Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How hedge funders spurred the pro-charter political network

Hedging Education:
How hedge funders spurred the pro-charter political network
 
May 6, 2016
This article ran in the Spring 2016 issue of The American Prospect

Not too long ago, school board races were quaint affairs. Even in big school districts, candidates usually only had to raise a few thousand dollars to compete.

But as the movement to marketize public education gained momentum, advocates broadened their focus from the federal level to state and local governments. There, where campaign costs were substantially lower than in federal elections, the well-funded movement could more effectively leverage its political money.

One of the starkest casualties of that strategic shift has been the American school board election. A network of education advocacy groups, heavily backed by hedge fund investors, has turned its political attention to the local level, with aspirations to stock school boards—from Indianapolis and Minneapolis to Denver and Los Angeles—with allies.

In recent years, this powerful upstart operation has had tremendous, albeit somewhat stealthy, success playing politics at the local level, by cultivating reform leaders in areas with disappointing schools and a baseline desire for change. They have looked to building a state philanthropic infrastructure that can sustain local efforts beyond one election.

The same big-money donors and organizational names pop up in news reports and campaign-finance filings, revealing the behind-the-scenes coordination across organizational, geographic, and industry lines. The origins arguably trace back to Democrats for Education Reform, a relatively obscure group founded by New York hedge funders in the mid-2000s.
Leila Hadd/Creative Commons
Students at a Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) Academy charter school in the Bronx, New York. 

The Hedge Fund Connection

The hedge fund industry and the charter movement are almost inextricably entangled. Executives see charter-school expansion as vital to the future of public education, relying on a model of competition. They see testing as essential to accountability. And they often look at teacher unions with unvarnished distaste. Several hedge fund managers have launched their own charter-school chains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board.

Consider Whitney Tilson. Straight out of Harvard, Tilson deferred a consulting job in Boston to become one of Teach For America’s first employees in 1989. Ten years later, he started his own hedge fund in New York. Soon after that, Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp took him on a visit to a charter school in the South Bronx. It was an electrifying experience for him. “It was so clearly different and so impactful,” Tilson says. “Such a place of joy, but also rigor.”

The school was one of two original Knowledge Is Power Program schools—better known as KIPP—which has since grown into a prominent charter network with nearly 200 schools in 20 states plus the District of Columbia, serving almost 70,000 students, predominately low-income and of color.

But back then, charter schools were still a rather unfamiliar novelty to most people. Tilson, however, was convinced that they were the future of education. He started dragging all his friends, most of whom were hedge fund investors, from Wall Street up to the South Bronx to see the KIPP school. “KIPP was used as a converter for hedge fund guys,” Tilson says. “It went viral.”

Many critics of the corporate education-reform movement are quick to accuse proponents of seeking to cash in on the privatization of one of the United States’ last public goods. And while there certainly are those in ed-reform circles who stand to benefit from a windfall of new education technology, testing, and curriculum services, hedge funders by and large do not fit that stereotype. Theirs is more of an ideological and philanthropic crusade, rather than a crude profit-seeking venture.

“I personally never knew what the situation was like for families forced to attend their local school in the South Bronx, or Brooklyn,” Tilson says.
 
As Tilson explains it, hedge fund managers almost exclusively come from well-off backgrounds and got the best educations in the world. “I personally never knew what the situation was like for families forced to attend their local school in the South Bronx, or Brooklyn,” Tilson says. “I didn’t know of anyone who dropped out of high school or college—much less that there were high schools where half the students dropped off.”

In the mid-2000s, Tilson was on what he says was his 100th visit to KIPP. Dave Levin, KIPP’s co-founder, told him that Levin was trying to open up more schools but was running into political resistance. The fact that KIPP had been succeeding without unionized teachers was threatening to many in the Democratic Party, Tilson recalls Levin telling him.

Tilson was shocked that anyone would try to stymie the growth of KIPP, which had had some promising signs of success early on; he was even more shocked that it was mostly Democratic politicians opposed to charter expansion. Why, he wondered, would the party that’s supposed to be for the less well-off be standing in the way of educating disadvantaged children?
He directed his anger at what he says is the most powerful special-interest group in the Democratic Party: teachers unions. So in 2005, Tilson got together with a number of other highly educated, wealthy investors to build a political instrument to simultaneously advance pro-charter education reform and beat back what they saw as oppressive teachers unions.

“Our public school system—including charter schools—is a governmental system, and that means at the end of the day, it’s run by politicians,” Tilson says. “And politicians respond to votes and they respond to money. That means if you want to change a governmental system you’ve got to play the political game.”

The list of original funders is chock-full of Wall Street A-listers. There was Joel Greenblatt, head of Gotham Asset Management and author of the seminal high-finance book You Can Be a Stock Market Genius. There were Charles Ledley and James Mai of Cornwall Capital, perhaps most well known for betting big against the subprime-mortgage market, which was depicted in the book-turned-blockbuster The Big Short. There was David Einhorn, head of Greenlight Capital, who has drawn scrutiny on more than one occasion for financial wrongdoing.

Basically, if you were anybody who was anybody in hedge funds, you probably chipped in. Tilson called the group Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), and set it with a mission “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party.”

Early on, DFER identified then-Senator Barack Obama and then–Newark Mayor Cory Booker as promising politicians willing to break with teachers unions. DFER was instrumental in convincing Obama to appoint charter-friendly Chicago Superintendent Arne Duncan as secretary of education, and it spent a lot of time and money lobbying the administration to pursue reformist education policies like Race to the Top and Common Core. Tied to Obama’s coattails, DFER was now one of the most influential political players in the ascendant education-reform movement.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
 
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels lifts the bill into the air as Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman applauds after he signed the bill creating the nation's broadest school voucher program and another that calls for an expansion of charter schools, at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, May 5, 2011.

“All of a sudden, there were politicians all over the country who were willing to back education reform,” Tilson says. “We were able to raise more money, but there were also a lot more fields to play on.” As it found tremendous success at the federal level, DFER tried to maximize its newfound influence to leverage reform in local politics.

The Indianapolis Track

Beginning around 2010, charter advocates set their sights on Indianapolis. In 2011, the newly Republican state legislature passed a law that made it easier for new charter schools to open, quickly fueling their growth. Most new charters opened in Indianapolis, home to a struggling urban district that serves roughly 30,000 students. Many schools were failing to meet state standards, enrollment numbers were dwindling, and the clamor for a solution was growing.
At the epicenter of the city’s reform push was the Mind Trust, a local education-reform group that promotes more school choice, autonomy, and charter partnerships. To do those things, the district needed a friendly superintendent and a sympathetic school board. The Mind Trust helped bring in DFER, the advocacy group Stand For Children, and the network of political money that came with them.

Annie Roof was first elected to the Indianapolis Public Schools board in 2010, aspiring to bring a parent’s perspective and substantive change to the school district. She was fed up with poor communication from the district and what she says were unfair school spending patterns. She raised about $3,000 and won a seat. At first, Roof was the “reform” member on a board that featured a number of strong supporters of the superintendent, Eugene White, who resisted integrating charter schools into the district.

Then the 2012 school board elections brought in a new wave of reformers. One was Gayle Cosby. She and her kids had attended the city’s public schools, and she had taught in the district.
Sipa via AP Images
 
Greenlight Capital founder David Einhorn, one of many Wall Street A-listers to contribute money to Democrats for Education Reform.

Several months before the election, Cosby decided to run against a longtime incumbent for a seat on the district’s school board. “When I ran, I felt pretty strongly about the idea of autonomy in a broad sense and felt as a teacher, a lot of what I wanted to achieve with my students was limited by a top-down feeling of control,” she says.

She was independently running her campaign for several months, trying to build a rapport with local voters. Then, as the election neared, her openness to “reform” attracted the attention of DFER, which had recently launched an Indiana chapter to build off of the state’s recent changes to public-education law. It quickly zeroed in on building a pro-charter majority on the school board.

DFER pumped more than $40,000 into Cosby’s campaign, hiring her a campaign manager, orchestrating several direct-mail flyer blasts, and buying up radio spots. This was unheard-of in Indianapolis school board races.

“At that point, I felt a loss of control in certain respects,” Cosby recalls.

“The way they were able to win was through the money, through the messaging,” says Cosby, adding that about ten mailers were sent on her behalf. “That’s a huge sum of money; that’s pretty insurmountable when the public lacks understanding about these issues. The average voter saw the potential for something shiny and new.”

By the end, Cosby had raked in a total of nearly $80,000. Two other reform candidates were elected with more than $60,000 in support, including $10,000 checks from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Before she was even sworn in to her seat on the board, it became apparent that Cosby’s idea of reform was different than DFER’s. She and the other new board members were invited to what she describes as a secret meeting at Eli Lilly, an Indiana pharmaceutical company with major philanthropic initiatives. The meeting featured a presentation pitching a plan to expand and fully integrate charter schools into the Indianapolis Public Schools system.

“It hit me fully in the face that the expectation of my role was to support a much larger, clandestine agenda in the city,” Cosby says. 
 
“It hit me fully in the face that the expectation of my role was to support a much larger, clandestine agenda in the city,” Cosby says. “That’s when I realized that this role I was stepping into was going to be filled with problems.”

One of the new reformers was Caitlin Hannon, a Teach For America alum who had taught in IPS for two years before running. After she was elected to the board, she became the executive director of Teach Plus Indianapolis, a Bill Gates–backed organization that amplifies the voices of young reform-minded teachers, often at the expense of teachers unions. Hannon raised nearly $40,000, including contributions from Bloomberg, DFER funder Charles Ledley, and hedge funder Alan Fournier.

In 2013, the new school board bought out the superintendent’s contract and began looking for a turnaround expert who prioritized charter-school expansion, autonomy, and innovation. They unanimously chose Lewis Ferebee, who had previously worked in the Durham, North Carolina, public school district, overseeing a number of struggling schools.

Ferebee quickly unveiled a plan that would cut the size of the district administrative office and begin liquidating school buildings and renting out space to outside groups—including charters. Soon after, he was lobbying for a state bill that would allow IPS to form compacts with charter schools to operate autonomously within the district. Much to the dismay of many state Democrats and the state teachers union, the bill passed.

By 2014, the floodgates of outside money were wide open. 
 
By 2014, the floodgates of outside money were wide open. Though DFER’s Indiana operation had shuttered due to poor local leadership, its presence was still strong in the school board elections.

By this time, Annie Roof had ticked off the local education reform organizations like DFER, Stand For Children, and the Mind Trust by refusing to play ball. Her idea of “reform” did not mesh with the organized reformers’. “What money has made that word, I’m not a part of.”
So the network reached into its bench and recruited one of its own. Education consultant Mary Ann Sullivan was a former Democratic state legislator in Indiana who co-authored bills to expand the state charter-school law and revamp the teacher-evaluation and licensure process. She also sits on DFER’s national advisory board.

In her campaign to oust Roof, who had been elected board president, from Roof’s at-large seat, Sullivan raised more than $70,000, inundating the city with mailers, phone-banking, and paid media. She trounced Roof by more than 25 percentage points.

As Roof puts it, they took out parents and replaced them with politicians.

“I was incredibly disappointed with the city of Indianapolis to buy into such tactics of cheap mailers and phone calls,” Roof says. “School board races used to be run by those around the kitchen table. It’s no longer a local election.”

Elected along with Sullivan was LaNier Echols, an Indianapolis charter-school dean (who was promoted to principal after getting elected) who raised $65,000, and Kelly Kennedy Bentley, a former IPS board member who had also served as DFER Indiana’s treasurer.

With a near-unanimous reform majority now sitting on the board, Ferebee continued expanding charter-school partnerships—including handing control of one struggling elementary school over to a charter school favored by local charter advocates.

Cosby has since taken up the role as the board’s main dissenter. She believes that charter special interests have completely co-opted the desire for change in the schools and have promoted an agenda that sees charter schools and privatization as the only way to fix Indianapolis Public Schools. Four seats will be up in 2016, including Cosby’s, who has decided not to seek re-election as she focuses on a doctoral program.

A National Crusade

The same scenario playing out in Indianapolis has become increasingly common in school districts around the country, as national organizations—mirroring DFER’s strategy—have expanded into more and more states.

DFER currently has active operations in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Students First, a group launched by former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, is operating in ten states. Stand For Children has 11 state chapters. The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now (50CAN) works in seven states so far. All of the groups have put school board races in their crosshairs.

Just weeks before the Minneapolis school board elections in 2014, which were expected to largely influence who the next superintendent would be, reports surfaced that detailed a massive influx of outside money in the race for two board seats. Both 50CAN’s Minnesota operation and Students for Education Reform (SFER) were campaigning for former Minneapolis City Council member and charter booster Don Samuels. The reports showed that the 50CAN Action Fund had raised $15,000 and SFER had raised $36,000. SFER board member Adam Cioth, who manages the Rolling Hills Capital hedge fund, provided the majority of SFER’s money—about $23,000.
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
 
Early on, Democrats for Education Reform identified then-Senator Barack Obama and then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker as promising politicians willing to break with teachers unions.

Charter advocates also set up a PAC that raised more than $200,000 from three donors—Michael Bloomberg, Teach For America board member and venture capitalist Arthur Rock, and financier Jon Sackler, who sits on 50CAN’s and SFER’s boards. Samuels won his race.
Last year in Denver, DFER contributed a quarter-million dollars to launch the Raising Colorado super PAC, which went on to spend $90,000 running ads and mailing flyers in support of Happy Haynes, the incumbent at-large member, and Lisa Flores, a former Gates Foundation program officer who was running for an open seat. Both won.

The flood of outside money that’s become a new normal in many school board elections is troubling for several reasons. And the stakes of 2016 couldn’t be higher. This year alone, 640 of the country’s largest school districts by enrollment are holding elections, with nearly 2,000 seats up for grabs, according to Ballotpedia. All together, these districts educate around 17 million students—about 34 percent of all the K–12 students in the nation.

Compared with other political races where a campaign will stretch over the better part of a year (or more), school board races are unique. Filing deadlines are much closer to Election Day, meaning that the field of candidates doesn’t fully materialize until quite late and the actual races don’t heat up until about two months out.

That makes it more difficult to vet candidates and learn about connections. Campaign-finance reports exposing big money often pop up late—that’s if the locality even includes school board candidates in its database.

The coordinated and tangled web of charter-advocacy groups’ political activity makes their financing hard to track. National groups and big individual donors will often funnel money to local PACs, which in turn spend money independently from a candidate’s campaign.
Many of these organizations operate as 501(c)(4)s and thus don’t have to disclose donors or, depending on state law, even fully disclose independent expenditures. For instance, Stand For Children, which was the main funder in the 2014 Indianapolis school board races, still won’t disclose how much they independently spent, though local watchdogs have gathered that it was a huge sum.

“There’s significant spending happening below the surface,” says Ballotpedia’s Daniel Anderson. “It’s hard to gauge whether that spending balances the scales between unions and ed-reform groups or if the scales are still tilted significantly [toward unions].”

Behemoth groups sponsored by mega-billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, and the Walton family have spent hundreds of millions to launch charter schools, sponsor think tanks, and more broadly steer the ideological DNA of reform. In recent years, newer organizations have positioned themselves adjacently to that machine while focusing more explicitly on politics. Critics, though, say there’s little difference between groups like DFER and those on the right. DFER has taken heat for teaming up with the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in backing California referendums that attacked public education and unions, and in opposing a ballot measure to impose a tax on millionaires. They’ve also given money to a right-wing group that was a booster of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union agenda, and took out an ad in 2012 blasting the Chicago Teachers Union in the lead-up to a strike.

For his part, Whitney Tilson insists, “We’re writing the checks, but we’re not dictating everything that’s going on.” In a written statement to the Prospect, DFER National President Shavar Jeffries added: “Our state chapters are not run by people flying in from Washington. They are staffed by local political organizers and education experts that are overwhelmingly from the communities they work in.” But the financial influence of the outside charter-boosters is an ill-kept secret. The pushback against outside pro-charter money in local races has been steadily growing as more and more cities are impacted. That anger likely becomes more visceral when it becomes clear to voters that out-of-state billionaires are trying to tip the scales in their own backyard.

“Now that we’ve seen two election cycles with huge sums of outside money, I’m hopeful that voters in Indianapolis have become enlightened to what’s really happening,” says Indianapolis Public Schools board member Gayle Cosby. “It could affect some change in 2016.”

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.


References:

Carolyn Graves-Brown, Dancing for Hathor: Women in Ancient Egypt, 2010.
Christian Jacq, Les Egyptiennes, 1996.
http://euler.slu.edu/~bart/egyptianhtml/kings%20and%20Queens/Viziers.html#26th_Dynasty
www.southasasif.com/Irtieru-Entrance.html
www.ancient.eu/article/49/
- See more at: http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/feminism-and-battle-women-s-rights-ancient-egypt-005895?nopaging=1#sthash.iJyNyWuM.dpuf
References:

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

Christian Jacq, Les Egyptiennes, 1996.

http://euler.slu.edu/~bart/egyptianhtml/kings and Queens/Viziers.html#26th_Dynasty

www.southasasif.com/Irtieru-Entrance.html

www.ancient.eu/article/49/


-------------------------------------

A QUEEN IN A MAN’S WORLD AND A TALE OF REVENGE


 
Sarah Griffiths for MailOnline
13 May 2016- blogpvan.com

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  
    03/10/2016| huffingtonpost.com
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!