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Child Debtors, Southern Voices, and Protest Art

September 5, 2016
Here’s our pick of news, writing, and research this week that investigates political questions at the intersections of gender, race, and region.
1. ‘Birth of a Nation’ actress Gabrielle Union: I cannot take Nate Parker rape allegations lightly
Gabrielle Union for the Los Angeles Times: “Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion. I took this role because I related to the experience. I also wanted to give a voice to my character, who remains silent throughout the film. In her silence, she represents countless black women who have been and continue to be violated. Women without a voice, without power. Women in general. But black women in particular. […] On that night, 17-odd years ago, did Nate have his date’s consent? It’s very possible he thought he did. Yet by his own admission he did not have verbal affirmation; and even if she never said ‘no,’ silence certainly does not equal ‘yes.’ Although it’s often difficult to read and understand body language, the fact that some individuals interpret the absence of a ‘no’ as a ‘yes’ is problematic at least, criminal at worst.”

2. ‘The Way People Look at Us Has Changed’: Muslim Women on Life in Europe
“The storm over bans on burkinis in more than 30 French beach towns has all but drowned out the voices of Muslim women, for whom the full-body swimsuits were designed.The New York Times solicited their perspective, and the responses — more than 1,000 comments from France, Belgium and beyond — went much deeper than the question of swimwear. What emerged was a portrait of life as a Muslim woman, veiled or not, in parts of Europe where terrorism has put people on edge. One French term was used dozens of times: ‘un combat,’ or ‘a struggle,’ to live day to day. Many who were born and raised in France described confusion at being told to go home.”

3. Mandatory Minimums Won’t Ensure People Like Brock Turner Go to Prison
In the wake of Brock Turner’s release from a three month prison stint after sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in March, the California State Assembly unanimously passed legislation that would will enact a mandatory minimum sentence for other convicted of his crimes. Samantha Cowan, for TakePart, writes that that “To [California] lawmakers, the bill closes a loophole that treated the rape of an unconscious person like a lesser offense. But to some rights organizations, the bill expands a one-size-fits-all sentencing that disproportionately affects people of color and fuels mass incarceration. ‘Mandatory minimums actually increase racial disparities in our criminal justice system,’ Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy, told TakePart. ‘Even though the very intent here is to have greater uniformity in sentencing, the practical reality is actually the opposite.’”

4. Supreme Court Says No to North Carolina’s Racist Voting Law
Kenrya Rankin for Colorlines: “This fall’s general election will be a lot more inclusive for Black voters in North Carolina. Yesterday (August 31), the Supreme Court denied the state’s request to stay an appeals court ruling that found that its voter identification laws are discriminatory. In August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit unanimously ruled that not only was the law discriminatory, but that the state’s Republican leadership specifically sought to curtail the rights of African Americans. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) filed an emergency stay request in an attempt to keep the voter ID laws in place through the November 8 election. The Supreme Court split among ideological lines in its decision […]. Without a tie-breaker, the lower court’s decision stands.”

5. New report from Juvenile Law Center shows evidence of “Debtors’ Prison for Kids”
“Approximately one million youth appear in juvenile court each year. In every state, youth and families face juvenile justice costs, fees, fines, or restitution. Youth who can’t afford to pay for their freedom often face serious consequences, including incarceration, extended probation, or denial of treatment—they are unfairly penalized for being poor and pulled deeper into the justice system. Many families either go into debt trying to pay these costs or must choose between paying for basic necessities, like groceries, and paying court costs and fees. Research shows that costs and fees actually increase recidivism and exacerbate economic and racial disparities in the juvenile justice system.”

6. Black Flag: On the History of the American Flag in Black Protest Art
Ezekiel Kweku for MTV News: “[Colin] Kaepernick isn’t just a part of the long line of black athletes who have used their platforms to speak out about political issues; he (unintentionally) inserted himself into the rich tradition of black artists who have invoked the American flag in political protest.On October 16 1933, in Maryland, an elderly white woman reported an assault and an attempted rape, identifying her assailant as George Armwood, a black laborer. [Armwood was lynched two days later.] In response to the lynching, Esther Popel, a black poet associated with the Harlem Renaissance, wrote a poem entitled ‘Flag Salute.’ […] ‘Flag Salute’ points out that the flag that represents the America of our perfected ideals also symbolizes the America of our imperfect reality. But Popel goes even further, pointing out that the apparent contradiction between what America is and what it claims to be is easily reconciled — once you define the terms. ‘ALL’ applies only to white people, ‘justice’ includes extrajudicial executions, and the cause that makes America ‘indivisible’ is that of white supremacy.”

7. The lack of affordable housing is causing a public health disaster in Oakland
Michael Rosen for Fusion: “No one can afford to live in the Bay Area. […] It’s a legitimate crisis with effects rippling in a million directions, but its disastrous consequences have rarely been made more visceral than in a study on housing in Oakland released this week. The study shows that Oakland’s lack of housing affordability is resulting in a slew of health problems for residents in the city, including hypertension, asthma rates, depression, anxiety, and even potentially schizophrenia, according to a report from the San Francisco Chronicle. The study was conducted by the Alameda County Public Health Department and research firm PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity. The authors of the study interviewed hundreds of people in both the Health Department and the Behavioral Services department, and 94% of those interviewed believed the anxiety produced by the housing crisis had a direct affect on their clients’ health.”

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