I’m not a racist. But I do have a race problem. I finally owned up to it as I was anticipating seeing 12 Years a Slave. In the weeks leading up to its opening in my state of North Carolina, I tried to think of with whom among my friends I could see this film. I have a number of racially and ethnically diverse friends and acquaintances who would love to see it, and yet, I knew I could only see this movie alone or with another dark-skinned person.
Though I was born in North America, I was raised in four other countries on three different continents. I speak English and French. I understand my Nigerian Igbo language. My family has married across ethnicities and cultures—I have in-laws of Arabic, Italian, and Indian descent. I always knew I was Nigerian-American, living between cultures and nuanced identities. But I never knew I was just black until I started spending my adult years living in America. Believe me, now I know.
This is hard to admit. I will hurt the feelings of people I love. But isn’t confession the first step to being reconciled?
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The AIDS epidemic is a solvable problem. Ending AIDS is not just an aspiration. But despite recent advancements in diagnosis and treatment, explained Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease at a recent Atlantic forum, the rate of new infections has stopped decreasing, remaining at a plateau over the last decade.
Why? At least part of the cause is the stigma against homosexuality in the black community, Fauci and others agreed.
“We can’t forget that in this country, the risk [of HIV infection] for a young gay man, particularly a young African-American man—the risk is really huge,” Fauci said. “But there’s still discrimination and stigma.”
Fauci described how this problem has taken shape in Washington, D.C., where about half of the population is black. In predominantly white areas, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is very low, he said, but in predominantly black areas, “the rate is seven or eight percent. The disparity is not only of African Americans who are disenfranchised from health care, but also the difficulty of social acceptance in the African American community of a gay man of color.”
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The irony of obesity is that it’s considered a disease for poor people in rich countries.
Around the world, the countries with the highest estimated obesity rates include the U.S., the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Argentina, Chile and Mexico—except for the last two, all wealthy countries with GDP per capita above $30,000.
An Essence survey published last month revealed what many black women already know: Pop culture doesn’t depict them accurately. The ones polled by the magazine (with the help of a research firm) said the other black women they know tend to fall into positive categories like “Young Phenom” or “Acculturated Girl Next Door.” But images of black women “on TV, in social media, in music videos and from other outlets,” the survey found, were “overwhelmingly negative,” conforming to stereotypes like “Gold Diggers, Modern Jezebels, Baby Mamas, Uneducated Sisters, Ratchet Women, Angry Black Women, Mean Black Girls, Unhealthy Black Women, and Black Barbies.”
Had it been included, last week’s Saturday Night Live episode would have made the findings even starker. Scandal star Kerry Washington appeared in sketches as a nagging girlfriend; a sassy, eye-rolling assistant; and a rageful Ugandan beauty queen. There were no roles where her race and gender wasn’t an issue.
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Jason Parkinson, a 29-year-old electrician from Cleveland, doesn’t consider it much of a handicap that he never obtained a four-year college degree after high school. “It doesn’t do any good anymore,” he says. “You get a four-year degree, you work at a fast-food restaurant. You can go to trades and manufacturing…. I’m not big on going to college for a career that might not even be there in 10 years.”
Jose Stathas, a 47-year-old assistant to the owner at a pottery company in Buena Park, Calif., didn’t finish college either, but he believes he would be better off if he had. “I don’t have a four-year degree, and I’ve learned the hard way that it can affect how much you make,” he says. “It gives you opportunities to get jobs in the competitive marketplace we have now.”
Those contrasting responses from Parkinson, who is white, and Stathas, who is Hispanic, point to one of the most intriguing findings in a new College Board/National Journal Next America Poll. While minorities worry more than whites about affording the cost of higher education, they are more likely to see a payoff from the investment for themselves and for the country overall.
The survey, which measures assessments of the pathways to opportunity, found broad agreement among whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans that the U.S. still provides young people from any racial background an adequate chance to succeed—and that the primary and secondary schools in their neighborhood are preparing them to do so. But on several fronts, the poll said minorities were considerably more optimistic than whites that more access to education will mean more opportunity, both personally and throughout the economy.
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Minority role models seem to be at the heart of some positive outcomes for students.
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Let’s begin with the fact that black unemployment is higher than Hispanic unemployment, which itself is higher than white unemployment. This hasn’t just been true for the last year, or the last decade. It’s been true for the last four decades and beyond.
And we’ll continue with the fact that, when you look at participation rates over the same 40 years, Hispanic men work more often than white men, who consistently work more than black men. Among women, the trend has been the mirror opposite and just as unchanging. Black women have consistently worked more often than white women, who have consistently worked more often than Hispanic women.
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“I’m Bill de Blasio, and I’m not a boring white guy.”
How’s that for a political opener? This is how the New York mayor-elect describes himself. At an August fundraiser for the Young Progressives for de Blasio, his daughter Chiara introduced him to the crowd, making an appeal for a new kind of inclusive city politics. Flanked by her entire family, she remarked, “If we’re gonna bring new ideas to the table and create a world, a society … where everyone has a chance, we need to start listening to everybody’s ideas.”
What are these bold and inventive ideas of the new mayor? Some of them follow a traditional Democratic nesting doll scheme: good government followed by more jobs succeeded by affordable housing topped off by better schools. Add in reason, compassion, equality, and whoomp! There it is—a consummate progressive platform. But the de Blasio campaign offered another idea that most campaigns can’t: the racially integrated family.
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Jeremy Fiel grew up going to fairly diverse public schools in Lubbock, Texas. “Some schools had a higher black or Hispanic population,” he said. “But there weren’t any all-white schools.” After graduating college in 2006, he spent three years teaching science in Greenwood, Mississippi. What he saw in Greenwood shocked him.
"Segregation there was the most extreme I’ve ever seen," said Fiel. "There were literally less than five white kids in an entire public school.”
Fiel’s experience as a teacher inspired him to go to graduate school in sociology to study segregation and inequality in education. Now a Ph.D. candidate at University of Wisconsin–Madison, Fiel recently published a study in the American Sociological Review that suggests the factors driving segregation have increased in scale in the past several decades—and that fixing the problem will require a new set of strategies.
Nearly 60 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ordered school districts to desegregate, schools seem to be trending back toward their segregated pasts. In the 1968-69 school year, when the U.S. Department of Education started to enforce Brown, about 77 percent of black students and 55 percent of Latino students attended public schools that were more than half-minority. By the 2009-2010 school year, the picture wasn’t much better for black students, and it was far worse for Latinos: 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students went to schools that were more than half-minority. More than 40 percent of black and Latino students attended schools that were 90 percent to 100 percent minority.
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