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The State of On-Screen Diversity

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“She was never able, after her education in the movies, to look at a face and not assign it some category in the scale of absolute beauty, and the scale was one she absorbed in full from the silver screen.” – Toni Morrison, “The Bluest Eye,” 1970

(NNPA) From our television sets in our living rooms to our local movie theaters, diversity appears to be the new Black.

Fresh off the success of small screen hits such as Fox’s musical drama “Empire,” CW’s telenovela inspired “Jane the Virgin,” and ABC’s family-centric “Black-ish,” television has emerged as a powerful frontrunner in the race to broader inclusion on our nation’s shared media landscape – even outpacing Hollywood.

According to the “2015 Hollywood Diversity Report: Flipping the Script,” published by the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, people of color are gaining ground and more movie leads in Hollywood films, overall cast diversity is increasing and directors of color are a more frequent phenomena on movie sets than in the past.

But these hard-fought strides are oftentimes undermined by harsh realities, like the total lack of nominations for Black actors, directors, cinematographers or female screenwriters at this year’s Oscars. And these accomplishments are also tempered by the numbers.

While people of color make up about 40 percent of the U.S. population, those numbers are neither reflected in front of the cameras nor behind the scenes of our film and broadcast industry complex – shining a glaring spotlight on another reality: while the push to diversify casts and crews on television and in film is clearly having a moment right now, the work to remedy the underrepresentation of people of color and women is far from over and requires a dedication far more sustained than a brief, moment-in-time uptick in casting.

Diversity is more than a discussion about a studio’s payroll; it is a much-needed conversation about perspective and pride. Debra Martin Chase, the founder of Martin Chase Productions, credits a desire to create positive images of African Americans in film and television as the catalyst that drove her into the entertainment business. Chase shared her views about the importance of diversity on our small and big screens in an essay entitled “Creating the Change the World Needs to See,” in the 2015 State of Black America® report – “Save our Cities: Education, Jobs + Justice.”

“I grew up watching television and going to the movies. While I was conscious of the fact that I seldom saw myself in the images that were projected on screen, it wasn’t until I was older that I understood what that really meant. Those images did not just dictate how I viewed myself, I eventually learned that they very clearly influenced how the outside world viewed me and others like me.”

Diversity benefits us all. When we see our communities fairly represented in our movies and television shows, we are given the opportunity to see ourselves, each other, and hopefully learn about one another — what makes us unique, as well as what we share in common. This is not merely a call for greater numbers, because reducing communities to racial or ethnic stereotypes does our nation of viewers as much of a disservice as ignoring the existence of groups outside the borders of the typical Hollywood model.

Evidence from the Hollywood diversity report also points to another emerging truth about diversity: it sells. The data shows that our nation’s increasingly diverse audiences are buying movie tickets for, and tuning into television shows that have “relatively diverse casts.” Diverse audiences want to see their multifaceted lives reflected in the media they enjoy.

If ignoring the lives and experiences of so many Americans once came without a price, today’s audiences are making their voices and preferences heard with their dollars and Nielsen ratings influence, and they are sending a loud and clear message to television and film’s decision makers: they are no longer willing to have their American experience ignored.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

U.S. and U.N. Failed Somalia

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(NNPA) In 1991, I watched Somalia disintegrate. It was not just the breakup of a state, as we were to see in the former Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union. It was the complete collapse of the state structure and the devolution into warlordism.

Some part of me thought that the United Nations or some other global body would intervene to reinforce the Somali nation-state. That did not happen. The U.S. intervention, in the public mind associated with “Blackhawk Down,” was theoretically a humanitarian operation, but it did nothing to play the role of the honest broker in bringing the conflicting sides together. As a result, Somalia lay in shambles, subject to external rape; pirating; conflicts among warlords; foreign invasions; brief moments of calm; and ultimately the rise of jihadist terrorism.

Through all of this it has felt that much, if not most of the rest of the world could give a damn. It would be bad enough if Somalia were the only country to disintegrate. Yet, it has not stopped there. Ironically, as long as global capitalism can continue to find ways to operate in these collapsed nation-states, no one seems to lift a finger. And, to add insult to injury, when external forces help to accelerate nation-state disintegration – as in Iraq and Libya – the perpetrators throw their hands into the air and blame the people on the ground for somehow not grasping basic principles of governance.

In the case of Libya, whether one supported or opposed the regime of President Qaddafi, the NATO intervention in the midst of the civil war quite apparently contributed to not only the overthrow of Qaddafi, but the collapse of the Libyan political system. There was no cohesive leadership to replace the Qaddafi regime, and guns started flowing not only within Libya, but throughout much of North Africa. Disputes between factions within the anti-Qaddafi movement have now evolved into a proxy war for different countries in the Arab World along with the introduction of jihadist terrorists.

In all of this there is nothing approaching self-criticism by the U.S. and/or NATO. There is no suggestion that, having directly contributed to the disintegration of the Libyan state, the USA and NATO might have some obligation – if not legal, then certainly moral – to work with the African Union and the United Nations towards a peaceful reconstruction of the country. This is especially ironic given that the African Union attempted to mediate a resolution to the political conflict that resulted in the overthrow of Qaddafi, and NATO ignored this effort.

As a result, NATO and the USA walked away and no lessons were learned, making it infuriatingly odd when one hears Congressional Republicans suggest or call for war with Iran. What would one think would be the impact(s) of the collapse and disintegration of the Iranian state in the world in which we find ourselves?

In a country – the USA –where history is denigrated in favor of myth, perhaps there are those who feel that such questions need not be asked…and answered.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and www.billfletcherjr.com.

Holding the Loretta Lynch Nomination Hostage

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(NNPA) It is ironic that April is Fair Housing Month and the U.S. Senate has yet to schedule a vote on the nomination of the first Black woman to become the nation’s Attorney General. Nominated on November 14, the nomination of Loretta Lynch has lingered longer than the seven previous attorneys generals combined.

The delay is even more disturbing because. Lynch was previously and unanimously approved by the Senate – twice – to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Representing the interests of 8 million people residing in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, Lynch won a number of Wall Street financial fraud cases.

That kind of leadership and experience would rightfully continue the fights for fair housing and a stop to predatory lending. As with any organization, the tone is set at the top. At the Department of Justice (DOJ), the successor to outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder will determine whether aggressive enforcement of laws designed to provide equal access to housing and credit will be sustained.

In 2015, 47 years since passage of the Fair Housing Act, DOJ’s actions prove we are still seeking justice in housing – especially in instances where consumers of color have been denied fair and equal treatment under the law.

Since 2010, according to Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General, DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has reached settlements in 18 lawsuits charging discrimination in mortgage lending, pricing discrimination, racial steering and redlining affecting both large and small numbers of consumers. These cases have been as large as the $335 million settlement with Countrywide that brought a measure of justice for 200,000 borrowers who were targets of discrimination and shared $335 million in relief. Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks, paid more than $184 million to thousands of victims of steering and pricing.

Other actions have affected far fewer victims, but still led to monetary compensation. For example, eight Brooklyn families who were sold homes at inflated prices by a developer, United Homes, shared a $1 million settlement.

In addition, HUD officials advise that in FY 2014, its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies received 8,468 complaints alleging discrimination based on one or more of the Fair Housing Act’s seven protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status, and disability. Enforcement actions resulted in almost $33 million in compensation for victims and victims’ funds. The two top reasons cited in these complaints were disability and race. The combined fair housing efforts of DOJ and HUD have forced substantial settlements for those who have violated the law.

Even so, more housing litigation is pending. For example, in November 2014 the National Fair Housing Alliance, a consortium of more than 220 private, nonprofit fair housing organizations throughout the nation, expanded a racial discrimination complaint filed against U.S. Bank. The original lawsuit, filed in 2012, alleged multiple fair housing violations in the neglect of bank-owned foreclosures in communities of color. The amended complaint now adds the cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Muskegon to those already filed for Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Dallas, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Memphis, Milwaukee and other locales.

With these and other housing issues, it is inexcusable for the Senate to delay a floor vote on the Lynch nomination. The upper chamber has a constitutional duty to ‘advice and consent’. Fortunately, a few members of the majority have indicated their commitment to vote for the delayed nominee.

On February 26, the day that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on the Lynch nomination, its former chair and longest-serving member, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, “The case against her nomination, as far as I can tell, essentially ignores her professional career and focuses solely on about six hours that she spent before this committee on January 28. I do not believe that is a proper way to evaluate any nominee’s fitness for any position.”

Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending agreed adding, “Lynch has impeccable credentials, distinguished experience, and her values have shown she is committed to independent and fair application and enforcement of our laws, and in particular, protecting working American families from economic and consumer violations of our protections. It’s time for this to end and for this extraordinary candidate to be confirmed.”

Loretta Lynch and the nation are waiting – still.

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

Progress in Baseball Came with a Cost

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Anyone who has followed my columns knows that about this time of the year I normally write something about the commencement of the baseball season. More often than not, I write about the late Curt Flood and the late Marvin Miller. Well, guess what? It is the beginning of the baseball season and, yes, you guessed it, a little something about two heroes, but from a different angle. One of the most disturbing features of modern baseball is that most fans have no sense of the history of struggle contained in the game. If you have had the opportunity to watch Ken Burns’ award-winning documentary, “Baseball,” you get a better sense of not only the evolution of the sport, but the struggles that unfolded within it, many of which reflected larger changes in US society.

Two of the struggles in Major League Baseball were represented by Curt Flood and, separately (and together) Marvin Miller. Curt Flood resisted being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and, in so doing, stood up to a form of baseball indentured servitude known as the “reserve clause.” Under the reserve clause a player was, for all intents and purposes, owned by the team. Flood battled for what became known as “free agency,” which was introduced through a combination of the struggle that Flood unleashed and the organizing and collective bargaining that the Major League Baseball Players Association, under Marvin Miller, conducted. Miller led in the construction of a labor union of baseball players and through that organization, transformed the sport, defying the greedy and myopic owners.

Despite the key historical importance of these two men, over the years the recognition of their significance has diminished. Many of the current members of the Major League Baseball Players Association have no sense of the key role of Curt Flood and the battle that he led for free agency, a battle without which today’s players would never have been able to conceive of their current salaries.

Marvin Miller has been equally ignored, though one could go further and suggest that the late Marvin Miller remains hated by the lords of baseball for ruining the plantation environment that they so cherished. Memories of the successful organization and legitimation of a movement of baseball players that he led have been allowed to largely dissipate from the historical record as the years have moved on.

What is lost with our failure to remember and reflect upon the work of individuals such as Flood and Miller, is that progress and justice come with a cost. Flood lost his promising career in baseball not because of greed but because of principle. He was prepared to take the risk and make the sacrifice, knowing full well that he might not, himself, benefit from such a step. Miller threw himself into the building of an organization of a workforce that had been so beaten down over the years that many people believed that a labor union of baseball players was nothing more than a pipe dream.

For these reasons we must not only remember Flood and Miller but must insist that they receive the special recognition that would come from their placement in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Their significance arises not from their stats but from the fact that they led in the renovation of baseball.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Why I Didn't Wear Green on St. Patrick’s Day

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St. Patrick’s Day has its rituals, but one that is not considered is any discussion of race.

Having grown up in the Northeast, I am used to the St. Patrick’s Day parades, the celebration of Ireland, and, sometimes, the demand for a united Ireland. What is generally missing from discussions during this time period is anything having to do with race. Yet race is a central factor for both Ireland and, ironically, Irish Americans.

The manner in which we understand “race” today is directly related to the English conquest of Ireland in the 1500s. The English introduced a form of oppression of the indigenous people that ended up being very effective. They expropriated their lands, crushed their religion, totally eliminated their ruling class, and instituted a form of colonial rule through which the native Irish were defined in law and custom as inferior. The English defined themselves as a superior “race” compared with the indigenous Irish. And they proceeded to keep Ireland as a colony until the 1920s, and have kept the northern part of Ireland (the six counties) colonized to this day.

In order to guarantee their domination of Ireland, the English sent in settlers from England, Scotland and Wales, giving them the best land and privileging them over the native Irish. The settlers, whether rich or poor, in a pattern that became familiar in other parts of the world as colonialism spread, were always in a superior position to the native Irish. For all intents and purposes, the Irish had no rights that the settlers were bound to respect.

Fleeing English oppression and poverty, thousands of Irish set out for other parts of the world. When they first came to North America, while the British still occupied what is now the U.S.A. and into the mid-1800s, the Irish were treated as something other than what we would today call “White.” The real White people were English, French, Germans, Nordics, but not the Irish.

The Irish periodically joined hands with Africans and Native Americans in fighting injustice, such as in the famous 1741 slave insurrection conspiracy in New York. Yet, by the middle of the 1800s, the Irish found themselves in the process of becoming “White” as the larger society needed more settlers in order to ensure the success of the process of the domination of North America.

Thus, the irony is that Irish fled an oppressive system that defined them as an inferior “race” – despite no difference in color from the oppressors – only to enter into a system where they were encouraged to abandon other victims of racial oppression – such as Africans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and Asians – in favor of becoming loyal “White people.”

Here is the other irony: the indigenous Irish (Catholics) of Northern Ireland remain dominated by the British and their Loyalist allies. The Irish (Catholics) continue to perceive themselves to be victims of what they describe as “anti-Irish racism.” Yet, this matter of racism, whether “anti-Irish” or anti-black, rarely enters into discussions among Irish Americans, whether on St. Patrick’s Day or any of the other 364 days of the year.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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