Monday, June 27, 2022
Like many of you, I experienced the overturning of Roe v Wade as terrible defeat, something that will inflict hardship and pain on many many people and make women across the nation feel that the advances they have made over the past 50 years are under assault. But I also experienced it as a wake up call, an incentive to push harder on issues where I am best equipped to make a difference And for me, one issue I am determined to push forward on, which I have supported, but not actively organized around, is Reparations for African Americans. Given what my own research, and that of many others, has uncovered, documenting the huge variety of policies, many of them extraordinarily violent, which undermined wealth acquisition among African American in the years following the end of slavery, I think we can make a powerful argument why Reparations are not only fair and just, but can help heal our wounded and divided society. Before proceeding to the justification for my position, which I will present in somewhat compressed form, I want to give credit to all those who have pushed forward on this issue long before I have, resulting in a Reparations movement that is already making headway among Universities, and Corporations whose complicity with Slavery and the Slave Trade has been documented by scholars What I propose doing is extending the logic of Reparations for events which occurred after Slavery ended, and targeting state and local governments for restorative justice. The Logic Behind Reparations for Post Slavery Events When we look at the racial wealth gap in the United States, which is far greater than racial gaps in income and education, we need to address the murder and displacement of Black property owners and the destruction of thriving Black communities by angry white mobs. a process which began in Reconstruction and continued through into the late 1920's Some of these dynamics involved the execution and mass murder of Black elected officials, such as occurred in Louisiana in the Colfax Massacre (1872) and in North Carolina in the Wilmington Massacre (1898) but most involved the killing and displacement of black landowners and the destruction of thriving Black business districts Racial pogroms, involving the murder of hundreds of economically successful Black people and the burning of Black neighborhoods, took place in Elaine Arkansas ( 1919) Oceoo Florida ( 1920) Tulsa Oklahomoa ( 1921) and Rosewood Florida ( 1923) But those truly awful events were paralleled by larger patterns which took place over decades one of which was lynching, the other which was "whitecapping." Lynching, an ugly pattern of racial terror used by southern whites to maintain white supremacy,, was not only directed against Black people accused of murder and rape, it was directed against Black landowners and business leaders who failed to show proper deference or defended themselves and their families against assault. Whitecapping, widely practiced in Mississippi during the Jim Crow years, involved white mobs seizing the land of black independent farmers and driving Black landowners out of the communities where they had acquired property. When you put all of these things together- the murder of Black elected officials, the murder of successful black landowners and business owners, and the burning and destruction of some of the South's most prosperous Black business districts, you are confronting a pattern which not only discourages wealth acquisition among Black people, but makes it life threatening and dangerous. In states and communities where this occurred, which I believe can be found in most of the American South, restorative justice needs to take an economic form in terms of compensation for the victims and their descendants. There can be no real healing until this history is understood, and its consequences addressed. You can issue court decisions limiting Affirmative Action, but the more we know about our history, the stronger the logic for Reparations becomes
Thursday, May 26, 2022
Today is my 76th Birthday, and frankly, given all that is going on in the country I don't give a s..t if you send me birthday greetings However, since at least three people I respect have told me recently that they think the country is doomed, I have decided to post this Birthday Pledge. " When I look around me, I see a nation paralyzed by division, filled with hate, unable to address the most powerful issues of the day, from climate change, to gun violence, to racism, white supremacy and threats to democratic governance. I cannot promise you that we can survive these challenges, or that we will even be a viable nation in 25 years. But as someone who has lived through the War In Vietnam, multiple drug epidemics, the burning of the Bronx, the destruction of the labor movement, the rise of mass incarceration and the militarization of police, and numerous military actions in the Middle East which have destabilized that region and left many who served there with lifelong issues, I promise you that I will NEVER stop fighting for the causes I believe in, or defending people who are targets because of their race, religion, immigration status, or gender identities. Moreover, if you are my student, my colleague, my neighbor, my friend, a member of my family, or someone I have connected with through social media, I will be there for you when you need help so long as my health holds up. Growing up, I never gave in to bullies and I am not about to start doing that now I realize that I am very lucky to have reached age 76 in pretty good shape and I plan to celebrate and show gratitude for every day I have left on this planet. But for me, fighting for justice is an integral part of celebrating life and I look forward to joining with you to stop the rise of American Fascism and to make sure the the rights and opportunities of everyone around us is recognized and respected With All My Love, Mark "Notorious Phd" Naison "
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
"You describe a state of affairs that no one advocates and making it seem like a national crisis . The CRT educators practice is "culturally responsive teaching," efforts to include material in the curricula which makes children from marginalized groups feel as if they are being treated with respect. I defy you to find teachers who divide children into categories of "oppressors and oppressed!" What teachers do is present images and stories of Black people, LatinX people, Asian People and LGBQT people which were once completely absent from school curricula. This effort has been going on for more than 30 years and all of a sudden people on the Right are calling it Critical Race Theory. It is stretching language beyond recognition in the interest of intimidating teachers and school administrators. The goal of this manufactured crisis not to protect white children from attack- it is to paralyze the education system in order to slow down the transformation of the nation into a place where those who were seen as outsiders take center stage. These efforts will fail. And all children, including white children, will be better off because of this failure"
Monday, April 25, 2022
In the morally infected worldview of the American Right, the appellation Critical Race Theory has been expanded beyond recognition to include “Social and Emotional Learning.” The intellectual dishonesty implicit in this connection is staggering in its impact. Apparently, there is no limit to how low conservatives and Republicans will sink to attack policies and programs they find objectionable. They have taken a term 99 percent of the public never heard of, and even less understand, and turned it into a metaphor for the threat liberals pose to the nation in every dimension of American life, a threat so potent that it may require a coup to prevent. Make no mistake about it- such corruption of language is stock and trade of would be dictators. Treat anyone who buys into it with extreme caution.
Sunday, April 24, 2022
I just thought of one possible response to the legislation and executive orders restricting what can be taught about race in US History in Florida schools What if a group of teachers, students and civil rights leaders came together to produce a document which listed every single lynching that took place in the state of Florida, with dates and locations, along with attacks on black communities and assassinations of black leaders? In the latter category, there will be incidents like the widely publicized Rosewood Massacre (1923) where a prosperous black town was destroyed by jealous whites. But it is my guess that Rosewood was just the tip of the iceberg, and that if you go back to Reconstruction you will find multiple examples of mass murders of blacks who were deemed too wealthy or politically powerful This document, circulating on the internet, will prompt widespread public discussion of a portion of Florida history that has been kept hidden, and apparently can’t be a focus of instruction in Florida schools Florida friends, what do you think? There are scholars and community leaders who can help you get this information! Why not put it all in one place where it can prompt discussion and show that uncomfortable truth about Florida history cannot be suppressed *The Rosewood massacre was a racially motivated massacre of black people and the destruction of a black town that took place during the first week of January 1923 in rural Levy County, Florida. At least six black people and two white people were killed, though eyewitness accounts suggested a higher death toll of 27 to 150. The town of Rosewood was destroyed in what contemporary news reports characterized as a race riot. Florida had an especially high number of lynchings of black men in the years before the massacre,] including a well-publicized incident in December 1922.
Wednesday, April 13, 2022
While trying to figure out why one of my most popular courses at Fordham- my Affirmative Action Seminar- was suddenly under enrolled, I had an epiphany. Students are so exhausted from the Pandemic that they want to avoid any course that adds to their stress. And since the material in my Affirmative Action Seminar is controversial- no matter what side you take- the best strategy may be to avoid it altogether If this analysis is true, we may want to explore its applicability to the campaign to ban controversial subjects from public school classrooms, whether they involve race, or questions of gender and sexuality. At first, I thought the campaign to ban discussions of the history of racism from public school classrooms was a non-starter, particularly since it was done through an entirely dishonest label "Critical Race Theory," which most teachers never heard of, much less used to guide their pedagogy But the campaign not only took off, it was the central issue in a key Gubernatorial race- Virginia- where the Republican candidate used it to great advantage. And Republicans are using it to great advantage in state after state, where they are adding LBGTQ issues to the Critical Race Theory narrative, and passing laws not only shaping instruction, but at times banning books. I have long wondered why sensible parents didn't rise up against the climate of hysteria these campaigns are based on, but what just happened to me at Fordham suddenly gave me a different explanation What if parents are so beaten down and exhausted by living through the Pandemic that they want to avoid any additional source of stress on their children and families. Given the polarized political climate, they see any attempt to discuss race, gender or sexuality as an added source of stress that they can do without. So they are OK with efforts to discourage curricular guidance which focuses on those subjects Does that make them racists or homophobes? Or just people who want to simplify instruction- and avoid controversy- in a time when they are worn down by multiple layers of stress. I will leave that conclusion up to you. But right now, I see no level of enthusiasm, in universities or the country, for tackling our society's most difficult and longstanding moral and political issues
Friday, April 8, 2022
The importance of Justice Jackson's ascension to the United States Supreme Court cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the obstacles people of African descent faced throughout US history in exercising the most basic human rights as well as achieving full citizenship. Frightened legislators can try to push that history out the public schools, and even our universities, but they will not succeed. The story of Black people's impact on US History, which is being expanded by new research all the time, has been documented and preserved in hundreds of public archives and public monuments as well as thousands, possibly millions of books and articles. Without turning the US into a Putin-like dictatorship, there is no way of shutting down the evolving narrative of how the country was deformed by racism and white supremacy from the very time of its founding, and how the struggle against those undemocratic forces spawned some of the most powerful movements in US History. Those adding to this narrative through their research will not be silenced, nor will those seeking justice through new initiatives and new movements. History is more than a theory- it is the culmination of the thoughts and activities of all those who seek to understand and change the world they live in.
Monday, April 4, 2022
It has now been a full two years since COVID-19 struck and my students were sent home for the Semester. For me at least, nothing in the classroom has quite been the same. Even though I am teaching fully live this semester, at a University where classes are "mask optional," I feel far less joy when teaching than I did before the Pandemic Struck. Part of this is due to the effort it takes for me to stay healthy and motivated. Ever since I realized that my age made me vulnerable to this virus, I have been on a rigorous program of self care that involves stress reduction, healthy eating and a daily regimen of exercise and sleep. Thinking about my own body this much is, quite frankly, mentally exhausting. Making sure I am there for my students for every class and office hour, whether live or on ZOOM,requires constant vigilance. But the major contributor to my sense of demoralization and dread is the fragility of my students. Ever since the Pandemic hit, I can never be sure which of my students will show up in class, and what condition they are in if they do. Assignments are an even greater adventure. Not only are students out with physical ailments far more than usual, a growing number are facing mental health issues that make it difficult for them to complete their written work. Over and over again, I have watched students I care about just disappear from my classes, only to get a note from the Dean saying that they had to take a leave of absence due to undisclosed health issues. And those are the extreme cases. The overwhelming sense I get from my students, both from their body language and explicit comments, is that everyone is under stress and that teachers need to be careful not to put them under too much pressure. For me, one of the great things about teaching was getting lost in the material- bringing history to life for my students with just the right combination of stories, visual images, musical interludes and theoretical constructs, using language they had never heard before that might actually get them excited about what they were learning. But since the Pandemic, it has been difficult to get fired up with enthusiasm about what I am presenting because when I stand in front of a class, I never know who actually is going to be THERE, physically, or emotionally. Sometimes, I feel like I am going through the motions, teaching for myself, more than for a class, or more to the point, providing a model of endurance in conditions of extreme adversity. When everyone else is falling down, I want to show them, I will be the last one standing But that is no fun. Teaching at its best is interactive, spontaneous, filled with moments of discovery for teachers as well as students. Take those elements away and what you have is an extremely complicated, stressful job, that will wear you down quickly That is where I am at right now. I have no plans to retire, but if this keeps up for a few more years, I may have to reconsider. And the atmosphere certainly helps me understand why so many teachers are leaving the profession
Monday, March 28, 2022
Asking Black people to remain calm and poised in the face of insulting, humiliating and provocative verbal attacks, the way Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson did when facing abusive questioning from Senators Hawley, Cruz, and so many others, is to ask them to take years off their lives! Race related stress is as much a killer as cancer or heart disease. It places a burden on our Black friends, colleagues and family members that we can do little to ease. Those who call for color blind policy and color blind law as if they were moral absolutes are completely insensitive to the realities of Black life in the United States. What just took place in the Senate exposes the cruelty of those who use Dr. King's language to promote a post racial vision of American life that ignores vast racial disparities in income, wealth, property ownership, life expectancy and lived experience. It also ignores the power of racial stereotypes that inhibit Black professionals from responding normally to acts of aggression lest they be stigmatized as an "angry Black person" and prevented from doing their jobs.
I am not sure teaching will ever return to what it was before the Pandemic. Not only is the number of students immobilized by mental health issues far greater, but students are missing and coming late to classes in numbers that I would never have accepted three or four years ago. Clearly, a significant number of students, having become accustomed to ZOOM, feel more comfortable staying home than coming to class, and given the stress of commuting I am not sure I blame them! So what does a teacher do? In my case, it means I throw out deadlines and attendance requirements and do not penalize lateness, but make no compromise on the quality of work students have to turn in. To do this, I make all examinations take home exams, require students to take on challenging subjects, and insist they consult multiple sources to arrive at their conclusions. I give them flexibility in when they hand in assignments, but refuse to give students a grade unless they complete all work in the course, even if they submit it a month after the semester ends I can't say every student is happy with my approach. In some of my courses, it means they will write 50-60 pages worth of papers and exams and end up learning more than they ever expected or wanted to! But for the most part, they get through the course and produce excellent work, provided I am willing to overlook behavior that in the past I would have regarded as rude or unacceptable! Teaching has always been hard work. It's even harder now!
Friday, March 25, 2022
As many of you know, school boards all over the country, sometimes prompted by the actions of state legislatures, have banned books dealing with racism or LBGTQ issues from use in the public schools. Some of them have even removed such books from public libraries As a protest against these actions, an organization I work with, Uniting to Save Our Schools, has designated May 1- May 7 2022 as a "National Week for Teaching Truth." Some of the ideas the group has discussed have been teach-ins, marches, school walk outs, video conferences, tik-tok videos and arts projects, but in thinking of how to gain mass participation, especially by students, I thought it might be useful to sponsor a "Banned Book Day" where everyone carries a book widely banned by school boards to school with them ( eg "Beloved" "The 1619 Project" "How to be an Anti-Racist") and poses for group and individual photos with the banned books and creates videos of their actions for posting on social media If people think this is a good idea, I would like to designate Tuesday May 3, the next to last day of classes, as "Banned Book Day At Fordham." Please send me an email or Facebook message, if you would like to participate
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
For Our Children's Protection, It's Time to Remove Needle Boxes from St Mary's Park- Guest Post By Carmen Santiago
Greetings All, Excuse the delay in sending this email, on this important matter. After numerous walk-through's of St Mary's Park; several Green Metal Disposal Towers still remain in our Park, and are themselves a safety, environmental, and health hazard. The disposal towers were installed by the prior administration(Mayor Deblasio, Bx Borough Pres Diaz Jr, Parks Dept, and some Unknown nonprofit needle program). I have found three(3) needle towers on the northern part of the park(E149 St & St Anns). I have yet to walk-through on the southern part of the park. We have open needles and orange caps littering our St Mary's Park, where families, children and our pets, gather and play. Even the wildlife is not safe, as they may swallow the orange caps and choke. Our small children may think the orange caps are a toy, put them in their mouth and choke. Our children play barefoot or with sandals, during the warm seasons, and can very easily, get jabbed with a needle. Who's going to picnic in our park, when there's needles and orange caps, all over the place? Why take a chance, with the safety of our children? Remove the green metal needle disposal towers from St. Mary's Park. Needles and orange caps on the grass, in the rocks, around the tree pits, on top of the snow, under the snow, or embedded in the soil. Mind you, all this is medical waste, and the last place it should be, is in our park. Why has Parks Dept created this unsafe condition to exist in our park, in the South Bronx? Why our park, why us? Why are we(The South Bronx), still the dumping ground for all things bad and ugly? Why install needle disposal towers, to invite drug addicts into our park? Our people are ill from drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness, how is all this helping them? It's not. It's one failed band aid program after another. We see the failed results in our streets, in the lost of dignity, hopelessness and despair of our people. The dumping ground for the forgotten. Who's going to keep the residents of the South Bronx safe, from Park's dept? Remove the green metal disposal towers, and keep our park clean. Our 33+ acres St Mary's park is Not a doctor's office, with some makeshift medical waste containers, strewn about. We have addicts shooting up(in partners), fighting, doped out, passed out on benches, the ground, rocks and lurking through the park, looking for cigarette butts, drug paraphernalia, or any coins they can find. Why are we sacrificed to normalize this behavior? There's nothing normal, about living like this, and exposing our children to this lifestyle. It makes us all complicit. The current formula(Mission Statements), of these non profit contracts is not working, and has not worked for decades. We are bleeding out(literally and figuratively). These programs(Mental health, Homelessness/Housing, and Drug addiction), are fragmented and work independent from each other. Why not cauterize these NYC agencies so they work together(share databases and cross share programs), for the complete holistic treatment of the whole human being. We are calling for All the green metal needle disposal towers to be immediately removed from St Mary's Park. It's especially easy now, since St Mary's is undergoing a phase 2 reconstruction project. The current General Contractor, can draft a change order on site, for Park's dept to approve, and said General Contractor can yank and remove the green metal needle disposal towers, and dispose of properly. Why spend millions(tax money), on park reconstruction projects, if people are not safe in their own park? I'll be sending pictures in a few emails, since they don't all fit into this one email. If anyone would like to contact me, to see the green metal needle disposal towers for yourself, up close, don't hesitate to call me at #504/485-8179. It's quite surreal when you see these needle towers, up close. Thank you for working together, in any assistance you can offer in resolving this important matter. I look forward to hearing from you. Carmen Santiago, Longtime South Bronx Resident(CB#1)
Monday, March 14, 2022
The Bronx African American History Project was founded in January 2003 as a partnership between Fordham’s Department of African and African American Studies and the Bronx County Historical Society. Its goal was to address the absence of source materials documenting the history of the more than 500,000 people of African descent in the Bronx. The Fordham scholars involved, Dr. Mark Naison and Dr. Claude Mangum, decided that the best contribution we could make was to start and Oral History Project, using the community contacts we had developed in more than 30- years teaching at Fordham. The response from Black Bronx residents we contacted was so enthusiastic that by Spring 2003, we were conducting more than two interviews a week. The Fordham Dean’s Office, seeing the potential of this research as a vehicle of instruction as well as a contribution to historical scholarship, provided us with four Fordham college research assistants to help film and transcribe the interviews. By the summer of 2003, several local newspapers had written articles about our research and the community response grew even greater. Literally scores of people began contacting us and asking for the opportunity to tell their stories. To advantage of this unique opportunity to give an underserved and often maligned community a voice, the Dean’s acceded to our request hire a young scholar as research director, and Fordham grad/ NYU Doctoral Student Brian Purnell joined us in that capacity With Brian on board, and additional student research assistants added, the BAAHP started doing 3 interviews a week and began developing a counter narrative of Bronx history that started to capture the imagination of Bronx schools and community organization. The people we interviewed, most of whom were senior citizens, told us stories which offered a profound challenge to the dominant narrative of Bronx history, which was that the Bronx was a beautiful place to live when it was Irish, Italian and Jewish, and that it fell prey to crime, and drugs and violence when Blacks and Puerto Ricans started to move in. In fact, our informants told us, the Bronx was a place of hope and optimism for upwardly mobile Black and Puerto Rican families from the mid 1930’s to the mid 1950’s, contained many vibrant integrated communities, and created more variety of popular music than any place in the country, if not the world during those years. They not only contributed stories, they contributed photos and documents which reinforced the accuracy of what they were telling us and they directed us to some of the musicians who made the communities they lived in such centers of cultural vitality. As a result, we hired a jazz scholar, Maxine Gordon (wife of the late jazz saxophone legend Dexter Gordon) as a research consultant and began organizing concerts to highlight the Bronx’s history of musical creativity. The new narrative of Bronx history coming out of our research, disseminated through newspaper accounts and through public events we organized, began to capture the imagination of leaders of Bronx non profit organizations and of teachers and administrators in Bronx schools who were looking for ways of counteracting the negative views of the Bronx that most people who lived in it possessed. As a result, we were invited to make presentations on our research to teachers and principals in Bronx schools, and subsequently, directly to Bronx students. By the beginning of 2006, when we had conducted over 100 oral history interviews, we had done lectures, walking tours and helped start community history projects in more than 20 Bronx schools, one of which actually created an “Old School Museum” to honor the history of the largely Black community in which it was located. As our students, faculty and research consultants travelled through Bronx neighborhoods doing programs for schools and community organizations, we noticed something striking—that there was a large and growing population of African immigrants in Bronx neighborhoods, many of whom were Muslim. To address this important migration, we hired as a research consultant, and later as a faculty member, Dr Jani Kani Edward, who had written a book on Sudanese women in exile and was an expert on the global African Disapora. Dr Edward quickly made connections with leaders of the African immigrant community and began doing oral histories with members of that important new group. By the end of 2000, our research now had a strong African immigrant component as well as an African American component. The excitement created by this research spread rapidly. As younger generations of Bronx residents approached us to be interviewed, we brought in a new faculty member to our Department, Dr Oneka Labennett, who started interviewing people who were part of the Hip Hop generation in the Bronx. This new component attracted the attention of scholars in Germany, who were studying the growing impact of Hip Hop on immigrants of color in their own country. Not only did several young German researchers join us as scholars in residence, they invited us to present the findings of our research to scholars and community groups in Berlin. These invitations led to the creation of the Bronx Berlin Youth Exchange, as well as to invitations to make presentations on our research in Spain and Italy As the BAAHP grew in size and vitality, it began to have a sizable impact on the cultural and intellectual life of the Fordham community. First of all, it gave many Fordham students exposure to ground breaking historical research as well as community activism. The student researchers we hired, as graduate assistants, as well as undergraduate researchers, had an opportunity to see history being rewritten first hand, not only by filming and transcribing oral history interviews, but by helping identify and archive historical documents. Many of these students wrote research papers based on their findings, some began writing MA theses and doctoral dissertations using our data base. Other faculty began directing their students to our oral history collection and the books and articles we published, so that the BAAHP’s research began directly influencing teaching about the Bronx in Fordham courses. Also, the BAAHP began to break through the barriers, both physical and metaphorical, separating the Bronx from surrounding Bronx communities. Not only have BAAHP interviews, concerts, lectures and forums brought literally thousands of Bronx residents and school groups onto Fordham’s Bronx campus, but the tours and events the BAAHP has organized in the Bronx have led Fordham students to get an exposure to Bronx neighborhood outside of Yankee Stadium, Arthur Avenue and the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens. At a time when anti-racist efforts at Fordham have the highest priority, no organization has done more than the BAAHP to defuse stereotypes about the Bronx and to encourage Fordham students to see the Bronx as a place with an unmatched history of resilience and creativity Today, the BAAHP stands ready to work with everyone at Fordham working to create a closer relationship with the peoples and communities of the Bronx. and to create programs and initiatives which affirm Fordham’s character as a community where people of color, and other marginalized groups, feel honored and welcome.
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
The United States of Percussion- Changes in Music and Society in the Late 1960's Which Set The Stage for the Rise of Hip Hop
In the late 1960's, portions of American popular music underwent a sonic transformation that helped set the stage for the rise of hip hop. A combination of underlying factors ranging from changing US immigration laws, to the Black power movement, to the disrupting influence of the Vietnam War expanded the audience for music which had multiple levels of percussion, and where rhythm supplemented, and occasionally overpowered harmony and melody. One source of percussive energy was Latin Music, whose audience expanded as a result of a rapid growth in the LatinX population in response to dramatic changes in US immigration laws in 1965, which allowed for far more immigrants to come to the US from the Caribbean and South and Central America. Many of these immigrants came with traditions of hand drumming, of African derivation, which had largely been wiped out in the US, which they incorporated into every dimension of their music. This was particularly true of two genres of music which arose in New York City, where LatinX immigrants lived side by side with African Americans in large portions of the Bronx, as well as in portions of Harlem and Brooklyn- Bougaloo and Salsa. These musical forms, though their lyrics were often in Spanish ,were influenced by Rhythm and Blues and Soul Music, but with one difference- they had much deeper percussion sections, using three different varieties of hand drums, along with the traditional stick driven drum sets of rock, jazz and soul, often supplemented by clave and maracas. These new musical forms not only attracted a large audience among Spanish speaking people in US urban areas, they captured the imagination of many Black musicians, inspiring them to add hand drums to the rhythm sections they used in the recording studio as well as live performance as more percussion meant more dancing! Their influence also led to the rise of powerful "Latin Fusion" groups who combined Latin percussion traditions with funk and rock, among them Santana, War, Mandrill and the Jimmy Castor Bunch, the first which became popular in the late 60's, the latter three which rose to fame in the early 70's. But perhaps the most influential exponent of the percussive revolution in US Popular Music was James Brown, who in the late Sixties, created songs which eliminated melody entirely in favor of a music which turned voice, horns and guitar into percussion instruments in a tightly woven dance tracks performed by band which never missed a chance to get audiences screaming, shouting and dancing ecstatically. Brown, who called himself "Soul Brother Number One" became the symbol of the Black Power Revolution's impact on popular music, bringing African American music back to its African roots by making rhythm the primary form of musical communication. Many of his songs had only the most perfunctory lyrics- it was the horns and drums and guitar, along with Brown's shouts and inspired dancing, that were the source of their appeal Brown's popularity also set the stage for other great bands who took percussion to new heights, among them Sly and the Family Stone, the Isley Brothers, and in the early 70's, the Ohio Players, and Earth Wind and Fire. The music they produced was given the name of Funk, and one of the most popular groups of the 70's actually incorporated that in its name- Parliament Funkadelic This percussive revolution, it should be noted, did not become universal- many of the musical groups of the late 60's particularly those appealing to largely white audiences, either doubled down on harmony and melody, like Crosby Stills Nash and Young, or featured long guitar solos meant to be listened to rather than danced to, such as Led Zeppelin, But the Latin and Funk Revolution would carve out a permanent place in the American musical landscape, one only enhanced by the rise of Hip Hop in the 70's and 80's.
Friday, March 4, 2022
As more and more of my students come to me with tales of illness and insomnia, asking for forbearance, and at times, for help and advice, I am starting to wonder whether a profound pessimism about the future contributes to their distress. Learning that the death of the brilliant Stanford soccer captain, a goalie on that school’s national championship team, was caused by suicide, only heightened my concerns On some profound level, do our brightest and most sensitive young people think the world is coming to an end, and that they have no future worth working for? The signs of doom are all around them- a deadly Pandemic that took much of the joy out of their lives, climate catastrophes that just keep mounting without the political will to deal with them, a toxic political environment filled with division and hate , and now, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the very real threat of nuclear war. If a student confides in me, as one did yesterday, that they are crippled by insomnia, what am I supposed to tell them-that everything is going to be all right? Humanity is in deep trouble right now, and I would be lying if I told my students that I know a way out. I am not scared for myself- I have lived a much longer and more productive life than I ever expected to- but I am terrified for the kind, thoughtful, talented young people I work with every day. I try to be as strong and compassionate as I can in communicating with them, but I am very very worried that many of the issues they face are way out of my control, and that I can’t do all that much to help them
Thursday, March 3, 2022
When I was a 13 year old sophomore in a tough Brookyn high school, I was confronted in the locker room after gym class by six bigger older students who thought they could intimidate and humiliate me. While my my friends -mostly fellow honor students-ran away, they made a number of threatening and deprecating comments, ending with one of them saying “Tie my shoelace.” Having faced bullies all my life,I instinctively responded by saying “F..k you” and was knocked out cold. When I woke up, I immediately I went up to my home room and threw up, but I was ready to go back the next day and face them again. Unfortunately, my parents made me transfer to another high school out of the district where I spent the next 3 years, but I was proud that when tested, I stood up for myself against impossible odds! It set the tone for how I was going to live the rest of my life. Given this experience, you can see why I strongly support Ukraine in resisting a much more powerful country which seeks to control it, humiliate it and destroy its elected leadership. Ukraine is not only standing up for itself, it is standing up for every small country who hopes to maintain its independence, and for every individual who refuses to allow “might to become right.” When intimidation overwhelms morality and the rule of law, no one is secure. Moments when that starts to happen are when each of us must find the hero we all can become when our backs are against the wall
Thursday, February 17, 2022
Yesterday, I was taken on a walking tour of a beautiful Bronx park- St Mary's - that was littered with needles and needle caps from addicts who shoot up in and near the park and which contains three boxes where people can discard their used drug works I do not pretend to have a solution to problems of addiction, homelessness and care for the mentally ill. What I do know is that is extremely damaging to concentrate treatment centers and residences for people suffering addiction, mental illness or just leaving prison in three Bronx neighborhoods which already have a high concentration of low income families-Mott Haven, Morrisania and Melrose. Even though these neighborhoods have been substantially been rebuilt since the fires of the 1970's, they suffer greatly from the extraordinary concentration of facilities that middle class neighborhoods refuse to allow in their midst. In my view, this is a form of environmental racism as damaging as the concentration of waste transfer stations along the South Bronx Waterfront and the four huge expressways, filled with truck traffic, that surround these communities on all sides Worse yet, it appears that the gentrification of Bronx neighborhoods along the Harlem and East Rivers is making matters worse, as addicts and the homeless are being pushed out of those areas into places like The Hub and St Mary's Park. I do not have a long term strategy to care for the victims of economic policies in this country which have impoverished many while concentrating wealth at the top, but it is profoundly unfair to warehouse these victims in already struggling communities, filled with children and families. That is what I saw yesterday in St Mary's Park. It was devastating to think of children playing basketball , handball, and kickball or jumping double dutch, while addicts shoot up on benches and rocks adjoining the places where they play
Sunday, February 13, 2022
Thoughts on the Harvard Case: Why Discrimination Against Asians in Admission Cannot Be Attributed to Race Based Affirmative Action
Given what I have learned about college admissions, it is astonishing that a law firm would argue that the primary cause of discrimination against Asians in admissions at Harvard is admissions preferences given underrepresented minorities at that school As Daniel Golden has argued in his 2007 book "The Price of Admissions". preferences given to children from wealthy families,, the vast majority of them white, through legacy admissions, developmental admissions, and athletic admissions dwarf those given African American, Native American and LatinX applicants In the short presentation that follows, I will discuss the historic moment when race based admissions first arose, explain how it evolved and then briefly discuss the forces which sharply restrained it, allowing wealth based admissions to gradually return to the prominence it once held in the early 1940's and 1950's,. In particular I will discuss how athletic admissions emerged as one of the most important vehicles for wealthy whites to regain preferential access to the nation's top colleges, using personal experience as well as research to document this. As an Ivy League athlete in the early and mid Sixties, with two children who were Ivy League athletes in the late 1990's and early 2000's, I can give first hand testimony as to how athletic admissions evolved in a way that undermined democratic forces transforming the nation’s elite institutions and reinforced privileges of wealth First let me go back in time to the period when elite universities first opened their doors to large numbers of underrepresented groups. In historicizing race based affirmative action, which was adopted with striking rapidity by universities in the late 1960's, there are two important things to keep in mind. First we need to recognize that the massive enrollment of Black students was one part of the response of white elites to the riots and uprisings that took place in American cities from 1964-1968. As documented by sociologist John Skerntny in his important book "The Ironies of Affirmative Action" massive enrollment of Black students in elite universities, along with recruitment of Blacks to work in previously all white occupations in corporate America and basic industry, was a strategy to restore order to a riot torn nation by giving Blacks a stake in the intermediate and top levels of management of the nation's major institutions. However, a second stage in this development took place when large numbers of Black students arrived in these institutions and launched mass movements to change University admissions practices as well as incorporate Black history and culture into school curricula The result of this was that by the early 70's, universities faced fierce pressures from inside their student bodies to engage in massive recruitment of black students and faculty, a pressure which, in some places, was also applied to increase LatinX representation. As a result, the nation's elite universities, already forced to democratize their student populations in the 50's and 60 by enrolling more Jewish and Catholic students, were now under pressure to guarantee admissions to large numbers of Black and LatinX students. By the mid 1970's, according to Bowen and Shapiro in their book "The Game of Life, "race based admission had twice the potency of admission preferences for children of alumni However, the Bakke case would soon change that dynamic. Not only did the the opinion written by Lewis Powell, which still has the force of law in shaping how race can be used in admissions, ban universities from using numerical targets for admission based on race, it also banned universities form using racially preferential admissions to to integrate the professions or compensate historically disadvantaged groups for societal discrimination-- which were the two most important rationales used for race based admissions. The only legitimate criteria for using race in admissions was to create a diversity of views and experiences on campus, and it could only be used as a "plus factor" in an admissions system which evaluated all students together Over time, this limit on both the methods and rationale for race based admissions would have the effect of weakening University's efforts to recruit racially and economically disadvantaged populations. While the percentage of historically disadvantaged racial groups did not fall, it stopped rising and over time, the groups that benefited the most from the resulting changes in admissions practices were not economically marginalized whites or Asian-Americans, but children of the wealthy, and one of the ways they did this is through athletic admissions. Although Bowen and Shapiro have documented the academic and social consequences of giving athletic admissions unusual weight in the nation’s most prestigious schools, no one has satisfactorily explained the most disturbing part of this story—namely how elite universities and the very wealthy, whether intentionally or not, transformed athletic admissions into a vehicle to undermine much of the progress made in democratizing their student populations. Giving athletic admissions preferences, much of it extended to men and women's sports like crew, lacrosse, and tennis, which were concentrated in affluent neighborhoods, occurred slowly and incrementally at a time when Black Protest on and off campus was declining and the concentration of wealth at the top layers of US society was accelerating. By the late 1990’s, although the general public had no knowledge of this, athletic admission had far overtaken race based admission as the most potent preference at the nation’s top college I encountered this relatively obscure practice, which has now become widely publicized as a result of the Varsity Blues scandall, through the experience of my daughter, a nationally ranked tennis player, who was told by Harvard, in writing, in 1994 that 1100 was her target SAT score for admission! This was on top of an experience where every Ivy League school called the house once a week and offered her paid visits. This was then paralleled through the experience of my son, a left handed pitcher who threw 85 miles an hour, who was told by Princeton that 1200 was the score he needed to get into that school Both ended up going to Yale, where they had four year varsity careers as athletes. Upon graduation, both went into finance, an outcome that was hardly accidental since being an Ivy League athlete may be the single most prized attribute for a career in investment banking. Two years ago, to give a more example, 9 graduating Princeton lacrosse players took entry level jobs at JP Morgan What makes all of this even more astonishing in the number of people involved and the demographics of the group. At every Ivy League school, 20 percent of the student population consists of recruited athletes a cohort in which the percentage of whites is far higher and the percentage of Asians far lower than in the student population as a whole Given this development, I find it appalling that the law firm who mounted this suit, tried to link the legitimate question of whether Asians are discriminated against in admission, to an effort to eliminate race based affirmative action, which they hope the US Supreme Court will ultimately rule against. If you are looking for unfairness in elite school admissions, your main focus should be the wide variety of admissions preferences for wealthy whites, who lock up far more places at elite universities. Not since the early 1950’s have our elite universities been less democratic. Undermining race based affirmative action would only accelerate that process, as it was the Bakke decision limiting redistributive elements in race based admissions that set in motion the gradual transformation of our elite universities into places which reinforce the intergenerational transfer of wealth and cement plutocratic rule.
This morning, as I read short portraits of the four young people who died in the Oxford High School mass shooting, each of them a leader in their school and community, I thought of not only of the devastating impact of their murder on their family and friends, but of all we as a society were losing by not having them grow into adulthood. Mass murders like this not only create an atmosphere of terror in our schools, they deprive the nation of leaders we need to take us to a brighter future. Some would say the answer to this tragedy is better mental health services in our schools, and of course I agree with them But the major factor making events like this predictable, perhaps even inevitable, is the widespread availability of automatic weapons to people of all ages, in all walks of life, including those with serious mental health issues The young person who killed his classmates at Oxford High School was deeply troubled- he and his parents had been called into a disciplinary meeting at the school hours before his shooting rampage. And some will say that the school didn't do enough to identify and treat his mental health issues or address the rage inside him But as I wrote regarding the young man who murdered his classmates at Sherman Douglas High School in Florida- there are some young people even the best teachers and counselors can't reach, even with the best training and the best intentions Young people with that level of rage, unreachable by teachers and counselors, will wreak havoc wherever they are, but if you put automatic weapons in their hands, they can morph into mass murderers So long as we continue to defend possession of automatic weapons as a key marker of personal freedom, making it easy for teenagers to to acquire them, we are going to have more and more incidents of school terror and mass murder such as took place in Oxford Michigan on Monday That, my friends, is not only a national tragedy, it is a national disgrace
Our family entertainment on Christmas Eve is going to be watching West Side Story. I am looking forward to this with great anticipation I have read the critiques of the original production and the most recent version in terms of portrayal of Puerto Ricans and am not about to contest those viewpoints. But I have a profound emotional attachment to the songs in West Side Story that go back to my childhood and I am looking forward to revisiting them 60 years later Because what touched me about West Side Story, then, and probably will still touch me now, was the idea that love was possible amidst violence and conflict. At the dawn of my teenage years, songs like "There's a Place for Us" and "One Hand One Heart" allowed me to dream that the tense atmosphere in my family, and the fights that I faced almost every day in school and in my neighborhood, would fade into the background and I could find love and peace in a world where both of those seemed to be in short supply The soundtrack to West Side Story was something I cherished privately, along with songs by the Everly Brothers and the Drifters, because it gave me hope that I could someday escape the Crown Heights of my youth, where bullying and conflict was literally around every corner It also affirmed the possibility that people growing up in the grittiest and toughest New York neighborhoods were not doomed by the prejudices that surrounded them and could find beauty where others only saw pain These are my memories of this legendary musical. Let's see if the new version has the same emotional impact as the old one did
When Donald Trump ascended to the Presidency, I argued that the greatest danger he posed was not in the policy positions he took, but in his propensity to incite his followers to attack neighbors, co workers, and people in government they viewed as enemies, whether because of their racial/ethnic/gender identities, or their political views Nothing I saw during the four years of his Presidency suggested I was wrong. During his first two years in office, we saw a huge uptick in hate crimes against Latinos, Asian Americans, Blacks, Jews and Muslims, in every part of the country, symbolized by the violent "Unite the Right" gathering in Charlottesville Virginia. However, after Democrats took back the House and the Senate in the 2018 elections, the focus of this communal violence began to shift to elected officials. Violent attacks on state legislatures, such as the one that took place in Michigan in April 2020, began to create a toxic atmosphere surrounding state and local governments, with death threats over policy disagreements becoming the norm in all too many communities Then after Trump lost the Presidential election, threats of violence shifted to the national stage, as Trump sought to use every means at his disposal, from invalidation of election results by his own Justice Department, to armed insurrection within law enforcement and the military, to keep him in power. When those measures failed, Trump organized a mass protest, which turned into a violent occupation of the US Capital, to try to force the Vice President to refuse to certify the Biden Victory. Given how Trump's most extreme followers conducted themselves during the four years of his Presidency, no one should have been surprised that the January 6 event turned ugly and violent, with scores of police officers injured, some killed, and members of Congress having to flee or hide for their safety Donald Trump's demagoguery and incitement of violence were visible during his Presidential campaign, and during the entire four years of his Presidency That Presidency ended with one of the ugliest and most frightening events in the entire history of the United States. January 6 showed us who Donald Trump really is. Let us hope it doesn't show where we as a nation are heading.
In trying to make sense of the depth of the rage on the American Right, and its growing disillusionment with democratic institutions, it is easy to look to Fox News, conservative talk show hosts and social media figures as major instigators, but I am increasingly convinced that something most people are exposed to every day- television advertising- also plays a role As someone who regularly watches sports on television, one of the things that strikes me, on a daily basis, is how prominent interracial couples, and multi-racial families are in TV ads, especially those for automobiles, vacation rentals, insurance and other "big ticket" items. While as someone who is part of a multi-racial family, I find this gratifying and reassuring, I can only imagine how jarring this must feel to people who grew up thinking being white was the gold standard of American identity, and that "marrying white" was necessary to preserving their social status, already threatened by changes in the US and global economy If you grew up thinking that way, only socialize with people who think that way, and live in communities where multiracial families are rare, these ads could very well make you feel that the country has been taken over by people who despise everything you have grown up believing. When you couple the impact of those ads- which show a shrewd appreciation by major corporations of the multiracial, and global, audience they are targeting with their ads- with fast food advertisements where the majority of actors are people of color, along with the actual sports events being televised, where whites are a minority, and a shrinking one at that, you can get a sense of how what used to be a form of escape, for many white people, is now something that makes them feel angry and vulnerable If there is an expression that best describes their state of mind, it is this " When you grow up in a privileged position, equality seems like a demotion" If you've grown up thinking that being white, dating white, socializing white, and marrying white were not only the norm, but a precondition for keeping the country strong and secure, then watching TV ads, especially during sports events, might well have you thinking that the country has been taken over by alien forces. If you think I am wrong, imagine yourself as a fly on the wall in a bar in Breezy Point, an American Legion Hall in rural Ohio, or in living rooms in small towns across the US, when an NFL game comes on and you see an interracial couple, or a gay couple, in a TV ad The changes taking place in the country's race and gender patterns have far outpaced the ability of many people to embrace or accept them, even though they have liberated many others from age old patterns of subordination and exclusion. Unfortunately, what we have is a prescription for a culture war that is on the verge of evolving into a civil war
R.I.P Ronnie Spector, lead singer of the Ronettes, a romantic figure for a generation of young people who had begun to challenge racial boundaries, but who still believed in love and marriage, at least until the Vietnam War and the Counter Culture started to shatter traditional gender roles Ronnie Spector, from a bi-racial family in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, projected a unique combination of innocence and sexiness that broke the hearts of millions of men, and quite a few women, of different racial and cultural backgrounds. She also had an amazing voice and inserted a rhythmic chant in the middle of her vocals " Wo Ho Oh Oh, " that was so distinctive that everyone my age who listened to her, which basically means everyone my age, still remembers Her voice and stage persona was so unique and powerful that she had great career as a solo artist after she left the Ronettes, and her brilliant but abusive husband, Phil Spector. She also did some amazing duets with other artists, including my favorite "Take Me Home Tonight" which she did with Eddie Money I can't think of my life in the early and mid 60's, especially all the times I fell in love, whether it was reciprocated or not, without thinking of songs like "I Can Hear Music" "Baby I Love You" and "Walking in the Rain." The Ronettes' harmonies, coupled with her lead vocals gave me hope of a future of love, joy and harmony, that all the cruelties and injustices of subsequent years couldn't erase. Ronnie Spector embodies the spirit of Sixties Optimism, a spirit we still need to draw upon to take on the challenges of today. She may be gone, but she is not forgotten, at least by me, because her music lives inside my head, and will be with me until it is my turn to leave.
Two weeks ago, I was privileged to be part of an oral history interview with Jose Francisco Avila, a writer and activist who has helped organize a global movement highlighting the history and culture of the Garifuna people, a group of mixed African and indigenous ancestry exiled from Caribbean Islands to coastal Honduras, Guatemala and Belize several centuries ago who now have a sizable presence in several US cities. One of the issues Mr Avila raised was the discrimination that Garifuna people faced in central American countries who prided themselves on their mixed race population. "Mestizaje," the dominant ideology of these societies, Mr Avila insisted, was infused with "anti-blackness" and until this anti blackness was openly confronted, Garifuna people, would remain second class citizens in Central American societies and vulnerable to discrimination and displacement. When Mr. Avila made this powerful statement, I immediately started thinking about several current trends in US society, especially the attempt to build a border wall to halt Latin American and Caribbean immigration and the effort to purge school curricula of materials exploring systematic racism in US History. Both of these movements were driven by an effort to preserve white/European dominance in a society becoming more racially mixed. Combined with what Mr Avila described, they showed the global character of movements to which promote ethnic cleansing and a striving for group dominance defined along ethnic and racial lines Then, only a week ago, when Whoopi Goldberg got in trouble for arguing that the Holocaust was not "racial" because both the executioners and victims were "white," another bell went off in my head, made louder by communications from my friend educator/activist Jeff Canady. Canady pointed to articles from the European press showing how anti-vaccine protesters in Europe were blaming vaccine and mask mandates on Jewish scientists and financiers ( led by the omnipresent George Soros!), using racialized images of Jews straight out of the Nazi playbook. The point here is that ALL ideologies and political movements which base their policies on purifying populations on the basis of race or nationality, and demonizing, discriminating against, and murdering other populations based on those same criteria, are rooted in the same flawed concepts of human identity, and are profoundly dangerous. In the long run, those who tolerate and endorse anti-blacknessthose who tolerate and endorse anti-Semitism, those who promote forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples, and whose who promote division of nation states along ethnic and racial lines, are creating a world which pits neighbor against neighbor, divides families and communities and puts us all at risk It is time for us to take a stand against all political ideologies rooted in Eugenics. These world views are as much a danger to our safety as Climate Change and the Pandemic
For many years, I have been telling anyone willing to listen that the worst thing that ever happened to the young people of the Bronx, and New York City, was the closing of the night centers that were fixtures in New York City Public Schools until they were shut down during the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970's. I grew up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood going to those centers, which were open 7-9 PM 5 nights a week, and person after person I interviewed for the Bronx African American History Project, which I founded 20 years ago, mentioned their profound impact on their lives and futures No one I interviewed spoke more eloquently about this subject than Howie Evans, a legendary coach, educator and former sports editor of the Amsterdam News, whose described how a night center director named Vincent Tibbs saved his life during a gang conflict in the mid 1950's. This short article I wrote in 2013 describes his experience. (https://www.facebook.com/rethinkingschools/posts/553778244634271). I find it devastating that young people growing up today in the Bronx have fewer opportunities to find relief from challenging street and family situations, and find mentors to guide and support them, than Mr Evans and I had more than 60 years ago. Well yesterday, I had an opportunity to spend time with five individuals from a remarkable organization called TBS New Directions who not only knew exactly what I was talking about, but had a plan to adapt my plan to special challenges facing Bronx Youth Today. These remarkable men, former members of a legendary gang called the Black Spades, work tirelessly to try to reach young people in the Bronx caught up in devastating cycles of violence, and they see opening gymnasiums in local schools and churches as a key element in making Bronx communities safer for all their members But in our conversations on this subject, they emphasized over and over again that opening gyms and community centers were not enough. Communities needed to make sure that young people felt safe going to and from such facilities, especially if they were located on a different block or in a different housing project, than the one they lived in. Why? Because according to members of TBS New Directions, who have an intimate knowledge of gang life because they lived it themselves, the Bronx today is minutely divided between different gangs and crews that make it unsafe for young people, from early adolescence on, to leave their apartment houses, their blocks, even the schools they attend, if it means walking through areas controlled by a different group. What TBS New Directions suggests is that when gyms and centers are re-opened, communities hire auxiliary police, or security guards, to stand on street corners and other locations during the hours the centers are open, so young people feel safe to attend them. Otherwise, they warn, the centers and gyms will be empty even if they offer programs and mentorship young people need, and actually crave When listening to these individuals talk, especially Marion "Tiny" Frampton, leader of TBS New Directions, I felt that for the first time, there was an actual organization, working with Bronx youth today, that was determined to implement changes that people like Howie Evans had been calling for years, and to adapt them to current conditions. Not only were they in regular conversations with young people in the Bronx, both those involved in gangs and crews and those who weren't, they were working closely with educators and religious leaders like Sheikh Musa Drammeh who were trying to bring some measure of safety and security to residents of hard pressed Bronx communities. I urge everyone who loves the Bronx, and everyone who believes in the potential of young people in New York City to support TBS New Directions in their efforts, financially, politically, and, if possible, to their outreach to young people in schools and streets If we want to have safe communities for essential workers and their children, for senior citizens, for immigrants, for everyone who use public transportation and whose children attend public schools, we need to open all the gyms and community centers whose doors are currently shut and make sure young people can safely walk to them when they do open This is a matter of the highest priority for the future of our city. Please support TBS New Directions in any way you can to help them in this noble cause