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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.

Republicans Seek Drastic Cuts in Minnesota Human Rights Department

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By Mel Reeves, Special to the NNPA from the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder –

“They [Republicans] seem intent on taking away the state’s ability to fight for equal rights. We believe that it is morally and ethically wrong,” explained Bobby Joe Champion. He was responding to Minnesota House and Senate Republicans, who recently passed the Public Safety Omnibus Bill that included deep cuts to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR).

The House version of the bill included a 65 percent cut, and the Senate version requested a 50 percent reduction in the MDHR budget.

“We need to be doing more, not less,” suggested Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey. According to Lindsey, the proposed cuts would make it even more difficult than it already is to process cases in a timely manner. Presently, Lindsey says that his limited staff takes more than 400 days to complete investigations into charges. “No way can we be effective with this level of cut,” said Lindsay. Presently, the Human Rights Department spends 80 percent of its budget on staff and operating costs.

However, Republicans proposing the cuts suggested that the department spends the majority of its budget on education. “We changed their mission and tied the state funds to enforcement, and if they want to use federal funds for education and outreach, that was fine,” said Tony Cornish.

But according to Lindsey, only six percent of the budget is spent on education. Lindsey said he suspects that the reason that this exaggeration has been used as justification to cut his budget is because it is a part of a national right-wing campaign. It is a campaign whose goal is to cut out or restrict enforcement of human rights statutes across the country.

Republican governors in Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Idaho are among those who have recently sought to reduce the size and scope of their states’ human rights departments.

“What this bill says,” explained Republican Rep. Kerry Gauthier “is that Minnesota — which has an issue in discrimination in employment, the worst in the country — is going to walk away from human rights.” Gauthier was referring to a recent Star Tribune article that cited several studies indicating that Minnesota has the largest Black-White unemployment gap in the nation (20.4 percent for Blacks vs. 6.6 percent for Whites).

Presently, the Department of Human Rights investigates charges of illegal discrimination and ensures that businesses seeking State contracts are in compliance with equal opportunity requirements. It also strives to eliminate discrimination by educating Minnesotans about their rights and responsibilities under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Incidentally, Minnesota was ahead of its time when it passed its Human Rights Act in 1954. The act prohibits discrimination because of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, and sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, public services and education.

“Such discrimination,” reads the act, “threatens the rights and privileges of the inhabitants of this state and menaces the institutions and foundations of democracy.”

Champion, in floor debate on the bill, pointed out that the cuts would cripple the department’s ability to carry out its mandate to enforce the Minnesota’s anti-discrimination laws. “What sort of message does that send to our broader society?” asked the local legislator. But, Republican legislator Cornish insisted that the bill “didn’t gouge” the MDHR but only “reduced their budget.”

Cornish also suggested that businesses that are required to show proof that they are compliant with anti-discriminatory hiring laws should be doing more than $250,000 in State contracts. Presently, businesses doing $100,000 in State contracts have to comply with the MDHR and show proof that they are compliant with State anti-discriminatory laws.

Last year, MHDR had 805 charges of discrimination filed. Most frequent were complaints of disability discrimination (325), followed by complaints of racial discrimination and religion (261). There were 207 gender discrimination complaints.

On a more encouraging note, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton insists he will maintain the MHDR’s budget at the same level as in the past biennium. Dayton reaffirmed his commitment last week in his response to the Black Economic Summit held recently in North Minneapolis.

Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to mellaneous19@yahoo.com

The Journey Towards Housing Fairness Continues for African-Americans, Latinos

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New Report Finds Disparities in Maintenance of REO Properties

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

When the Center for Responsible Lending examined the demographics of the housing crisis, it determined that for every 100 African-American homeowners with a mortgage, 11 have either lost their homes or were at imminent risk of foreclosure. For Latino families, the figures were even worse – 17 of every 100 Latino homeowners with a mortgage are affected by foreclosures. From 2009 through 2012 African-American and Latino communities will together lose $350 billion due to depreciation in values from nearby foreclosures.

Just as communities of color were targeted for high-cost subprime mortgage loans, now the high concentration of foreclosed properties in these same communities has led to yet another dilemma: a disproportionate share of neglect among bank-owned foreclosures. Also know as real-estate owned (REO) properties, these formerly-occupied homes are bringing blight and contributing to further deterioration of the quality of life in communities of color.

A new report from the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) in Washington, D.C. describes an investigation of 624 bank-owned properties in four markets: Dayton, Ohio; Hartford, Connecticut; Maryland’s Price George’s County; and Richmond, Virginia. Field staff visited and evaluated the exterior condition of REO properties in these markets based on a 100-point scale. The goal was to determine whether banks and their third-party contractors were equitably maintaining the properties owned.

In three of the four metro areas, properties located in either White or stably integrated neighborhoods were managed substantially better than those in communities of color. In the White or integrated communities, REO properties showed evidence of well-maintained lawns, secured entrances and professional sales marketing. By contrast in communities of color, poorly maintained yards, unsecured entrances, poor curb appeal and appearances of abandonment were evident.

The report notes that while Prince George’s County is a “rare example of a racially and ethnically integrated suburb”, its Black neighborhoods, scored well below those of its integrated neighborhoods.

According to NFHA, “A bank risks violating civil rights laws if it owns a home in an African-American or Latino neighborhood and fails to take the same steps to maintain, market, and sell it as it would take for a home in an area with a largely white population.”

The NFHA report also calls for banks, federal regulators, and local governments to take measurable steps to erase the noted disparities.

“It is imperative that banks take affirmative steps to maintain, market, and sell all REO properties according to fair housing best practices standards. It is also imperative that federal regulators and enforcement agencies examine the ways in which banks and the vendors that they hire conduct this business” advised NFHA. “Lastly it is imperative that local municipalities and residents remain vigilant and ensure that the concentration of REO properties is not impeding fair housing choices.”

The irony is that these findings and recommendation are emerging during the nation’s observance of Fair Housing Month. The month-long observance is intended to commemorate the historic signing of the Fair Housing Act on April 1l, 1968.

Enacted four years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination by race in housing sales, rentals, and financing and was signed into law by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Later in 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Fair Housing Amendments which prescribed powers for the Department of Justice along with enforcement penalties and expanded protected classes to include disabilities and familial status.

Yet, despite the passage of time and the enactments, fair housing has yet to reach many Americans of color. The laws may have changed; but discriminatory practices still remain in the housing industry.

The journey towards housing fairness continues.

Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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