for it's peaches, but tonight it bares 'Strange Fruit'

    Follow more conversations about racial justice and Christianity through email or RSS feed.

    Sunday, September 18, 2011

    Model Minority

    'Model Minority' is a term for those thought to consistently perform and behave better than other racial minority groups. In the USA, the term is closely associated with East Asians (such as Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans), as well as Indians.

    Though it may seem like a positive characterization, 'model minority' status is still largely detrimental, still a stereotype, and ultimately harmful.

    Take for example the statistics about 'median family income.' It is widely stated that the average Asian-American family makes more money than any other race in the USA. But it is important to examine these numbers in detail. As Abagond elegantly demonstrates, per capita Asian-Americans make 20% less than White Americans. And the statistic crumbles further when broken down by nationality.

    Hundreds of diverse Asian cultures are victims of 'model minority' collateral damage. Because the stereotype applies broadly to 'Asians,' it perpetuates the homogenization of many distinct cultures. Typicality White-Americans use the term 'Asian' in reference only to those descendants of countries belonging to the 'model minority status,' neglecting in their minds countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Afghanistan etc. This constant Pan-Asianism perpetuates the tendency to generalize across a broad group to the detriment of the individuals within that group.

    The 'model minority' stereotype, continues a long tradition of selectively attributing certain traits as individual characteristics, while allowing others to be endemic to the entire race. The perception of a 'model minority' status has lead to the invisibility of poverty and struggle within many Asian-American communities. An individual's misfortune is more likely to be seen as an anomaly of personal failing, than as a consequence of a broken system. This perception leads to under-funding of assistance programs/scholarships for a large chunk of Asian-Americans that do not fit the stereotype.

    Conversely, in the same way that black individual achievement is often seen as the exception to the rule, Asian-American achievement is often discredited as being a byproduct of a 'natural course.' When an individual does achieve great things, it is more likely to be brushed away and taken for granted, rather than hailed as a credit to that person's hard work and perseverance.

    As a consequence, Asian-American school children experience significant amounts of bullying on the grounds of their 'nerdiness,' yet many also feel a pressure to live up the high standards of achievement that the stereotype sets forth. Rates of stress, depression, mental illnesses, and suicide attempts are significantly higher for Asian-Americans than for other races in the USA.

    Finally, it is easy to see how a 'model minority' stereotype might be just as self-perpetuating as other racial prejudices. Teachers that buy into the myth may unduly advance some students beyond what is helpful for them. Law enforcement/juries may be influenced by preconceptions of a 'complacent' culture.

    The myth of 'model minority' is not a benign one, much less beneficial.  How have you seen the 'model minority' myth reflected in your day-to-day life? How does it manifest itself at work, at school, in the media?

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Friday Round Up (09/16/11)

    BTSF is trying something new:

    Each Friday, we'll post a 'round up' of the week's internet happenings that may be interesting and relevant to BTSF readers.

    Feel free to contribute your own links in the comments section, or submit during the week items you feel should be included. Self-promotion is encouraged. 

    Weekly Round Up (09/16/11):

    This forum will continue weekly, assuming I have time (big assumption...)

    See Also:
    What is a post-9/11 American?
    Labor Day

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    What is a post-9/11 American?

    Despite declarations of national solidarity, reconciliation across lines of race and religion took a severe beating after September 11, 2001. We proclaimed ourselves part of a unified nation, but it seems there was a limit to our goodwill toward each other.

    Diversity, but only to a point
    More than ever, the United States is hostile to those perceived to be foreigners. Regardless of actual citizenship, people of color are routinely targeted as 'others,' not truly rightful members of our society. Particularly, harassment and discrimination against Arabic, South Asian, and Latino citizens has escalated over the past 10 years (both by law enforcement and by individuals).

    We say we are 'proud to be an American,' but what do we mean by that? Who do we include with ourselves in that statement? Are we proud to include turban-covered heads in our company's TV ad?  Or proud to include Spanish on our voicemail systems?

    When we proclaim in memorial services that 'all our lives were forever changed by the events of 9/11,' do we consider the lives that now fear daily unjust retribution for those events?

    Take a look at some of the videos posted at Racialicous that give testimony to these fears. People speak of the unity that complete strangers had with one another after the towers came down, but as Shawn Singh notes, it was "only after 9/11 did I feel less of a camaraderie with my peers." We hear in the media about Muslim women being pressured to wear the hijab, but Rabia Said recalls her friend's parents begging their child not to wear it for fear of violence against her.

    Seeks Blacks and Latinos,
     but not Sikhs
    Many of us can take our characterization as 'American' for granted, but millions (including the President) must defend and prove it everyday.

    Too many well-intentioned commentators will remind us that 'both Americans and Muslims lost lives on 9/11,' as though these are necessarily two separate entities. We perpetually entwine the term 'Muslim' with 'foreigner', otherizing and alienating our allies.

    As we reflect on consequences of 9/11, allow me to leave you with the following verse for your meditation:

    "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a sister or brother is a liar. For whoever does not love their sister and brother, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their sister and brother." 1 John 4:18-21
    What does 1 John 4:18-21 mean to you? What practical effect does it have on how you conduct yourself in your interactions with others?

    Monday, September 5, 2011

    Labor Day

    Cartoon: Executive hanging a 'happy labor day' sign while standing on the back of a laborerOnce per year the USA celebrates Labor Day, a national holiday originating from 1800's celebrations of trade workers and the social/economic benefits they bring to our society. So, is this holiday only an antiquated excuse for an extra time to sleep in?

    Let's use the day to examine the serious economic and labor struggles that still plague our country.

    It is increasingly difficult for the average worker to support a family. In most states, minimum wage is well below the living wage (there is a big difference between the two). Ironically, thousands of folks will go to work on Labor Day because they need the money and can't afford a day of rest.

    When folks are desperate for work, they will endure any number of abuses or indignities. They may work in dangerous environments, or be paid less than promised. Workers may be given insufficient training, leading to injury or embarrassment when they don't perform to standards.

    A cartoon shark dressed as a loan shark
    Employees may be held at work long after their shift is over, if that is what the boss deems necessary. Maybe they need to pick the kids up from school, but they don't dare leave and risk losing their jobs. Workers may be required to maintain an open schedule to be placed in shifts as is convenient for the company, but may not be told their schedule until the last minute, and so cannot line up child care or other jobs.

    Folks may spend an hour on the bus to get to a job, only to arrive and find out they aren't needed that day. Or they work for two hours and then get sent home. "Try again tomorrow." And if they don't show up for that chance, they know they loose the opportunity for later.

    There are serious consequences of this labor disparity. Workers skip meals so that their children may eat. Folks turn to loan sharks to make ends meet, entrenching themselves in a spiral of debt (see post: The Cost of Being Poor). Families make tough choices to cut out "non-essentials" like medicine (see post: Healthcare Reform), clothing, and nutritious food.

    And as the nation bemoans the 7% unemployment rate, unemployment in communities of color remains at 13%--the same racialized wage disparity ratio that Dr. King bemoaned in 1967. Indeed, while analysts fret about about the housing market, there continue to be huge disparities in homeownership across race.

    Book cover: Nickel and Dimed
    Take a close look at the words of Jeremiah 22:13-16. Woe to we that profit from injustice and gain economic security at the expense of others! We "who make our neighbor serve us for nothing and do not give them their wages." Jesus himself urges that "the workers deserve their wages." And yet, as more states put an end to collective bargaining, the wealthy receive a smaller tax burden now than they have in the last 80 years.

    Part of our problem is that we have a very warped perspective of economic reality. Particularly since housing in the United States is largely segregated by economic standing, people look around themselves and feel that, on the whole, there is equal opportunity and prosperity for everyone.

    PBS News Hour recently conducted an informal survey, asking people identify the sort of economy that exist in the USA. Their findings are telling. Also, Jon Stewart points out the huge economic disparities that most folks gloss over. Both of these videos are embedded below.

    Take time this week to give thanks for your own economic security, no matter what level it is at.
    For more insight into the issues mentioned above, read Barbara Ehrenreich's 'Nickel and Dimed' or play this excellent interactive game to see what choices you would make given some stark realities.

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    By Their Strange Fruit by Katelin H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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