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.
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.
“I like art that’s perceived to require thought,” says comedian and actor Jerrod Carmichael over lunch in lower Manhattan. That much is clear even in his small talk. While walking to Felice 15 Gold Street after a photo shoot, he riffs on everything from Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” to John Oliver. (While he cites West as a musical revolutionary, he thinks the “Last Week Tonight” host can do better than #MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain.) Now splitting a cheese plate and bruschetta, he hones in on someone else’s thought-provoking art: his own.
“I’m curious about how things affect the world more than just personal exploration,” Carmichael says, turning a grape over in his hand. “When I hear of situations, my mind goes to—in the healthiest sense of the word—the ‘broader’ sense of [how] this is affecting everybody around us.”
Such thought processes are apparent in his socially conscious standup and sitcom. His Spike Lee–directed HBO special premiered in 2014, and more recently, his eponymous NBC series, “The Carmichael Show,” premiered its second season on March 13 after a brief six episodes last August.
“My lawyers are the only reason I say ‘Season 2,’ ” he jokes of the new 13-episode arc. “It’s a deeper version of the same thing.”
For fans of the series, that’s good news. At the tail end of summer 2015, “The Carmichael Show” beat the odds and nabbed an audience over the course of three weeks and six episodes. Its deft blend of familial slapstick and of-the-moment politics ensured Carmichael was a voice worth listening to. He got viewers thinking. In standout episodes like “Protest” and “Gender,” Carmichael brought hot-button issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and heightened visibility of the transgender community to the least likely of stages: the multicam sitcom, live audience and all.
“I actually originally envisioned it as single-cam and they changed it,” Carmichael now admits. “Then I realized that multi was more of a challenge. The narrative of the realm of multicameras is that it’s dying, it’s dead, there’s no true art in it. And what’s more fun than that challenge? [There is] also a connection with the stage performance of it—being a standup comic and knowing that at its best, multicam [gets] that reaction. It elicits this response.”
Luckily, it wasn’t just the studio audience that responded. “The Carmichael Show” Season 1 pulled in NBC’s best ratings for its late summer time slot in over a decade and was promptly scooped up for another round. The series also got a stamp of critical approval. Season 2 has already rolled out buzzed-about half-hours on class and infidelity, gentrification, and most notably, Bill Cosby’s tarnished legacy. After the premiere of the Cosby episode, titled “Fallen Heroes,” Salon went so far as to crown Carmichael “the most important comedian in America.”
“People are much smarter [and] the audience wants more than I think a lot of people behind the camera give them credit for,” says co-creator and Carmichael’s “Neighbors” director Nicholas Stoller of the series’ appeal. “People want to hear the conversations they’re having in their living rooms.”
That’s just where the bulk of “The Carmichael Show” takes place: Carmichael’s childhood living room. Largely inspired by the dynamics of his own family growing up in North Carolina, Carmichael plays Jerrod and is joined by all of the genre’s necessary players: a schlubby, down-and-out brother (Lil Rel Howery); a loud, opinionated father (David Alan Grier); a jovial and equally opinionated mother (Loretta Devine); and Carmichael’s black sheep—and, as the series points out, half-black—girlfriend, Maxine (Amber Stevens West).
Politics of the religious right and bleeding heart left come under one roof while certain events offscreen (a Black Lives Matter protest, for instance) stoke a conversation that is both nuanced and hilarious. More surprisingly, there’s no agenda at play. Audiences can trust that, for better or worse, they will hear all opinions on a matter between the cast’s varied personalities. And while it doesn’t shy away from bits of sobriety, “Carmichael” just as quickly lightens the mood with a laugh-out-loud (if not entirely politically correct) quip. “The laugh that happens after the serious moment [is] just huge because the audience is so relieved,” Stoller says. Look no further than Grier’s take on one character struggling to come out as transgender: “Don’t worry, the woman trapped inside of him will tell the man what to do.” Cue the studio laughter.
“The main thing, I think, that was really important to me and also to Jerrod as we made the show, is that no one’s right and no one’s wrong,” Stoller continues. “I think [that] makes much more interesting conversation and television.”
Carmichael says that much of the series’ content is his perspective as he’s debated with himself and others on these topics. “It’s a completed argument for me,” he summates. “A lot of [Jerrod] is my perspective. Some other characters are my perspective, even the polar opposites. It’s an argument that I’ve had with myself [that’s] harder to do in standup, but with the show, I can fulfill the argument immediately.”
Today, Carmichael credits his analytical humor to his days living in the very home he’s now depicting on prime time. While he’s always rejected the notion of being “just a comedian,” saying it seemed “kind of arrogant” to assume he can make people laugh, that’s exactly what he’s been doing since his days in middle school making comedic topical shorts instead of writing essays. “I have teachers that, years later, tell me they still show some of the videos. My version of ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ is amazing,” he insists. But even before dreams of becoming a comic, Carmichael recalls wanting a series on NBC.
“This is going to sound like I made it up, but my brother likes to remind me of it: When I was 13 years old, I said, ‘I want a show on Thursday night on NBC,’ ” he says with a sheepish grin. “I wanted a sitcom. That was all I ever really wanted.”
So in 2008, he left to chase the dream and moved to Los Angeles. As any working actor will know, a career’s early years are often the most trying, but Carmichael remembers them with clarity and fondness. He didn’t take for granted that L.A. is a mecca of creativity and Hollywood history. He’d often spend afternoons at the Paley Center watching old TV shows and evenings at open mics.
“Me and a lot of the closest friends I have now even still just wanted to impress each other. We wanted to try new things constantly. We weren’t afraid to fail,” he says.
“Don’t think about it. You just do the work, do the art. At some point in the process, you should do it purely for the love of it,” he advises. “A lot of people jump in and sort of make it a business first, and while I knew [my work] could obviously prove profitable, it was really important for me to view it as art. I try to hold onto that as much as I can, even while navigating the business aspect.”
Surviving the industry’s business aspects, however, can be just as daunting, and having an understanding of Hollywood’s effect on art and vice versa is key to striking gold. Carmichael says success also requires a thick skin and an ability to compromise and collaborate without selling out.
“You have to be stronger than everyone’s collective caution and everyone’s collective fear,” he says. “A show is still a business. There’s a lot of money at stake… [but] audiences recognize when a machine created something and when something is personal and true and close. When it comes to creation, playing ‘the game’ doesn’t apply. When you make something, it needs to be as pure as it can be.”
Time and again, Carmichael proves a voice worth listening to. Are you listening yet?
Keep Standing Up
Even at the height of his success at NBC, Carmichael continues to do standup whenever he can. When he was in New York City earlier this month, he made it a point to do a quick set at the historic Comedy Cellar. “Sometimes when I’m writing the script [for ‘The Carmichael Show’], I’ll go onstage and talk about what we’re talking about in the episode to really explore how I feel about it,” he says. Contrary to popular belief, though, Carmichael says standup isn’t all about the laughs. “I’m looking for feeling, I’m looking for connection, I’m looking for a reaction…. When I think comedian, I think [of] the satire of Mark Twain as much as the jokes of Chris Rock. Obviously, laughs are an important thing and you want to be funny and you want to give [audiences] that experience, but you also want them to feel some type of connection to what you’re saying. I treat my audience like adults.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
It’s 8 a.m., Congress isn’t in session and Washington’s roads are icy, but more than 100 ambassadors, academics, African emigres and heads of humanitarian groups have crammed into a basement room of the U.S. Capitol for an unofficial meeting about how Boko Haram and other terrorism groups are stunting African progress.
The regular breakfasts are the brainchild of Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who is frustrated by a lack of attention paid to the continent and sees her own constituents with deep interest in policy toward Africa.
“In community organizing, you believe that the best policy is made by having those people that are most affected by the policy at the table. It’s not rocket science. If you do policy in a vacuum it can have unintended consequences,” she said in an interview after the meeting.
Bass first got involved in African policy because of South African apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s when she co-chaired the local Southern Africa Support Committee.
“I stopped doing international work and just focused on domestic work. One of the reasons I was excited about coming to Congress is I could do both,” Bass said. “I really took almost a 20-year hiatus away from foreign policy.”
She views it as her responsibility.
“The same way it was my responsibility to figure out how to address the gang and crack intersection in South-Central, I also felt it was my responsibility to help fight to end apartheid and especially the U.S. government’s policies,” Bass said.
When she joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee after taking office in 2011, Bass said it didn’t feel like those actually affected by the committee’s decisions had a voice.
“When I would go to hearings on Africa, you would have no Africans participating, but they are sitting there in the audience while we’re talking about their countries. That just seemed odd to me,” she said.
She is now the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations. Other Foreign Affairs Subcommittees focus narrowly on one or two subjects.
“That in and of itself to me kind of says that Africa is not a big enough priority to have its own focused subcommittee,” she said. “We could go easily a month or two without having a hearing on Africa [with] so many subject matters.”
Bass said she’s gone out of her way to work with the Foreign Affairs Committee, not supersede it, by having committee leaders co-host the breakfasts or speak.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) said a wider group of people are excited about legislation before the committee because of Bass’ breakfast meetings. He’s spoken at a few.
“It’s effective,” he said. “Karen Bass is able to strategically use the enthusiasm of those who participate in the breakfasts in order to try to assist us.”
Royce pointed to several cases, including a bill recently signed by President Obama aimed at electrical infrastructure around the continent, the global anti-poaching act and congressional response to Ebola.
Bass said Africa may seem so far away to her Los Angeles constituents, “but we have a huge diaspora community in L.A.”
Her district includes Little Ethiopia, a block-long stretch on Fairfax Avenue between West Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive.
“Even Little Ethiopia is a commercial strip. It is not like Ethiopians reside in that area. I’m sure some do, but that area’s very, very mixed,” she said.
She plans to talk with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council about a trade mission and also a seminar to connect federal agencies with private businesses interested in investing in Africa, Bass said.
This year she wants to coordinate with the African diaspora living in Los Angeles and hold a policy breakfast in the city so her constituents can be heard too.
“I know there’s a huge Nigerian community, Cameroonian, and there are seven official consulates for seven African countries, and then there’s about another five honorary consulates,” she said. “There should always be a voice. If we come up with a policy we want to bounce it back and forth. You want the people that are most affected also pushing for the policy as well.”
Nii Akuettah, executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus, a coalition of immigrant groups in Washington, called Bass “a big champion for Africa.”
“There is a great deal of good will in the African community here for her and on the continent for her,” he said.
The periodic gatherings draw members of Congress, ambassadors from African countries, emigres or diaspora, and other people who have a stake in the United States’ policy regarding Africa, such as businesses, State Department officials and academics–and often the groups are “not on the same page,” Bass said.
The meetings began as a way to draw attention to reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. First created in 2000, AGOA gives special market access to certain sub-Saharan countries that maintain legal, human rights and labor standards. In June, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation extending the act until 2025.
The talks continued, with a focus on trade and economic development between the United States and African countries. Topics have ranged from Ebola to elections to electricity, and the July 2014 breakfast was also about instability because of Boko Haram, the northeastern Nigerian Islamist group.
Bass said Boko Haram must be addressed when looking to set policy about Africa’s future.
“You can’t talk about economic development, you can’t talk about the implementation of AGOA in countries without security and in countries that are not stable or are being destabilized because of Boko Haram,” she said.
“When you look at the number of people that have been killed by Boko Haram, it’s more than the number of lives lost to ISIS. I think part of our job here is raising the consciousness in the U.S. that just because something is happening on the continent, that doesn’t mean that it does not have international significance,” she said.
It’s her goal to reshape U.S.-Africa relations.
“We still kind of view Africa as a charity case and not as a continent that is a partner. Unfortunately, I think the United States is behind the rest of the world, because the rest of the world sees Africa as much more of a partner than we do,” she said.
The original article was published in the Los Angeles Times.
On Thursday, January 7, Dr. Dennie Beach, Dr. Samuel Jones and Ibrahima Cisse with sponsorship by the African Union Expo LLC, Go Africa Health LLC and Go Africa News LLC, hosted a fundraiser on the Upper East Side to raise funds for the reelection campaign of Bronx State Assemblyman Michael Blake, who represents the 79th District in the Bronx.
Check out an exclusive video by Karimtosh Diabate of AfricaTVUSA.net. Some highlights and participants include:
An introduction by Yoliswa Cele, founder and CEO of Ndosi Strategies and of the mistresses of ceremonies
Kadiatou Fadiga, Miss Guinea USA 2011 and one of the mistresses of ceremonies
A speech by State Assemblyman Michael Blake in which he discusses how he got into politics and what he hopes to accomplish if reelected
Rafi Jafri, president and CEO of Jafri Strategies LLC
Mohammed Diallo, senior strategy officer and founder of Ginjan Bros. ginger juice beverage from West Africa, which was served at the fundraiser
Fundraiser hosts Dennie Beach, president of Go Africa Network; Dr. Samuel Jones, Go Africa’s chief medical officer; and Ibrahima Cisse, Go Africa’s chief protocol officer
Exclusive interviews with State Assemblyman Michael Blake and Aubrey Lynch, director of dance at the Harlem School of Arts by Madina Toure of Go Africa Network and Miss Guinea USA
The America you dreamt of is an America you never conceived of.
You are officially black. In your country you were just you, no color attached to your identity, but now you are black. Stop saying I am Nigerian, I am Zimbabwean, or I am Kenyan. America doesn’t care about any of that, in America you are simply black. You will try to fight, deny, and resist every time someone calls you black. You resist your newly prescribed blackness because a ladder of racial hierarchy exists in America.
Sooner than later, you will realize your blackness puts you at the bottom of this ladder irrespective of the educational or financial status you acquire. Every rejection of your new found blackness will be an attempt to move away from the bottom of this ladder, to resist the label that the color of your skin has subjected you to. It takes some time getting used to, you know, this whole race and being black thing, but sooner that later you will understand America’s tribalism and you will learn to navigate through it.
People will hold stereotypes about you. Some might ask if you’ve lived on trees and or jungles and others won’t even ask, they’ll assume you did. Others will think your entire existence has been defined by hunger and poverty. In case you haven’t noticed you sound different, you do. And people will not fail to remind you of the obvious, your accent. Some may laugh and others will make you repeat words and sentences over and over again because they are unable to “understand.” You will be very confused and will think to yourself, “But I speak better English than you.” Despite all these, do not be ashamed of your identity. Don’t allow people’s ignorance harden your heart towards them. As much as you possibly can, dismantle these stereotypes by telling the other stories they haven’t been exposed to.
White Americans will say you are better than American blacks, but please do not fall for this trap. You will be told you behave better, work harder, and are more educated than American blacks. You will be tempted to agree and will sometimes want to shout, “YES, I’M NOT LIKE THEM, WE AFRICANS ARE DIFFERENT!” Just don’t…don’t even think it.
The praise of your acquired characteristic and culture becomes a justification for white Americans to perpetuate discriminatory treatments towards American blacks. These statements of praise have an underlying message of, “If Africans can do so well then surely racism has nothing to do with anything, therefore, American Blacks are to be blamed for their condition in America”. This problematic line of reasoning sustains cultural racism. I beg of you, refrain from nodding in agreement when you receive such faulty praise.
Navigating through America’s complex social construct is a process. The sooner you become conscious of the nuances involved, the better for Black America as a whole.
If 2014 was the year many people began asking hard questions about problems with policing, 2015 was the year we started getting answers that showed just how big these problems are.
Motivated by a series of high-profile killings of black males over the last half of 2014 — and particularly young victims like 18-year-old Michael Brown and 12-year-old Tamir Rice — the media spent much of 2015 focusing intently on the sorts of complaints that many poorer communities and communities of color had raised.
Incidents that may only have been covered locally in years past continued to get front-page treatment across the country in 2015, bringing with them broader implications for the overall state of law enforcement in the U.S. As a result, the nation got a closer look at the ways bad policing anywhere can corrode the public’s trust in the entire institution.
Perhaps most importantly, we realized just how little we had known about trends in police violence and misconduct. In the historic absence of federally collected data on many of the most harrowing statistics, outlets began their own tracking efforts. They came up with a number of reports about the size and scope of controversies in policing. Together, national and local reporting confirmed police departments in the U.S. suffer from a variety of systemic issues.
But we didn’t need statistics to see the disturbing patterns evident in the year’s most contentious cases. The facts in many police shootings remained sharply contested, long after prosecutors effectively ruled in favor of officers. Official statements sometimes conflicted with the evidence presented to the public. Time and time again, the public was left wondering how shootings that appeared avoidable or unnecessary could also be “justified.”
These controversies were further enflamed by a legal system that sometimes operates behind closed doors, asking the public simply to trust that justice was done. And it didn’t help that the entire process crawled along at a languid pace that in some cases appeared to be both a function of careful calculation and careless indifference.
While there is hope for incremental police reform heading into 2016, the legal foundations that allow officers and departments to uphold the status quo remain fully intact. To get a better sense of what, if anything, we can expect to change in the new year, here are some numbers from 2015 that you should keep in mind.
Because their list includes all manners of death, it counts people who died in police custody, or after being struck by stun guns or police cruisers, as well as those who were shot.
Black civilians were far more likely than people from any other race to be killed by police in 2015, with 6.87 deaths per million people. That’s more than two times the rate of Native Americans, the second most likely group, who were killed at a rate of 3.4 per million. The rate among whites was 2.84 deaths per million.
Police in California were involved in the most civilian deaths this year, killing 207 people, according to The Guardian. With the figures adjusted by population, New Mexico saw the highest rate of people dying at the hands of police.
Ninety of those — 88 men and 2 women — were unarmed. Eighteen of the unarmed civilians were Hispanic. With 36 unarmed black victims in 2015, black communities suffered a disproportionately high rate of police violence in this particularly troubling metric as well.
The Post also reported that the large majority of people who police shot and killed were either wielding weapons, experiencing a mental episode or threatening self-harm, or refusing officers’ orders. But in 60 percent of cases in which police fired upon civilians exhibiting what the Post calls “less threatening behavior,” the suspects were black or Hispanic.
For years, this was the closest figure to an official accounting of civilians killed by police. Now that we have more comprehensive data, it’s clear that using the FBI’s parameters — felons killed by officers in the line of duty — has likely led to a severe undercounting of this statistic.
The FBI announced plans earlier this month to improve its tracking of violent police encounters. By 2017, the agency says, it will be able to provide more information on incidents in which an officer causes serious injury or death to a civilian.
The number of days that passed before a prosecutor announced that officers would not face charges in the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said Monday that a grand jury had determined that two officers were justified in driving up to Rice as he was playing with a toy gun at a park and shooting him within a matter of seconds.
The wait of more than 13 months attracted criticism from the family’s lawyers, who repeatedly accused the prosecution of deliberately stalling the case in order to come to a decision that wouldn’t hold the officers accountable for the shooting. While the prosecution waited to announce its final conclusion, it courted controversy by releasing a number of findings by independent experts who said they believed officers were justified in opening fire on Rice. The announcement came during the slow stretch between Christmas and New Year’s, meaning it’s safe to call this a news dump of significant proportions.
Beyond the inevitable questions about whether grand jury reached the correct decision, Rice’s case exposes a much broader problem with the often sluggish pace of the legal system responsible for bringing officers to justice in cases such as these.
The age of the youngest victim of a fatal police shooting this year. Jeremy Mardis, an autistic boy, was shot by Louisiana police in November.
Mardis was in the car with his father when Marksville city marshals Lt. Derrick Stafford, 32, and Norris Greenhouse Jr., 23, approached and opened fire, discharging at least 18 rounds. Police body camera footage of the incident showed Mardis’ father, who was also shot and critically wounded in the incident,with his hands raised at the time of the shooting, according to a lawyer for the family who had viewed the video.
The shooting drew attention to a small-town police force that has been plagued by problem officers, including Stafford and Greenhouse, who had both been named in a number of civil complaints. Other reports suggested there was an escalating turf war between two law enforcement departments in Marksville, and that the two officers may have been given more leeway to patrol the town and issue citations as a result.
Stafford and Greenhouse have been indicted on first-degree murder charges and remain in jail.
The number of shots fired at Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, as he ran away from North Charleston police officer Michael Slager following a traffic stop in April.
Police initially described the shooting, recorded by a bystander, as a response to a scuffle in which Scott had overpowered Slager and gotten control of the officer’s Taser. Slager feared for his life when he pulled the trigger, authorities said. The subsequent release of the video called this narrative into question and quickly led to Slager being charged with murder in the killing. He remains in jail.
The video was played over and over again online and on cable news, once again exposing the power of bystander footage to change the trajectory of a police shooting case — and leading to further concerns that the death of black people has become a spectacle in U.S. culture.
The number of officers charged this year with murder or manslaughter for their involvement in on-dutyshootings,according to Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University who has researched police killings. This includes a number of officers who were charged for incidents that took place in previous years.
The average over the past decade has been closer to five officers charged each year, Stinson said. He believes the increasing presence of bystander video has played a role in the uptick this year.
Stinson, himself a former police officer, told HuffPost earlier this year that the increased attention being paid to police brutality may have also contributed to the rise in prosecution, though he added that it’s too early to tell whether 2015 will be a statistical outlier or an early indication of an upward trend. At any rate, he said a handful of charges likely wouldn’t eliminate skepticism about the general failure to prosecute police officers.
The number of officers convicted this year on murder or manslaughter charges stemming from on-duty incidents.
This serves as a reminder that 15 indictments only looks like progress given the overwhelming resistance to charging police officers — and that the few officers who do face serious charges for their involvement in police killings are rarely actually punished for their actions.
The number of fatal on-duty shooting incidents a single officer has been directly involved in over the course of his career, according to a Washington Post review of police shootings in 2015.
That officer, a sheriff’s deputy on a SWAT team in Broward County, Florida, pulled the trigger in three fatal shootings from 2009 to 2011. In June, he shot for a fourth time during a deadly confrontation with a suspected bank robber.
The Post reported that 55 of the officers who fatally shot civilians this year had previously fired their weapons in other deadly on-duty shootings. A number of others had been involved in two previous incidents.
Only one of the nation’s 60 largest cities went the entire year without a fatal police shooting, according to a report by Mapping Police Violence, a project headed by activists in the Black Lives Matter movement. That means 59 of the largest 60 cities saw law enforcement kill at least one civilian this year.
Police in Riverside, California, didn’t kill a single one of the city’s more than 300,000 residents in 2015. About 170 miles north, in Bakersfield, population 360,000, police were ranked the most lethal, killing at a rate of more than 13 people per million, more than three times the national average. They killed a total of five civilians this year.
A separate graph from Mapping Police Violence compares deadly police violence to overall levels of violent crime, and finds that there’s no correlation between the two numbers. This knocks down the popular argument that police are more likely to kill people in high-crime areas, ostensibly as a response to a threat posed by a suspect or other members of the community.
Among 27 large cities across the nation, only Albuquerque and New Orleans have finished equipping their officers with body cameras. The Justice Department had previously investigated both city police forces over allegations of civil rights violations by their officers.
Many U.S. cities of all sizes have begun to explore police body cameras as a tool for fostering transparency and accountability. The vast majority of departments currently find themselves in the planning stages of their programs, however. Some are still waiting for funding, comparing different devices or testing the use of cameras with a small portion of their officers before rolling out the equipment more widely.
While police and the public tend to agree that body cameras are a good first step toward rebuilding trust between departments and civilians, the slow speed of getting the technology up and running has only exacerbated concerns that police could end up making sure body cameras won’t bring about the change many had hoped to see.
The number of days it took for Chicago to release a video showing an officer fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old who was killed following a confrontation with police.
The publishing of the dashboard camera video followed a lengthy court battle in which authorities reportedly worked to suppress the chilling footage of officer Jason Van Dyke gunning down McDonald in the middle of a busy street. County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced first-degree murder charges against Van Dyke shortly after releasing the video. The series of events led some to claim Chicago officials were intent on covering up the incident, and that they might have been successful had a whistleblower not aired concerns that the shooting wasn’t going to be adequately investigated.
The footage offered a dramatically different account than the one initially provided by police after the shooting. While officials claimed McDonald had lunged at officers before the shooting, the video — which police said was recorded without audio — showed Van Dyke firing the first shot from about 10 feet away and firing the final shot nearly 15 seconds later, as McDonald lay seemingly lifeless on the ground.
The figure led officials to admit that something had to be wrong, with one LAPD commissioner telling the Times that it “strains credibility to suggest that … there were zero instances of biased policing.”
Police officials said that the lack of action on these cases is in part due to the difficulty of proving that officers knowingly initiated a civilian interaction because of the civilian’s race or other physical factors. But the remarkable record also leads to further questions about whether police should continue to be allowed to investigate themselves if they consistently find that they did nothing wrong.
The amount paid out last year by the 10 largest U.S. cities for settlements and court judgments involving police misconduct cases in their departments,according to a Wall Street Journal report. These cities paid out more than $1 billion over five years, with the annual total increasing nearly 50 percent from 2010 to 2014.
Taxpayers in these cities are typically on the hook for these payments, meaning that they can end up getting victimized twice — both as the direct casualties of police misconduct and the unwilling enablers who must eventually pay for that misconduct.
As the Sun reported, that money “would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.” And this doesn’t include the nearly $6 million the city spent defending officers against these claims.
This money could have gone to much better causes in other cities as well. In Chicago, for example, the $521 million taxpayers coughed up in police misconduct cases between 2004 and 2014 would have been enough for the city to cover nearly the entire cost of a new, state-of-the-art research hospital being built downtown.
The number of officers killed in attacks suffered in the line of duty this year, according to an independent count compiled by the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website that tracks law enforcement deaths.
While critics tried to combat the increasingly vocal push for police reform by branding this activism as a “war on cops,” it’s now clear this claim was bogus. Police may have felt like they were “under attack” — it’s difficult to hear public criticism when you have so long been insulated from it, after all — but these were never physical threats. Data shows that non-lethal violence against police is also on the decline.
And if this so-called “war on cops” was supposed to be coupled with an increase in crime because officers were too scared to do their jobs, that also didn’t pan out. While some cities did see disturbing increases in murder rates, the overall rate of violent crime and murder — including in many of those same cities — has still been in decline for the last 25 years. That trend is projected to have continued in 2015.
Let’s all remember that as we talk about policing and the pressing need for reform in 2016.
This article was published on Huffington Post Black Voices.