(Medium) The Braiders of Harlem

Christiana A Mbakwe / Medium

Christiana A Mbakwe / Medium

Christiana A Mbakwe | 

There is no décor. The only art on the pumpkin colored walls are vintage posters of bare shouldered black women with elaborate hairstyles. Two women, one from Senegal, the other from the Ivory Coast, split 7 feet of black synthetic hair into sections before they begin to braid.

Behind them is a restless elementary school girl; she swings her legs so vigorously her timberlands thump on the floor. Her hairdresser, Tenin, has tightly wrapped the ends of each braid with string until they resemble sooty bees nests. She dips the ends of the braids in boiling water; acutely aware of the risk involved, the child is finally still. The final step of the three-hour process is simple — Tenin lathers the girl’s head with white mousse.

Aicha Hair Braiding Salon is one of a number of African braiding shops that are clustered around 125th street in Harlem. Much like the Apollo Theatre and Abyssinian Baptist Church, the braiding shops and braiders that work in them are a Harlem landmark.

Hair braiding is a tradition that has been practiced in various African societies for centuries. Across the United States, women from countries such as Senegal, Ivory Coast and Togo, have used braiding as a bridge to a better life. In the 1990’s and 2000’s, entrepreneurial instinct and the ability of braiders to amalgamate traditional braiding styles with hair trends within African-American culture, meant braiding was a secure source of income.

According to Professor Cheikh Anta Babou, an expert in African history and the Africa diaspora, although it was generally confined to the informal economy, braiding was once such a lucrative profession, in the peak season braiders could earn $200-$300 a day. Babou estimates 70% of Senegalese immigrant women in the United States are hair braiders. Braiding is so pervasive it has reshaped and transformed Senegalese life in the United States. For instance, the economic independence women gained from braiding meant patriarchal norms were resisted; consequently divorce has become more frequent within the Senegalese community.

In recent years, however, a combination of demographic shifts in neighborhoods, rising rents and technological disruption, has meant braiding is no longer a trade immigrants can rely on.

“This country’s not like before. You don’t get money like before,” said Tenin, the hairdresser who hails from the Ivory Coast. “It was more busy than this. When tax season comes you’re very happy. But now?” she shakes her head in dismay and returns to her work. Two months ago, Tenin gave birth to her fourth child. The uneven nature of her job meant she had to come back to work. On some days she has no clients, while on other days she has eight. Staying at home was far too risky.

Today, it’s not uncommon to see braiders hustling for potential clients at the busiest intersections in Harlem. Some even wait at subway turnstiles, hoping to find a customer. According to Aicha, Tenin’s mother and the owner of the braiding salon where they both work, the spread of braiders onto the streets hunting for clients is a relatively new development. Aicha has worked as a braider in Harlem for over 20 years. She believes the demographic shifts in the neighborhood and rising rents, has meant they have a smaller customer base and have to fight harder for what’s left. “I don’t like to beg on the street for customers. I used to, but not any more. But I understand why women do” she said.

Aicha is correct in her observation about rising rents and dwindling black customers. A report by the Community Service Society, showed between 2002 and 2014 average rents in Central Harlem rose by 90%. Recent census data showed that Harlem’s black population is the smallest it’s been since the 1920’s and they are now only 40% of its residents. The ramifications of this on the informal braiding market are palpable. A number of braiding stores have been forced to close, and some braiders even left New York in search for work elsewhere. However, there’s another force working against women like Aicha and Tenin — technology. In particular, the proliferation of social networking sites, which have created virtual communities centred on sharing information about black women’s hair and an increase in women finding their hairdressers using the Internet. In an unexpected twist, it seems that immigrants aren’t taking jobs from Americans, instead technology is taking jobs from immigrants.

In 2008, a shift occurred in the black cultural zeitgeist that reshaped how black women decided to style their own hair. According to “Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America” by Ayanna Byrd and Lori Tharps, the natural hair movement caused a critical mass of black women to stop chemically straightening their hair and wear their hair in its natural state. Historically, there have been other waves where black women have favored natural styles however this was the first in the era of online social networking.

Conversations about black women’s hair are constantly happening on the Internet. They occur in YouTube comments, hair forums and an amorphous subculture within Twitter called “Black Twitter”. The #naturalhair hashtag on Instagram has 7.4 million photos. In theory, this movement should have meant African hair braiders were perfectly positioned to exploit a new and hungry customer base. According to Mintel Black Consumers and Hair care 2015 report, the black hair care market is worth an estimated $2.7 billion — there’s more than enough money to go around. But a cornerstone of the natural hair movement and the digital conversation surrounding it is an emphasis on autonomy and agency. An important expression of this agency is the ability to understand and do your own natural hair.

The emergence of social networking and the fact that the web significantly influences black women’s hair choices, places braiders at an acute disadvantage. The informal and underground nature of the braiding industry has meant there’s a natural and almost instinctive aversion to social media. Despite their presence on the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn, most braiders prefer to be or remain inconspicuous. Some braiders are undocumented or in regular contact with people who are undocumented and this creates a reluctance to create a visible online presence. Very few of the braiding shops have Facebook or Instagram pages, websites are rare and most salon owners don’t respond to reviews on Yelp. Furthermore, in West African culture, privacy is viewed as virtue and openness is a vice. All these things are diametrically opposed to the relentless self-promotion and hyper-exposure the digital age requires. In the meantime, the savviest natural hairdressers are exploiting technology for their benefit and gaining customers.

“I did it in college just for fun, just one video — and it went viral” said Sadora Paris, a popular natural hair blogger. Since Sadora posted her first video tutorial two years ago, her audience has grown to 120 thousand YouTube subscribers and almost 25 thousand Instagram followers. She has leveraged her fan base to become a fulltime brand ambassador for natural hair care lines such as Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture. Sadora also earns additional income as a hair coach and beauty consultant.

Sadora views the relationship between the African braiders and their customer base as a complex one that is fractured by generational differences as much as cultural ones. African braiders aren’t the only segment within the black hair industry that struggled to keep up with how technology has transformed it. Many older African-American salon owners who catered exclusively to black women with chemically straightened hair failed to keep up with the times and are also struggling. Additionally, the women she coaches who no longer go to African braiders cite three main factors — saving money, time and their hair. Traditional braiding methods favor tight, neat styles and an aesthetic is valued over the health of the hair. However many black women have concerns about their hair, particularly the perimeter of the hairline referred to colloquially as their “edges”. For Sadora and her clients, the choice to do their own hair is less about the African braiders and more about how they prefer to do their hair.

Dr. Shartriya Collier is an expert in immigrant women entrepreneurs, who has done extensive research on the braiding industry in the United States. While she agrees that technology and other variables have contributed to the difficulties the braiders currently face, she cautions against overstating their significance. In her view, there were no real glory years in the braiding industry– it’s always been a difficult trade. “There was always a tension between African shop owners and their African-American clients,” she said. The intersection of language and cultural barriers meant exchanges between African braiders and their African-American clients have always been characterized by difficulties.

In their economic transactions, most braiders tend to occupy the grey space between legal and illegal activity. Cash is the preferred, and often the only form of payment. Most financial transactions aren’t documented in official records and braiders aren’t paid an hourly wage; instead they pay the shop owner a commission on every client they get. And while technology has had an adverse effect on their cash flow, it’s been advantageous for most parts of the informal economy. Professor Justin W. Webb, of The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is an expert on entrepreneurship within the informal economy. In his research, he has observed how technological advances have created more opportunities for entrepreneurs who operate outside of the formal sphere. “Technology is presenting a larger market and in a way they’re able to skirt [legislation]. They’re less visible to those who are monitoring and enforcing them,” said Webb.

In his years of studying informal economies, Webb has frequently come across a phenomena he calls the “stepping stone effect” This occurs when a worker gradually formalizes and legitimizes their trade or they accumulate enough capital and knowledge to leave the informal sphere and work in another part of the formal economy. But braiders face a challenge that impedes this effect — language.

Most braiders come from French-speaking African countries, so if they do speak English, it is often their third language. French or Wolof tends to be the lingua franca inside the hair shop and English is only used while establishing price or in brief exchanges with clients. The lack of English fluency makes it difficult to leave the industry. On the other hand, braiders from English speaking African countries often use braiding as a job on the side, to support them while they attend night school or while they learn a more economically advantageous trade. As soon as these women achieve their goal they stop braiding.

In 2002, Mama (as she calls herself), made the trip from Nouakchott, Mauritania to the United States. At the time she was fluent in Wolof and French, and could speak only broken English. She found accommodation in the Bronx and was embraced by a network of African immigrants. They told her to go to Harlem and start braiding hair. Mama is middle aged and braiding has taken its toll on her body. Some days she works for 12 hours at a time at Barry’s Good Braiding, she has constant back pain but can’t afford the surgery. What was supposed to be an opportunity has become a trap and Mama wishes she picked another trade when she first moved to America. Braiding is so niche that her years of experience aren’t easily transferred to another industry. “It’s not a job I’m doing and love it. I don’t have a choice,” said Mama.

Walk into any braiding shop and you’ll notice the incredible speed at which braiders move their wrists and fingers. No matter how long you stare, this speed makes it difficult to decipher each step of the process. It’s wondrous to watch because the women maintain this speed for anything from 3 to 6 hours. And on a particularly busy day they may braid for a total of 10 hours.

Ask any woman who’s had her hair braided the worst thing about it and she’ll probably mention the pain. Most people don’t think about the pain the braiders endure. The physically taxing nature of the job and the mental strain of hoping for clients mean that braiders often end the day exhausted. Over the years this accumulates and has acute physical manifestations. Back pain, shoulder pain, it isn’t rare to come across braiders with ganglion cysts on their wrists — big bumps that are the evidence of years of strain.

For those that have the option to work in the formal economy, the decision to become an entrepreneur is often an expression of their independence and freedom. But for many of the braiders, with limited childcare options, low levels of education and significant language barriers, being an entrepreneur is the only option, rather than a romantic form of self-actualization. It is a beautiful struggle at best.

The article was published in Medium. 

(TimesLedger) Youth to receive job training at new Starbucks in Jamaica

Baristas David Merrick (l.) and Nigel Armstrong (r.) predict the new Jamaica store will have a good effect on the community. Photo Credit: Michael Shain

Baristas David Merrick (l.) and Nigel Armstrong (r.) predict the new Jamaica store will have a good effect on the community.
Photo Credit: Michael Shain

MARCH 11, 2016 / NEWS / BUSINESS / JAMAICA

By Madina Toure

Two Jamaica-raised baristas at the newly opened Starbucks in Jamaica, David Merrick and Nigel Armstrong, who met barely a month ago but have already branded themselves the “dynamic duo,” are excited the store will offer job training for youth in the community.

Starbucks held a preview opening for its new store at 89-02 Sutphin Blvd. Monday, the first of at least 15 stores that will open throughout the United States to hire and train youth in diverse and urban communities. The store officially opened Tuesday at 6 a.m.

The store includes an onsite classroom space available to local nonprofit organizations to provide job training and skills building programs for young people in the area.

It is part of the chain’s goal of hiring 10,000 opportunity youth, 16- to 24-year-old individuals who are not in school and not employed.

Merrick, 23, who volunteers for LIFE Camp founded by Erica Ford, said the initiative will give kids an alternative study spot to the library and keep them occupied.

“Honestly, I feel like it’s a good thing because as a kid, you kind of don’t learn what’s going on at a young age,” he said. “So this is definitely a way to get kids at 16 and 17 off the streets and actually introducing them into the workforce and the work environment.”

For Armstrong, 20, the store will be a “home away from home” for kids in the area.

“I know they’re going to have a lot of youth coming in and out of here, so to make that connection with them is going to be really big,” he said. “I feel like they’re going to be looking to us for guidance. I feel like it’s going to be really big for us and for the youth.”

Alisha Wrencher, the store manager, who has worked for Starbucks for 18 years and was born and raised in Jamaica, handpicked all 17 employees, who range in age from 16 to 36 and hail from Brooklyn, parts of Queens and Jamaica in the Caribbean.

“I know how much this store can do to create a brighter future for our opportunity youth and am honored that Starbucks chose me to lead this new store,” Wrencher said.

Borough President Katz, who has launched the Jamaica Now Action Plan to revitalize Jamaica, praised the selection of the borough as the beta site.

“We understand that this is a prototype for the rest of the nation, but just to be clear: It started in Queens,” Katz said, her words met with applause from the crowd.

Starbucks has partnered with the Queens Community House, Queens Connect’s lead agency, and YMCA’s Y Roads Centers, which will be utilizing a dedicated training space within the store specially created by the Starbucks design studio.

The Jamaica store is the first in a nationwide initiative Starbucks announced last year to deepen investments in at least 15 similar U.S. communities by 2018 by opening stores with the goal of creating new jobs and engaging local women and minority-owned vendors and suppliers. The next location will be in the West Florissant neighborhood of Ferguson, Mo.

“One of the things that we’ve learned over the time is that we can’t do it alone,” said Rodney Hines, director of community investments for Starbucks retail operations.

Candice Cadogan, a Brooklyn-born barista raised in Cambria Heights, and Jermaine Slater, a newly promoted shift superviser who was born in Jamaica in the Caribbean and raised in Jamaica, led a coffee tasting for Guatemala Finca Monte David, one of their small batch Reserve coffees.

The article was originally published in the TimesLedger Newspapers.

(National Interest) Senegal: The Linchpin of Security in West Africa

Seth J. Frantzman

Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Marine Corps.

Senegalese military personnel are voting in a national referendum on March 13. The rest of Senegal votes in the same referendum on March 20. The military is voting early so that it can be alert during what is hoped will be a peaceful vote. Dakar, the capital of this country of fourteen million, is decked out in posters shouting “Oui”: vote “yes” for strengthening democracy and the rule of law. The referendum concerns reducing the term limit of the presidency and other initiatives. It is a reminder that this is a sub-Saharan African country that is a historically stable democracy, in a region that has seen coups, dictatorship and most recently, Islamist extremism.

A week in this West African state gives an idea of the security challenges it is facing. Dakar port, which is the second largest after Ivory Coast’s Abidjan, is an entree to West Africa and a gateway to Mali, where France intervened to prevent a takeover of the country by Islamist rebels and their allies in 2013. The security here is noticeable, with private security running checks on passengers, and a local police and gendarme detachment. The Senegalese navy is based here and the coast guard does regular patrols from the harbor.

Soldiers have been deployed in districts where there is nightlife in Dakar. Hotels in the capital have also upped security after the attacks on November 20 in Bamako which killed twenty, on Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on January 15 which killed 30, and in Ivory Coast on March 13. Much of this security seems symbolic rather than necessarily reflecting deep experience or expertise. But there is no doubt that Senegal is taking it seriously and most of those we spoke with felt there was a terror threat and that leaders were cognizant of it.

Senegal’s capital may be 1,200 miles from Ouagadougou, but it feels much closer. If terrorists could slip into that country and attack a hotel, couldn’t they do it here, which is equidistant from Mali or Mauritania where the extremists operate. The U.S. Army’s Flintlock exercise which began on February 8 in the village of Theis an hour east of Dakar, is symbolic of the faith Western powers and regional powers put in Senegal’s influence and its desire to be vigilant against extremism. U.S. Army Brigadier General Donald C. Bolduc said of the thirty-nation exercise that “it is more than a military exercise, we are training together to increase our interoperability and collaboration to counter today’s threats.” Senegal led this year’s exercise.

Aminata Touré, a former prime minister and currently adviser to the president says that one of the great long term threats to security can be youth unemployment. “There is a relationship between instability and youth unemployment. That is the first threat to security and social stability. Of course, we are concerned by security issues, we are surrounded by countries with troubles.” Many Senegalese emphasize that the country was able to prevent Ebola from crossing the border after the outbreak in West Africa in 2014, which points to an ability to close a porous border if necessary.

According to local security analysts the Senegalese army is of a high quality compared to its neighbors. It does not play a role in politics, an issue that has harmed armies in other countries in this region because of suspicion between the presidential guard units and other units. Senegal’s army also has experience fighting in Mali and most recently in Yemen, where it sent 2,100 troops to join the Saudi-led coalition in May of 2015. SO far, more than a dozen Senegalese have joined ISIS and related groups. In December, for example, one medical student at Senegal’s largest university posted on Facebook that he had gone to join ISIS. Four local imams were arrested in November for supporting extremism. A Pew Research Center poll released the same month showed that while 60 percent found ISIS unfavorable there were 10 percent who found it more palatable.

Many local experts say that the tradition of large Sufi brotherhoods in Senegal means extremists have difficulty taking root. Professor Ibrahim Thioub, the rector of the University Cheikh Anta Diop, says that on the fringes of these brotherhoods are figures who are marginalized and punished if they promote extremism. “The brotherhood knows how to discipline these urban youth leaders. But the problem is the Salafists who exist in Senegal since the 1950s. The radicalization in the last years, it is slightly more, but not like in Mali, or Mauritania, because there is something else. The brotherhoods are able to organize and have a strong network.” He argues that even abroad, where Senegalese might be exposed to extremism—in France, for example—these brotherhoods have local chapters and encourage moderation and a very Senegalese version of Islam. Amsatou Sow Sidibé, a former presidential candidate, agrees that the people of Senegal are the strongest asset the country has against the regional developments:

“[Terrorism] is terrible. We must have solidarity both of the people here and of the countries. It’s not good. We haven’t had any acts of terror but we don’t know. It is a possibility. We don’t have eyes to see the future. We must be vigilante, and the public must be educated to be vigilante.”

Part of that vigilance is relying on these local brotherhoods and citizens to inform on any extremists who may be operating. The concept is to rely on human intelligence and the strong social solidarity in Senegal which is different than some of the region’s states whose instability led to the rise of groups like Boko Haram, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS. In some cases these extremists preyed on tribal, ethnic or religious differences, or perceptions that the government was suppressing local people. Senegal, whose population is 95 percent Muslim, appears to have very strong feelings of social solidarity.

Nevertheless the fact is that Senegal has become a base for many regional embassies, due to the Ebola outbreak in neighboring states and to the country’s relative stability. That means Senegal has a strong foundation of international support but also is a target. Those foreign embassies, foreign nationals, hotels and NGOs can all present a target—like in Bamako and Ouagadougou—where Islamists seek to carry out spectacular attacks to harm the image of a country through mass murder.

So far, Senegal’s decision to send troops abroad has given its army experience, and its hosting of regional security exercises such as Flintlock are a welcome development. The key would be if the country could project its stability to neighboring states, and anchor the West African security system against the threats of extremists.

Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a PhD from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The article was published in the National Interest Online.

(NYT) Carson Endorses the Demagogue

Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump in a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (Todd Heisler/The New York Times)

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On Friday, I watched yet another bizarre scene from an already bizarre election cycle: The affable but hopelessly vacant Ben Carson endorsing the demagogic real estate developer who once said of Carson that he had a “pathological temper” as a child and compared him to a child molester.

Carson said in his endorsement speech that there are actually “two different” sides to the front-runner.

What does this mean? Which one is real? Are they both? Is there a Jekyll to this Hyde? It was an exceedingly strange and feeble attempt to diminish the danger that this man poses, but in a way, if anyone could understand this duality, it would be Carson.

This is the same Ben Carson who has inveighed against the “purveyors of division,” who played a video at his presidential campaign announcement in Detroit in which the narrator said in part:

“If America is to survive the challenges of the modern world, we need to heal, we need to be inspired, and we need to revive the exceptional spirit that built America. Never before have we been so closely connected to each other, but more divided as a country.”

This is the same Ben Carson who used this closing statement at the sixth Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, S.C., by imploring Americans to join him “in truth and honesty and integrity.”

Ben Carson endorsed Donald Trump in a news conference at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times
And yet, on Friday, Carson endorsed one of the most dangerous and divisive demagogues in recent presidential election history, a man for whom “truth and honesty and integrity” are infinitely malleable, and easily discarded, concepts, and whose rallies have been plagued by vileness and violence.

Carson, like so many conservatives, isn’t truly interested in unity as much as silent submission, a quiet in which one can pretend that hostility has been quashed, all evidence to the contrary.

These are folks who view discussions about reducing racial inequity and increasing queer equality as divisive. They are people who see efforts to protect women’s health, in particular their full range of reproductive options, including abortion, and to reverse our staggering income inequality as divisive. Indeed, the very words white supremacy, privilege, racism, bias, sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, homophobia, and poverty are seen as divisive.

Somehow, they think, these very real oppressive forces will simple die if only deprived of conversational oxygen. In fact, the opposite is true. By not naming these forces and continuously confronting, they strengthen and spread.

Carson’s endorsement further tarnished his already tarnished reputation. He validated and rubber-stamped a grandiloquent fascist who is supported by a former grand wizard.

All Carson’s calls for civility were in that moment proven hollow.

No wonder so many Americans despise politicians and see them as soulless and without principle. And although both these men pride themselves on being political outsiders who’ve never held political office, they are undoubtedly political animals and relentless personal brand promoters who chase a check over a cliff.

But the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make. Carson and the real estate developer are not so different from one another in this predilection for outrageous utterances, it’s just that one smiles and the other scowls.

This is the same Ben Carson who called President Obama a psychopath who is possibly guilty of treason and was, oh my, “raised white.” He has accused President Obama of working to “destroy this nation” and compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers.

This is the same Ben Carson who on a radio show in 2013 said of white liberals:

“Well, they’re the most racist people there are because, you know, they put you in a little category, a little box — you have to think this way. How could you dare come off the plantation?”

This is the same Ben Carson who has compared women who have abortions to slave owners, who said Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery — yes, he’s obsessed with slavery — and that being gay is a choice because people go to prison straight and leave gay. On the issue of whether a Muslim should allowed to be president, he said:

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, The Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Carson isn’t the only one. Chris Christie’s endorsement of the front-runner is just as baffling and unprincipled. As The Los Angeles Times put it:

“Christie had spent years curating an image as a policy-focused administrator who reached out to Muslims and Latinos, and he was rewarded with rock star status in the national Republican Party. Now he’s backing a candidate who has insulted minorities, shown a casual disregard for policy discussions and is reviled by the party’s establishment.”

And yet it is Carson’s endorsement that I find more interesting, not because it will have a greater impact, but because he and the front-runner are two sides of the same coin: they are both dangerous, but one is a narcissist who just might win the nomination and the other is a near-narcoleptic who never had a chance.

The article was published in the New York Times.

(Raw Story) How Hillary Clinton cornered the black vote

Democratic Presidental candidate Hillary Clinton has her photo taken with nurses at House of Prayer on February 7, 2016 in Flint, Michigan (AFP Photo/Sarah Rice)

Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has her photo taken with nurses at House of Prayer on February 7, 2016 in Flint, Michigan (AFP Photo/Sarah Rice)


08 MAR 2016 AT 09:34 ET

Hillary Clinton is on a roll. If her candidacy ever looked in doubt to an insurgent Bernie Sanders, she’s hurtling towards the Democratic nomination — thanks overwhelmingly to African Americans.

A month after her bruising defeat in New Hampshire, where Sanders won every category of voter except those older than 65 and earning more than $200,000 a year, Clinton has chalked up massive wins.

In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia she romped to victory, and is tipped to win Tuesday in Mississippi and Michigan, which all have sizeable African American communities.

Black voters have become critical to winning US elections. Without decisive African American turnout in seven states, Barack Obama would have lost to Mitt Romney in 2012, the independent Cook Political Report found.

Four years later with the country embroiled in debate about police violence and systemic racism, blacks are voting overwhelmingly for the former secretary of state, and cold shouldering the white-haired democratic socialist. But why?

Both have called for criminal justice reform demanded by the Black Lives Matter movement, although the group has endorsed neither candidate.

But beyond that, experts say Clinton more than Sanders has talked often about racism, white privilege and the need for more opportunities for blacks.

“I will do everything that I possibly can, to not only do the best to understand and to empathize, but to tear down the barriers of systemic racism,” she told Sunday’s Democratic debate in black majority Flint, Michigan.

– Forcefully –

Clinton raised the specter of environmental racism, questioning whether the lead-contaminated water scandal in Flint would have happened in wealthy suburbs.

“She talks very forcefully about these issues in a way that she hasn’t before and you don’t normally have from presidential candidates,” said Stefanie Brown James, Obama’s African American vote director in 2012.

While Sanders has spent his career in Vermont, where only one percent of the population is black, Clinton was first lady of Arkansas for 12 years, taking on a prominent role in trying to improve health and education.

In the south, she ran legal clinics representing disenfranchised people.

While still a student at Yale Law School, she went to South Carolina to investigate juveniles in adult jails and to Alabama to investigate segregation in schools for the Children’s Defense Fund.

After more than a generation on the national stage, all of this has become common knowledge — particularly among blacks.

In South Carolina, she addressed the nation’s oldest black sorority, dressed in green — a courtesy to an organization whose colors are green and pink.

“That’s the kind of little stuff, the attention to detail that people notice and appreciate,” said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia.

Right or wrong for a feminist campaigning to become the first woman president of the United States, experts also agree that much of her appeal stems from her marriage to Bill Clinton.

– Race matters –

The Clinton record is not unblemished. Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform and 1994 crime bill are blamed for fanning poverty and record incarceration rates which have hit blacks disproportionately. Both Clintons have since expressed regret, but the former first lady has been called out repeatedly on the campaign trail over that troubled legacy.

Clinton prefers to recall the economic growth during her husband’s 1990s administration as a legacy she will continue.

For more than a generation black Americans embraced the Clintons as a couple who worked against racial prejudice and presided over economic prosperity, at a time when black unemployment fell and incomes rose.

Bill Clinton’s poor southern background and easy manner — playing saxophone on television wearing shades — won him love and admiration from black voters.

He supported affirmative action, appointed a record number of African Americans to his cabinet and was close friends with business executive and civil rights figure Vernon Jordan.

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Nobel Prize winning novelist Toni Morrison famously dubbed him the first black president by comparing him to the black man always presumed guilty.

While Clinton’s rival Sanders has spoken of being arrested during the 1960s civil rights movement, his plea for votes has focused far more on economic inequality.

“That’s the problem that blacks typically have with white progressives, that they look at everything through class and forget that race still matters, and it’s that type of framing that has frustrated some blacks,” said Gillespie.

African Americans who agonized in 2008 about whether to vote for Clinton or Obama and picked Obama now feel they can do right by Clinton, the woman who has gone out of her way to present herself as Obama’s heir.

The article was published in Raw Story. 

(LA Weekly) Minorities Are Actually Losing Ground in Hollywood, Report Finds

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2016 | 1 DAY AGO
File photo by mark sebastian/Flickr

File photo by mark sebastian/Flickr

Latinos are part of the largest racial or ethnic minority in the United States, and they recently surpassed whites as the numerically dominant demographic group in California.

The country is nearly 40 percent minority, and experts believe people of color could eclipse the white majority by 2043.

Diversity is everywhere you look these days — on television commercials, in pop music, in sports, in public universities. But Hollywood, an industry that calls a 73 percent minority county its home, is actually losing ground when it comes to hiring people of color.

So says the 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report by UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

Researchers, led by Bunche Center director Darnell M. Hunt, looked at the top-grossing 200 films in 2014 as well as at 1,146 television shows, including online programs, from the 2013-14 season.

“Minorities lost ground in six of the 11 arenas examined and merely held their ground in the other four,” the report states.

This at a time when the Academy Awards is feeling pressure from minority groups — a protest led by Rev. Al Sharpton is expected to happen outside Sunday’s event — because only whites received acting nominations for the second year in a row.

Here are some of the UCLA study’s highlights:

-In film, minorities got 12.9 percent of lead rules, down from 16.7 percent in 2013, UCLA says.

-Minorities got 12.9 percent of the film director gigs, down from 17.8 percent in 2013, the report says.

-For women directors, that figure was women just 4.3 percent, down from 6.3 percent in 2013.

-Minorities were writers on 8 percent of the films examined, down from 11.8 percent in 2013.

-Women got writing credits in 9.2 percent of the films, down from 12.9 percent in 2013.

-Women got 35.8 percent of the lead roles in broadcast scripted shows, down from 48.6 percent in the 2012-13 season.

-Minorities got 15.9 percent of the lead roles on cable shows, down from 16.8 percent in 2012-13.

-Minorities were credited as show creators in 3.3 percent of the broadcast scripted shows examined, which is down from 5.9 percent in 2012-13.

And so on.

One hopeful highlight was in broadcast scripted TV, where minorities got 8.1 percent of the roles, according to the study. That’s up from 6.5 percent in 2012-13.

But still, the report says, “Minorities remain seriously underrepresented in this broadcast scripted arena.”

The study also reiterated that diverse productions — those with casts that were greater than 30 percent nonwhite — made more money for the industry.

“Films with relatively diverse casts enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment,” the study says. “Minorities accounted for the majority of ticket sales for four of the top 10 films in 2014.”

It also found that broadcast TV shows with casts that were 31 to 40 percent nonwhite received the most mentions on Twitter.

“What we’ve found for three years running now is that audiences prefer content that looks like America,” Hunt said.

Unfortunately, it looks like Hollywood still isn’t getting the message.

The article was published in LA Weekly. 

(Vox) 3 young Muslim Americans killed in mysterious ‘execution-style’ murders

A broadcast from the local Fort Wayne ABC affiliate, ABC21, announcing the murders ABC21

Early on Wednesday evening, as the sun began to set and the air cooled to just below freezing, police arrived at a unremarkable white home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a few blocks from the campus of Indiana Tech. We do not yet know who called them or what they expected. Inside, they found the bodies of three young men, shot multiple times in what police, on Friday, called “execution style” murders.

The young men were members of a predominantly Muslim diaspora community whose roots are in Africa’s eastern Sahel region. They were Muhannad Tairab, age 17, Adam Mekki, age 20, and Mohamedtaha Omar, age 23. Police have identified no motive in the killing, which appears to be something of a mystery.

The modest white building had apparently become something of a “party house” used by local youths, but police said there was no known connection to gangs or any other violent organization.

Were they killed for their religion? A police spokesperson cautioned against jumping to conclusions, stating that, as of yet, they had “no reason to believe this was any type of hate crime, or focused because of their religion or their nationality whatsoever.”

Indeed it may turn out that there was some unseen force at play here: gang violence, a robbery gone awry, some personal dispute. Nonetheless, it seems impossible, at this point, to completely rule out the possibility that this could be exactly what Muslim American rights group already fear it may be: an expression of America’s increasingly violent Islamophobia problem.

In recent months, there has been an alarming trend of violence and violent threats against America’s community of roughly two to three million Muslim citizens.

There were the murders, almost exactly one year ago, of three Chapel Hill students, by a local man who’d expressed a paranoid hatred of religion. Later that spring, the FBI arrested the leader of a far-right militia that was planning to massacre a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in upstate New York. Another militia, in Texas, has sent its assault rifle-wielding members to stalk a local mosque and its adherents, later publishing the home addresses of “Muslims and Muslim sympathizers.”

More isolated acts of violence — what we might call “lone wolf” attacks had the religions of the shooter and victim been reversed — have been so frequent they are difficult to track.

On Thanksgiving, a Pittsburgh man accosted his Moroccan cab driver with questions about ISIS, then shot him. Two weeks later, a Michigan man called an Indian store clerk a “terrorist” before shooting him in the face. On Christmas eve in Texas, a local man charged into a Muslim-owned tire shop and shouted “Muslim!” as he opened fire, killing one and critically wounding another.

Less than a week ago, a Missouri man charged at a Muslim American family with a handgun, telling them, “This state allows you to carry a gun and shoot you. … You, your wife, and your kids have to die.” The family was able to flee.

This has not come out of nowhere. Islamophobia has entered mainstream American discourse in the past year, receiving substantial airtime on cable news networks. CNN anchors have called Muslims “unusually violent” and “unusually barbaric”; Fox News has called Islam a “destructive force” and suggested that Muslim American communities are running secret terrorist “training camps.” Presidential candidates from Donald Trump to Marco Rubio continue to dabble in overt Islamophobia.

It is important to caution against assuming that whatever happened this week in Fort Wayne, whatever chain of events led to the mysterious “execution-style” murders of three young men, must necessarily be part of the rising wave of Islamophobic violence in America. Police are presumably cautioning against that conclusion for a reason, and it may well turn out that their deaths are entirely unrelated.

Still, it is difficult to ignore that three apparently Muslim young men have been murdered, for no immediately obvious reason, just as indiscriminate violence against Muslim Americans is growing out of control.

It is thus concerning that these murders have received so little attention, if only for the possibility, however remote, that they could be part of this trend of religious violence against American citizens.

As a thought experiment, scroll back up to the top of this page and read back through, but this time imagine that the Muslim victims of violence, in every instance, were instead Christian. Imagine that the perpetrators had all been Muslim, and had targeted their victims explicitly because of their Christian faith.

Imagine that, rather than Donald Trump calling for banning Muslims from entering the US, it was Rep. Keith Ellison, who is Muslim, calling for banning Christians. Imagine that Rep. André Carson, who is also Muslim, complained bitterly when President Obama responded to anti-Christian violence by visiting a church, and that Carson further argued America should be willing toclose down churches and anywhere else dangerous Christians might congregate.

Now imagine, amid all this anti-Christian violence and anti-Christian hatred, as Christians were gunned down in the street for their religion and crowds of thousands gathered to cheer anti-Christian rhetoric, that three Christians youths turned up mysteriously executed a few blocks from Indiana Tech. Ask yourself whether it would be treated as major news, if only for the possibility of its connection to that wave of violence, or whether it would be largely ignored, as the murders of Tairab, Mekki, and Omar have been.

The article was published in Vox.

(NYT) Simon & Schuster Creates Imprint for Muslim-Themed Children’s Books

As a young Pakistani-American Muslim girl growing up in Connecticut, Zareen Jaffery used to devour novels by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, hoping those stories would offer some clues for how to fit in.

“I remember looking at books to try to figure out, ‘What does it mean to be American? Am I doing this right?’” Ms. Jaffery said. “The truth is, I didn’t see myself reflected in books back then.”

Some 30 years later, Muslim characters remain scarce in mainstream children’s literature. But now Ms. Jaffery, an executive editor of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, is in a position to change that.

Ms. Jaffery is heading a new children’s imprint, Salaam Reads, dedicated to publishing books that feature Muslim characters and stories. The imprint, which Simon & Schuster announced this week, will release nine or more books a year, ranging from board books and picture books to middle grade and young adult titles.

The creation of a Muslim-themed children’s imprint is likely to further fuel the continuing discussion about diversity in children’s publishing. Salaam Reads is also arriving in the middle of a fractious and polarizing political debate about immigration and racial and religious profiling, when minority groups, and American Muslims in particular, feel they are being targeted.

Ms. Jaffery, 37, had long been bothered by the lack of Muslim characters in children’s literature. But the problem started to feel more acute about three years ago, when she began reading books with her young nieces and nephews. “It was hard not to notice that none of those books really reflected their experience,” she said.

She brought up the idea of seeking out books about Muslims with Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Rather than just releasing a scattered selection of books, they decided to create a new imprint, and chose the name Salaam, which means peace in Arabic. The books won’t emphasize theology or Islamic doctrine, Mr. Chanda said, but will highlight the experience of being Muslim through their characters and plots.

“We have a chance to provide people with a more nuanced and, in my estimation, a more honest portrayal of the lives of everyday Muslims,” Ms. Jaffery said.

So far, Salaam Reads has acquired four books that will come out in 2017, including “Salam Alaikum,” a picture book based on a song by the British teen pop singer Harris J. Others planned for release next year are “Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin,” a picture book about four kindergarten friends who learn about one another’s holiday traditions; “The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand” by Karuna Riazi, about a 12-year-old Bangladeshi-American who sets out to save her brother from a supernatural board game, and “Yo Soy Muslim,” a picture book by the poet Mark Gonzales.

Mr. Gonzales, an alumnus of HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” who converted to Islam, said he was immediately game when Ms. Jaffery recruited him to write a book for the imprint.

“As a person who was born as the child of Mexican and French immigrants, I grew up being invisible to society, and if not invisible, demonized,” said Mr. Gonzales. “It was important to me, thinking about what it would mean for every child to have a book when they’re growing up that they can see themselves in.”

The article was published in the New York Times.

 

(Yahoo! News) Comoros VP wins first round of presidential vote

Mohamed Ali Soilihi votes at a polling station in Mbeni on January 25, 2015 during legislative elections (AFP Photo/Ibrahim Youssouf)

Mohamed Ali Soilihi votes at a polling station in Mbeni on January 25, 2015 during legislative elections (AFP Photo/Ibrahim Youssouf)

Moroni (Comoros) (AFP) – The vice president of the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros, Mohamed Ali Soilihi, won the first round of the country’s presidential elections with 17.61 percent of the vote, preliminary results released late Tuesday showed.

Soilihi edged ahead of Mouigni Baraka, the governor of Grande Comore island, who garnered 15.09 percent, ahead of Colonel Azali Assoumani, who placed third with 14.96 percent.

The three candidates will now face off in a second-round of voting on April 10, with the winner succeeding outgoing President Ikililou Dhoinine.

Some supporters of Fahmi Said Ibrahim, who had been one of the favourites but trailed in fourth place, alleged his low count had been due to fraud.

Police dispersed a small group of Ibrahim supporters who gathered at the party’s headquarters on Grande Comore.

An African Union observer mission led by former Tunisian president Mohamed Moncef Marzouki said “apart from few isolated incidents, the entire election took place in an orderly and peaceful” manner.

The first round of voting on Sunday only took place on Grande Comore, in accordance with electoral rules that ensure the president is chosen on a rotating basis from one of the country’s three main islands.

The system was established in 2001 after more than 20 coups or attempted coups in the years following independence from France in 1975.

Dhoinine’s completion of his five-term term has been seen as a sign of growing stability in the Comoros.

The article was published in Yahoo! News.

(Go Woman Africa) Sierra Leone: Women refused entry to government buildings for showing their bare arms

Leaving Sierra Leone with my son. Sitting next to me is former parliamentarian newly appointed Minister of State Isata Kabia. Ms. Kabia sponsored the right to abortion bill that was passed in parliament but that got sent back by the President after giving in to pressures from a male dominated assembly of religious leaders. Photo Credit: Go Woman Africa

Leaving Sierra Leone with my son. Sitting next to me is former parliamentarian newly appointed Minister of State Isata Kabia. Ms. Kabia sponsored the right to abortion bill that was passed in parliament but that got sent back by the President after giving in to pressures from a male dominated assembly of religious leaders.
Photo Credit: Go Woman Africa

I went to the Immigration Head Office in Freetown, Sierra Leone on a Monday to submit a passport application for my son. On this day I entered the building sans problem, I went passed the security, greeted them and asked for Mr. Kakay’s office. They directed me to a desk inside the building. I went there and they said he was on the third floor.

I spent something like 2 hours at the Immigration Office and was told to return two days later at about 10am to collect the passport. On Wednesday morning with my son in arms, I got out of the car and proceeded towards the entrance just as I had done two days before. I said Good Morning and was about to continue on when a police officer stopped me. This was the same officer who I had greeted two days earlier. I knew he recognized me because I recognized him.

“Excuse me?” I asked half confused.

“You can not enter you are wearing a singlet,” he said.

“A what?”

“Sleeveless. Read the sign. You can’t wear singlet in this office.”

He points to a sign that was behind him taped on the side of the entrance that I had not noticed when I came on Monday. From where I was standing I could not see the sign.

I took a breath. A very deep breath.

“OK. I understand but that sign is all the way over there and I didn’t know there was a dress code. I’m just here to pick up my son’s passport”.

“That is not my problem, go and come back,” he said.

Another Police Officer, he looked older standing on the top of the platform brought himself into the conversation.

“Where do you live?”

“In a hotel, but I can’t go and come back to change my top”.

“Ah well you cannot enter here like that, that is the rule”.

I take another deep breath. I am holding my baby so I don’t want to be upset. Since giving birth 5 months ago, I have taken to wearing tank tops to make it easier for me to breastfeed as and when he needs it. They can see that I am holding a baby. They can see that it is hot. They can also see that by the fact that I was there at the Immigration Office which serves that I am also Sierra Leonean, like them.

“I understand you are doing your job. I understand that this is your law. Can you please call someone from inside who can then assist me with collecting my son’s passport while we wait outside.”

“No I won’t be able to do that”, the younger of the two officers said.

At this point of the conversation I had been reduced to 60 percent of self because when you have to deal with micro aggressions whether they be race or gender based that is what happens. You are reduced to feeling less of a person. The rationale for these dress codes is that if you are a woman and you have on a sleeveless top or shirt or dress that you must be there to seduce one of the Immigration staff. That any woman who dresses like that must be there looking for a man. Because that is what we women do, we come with our breasts to shove in their faces.

“As a police officer you know your job is not to just enforce the law but to serve and assist citizens like me right?”

“Me noh know that”, he says.

“I don tell you say you noh dey go inside.”

At this point people start to gather and they start to ask what, and why. I am still holding my son. Still standing under the sun and now being reduced some more, as I am shamed for wearing a tank top by all the additional eyes there present. I am now 50 percent of self. I explain myself to three different people.

One man an older man comes out and says yes you must respect our country. You go back to where you came from and wear proper clothes. You can not come in here.

“Is this not my country too?”

“Me noh know if na you country.”

I am still holding my son. We are still under the sun being refused entry into a building where I spent many many years playing under the desks. Until I was age 10, when we left Sierra Leone, my mother’s office was on the third floor. This was once the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and I had grown up, eating groundnut under the tables, with the children of other Ministry staff. After school we would all walk from our various schools, and collect each other and make it to our parents’ office. It was like a unique form of Daycare, that for the most part is probably being practiced in offices in Freetown. You go wait at your parent’s office and you go home together. In this office  I had been locked countless times in the elevator when there was light off. I had lost one shoes, socks, books, and toys countless times.  It was ironic that of all the buildings in all of Freetown that it would be this same one that my mother had served in for some 30 years that I was being refused entry.

I am asked to step to the side. That I should not block the entrance. People have to go in, I was not people, for this morning I was less than that because I had on a tank top that revealed my arms and chest.

“Go over there!’

They point to the side of the building, a little off to the right. I step away from the front. I stand to the side. It seems like it is going to drizzle. Oh no those aren’t rain drops, they are the tears that start to well up whenever I get reduced below 50 percent of self. It seems my tears never can hold below this point.

I will not cry. You must not cry I tell myself. This is what Sierra Leone does, it tries to make you powerless. It tries to reduce you. You must not be reduced. I must say something to fight back.

“You know this is what is wrong with this country?” I say it loud enough for them to hear me.

“We don’t have any compassion for one another. What if I was your sister, or your wife is this how you would want them to be treated?”

I’m not sure anyone even cares or hears me but I feel better saying that. I know that whatever indignity I am suffering here, I know for a fact that it compares not to the indignities women of lower socio economic status have to suffer in Sierra Leone. I reassure myself that I will get in. This is how they are. I don’t even know who “they” are but I know that this is them.

A man comes out and he says he wants to help me. I have caused enough of a fuss I guess, by refusing to walk away and be dismissed. He asks me what I want and I tell him. Then he goes inside and a woman comes out and hands me a very very sheer scarf. I don’t know how many others like myself, having been reduced have shared arm skin on this scarf. I take it reluctantly barely covering with it and walk passed the police officer. The woman I am going to meet is already coming down the steps, someone had told her I was there. She takes me to the passport section downstairs, formerly the protocol division of Foreign Affairs of which my mother was a director of an all male team. It takes me 5 minutes to sign the form and receive my son’s passport. It took me 30 minutes to enter the building.

As I’m signing the register the man who helped me says, you know you are right. We need a little bit more compassion in Sierra Leone. I don’t smile, I don’t make small talk. I’m still suffering from having been reduced. I hand the scarf back to the owner. I walk out of the building and as I leave I say this to the police office;

“Sometimes we see people on the street they are poor and suffering and no one knows why, maybe they suffer because at some point in their life they showed no “sorri heart” to another human being, maybe one day that will be you. God dey.”

IMG_4412 IMG_4416

I didn’t bother to read the sign the was printed on A4 and stuck on the inside of the building. I don’t know if the dress code is even legal especially when it only applies to women. This is not the only government building in Sierra Leone where women are subjected to this kind of harassment and indignity. At State House, the Office of the President you will be turned away depending on who you are if you are wearing pants, yes even a corporate style pant suit because women wearing trousers clearly are sexually loose and will come there to seduce their employees. The same goes for the Youyi Building, if you attempt to enter it on foot, and if you are a woman who looks like you are not well off someone will attempt to stop you. Every single day women are being harassed in Sierra Leone, suffering micro aggressions put there to reduce them, and make them feel less. It happened to me, it could happen to anyone and after this incident I read a letter from the nation’s corporate affairs boss, another woman who was subjected to the same reductions.