Monthly Archives: February 2008

Is ‘New Amerykah’ More of the Same?


“What if there were no niggas, only master teachers?” Bilal and Georgia Anne Muldrow co-croon on the eighth track of Erykah Badu’s lastest disc, New Amerykah.
Their reply to one another: “I’d stay ‘woke.”

They go on asking the same question and offering the same answer for the first two minutes of the song, before Badu herself chimes in, repeating their query for another minute and a half, then completely changing the tone, melody, and lyrics—for about one verse. She says things like, “Baby’s sleeping/time to put her down/I’ll be hanging ’round… I stay woke.” and “Congregation nods their head and says, ‘Amen.’/The deacon fell asleep again…. I stay woke,” until the remainder of the song’s nearly seven-minute runtime dissolves into a series of hypnotic “Oooh, Ahh”s.
Read that back. Did any of it make any sense? Right. There’s a lot of that to go around on this disc.

Will Someone Please Stick a Fork in

Enough already, Hollywood. We get it. You want to throw whatever weight you have behind Obama. But shouldn’t have quit while he was ahead here? His latest support video just screams “one too many!” and comes off as less about the promotion of the words, ideals, and inspiration of the candidate himself and more about “celebrities” who felt excluded the first time around getting another crack at seeming politically aware. I mean, it’s nice to see Daniel Meade from Ugly Betty and all. Makes me wonder what the return to the set’ll be like when he and America Ferrera inevitably face off over their divergent allegiances. And aren’t Regina King’s arms killer (even though I sooo wanna do something about her hair)? And look! Lots of Spanish being spoken! (Oh, word? George Lopez is an Obama supporter? Good lookin’ out, I guess.)

But I didn’t need to hear Jessica Alba pat herself on the back for having the foresight to look out for her unborn child on the future president tip. She’s getting way too much press for that pregnancy already. And Kerry Washington is cute, but if she didn’t make the deadline for the first song, I would’ve been good with just catching the comments she makes here somewhere else on the campaign trail. And aren’t we all getting a little bit tired of seeing Zoe Kravitz randomly cropping up everywhere now that she’s eighteen? Like, just because.

I guess the point is: shut it,

Ugly Incident in South Africa Evokes Painful Past.

The video invokes painful historical imagery — older and larger black women dressed in maids uniforms, sitting on their knees before several 20-something white men. Speaking in Afrikaans, the men call the women whores, and the women call the men master, a term blacks were forced to use during apartheid when addressing whites. Duped into thinking that they are competing in a South African take on “Fear Factor,” the women play rugby, a popular Afrikaner sport, dance, and eat stew laced with urine — all on tape.

The video, created by four men, (two students and two alums of Free State University, roughly 400 miles outside of Johannesburg), was allegedly prompted by the university’s efforts to integrate its dorms. The Free State was a bastion for Afrikaners during apartheid, and the campus has been simmering since the university announced its plans last fall.

The video is hard to watch. It’s hard to even write about. The video’s release, (it was actually made last fall), has sparked outrage and suggestions that 14 years out of apartheid and into democracy, South Africa hasn’t progressed very far.

When apartheid ended, these students were roughly 10 years old, old enough to remember the racist system, but young enough to personify the new South Africa. It’s disgusting the power they exercise over the university’s most vulnerable population, those with the least amount of political or economic clout, but so is the way the incident is playing out publicly.

The women have been silenced — told not to talk about the incident by the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, while the students’ lawyer, Nico Naude, is saying “the whole thing is a farce” and “there was never any urine involved.”

“I can deny that there were any human rights abuses at all … This was supposed to have been shown at a ‘cultural evening’ a satire in which a multi-racial audience would have laughed at themselves.” [Cape Argus]

The same attorney told CNN that his clients have been “described, depicted and crucified” in the media as racists, and had no intention of “humiliating or degrading the employees.” I wonder what they thought they were doing instead.

A Country Full of Jailbirds.

The Pew Center on the States released a study yesterday that found that for the first time ever, one in every 100 Americans is in a prison or jail. That’s 2,319,258 people — a population bigger than that of Baltimore and Philadelphia combined.

The report also found that for all the money being spent on incarceration, nothing has been done to lower recidivism rates (half of those in prison will return three years after their release).

“For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn’t been a clear and convincing return for public safety,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project. “More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers.”

As mind-boggling as those number are, they might not be the most harrowing. One in 36 Hispanic adults is behind bars. For black adults, it’s one in 15.  For black men between the ages of 20 and 34 that number is one in 9.

The study also says that there’s not a direct correlation between increase in crime and rates or incarcertation or even (as I was gonna guess) a corresponding increase in the nation’s general population.

A surge in the nation’s population at large. Instead, more people are behind bars principally because of a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular “three-strikes” measures and other sentencing laws, imposing longer prison stays on inmates.

Obviously, this means more money is being spent on locking people up. Vermont, Michigan, Oregon and Connecticut all allocate more funding to prisons than higher education.

One of the unquanitifiable (but very serious) consequences of locking up all these people is that it normalizes insitutionalization. As pointed out by Jennifer Gonnerman in her compelling book, Life On The Outside, the kids making monthly visits to see their parents behind bars are in correctional facilities more than they’re in doctor’s offices. That’s not a small thing.

This American Life devoted an entire episode to prison life — including the heartbreaking story of a little boy who visits his mom on Mother’s Day.* locked up for five years on conspiracy because she made four phone calls for her drug-dealing boyfriend.

*This story begins at the 20:40 mark, but you should really listen to the whole ep. It’s riveting.

Matt Santos: Change We Can Believe In.

(photo courtesy NBC)

I used to be a pretty big fan of The West Wing, hokey as it could be. And ever since Barack Obama announced his run, I kept thinking of how similar he seemed to Matt Santos, the fictional Democratic congressman played by Jimmy Smits who was running for president.

At the Democratic National Convention in the final season, he asks the delegates in attendance in a rousing, lofty speech to forego petty partisanship in favor of national unity .

Turns out those similarities were very much on purpose, because the West Wing’s creators had based Santos on Obama.

The Constitution is…Constitutional.

Our very smart homies over at edge of the west remind us that 80-some years ago today, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of women’s right to vote.

On this day in 1922, the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of Leser v. Garnett, ruled that the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, enfranchising women, is constitutional. How could it be otherwise?Well, maybe if you’re an adamantine states’ righter (and, yes, male chauvinist pig) and you don’t think the federal constitution can overrule a state constitution: “The only ground of disqualification alleged was that the applicants for registration were women, whereas the Constitution of Maryland limits the suffrage to men.” In such cases, you might argue that the state legislature cannot vote the ratification of a federal amendment that defies the state constitution, which gives life to the state legislature.

Not so fast, said the Supremes. The state legislature is the state legislature except when the federal Constitution wants it on the phone: “the function of a state Legislature in ratifying a proposed amendment to the federal Constitution, like the function of Congress in proposing the amendment, is a federal function derived from the federal Constitution; and it transcends any limitations sought to be imposed by the people of a state.”

This seems like as good a time as any to show you the below. Enjoy the 70’s ethos, and wonder, is it as inaccurate and in its way as appalling as the “Manifest Destineeee” one? (Hint: consider the line, “not a woman here could vote….”)

Look here.

After 43 Days, Newark’s Respite Is Over.

(photo: The New York Times)

Newark has been trying to drive down its homicide toll, with Mayor Cory Booker running around in the last days of 2007 trying to importune his cops to do something to stanch the bloodshed in Brick City (crime reduction was one of the issues on which he’d run for office). Newark, a city of 280,000 people, closed out the year with 99 murders.

The city went through a remarkable stretch — which eventually reached 43 days — where it didn’t see a single homicide.

But about 9 p.m. Tuesday, [homicide detective’s] BlackBerrys buzzed with a still-familiar bulletin: Another young man had been gunned down on the street.

Tearful relatives of the man, 20-year-old Andre Thomas, stood behind police tape near a bodega in the South Ward, talking about how he had been enrolled in college classes and was helping raise his girlfriend’s children. Police officials said that Mr. Thomas had been arrested 13 times, including an arrest on the street where he died, and said that his was a “targeted” killing, in which a gunman in a ski mask chased him down a street and shot him in front of the bodega.

During the stretch of relative tranquility, police said shootings and rapes were down, but assaults were up.

This prompted some disagreements over what caused the lull. Booker said it was due to ” a fugitive apprehension project, a unified narcotics squad, a hot line for tips, more police officers on the street and the renewed embrace of New York City’s Compstat system.”

Andrew Karmen, a sociologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, isn’t so sure.

The drop in Newark homicides, he said, might be too rapid to be explained by a change in social conditions or a demographic shift. Looking at historical data about the city’s homicide rate, Dr. Karmen said that there had been reductions in the past, especially beginning in 1997, when Compstat, a crime-tracking technique pioneered in New York City and credited with crime reductions there, was introduced. But the murder rates had crept back up.

“Initial gains are hard to sustain,” Dr. Karmen said, pointing to crime increases in Philadelphia and Baltimore after the introduction of what has come to be known as the New York City model in those cities. Efforts by law enforcement — especially crackdowns on so-called quality of life infractions — had to be met with corresponding social programs, like providing after-school and summer jobs, and drug treatment programs, he said, adding: “It’s hard to maintain the momentum.”