Sunday, May 15, 2016

4000 Years of SistaPower Fighting Sexism In Ancient Egypt

Feminism and the Battle for Women’s Rights in Ancient Egypt 

       Ancient Egyptian women celebrating feasts and festivals that were accompanied by              music and dance. 

Natalia Klimczak

15 May, 2016 - It is often assumed that women in the ancient world held little power or influence. However, women in ancient Egypt could become highly influential physicians, political advisors, scribes, or even rulers. But like women in many cultures throughout history and today, they had to fight to acquire and hold onto their rights. 

The first female ruler known in ancient Egyptian history lived during the reign of the First Dynasty. Her name was Merneith; she was a consort and a regent around 2970 BC.
Tomb stela of Merneith from the Umm el-Qa'ab.

After thousands of years of equal rights, Ptolemy IV tried to stop the strong tradition of cults of women. He changed the law and canceled many rights that had made women equal to men. It was the beginning of the dark age characteristic for the upcoming dominating beliefs, which had their roots in Rome and Greece. However, Egyptian women didn't want to accept a patriarchal society. Until the power of the Egyptian civilization came to an end, they fought for their rights. Commonly, researchers accept that the end of Egyptian women’s independence arrived with the death of the great scientist Hypatia in 415 AD. Before that event took place, Ancient Egyptian women had thrived in society for more than three millennia.

Women who wrote the history

Seshat was a goddess of scribes in Ancient Egypt. Many of her priestesses were well educated writers who served nobles and rulers. Moreover, it seems that all of the noble women took writing lessons. The correspondence of women from Deir el-Medina suggests that women from other classes of Egyptian society could also write. The wives of drawers, painters, stone masons and other workers, used to exchange letters with their husbands. They were writing about the obstacles of daily life, about their feelings and all of the things which were important to them.

Seshat carved on the back of the throne of the seated statue of Rameses II in the Amun temple at Luxor.

It is unknown how many difficulties women had to pass to become a royal scribe like men. However, there is no proof that they had to do anything more than men, suggesting that the exams and opportunities were equal. The first known female scribe is dated back to the rulers of the 6th dynasty. Idut was mentioned in the Mastaba which belonged to the vizier Ihy, dated back to the 5th Dynasty. She was perhaps a daughter of the pharaoh Unas.

In the tomb TT390, located in the South El-Assasif necropolis, which is a part of the Theban Necropolis was buried a woman named Irtyrau. She was a chief attendant of the Divine Adoratice of Amun, and a great scribe of Nitocris I, a daughter of pharaoh Psamtik I. Nitocris was a Divine Adoratice of Amun between 655 until her death in 585 BC. Irtyrau belonged to a prominent family Thinite from Abydos. The tomb of Irtyrau was discovered by the team of Wilkinson, Hey and Burton in 1820, explored later by Lepsius.

Tomb TT390

Viziers of the Pharaoh

Some women in ancient Egypt could also be viziers (the highest officials to serve the Pharaoh). Only two of them are confirmed and known by name. The first one is known in historical texts as Nebet. She was a vizier during the reign of pharaoh Pepi I of the Sixth Dynasty, during the period known as the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Her husband was the nobleman Khui, who was also an important person in the court of the king, but his wife reached the highest possible position in the political system of the country. The daughters of Nebet and Khui, Ankhesenpepi I and Ankhesenpepi II, became wives of Pepi I. Ankhesenpepi I was a mother of a pharaoh Merenre Nemtyemsaf. Her sister bore a Pharaoh, Pepi II. Moreover, Ankhesenpepi II, after the death of her first husband, got married to Merenre Nemtyemsaf.

Statuette of Queen Ankhesenpepi II and her Son, Pepy II, ca. 2288-2224 or 2194 B.C.E. Egyptian alabaster, Brooklyn Museum.   

Nebet was known as a powerful woman of her times, some believe that she was a princess related to the royal family. Her name was connected with Geb, Toth, and Horus. It seems that her position influenced the image of the dynasty. As a vizier she controlled the building of the pyramid of Pepi, and other monuments ordered by him. He was one of the greatest kings of his times, and his right hand was a woman.

Also during the Ptolemaic period, during the reign of Ptolemy V, a woman became a vizier - Queen Cleopatra I Syra, mother of Cleopatra II, Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII. She was born in 204 BC as a daughter of King Antiochus III the Great and his wife Leodice. She was the first of the great Cleopatras of Egypt and perhaps the only queen of this country, who had become a vizier.

Queen Cleopatra I Syra. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The healers of Sekhmet

The medicine of ancient Egypt was very advanced and patronized by female goddess Sekhmet. The adepts of medicine from all of the ancient world were arriving near the Nile to study the secrets of the human body. Nonetheless, in Egypt, women were able to be a lot more than midwives. They were allowed to be physicians of the royal family and even perform surgeries.
The first known female physician lived circa 2700s BC, during the reign of the 2nd and 3rd dynasties. Her name was Merit Ptah, and she is known from the necropolis around the step pyramid of Saqqara created by another great vizier, physician and scientist – Imhotep. The inscription says that her son was a High Priest and a Chief Physician. It seems that his mother was also his teacher.

Soon after, another woman became the most influential physician of the royal court near the Nile. Her name was Peseshet and she lived during the reign of the 4th and 5th dynasties. She was known as the main doctor of the Kingdom. She is known from the mastaba of her son in Giza, where her personal false door was found. She graduated at medical school in Sais, the center of the medical sciences in the third millennium BC. She knew all the medical documents created in the past, she knew how to create medications, complete difficult surgeries and is recorded as having healed cancer of the womb using a mixture of fresh dactyls, bay leaves, and essence of the seashells.

(Left) Peseshet, ( Rebel women embroidery ) (Right) Merit Ptah ( Rebel women embroidery )

The forgotten power of female minds 

Women in ancient Egypt worked in many jobs traditionally dedicated to them, but they were powerful enough to be independent, have their own workshops producing textiles, jewelry and other goods, and even take an important role in political life, become physicians or scribes. Although, they were underestimated by many historians for centuries, their strong position in the powerful civilization of ancient Egypt could be an inspiration for modern women in many parts of the world.


Carolyn Graves-Brown, Dancing for Hathor: Women in Ancient Egypt, 2010.
Christian Jacq, Les Egyptiennes, 1996.
- See more at:

Carolyn Graves-Brown, Dancing for Hathor: Women in Ancient Egypt, 2010.

Christian Jacq, Les Egyptiennes, 1996. and Queens/Viziers.html#26th_Dynasty



Sarah Griffiths for MailOnline
13 May 2016-

As a woman living in Egypt’s golden age, Hatshepsut was not destined for kingship.

She was prohibited by her gender from ascending the throne even though she was of royal lineage.

Egypt’s gods had supposedly decreed that the king’s role could never be fulfilled by a woman and although a pharaoh needed a queen to reign with him, she could never rule alone – although later there were notable exceptions.

Hatshepsut refused to submit to this and, to get round the rule, claimed she was married to the king of the gods and therefore had as much right to sit on the throne as any previous pharaoh.
Hatshepsut had herself crowned (illustrated) in around 1,473BC, changing her name from the female version Hatshepsut - which means Foremost of the Noble Ladies - to the male version, Hatshepsu
Hatshepsut had herself crowned (illustrated) in around 1,473BC, changing her name from the female version Hatshepsut – which means Foremost of the Noble Ladies – to the male version, Hatshepsu. Note that this depiction Europeanizes the African reality of Egypt nearly 1500 years before the birth of Christ!

Her brazen approach worked and she had herself crowned in around 1,473BC, changing her name from the female version Hatshepsut – which means Foremost of the Noble Ladies – to the male version, Hatshepsu.

She reinforced her power by decorating the temples of the gods with portraits of herself in the pharaoh’s traditional kilt, wearing all his symbols of office including the black pointed royal beard.

While conducting affairs of state surrounded by male courtiers, she may even have worn men’s clothes.

However, previously-found statues show that early in her reign she liked tight-fitting gowns which showed off her figure and is said to have had a habit of bedding her cabinet ministers.
Hatshepsut was the first but not the only woman ruler of male dominated ancient Egypt.

Nefertiti followed her and then Cleopatra took power 1,500 years later, but neither took the title pharaoh like Hatshepsut.

She showed ruthless ambition and exceptional tenacity for the times in which she lived.
Hatshepsut was the first but not the only woman ruler of male dominated ancient Egypt. Hatshepsut was the first but not the only woman ruler of male dominated ancient Egypt.
Hatshepsut was the first but not the only woman ruler of male dominated ancient Egypt. Nefertiti (bust pictured left) followed her and then Cleopatra (relief shown right) took power 1,500 years later, but neither took the title pharaoh like Hatshepsut.

As a result this mysterious and courageous female ruler rewrote the early story of her country and has been called the first great woman in history.

Hatshepsut insisted she had been made official heir to the throne by her father, the pharaoh Thutmosis I.

The pharaoh had several sons who predeceased him and turned to his daughter to safeguard the throne.

What immediately followed was not unusual. Hatshepsut married a much younger half-brother, also called Thutmosis, whereupon she became queen.

Marriages between siblings were the custom in those days and at first the couple reigned together.

But then her brother/husband died, with the markings on his mummy suggesting he suffered from a hideous skin disease.

Hatshepsut became regent for another Thutmosis, her husband’s son by a harem girl. By now she was not content simply to be regent.

Within two years she had taken all the power for herself and was running the country from its capital Thebes, donned in her false beard and all the traditional regalia of kingship.

For many years she and her stepson seemed to have lived happily with this arrangement.

She ruled while Thutmosis concentrated on his military career. So successful was he that historians know him as the Napoleon of Egypt.

Historians suspect these campaigns were an excuse to escape from the influence of his merciless step-mother.
She ruled while Thutmosis (shown in a relief wearing an Atef crown) concentrated on his military career. So successful was he that historians know him as the Napoleon of Egypt
She ruled while Thutmosis (shown in a relief wearing an Atef crown) concentrated on his military career. So successful was he that historians know him as the Napoleon of Egypt
She was becoming so powercrazed in her last years that Thutmosis even feared for his life.

In his absence, Hatshepsut built breathtaking temples in her own honour. They were decorated with reliefs telling how she came to the throne of Egypt and with farfetched stories about her divine connections.

Hatshepsut ruled as a master politician and stateswoman for 20 years.

She died around the age of 50 of cancer, according to recent research and expected to be buried in her finest and best-known temple near the Valley of the Kings.

But it appears Thutmosis III got his own back on the woman who usurped his throne, burying her in a lesser location.

He outlived Hatshepsut by 40 years and seems to have set out on a campaign to erase her name from history.

He threw her statues into the quarries in front of the grand temples she built and even defaced the images of her courtiers.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Lupita Nyong'o: Why I Chose a "Small Play" Over the Big Screen

Lupita Nyong'o on the power​ of being a part of Eclipsed​.
For the past two months, I have been performing in the play Eclipsed on Broadway. It's a powerhouse of a story about the lives of five extraordinary women trapped by a rebel commander during the Liberian civil war. I love doing it, but it's like running a marathon every night. During my last round of press for the play, a journalist asked me, "Why would such a big star choose to do such a small play?"Why would such a big star choose to do such a small play? This question felt quite silly. I mean, I'm an actress; why wouldn't I want to be in an incredible, gorgeous, meaty piece about the complicated choices of women during wartime? But then it went deeper than that. To me it felt like a question about our value system in this culture, the ways we define success for ourselves as well as others.

Perhaps the reporter was placing a larger value on "Hollywood" roles? I turned down a few projects to pursue this one. I knew there was a sense of what was expected of me, but this play felt so important to me that I had to do it, expectations be damned.

I knew there was a sense of what was expected of me, but this play felt so important to me that I had to do it, expectations be damned.

I think as women, as women of color, as black women, too often we hear about what we "need to do." How we need to behave, what we need to wear, what's deemed as too much or not enough, the cultural politics of what society considers appropriate for us and for our lives. What I am learning is that the most important questions you can ask yourself are "What do I want?" and "Who do I want to become?"

As an actress, feeling connected to a fully realized, complex character is what I look for first. The size of the role, and the budget, and the perceived "buzz" around the project are much less important to me. As an African woman, I am wary of the trap of telling a single story. I decided early on that if I don't feel connected to, excited by, and challenged by the character, the part probably isn't for me. If I'm ever in doubt, I envision the career choices of artists I admire, like Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, and Viola Davis. They are all fearless actresses who approach every role without ego or vanity. They have a fierce commitment to the moment and the role, whether it's the lead or a character we see for just one scene. They give it their all, and it shows. The thought of having a career that in any small way might resemble theirs excites me.
The chance to appear in Eclipsed after winning an Oscar was an opportunity to share in the incredible (and too rare) freedom of playing a fully rendered African woman. The playwright, Danai Gurira, has conceived a drama where the only people onstage are women. This allows the audience to be fully immersed in their lives, although the presence of the men around them is deeply felt. So often women of color are relegated to playing simple tropes: the sidekick, the best friend, the noble savage, or the clown. We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn't have her own journey or emotional landscape.

We are confined to being a simple and symbolic peripheral character — one who doesn't have her own journey or emotional landscape.

For me, there is a difference between a trope and an archetype. A trope is a writer's device that often plays into stereotypes and presumed expectations, refusing to embody originality of any thought. An archetype is a fundamental human motif that exists in universal myth. I don't mind inhabiting an archetype if it has been given life and interiority. I love the idea of people of color participating in mythical, magical stories, whether that's as a hero, villain, sage, or sorceress. Or all of the above! I think sometimes a singular catharsis can be found in genre storytelling — as I found when playing a thousand-year-old woman (Maz Kanata in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and a wolf mother (Raksha in The Jungle Book). I'm able to be more engaged in roles such as those than I would be in playing "the wife" when she is written with no motivation or singularity. Even more important than the genre are the intention of the author, what story is being told, and the power of the emotional journey of the characters. In Eclipsed, Danai has blessed us with five such journeys. None of these women are tropes. They are battling real demons, living with difficult decisions in an all-too-real world stricken with the trauma of war. It's an incredible gift to play one of them, and it's liberating to share this view into women's experiences with a Broadway audience.

Of course, I am not opposed to playing lead roles. I don't want to be overly cautious; I want to take risks, to try my hand at stories that thrill and terrify me. Partly because of the conversation the industry has been having about women and racial and cultural representation, I have recently decided to participate more fully in the development of roles I choose in the future. There are some projects coming up for me that I can't wait to talk about. But at the moment I am onstage, night after night, with four incredible actresses, telling a powerful story about women who are rarely given a complex rendering. I look at this play — it's the first play on Broadway to feature an all-woman cast, playwright, and director, and the fact that we are all women of African descent makes it even more incredible — and I feel profound gratitude to be a part of it.
I am proud of my decision to take the time to sit with myself and not get caught up in what others want for me. I look at the beautiful faces of my co-stars: Pascale Armand, Zainab Jah, Saycon Sengbloh, and Akosua Busia, and I see the light and love of my current artistic family, a sisterhood of African women who go onstage nightly and pour everything we have into this story. I look out at the diverse audiences who come to full houses and experience our performances, and feel proud of being a part of sharing this important story with the world. I see a work of incredible power that is transforming lives by daring to offer women of color fully rendered narratives, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.
I look at this play and see nothing about it that is "small."

Lupita Nyong'o is an Academy Award–winning actress.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Kerry James Marshall: Bringing Black Faces to Classic Art

This Modern Master Spent His Life Bringing Black Faces to Classic Art

Where are all the black people? Kerry James Marshall says the question launched his acclaimed body of work, featured this spring at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Kerry James Marshall is looking for a book—an artifact, really. It’s buried somewhere in a back corner of his studio, a slim, two-level brick building on a corner in Bronzeville. He shoves aside some boxes. Behind them, three bookcases are filled with sets of encyclopedias that Marshall has collected. The library is an apt introduction to a painter who, at 60, has spent his career meticulously studying the canon of Western art with one question in mind: Where are all the black people?
After a few minutes, Marshall spots the book, its spine held together with duct tape: Great Negroes: Past and Present. Marshall was in fifth grade when he first encountered it. He had a preexisting passion for art—it started with his third-grade teacher, who taught him to paint flowers—but his imagination was captured by one of the book’s subjects: Charles White, a Chicago-born artist whose social realist drawings and murals depicted the everyday lives of African Americans. Marshall did a project on White, a Works Progress Administration artist, for his school’s Negro History Week. It wasn’t until two years later that Marshall realized White was still alive and teaching at an art school in Los Angeles, where Marshall lived at the time. So, in seventh grade, he made a decision: He would study under White at the Otis College of Art and Design.
Now, four decades into his career, Marshall has long since joined Charles White—who died in 1979—in the ranks of important African American artists. A MacArthur “genius,” he is widely recognized as one of the country’s preeminent contemporary painters. He has shown pieces all over the globe, including at the Whitney Biennial and Documenta, and in 2013 the National Gallery of Art hosted an exhibit of Marshall’s work to showcase its acquisition of his Great America, a tart, haunting rendering of the transatlantic slave trade as a ghastly carnival ride.
And now Marshall is the subject of a new retrospective, Mastry, which will open in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art on April 23. “The best, pound for pound,” says Helen Molesworth, the chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and cocurator of Mastry.“He’s one of the most important artists of his generation.”
For Marshall, the best measure of that success is whether his work has affected others. “What’s the point of making artwork—of making anything—if it doesn’t in some way become influential or meaningful to the progress of somebody else?” he says.
Marshall, who has lived on the South Side since following his wife, the actress, writer, and director Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Head of Passes), to Chicago in 1987, was always drawn to the canvas. His interest began in 1963 when his parents—his father worked as a dishwasher at a VA hospital; his mother was a homemaker—moved him and his two siblings from Birmingham, Alabama, to Nickerson Gardens, a public housing project in the Watts area of Los Angeles. It was there that Marshall began to sketch obsessively. He didn’t create much original work but absorbed every technique he could from the Jon Gnagy TV show Learn to Draw. He went to the library and studied every art book he could find.
In high school, Marshall sneaked into Otis and sat at the back of Charles White’s evening art class, hoping to remain unnoticed. “I didn’t have any business being in there in the first place, and then there was a naked person in there, so that was even more of a factor, you know,” Marshall recalls, laughing. White noticed the youngster and approached him, saying, “You can’t see nothing from back here.” He moved Marshall to the front and taught him how to draw a head in profile. He could come back anytime, White said. The memory makes Marshall grin. He has a broad, generous smile, and he punctuates most sentences with it.
Marshall knew he wanted to be an artist, but he didn’t know what kind. After graduating from Otis—he did end up studying, formally, under White—he tried some social realist stuff. He tried collage. He tried abstraction. But none of it fit. “I hadn’t quite figured out what my interest in making art was supposed to be,” he says. “Except I really wanted to do it.”
So, at 25, he decided to return to the basics and paint a self-portrait—a classic portrait, almost. Its title alluded to a great literary work: Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self. Marshall used egg tempera, a 13th-century favorite. He adopted compositional techniques associated with artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael. But, of course, his subject was black. So black that the shade of his skin is deeper than the portrait’s black background, which he fades into, as if invisible. Compared with conventional European portraiture, it’s like a photo negative. “This is where I first started to figure out you can use all that information, all that knowledge, you can use that technique, you can use this medium, but it doesn’t have to look like any of the things that you say it’s intellectually based on.”
And so Marshall settled on creating a body of work inspired by and in dialogue with the classics—his early barbershop portrait De Style, for example, its name a sly play on the Dutch abstract art movement de Stijl—while remaining resolutely its own thing. He found success with a simple insistence on placing black people, and black history, at the center of his raucous, colorful paintings, and that has opened a space for younger artists.
One Marshall disciple, Kehinde Wiley, the star 39-year-old New York artist whose huge canvases show black people in the heroic postures favored by the old masters, has said that when, as a child, he walked into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and saw a Kerry James Marshall painting, its black subjects highlighted nothing so much as their absence elsewhere in the museum.
In a certain sense, young Kehinde Wileys have always been Marshall’s target audience. “If I have anything to do with it, you’ll always be able to encounter a picture that has a black person in it that’s also made by a black person,” says Marshall.
But his work does more than simply represent black people in art; many of his pieces also express something humorous, or ambivalent, or ironic, which the painter credits to a moment when he was 9 years old. He and his brother watched as the Watts riots—which erupted in 1965 out of the black community’s growing frustrations with its plight—lit up Los Angeles. Marshall spent most of the night looking out the window of a neighbor’s second-floor apartment. Across the street, he saw a Jack in the Box, the restaurant all burned up except for its ludicrous clown head out front. “Everything was pitch-black behind, because the lights were out, but there was a wall of flames, and the jack-in-the-box was on the top of that pole, just slowly going around,” recalls Marshall. “It was surreal.”
The rioters had made a potent political statement; they’d also, in the process, burned down their neighborhood. “That clown really started to make things come into focus. It said: ‘You think this is funny now? Wait till you wake up tomorrow morning. You’ll see how funny it is. You can’t even go to the store.’ ”
Marshall’s paintings are about the inescapableness of history—an appraisal from the morning after. They’re often dark or grim, but they’re never hopeless. What he wants is to show black people in every kind of circumstance, he says, to create a “whole-person picture of the black figure” through his body of work: “They can be political at times. They can be mundane at times. They can be heroic at times. They’re all of those things.”
About two hours have gone by, and Marshall suddenly remembers something he meant to say about the book that set him on his path. When he was named a MacArthur fellow in 1997, he used the grant money to buy his first studio. Like his current one, it was in Bronzeville; it was on Indiana Avenue and had formerly housed a roofing company. As Marshall was clearing out some of the junk, he opened a desk drawer, and there it was: Great Negroes: Past and Present. Just sitting there, left behind by a previous tenant. He hadn’t seen a copy since fifth grade. “So of course I keep this,” he says, holding the book in his hands. “I could never get rid of this.”

Five of Marshall’s Standout Works

‘Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self’ by Kerry James Marshall

Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self 1980

Photo: Matthew Fried, © MCA Chicago
Marshall painted this, his first major work, at 25, just a few years after graduating from art school. The title is a nod to a book by James Joyce, and the image itself to Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, who was a huge influence. The piece launched a series that Marshall created in the 1980s of similarly mordant black-on-black paintings, one of which was actually titled Invisible Man. For all the punch it packs, Portrait measures just six and a half by eight inches—one of Marshall’s smallest works on paper.
‘Beauty Examined’ by Kerry James Marshall

Beauty Examined 1993

Photo: Matthew Fried, Courtesy of Charles and Nancy Adams-Sims, © MCA Chicago
One of the first paintings Marshall created in response to a historical work, this piece recalls Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. But Marshall puts a black female body under the knife in place of the white male cadaver. It’s a critique of white beauty standards—a frequent refrain in his work.

‘Many Mansions’ by Kerry James Marshall

Many Mansions 1994

Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago, Max V. Kohnstamm Fund, © The Art Institute of Chicago
In 1963, when a 7-year-old Marshall moved with his family into Los Angeles’s Nickerson Gardens, his initial impression was that the housing project was “paradisical.” After all, there was a yard, a gymnasium, and a library from which he could borrow toys. Only later was the neighborhood beset by neglect and violence. In the 1990s, Marshall created a series of paintings depicting public housing projects—including Nickerson Gardens and Chicago’s Stateway Gardens and Altgeld Gardens. In an ironic flourish, he called the series The Garden Project. Despite their sunny names, the locales were at this point “notorious for everything but being garden spots,” he says. Still, for years after the Chicago high-rises were torn down on the South Side, Marshall noticed former residents gathering on the vacant lots for barbecues during the summer. “For all the hardship, there was pleasure to be had,” he recalls of growing up in the projects. “There was community to be had.”

‘Vignette’ by Kerry James Marshall

Vignette 2003

Photo: Defares Collection, Image courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, London
Marshall says that this Edenic painting, first displayed at his 2003 show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, poses a question: “How do you recover something like that [Eden] when you, after generations, have been conditioned by a history of deprivation?” In earlier works, Marshall favored painting subjects with an absolute blackness, but here the figures have more nuanced tones. Vignette was his first painting to fetch more than $1 million. It went to a private collector.

‘School of Beauty, School of Culture’ by Kerry James Marshall

School of Beauty, School of Culture 2012

Photo: Sean Pathasema, Collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art. Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth (Bibby) Smith, the Collectors Circle for Contemporary Art, Jane Comer, the Sankofa Society, and general acquisition funds
Inspired by Your School of Beauty Culture, a cosmetology school a block from Marshall’s Bronzeville studio, this piece reflects, he says, a space where “[black] women go to make themselves into their own ideal of beauty.” Contrasting white-centric notions are represented by the distorted Sleeping Beauty head, which mimics the tilted skull in the 16th-century painting The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger.

Friday, March 11, 2016

South Asian Indians' Owe a Lot to Black America

Indians' Debt to Black America

  • Neil Padukone Author, Council of Urban Professionals Fellow, Musician  
Last year, I had the great honor of attending India Abroad's Person of the Year awards, a celebration of some of the most accomplished members of the Indian diaspora in the US.

The evening was incredible. I met a 14-year old that had invented a braille printer. I met a lawyer who was cleaning up generations of corruption in New York's state capital. I met the owner of a professional basketball team, the country's Surgeon General, who was using his White House appointment to fight against our country's epidemic of gun violence. I even met the very first Desi Miss America.

This was just a small cross-section of the talent that makes up the Indian-American community. We can count some of America's most innovative and successful people as members of our diaspora---doctors, authors, lawyers, musicians, and of course, the backbone of Silicon Valley. In 2010, the Pew Forum found that average household income for Indian Americans was $88,000 a year---almost double the US average. 70% of adult Indian Americans had college degrees, higher than any other Asian-American groups and 2.5 time the US average. This success has even transformed India itself, as Indian Americans have invested money, championed minority rights that had long gone ignored, and shaped new ideas about what's possible in India.
Within America, these shining examples of economic and social success have given Indians a reputation of being a "model minority." We came to America with little, the story goes, abided by the laws of the land, and pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps into positions of success. By emphasizing education and economic achievement, we've turned the American dream into an Indian-American reality.

But flattering as it may be, it's a reputation that glosses over our tremendous diversity, stereotyping us as monolithic. (Plus it sweeps under the rug the 300,000 of us that live in poverty, the 22% of us that speak limited English, and the struggles that come with being the fastest-growing group of undocumented migrants in the country).

At its worst, though, it's a reputation that's given us contempt for other groups in the US that haven't "mastered the system" in the same way. It's a contempt that's most often directed at Black Americans, who are derided as irresponsible, violent, scary, and worse. They're stereotypes that are sadly pervasive throughout the US, but we've internalized them with the Hindi slur "kallu" that too easily finds itself on the lips of many South Asians. As the comedian Russell Peters pointed out, "it's not like Black people colonized India for 200 years!"

In fact, it's the Black community to whom Indian-Americans, and India, owe a tremendous debt for our current stature. Let me unpack that.

Small as our numbers are, South Asians have a pretty long history in America. As far back as the 1800s, north Indian traders came bearing 'exotic articles from the orient,' selling silks, spices, and hookahs in New Orleans, Detroit, and even the old Southwest (think of Ali Hakim from the play Oklahoma!).

Not just lacking immigration papers, but having brown skin, these Indian migrants were shown the door at White-owned hotels and neighborhoods. And the racism and antipathy didn't stop there. The 1917 Immigration Act made Indians, as author Vivek Bald puts it, "equivalent in the eyes of the law to alcoholics, professional beggars, and the insane," and the Supreme Court ruled that "Indians who were already in the United States were racially ineligible to become citizens."

Fears of a "Hindoo Invasion" and a "Turban Tide" swept American newspapers, and as Erika Lee documents in The Making of Asian America, brown people from Washington State to Florida were denied citizenship (despite American military service, in the case of Bhagat Singh Thind), beaten by white mobs, forcibly removed from entire towns, imprisoned if they sought to marry Caucasian women, and worse.

But where they did gain acceptance were the Black majority enclaves of all of these cities. In his brilliantly revelatory book, Bengali Harlem, Bald describes communities in Tremé, New Orleans, the west side of Baltimore, and East Detroit where scores of Desi men married local African American women and settled down.

And through the 1900s, when British vessels docked in New York Harbor, dozens of Indian maritime workers jumped ship, interspersing in New York's crowded streets before settling in the "Black Mecca" of Harlem.
There, they married Black, African, and Caribbean New Yorkers, and set up New York City's first Indian restaurants right in Harlem. In those restaurants, Malcolm X debated Islam with South Asian Muslims, the trumpet virtuoso Miles Davis first heard the ragas that would revolutionize jazz music, and the international labor, Indian independence, and Black civil rights movements found solidarity. Stemming from interactions like these, the prominent Black activist W.E.B. Du Bois even pledged public support for Indian independence, strengthening the movement in the US.

Across the country, another group of South Asians made their way to the West Coast, working as farmers in California's upstart agricultural economy. Together, Punjabi and Mexican migrants picked fruits and vegetables for low wages and in poor working conditions. Years before Cesar Chavez, Punjabis like Dalip Singh Saund helped to organize workers of both ethnicities---many of whom were intermarried---to demand labor rights.

In solidarity with Mexican workers, Saund traversed the US, mobilizing undocumented Indian workers to become more politically active. He, along with Arizona farmer Mubarak Ali Khan, JJ Singh of New York's India League of America, and other Asian activists lobbied Congress to pass the Luce-Celler Act, which allowed 100 Indians to gain US citizenship every year.

This act wouldn't be enough to bring all South Asians out of the shadows, to end the racist immigration quotas that had restricted America's talent pool to Europeans, or to bring a new generation of South Asians to American shores.

What did push the envelope was the Black Civil Rights movement of the 1950 and 60s. Coming at the height of the Cold War in defense of democracy, the sight of Black activists being hosed, beaten, and tortured by their own government, just for trying to live their lives, made America rethink its own contradictions. How could Washington be the standard bear for freedom if it was beating down its own citizens because of their race?

As a result of this raised consciousness, Congress passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts that would remove explicit racism from the books. America's awareness of its own racial inconsistencies, awakened by the Black civil rights movement, soon extended beyond US borders. The Immigration Act of 1965 took down racial quotas and allowed a new generation of Asians to enter the US---including my own parents.
In effect, Black activists had endured hoses, beatings, and torture for our right to be legal as well.

The next phase of South Asian immigration was not from the same working class that had found refuge in Black communities and organized for change therefrom, but professionals who had received training in India and arrived in the US mostly ready to provide the engineering, medical, and other talent that American consumers needed. Even today, almost half of the H-1B visas given by the State Department go to Indian engineers, many of whom are already trained in the discipline before arriving in the US.

This leg up, in terms of educational legacies and social networks, within South Asia and the US, helped a generation of Desis attain the successes that would be honored at events like the Person of the Year awards. Compare this with many of the migrants from throughout the world, including India itself, that have come since---many escaping tyranny, only dreaming that their children could have in America the kind of education my parents left India with.

What about Black Americans? Didn't the Civil Rights movement end racism in the United States and put that community on equal footing?

A Black middle class of professionals has unquestionably established itself, which is why we've seen Black doctors, CEOs, Secretaries of State, preeminent astrophysicists, and even a President of the United States. But all of these people have had to be, as the saying goes, "twice as good to get half as far," precisely because Black Americans still face structural hurdles that other groups don't.

For example, since World War II, as European and Asian Baby boomers have built up their own wealth in the form of suburban home ownership---subsidized by Mortgage Interest Rate and other tax deductions---most Black Americans were not given any access to home ownership because of blatantly racist practices initially supported by the government: racially restrictive contracts, zoning laws, and neighborhoods "redlined" as too risky for lenders.

Left to languish in urban areas, too many children of the Civil Rights movement were unable to build wealth---notably the housing assets that other communities used to underwrite college loans---even as highway construction tore through their neighborhoods, hastening their decline.

Education might have paved a path out of poverty, but since it was funded by property tax, its quality mirrored the poor economic circumstances in which many Black people found themselves.

Compare this with our relative luck. Nancy Foner, a leading immigration scholar at Hunter College points out that "because they are not Black, Asian immigrants face less discrimination in finding a place to live...which translates into access to heavily white neighborhoods with good public schools."

Meanwhile, a 'War on Drugs' specifically targeted Blacks and Hispanics simply for the crime of being young---white and suburban youth consume drugs at a higher rate than Blacks, with little consequence, but more than 1 out of 3 Black men will find themselves in the clutches of the correctional system for the same offence. This has of course meant that many have been left far from the American dream, languishing on street corners and in prisons---just three out of every ten Blacks are able to make it to the middle class, compared to two-thirds of Whites. As President Obama once said, "what's remarkable is not how many Black men and women failed in the face of this discrimination, but how many overcame the odds."
Yet we're still seeing the effects of this violence in racial profiling cases throughout the country, through the deaths of horticulturist Eric Garner, teenaged aspiring astronaut Trayvon Martin, 12-year old Tamir Rice, and the countless others who live this daily reality. This violence is not just an ancillary issue that affects "those" people, and it definitely doesn't increase our safety.

This racial violence directly harms all of us. Just last year, an old Indian man was left partially paralyzed after Alabama police responded to a call about "a skinny black guy" walking around the neighborhood.

And though it's nowhere near the same scale, it's a similar strain of systemic violence and vitriol that brown people in America have felt since the War on Terror. As the Black writer Greg Tate said of South Asians after 9/11, "welcome to racial profiling." This strand of ignorant virulence targets many people of color, regardless of religion or economic "success": In 2012, a Hindu PhD student named Sunando Sen was fatally pushed into the subway tracks in New York by a woman who claimed she "hates Hindus and Muslims ever since...they put down the twin towers."

These realities tell us that even as the successes of Indian Americans are celebrated, our challenges remain---and they intersect with those of people we too often exclude. It's a strange paradox we live; as the pianist Vijay Iyer has said, "to succeed in America is, somehow, to be complicit with the idea of America--which means that at some level you've made peace with its rather ugly past...with all of its structural inequalities, its patterns of domination, and its ghastly histories of slavery and violence."

As the #BlackLivesMatter movement seeks to correct injustices that should have long been consigned to history, we need to recognize that true Black liberation in America will lead to liberation everywhere. Let's start by making sure our workplaces look like our country; by acknowledging the impacts of past and current discrimination; and by fully championing, without coopting as our own, the message that Black lives really ought to matter today, as always---only then would all lives truly matter.

Fundamentally, as members of our diaspora go on to lead the largest companies, invent the next path-breaking technologies, and even populate the nation's highest courts, let us, as Iyer put it, "choose to be that kind of American that refuses to accept what America has been, and instead help build a better America even for others, who might not immediately seem to 'belong' to us."

This piece was originally published in India Abroad Magazine

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Black Education Working Retreat Set for 8-9 April 2016

If you are an ACTIVIST Parent/student/educator struggling around the battle to save your local public school from closing/charterized/deemed a failed school... or if you are being locked out as a parent or being denied Black educators or a culturally relevant curriculum, then you should come to this working retreat to be held at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY! Please read the details below and then join us on this historic journey towards Education for Liberation!

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Powerful Post US Visit Statement from: UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent

Statement to the media by the United Nations' Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, on the conclusion of its official visit to USA, 19-29 January 2016
WASHINGTON D.C. (29 January 2016) - The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent thanks the Government of United States of America for its invitation to visit the country, from 19-29 January 2016, and for its cooperation. This visit is a follow up to the 2010 visit of the WGEPAD and includes other cities. We thank in particular the Department of State for arranging the visit and the local authorities who met with the Working Group during our visit to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Jackson-Mississippi, Chicago and New York City. We would like to give special thanks to the hundreds of civil society representative organizations, lawyers and individuals from the African American community for sharing their concerns and recommendations with our delegation. We also thank numerous human rights defenders and activists who reached out to us from other parts of the country that we could not visit.

The Working Group regrets that it did not receive access according to the terms of reference for special procedure mandate holders to visit Mississippi State Penitentiary Parchman. It also regrets that it was not possible to meet with all of the high level state and local level authorities requested.

The views expressed in this statement are of a preliminary nature, our findings and recommendations will be presented in our mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2016.

During the visit, the Working Group assessed the situation of African Americans and people of African descent and gathered information on the forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, Afrophobia and related intolerance that they face. We studied the official measures and mechanisms taken to prevent structural racial discrimination and protect victims of racism and hate crimes as well as responses to multiple forms of discrimination. The visit focused on both good practices and challenges faced in realising their human rights.

We welcome the work of the Civil Rights centers, in all Government departments, and the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission that implement the Civil Rights legislation through investigation of complaints, litigation, issuance of guidance and remedies including compensation.

We also acknowledge the work of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division regarding access to justice, investigations of excessive use of force by the police and patterns of discrimination.
We welcome the recent steps taken by the Government to reform the criminal justice system and combat racial discrimination and disparities through the following initiatives:

- The Fair Sentencing Act.

- The Justice Department's "Smart on Crime" initiative.

- The report and recommendations of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing to strengthen community-police relationships across the country.

- The new Guidance for Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Regarding the Use of Race, Ethnicity, Gender, National Origin, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Or Gender Identity

- The Guidance for consideration of arrests and conviction records in employment decisions under title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964

- During our visit, the Government adopted an executive order to reduce the use of solitary confinement at the federal level by prohibiting solitary confinement of juveniles, diverting inmates with serious mental illness to alternative forms of housing and establishing that inmates should be housed in the least restrictive setting, among other issues. These changes are part of a larger effort to pass criminal justice reforms now pending in congress.

- White House Initiatives such as My Brother's Keeper and on Educational Excellence for African Americans, aimed at addressing opportunity gaps and improving educational outcomes for African Americans.

- The new report from the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections that punitive mandatory sentences for drug crimes represents the primary driver for prison overcrowding.

We welcome the abolition of the death penalty in three additional states since the Working Group visit to the US in 2010 as this form of inhumane punishment is disproportionately used against African Americans.

One of the most important developments in the area of health has been the adoption of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act which has allowed 2.3 million African American adults to gain medical health insurance.

The Working Group was also informed about some positive steps at the state level:
In New York, we welcome measures that prohibit employers from asking about criminal history until an employee is hired, and that make possible the issuance of municipal identification cards for undocumented immigrants, and that create a policy of desk appearance tickets for certain offenders as an alternative to imprisonment for a misdemeanour offence. We also note the decision to end the policy of stop and frisk.

In Chicago, we welcome the steps taken to combat the home foreclosure crisis that had especially impacted African Americans. We also welcome the measures taken by the mayor to foster accountability in the police department following the Laquan McDonald's case.

The US has a growing human rights movement which has successful advocated for social change. Following the epidemic of racial violence by the police, civil society networks calling for justice together with other activists are strongly advocating for legal and policy reforms and community control over policing and other areas which directly affect African Americans.
Despite the positive measures referred to above, the Working Group is extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African Americans.

The colonial history, the legacy of enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism, and racial inequality in the US remains a serious challenge as there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent. Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, ideology ensuring the domination of one group over another, continues to negatively impact the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today. The dangerous ideology of white supremacy inhibits social cohesion amongst the US population. Lynching was a form of racial terrorism that has contributed to a legacy of racial inequality that the US must address. Thousands of people of African descent were killed in violent public acts of racial control and domination and the perpetrators were never held accountable.

Contemporary police killings and the trauma it creates are reminiscent of the racial terror lynching of the past. Impunity for state violence has resulted in the current human rights crisis and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Racial bias and disparities in the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and the tough on crime policies has disproportionately impacted African Americans. Mandatory minimum sentencing, disproportionate punishment of African Americans including the death penalty are of grave concern.
During this country visit, the experts observed the excessive control and supervision targeting all levels of their life. This control since September 2001, has been reinforced by the introduction of the Patriot Act. We heard testimonies from African Americans based on their experience that people of African descent are treated by the State as a dangerous criminal group and face a presumption of guilt rather than innocence.

The state is also not acting with due diligence to protect the rights of African American communities, as evidenced by the lack of gun control and stand your ground laws, among others. Hate crime groups, including white supremacist terror groups are still active in the US targeting the Black community as was seen in the attack at the church in Charleston in 2015. The Confederate flag is considered as a symbol of hate for many African Americans and they have led campaigns to have it removed however it still is used by some local authorities.

The persistent gap in almost all the human development indicators, such as life expectancy, income and wealth, level of education and even food security, among African Americans and the rest of the US population, reflects the level of structural discrimination that creates de facto barriers for people of African descent to fully exercise their human rights.
Disparities in the enforcement of policies, can be found in the different approaches adopted by states to address issues such as racial profiling, the presence of police in schools, the criminalization of homelessness, the limitations on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials, the use of solitary confinement and the trial of juvenile offenders, among others.

The Working Group is concerned about the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement officials committed with impunity. In addition to the most recent and well-known cases of killings of unarmed African Americans, such as the cases of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and Laquan McDonald, the Working Group also received information about many other similar cases. The Working Group met with a considerable number of relatives of African Americans killed by police officers that are still seeking justice for their loved ones including Tyron West, Tyron Lewis, Jonathon Sanders, Oscar Grant, Tony Robinson, Marlon Brown, India Kager, Ronald Johnson, Mohamed Bah and Alonso Smith.

Despite some efforts made by the Department of Justice, there is still a lack of an official national system to track killings committed by law enforcement officials. Unofficial sources, such as The Washington Post and The Guardian, identified between 38 and 75 cases of unarmed African Americans killed by the police in 2015.

However, the Working Group is deeply concerned about the low number of cases where police officers have been held accountable. The Working Group identified that the lack of initial investigations conducted by independent and external bodies from police departments, the wide discretion of attorney generals to determine when and how to present charges and the state and county regulation that are not in line with international standards on the use of the force and firearms are some of the main barriers to police accountability.

Racial profiling is a rampant practice and seriously damages the trust which African Americans have in relation to law enforcement officials.

Some media portray African Americans as criminals and this negatively impacts on the perception which the American society in general has in relation to African Americans.

With 2.3 million people incarcerated and 4.8 million on parole or probation, mass incarceration has had a disproportionately impact on People of African descent. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (2014) shows that 36% of the sentenced state and federal prisoners are African Americans. One in three African American men will go to prison or jail if current trends continue. African American women are also increasingly being targeted by the criminal justice system.

The costs of mass incarceration practices must be measured in human lives, and particularly the generations of young Black who serve long prison sentences and are lost to their families and communities. We also heard how mass incarceration of Black men and women has had devastating effect on their children.

We express deep concern on the continued existence of death penalty in 31 states and at the federal level. African Americans represent 41.7 percent of death row population and out of 28 inmates executed in 2015, 10 were African Americans.

State laws that established mandatory minimum sentences and zero tolerance policies have been applied with racial bias. Thousands of young African Americans have been placed in detention centres without addressing the root causes of crime, or guaranteeing better security to their communities; nor have they been offered effective rehabilitation.
The Working Group is concerned about inadequate conditions of detention and in accessing quality health care, including for mental health. Reportedly, inmates were either misdiagnosed or over-medicated. African American communities highlighted that the privatization of prisons might tend to privilege the earning of profits, by sacrificing adequate detention conditions.

We are also concerned about the criminalization of poverty which disproportionately affects African Americans. There has been an increase in imprisonment of people for minor offences and those who are unable to pay debts due to an increase in fines and fees. They are detained in debtor prisons and made to work off their debt. As the Justice Department has shown in the investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, in other counties the imposition of fines is a way to secure revenues than a public security issue. This creates numerous problems for the individual and family.

There is also an excessive punishment of poor children for minor offences.
The devastating impact of the "war on drugs" has led to mass incarceration and is compared to enslavement, due to exploitation and dehumanization of African Americans.

While noting the recent Executive order on solitary confinement, we remain concerned about its use in prisons, juvenile detention centres and foster care, at both federal and state levels. We are particularly concerned about its negative impact on children.

People that served their time in prison continue to be stigmatized when they are released. Their criminal records impedes them from finding a job, getting adequate housing or accessing social programmes, and voting. Some re-entry programmes are not well-funded and are not present countrywide.

We are concerned about the underage prosecution of children as adults in the USA. Children are detained in adult jails and prisons putting them at risk of sexual assault and abuse. These practices are a violation of children's human rights and should be eliminated. Juveniles should be treated as juveniles no matter what crime they are alleged to have committed and must be held in a juvenile facility.

The Working Group was also concerned that voter ID laws with increased identification requirements in several states served to discriminate minorities such as African Americans contrary to the spirit of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The cumulative impact of racially-motivated discrimination faced by African Americans in the enjoyment of their right to education, health, housing and employment, among other economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, has had serious consequences for their overall well-being. Racial discrimination continues to be systemic and rooted in an economic model that denies development to the poorest African American communities. More than ten million (26%) of African Americans remain mired in poverty and almost half of them (12%) live in what is known as "deep poverty". The Working Group is particularly concerned about the fact that 48% of the households headed by African American women live under the poverty line.

The Working Group noted that a number of factors contributed to the disparities faced by African Americans in the realization of the right to health, including access to health insurance coverage, lack of access to preventive services and care, and lack of diversity and cultural competency of the care. While the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has led to a 17.6 million people getting health insurance coverage, states with some of the widest health disparities in the country have rejected Medicaid expansion, one of the main tools to cover the uninsured. Nine out of ten people who fall into the coverage gap live in the South and Black adults are more likely than any other racial group to be affected. The impact of social determinants such as access to quality and healthy housing conditions, lack of education and employment, transportation barriers also continued to serve as barriers to the full enjoyment of right to health.

The Working Group learnt that African Americans have limited access to food variety including healthy food as they are concentrated in poor neighbourhoods with food outlets selling unhealthy and even expired food. African Americans have the highest rates of obesity which is linked to "food deserts". Racial discrimination impedes the ability of Black women to maintain overall good health, control their sexuality and reproduction, survive pregnancy and child birth, and parent their children. Black women in the USA die from pregnancy-related complications at a rate three to four times higher than White women.

We were informed that across the country there are police in the schools arresting children for minor offences. The police have authority to detain, frisk and arrest children in school. Zero tolerance policies and heavy-handed efforts to increase security in schools have led to excessive penalization and harassment of African American children through racial profiling. African American children are more likely to face harsh disciplinary measures than White children. This phenomenon has been sadly described as "the school to prison pipeline".
The Working Group was concerned by the under-funding and closure of schools that are particularly in poor neighbourhoods with significant African American population. We were concerned to learn that there are threats to close the Chicago State University, a historically Black university.

In school curricula, the historical facts concerning the period of colonization and enslavement are not sufficiently covered in all schools. This history, crucial in the organization of the current American society is taught differently by states, and fails to adequately address the root causes of racial inequality and injustice. Consequently, this contributes to the structural invisibility of African-Americans.

We have received information about de facto segregation schools. Segregation appears to be nurtured by, a culture of insufficient acknowledgement of the history of enslavement and the Jim Crow Law. There is also a lack of attention to the matter of reparatory justice for enslavement and its effects.

We are concerned about the persistence of a de facto residential segregation in many of the metropolitan areas in the US. A series of maps, generated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, shows not only stark levels of concentration of African-American families in low income neighbourhoods and districts, but also the correlation between racial segregation and disparities in access to health, education and even access to adequate food among them and the White population.

The zip code can determine to some extent the future development of young African Americans. People from Black poor neighbourhoods are more likely to face lower education achievements, more exposure to violence and crime, a tense interaction with the police, less employment opportunities, environmental degradation and low life expectancy rates as well.

In many cities African Americans are facing a housing crisis, in which people are not able to pay their rents or mortgages, and even less to purchase a new house. In addition, the Working Group was informed about the destruction of public housing on some cities; at the same time, public funding for new houses appears insufficient to meet the demands of new housing.

The Working Group was informed that African Americans are more likely than White people with similar borrowing profiles to be victims of predatory lending and to receive higher cost loans.
In addition, the process of gentrification has a heavy impact on African Americans who are being displaced from city centers under the argument of the need for new investment and development. In particular, the Working Group was alarmed by incidents of eviction, demolition and conversion of Barry Farm public housing in Washington D.C.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2015, Of over half a million homeless people in the US, African Americans constituted 40.4 percent. They also constituted 30.4% of the homeless people that were unsheltered.

Despite the recovery of the US economy, the impact of the 2008-2009 economic recession had on African Americans is still very present. The unemployment rate among African Americans is twice the national unemployment rate. The Working Group is especially concerned about the level of unemployment among young African Americans without a high school degree. In 2014 the annual income for African-Americans was almost half the income of White Americans who are not Hispanic.

People of African descent continue to be underrepresented in higher level working positions. In 2013 they only represented the 7% of the senior level employers. Instead, their participation on temporary jobs with lesser security and lower salaries has been on the increase in recent years. Nearly half a million African Americans earn the minimum wage.. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) continued to receive more than 30,000 complaints a year concerning racial discrimination.
The highest polluting industrial facilities, across a range of sectors from farming, mining to manufacturing, are more likely to be situated in poor and minority neighbourhood, including those of people of African descent. For instance, we are concerned about the possible health risks to people of African descent on account of the incinerator project in Curtis Bay, Baltimore and the lead contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. African American communities are calling for environmental justice as they are concerned that they are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards impacting their health and standard of living.

We also studied intersectionality of the different forms of discrimination and heard experiences of discrimination based on skin colour, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, sex and gender identity. In particular we are concerned by the increasing level of violence and murders of transgendered women.

The complexity of the organisation of the legal system with independence of federal, state, county and tribal jurisdiction and lack of direct applicability of international human rights law and federal law and policy creates gaps that impacts deeply on the human rights of African Americans.

The Working Group acknowledges that Civil Rights federal legislation, put in place in the 1960's and the 1970's, has had a positive impact redressing individual and even institutional cases of racial discrimination. However, hearing the testimonies of African American communities in different parts of the country, the Working Group is concerned about civil rights laws implementation not being sufficiently effective to overcome and transform the structural racial discrimination against African Americans.

The Working Group is concerned that African Americans do not have the possibility to bring their cases or individual complaints to regional and international bodies when they have exhausted all domestic remedies at the state and federal level as they are not party to the protocols which would allow them to bring complaints. Furthermore International human rights treaties cannot be invoked in national courts as there is no enabling legislation and they have been declared non-self-executing.

The following recommendations are intended to assist the United States of America in its efforts to combat all forms of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, xenophobia and related intolerance:

The Working Group reiterates the following recommendation made after its visit to the United States in 2010:

- Establish a national human rights commission, in accordance with the Paris Principles. The Government should establish within this body a specific division to monitor the human rights of African Americans.

- In addition to the above, the Working Group urges the Government of the United States to consider the ratification of the core international human rights treaties to which the United States is still not a party, with a view to remove any gaps in the protection and full enjoyment of rights therein. It also encourages the USA to ratify regional human rights treaties as well as review reservations related to the treaties it has signed or ratified.

- Federal and state laws should be adopted incorporating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international human rights treaties.

- There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity and among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and that Africans and people of African descent were victims of these acts and continue to be victims of their consequences. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.

- Monuments, memorials and markers should be erected to facilitate this important public dialogue. Education must be accompanied by acts of reconciliation, which are needed to overcome acts of racial bigotry and legacies of injustice. To accelerate the process of desegregation, federal and state legislation should be passed recognizing the experience of enslavement.

- During the International Decade for People of African Descent public forums or hearings should be held with African American communities to enter into a constructive and open dialogue in which organizations, social movements have access to share experiences and to engage with the policy makers and institutions and local state and federal government on ways to address the current crisis.

- We encourage congress to pass the H.R. 40 -Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act - Establishes the Commission to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.

- We encourage the US government to elaborate a National Action Plan for Racial Justice to fully implement the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and comprehensively address racism affecting African Americans.

- The Government should increase engagement with human rights organizations and civil society at large with an aim to implement the Universal Periodic Review recommendations made to and accepted by the USA.

- We urge the Government to ensure that recent policies undertaken to address racial disparities will be further implemented at the federal and state levels.

- The Working Group urges Congress to expedite the passing of all pending criminal justice reform bills including the End Racial Profiling Act, the Second Chance Reauthorization Act and welcomes the bi-partisan support for the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, which among other things proposes to drastically reduce the use of mandatory minimum sentencing.

- In imposing the sentence, the welfare of the family of the accused should be taken into account, with particular attention to the best interests of the child.

- Appropriate measures should be adopted to prevent excessive bail. Alternatives to detention should also be explored.

- Community policing strategies should be developed to give the community control of the police which are there to protect and serve them. It is suggested to have a board that would elect police officers they want playing this important role in their communities.

- Before non-payment of a court fine or fee is treated as civil contempt of court charge it must first be determined whether the individual has the ability to pay. Imprisonment should not be offered as a way of paying off the debt. If the debt cannot be paid the fee should not be levied.

- We also recommend that part of the prison reforms processes and policies include specific policies to address increasing rate of incarceration of African- American women.

- Solitary confinement should be banned absolutely for being in violation of international human rights law standards particularly those found in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners.

- The Working Group recommends to the Government to allow independent monitoring of places of detention in the United States and in this connection consider inviting Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

- International human rights standards should be observed in the criminal justice system. We recommend the abolition of the death penalty throughout the United States.

- The Working Group calls upon the Government to ensure that all states repeal laws that restrict the voting rights. In particular it urges reinstatement of voting rights of persons convicted of felony who have completed their sentences.
- Targeted measures should be developed with the community to raise awareness and reduce crimes against LGBTQI community, in particular against transgendered women.

- The Working Group recommends improving reporting of violations involving the excessive use of force and extra-judicial killings by the police, and ensure that reported cases of excessive use of force are independently investigated; that alleged perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions; that investigations are re-opened when new evidence becomes available; and that victims or their families are provided with remedy.

- The Working Group recommends to the Government to step up its efforts to prevent excessive use of force by law enforcement officials by ensuring compliance with the 1990 Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

- Security policies in schools should be revisited. Policing in schools should be abolished.

- Misdemeanour laws should be repealed, such as the misdemeanour law in South Carolina where school disturbance constitutes a misdemeanour.

- The use of restraint and seclusion in schools should be prohibited. Early counselling should be given to students with mental health issues. Special attention and protection must be given to students with autism, ADHD and other similar disabilities.

- We recommend the Government develop guidelines on how to ensure school discipline policies and practices are in compliance with international human rights standards. Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) and restorative practices in school discipline should be used for reducing disciplinary incidents and improving learning in schools.

- Males should be separated from females in detention. Younger prisoners should be separated from adults. Alternatives to imprisonment for youth such as intervention and diversion should be explored.

- The Working Group recommends that health policies and programmes should place particular priority on access to quality and affordable health care with targeted goals to reduce maternal mortality of African American women.

- Consistently, the school curriculum in each state should reflect appropriately the history of the slave trade.

- The Department of Education should study zero tolerance policies and its disparate impact on African American students. A Taskforce should be created to specifically focus on realigning and reengaging students who have been dismissed from educational institutions as part of a zero tolerance policy.
- The Working Group recommends upholding the right to adequate standards of living including the right to food, right to water and the right to adequate housing. The Government should immediately halt the demolition of public housing without guaranteeing replacement units. All such activities must be undertaken only through prior and informed consent and participation of the communities affected.

- The Working Group urges the government to strengthen the implementation of Executive Order 12898 including through the allocation of adequate resources.

- The US government should undertake a review of policies to improve protection and ensure environmental justice is provided.
- The Working Group encourages the government to undertake impact-oriented activities in the framework of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024).
The Working Group welcomes the cooperation and engagement with the international human rights system to combat racial discrimination. We hope that our report will support the Government in this process and we express our willingness to assist in this important endeavour.