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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.

Inequity in Education Funding Shortchanges America's Future

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“That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children, including poor children, is a national disgrace…It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose, allied with one another in a common enterprise, tied to one another by a common bond.” – Senator Paul Wellstone, Teachers College, Columbia University, March 2000

(NNPA) Sitting beside his first teacher, “Miss Katie” Deadrich, in front of the one-room Texas schoolhouse he once attended, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act into law on April 11, 1965. ESEA, commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), was a cornerstone in the president’s “War on Poverty” initiative. Its intent was to close the education achievement gap between children from lower- and higher-income families. Fifty years later, with Congress currently considering a reauthorization of the law, the gap in educational opportunity, achievement and funding is growing.

For the first time in our nation’s history, students of color are the majority of the U.S. student body. According to a recent survey by the Southern Education Foundation, a majority of all public school students are low-income. In another troubling milestone, the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that during the 2013-2014 school year, a majority – 51 percent – of public school students were deemed eligible for free- and reduced-price meals, a common indicator of poverty.

This is even more alarming when we consider a finding that our 2015 State of Black America® revealed and that we shared at the launch this week: On average, larger academic achievement gaps are in states with large urban areas home to large populations of people of color who live in highly segregated neighborhoods with high rates of concentrated high poverty.

During a press call with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week, we mapped out the landscape of education in America and warned against the dangerous course our nation would chart if we do not spend our education dollars where the need is the greatest. Right now in more than 20 states, school districts serving the highest percentage of low-income households spend fewer state and local dollars per student than in districts that have fewer students in poverty. The same shortchanging trend is the norm in 20 states that have a high percentage of students of color, where school districts are spending fewer dollars in those schools than in schools with a lower percentage of students of color.

The National Urban League has been—and will remain—at the forefront of this issue, having advocated for equal economic and educational opportunity for 105 years with the clear understanding that neither is mutually exclusive. Last week, the National Urban League released our annual State of Black America® report, this year titled “Save Our Cities: Education, Jobs + Justice.”

For the first time in the report’s history, we included a state-by-state Education Equality Index™ and ranking. The index examines state-level racial and ethnic disparities in K–12 education, documenting the extent of Black and Hispanic achievement gaps, when compared to Whites, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The State Education Index also includes supporting data on some of the factors that contribute to narrowing or widening these gaps.

The National Urban League adds its advocacy and voice to the chorus of education and civil rights groups, government officials and families demanding that Congress revisit and recommit to the original vision and mission of ESEA. When signing the bill, President Johnson declared that our nation would “bridge the gap between helplessness and hope for…educationally deprived children.”

How can we begin to bridge the gap President Johnson spoke of 50 years ago, when all-too-often the greatest percentage of education dollars is allocated to already resource-rich schools? How can we begin to make the promise of equality in education a reality when we refuse to admit that equality in education does not always translate to equitable funding?

The 1954 groundbreaking Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education made it clear that “education must be made available to all on equal terms.” But as long as Congress passes laws that continue to embolden state school districts to exacerbate inequities by providing less money to those with the greatest need, we do neither honor nor justice to the spirit of the law – or our nation’s children and future.

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

Pressuring Us Towards War

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(NNPA) I never cease to be surprised by the racist audacity of the Republicans in Congress. In clear violation of international protocol, they arranged for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak before Congress. The established practice has been that this is done always in consultation with the Executive Branch. This time the Republicans decided to snub that branch.

Wonders never cease. Forty-seven Republican Senators then signed onto one of the strangest letters in the history of international relations. The letter is addressed to the leadership of Iran and, in essence, says that whatever agreement Iran comes to with the Obama administration will be voided by the next President of the United States. This is remarkable on so many levels, not the least being that no agreement has been reached–at the time of this writing–and that the Republicans are telling another country that there is no point in their negotiating with the incumbent administration.

Like many people, I have been curious as to whether these Senators actually broke a law. I am hoping that this can be quickly clarified. Deciding that they are appendages of the Israeli state instead of representatives of the people of the United States, the Republicans are suggesting that if Iran does not surrender to the terms established by Israel that there will be war. Yes, Netanyahu and his sycophants in Congress do not use the term “war.” They speak of increasing sanctions and other pressure, but most knowledgeable observers recognize that the intent is to create a military crisis that will result in actions being taken by the United States against Iran. The results would probably be catastrophic.

Let us all remember that it was Prime Minister Netanyahu who sought to assure the people of the USA that by attacking Iraq in 2003 that it would change the region for the better. Netanyahu was, of course, half right: the region has changed. He got the second part wrong, however: it changed for the worse, with the spread of Al Qaeda and, more recently, the Islamic State, and with the corresponding instability.

There are questions that need to be asked of these Republican members of Congress. Let’s start with the matter of war. Are they prepared for yet another war? These are the same people who are insisting on cutting the budget and not taxing the rich, so where do the resources come from for a war? And, of course, what happens if the Iranians, attacked by the US and Israel, shut the Straits of Hormuz where so much of the world’s oil travels? What is the Republican answer?

The answer for the Republicans seems to always be the same. Bully until you win…or until someone stands firm…and then start alleging anything that will discredit that government or social movement as supposedly standing in the way of peace. The longer that this goes on, the more that this feels like we are living George Orwell’s “1984”, where there is eternal war and that eternal war is considered peace.

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

When the GOP Had Integrity

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(NNPA) One of the many questions provoked by the “open letter” 47 Republican Senators published last week to try to wreck the multinational effort led by the Obama administration to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is this:

Do they understand their obligation to the rule of law?

As scholar Daniel W. Drezner of Tufts University and other commentators quickly pointed out in an article in the Washington Post, the administration is the lead negotiator of a coalition involving the four other members of the United Nations Security Council—Britain, China, France, and Russia—as well as Germany. So, Drezner wrote, “If a deal is reached, it’s a deal that has the support of all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.”

That means Congress could not alter any resulting agreement in any way without violating international law by committing “a material breach of U.S. obligations.”

Of course, the real purpose of the letter was to further pander to the deranged anti-Obama passions of the GOP base, and to be the political coming-out of the letter cabal’s ringleader, frosh Senator Tom Cotton, of Arkansas. Indeed, no sooner had it appeared than Cotton supporters let it be known he’s eyeing a run for the Presidency in 2020.

Pardon me, but haven’t we seen this “reality show” in the Senate before—with Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and then Texas’ Ted Cruz in the starring role? What does it say about the GOP that it’s now continually producing these new-kid-on-the-block types for Congress’ once-hallowed upper chamber who ostentatiously smash protocol and tradition in order to alert the far-right of their goal of running for President?

Against that tawdry backdrop, the March 10th memorial service in Washington, D.C. for former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts, who died in January, was like a flash of lightning illuminating a nighttime landscape. Brooke’s two terms in the Senate, from 1967 to 1979 marked a time when it wasn’t rare for Republicans inside and outside of Congress to show that political conservatism and political integrity weren’t mutually exclusive elements and that there was room in the party for centrist-conservatives like Brooke.

Indeed, Brooke’s life and his climb up the political ladder in a state with a miniscule Black population to become the first Black American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate and the first to sit there in nearly a century said something remarkable about him, as well as the state and the nation he represented.

As Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate to Congress, pointedly noted in her remarks at the Washington National Cathedral, Brooke, a native Washingtonian, grew up in a time when the District—then, as now— did not have the voting rights other American citizens enjoyed. Even if Washington, D.C. had a voting delegate at that time, Black Washingtonians would have been denied their voting rights by the racist code Congress then followed for the jurisdiction.

Brooke’s achievements before and during his Senate career are a testament not only to his value, but also to the immense loss White America imposed on the nation by the regime of official and de facto racism it followed until the 1960s. From the beginning, he made it quite clear he was proud to be a Republican and was not in politics to represent exclusively “Black interests,” but the interests of all the people of his state and the United States. But those beliefs also never prevented him from criticizing his party when he felt it necessary.

For example, in 1964, two years before his Senate victory, Brooke refused to endorse Republican Senator Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy (Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964), commenting later, “You can’t say the Negro left the Republican Party; the Negro feels he was evicted from the Republican Party.”

Four decades later, in a 2007 interview for the just-released book, “Memorable Quotations from Edward W. Brooke,” he declared, “Unfortunately the Republican Party has not fared well—it has disintegrated to an extent. Not demised, but certainly has not lived up to its responsibilities to the electorate.”

What would Edward W. Brooke say of the Republican Party now?

Lee A. Daniels is a columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com

Crossing the Bridge from Selma to Ferguson

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What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?” -President Barack Obama, Selma, March 7, 2015

President Barack Obama made these poignant remarks standing at the edge of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years after “Bloody Sunday,” the day average but committed citizens took a stand and demanded equality, fairness, and the vote. “The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing,” he said. “But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation.”

They led with courage.

They led with fearlessness.

And they believed that they had the power to make more perfect a clearly imperfect union.

America will always be a work in progress. There will always be work to do. Last week’s US Justice Department’s (DOJ) report on Ferguson, Missouri’s criminal justice policies and procedures is just one such example. The DOJ’s report accuses Ferguson officials of using the city’s police and court system to generate revenue by disproportionately targeting, fining, or arresting the city’s Black population. Judge Ronald Brockmeyer was named specifically in the report as making up new fees and retaliating against defendants who challenged him. He resigned early this week.

Yesterday Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell announced the assignment of Judge Roy Richter to handle Ferguson’s Municipal Court cases, and authorized him to “implement needed reforms to court policies and procedures…to ensure that the rights of defendants are respected.” Chief Justice Russell also announced in the same press release that the “Court also is examining reforms that are needed on a statewide basis.”

While systemic reforms are now being led by the Courts, there is still work that the average citizen can do in order to ensure continued reformation. And that work begins with voting. Take, for example, the way the Ferguson Municipal Court judge accused of much of the malfeasance was appointed to his position. According to the New York Times, Judge Brockmeyer was recommended by the Ferguson city manager, and his appointment was approved by the city council in 2003. The city manager was hired by the city council. And the city council was elected by the citizens who voted.

Which takes us back to Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge 50 years ago. A group of reformers fighting for the right to vote are attacked and beaten by those who should have been there to protect and serve. The reformers didn’t just protest. They sacrificed with their bodies. The right to vote secured with torn flesh and broken bones. “What’s our excuse today for not voting?” President Obama asked. “How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we fully give away our power, our voice…”

In America’s ongoing saga for equality the people of Ferguson must remember the power they have as voters. And instead of just seeing the commemoration on the 50th anniversary of the march across the bridge as a day of celebration and remembrance, they become inspired to take back their power and their voices by exercising the right to vote. That would truly be honoring the legacy of the Selma marchers.

Paulette Brown-Hinds, PhD is Publisher of Black Voice News and The IE Voice.

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