Tag Archives: Race

Climate Warriors

01climate-change-portraits“For us it’s not the issue of regulation. It’s the issue of survival.” — Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim –

07climate-change-portraits“If I were a young person, I would start to ask my government very seriously,‘Why didn’t you listen?’ I would start to look at companies and corporations and ask, ‘What did you do when you knew?’”  Farhana Yamin–

Feminism is having a moment — and, increasingly, a multicultural one.

These things are seasonal, with seasons being marked by generations rather than in quarter years. Feminism and civil rights and all manner of movement towards an eventuality where we will be able to take for granted our common humanity, consigning no one to the margins, waxes and wanes, falling fallow in the winter of our collective lives only to surge forth again at the start of spring. It’s a perpetual cycling in which we continue to spiral upward, in fits and starts, to higher levels of human consciousness, and higher levels of manifest human possibility.

Young and very visible women,  like Jennifer Lawrence, Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer are using their considerable platforms to break silence with the many invisible ways in which sexism permeates the culture. They are working at the level of culture creation, which after every legal battle has been fault, is where the battle will ultimately be won. We can make the world different only when we change our hearts and minds.

Of course, hearts and minds follow experience, which is why it is essential that we see the faces, and hear the voices of women — and women of color in particular, without whose voices we cannot claim to be engaged in a serious conversation about making change in any corner of our world.

When I opened my computer on November 30, 2015, intent on doing a little procrastinating (ahem, I mean, warm-up for my writing day), I felt vindicated by Vogue.com’s piece,  Climate Warriors,  which centered women of all races, nationalities and economic circumstances in the essential conversation about climate change which, let’s face it, is really a conversation about humanity’s continued survival on Earth, a conversation whose public face is too often male, and  privileged and white — a kind of myopia we can no longer afford. The next leg of the human journey requires that we engage with the all-of-us, wherever it is that we come from, whatever the color of our skin, whatever our sex, whatever level of economic opportunity we enjoy. 


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The PR Battle For Equality



The battle for Marriage Equality is almost won. Later this year, The Supreme Court will decide a case that will settle the marriage equality issue for all 50 states. The question they will answer is whether The 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause requires marriage equality, as surely it does. For those of you who are not Constitutional nerds, The 14th Amendment provides, among other things, that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws(emphasis mine).

The equal protection clause was one of the Reconstruction Amendments. Passed on July 9, 1868, it was meant to lay the legal foundation for full equality for African-Americans, including former slaves who, at the time of its passage, were just three years removed from the institution of slavery. It’s worth noting that prior to the passage of The 13th Amendment, even free blacks were at risk of being enslaved, as Steve McQueen’s luminescent film 12 Years A Slave so painfully illustrated. The 14th Amendment was meant to ensure that those newly freed slaves would be granted full equality under the law. It would take a century for the descendants of former slaves to gain full equality under the law (again, emphasis mine).

While The 14th Amendment was passed in the context of slavery and racial justice, it’s language, like most constitutional language, is broad. This is not an accident. The Founding Fathers, too many of whom were slaveholders, ensconced, in The Declaration of Independence and in The Constitution, language that spoke of aspirations that they themselves did not attain. The Declaration of Independence, for example, holds “these truths self-evident that all men are created equal.” All men. These are the words they chose though they themselves owed their wealth, or a portion of it, to slavery, though they themselves had households and plantations that were run on slave labor, on the blood and sweet and tears of people who were not compensated for their labor and who, furthermore, suffered untold indignities to their bodies and their spirits, including the indignity of brutal and premature death.

So too does The 14th Amendment use inclusive language. It provides for equal protection of the laws for all persons within the jurisdiction of any of the United States. And so when The Supreme Court extends marriage equality to all couples, regardless of sex, a move that this New Yorker article predicts will happen this June, it will be acting in a manner that is consistent with the framers original intent and with the intent of those who drafted and passed into law The 14th Amendment equal protection clause that will make it legally possible.


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Why 12 Years A Slave Is
The Greatest Work On
Slavery The World Has Known




12 Years A Slave is the greatest work of art about slavery that the world has ever known or ever will know. That was my assessment when I first saw the film nearly a month ago, and that’s my assessment now.

It’s taken some time for me to wade through the sea of emotions I felt in the wake of seeing 12 Years A Slave and engaging the critical conversation around it. I saw the movie at an industry screening and Q&A with the film’s director, Steve McQueen, the British fine artist turned filmmaker of African descent who’s previous films are the Michael Fassbinder starrers Hunger and Shame, and three of the film’s stars, the British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays the lead role of Solomon Northrop, the American actress Alfre Woodard who plays a former slaved turned planter’s mistress, and the great discovery of the year, the Kenyan born-Yale educated actress Lupita Ngong’o, who’s riveting turn as the slave Patsey has earned her a place in the acting pantheon. Ms. Woodard rightly tipped her hat as well to her white co-stars, whose courageous work was as essential to McQueen’s accomplishment as was that of the African diaspora stars — representing three continents! — who shared the stage that night. I want to make special note of the work of three of those actors, starting with Benedict Cumberbatch, who’s riding high this moviegoing season with lauded performances in three important films, 12 Years A Slave, The Fifth Estate, and the much anticipated August Osage County, which received a long and rousing standing ovation when I saw it on the Broadway stage. The miracle of Cumberbatch’s work as the slave owning Ford is his ability to imbue his compassionate master with genuine humanity and fellow-feeling towards Northrop, whom he clearly understood as his equal or, as he seemed to understand, his better, but who nonetheless did nothing to restore Northrop to the freedom from which he knew he’d been stolen, opting instead to use Northrop — his property no matter how that came to be — to satisfy his debts. 


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Transcendent G(Race)

Ramses Barden & Faye Arthurs

At Rick Owen

The images above offer one more reason (as if one were needed) to love Carine Roitfeld. From the helm of French Vogue, from which she departed in 2010, Roitfeld was irreverent, original, one of a kind. Now she helms her own CR Fashion Book, where she’s in rare form yet again, working her beautiful, conceptual magic in ways that, frankly, boggle my mind.

Roitfeld is up to some seriously intriguing, philosophical stuff. She’s talking fashion, mind you, but somehow she manages to upend our cultural assumptions and cause us to see anew.

Roitfeld reminds me that fashion is cultural iconography. It’s uniform, armor, away of engaging with, and breaking through the barriers of the world. It’s something the disenfranchised have always known. It’s why African-American women of my mother and grandmother and great grandmother’s generations dressed to the nines, never forgoing their slip or gloves or pantyhose. Dressing to the nines, in the normal course of business if you were middle or upper middle class, and on special occasions if you were working class or poor, was a way to stake a claim on their right to dignity and respect in a world too often blind to the fact of their basic humanity. Sadly, the inability to “see” the non-white among us as human persists, a point Anna Holmes drove home in a piece in The New Yorker about the extreme displeasure expressed by a few too many Hunger Games fans to the discovery that Thrash and Rue were (gasp, wait for it) black.

It’s in this context that I consider the images above, which appeared in two different spreads in Roitfeld’s CR. The first, of New York Giants wide receiver Ramses Barden and New York City Ballet dancer Faye Arthur is soaked in the history and iconography of black masculinity and white femininity as it plays itself out in the White American consciousness and, by extension, in the Black American consciousness as well. This image contains the image of Emmett Till, the 14 year old African-American child who was lynched in 1955 Mississippi for looking at a white woman. And it turns it on its head, rendering the strong, black, male body what it has always been, an object of beauty, intentionality and grace. 


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March 2013:
Fertile Ground

Family On The Lawn

Spring is about fertile ground. The season begins at the Spring Equinox on March 21st (one of two days, the other being the Fall Equinox, when the the hours of daylight equal the hours of night), but we’ll be celebrating all month long.

In the Wicca tradition, the Spring Equinox is celebrated with the holiday of Ostara, a word that’s believed to derive from the Germanic word Eostre, from which derives the word Easter, the Christian holiday of the Resurrection. Spring is also home the Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the Exodus of the Jews out of bondage in Israel.

Back in my New York days, the early days of spring were among my favorite, precisely because they hinted at things to come. The daffodils would pop their heads, up through the little squares of soil around the trees that dotted my sidewalk. I’d get a fresh burst of energy, as if, like the daffodils, I could sense the coming light.

Spring is a time of renewal and new possibilities, literally and metaphorically. It’s when we sow seeds in the ground rather than the greenhouse — and it’s a good time to sow new seeds in our minds.


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