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The Monkey on the Tea Party's Back

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OPINION-EDITORIAL

By Lee A. Daniels and Stacey Patton, Special to the NNPA from thedefendersonline.com –

Another day. Another outrageous example of how deeply the election of a Black American of mixed parentage has unhinged some conservative White Americans.

And further evidence, thanks to Marilyn Davenport, a Tea Party member who sits on the Republican Party central committee of Orange County, California, that the Tea Party continues to be the organizational refuge for some significant number of them.

Recently a local newspaper reported that Davenport, a longtime party committee member, had sent to some fellow committee members and others an e-mail depicting President Obama as belonging to a family of chimpanzees: his face was superimposed on a chimpanzee that was clearly meant to be the offspring of a male and female chimpanzee - also in the photo.

Underneath the doctored photo, Davenport, who is 74, had typed the words: “Now you know why – no birth certificate!”

Scott Baugh, the chairman of the committee, was one who received it. He e-mailed Davenport that it was “dripping with racism and is in very poor taste.” He and some other GOP officials in the county later said Davenport should resign or be ousted from her committee seat.

The ensuing scenario followed the script that’s become a thoroughly familiar one since President Obama took office.

Davenport at first declared in an e-mail response to the committee that she had done nothing wrong and that it was all “much to do about nothing.

“I’m sorry if my e-mail offended anyone,” she began, her tone of defiance obvious. “I simply found it amusing regarding the character of Obama and all the questions surrounding his origin of birth.”

The character of Obama? His origin of birth?

Davenport pressed on: “In no way did I consider the fact that’s he’s half black when I sent out the email. In fact, the thought never entered my mind until one or two other people tried to make this about race. We all know a double standard applies regarding this president. I received plenty of emails about George Bush that I didn’t particularly like, yet there was no ‘cry’ in the media about them.”

She added for good measure that she has friends who are Black.

That marked the end of the first act of the drama: the dismissal of the wrong by combining the assertion that it was all a joke with a back-of-the-hand apology to those who took offense, followed by the I-have-Black- friends-so-I’m-not-a-racist declaration.

But, it was clear the controversy was not going be dismissed so easily. Davenport’s words summoned echoes of the racist assertions of late 19th and early 20th-century eugenicists like Charles Davenport (no relation) about the character, traits, and evolutionary origins of Black people. Charles Davenport was one who in the early 1900s warned that American society was in decline because of the presence of too many Blacks, people with disabilities and other people of color.

Former chairman of the California Republican Party Michael Schroeder weighed in quickly that the e-mail was Davenport’s third strike, citing two previous incidents in which she had defended the racist actions of fellow Orange County conservatives.

The first was during President Obama’s inauguration, when Los Alamitos Mayor Dean Grose forwarded an email depicting a watermelon patch on the White House lawn.

According to Schroeder, Davenport also defended Newport Councilman Richard Nichols when he opposed installing grassy areas at a beach. His reason, according to the L.A. Times: “with grass we usually get Mexicans coming in there early in the morning and they claim it as theirs, and it becomes their personal, private grounds all day.”

It’s important to note the similarity of the three incidents: they are all outlandish, and draw on a web of bigoted notions about Blacks and Mexicans that are the more effective because they don’t have to be spelled out.

The weight of criticism — added to undoubtedly via back-channel routes by Republican Party officialdom trying to avoid another racial controversy welling up from its ranks – soon forced Marilyn Davenport to publicly recant. She said, “I wasn’t wise in sending the email out. I shouldn’t have done it. I really wasn’t thinking when I did it. I had poor judgment.” She further said, “I am not a racist, but I do think I need to apologize again with different words.”

She went still further in an apology read for her (she did not attend) at the weekly meeting of the party committee statement Monday night, asking “forgiveness of my unwise behavior. I say unwise because at the time I received and forwarded the email, I didn’t stop to think about the historic implications and other examples of how this could be offensive. I am an imperfect Christian lady who tries her best to live a Christ-like honoring life,” the statement continued. “I would never do anything to intentionally harm or berate others regardless of ethnicity. Everyone who knows me knows that to be true.”

But, of course, though one may accept the sincerity of Davenport’s apology, it’s too late for a “retraction” of an incident and its immediate aftermath, which offer, not a window, but a glass house-look into the Tea Party’s soul as the place where such expressions of bigotry are acceptable. It underscores that, though the Tea Party has stored its racist, anti-Obama placards to don the cloak of political respectability, behind closed-doors it’s still the same old same old. The “monkey” Tea Partiers are apparently obsessed with asserting is President Obama is actually the outward manifestation of their own racial anxieties. The monkey they see is actually the one on their own backs.

Some claim that the depiction of the President and the First Lady as apes and monkeys has no more meaning than the comparisons of George W. Bush to a monkey that populated the internet during his years his office.

But, for one thing, those scurrilous references – which, though they subjected Bush to the ridicule, never included the First Lady or the Bush daughters – were never circulated by Democratic elected officials and party operatives, and they never infected the respectable political sphere. They were never a motivation for action by his political opponents.

In sharp contrast, the controversy that’s erupted about the “Davenport e-mail” isn’t just a matter of partisan bickering, or of some people being “too sensitive.” Not when, the social, and political arenas have been flooded since the Inauguration with venomous posters and cartoons and “jokes” from right-wing pundits, talk-show jockeys, and party operatives and officeholders likening the President and the First Family to monkeys and apes.

Not when the likening of Black Americans to monkeys and apes has always been a bedrock of White-racist thought.

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist or linguistic anthropologist to understand that the function of such language and images has always been to make Whites more comfortable in denying Blacks the rights of citizenship and indeed of simple human decency – as well as supporting a social and political structure that does so, too.

In fact, Scott Baugh, the Orange County GOP chairman, made just this point in saying Monday that, “Depicting African-Americans as monkeys is a longtime, well-known and particularly offensive slur because it denies them their basic humanity.”

Baugh urged party members to consider the reactions Black Americans would have on opening such an e-mail. “I hope for a fleeting moment,” he said, “you can capture the taste of what it feels like to be at the bigoted end of racism. Just reflect on that because that’s what many of them saw, that’s what many of them felt, and that’s how many of them reacted.

Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and Editor-in-Chief of TheDefendersOnline.

Stacey Patton is a writer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Stanford Geneticist Pushes for More African-Americans, Hispanics to Join Critical Research

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By Kenneth J. Cooper, Special to the NNPA from America’s Wire –

A Stanford University geneticist, Carlos D. Bustamante, is leading an effort to include more Hispanics and African-Americans in genetic research critical to determining root causes of many diseases. He has been critical of such research that has often focused largely on White populations.

Work by the award-winning geneticist, who was born in Venezuela, has helped to expand testing in a global study that is known as the 1000 Genomes project and was launched in 2008 to map the genes of at least 1,000 people worldwide. An international group of scientists is taking DNA samples, analyzing them, and sharing the findings.

The study started with samples taken in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. But, Bustamante immediately recognized that South America was missing from the project, which the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is coordinating. He successfully pressed for adding Colombia, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Barbados.

“We’re one of the groups that have really been very passionate about studying African-American populations and studying Hispanic-Latino populations so that they get brought into the fold of medical genetics research,” says Bustamante, speaking for himself and fellow researchers in his Stanford lab.

Early results from the 1000 Genomes project exemplify the significance of genetic research and the severe downside for populations not included in the testing. Already, the research has found that small genetic variations help to explain why some groups are more at risk for cancer and diabetes.

What’s clear is that lack of diversity has occurred for some time. A 2009 review of nearly 400 studies worldwide found that more than 90 percent have examined only people of European descent. Duke University researchers counted 26 studies of Asians, three of Hispanics, two of Native Americans, and none of African-Americans. Another 11 studies tested people from a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“NIH has a lot of responsibility” for the racial-ethnic imbalance, says Dr. Esteban Burchard, a Mexican-American geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco. “They’re happy to take our tax dollars, but they don’t distribute them equally.”

NIH has acknowledged the imbalance despite a policy adopted in 1985 encouraging inclusion of minorities in studies it funds. Since that year, federal law has mandated that all NIH-funded research include minorities.

“I don’t think enough of them have been studied,” says Charles Rotimi, director of NIH’s Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health. “There needs to be a commitment from the various institutes to fund these large-scale studies.”

Jean McEwen, a program director at the National Human Genome Research Institute, says the five-year, $120 million 1000 Genomes study started as a pilot project intended for expansion. She says it took time to secure government approval in some countries or, in others, to identify scientific partners, which she says Bustamante did for the South American and Caribbean countries.

“It’s really just a practical matter,” McEwen says of the initial omission of countries in those regions.

Bustamante and Burchard, also a physician, indicate that Bustamante encountered resistance to broadening the 1000 Genomes project, which has funding from NIH, a private British trust and two genetics institutes in China.

Burchard says Bustamante has been “really pushing the field, bending the steel, to look at other populations” and has succeeded because he has leverage as a respected professor at Stanford and, previously, Cornell University, with three degrees from Harvard University. Last year, Bustamante, 36, won a MacArthur Foundation “genius award.”

Beyond 1000 Genomes, Rotimi says NIH has funded so few genetic studies of minorities for many reasons. He and McEwen cite difficulty recruiting minorities, who tend to be skeptical of medical research because of past abuses, as in the Tuskegee study of syphilis in African-American men from 1932 to 1972.

McEwen, who does community outreach for 1000 Genomes, emphasizes the recruitment problems. But, Rotimi says “perhaps one of the biggest problems” is the small number of minority geneticists, who tend to “navigate towards their own communities.”

“By that alone, you’re going to have fewer studies” of minorities, Rotimi says. A related reason, he adds, is that historically Black and Hispanic-serving colleges often lack adequate labs and other equipment to make grant applications by their professors competitive with those from researchers at Harvard and Johns Hopkins University, leading recipients of NIH funds.

“One of the reasons that researchers say they study White populations is that they’re easier to study, they’re more homogeneous, blah-blah-blah,” Bustamante says. “But, it’s really that they haven’t really done enough to engage minority populations.”

The field of genetics, Burchard says, is “amazingly non-diverse. We have very few minority scientists.”

Besides himself and Bustamante, who are Hispanic, Burchard named Rick Kittles of the University of Illinois at Chicago, saying, “To my knowledge, he’s the only African-American geneticist in the country who has any credibility.”

Kittles has been researching prostate cancer, which afflicts African-American men at a rate higher than that for any other racial-ethnic group in the country. He started the NIH-funded study in the 1990s while at Howard University, one of three historically Black colleges with a medical school. Five Hispanic-serving institutions also have one, and a sixth is not yet operating, according to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.

Burchard specializes in seeking genetic reasons that a disease is more prevalent in one group than another. Since 1997, he has conducted an NIH-funded study of asthma, trying to find reasons for an extreme disparity among Hispanics. Puerto Ricans have the nation’s highest rate of asthma, while Mexican-Americans have the lowest, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in Atlanta.

“We’re not sure where the difference is coming from,” he says.

In general, Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans are of mixed European, Native American, and African ancestry, Burchard says. His study examines whether the disparity in asthma rates is related to genetic differences in those three groups that populated Puerto Rico and Mexico.

According to the CDC, Puerto Ricans are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic Whites to have asthma and 80 percent more likely than African-Americans, who are included in Burchard’s study. Bustamante is collaborating on the asthma research.

Burchard and his colleagues are also looking for genetic factors that may explain disparities in heart and kidney disease, breast cancer, obesity, and types of lung disease other than asthma.

Such research holds the medical promise of finding better treatments that reduce the health disparities experienced by minorities. Still, “genome-wide association studies,” as they are technically known, have critics.

Prominent among them is Troy Duster, a professor of sociology and bioethics at New York University, who criticizes studies that look only at genetic causes of disease, ignoring environmental and social factors such as diet, exercise, and stress caused by perceived racism. “I think this is a huge issue,” he says. “You can’t just do one kind of study.”

Burchard says his asthma study is in fact examining environmental and social factors behind the disease, not just genetic ones.

Duster, who has written academic articles on the subject, expresses concern that the genetic studies make racial differences appear more scientific then they actually are. “My objection to those kinds of studies is that they are making it sound as if race is understood to be a biological phenomenon,” he says.

The idea that race has a biological aspect may comfort those who believe that the races are so different they should live apart. There is evidence that it already has.

In 2007, David Duke, a former national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and former Louisiana state representative, praised Burchard’s research. “I do think your work and others who show real biological differences between races is important,” Duke wrote to Burchard in an e-mail that Duke posted on his website. “You show that race is truly real, not a societal construct or some sort of conspiracy theory.”

Burchard shrugs off Duke’s embrace.

“Regardless of what you develop, whether it’s nuclear energy or biologic information, you’re always going to have some perverted individuals trying to manipulate it to their gain,” he says. “But, that doesn’t mean that we should stop doing science.”

As for Duster’s criticism about how race is seen because of genetic studies, Burchard maintains that science is on his side.

“We know that there are biologic differences,” he says. “Rather than trying to be politically correct and burying our heads in the sand, we should be looking at these differences and trying to use these differences to untangle disease.”

Bustamante says he and coworkers in his lab try to “figure out ways to increase diversity in medical genetics research, both in the U.S. and out” because otherwise “studies will get developed and done that don’t benefit everybody.”

Tyler Perry: 'Spike Lee Can Go Straight to Hell'

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By Erica Butler, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American newspapers –

Ahead of the national premiere of his latest project, writer and director Tyler Perry said recently he is weary of deflecting criticism that his work lacks substance and is not an authentic and constructive portrayal of Black Americans.

Perry’s latest film, “Madea’s Big Happy Family,” opened across the country April 22. He said during a Beverly Hills news conference, prior to the film’s opening, that he is particularly irritated by criticism from Black filmmaker Spike Lee.

“I’m so sick of hearing about damn Spike Lee,” Perry said, according to reports. “Spike can go straight to hell! You can print that. I am sick of him talking about me, I am sick of him saying, ‘This is a coon, this is a buffoon.’”

Lee has dismissed Perry’s artistic vision as low-brow entertainment, which exploits negative images—among them Perry, a Black man, dressing in drag for his role as Madea—for laughs and box office success.

Perry’s work, built around the audience’s embrace of Madea, has produced a string of hits and generated strong support from African American moviegoers.

“I am sick of him talking about Black people going to see movies,” Perry said of Lee’s criticism. “This is what he said: ‘You vote by what you see,’ as if Black people don't know what they want to see."

The feud between the two filmmakers dates back to 2009 when, in an interview with BET reporter Ed Gordon, Spike Lee compared Perry’s portrayal of Blacks in his films to “Amos n’ Andy,” the first Black situation comedy to be broadcast nationally in the 1950s and which contained stereotypical roles of African-Americans. Lee said that he does not expect Perry’s films to reflect Lee’s own vision of Black America, but he insists that “imaging” of the Black community is significant.

“Each artist should be allowed to pursue their artistic endeavors, but I still think there is a lot of stuff out today that is coonery and buffoonery,” Lee said in the interview. “I am a huge basketball fan, and when I watch the games on TNT, I see these two ads for these two shows [Perry’s “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns”], and I am scratching my head. We got a Black president, and we going back to [early Black comedians] Mantan Moreland and Sleep ‘n’ Eat?”

Perry defended his work, pointing out that other ethnicities have their own versions of his films.

“I've never seen Jewish people attack ‘Seinfeld’ and say ‘this is a stereotype.’ I've never seen Italian people attack ‘The Sopranos.’ I've never seen Jewish people complaining about ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ or Dustin Hoffman in ‘Tootsie,’” he said.

In his online journal at tylerperry.com, Perry wrote that his new movie is just food for the soul, and only his fans will understand his vision.

Critics “don't get that this is about more than making a movie and telling a funny story,” he wrote on his site. He added that detractors “don't get that it's about uplifting and encouraging the soul. They don't get that most [Perry film fans] have been with me long before they knew who I was, and they don't get that you have my back.”

Racial Tension Taints Views on Health Reform

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By Charlene Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call –

According to findings by a national policy institute for race and economic justice, racial tensions in America undergird the debate over national health reform.

In a study titled, “The Role of Race in the Healthcare Debate,” researchers with the Greenlining Institute reported that Blacks, Latinos, and other people of color are more likely than Whites to support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In addition, the act is more likely to be opposed by Whites who are racially biased or show “racial resentment.”

“Racial resentment is a modern form of racism that developed in the post-civil rights era ... Negative attitudes towards Blacks can manifest themselves in an individual's political attitudes,” said Dr. Daniel Byrd, research director for the Greenlining Institute.

In analyzing data from the 2008- 2009 American National Election Survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Stanford University, Byrd, Carla Saporta and Rosa Martinez, Greenlining Health Program managers, accounted for variables like age, gender, education, income, political ideology, and whether or not those surveyed had health insurance. People harboring racial resentment argue Blacks lag behind in society because they don't work hard enough, not because of discrimination, Dr. Byrd told The Final Call.

This study is related to work by other researchers who argued since the president is Black, Americans were more sensitive to race and President Obama's association with issues and policies made debates and opinions more racialized, Dr. Byrd said.

The 2008-2009 American National Election Survey found 38.4 percent of Whites supported the healthcare law, compared to 78.6 percent of Blacks, 52.6 percent of Latinos and 43.6 of people from other racial groups.

During the summer of 2010, 44.3 percent of Americans favored the health care legislation compared to 35.8 percent who opposed it.

Its findings and Greenlining's report come at a time when non-Whites generally endure a greater likelihood of being without health insurance and suffer from racial health disparities in the U.S.

According to statistics highlighted in the “The Role of Race in the Healthcare Debate,” Blacks and Latinos are less likely to have a regular doctor when compared to Whites; American Indian/Alaska Native adults are more likely than Whites to be diagnosed with diabetes; while Black women are 10 percent less likely than White women to be diagnosed with breast cancer but are 36 percent more likely than White women to die from the disease.

On March 24, 2010, a day after President Barack Obama signed the health reform legislation, Minister Louis Farrakhan commented on the bitter controversy surrounding passage of the act. He described it as a “Pyrrhic victory.”

“I called it a Pyrrhic victory, because even though Mr. Obama won one of the greatest things of his young presidency, something that America has been desirous of for many, many decades, yet, at the same time of the victory, there's a splitting of the country,” Farrakhan said during an interview on the Cliff Kelly Show on 1690 AM-WVON.

“It was a victory in one sense, but great loss in another because you have 13 or 14 states desiring to repeal this law, and you have the vitriol, and the manifestation of hatred—because President Obama is viewed and is being demonized as a Socialist, and even as a Hitler,” Farrakhan said.

In a videotaped message posted on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighted the act's progress a year later. Many revisions have yet to go into effect, but the changes have already granted Americans new protections, greater freedoms, and lower costs, she said.

“Thanks to a Patient's Bill of Rights, insurers are prohibited from turning away children because of their pre-existing health conditions and families in new plans have access to free, recommended preventive care. Beneficiaries with Medicare now have the freedom to get preventive care screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies for free,” Secretary Sebelius continued.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, other benefits that have taken effect are 50 percent discounts on brand-name drugs for seniors on Medicare and tax credits for small businesses that provide insurance to employees.

Still, data says racial resentment, even among America's younger generation, is at the forefront of the movement to defund the health care bill, Byrd said. People born into political systems develop their political attitudes in childhood and those predispositions become lasting, he noted.

“The things that are going on now, efforts to defund the healthcare bill, will disproportionately effect communities of color ... Are they going to stop its implementation? We'll have to see how this shapes up and what happens next,” Byrd said.

U.N. Mixes It Up in Ivory Coast, Showing New Muscle

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

The United Nations, which authorized French troops to attack the hideout of the former president of Ivory Coast, Laurent Gbagbo, shifted its role from peacekeeper to aggressor in that country’s deadly electoral dispute.

Former president Gbagbo who had refused to step down after a narrow defeat to Alassane Ouattara in a November poll, was arrested in a basement bunker with his wife and some staff. Incoming president Ouattara insisted that no French troops entered the basement hideout, although the U.N. acknowledged that it OK’d the military strikes on the president’s compound.

The U.N. intervention in the West African nation is being seen as an extension of the body’s previous green light to the use of force in Libya. A “humanitarian” bombing campaign was approved in that case to defend rebels opposed to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The action against Ivory Coast was supported by all the Security Council members including Russia and China, which in the past did not interfere in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations.

With Mr. Ouattara now the sole leader in charge of the country, observers question whether it will be enough to end the fighting. Ethnic violence has festered during the lengthy tug-of-war with Gbagbo, particularly in the west of the country, with hundreds of people killed as both sides in the conflict committed atrocities against civilians, aid groups say.

Meanwhile, in France, Gbagbo spokesman Alain Toussaint, accused French special forces of carrying out a coup in its former colony on behalf of Ouattara.

"It was a coup d'etat which had no other aim but to gain control of the resources of Ivory Coast," Toussaint told reporters in Paris.

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