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George Curry

Two Lawyers' Groups Have Reservations about Kagan

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(NNPA) Although the NAACP and Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network have enthusiastically endorsed Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, two key legal groups have so far refrained from endorsing the former Harvard law dean amid questions about whether she would be a strong civil rights advocate on the court. That split underscores the complexities of a civil rights community eager – some say over eager – to support the nation’s first African-American president and some highly-respected legal organizations that are in a much better position to evaluate the appointment of Kagan to fill the seat vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens, a reliable liberal vote on the sharply-divided Supreme Court.

Mavis T. Thompson, president of the National Bar Association, the largest organization of Black lawyers and judges, said the group gave Kagan only a lukewarm rating because of concerns about her positions on crack-cocaine sentencing disparities and her record on diversity at Harvard.

Although Kagan is clearly qualified to join the court, Thompson said, “We hope Ms. Kagan’s views on civil rights and equal justice will become apparent during the confirmation hearings. To date, the NBA has withheld its endorsement due to insufficient information to ensure that Ms. Kagan’s views are consistent with the core missions of the organization.”

Barbara R. Arwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, said her organization voted not to take a position on Kagan. “There isn’t a judicial record to review, indicating her views on critical civil rights matters,” she told the Washington Post.

“And otherwise, the civil rights record that exists is thin and mixed.”

Despite that mixed record, Sharpton issued a statement saying, “President Obama’s nomination of Ms. Kagan – a New Yorker who was a clerk for the Honorable Thurgood Marshall and who has shown balance and fairness throughout her career – is worthy of the support of the civil rights community.”

It took the NAACP just five days to endorse Kagan.

“After a careful and thorough review of Elena Kagan’s record, we have unanimously voted to endorse her nomination,” President and CEO Benjamin Jealous said in a statement. By contrast, the NAACP took nine times as long to research Clarence Thomas before opposing his nomination. Jealous, like Sharpton, noted that Kagan once clerked for legendary Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. But make no mistake about it, Kagan is no Thurgood Marshall. Not even close. When Marshall joined the court, no one questioned his commitment to civil rights.

As a recent story in the Los Angeles Times observed, “Though Marshall was an unwavering liberal, Kagan already appeared less so. Memos on file in Marshall’s papers at the Library of Congress show Kagan to be cautious, skeptical and, at times, scornful of those who would push the law too far to the left.”

Because Kagan has not served as a judge, has written curiously little about major civil rights issues, and has a record of courting conservatives, many are looking at her time at Harvard, her service in the Clinton White House and her short tenure as solicitor general for clues on what kind of judge she might become.

Critics note that of the 43 full-time faculty members hired during her tenure at Harvard, only two were Black and one was Asian. After studying her record, scholars found that of the 32 tenured and tenure-track faculty appointments under Kagan, only one was a person of color (Asian) and seven were women.”

Kagan’s defenders argue that the law school faculty, not the dean, makes the final decision on hiring. But Kagan supporters can’t have it both ways. They can’t argue convincingly that she represented only one vote, while taking credit for her bringing in more conservative faculty members.

For example, President Obama in his nomination speech said, “At a time when many believed that the Harvard faculty had gotten a little one-sided in its viewpoint, she sought to recruit prominent conservative scholars and spur a healthy debate on campus.”

She was so successful attracting conservative faculty members that the right-wing Federalist Society gave her a standing ovation at one Harvard banquet. On its website, the group carries this quote from Kagan: “I love the Federalist Society…They are highly committed, intelligent, hard-working active students who make the Harvard community better.”

Many prominent conservatives have endorsed Kagan, including Charles Fried, solicitor general in the Reagan administration; Ken Starr, the person who prosecuted Bill Clinton, and Theodore Olson, who served as solicitor general for George W. Bush. Those endorsements have raised the eyebrows of progressives.

With conservatives holding a 5-4 edge on the Supreme Court, Obama can’t afford to be wrong about Kagan. Other presidents have lived to regret their Supreme Court appointments. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as chief justice in 1953, feeling certain that he would be a reliable conservative vote. However, Warren moderated his views and became one the court’s most consistent and influential liberals.

Eisenhower would later say Warren’s appointment was “the biggest damn-fool mistake I ever made.” We can only hope that Obama won’t be able to say the same thing about Kagan.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Artur Davis Attacked Blacks to Gain White Support

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(NNPA) As an Alabama state senator, Hank Sanders has witnessed a long line of White politicians trying to get elected by what they used to call “outniggering” one another.

Former Gov. George C. Wallace was a prime example. However, the last thing Sanders expected was an African-American trying to get elected by opposing the best interests of African-American voters and attacking Black leaders.

But that’s exactly what Congressman Artur Davis did in his unsuccessful campaign to become the first African-American governor of Alabama.

“Some Whites use race to consolidate White voters during election and some Blacks use race to consolidate Black voters,” Sanders wrote in Senate Sketches, his regular newsletter to his constituents.

“But this time, there is a new context: a technically well qualified Black person is running for Governor of Alabama in the Democratic Primary against a technically well qualified White. There is also a new twist: a Black person is attempting to use the race of other Blacks to consolidate Whites behind him. It’s a new context with new twists in an age old saga.”

Any Black politicians thinking about adopting the same twist should study the outcome in Alabama. Davis was trounced by his White opponent 62 percent to 38 percent.

Davis lost 10 of the 12 counties that make up his 7th Congressional District and all of the predominantly Black counties, some by margins as large as 70 percent. He even lost his own polling place, causing news analyst Roland Martin to say that maybe Davis’ mother didn’t vote for him. Davis has announced that he will retire from politics after being roundly repudiated by voters. It doesn’t come a moment too soon.

In a major tactical blunder, Davis decided to bypass the endorsement screening process of the four major political organizations, leading to their decision to endorse his opponent, Ron Sparks, the state commissioner of agriculture. He also attacked three of the most powerful Black politicians in Alabama: Sanders; Joe Reed, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Conference and former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington.

In addition, Sanders said in his newsletter, “Over a year ago, [Davis] used the race of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who had become a racial symbol to send a signal. Rev. Wright was scheduled to speak in Selma at the old fashion mass meeting on Thursday night to open the Annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee in Selma. Congressman Davis was scheduled to introduce U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that Sunday. Yet, he issued a press release objecting to Rev. Wright speaking at a civil rights event.”

Unlike Sparks, who proposed a state lottery and said had he been in Congress, he would have voted for health-care reform, Davis never developed a message that resonated with voters.

“Artur Davis gave the race issue another twist,” Sanders wrote. “He accused Ron Sparks, his White gubernatorial opponent, of playing the race card. But he was the one playing the race card time after time again in his pursuit of higher office.”

Sanders continued, “The challenge of using race against persons of the same race is a more delicate endeavor than using race against people of another race. The idea is to attack symbols (i.e. Black leaders and Black organizations) in a way that sends messages to White voters without alienating Black voters. It’s easy to miscalculate and Artur Davis miscalculated.”

A major miscalculation was Davis’ decision to oppose health care legislation.

When he first opposed the measure in the House – the only Black member of Congress to do so – Blacks were upset with him but not enraged. Once the bill was scaled back in the Senate and the House had to vote again, and Davis again opposed the measure, there was a groundswell of opposition to his candidacy.

U.W. Clemon, appointed Alabama’s first Black federal judge by Jimmy Carter, said although Davis was his “personal choice,” he voted for Davis’ opponent.

He told the Birmingham News, “Artur told me while he couldn’t vote for the House version, he would vote for the Senate version, not to give up on him.”

Clemon, now retired, said he learned that Davis voted against the re crafted Senate version while watching television. “I was stunned and I was disappointed,” Clemon told the newspaper.

“You have to understand. I love Artur like a son. I’ve never personally known a politician with more intelligence, more gifts than Artur with the exception of President Obama. “But, I also have to say that I’ve never been more disappointed in a person in my life. Artur walked away from the people who needed him the most, and he walked away from himself.”

Alabama voters showed that when a Black politician walks away from them, he can keep walking. That should be a lesson for anyone seeking office with the twisted idea that they can play Blacks for fools.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Celebrating Women Beyond Mother's Day

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At the invitation of Michael McMillan, I traveled to St. Louis last week to address the annual Salute to Women Leadership awards luncheon. For seven years, McMillan has been sponsoring this extravagant event. The fact that a man would sponsor it and have the temerity to invite another man to serve as the event’s keynote speaker makes a significant public statement: It’s fine for women to honor one another, but it’s equally important that males honor and respect women.

Violent assaults on elderly women, rape, offensive rap lyrics that refer to women as synonyms for female dogs and garden tools, domestic violence and lack of basic manners are all deeply rooted in male attitudes toward females. And there’s no better way to change such negative attitudes than by instilling in males, beginning at an early age, a respect for the opposite sex. After all, they all have mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, girlfriends or wives whom they would like to see respected by males.

McMillan is the license collector of St. Louis, but operates his glowing tribute to women in his unofficial capacity. He is unopposed in this year’s election and therefore is not seeking any political gain from his decision to recognize successful women or his other events to spotlight education and the plight of poor people.

This year, 14 “she-roes” were honored: Olympic star Jackie Joyner-Kersee; Gwendolyn D. Packnett, director of the Office of Multicultural Relations at the University of Missouri-St. Louis; Donna Wilkinson, a local fund-raiser and wife of legendary University of Oklahoma football coach Budd Wilkinson; Merdean Fielding-Gales, a prominent gospel music leader and co-host of the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour; Debbie Pyzyk, a realtor with offices in eight states; Carol Daniel, a local TV host; Pat Shannon-VanMatre, a St. Louis restaurant owner; Cheryl D. Polk, a United Way official; Alderwoman Marlene E. Davis; Comptroller Darlene Green; Thelma E. Steward, a registered nurse and tireless civic volunteer; Lois D. Conley, an expert on African-American history; Sister Mary Jean Ryan, CEO of SSM Health Care and educator Johnetta R. Haley, the first female president of a Southern Illinois University campus.

Each honoree received 32 gifts, including a dozen roses, monogrammed chocolates, wine, champagne, a designer hat, a custom-designed necklace, a field pass to a St. Louis Rams football game with access to the owner’s suite; a mink monogrammed draw string purse, a Neiman Marcus gift set, free use of the Cabanne House in Forest Park and a White House pen set and tote bag.

I speak at events around the country, but I’ve never attended one that comes close to matching this one. As elegant as this event was, we cannot lose sight of Michael McMillan’s original vision, which was to honor women.

Society can’t be reminded enough that African-American women carry the dual burden of being Black and being female, earning less than all males and White women. Despite passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, White females earn 73.5 percent of what White males are paid; Black males earn 72.1 percent; followed by Black women at 63.6 percent or less than a third of the pay of White men; Latino men receive 57.5 percent and Latino women, 51.7 percent.

Black girls suffering from poor selfimages would benefit from seeing successful women like those honored in St. Lois. We all know about the ground-breaking experiment that Kenneth B. Clark and his wife, Mamie, conducted in 1939. They administered a doll test to African- American kids, ages 6-9, showing them dolls that were identical in respect except color. Most of the children picked the White doll as being nicer than the Black doll. The couple’s research was used in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

In 2005, Kiri Davis repeated the doll experiment with children in Harlem.

Although she used a small sample, 71 percent of the children said the White doll was nicer. In 2009, the year Barack Obama was elected president, ABC-TV decided a conduct a similar test, this time altering the question to: Which doll is pretty? In that test, 47 percent of the girls described the White doll as the pretty one.

Clearly, there is plenty of work to be done among both girls and boys. Perhaps in our various manhood training and rites of passage programs, we should add a component that focuses on respect toward females. Organizations such 100 Black Men should also host programs that honor the hundreds of females in their local community.

It’s not enough for women to honor women. It’s time that men break the gender barrier and realize how all of us benefit from women being honored and respected.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

Is Gay the New Black?

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(NNPA) Leave it to Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, to organize a panel discussion on the provocative topic: “Is Gay the New Black?” The lively and sometimes passionate discussion was held as part of Freedom Weekend activities in Detroit and mirrored a long-running debate around the country among African- Americans and between Blacks and the lesbian and gay community.

The question is premised on whether the LBGT community (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) is discriminated against in the same manner that African- Americans were prior to passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Acts and, to a lesser extent, today. City Council President Charles Pugh, who is openly gay, was the only panelist who took a different tact, thinking the question was about the color black as a fashion statement.

“The gay agenda does not and cannot supercede the agenda for Black people as a whole, as far as human rights, and as for economic empowerment,” argued Malik Shabazz, Detroit leader of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. “I believe we’re being socially engineered and manipulated into a lifestyle that’s in many ways hurting our community.”

When Shabazz blamed Blacks leading alternative lifestyles for the low marriage rate of African-American women and the number of fatherless households, Sharon J. Lettman, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization dedicated to empowering Black LBGTs and ending homophobia and racism, became incensed.

“There are brothers in jails, there are brothers with White women and other women of color, there are jobless brothers wrought with drug abuse and alcohol abuse. How dare us try to marginalize the existence of the LBGT community by trying to pigeonhole our crisis as a Black community on the gay community. How dare us!”

Curtis Lipscomb, who said he lost a job because he acknowledged being gay, declared: “All life is precious, including gay and lesbian life. Discrimination is discrimination, is discrimination, is discrimination.

Against gays, it’s wrong.

Against Blacks, it’s wrong. Against anyone, it’s wrong. The African-American gay community is part of the greater African-American community.”

Anthony Samad, a Los Angeles-based scholar, social activist and columnist, said African-Americans are in a quandary, opposing discrimination against homosexuals because of their sexual orientation yet unwilling to endorse same-sex relationships or marriages.

“Most of us have a family member – I have a family member – who is gay,” Samad explained. “That does not necessarily mean that I am prepared to put aside what my moral imperative is.

African-Americans had the church when they didn’t have anything else. And that’s the conflict.”

He added.”We are a society that’s structured as males and females. If you want to advocate for a third gender, that should be the fight. Until that is, in fact, what you’re asking for, what you’re asking African-Americans to do is to go against their belief system, which is the church.

Most of them believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman. You’re asking them to choose between your cause and their church.”

Rev. Horace Sheffield III, executive director of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations, said while moral issues are raised about homosexuality, equal outrage is not directed at what he called “heterosexual whores.”

He said, “We don’t have the same uncomfortableness with other forms of immorality in our churches. I know pastors who are on the Down Low, or whatever, and they preach against homosexuality.”

Lesbian activist Terri Leverette said White gays and lesbians pushed for marriage equity without consulting the Black LBGT community. She said she carries the triple burden of being Black, a woman and a lesbian.

“I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in re-enfranchising or fully enfranchising not one more White man until my other two burdens are lifted,” she said.

Bernadine Brown, director of policy for the Triangle Foundation, a Michigan LBGT advocacy group, talked about not only being rejected by African- Americans, but also by White-led gay and lesbian advocacy organizations.

“The organizations have a poor reputation for hiring people of color and retaining them,” Brown said. “I can tell you I’ve been Black all of my life, I’ve been a woman all of my life and I have never experienced the degree of racism that I’ve experienced since I became a professional lesbian doing this work.” Both gays and straights on the panel agreed that the Black community is conflicted by how homosexuals should be treated.

According to Associated Press exit polls, 70 percent of African-Americans supported Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative aimed at overturning the California Supreme Court’s decision in 2008 allowing same-sex marriages.

However, other polls show that a majority of Blacks oppose employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Georgia State University researchers, after reviewing 31 national polls from 1973 to 2000, concluded: “Blacks appear to be more likely than whites both to see homosexuality as wrong and to favor gay-rights laws.”

After repeating that he opposes harassment of and discrimination against gays and lesbians, Shabazz said: “If you ask me do I have some uncomfortableness with it, yes. If you want to ask me if it’s alright for Fred to have anal sex with John, if you’re asking me if it’s alright, no. If you do it behind closed doors, go right ahead. That’s fine. But if you want my blessing on it, I can’t give it to you.”

Samad asked: “How do you have a movement when the moral question, specifically for African-Americans, is still an issue and still a question? Has the Black community first accepted the moral question before talking about the civil rights question?”

If the panel discussion is any indication, African-Americans are still searching for answers.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge

Revisiting the State of Black America

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Although the National Urban League has been issuing the annual “State of Black America” report for 34 years, for some inexplicable reason, everywhere you look these days, some group is sponsoring a panel discussion titled the “State of Black America.” Tavis Smiley scheduled one in Los Angeles, canceled it, and then revived it in Chicago. Last Saturday, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network hosted a televised panel discussion on the State of Black America at its national convention in New York.

In the interest of full disclosue, I will be moderating a panel May 1 as part of Detroit’s Freedom Weekend activities.

Marc Morial has also asked me to moderate a State of Black America discussion for the National Urban League on July 28 as part of the organization’s centennial convention in Washington, D.C. I am happy to oblige Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP chapter, and Marc Morial because I think such discussions can be useful. When it comes to any activity that keeps us focused on the important issues of the day, I count that as a plus.

But we must move beyond these separate discussions. During my semimonthly radio appearance on the Bev Smith Show last Friday night, I suggested that instead of having separate-but-unequal panels, we need to have a major one jointly sponsored by all of the major civil rights organizations. Instead of certain leaders loading their respective panel with their buddies, as they usually do, the head of major professional organizations should serve as co-panelists with the civil rights leaders.

Bev Smith, who has attended more civil rights conventions than she’d like to admit, said that such an arrangement would mean less talk time for the traditional civil rights leaders. That would be a good thing. They need to move beyond competing for face time on TV and take the time to face persistent problems afflicting Black America. Leaders who profess to want unity among African- Americans can set an example by demonstrating some among themselves.

A joint panel should include the presidents of the National Bar Association, the National Medical Association, National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the Congressional Black Caucus, National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO), National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice, the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), National Association of Black Political Scientists, Urban Financial Services Coalition and Blacks in Government, among others.

If questions arise about health disparities, political empowerment, the prison industrial complex, or education, specialists in those areas would be on hand to provide informed and thoughtful answers and recommendations. Better yet, the professional groups could each provide a “Black Paper” on their respective issues prior to the gathering. They could be questioned by a panel of seasoned journalists and civil rights leaders could sit for a second round and be questioned on how they plan to implement the recommendations.

Questioning both groups would be a pool of journalists that would include the likes of Joe Davidson, DeWayne Wickham, Roland Martin, Joe Madison, Bev Smith, and Michael Cottman, and Hazel Edney. The moderator could be either Ed Gordon or Gwen Ifill.

Having such a well-rounded mix of experts and journalists would provide a high-quality discussion that could lead to a far-reaching action agenda.

My second suggestion, which could work in concert with my aforementioned panel, would be for all of the major civil rights organizations to hold a joint convention, perhaps five years from now. In fact, it could become a 5-year ritual. The advantage of such a gathering would be a more concentrated focus on problems and less concentration on individual egos.

Other groups are already holding joint conventions. African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American journalists hold a joint convention, called Unity, every four years. Recently, Black Methodists convened the Great Gathering in Columbia, S.C. and agreed to work together on problems facing Black males. The civil rights community would do well to emulate those efforts. In the meantime, civil rights leaders – as well as the Black community – would be better served by strengthening ties with Black professional groups. For example, I have heard a couple of civil rights leaders say they are considering assembling a list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens at the end of this court term. It makes more sense for the National Bar Association to take the lead on this issue.

Mavis T. Thompson, president of the National Bar Association, has written a letter to President Obama recommending the appointment of Appeals Court Judge Ann Claire Williams of the Seventh Circuit.

Thompson wrote, “a moderate and faithful adherent to constitutional principles of government, Judge Williams is extremely well qualified to serve on the Supreme Court and has all the necessary experiences and the professional expertise to succeed Justice Stevens.” If appointed, Williams would become the first African-American female to serve on the Supreme Court."

If the civil rights community rallies behind the recommendations of the National Bar Association on judicialrelated issues, behind the National Medical Association on health disparities and the National Association of Black Political Scientists on political empowerment, the State of Black America would be better than it is now.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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