This article was originally published in the Final Call BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: APR 2, 2020 – 11:58:17 AM The global pandemic that is sweeping the United States and the world has ravaged almost everywhere it has hit, roaring through … Continue reading Economic uncertainty and instability amid Covid-19 crisis
NNPA NEWSWIRE — Since its release, ‘No Shade’ has captured the film-going public’s imagination as it explores the hardships dark-skinned women in Britain face in the dating world and is reigniting some difficult conversations in Black and other circles.
Clare Anyiam-Osigwe, a first-time director, is enjoying the type of success usually reserved for veteran filmmakers. Her film debut, ‘No Shade’ is a witty, wry romantic story that shines a bright light on the troubling issue of colorism.
Anyiam-Osigwe, a Nigerian-British entrepreneur and an emerging talent in the film industry, wrote and directed the film, which she completed in six-and-a-half days. Produced by the British Urban Film Festival (BUFF), the film had successful premieres in Cannes, France; Washington, DC; London; as well as a world festival premiere at the Rio Cinema in Dalston in this past June. It was the official selection at the Women of The Lens Film Festival, Da Bounce Urban Film Festival, BUFF and the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival.
The independent filmmaker said that earlier this month, she and her husband Emmanuel negotiated a deal with Diarah N’Daw-Spech, director at Artmattan Productions, which acquired US rights to the film.
On November 28, Artmattan will screen the movie at the NY African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) in New York, followed by a limited release with digital and home entertainment releases to follow exclusively across North America.
And on November 30, the film will open in New York City at the Cinema Village Theatre.
Since its release, ‘No Shade’ has captured the film-going public’s imagination as it explores the hardships dark-skinned women in Britain face in the dating world and is reigniting some difficult conversations in Black and other circles. Black women’s’ experiences are complicated by the fetishization of light-skinned women and their white counterparts by Black men. The film traces the travails of Jade, a photographer who has a series of jarring dates with oblivious interested in a certain type of woman but not her. The film is straightforward and raw, leaving viewers – particularly Black men – to ponder any number of questions about the people they choose and why.
“This is a film you can only pray for,” said Anyiam-Osigwe, reacting to the film’s success. “It has made me feel really proud. It was my first script, my first script ever.”
Too often, she said, a disturbing number of Black British men have no desire to date dark-skinned women, choosing instead to pursue relationships with Caucasian, light-skinned Black or racially ambiguous women. And professional Black men in the entertainment industry are notorious perpetuators of misogynoir.
Although she went to drama school, wrote for a number of publications, is an award-winning dermatologist and founded PremaeUK Skincare, Anyiam-Osigwe said the move to directing has been a smooth one.
“In all fairness it was pretty easy. My husband sold and produced films before and I did Public Relations,” she said. “I depended a little bit on unknown synergy but I was not poking too much in the dark. I had idea of what to do and who to call. While I was writing I couldn’t hide anywhere. I was still working as a dermatologist so I took time off of social media. The great thing about being a working professional is that you can set your own schedule.”
Anyiam-Osigwe, who also co-stars in the film, said she’s particularly proud of the fact that she and her husband made the film without the assistance or support of any studio or public or private funding. The topic, she said, is timely and socially relevant because the Blacks in Britain are grappling with colorism, beauty standards, and accepting themselves while building self-esteem.
“I feel really great that I’ve made something of social relevance,” she explained. “Black men, mostly West Indian men, are dating white women. It’s a conscious choice but there’s an awakening going on among Black Brits. There’s a lot of talk online. I don’t expect things to change overnight but I’m pleased that this film has really helped have a deeper context.”
“This is a complex issue. Because most black men don’t have a strong black man in their house, there is this disconnect,” said Anyiam-Osigwe, co-founder of BUFF Originals. “They’re already a feeling of abandonment and disadvantage. Hair? Skin? Loud voice? Attitude. It’s a serious thing to understand because your Black mum raised you. “
“The film is politically charged. It’s showing you some truths. The biggest thing for me is that you should be able to date and love whoever you want. Colorism is degrading the black woman. It’s very, very rare that black women will go out and talk about black skin. But as a beautician/dermatologist you talk to people and overhear so many conversations that you’re privy to. I pay attention and as someone trained as actress and director, I was trained to listen.”
Anyiam-Osigwe said a “real mix” of people – white, black and apprehensive mixed-race people – have been coming to see the film and the reaction has been very positive.
“The film is still hot on people’s minds,” she said. “People are still coming back since the first screening in June. It’s still on their minds and stirring discussion.”
Black women, she asserts, live in a hostile beauty environment. The problems they often face are socially wrenching and Anyiam-Osigwe recalled the angst of some of her friends who’ve been dismissed, marginalized or rejected by Black men. Some of those stories are in the film.
Anyiam-Osigwe said the corrosive nature of the men’s attitudes and the resulting internalized self-hatred and damage to Black women’s self-esteem is sometimes hard to overcome.
But there is another element of the equation too.
“A lot of my fair-skinned girlfriends will ‘thief’ a man up,” Anyiam-Osigwe explained. “They make him pay, rinse him. Light-skinned girls and white girls can get away with that. They know their power in the moment. The ‘hot lighties’ are fulfilling a fantasy for him and her needs aren’t usually being fulfilled. As teens, fair-skinned women lap up the attention, love the love. But in their 20s, they want more. But these same men don’t want to spend any money on a Black girl.”
The director, who grew up in foster care, said she was bullied as a child, called an “African bum cleaner,” and was told that she looked like a gorilla, but said she’s a proud Black woman. In a BBC film clip promoting the film, Anyiam-Osigwe went further: “The rhetoric for me since I was 14 was that I was pretty for a dark-skinned girl. This, to me, was deeply disrespectful, because I’m a very proud Igbo, Nigerian, British-born woman and my heritage, my mom, my aunties who have those traditional African features, I think they’re stunning.”
In August 2013, Anyiam-Osigwe was featured by Forbes Africa as one of the five most influential women in business and the youngest female entrepreneur to be featured in this category. And four years later, Queen Elizabeth II made Anyiam-Osigwe a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to dermatologists and for her award-winning creams and foundations from PremaeUK Skincare.
Now, she’s set on conquering the film industry.
“It’s kind of unheard of to have such coverage for a first-time filmmaker,” said Anyiam-Osigwe. “Historically, in the last 25 years of (British) cinema, I’m … the sixth black woman to get a UK theatrical release. And that’s a 7-day run. We’ve sold out at each venue, but they won’t give us a longer run. We see the body counts for some films and it’s nothing to what we brought through ‘No Shade.’ They say it’s a local black drama. There’s a part of me that likes to take a no and move on, but I prefer to show and prove. They say I’m not an auteur yet. How will I become an auteur if I don’t even get the chance? White independent filmmakers get funding, they get seen. Black girls struggle.”
Regardless of naysayers and the challenges, Anyiam-Osigwe said she’s intensely proud of her film.
“I consider this a work of art, a passion project,” she said. “It’s making people think more about female directors and black females. A couple of people said the film was very glossy. They weren’t expecting it to be that way. It’s about saying look at what we can do with a little.”
Originally published in the Washington Informer March 9, 2020
At the time, the D.C.-based journalist and commentator said, she thought her experience was the norm for Black women. She had a very easy pregnancy, she told The Final Call.
“I had a super, wonderful, happy pregnancy. I was 31, older than most, weighed 200 pounds and was playing with the D.C. Divas, a semi-professional women’s football team. I was eating 6,000 to 7,000 calories a day. I was an exceptional athlete in excellent health. Frankly, I looked amazing at this weight.
“I worked out for six months during the pregnancy and didn’t show until the eighth month,” she said.
Ms. Bey said while doing research in 2011 as part of an Association of Healthcare Journalists Ethnic Media Fellowship, she was shocked to learn just how pervasive and deadly childbirth is for Black women.
The deadly landscape of maternal mortality
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black women are three to four times more likely to die of complications from pregnancy than White women, regardless of their social status, economic standing or education. Also, infants born to Black mothers are dying at twice the rate of infants born to non-Hispanic White mothers. National Public Radio’s Nina Martin and Renee Montaigne put the crisis in stark terms in a story titled, “Black Mothers Keep Dying After Giving Birth. Shalon Irving’s Story Explains Why.”
Put another way, a Black woman is 22 percent more likely to die from heart disease than a White woman, 71 percent more likely to perish from cervical cancer, but 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes.
Every year, Dr. Paige Long-Sharps said, between 600 and 700 Black women die of these causes. The CDC puts that figure at 700-900 deaths annually. Many of these deaths are preventable, Dr. Long-Sharps and others say, but a host of factors—including disparities in healthcare; the inherent racism and racial bias in the healthcare system; stressors from Black women’s lived experiences which exacerbate pregnancies; and prospective mothers who lack the education and information to properly plan and prepare for a child—have a direct bearing on successful pregnancies.
In a New York Times magazine article, contributor Linda Villarosa cites reasons echoed by Dr. Long-Sharps as to why Black women are falling ill and dying before, during and after childbirth.
“High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease are two of the leading causes of maternal death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia, have been on the rise over the past two decades, increasing 72 percent from 1993 to 2014,” the article said. “A Department of Health and Human Services report last year found that pre-eclampsia and eclampsia (seizures that develop after pre-eclampsia) are 60 percent more common in African American women and also more severe.”
“Absolutely, it’s a crisis,” Dr. Long-Sharps said during a recent interview. “We live in an industrialized country but we’re behind Libya and the Third World in terms of caring for pregnant women. The numbers are real. Facts don’t lie. There are tons of studies that all lead to the same conclusions. We have a healthcare system where mortality and morbidity are so high.
“Women in Mississippi have worse outcomes than women in Palestine, Kenya and Egypt. There was a major report released in 2013 which showed that 60 percent of women of color are receiving inadequate healthcare. That’s crazy.”
Dr. Long-Sharps, a specialist in obstetrics & gynecology in Bronx, N.Y., has been practicing for 21 years and has garnered more than a quarter century of experience in the field. Citing a great need, the former medical director of Montefiore Medical Center for more than 10 years said she’s moving more into teaching and education than practicing medicine.
What has become crystal clear over the years–based on research, surveys, studies and other criteria–is that a crucial factor driving the maternal mortality crisis is racism and the inherent racial bias built into this country’s healthcare system.
“I live in Westchester County which is supposed to be affluent,” said Dr. Long-Sharps. “It doesn’t matter about one’s social and economic background, status or education. It comes down to racism. This is the crux of why we have such disparities. This is a multifaceted problem. I work in a majority-dominated environment and I see inherent racism every day but I’m not even sure if they see it.”
Dr. Long-Sharps said racism is manifested in residents and doctors when they ignore Black female patients during visits; don’t see the need to inform them of prospective procedures; disregard their concerns or desires for certain types of treatment; and don’t listen when these women try to explain how they feel or reasons for being in the hospital or doctor’s office.
“You’re starting from a place of inequality,” she said. “There are inherent stressors such as poverty, jobs, and family. Women are dealing with diabetes, hypertension. I believe, though, that as Black women the onus is on us. I also believe that there definitely is a revolution coming with doulas.”
Studies indicate that the racial gap amounts to the deaths of 4,000 babies each year, notes Ms. Villarosa, who heads the journalism program at City College of New York. What’s most unsettling, she and Dr. Long-Sharps say, is findings that education and income offer little protection. In fact, a Black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a White woman with less than an eighth-grade education.
U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren concurred in her Essence magazine opinion article.
“This trend persists even after adjusting for income and education. One major reason? Racism,” she wrote. “In a detailed report, Pro- Publica found that the vast majority of maternal deaths are preventable, but decades of racism and discrimination mean that, too often, doctors and nurses don’t hear Black women’s health issues the same way they hear them from other women.”
These are structural problems that require structural solutions, and medical institutions as well as the people who staff them must be held accountable, Sen. Warren asserted.
A trio of affiliated with the Center for American Progress researched and wrote a report, released in early May 2019, that provides a comprehensive policy framework to eliminate racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality.
“Structural racism in health care and social service delivery means that African American women often receive poorer quality care than White women,” said Jamila Taylor, Cristina Novoa, Katie Hamm, and Shilpa Phadke. “It means the denial of care when African American women seek help when enduring pain or that health care and social service providers fail to treat them with dignity and respect. These stressors and the cumulative experience of racism and sexism, especially during sensitive developmental periods, trigger a chain of biological processes, known as weathering, that undermine African American women’s physical and mental health.”
The long-term psychological toll of racism, the authors said, puts African American women at higher risk for a range of medical conditions that threaten their lives and their infants’ lives, including embolisms (blood vessel obstructions), and mental health conditions.
“Although racism drives racial disparities in maternal and infant mortality, it bears mentioning that significant underinvestment in family support and health care programs contribute to the alarming trends in maternal and infant health,” the authors continue. “In the past decades, many programs that support families in need—such as Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and nutrition assistance—have experienced a steady erosion of funding, if not outright budget cuts. The fact that these cuts have a harmful impact on families of color, who are overrepresented in these programs due to barriers to economic opportunity in this country, can be attributed to structural racism.”
Yet despite pervasive racial disparities in maternal and infant deaths, the authors say, public attention has only recently focused on this issue as a public health crisis.
“… And the full extent of the crisis is not yet known due to incomplete data. Compared with data on infant mortality, data on maternal mortality are less reliable and complete. While the disparities in maternal mortality across race are clear within individual states, a reliable national estimate has not been possible because data have been inconsistent and incomplete across states.”
A renewed push to confront the problem
The Black maternal healthcare and the crisis that is engulfing Black women has gotten the attention of some Democratic contenders running for the White House in 2020. California Sen. Kamala Harris recently reintroduced her Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (Maternal CARE) Act. The 2019 Maternal CARE Act creates a $25 million grant program to fight racial bias in maternal health care through training programs and medical schools and directs $125 million to identify high-risk pregnancies and provide mothers with the culturally competent care and any resources they need.
Sen. Harris has been joined by fellow Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Warren who have also been very vocal on the issue. In her Essence article, Sen. Warren highlighted the work being done by Sens. Harris and Cory Booker, as well as Rep. Alma Adams and her freshman colleague, Rep. Lauren Underwood, a nurse with whom she announced the formation of the Black Maternal Health Caucus. The caucus will help in developing policies to mitigate and eliminate what the lawmakers describe as “the shockingly high Black maternal death rate.”
A wide swath of organizations and individuals nationally have been involved or have joined the fight to reverse this trend. Sen. Warren said “as they have so often in the past, Black women and activists are leading the way. Widowers, mothers, and groups like the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, MomsRising, and the March of Dimes are demanding concrete actions to reverse these deadly outcomes,” she said. “The Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health is developing tools to save lives and stamp out racial disparities. Legislators in Texas and California are collecting data and rolling out new best practices. Cities are testing whether covering doula services can help.”
Doulas: An ancient solution to a modern problem
Dzifa Richards Jones, a pediatric physician’s assistant and a practicing doula for 15 years, agrees doulas are a key to getting a handle on maternal mortality.
“My clients have doulas so I don’t see the challenges, the non-successful cases and the stories of maternal mortality but I see it all around me,” said Ms. Richards Jones, a certified holistic birth and post-partum doula who has operated A Womban’s Place in the Atlanta area for six years. “There is definitely a lack of education, medical support and tough financial situations (that some women are dealing with). Also, people are less connected to their families. The more I see, it’s not a medical thing. It’s a mindset, relaxing. I think about the old midwives and that ancient wisdom. What I do is teach women to listen to themselves,” she said.
In Ms. Villarosa’s New York Time magazine article, Dána-Ain Davis, director of the Center for the Study of Women and Society at the City University of New York, said, “One of the most important roles that doulas play is as an advocate in the medical system for their clients. At the point a woman is most vulnerable, she has another set of ears and another voice to help get through some of the potentially traumatic decisions that have to be made.”
Doulas “are a critical piece of the puzzle in the crisis of premature birth, infant and maternal mortality in Black women,”’ concluded Ms. Davis, a doula and author of a forthcoming book on pregnancy, race and premature birth.
In addition to the weathering the toxic effects of racism and discrimination that adversely affect African American women, particularly during pregnancy, Ms. Richards Jones said Black women are very different from their White counterparts. They eat differently, live differently work hard and, more often than not, have two or three jobs.
“It’s a challenge to find peace during birth. The uterus can’t retract, and the placenta won’t be healthy,” Ms. Richards Jones said. “In some cases, the women are in single-parent households and not living healthy lifestyles.”
Among the responsibilities she has shouldered is to teach her clients tools, techniques and tips on how to change the way they eat, think and approach the pregnancy. A crucial part of the process is helping women feel empowered to deal with their doctors.
“We’re nervous seeing the physician, intimidated by the medical world, don’t feel entitled,” she said. “Caucasian clients feel very comfortable saying what they will and will not accept. But often, doctors make Black women agree to things they don’t want.
Ms. Bey echoed sentiments shared by interviewees about ways structurally, within families and medically, to ensure successful pregnancies. And there is the unspoken reality that dismantling structural racism and racial bias would go a long way to improving outcomes, she added.
“There are lots of factors that need to be addressed and changed,” she said. “Black women are under-supported, under-resourced and under-medically cared for, to coin a new word. Black mothers need more help and support than we get but we’re doing well regardless, despite the false narratives out there that Black women don’t take care of their children.”
Originally published March 17, 2019
By Barrington Salmon
UPDATED ON SEPT. 13, 2019: Desperate Housewivesstar Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT scores. The actress was also ordered by a federal judge to pay a fine of $30,000 and perform 250 hours of community service.
The revelation that parents gamed the system by paying up to seven figures to get their children into elite colleges has many African Americans fuming.
On March 12, federal investigators announced 50 high-profile individuals, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were charged in a scheme that involved changing college entrance test results, hiring proctors to take exams for children and superimposing their kids’ faces onto pictures of real student athletes, to guarantee college admission through athletics programs.
African American Reaction
Some prominent African Americans view the case as affirmative action for the rich and yet another example of white privilege.
“This is a question of a deeper revelation of the extent to which white privilege and white supremacy are institutionalized in every fabric of American society, including higher education,” Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., a longtime civil rights activist and president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, told Urban Hollywood 411.
“The rich have one standard of education and everyone else has another standard,” Chavis added. “This inequity isn’t just about wealth, it’s about race, ethnicity, culture and history.”
Chavis believes systematic racism made the scam possible.
“Those involved are embarrassed but will never acknowledge the longstanding history of racism that made their actions possible,” he said.
Federal officials said 33 parents paid amounts ranging from thousands of dollars to $6.5 million to get their children into top colleges, including Georgetown University, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas, Wake Forest, and Yale.
According to the 204-page indictment, Full Houseactress Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli — whose Mossimo brand was once a staple at Target stores — paid bribes totaling $500,000 to have their daughters pose as recruits for USC’s crew team, even though they never participated in the sport.
Huffman and her husband, Shameless actor William H. Macy, allegedly paid California-based Edge College & Career Network — run by businessman William Rick Singer — “a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 … to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter,” court documents state.
The bribe allegedly afforded the couple’s daughter unlimited time to take the SAT, and she was given a private proctor who allegedly corrected her answers after the test. Macy was not charged.
Charlottesville, Virginia entertainment attorney Elva Mason said many people view the scheme as a “huge injustice.”
“The overwhelming response is people asking if we all didn’t know this was going on. We just didn’t know the levels, the extent of how far people were willing to go to get an edge,” said Mason, who graduated from the University of Virginia (UVA) and the UVA Law School. “It’s galling for people to see students work hard to get something and a lesser person gets the job or the slot.”
“White privilege has always been here and isn’t going away,” Mason added.
Among those charged are business leaders, college coaches, administrators and CEOS, including Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher; Manuel A. Henriquez who is co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Hercules Technology Growth Capital; Gamal Abdelaziz, former President and COO of Wynn Resorts; and Elisabeth Kimmel, former owner of KFMB television and radio stations in San Diego.
Hernandez stepped down, and Loughlin was dropped from her recurring role on Netflix’s Full House reboot, Fuller House. The Hallmark Channel, where the actress starred in the series When Calls the Heart and in the Garage Sale Mystery TV movies, also cut ties with her.
“We are saddened by the recent news surrounding the college admissions allegations,” Hallmark parent company Crown Media said in a statement. “We are no longer working with Lori Loughlin and have stopped development of all productions that air on the Crown Media Family Network channels involving Lori Loughlin.”
Meanwhile, several companies — including Sephora and TRESemmé — ended partnerships with Loughlin’s 19-year-old daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, who is a USC freshman, as well as a YouTube star and paid influencer.
Ringleader Pleads Guilty
Fixer-consultant Singer pleaded guilty in Boston federal court on Tuesday to money laundering, racketeering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Federal officials said Singer accepted $25 million in bribes from parents between 2011 and 2018.
Officials said Singer acted as a corroborating witness in the investigation called Operation Varsity Blues, and wore a wire to record conversations with parents and other accomplices involved in the scam.
Much of the anger Black people feel is because of the scrutiny African-Americans routinely face in pursuit of higher education, and the obvious disparities in the sentences handed out to Black parents who have tried to give their children a leg up.
For example, Kelley Williams-Bolar was convicted of a felony in Ohio in 2011, for falsifying the home address for her two children so they could go to school in a better district. More recently, Florida high school student Kamilah Campbell has been fighting SAT officials who claim she improved her score too much –- without help –- and refused to validate her test results until she could prove she didn’t cheat.
Former Florida A&M University Law Professor Cori Harvey said Black students face a number of challenges, particularly when they attend predominantly white universities.
“Every black person at a white school has been asked some version of how did they get in, when they know that they (white students) got in because their father got them in,” Harvey said with a wry chuckle. “I think of it in terms of property rights. If a fair shot of getting into college is a property right -– we all have fair shot –- but it can be stolen from you, which is basically what they’re doing.”
The extremely competitive nature of elite schools and the handful of students admitted each year ultimately leads to cheating from elementary school up, said Harvey, a consultant and former criminal attorney who specializes in business and property law.
Judy Leak Bowers said she’s disgusted by what she’s heard but knows the perpetrators will probably get off with a slap on the hand.
“If that was Howard, Hampton, or Tuskegee, they would have closed them down. This is white privilege in every aspect of their lives — honest and dishonest — but they never suffer equitable consequences,” said Bowers, a master teacher who has been in the classroom for more than 20 years.
“This has been going on for eons. The whole set up is for them to succeed,” Bowers added. “This was a cadre of people involved in a conspiracy. A team of people were laundering money, lying, cheating and stealing.”
By Barrington Salmon
Changing America’s way of life?Y BARRINGTON M. SALMON CONTRIBUTING WRITER @BSALMONDC | LAST UPDATED: MAR 16, 2020 – 11:54:09 PMOriginally published in the Final Call
WASHINGTON—In recent weeks, Americans grappled with the inevitability of the coronavirus reaching this country. Public anxiety ratcheted up as the number of cases and fatalities grew, but there was a sense that it wouldn’t get as bad here as it had in China, South Korea and Italy.Trader John Romolo works on the floor of the New York Stock Ex- change, March 5. Stocks are opening sharply lower on Wall Street, erasing two percent from major indexes, a day after surging four percent as the mood swings back to fear about the effects of a fast- spreading virus. Photo: AP Photo/Richard DrewThen, as if a light switch went on, jittery Americans watched the stock market, and their 401Ks and pensions, tumble to new record lows day-after-day; the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 an international pandemic; President Donald Trump and administration officials failed to reassure the public facing a major public health emergency.
The coronavirus has fundamentally altered the way Americans live, at least in the short-term. Major and minor league sports—college and professional basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and NASCAR—announced the shutdown of operations or suspension of play.
Then came public school and college closures, shutdowns of businesses, panicked buying and a president who continually lied about the crisis and seemed most concerned with the virus’ economic impact and impact on his possible reelection.
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, in a major address in Detroit to close the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day convention, warned that America was facing dangerous times under an imperial president and was a nation facing divine judgment.
“As I was watching the impeachment trial of President Trump, I was looking at America, not at her finest hour, but I watched the high level of chicanery; the high level of deceit,” said Min. Farrakhan. Brilliant lawyers on two sides used skillful knowledge of the law to outsmart one another, not to agree on truth, he observed.
“And I watched the Bible being fulfilled: If Satan casts out Satan, how then can his kingdom stand?” said the Minister, who delivered his Feb. 23 message before some 15,000 people at the TCF Center in Detroit.
“You, my poor, pitiful brothers and sisters, you are opting to be a part of that that is unraveling right in front of your eyes. You see the country cascading downward. You see the moral fiber of America getting into the gutter. Who wants a membership in a house of whores?” he asked.
“The subject for my lecture today, which is full of good news and warning: ‘The Unraveling of a Great Nation.’ When you unravel something, you undo twisted, knitted, or woven threads; you investigate and solve or explain something complicated or puzzling,” Min. Farrakhan continued.
“The condition of America is puzzling. The world is looking at a country going to hell. The world is looking at a president who wants to be king; when the Constitution and the founding fathers were trying to run away from what they suffered in Europe under the kings. In this photo provided by Austin Boschen, people wait in line to go through the customs at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Grapevine, Texas, March 14. International travelers reported long lines at the customs at the airport as staff took extra precautions to guard against the new coronavirus, The Dallas Morning News reports. Boschen said it took him at least four hours to go through the customs. Photo: Austin Boschen via AP“So there’s a verse in the Qur’an that I was thinking of. It’s in the 16th surah, the 92nd verse and it said, ‘Be not like her who unravels her yarn, disintegrating it into pieces, after she has spun it strongly.’ … That’s what’s happening to America as we speak. America was not built on a firm foundation. … How do you build a nation, killing the native people? How do you build a nation, bringing a whole people out of Africa to America to be made slaves? This is your foundation, so for them to lie to you, and make you think that America is a land of promise for you, and you believe it; no wonder Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free,’” he added.
National emergency declaration: Too little too late?
President Trump March 13 declared a national emergency, freeing $50 billion in federal resources to battle COVID-19, amid fears the disease could place an almost impossible burden on hospitals and national medical and healthcare infrastructure. The declaration makes available supplies, personnel and other support available; encourages every state to set up emergency operation centers effective immediately; and requires every hospital in the country “to activate its emergency preparedness plan.”
The Centers for Disease Control called for limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people. New Jersey announced a no travel order between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. on March 16. Gov. Phil Murphy said the statewide curfew would be coupled with coordinated closures of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut casinos, bars, gyms and restaurants.
During a March 16 briefing of the White House group handling the coronavirus crisis, President Trump called for gatherings of no more than 10 people and finally admitted the pandemic was real.
A Business Insider article speaks of a leaked presentation from a webinar hosted by the American Hospital Association which shows one expert’s estimate that 96 million Americans could be infected, about 500,000 deaths were possible, and 4.8 million people could eventually need hospitalization.
Experts warn the U.S. is short on ICU beds and ventilators needed to treat the disease. Trying to prepare for the worst, hospitals were ramping up their capacity and setting priorities. One proposal would draw doctors out of retirement, others are canceling elective surgeries, and calling for setting up “Covid Cabanas” to treat suspected coronavirus cases, setting up tents outside main facilities, and more.
Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, has been a persistent critic of the U.S. government’s response.
“We are so incredibly underprepared for a major onslaught to hospitals, which is basically now inevitable,” Dr. Redlener told Yahoo News. “We have to look at Italy and see what happened and I think we’re actually in worse shape. We don’t have enough hospital beds; we don’t have enough ICU beds. And by the way, even if we had the 100,000-plus ventilators that we actually need, we don’t have the staff to operate them.”
Much of the blame for the federal government’s anemic response, the slow ramp up of tests and other resources nationally and the almost blanket denial of Covid-19’s spread by federal officials has come to rest at the feet of President Trump. From the beginning, critics charge, he has downplayed the crisis, at one point calling it a “hoax,” blamed the pandemic on foreigners and Democrats, and shut down air travel from Europe to the U.S. in a futile effort to stem the proliferation of the disease.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Trump administration’s failed response is because the National Security Council’s global pandemic team was disbanded by former national security adviser John Bolton. The Trump administration has not bothered to fill those vacancies, leaving gaping and troubling vulnerabilities in America’s global pandemic preparedness.
Furthermore, when President Trump released the administration’s 2021 budget in February, it contained proposed cuts that would reduce funding at the CDC by 16 percent and remove $3 billion for global health programs.
Critics inside and outside of the medical community lobbed withering critiques of Mr. Trump and the poor federal government response.
“(T)he World Health Organization officially declared Covid-19 (coronavirus) an international pandemic. And with conflicting information coming out of the White House and Trump’s administration, misinformation and confusion are spreading like wildfire,” MoveOn.org said in a recent statement. “…What we need the most in this moment of crisis is competent and honest leadership in the White House that prioritizes the lives and livelihoods of all of us … This crisis has exposed the Trump Administration’s incompetence and its underlying corruption. It’s dangerous and it may even cost lives. While we fight to protect our families and communities, we also have to call out the threats and demand that they do better.”Few travelers are seen in a mostly empty flight check-in area at John F. Kennedy Airport’s Terminal 1, March 13, in New York. Recently, President Trump banned most foreign visitors coming to the United States from continental Europe to try to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Photo: AP Photo/Kathy Willens“Moments like these are when the role of a competent federal government—one that prioritizes the interest of people over profits—is so essential. While we focus on keeping our families and communities safe, we must also recognize that we deserve better as a country, and we must speak out when our leaders are putting corporate profits and their own reputations above the interests of public health,” said the progressive public policy advocacy group.
‘All this was avoidable’
Economist Dr. William Spriggs, former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University, said much of what has happened could have been avoided.
“My own thoughts are evolving as things develop but there’s no reason for it to have this big an impact,” said Dr. Spriggs, who also serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO. “There didn’t need to be a real recession. (They) waited until now to ask what workers do if they stay home. Recessions will separate people from their jobs.”
“We learned lesson during the Swine Flu epidemic in 2009 to not have any public events and close those places where the disease could flourish,” he said. “Ten years ago, we already knew this. There should have been a planned shutdown.”
Dr. Spriggs said what the public needs to remember is that the stock market is not the real economy.
“What you’re seeing in the stock market is a vote on Donald Trump. There’s too much uncertainty and huge unease,” he said. “For a long time, people said he’s incompetent but as long as the stock market is doing well and the economy is good, it’s fine. In a way, what we’re all experiencing is because of that. We’re paying for an incompetent and the whole world sees it.”
“Consumer spending will go down as people stay home because of the coronavirus. That will hit a number of industries particularly hard, such as the service industry, travel providers, live entertainment venues, movie theaters, and more. That in turn could lead to a domino effect, with turmoil in one industry spilling over to another,” commented WalletHub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou. “For example, if a restaurant owner can no longer pay rent, the property owner might not be able to pay its loan, and the bank that made the loan might end up suffering as well.”
He praised a House bill passed March 13 aimed at providing relief for those struck by job losses and economic fallout from the coronavirus. “It is a good first step, if it gets through the Senate without significant changes or delays. It is a must that the final legislation includes free coronavirus testing for everyone and covers hospitalization costs for those affected, regardless of insurance coverage,” said Mr. Papadimitriou. “Regardless, it looks like we’ll need more legislation after this to further support the economy and affected workers.”
Rashad Robinson, of Color Of Change, an online racial justice organization, called for protecting Blacks from fallout associated with the crisis.
“Together, we will hold corporate and government decision-makers accountable and ensure that Black and marginalized communities are not denied the care, protection and support that all communities deserve,” he said March 13. These power holders have roles to play for everything from job and income support to protecting voting rights, taking care of prisoners and ensuring the marginalized communities aren’t left in the cold.
“After years of Republicans, Big Pharma and major corporations fighting against paid sick leave legislation and Medicare for all we are left with a crisis where disproportionately Black low wage workers are continuing to support the public without the health insurance or paid time off that would make us all safer,” asserted Mr. Robinson. “When we return to ‘normal,’ the normal for most people will be economic hell. That’s why we are immediately calling for a moratorium on evictions and utility shut-offs. For Black and poor communities that are being urged by the Center for Disease Control to stay home from work as much as possible, following health instructions shouldn’t mean added financial hardship.”
He also warned Black voters should not be denied their essential right in midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Now with coronavirus, existing voter disenfranchisement only exacerbates both the health risks and the lack of access for Black voters. States with upcoming primary elections should actively consider providing expanded ballot access on an emergency basis for this election and in a permanent, ongoing way for future elections. Any restrictions on travel or public gatherings must include provisions or exceptions that will ensure that voters, particularly oft-targeted Black voters, voters reliant on public transit, and other marginalized voters, are not disenfranchised,” he said.
“This epidemic also lands at a critical time for the launch of the 2020 Census. We must ensure that our national response does not jeopardize a full and accurate count of all populations and neighborhoods. Black people are among the most undercounted populations in the census and an undercount will lead to communities not getting the funding and representation they need or deserve for the next 10 years,” Mr. Robinson added.
“We are deeply concerned about the health, safety, and dignity of disproportionately Black incarcerated men and women as officials respond to this outbreak. While prison populations are quarantined from the general public, they are at high risk for Covid-19 outbreaks as they are kept in close quarters with inadequate food, water, and health care. Yet the nation’s jails and prisons have reportedly little access to coronavirus tests and in some cases, no soap, despite the inevitable spread of the epidemic in a captive population. Federal and state officials must ensure that testing and treatment for Covid-19 is available as needed in all jails and prisons,” he said.
“Concern for this population is only exacerbated by the fact that large percentages of the American prison population are incarcerated without trial, presumed innocent, but held because they are too impoverished to pay bail. There is no need for these people to be unjustly exposed to sub-par sanitary conditions in the midst of a pandemic, simply because they are poor and disproportionately Black. Similarly, state and local officials should also use all available powers to immediately release incarcerated people who are particularly vulnerable to illness, such as the elderly and pregnant women, so they can move to lower risk environments. And anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 inside a jail or prison should be released and moved to receive adequate care in a hospital.”
“They must also eliminate requirements that force incarcerated people to perform jobs that put them at risk for contracting the virus and institute a minimum wage for incarcerated workers who are providing vital services during this crisis. In New York state, prisoners are being forced to manufacture hand sanitizer, that they are banned from using, while being paid only pennies-per-hour in a cruel and ironic extension of American slavery. Finally, we must be vigilant against any attempts to abuse or misuse any public health quarantine measures to criminalize Black and brown communities,” Mr. Robinson said.
Unprecedented uncertainty in U.S.
Indiana University Professor Dr. Edward Hirt told The Final Call the psychological implications of the novel coronavirus pandemic are immense and potentially dire, ranging from acute individual anxiety about possible symptoms and the necessity for social distancing to communitywide panic-buying of food, health care products and other staples of daily life as well as severe trauma caused when a loved one becomes ill or dies.
“This is unprecedented in terms of evoking uncertainty,” he said. “There’s definitely been a denial and forthrightness about the disease and its spread. Even if we’ve known about it, it’s though it was ‘over there.’ Things have just accelerated in an enormously quick time. Now we have to be vigilant about everything such as touching doorknobs and being close to people, isolation time and how long is the quarantine. It’s just craziness.”
Dr. Hirt, who has authored over 75 publications in peer-reviewed journals and has recently written a book titled “Self-Regulation and Ego Control,” thinks the shock will wear off and “then there’ll be panic.”
“The reality of this is sinking in. We have a little bit of time before people get despondent,” he predicted. “A lot of people are paranoid. People are already wondering how much longer they will be personally affected and what this all means. The vast majority are looking for reassurance from the administration.”
This period of downtime and social isolation could allow people to spend time outdoors, walk the dog, catch up on tasks and activities and reconnect with family, said Dr. Hirt, who has taught at IU since 1991.
“You should be thinking about other activities, just accept it and not fight,” he advised. “We’ve got to make the best of it, keep up with the news. I think people can switch to think beyond themselves.”
That acceptance comes as Broadway in New York, Disneyland and Disney World in Florida and the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court are closed. The travel industry has taken a beating on the Dow Jones stock exchange, with some cruise ships coming from abroad temporarily converted into quarantine holding facilities house infected passengers offshore. Meanwhile, air travel has dropped off precipitously.
Seeking certainty in an unsure world?
For Atlanta resident Shanice Bennerson, the outbreak and spread of the COVID-19 virus in the U.S. and the decision by the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global pandemic left her shaken.
“I am proceeding with caution because I am asthmatic and have no insurance,” said Ms. Bennerson, a Millennial whose regular job is in educational research. She also works part-time at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Alpharetta, Ga.
“Fulton County schools, with the highest number of students in the area at 450,000, is out and has switched to online classes,” she noted. “Dekalb County schools is extending spring break. Everything is in shambles. Grocery stores are crazy, markets are crazy, but a lot of people aren’t taking it seriously. I’ve been following what’s been going on in Italy. We’re only really two weeks in as the numbers started low and took off. This public health crisis is exposing the underbelly of classes here in a way that I didn’t expect at all. Everyone not wealthy in this country is about to be screwed.”
A South Asian student of an Ivy League school, who’s working on a Master of Fine Arts degree, spoke of the difficulty he’s experiencing trying to understand, anticipate and navigate the public health crisis. He and his fellow classmates were informed by email that there was a presumptive case of someone at the school with coronavirus which necessitated taking precautions initially, then taking classes online.
The student, who is seeking asylum and fearful retaliation, requested anonymity to speak freely. “What happens if I contract the virus? Who will take care of me? Who will feed me? Where do I quarantine myself and how? I have been here for a few years and have people who are like family but not family,” he said.
“I am employed by the university, work 20 hours a week and live check-to-check. My department is still paying me but after six months, what will I do? There’s a range of different people being affected and there’s a great deal of uncertainly for me and a lot of people.”
“It’s hugely polarizing. Rich, young White kids are partying and can go to the clinic and pay $1,300 for the test, while poor people are dependent on federal government decisions,” he said. “The amount of money Trump has spent propping up the stock market—$1.5 trillion—could pay off the student loan debt. This has proven to be socialism for the rich and not for the poor.”
Virus spreads amid failed federal response
As of March 15, the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, had infected 142,539 people around the world and killed 5,200 as the disease has spread to more than 100 different countries. Most of the deaths have been seniors and the elderly.
In the United States, there were 49 states with more than 5,200 confirmed cases. But public health officials, epidemiologists and other medical experts warn that there are likely far more cases that medical professionals aren’t aware of because of the scarcity of available coronavirus testing kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Part of the problem is that while tests kits from the WHO are widely available, the Trump administration wants to use test kits produced by American companies, a decision that has worsened an already difficult situation.
“There’s a shortage,” Dr. Howard Forman, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health and practicing radiologist at Yale New Haven Hospital, told Yahoo Finance’s “On the Move.”
“And it strikes at the heart of everything we’re doing right now that we cannot do the most simple thing, which is just to test people and find out whether they are positive or not,” he said.
Despite the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. occurred on Jan. 19, testing has lagged across the country. U.S. public health labs have picked up some slack, but health officials warn that the current pace of testing is not nearly enough.
According to the Atlantic, researchers “have concluded that thousands of Americans may have already been infected by the beginning of (March).” Between January 18 and March 10, there have been 11,079 tests for COVID-19 in the U.S. In comparison, South Korea has conducted over 100,000 tests.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told host Chuck Todd on March 15 on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Americans “should be prepared that they’re going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing” to fight the growing coronavirus outbreak.
While several European countries are on lockdown to mitigate the crisis, Dr. Fauci said America should implement closures, especially “in those areas that have community spread.”
“Everybody has to get involved in distancing themselves socially. If you are in an area where there’s clear community spread, you have to be much, much more intense about how you do that,” he added. The goal now is to blunt the curve of confirmed cases and attempt to keep the number of those infected low enough that America’s hospital system isn’t overwhelmed, he said.
When asked if U.S. officials should consider a 14-day national shutdown as much of Europe has done, Dr. Fauci said: “I would prefer as much as we possibly could. I think we should really be overly aggressive and get criticized for overreacting.”
“If you let the curve get up there, then the entire society is going to be hit,” Dr. Fauci asserted.
Of all the Trump administration senior officials, Dr. Fauci has been the person most willing to speak clearly and honestly, while owning up to the federal government’s failings.
There is still no specific timeline for the ramping up of testing and increasing capacity, but Dr. Fauci announced during a press availability that the first human test of a novel coronavirus vaccine could begin in a few weeks, ahead of schedule, although he added it still could take as long as a year or 18 months before its available to the public. CNN reported March 16 that the first dose of the vaccine was given to a study participant in Washington state.
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)
Originally Published in The Final Call
BY BARRINGTON M. SALMON-CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: DEC 25, 2019 – 1:10:15 PM
As 2019 draws to a close, Black people across the country are engaged in the timeless ritual of looking back over the prior 12 months to access their gains and losses personally and across and between social, political and economic spheres.
A shroud of concern and anxiety has hung over Africans in America since 2016 which ushered in an overtly hostile administration and policies that have forced Black people to be defensive generally. Yet for more than a few African Americans, events affecting Black people in 2019 and the still unknown prospects for the upcoming presidential election in 2020 are enough to galvanize them even in the face of sometime numbing assaults on their person and communities.
At the end of the day, observers and analysts said Black people are seeking to attain the same things Whites and other American have: financial and economic stability, access to quality healthcare, a good education, safe neighborhoods and good jobs.
But Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever said she believes that Blacks have seen “a slight continuation of the trajectory downwards.”
“Unemployment is still double that of the White population and wages connected to jobs are stagnant or falling,” she said. “This goes to the heart of quality of life issues. Are we really financially secure in the face of the ramping up of gentrification and the difficulties of finding and securing affordable housing?”
Black women making moves amid setbacks
Dr. Jones-DeWeever, a political analyst, commentator, best-selling author and speaker, said in the midst of great hardship are events and circumstances that buoy the spirit.
“A beautiful South African woman was named Miss Universe. It’s the first time a woman wearing an Afro has been crowned,” said Dr. Jones-DeWeever. “This is a moment where we as a world community can acknowledge the beauty of Black women.”
South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe making her the first Black woman to win the celebrated beauty pageant since Leila Lopes in 2011.
This has also been a record-breaking year for Black women vying in beauty pageants. It is the first time that the winners of Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss America and Miss Teen USA are all Black women.
Dr. Jones-DeWeever said the joy of celebrating the power and beauty of Black women is leavened by the recent decision of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) to suspend her campaign for president and essentially drop out of the 2020 race.
Sen. Harris’s decision was met with surprise, anger and frustration by a wide cross-section of Black women on social media platforms and other places where African American women gather and confer, whether in person or virtually.
“I was shocked. It seemed too early. I was disappointed to see her drop out. She had a historic run,” Dr. Jones-DeWeever said. “She was only the third Black woman to run for president. What was troubling was the particular level of vitriol directed at her. You can decide to not support a candidate without being so vile and disrespectful. It came from Black men and Black women too. I think we still have a lot to learn.”
Michele L. Watley, a communications strategist, political consultant and civic and community engagement specialist, agreed with Dr. Jones-DeWeever’s assessment.
“I was surprised she stepped out so early,” said Ms. Watley, a Kansas City, Missouri, resident. “You can ignore the campaign’s struggles but campaigns with less management experience, lesser expertise and resources are still in the race. Now the debate will lack diversity. The (Democratic) Party has had that problem and has not sufficiently dealt with it.”
Yet, both Ms. Watley and Dr. Jones-DeWeever point out, the impact and power of Black women in recent election cycles isn’t a fluke and cannot be ignored.
“Black women are the hot thing,” said Ms. Watley, who served as the African American outreach director for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 and is president and founder of The Griot Group. “They are getting people elected and changing the political land-scape and the political climate. We have led on movement issues, are the highest educated group in the country, yet we have no Black women CEOs. We check the boxes, do the work but are not able to achieve certain political goals. We have not been able to get Black women through the primaries,” she added.
“Sen. Harris was highly qualified as California’s attorney general and has been an effective senator no matter what you think about her prosecutorial record. I think Sen. Harris was treated differently. She was held to higher standards and a higher threshold that she could never have met.”
Cauious optimism, but a sobering reality
Dr. Monique Gamble described 2019 as an “up and down” year, nerve-wracking and a source of diminished optimism. The country’s turn to the right, it’s embrace of White nationalism and extremism, the conscious of certain Whites to police Black behavior and the unrelenting threats against Black people from all sides have caused deepening concern about the future of Africans in America, she said.
Dr. Gamble said she worries about the threat of the toxic racial environment on Black people. Of equal concern, said Dr. Gamble, visiting assistant professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia, is the manner in which President Donald Trump has attacked and eroded what many thought were America’s enduring institutions, including Congress, the courts, the media and the intelligence community.
“I have seen him flout norms and there’s no accountability. Without question, what we’ve seen during this presidency will, without question, will cause lasting damage,” she said. “I was an institutionalist who believed that what the Founding Fathers produced was unique and a progressive idea for those times. But this administration has blasted holes into institutions we were taught were impregnable.
“It feels like institutions as powerful as America has, is being operated by people who are trash. Ultimately, these institutions are only as good as the people who adhere to them. It’s not just Donald Trump, it’s the enablers in the Senate and House. I am concerned that every level of our institutions has been broken.”
Dr. Gamble, an Alabama native, said the impeachment hearing in the House of Representatives where the Democratic majority just returned two articles of impeachment against President Trump, reflect that depth of the problem.
“We’re seeing something in our lifetimes few of us ever expected to see. There was a clear obstruction of justice and a clear violation of what the president is supposed to do but the Senate will not do what’s required.”
She said she agrees that what’s playing out is a war for America’s soul, “but it’s deeper than most people think.” Dr. Gamble said she doesn’t trust the electorate to do the right thing in 2020, has lost faith in America’s institutions and doesn’t believe that Joe Biden is the “answer.”
“I’m fearful about the upcoming election because I’m not fully convinced someone won’t manipulate the electoral system again,” she said. “I don’t know what 2020 holds. Any number of terrible things is possible, such as Trump refusing to leave office and triggering a constitutional crisis. Folks are threatening violence and the House and Senate do nothing.
“I’m always hopeful and optimistic but I have become a ‘show and prove’ person.”
According to the Pew Research Center, since the 2016 presidential election, Blacks and people of color have been making history across the U.S. by winning mayoral races and school board seats in places where their families were once ignored or prevented from voting.
In November, for example, voters in Bowie, Maryland, elected Tim Adams, the city’s first Black mayor. In Chicago, attorney Lori Lightfoot became the first Black and gay woman to become mayor. In Alabama, Montgomery residents elected Montgomery County Probate Judge Steven Reed as the first Black mayor in the city’s 200-year history in November. And about 90 miles away in the city of Talladega, Alabama, Timothy Ragland began serving as the city’s first Black mayor.
In the judicial sphere, political appointments by President Trump of federal judges was a major issue this year that has flown under the radar. With the help of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the unabashed support of Senate Republicans, President Trump has appointed 157 judges to the federal bench in less than three years. He has overseen the confirmation of more judges than any of his recent predecessors at the same point in their presidencies. Almost 30 percent of all U.S. Circuit Court judges are Trump appointees.
With the judges serving lifetime appointments, the effects of their conservative, far-right decisions will be seen and felt long after President Trump leaves office. The damage to civil rights, gender, employment and labor union activity, LGBTQIA and other issues will be significant and consequential, critics say.
“What’s happening in the courts scares the hell out of me. I worry about the world my sons will have to navigate,” Dr. Jones-DeWeever said soberly.
Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told USA Today in 2018: “It is most unfortunate. It turns the clock back on years of work and effort that went into promoting judicial diversity.”
She has been warning the public about the danger posed to African Americans, people of color, the poor and the most vulnerable by President Trump’s judicial appointments. The president, Sen. McConnell and the Republican leadership have concentrated on ramming through nominations to federal, district and circuit courts with many called unqualified, others who are openly hostile racially, or have expressed or written in support of gender bias, while others refuse to accept settled law.
“This is a huge issue,” Ms. Clarke explained during a 2018 panel discussion on the effects of the Trump administration on the country. “There are 140 vacancies in federal courts. The judiciary has always mattered to Black people because it is a place of last resort. Ninety-nine percent of cases are heard in federal and district courts. Ninety-one percent of those Trump is putting forward are White and male and they are the fringe. He’s turning back the clock to the Jim Crow era.”
Despite the monumental shifts and the burgeoning power of Black women, African Americans face some daunting challenges just to cast a vote. Since the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, states that were once required to get permission from the U.S. Department of Justice to enact voting laws have been free to implement limits to voting that activists say has had negative impacts on every major and smaller election since.
The high court ruling against the federal government in the Holder v Shelby case in 2013, was followed closely by several primarily southern states, enacting a series of draconian laws that have made it increasingly more difficult for Blacks, Latinos, students and the elderly to cast their ballots.
The Republican legislators supporting these bills claim that the measures are an effort to block voter fraud. Their critics contend that the laws are a way to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to vote Democratic.
Voter suppression and voter manipulation is alive and well, said Ria Thompson-Washington, which is why she has been focused on organizing, educating and mobilizing Blacks, members of the Latino community, African Diaspora communities and others working for about 18 months. She is the senior national coordinator for the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. and the Election Protection organizer for six states: Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Tennessee and Virginia.
What she’s seeing at the grassroots level in the places she visits and works gives her a great deal of encouragement going into 2020.
“This was a monumental year for voting rights and people engaging in the voting process,” Ms. Thompson-Washington said. “There’s been an increase in civic engagement with Black and White people. This has been a year of growth. People are aware that 2020 is looming. I think 2020 will have record numbers,” she added.
“I’ve been involved in organizing and voting programs. In Louisiana, for example, more Black people voted on Nov. 16 than all year. In Mississippi, 20 percent more young people voted. I have seen so many more Black elders engaged in this work. They’re having inter-generational conversations and I’m there. I’m older than the younger and younger than the older.”
Ms. Thompson-Washington said she generally engages with communities where residents allow her to come in and assist them. She said she works with state and national groups that form civic engagement groups to prepare participants to vote in local, state and national elections.
“I’m here to see what they need,” she said. “I’m trying to make sure the landscape is different. I empower communities and let them know that there are lawyers at the other end of the hotline phones. I train protestors to exercise their constitutional right and I train lawyers to engage as monitors.”
Ms.Thompson-Washington, whose mother was from the Dominican Republic and whose father was a sharecropper from South Carolina, said she is staying honest to her heritage and roots but fighting for electoral and related changes.
“Impeachment boils down to the election being stolen,” she said. “If we can’t correct what happened at the highest levels, nothing will change. We have to hold people at the top accountable. People cannot disengage from this process.”
At the end of the day, what she does and tries to foster is voting and leadership. “We tend to see ourselves as too small, but we have everything we need to make change,” Ms. Thompson-Washington explained.