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Donald Sterling Controversy Shows Complexity of Racism; America Likes it Simple

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April 2014 was a great month to be a Sociology professor.

During the latter part of April, America was reacting to the alleged racist comments made by Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers. The topic dominated every pocket of the country, including social media, where I debated friends whose viewpoints starkly contrasted my own. A friend questioned on Facebook if the Clippers’ united stand against Sterling was worthwhile given how far the team had come for the playoffs. It seemed like a given that the Clippers’ opposition to racism and the outcry from fans who wanted swift action against Sterling were nothing but great indicators of how America has progressed with race relations. I called it a “teachable moment” for America about rebuking racism and bigotry.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. And about that “teachable moment” I suggested to my friend? Well, America missed the mark – and so did I. I prefaced how great this controversy must have been for Sociology professors because this issue can be endlessly dissected. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. If there was a sliding scale for accused racists, Sterling would probably be on it. Sterling’s comments did not make him the blatant, Jim Crow racist. His girlfriend, Ms. Stiviano, who recorded Sterling’s alleged racist remarks, is of black and Hispanic descent. Sterling and Staviano appeared to have a problematic relationship and he requested she not bring anyone black to basketball games and to not be seen with them on her Instagram account. However, allegedly sleeping with blacks wasn’t an issue, if she wanted. Sterling was also a friend to influential African-Americans, including reportedly with NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was outraged by Sterling’s comments. Sterling was also due for honor with a humanitarian award by the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. (Yes, quite distressing indeed). Do all of these factors suggest Sterling fits the mold of a racist?

The “teachable moment” here is that racism and people we label as racist is more complex than ever. Racism in America is not black and white, as much as it may seem African-Americans are disproportionately affected. The killing of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, drew as much ire and claims of racism as it would if Zimmerman was a white American. America remains wedged in this idea that racism is a white man calling a black man the “N-word” or when a black person is denied a job or housing because of the color of his or her skin.

Blacks are quite familiar with people of different races smiling to their faces as they shake their hands only to wipe them off in disgust later. Sterling’s alleged comments brought to mind an incident when I was 17 and I overheard my uncle speaking outside to a small group of family and friends, saying “I may work with white people, but I would never trust a white person. Ever!” Would I peg my uncle a racist? Before that day, no. Even now it’s hard to fathom him as a racist because he harbors no malice for whites. It doesn’t mean my uncle didn't deserve the racist label, but it illustrates the gray areas of racism.

Racism today can be harder to pinpoint and therefore, harder to combat when it rears its head. For this reason, I often find myself concerned for young black boys and girls growing up today who mayfall victim to ugly, racial stereotypes. Harsh judgments and critiques about their character may ensue because new code words are used to mock them -- or the context of controversial yet accepted words like “ghetto” could be used against them by children Hispanic, Asian, and white kids who have inherited the idea that blacks are ostracized by their own doing.

Far be it for me to steal a great moment in American history, when America was gloriously united and racists kept their mouths shut. But now that we’re done patting ourselves on the back, let’s remain vigilant against racism with an understanding that the dynamics of racism have shifted and we have to be as open-minded about who the real racists are and why they earn that title.

Corey Arvin is Associate Editor of Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com.

Kardashian Gossip and iPhone 6 Rumors Abound, But 276 Kidnapped Nigerian Girls Barely Makes Waves #BringBackOurGirls

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Take a deep breath, this isn’t going to be another “journalism is in the toilet” soapbox. That’s not to say our industry is without problems. Dedicated readers and newsroom veterans alike are more than aware that journalism has seen its share of rough patches in the U.S. with declining circulations and declining advertising revenue often blamed on the internet’s rising star.

Online journalism is here to stay and it carries exponential influence. It’s exciting to watch the internet unfold and venture into new forms of visual storytelling and build on its strength of breaking imminent news, which newspapers could never do. The internet has become a place where young, aspiring journalists, including bloggers, can hone their skills and become literary rock stars without a single job interview or to ever step into a newsroom. I am grateful the internet can preserve the industry and reach readers like never before.

But like a bright young man wasting his potential in school in exchange for being the class clown to earn a cheap laugh, I take issue with the industry straying so far from its core principles just to be a flash in the pan. The slow coverage of the 223 girls abducted in Chibok, Nigeria made my blood boil with each day that passed. (Reportedly, more than 300 girls were kidnapped and 53 escaped, dropping the total number of missing girls to 276.) I would search the web to no satisfaction for updates and take several expletive breaks as I tried to comprehend just #WTF is happening! In the midst of this crisis, on days when I simply wanted to check my email and see what news would brush past me as I clicked toward my destination, I was utterly disappointed. Increasingly, I find myself more inundated with rotten and temporary “news” headlines virtually devoid of any redeeming substance than I do about the contemporary issues that are shaping our world.

This latest egregious mistake in journalism has left me longing to see the internet evolve to its next stage as quickly as possible. My personal disgust for the suppressed information about the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria cannot be masked, nor my contempt for the editors who make strategic decisions everyday about how and where content is placed, but couldn’t find room for 276 valuable lives. In suburban white America, it would only take 275 less kidnappings in one town to galvanize our nation or possibly earn a sidebar in a nationally-syndicated newspaper. We’ve seen this before.

More than two weeks have passed since the story first broke of 276 girls kidnapped from their all-girl school. The story was submerged and remained that way until recently. I asked myself, “submerged under what … and why?” The Los Angeles Clippers and Donald Sterling controversy came days later. Could America only handle one major black controversy at a time? And if so, if I dare to parallel these two stories, why do harmful words matter more than harmful actions? Nigerians are known for their familiarity and admiration of Western culture. I’ve never met a Nigerian who didn’t pride him or herself on understanding the West. These abducted girls deserve an answer as to why they didn’t matter to us when their situation was so timely. Only now has their story begun to permeate the news circuit.

The urgency of the plight of these young women is real. Their fates are unknown. Their families worry and do what they can to pressure Nigerian officials to do more to recover their children. Dozens of Nigerians are trying to move boulders and we treat them as if they are alone. As leaders in the world community and citizens, Americans have immeasurable power in persuading – if not forcing – international authorities to do right by their people. If my counterparts in internet news have forgotten that the Net (network) is intended to connect, then it is in readers’ hands to wake them up. Their power to change and to turn the boulders in Nigeria into mere rocks is real.

News editors are not solely to blame if readers realize that they are equally powerful. Truth-be-told, as much as news stories can be humanizing and educational, journalism is a profit-driven industry with a voracious appetite right now – and it’s simply trying to eat like any corporation. When international tragedies strike like it did with 276 innocent Nigerian girls, we owe it to ourselves, our children, and humanity to click, post, and text the stories that really matter. Readers have to let editors know what matters the most rather than continue to allow the powers that be turn it the other way.

Until then, I foresee more Kardashians in online “news”, iPhone rumors will again be recycled … and I will mentally regurgitate. Perhaps I shouldn’t wait and instead look for the obvious silver lining. I hear there’s a “scandalous” new #selfie of James Franco. How’s that for substance?

Corey Arvin is Associate Editor of Black Voice News and a winner of the national Scripps Howard Award for Web Reporting. His column is published every Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at Corey@Blackvoicenews.com.

Television’s New 'Carl Sagan'

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As someone who was a fan of the original Cosmos series, hosted by the late Dr. Carl Sagan, I was excited to see what Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson would do with the concept. If you never watched Sagan’s PBS series in the 1980s, it was an introduction to the universe. It was an attempt – successful I might add – to make science not only interesting by accessible.

Tyson, an African American scientist who has become a familiar face to many, is a worthy heir to Sagan. Working with the former executive producer of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Brannon Braga, Tyson tackles some of the most important issues of science – and life – such as the age of the universe and planet Earth, but also the struggles that have taken place throughout history against ignorance, prejudice and superstition.

He and the series are very respectful of different religious views and introduce a broader sense of the history of science than we normally receive. By way of example, early in the series he acknowledges the immense contributions to science made in the Muslim world, a fact that is often dismissed by those who wish to suggest that the Muslim world has offered little.

One of the most unusual features of the series is to note which station is broadcasting it: Fox, on Sunday evenings (and National Geographic on Mondays). The messages coming across from Cosmos are antithetical to most of what one associates with the Fox network. Tyson is prepared, for example, to openly and respectfully challenge those religious fundamentalists who claim that the Earth is between 5,000-6,000 years old, whereas the actual age is around 4.5 billion years. He also helped the viewer understand that in the process of studying the age of the Earth, scientists were also able to uncover the danger of lead in the environment which ultimately led to its removal from fuels. These are not tidbits that one would expect on a Fox series and I keep wondering how long the series will air.

Tyson was quite open in acknowledging his deep admiration of the late Carl Sagan. In fact, as a teen-ager, Tyson met Sagan and spent time with him on one day in Ithaca, N.Y. Tyson understands, as did Sagan, that science is too important to leave with the scientists. In fact, science can be explained in a way that is comprehensible to the larger public. In making it comprehensible, Tyson – like Sagan before him – have placed a mighty instrument into the hands of the public. It is through that instrument that the everyday person can not only grasp many of the challenges facing humanity, but they can also be part of creating the answers in order to save the planet.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

$90 Million-Plus Lost to Foreclosure Scams

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Earlier this month, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged an organization known as Freedom by Faith Ministries with defrauding more than 100 consumers in Southeast Michigan. The alleged crime: foreclosure rescue scams.

Unfortunately, the circumstances that led to the Michigan lawsuit represent a continuation of a disturbing trend of profiteers seeking to financially exploit the misfortunes of troubled homeowners. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2013 found more than 40,000 complaints of foreclosure fraud occurred nationwide and together totaled losses to homeowners of more than $90 million.

Each year from 2010 through 2012, more than 18,000 foreclosure fraud complaints were filed beyond the 9,000 complaints received in 2009.

Foreclosure scammers typically demand large, upfront cash payments from troubled homeowners and advise homeowners to stop making mortgage payments. They also dupe their victims into sharing important personal information such as Social Security and bank account numbers. After payment is received, the scammers do little or no work to obtain a loan modification for the homeowners. In the process, homeowners fall deeper into delinquency and also lose valuable time that could have yielded better results.

Free services of a HUD-certified housing counselor are available nationwide to help negotiate with mortgage servicers. Many times these housing counselors facilitate securing options to avoid foreclosure such as home modifications, refinance, forbearance, short sales and more.

A new research report, Foreclosure Rescue, Inc. by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law finds that foreclosure scams are beginning to take new forms while still fraudulently taking money from distressed homeowners. Some scammers falsely claim government affiliation while others include improper involvement of legal and real estate professionals

For example, in West Palm Beach, Fla., foreclosure rescue “consultants” held seminars to teach people how to make money off of distressed homeowners. In Atlanta, attorneys were reported to have been randomly solicited to sign up as “partners” or “affiliates” of foreclosure rescue operations. And in Long Island, N.Y., legitimate housing counselors unknowingly gave fraud actors powers of attorney to presumably talk to banks on behalf of homeowners.

“African-American and Latino homeowners, already victimized by targeted predatory lending, have been victimized by scams at disproportionate rates compared to their percentage of the population,” said Yolanda McGill, manager of the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network for the Lawyers’ Committee.

When a troubled homeowner’s race is taken into account, stark racial differences emerge. White homeowners represent 78 percent of the nation’s homeowners and together account for less than half – 47 percent – of complaints filed. By contrast, Both Black and Latino homeowners combined represent 16 percent of the nation’s homeowners, their combined fraud complaints are nearly the same number as those filed by Whites: 44 percent.

“Senior homeowners also are victimized at high rates and their average loss is higher than other groups,” explained McGill. “The Lawyers’ Committee and our federal state and community partners continue to fight back and put these scammers out of business, including through litigation.”

The Lawyers’ Committee litigation includes 14 lawsuits against loan scam operators whose collective efforts affected more than 400 troubled homeowners. The lawsuits sought both monetary and injunctive relief. So far, 50 scam operations have been shut down and more than $500,000 has been recovered on behalf of homeowners. Additionally, those found guilty have been banned from future participation in mortgage assistance relief servicers.

As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau continues its complaint resolution and the Lawyers’ Committee continues its litigation, Foreclosure Rescue, Inc. recommendations call for more policy reforms, including:

 

  • Allowing homeowners to pursue private rights of actions;
  • Enacting state laws that broaden fraud definitions to include any stage of the scam process;
  • and Incorporating explicit government warnings to consumers regarding potential scammers and how to avoid fraud.

 

Created in the summer of 1963 by President John F. Kennedy at an initial meeting of 244 lawyers, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Anyone desiring more information on state and national resources for foreclosure fraud should visit www.preventloanscams.org.

To file an online mortgage complaint with CFPB, visit www.consumerfinance.gov.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Progressives Should Campaign Against the Supreme Court

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(NNPA) When I first heard the news, my response was one of both outrage and a calm lack of surprise. I knew that there was a very real chance that the Supreme Court, in its McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission decision, would make it even more difficult to have limits on campaign spending. I suppose that I did not want to believe it. Thus, when the decision was issued, I found myself both resigned and furious at the same time.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s majority has made a mockery of right-wing allegations that it is liberals who have been engaged in so-called judicial activism. The conservative majority of the Supreme Court has gone out of its way to ensure the political supremacy of what the Occupy Movement called the 1 percent – the plutocrats.

There have been discussions ever since the Supreme Court’s notorious decision in the Citizens United case that there is need for a Constitutional amendment that addresses campaign finance. We now have an even more urgent need for such an amendment in light of the court’s further opening of the gates to super-money.

So, what do we do?

The first and most immediate step must be the formation of a very broad coalition to take initial steps towards securing such a Constitutional amendment. This coalition needs to make the midterm 2014 elections about the super-rich and money in elections. In that sense, candidates need to be running against the Supreme Court. Progressive candidates need to make the McCutcheon decision their battle-cry and use it to demonstrate the extent to which the 1 percent is moving at breakneck pace to derail any pretense of democracy. And they must commit to fighting for a Constitutional amendment to remove corruption from the electoral process.

The McCutcheon decision must be understood in tandem with the voter suppression efforts that we have been witnessing over the past eight years. These are steps that are being taken to hold back the future, that is, to deflate the power of the growing majority in the U.S.A. that is seeking broad and significant social and economic changes. To the extent to which people of color, youth, seniors, veterans, and others are blocked from voting and to the extent to which the faucets are opened for the super-rich to contribute inordinate amounts of money to the candidates that they now own, elections lose any meaning other than being a veneer over a very clever dictatorship of wealth.

The time has come to refocus the November elections on what is really at stake: the greed and avarice that now feels completely comfortable showing its face in public.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and atwww.billfletcherjr.com.

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