Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

Staceyann Chin (1971- ) is a slam poet from Jamaica who now lives in the country of Brooklyn in New York City. She travels the world performing and teaching poetry. Unlike most poets she has been on Oprah’s television show and has her own Blockbuster Online page.

I thought maybe she was just television-driven fluff, that she had no substance, but when she made me cry at her grandmother’s death – not mine but hers – then I knew she could write.

She was a slam poet before slam poets were in fashion, when it was still underground in New York. Like in Ancient Greece, slam poets perform their poetry for an audience with judges picking the winner. Their pieces generally run three minutes long and tell a story. A video of one of her pieces is at the end of this post.

She got into slam poetry almost by accident: one day she went to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The rest is history.

Her first published book is not of her poetry – she is not ready for that yet – but a  story in prose about her first 24 years: “The Other Side of Paradise” (2009).

She was born on Christmas day in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the unwanted daughter of a rich Chinese businessman and a poor black woman. Her mother left the country soon after and Chin was brought up by her grandmother, then in her sixties. Although unwanted by her mother, her grandmother loved her unconditionally. No one has ever loved her more. Because her grandmother could not read, Chin read the Bible to her, especially the psalms – a slam poet in training!

All that ended at age nine when her mother arrived from Canada, briefly, and put her with a great-aunt whose sons tried to force her into sex. She was shifted from house to house without a home, till age 16 when she went away to boarding school and then university – paid for by a Chinese businessman who denies he is her father.

At age 21 while at university she found out she was lesbian. She only told close friends: in Jamaica  you cannot live openly as a homosexual and expect to not be beaten up or, in the case of women, raped.

As much as she loved Jamaica, she had to leave: it would not allow her to live freely as a lesbian. So at age 24 she came to New York:

New York was my godsend. As soon as I landed, I knew I was in a place that welcomed misfits.

No one in New York cared if she kissed girls. She was free! Yet not free: she was black. In Jamaica, because of its colourism, she was favoured for her light skin. But in America she found herself at the bottom – for the very same skin, now seen as black. America may have been more enlightened about lesbians, but it was way less enlightened about black people.

See also:

Read Full Post »

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was an American professor and historian, best known for his book “A People’s History of the United States” (1980). It is not a story of presidents and generals but instead “a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people’s movements of resistance.” He was to the left of Mao and proud of it.

He did not just teach history, he took part in it, like marching at Selma and hiding the Pentagon Papers. He was brave, doing what was right even though it meant that Spelman fired him and the Boston police beat him.

He grew up in the poor parts of Brooklyn. When the Second World War came he joined the Air Force to fight the good war against Hitler and fascism. He bombed towns in France and Germany. From his plane, six miles up in the sky, he could not hear the screams or see the blood.

TheThere is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.He came home and went to university on the G.I. Bill. There he read John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” (1946) and began to think about the people he killed, many of them children. He began to see that America was an empire no different from all the other empires in history.

In 1956 he became a history professor at Spelman College. He found himself teaching American history to black women from books that said little about blacks. He began to question the way American history was taught.

Then came the civil rights movement, the fight for equal rights for blacks. He joined SNCC and the sit-ins. He urged his students to protest too. Spelman fired him. Writer Alice Walker, one of his students, puts it this way:

Well, he was thrown out because he loved us, and he showed that love by just being with us. He loved his students. He didn’t see why we should be second-class citizens. He didn’t see why we shouldn’t be able to eat where we wanted to and sleep where we wanted to and be with the people we wanted to be with. And so, he was with us. He didn’t stay back, you know, in his tower there at the school. And so, he was a subversive in that situation.

In 1964 he went to Boston University where he taught till he retired in 1988. There he took part in the protests against the Vietnam War and became friends with Noam Chomsky.

In 1971 Daniel Ellsberg gave him one of his copies of the Pentagon Papers, which held the government’s secrets about the Vietnam War. The big secret was that it knew the war was hopeless but lied to the people about it. Zinn found out that the war was not about freedom and democracy but about tin, rubber and oil. America in the 1960s, it turned out, was no different than Japan in the 1940s.

In 1980 he came out with “A People’s History of the United States”. The first printing was only 4,000 copies, but in 2003 the millionth copy was sold! The latest, and now last, revision comes out in July 2010.

See also:

Read Full Post »

Anatole Broyard in 1971 at age 51

Anatole Broyard (1920-1990), an American writer, was the first black literary critic for the New York Times – but the thing was, they did not know he was black! He passed for white. His daughter, Bliss Broyard, wrote about it in “One Drop” (2007).

Broyard was born in New Orleans into a Creole family that was a liberal mix of both black and white. Going by his daughter’s DNA test, Broyard was about 34% black and 56% white – a common mix for Puerto Ricans. Growing up in New York he got into fights because he was too black for the whites and too white for the blacks. In his high school picture in 1937 he looks black.

But then a year later on March 2nd 1938 he went to the Social Security office to apply for a government tax number so he could work. Right there on the form, which we still have, you can see him make his decision: he marks Negro but then scratches that out and then marks white!

Before he went off to fight in the Second World War he married a black Puerto Rican woman and had a daughter by her, Gala. But when he came back from the war he divorced her. He then proceeds to make a name for himself as a white writer, marries a white woman and moves to a white neighbourhood in a very white town and brings up his son and daughter as white. They had no idea he was part black till he was on his deathbed (though his wife and some friends knew).

The New York Times would not have hired him as a literary critic if they knew he was black: blacks, after all, can only write about “black” subjects! It is the same reasoning that Hollywood uses too: black actors can only play “black” characters. Blacks are not seen as “universal”, but whites are.

Broyard thought that he did not need to be black or white, that he could just be himself. But to succeed as a literary critic he had to present himself to society as a white man, which meant turning his back on his mother and two sisters, who lived as black (one sister could pass but not the other).

One time his mother wrote him a letter begging to see her grandchildren before she passed away. He let her see them – once. They did not understand who she was.

That makes him sound ice cold, but his daughter says he was a loving family man. She says the way he had to keep the two sides of his family separate tore him apart inside.

When his daughter found out she was part black she thought it was cool, but did not like how her father had kept it a secret from her for 25 years. She supposes that he wanted to spare her the pain he went through growing up.

See also:

Read Full Post »


Gina Torres (1969- ) is an American actress. She starred in the television shows “Firefly” (2002-2003) and “Cleopatra 2525” (2000-2001), but in general she plays a supporting character in science fiction & fantasy or FBI agent sort of shows, like “Hercules”, “24”, “Alias”, “Standoff” and two of the Matrix films. You can see her now in “FlashForward” which is an FBI science fiction show!  She is tall, pretty and does her own stunts. Oh, and she can sing opera too.


gina18Those who do not watch those sort of shows might remember her as the wife of Chris Rock in “I Think I Love My Wife” (2007).

Off stage she is the wife of Larry Fishburne, another serious black actor. They married in 2002 and had a daughter, Delilah, in 2007. They live in New Rochelle, New York just north of New York City

She is tall, thin and has beautiful eyes and beautiful lips! Her natural hair seems to be Type 3. She is as tall as a model: 5 foot 10 (1.78 m). And as tall as her husband!

At first I thought she was Nuyorican. She is in fact from New York – she was born in Manhattan and grew up in the Bronx – but her parents came from Cuba, not Puerto Rico. Her father was a newspaper typesetter.

Her parents loved Latin jazz and so did she. She wanted to be a singer – and had talent: she got into La Guardia High School for the Arts in New York. She sang opera, jazz and gospel. She wanted to go to university and had the grades but her parents did not have the money.

So she went to Lincoln Center and did office work hoping to get noticed. She did. That led to stage acting (“Dreamgirls”, “Antigone”, “Blood Wedding” and others) and, in time, to television. From 1995 to 1996 she played Magdelena on the soap opera “One Life to Live”.

She got her start as an action character on “Xena: Warrior Princess” in 1997. She only appeared once, but that led to a regular part on “Hercules” (1998-1999) and then to two seasons of  “Cleopatra 2525” (2000-2001) where she was one of the three main characters. That led to parts on the Matrix films and primetime shows.


You have to have a spirit of warrior in you. You’re going to be facing battles as a woman in this industry and a woman of color. You have to be prepared to face battles of respect and pride and sexuality, and you can’t tire of fighting.

How Larry Fishburne won her heart: the Wikipedia says they met on the set of a Matrix film. Not true: they met and dated years before. One of their dates was during the New York blizzard of 1995: all the snow of one winter fell in one day. And they were outside having a snowball fight in Fort Tryon Park! Then they sat down on a bench overlooking the Hudson River. Sitting there knee-deep in snow he pulled out his harmonica and serenaded her.


See also:

Read Full Post »

arrestAngela Davis was arrested in New York by the FBI on Tuesday October 13th 1970. She had been on the run for over two months, crossing the country from Los Angeles to New York.

Her face was on the cover of Life magazine and it was on television. Hiding out in Miami she watched one of those shows on television where the FBI saves the day at the end in some big shoot out. She imagined it was her getting killed. Just then her picture appeared on television and a deep voice said:

Angela Davis is one of the FBI’s ten most wanted criminials. She is wanted for the crimes of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. She is very likely armed so if you see her, do not try to do anything. Contact your local FBI immediately.

Her gun had been used to kill a judge. That made her party to murder. Once she left California and crossed state lines that brought in the FBI.

She says it had little to do with the gun or her flight: the government was looking for an excuse to come after her to weaken black power. Ronald Reagan, the governor, had already fired her from UCLA for being a communist.

When she heard about the judge getting killed she did not return home. She laid low for a few days in Los Angeles and then was driven in the night by a showgirl to Las Vegas. There she caught a flight to Chicago and got to a friend, David Poindexter, before the FBI did. They went to Detroit, New York, Miami and then back to New York.

One by one the FBI found each of her friends and relations, except for Poindexter, and kept a close watch on each one.

lifeIn New York Davis and Poindexter stayed in room 702 at the Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge at 861 Eighth Avenue at 51st Street. They made a striking couple. Her picture was everywhere. A man noticed her in Times Square even though she was not wearing her trademark Afro and looked kind of Puerto Rican.

That night when they returned to their room the door opposite opened and an arm came out and took hold of her. It was the FBI. The man asked, “Angela Davis? Are you Angela Davis?” She said nothing but soon her fingerprints proved that they had found her at last.

They took her to the Women’s House of Detention at Greenwich Avenue and 10th Street. When she was 15 she had walked passed that prison every day on the way to school, acting like she could not hear the women inside screaming. Now she would be one of those women.

They put her in with the madwomen. They gave her wrinkled hot dogs and cold potatoes to eat. If found guilty of the charges she could be sentenced to death. Yet she felt better than she had in a long time: if she listened carefully she could hear the people outside protesting for her.

See also:

Read Full Post »


Note: This post does not set out to prove anything – it is just food for thought.

Here are the top ten girl names of those born in New York City in 2007:

  1. Isabella
  2. Sophia
  3. Emily
  4. Ashley
  5. Sarah
  6. Kayla
  7. Mia
  8. Olivia
  9. Samantha
  10. Rachel

Sophia and Isabella are tied for first.

Now break that down by race, where Hispanics count as a separate race:

Top white names:

  1. Sarah
  2. Rachel
  3. Sophia
  4. Olivia
  5. Ava
  6. Isabella
  7. Esther
  8. Julia
  9. Chaya
  10. Emma

The top Asian names:

  1. Sophia
  2. Emily
  3. Chloe
  4. Tiffany
  5. Angela
  6. Ashley
  7. Rachel
  8. Isabella
  9. Fiona, Jessica, Sarah (tied)

Top Hispanic names:

  1. Ashley
  2. Isabella
  3. Emily
  4. Mia
  5. Brianna
  6. Samantha
  7. Angela
  8. Melanie
  9. Sophia
  10. Jennifer, Kayla (tied)

The top black names:

  1. Madison
  2. Kayla
  3. Jada
  4. Brianna
  5. Nevaeh
  6. Alyssa
  7. Makayla
  8. Gabrielle
  9. Taylor
  10. Imani

Please note: There are white girls named Kayla, etc. These are merely the most common names for each race.

No name made all four lists.

Only two names made three lists: Sophia and Isabella. They were on all but the black list.

What I find interesting are the names that made only two lists. Why? Because I see it as a measure of how much races deal with each other as equals. That might be wrong, but for this post I will assume it is true.

Here are which names appear on only two lists:

  • white/Asian: Rachel, Sarah
  • white/Hispanic:
  • white/black:
  • Asian/Hispanic: Angela, Ashley, Emily
  • Asian/black:
  • Hispanic/black: Kayla, Brianna

I listed all six possible pairings, but only half of them have anything. These are just the pairings you would expect if you assume race in New York is a four-layer cake that looks like this:

  1. white
  2. Asian
  3. Hispanic
  4. black

With whites at the top as the richest and most privileged.

Whites and Hispanics do use some of the same names (Isabella and Sophia), but only if Asians use them too – just as if Asians are the go-between.

This seems to rule out two possible models of race in New York:

  1. Whites at the centre: If that were true, then the white pairings would have the most names. Instead two of them have no names at all: white/Hispanic and white/black. And even the remaining one, white/Asian, is outdone by Asian/Hispanic. This also shows, by the way, that names are not coming directly from a white mainstream but spread some other way.
  2. A white/Asian overclass and a black/Hispanic underclass: If this were true then the Asian/Hispanic pairing would have few to no names. Instead it is the strongest pairing of all.

You can also get a measure of ghettoization, of how separated each race is from the others, by how many names are found only on its list:

  • white (6): Olivia, Ava, Esther, Julia, Chaya, Emma
  • Asian (4): Chloe, Tiffany, Fiona, Jessica
  • Hispanic (4): Mia, Samantha, Melanie, Jennifer
  • black (8): Madison, Jada, Nevaeh, Alyssa, Makayla, Gabrielle, Taylor, Imani

To prove anything you would at least have to look at more years and go deeper in the lists to see if these patterns hold up. You would also have to study just how girl names start and spread.

See also:

Read Full Post »

AliciaKeysAlicia Cook (c. 1979- ), better known by her stage name of Alicia Keys, was one of the top American R&B singers of the 2000s. She is best known for “Fallin'” (2001) , which made her name and is still her most unforgettable song to date. Smokey Robinson says she is one of the best new singers.

So far six of her songs have hit number one on the American R&B chart:

  • 2001: Fallin’
  • 2003; You Don’t Know My Name
  • 2004: If I Ain’t Got You
  • 2004: My Boo (with Usher)
  • 2007: No One
  • 2008: Like You’ll Never See Me Again

“Superwoman” and “Teenage Love Affair” never hit number one.

Half these songs also hit number one on the American pop chart:  “Fallin'”, “My Boo” and “No One”.

For comparison, during this same period Beyonce had five number one hits on both the R&B and pop charts in America and Mariah Carey had three each.

Mariah and Beyonce have sold way more records than Alicia Keys: they have been at it longer and their music crosses over to white audiences better.

Alicia Keys is not only talented and successful but beautiful – one of the most beautiful black women according to white people. She is half Italian by blood and looks nearly white.

Her father is black (Jamaican); her mother is white (Italian-American). She considers herself to be black, not biracial or mixed race. Unlike with Mariah Carey, it has never been a question. Also, unlike Carey, her early music was more clearly black too.

She was born in Harlem. Her parents split when she was two. She saw little of her father, a flight attendant, though he did remain in her life. Her mother was often poor but somehow she always found money for Alicia’s piano lessons. Alicia:

I’ve had a deep love for music since I was four… . Music came before everything, everything, everything. I would risk everything for it.

By seven she could play classical piano. By 11 she was writing songs. One of the songs on her first album she wrote at 14. She continued to learn and practise her singing and piano.

In 1997 she got a record deal with Columbia Records – and dropped out of Columbia University. But then Columbia Records did what they did to Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen before her: tried to make her into someone else:

I felt that they wanted me to be a clone of Mariah or Whitney, and I couldn’t do that. I’m not the sequined dress type, or the high-heeled type, or the all-cleavage type. I’m not coming like that for no one.

They parted ways.

Clive Davis, the very man who brought us Whitney Houston, stepped in. He was struck by her talent and beauty. She was struck by how he took her seriously.

After many delays – Davis was kicked out of Arista and formed J Records, bringing Keys with him – she completed her first album in 2001. “Nothing before its time,” she says. Davis got her on Oprah’s television show and the rest is history.

– Abagond, 2009.

See also:

Read Full Post »

The police

police-brutalityThe police are those who are charged with protecting citizens from crime. They can arrest those suspected of breaking the law and put them in jail. They carry out court decisions. They are allowed to use violence, even deadly force, to keep the peace and preserve public safety. They maintain law and order.

That is one view. From living in New York I have come to have another view: They serve and protect the rich from the poor and whites from blacks and Latinos. They care little for black lives, even middle-class ones. They are a law unto themselves, cover up for each other and even get away with murder. Judges believe their lies,  newspapers tend to take their side and the powers that be turn a blind eye.

Nearly 90% of the people that New York policemen shoot at are black or Latino. It has little to do with blacks and Latinos somehow being more dangerous: 77% of the time the police are the only ones doing any shooting!

Blacks in New York are ten times more likely to be stopped by the police than whites. It has little to do with crime: only 10% of the stops lead to an arrest or summons. Nearly half of blacks are searched for weapons when stopped while fewer than a third of whites are – even though white suspects are 70% more likely to have a weapon.

I used to live in a part of New York with a high crime rate: hundreds were shot dead every year, black and Latino. You could hear the gunfire. Then one night I saw something I will never forget: policemen along the north side of the street that served as the colour line, one every few blocks. They were guarding the quiet white and Asian neighbourhoods behind them. If blacks kill each other, who cares, so long as white people are safe.

So when white people tell me of all the crime that black people do compared to whites, which they always say like it proves something profound, I just want to roll my eyes. If their neighbourhoods were as ill-served and ill-protected by the police as black neighbourhoods are then over time they would have terrible crime rates too.

Most black men have been stopped by the police for no good reason. Obama too. And even those who have never been stopped (yet) have heard enough stories to know how racist the police can be.

The reason things like O.J. Simpson and Henry Louis Gates, Jr become such heated issues in America is because whites and blacks view the police so differently. Because their experience of them is so different.

Most whites seem to have a childlike trust in the police that is naive and unfunny. It is hard for most blacks to feel the same way. So when a Sean Bell or Oscar Grant, unarmed black men, are killed by the police it is not seen as a “mistake” but something far worse.

See also:

Read Full Post »

KW-SmithThe following is based on Zadie Smith’s essay “Speaking in Tongues” (2009):

Zadie Smith is a writer. She speaks in a posh British accent. But when she was growing up in the  Willesden section of London, the daughter of a white Englishman and a black Jamaican woman, she had a different accent.

For a while she could speak in both accents as the circumstances required, but then bit by bit her childhood accent went away. All she had left was just her posh accent.

She spoke that way not because she hated where she was from, but because she thought the way people spoke at Cambridge University where she went was the way lettered people spoke. And she wanted to be a lettered person.

Now looking back she sees it as a loss. Most people have just one voice, even if it changes over time. But a fortunate few can speak in more than one voice. Two that come to mind are Shakespeare and, yes, Barack Obama.

Authors often have to be able to speak in many voices. It makes their stories more believable. Shakespeare was a master at it. He was so good that even though he was a Protestant people still wonder 400 years later whether he was a secret Catholic.

And it is partly why some wonder if Obama is a secret Muslim. Like Shakespeare he can speak in many voices. He changes how he speaks depending on his audience.  He says “we” instead of “I”. He can say things like this:

We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.

Taking “awesome God” from the churches of Georgia and “poking around” from the kitchen tables of Indiana.

Shakespeare could do it because he grew up between Catholic and Protestant worlds. Obama can do it because he grew up between the black and white American worlds. And so he can see them as worlds. Instead of being stuck between them, like a tragic mulatto, he moves between them.

Some might see that as underhanded but Zadie Smith sees it as having a broader view of the world, seeing it more as it is. Most presidents, like most people, stick to their own kind and so have a narrow view of the world. Not Obama.

On the night that Obama won she was at a party of white New York liberals when she got a call from a German friend to come uptown to a Harlem reggae bar. She looked at her dress and thought about her posh British accent and did not want to go. But then she saw that as:

A hesitation in the face of difference, which leads to caution before difference and ends in fear of it. Before long, the only voice you recognize, the only life you can empathize with, is your own.

See also:

Read Full Post »

JuneJordanJune Jordan (1936-2002) was an American writer, poet and professor. And one of my favourite authors. By the 1990s she had become one of the top black women writers in the country. She was best known as a poet, though she wrote children’s books and essays too.

She was born in Harlem. Her parents came from Jamaica and believed in the American dream. They later moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Her father was a postman, her mother a nurse. Her mother was “shadowy” but her father was “very intense, passionate and over-the-top. He was my hero and my tyrant.”

Her father beat her, from the age of two, while her mother stood by and did nothing. Her mother would later kill herself. Jordan was sent to an all-white boarding school in New England, when that kind of thing was rare.

Growing up she read and studied the writings of dead white men, but one of them she particularly liked: Walt Whitman.

She went to Barnard and fell in love with a white man. They married – in 1955 when that kind of thing was rare, even in New York. She dropped out of school, had a son and helped to put her husband through grad school. But it did not last: in 1965 they divorced.

After that she supported herself mainly by teaching English literature at universities: City College (late 1960s), Sarah Lawrence (early 1970s), SUNY Stony Brook (1980s) and Berkeley (1990s). At Berkeley she taught black and women’s studies. She made full professor in 1982. She cared about her students and loved teaching – she did not see it as a burdensome duty like some professors do.

Jordan began writing poetry at age seven. She never stopped writing, whether it could pay the bills or not. She saw words like a lover, seeing their naked beauty and their naked faults. She did not write the sort of books that could be made into Hollywood films or be safe enough to become best-sellers.

But that was her strength. She wrote the truth, she wrote what she saw with her eyes and felt in her heart. But they were not just in her heart: The things that were inside me that I did not know how to say, she knew how to say them and she did.

First they said I was too light
Then they said I was too dark
Then they said I was too different
Then they said I was too much the same
Then they said I was too young
Then they said I was too old
Then they said I was too interracial
Then they said I was too much a nationalist
Then they said I was too silly
Then they said I was too angry
Then they said I was too idealistic
Then they said I was too confusing altogether:
Make up your mind!
They said, Are you militant? Or sweet?
Are you vegetarian or meat?
Are you straight? Or are you gay?
And I said, Hey! It’s not about my mind.

See also:

Read Full Post »

missingRomona Moore (c. 1982-2003) was a student at Hunter College who lived on Remsen Avenue in Canarsie in Brooklyn, New York. One night she left to go to Burger King  and never came back.

On her way there, a few blocks from her house,  a man pulled her off the street and took her down to his basement where he and his friend beat her up and raped her.  Repeatedly. They took off her clothes and put her in chains. They sodomized her and tried to saw off her hands and feet. They beat her face with a hammer, they cut the webbing between her fingers. This went on for four days.

They checked the news: no word of her missing. They were upset.

They kept her under a big piece of plastic. One day when a friend dropped by they said, “Say hi, bitch,” and pulled back the plastic to show her. Their friend talked to her. Afterwards he went to a baby shower and then drove back home to Maryland. He never told the police.

She became too “feisty” so they beat her to death and put her in a crate. They found another woman and started on her.

When she did not return from Burger King her mother worried. The next morning she called the police. They said, “She’s 21. We’re not supposed to take the report.” But they did anyway and told her to call that night.

She did, but they said, “”Lady, why are you calling here? Your daughter is 21. These officers should not have taken the report in the first place.” They closed the case the next morning.

aronovJust two months before Svetlana Aronov, age 44, a rich white woman on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the wife of a doctor, took her dog for a walk and never came back. The next day the police called a press conference and put 24 detectives on it full-time. They went door to door and passed out flyers. They looked through her telephone and bank records, they looked at surveillance tapes of nearby buildings. And so on. They even hired a psychic and a bloodhound. They later found Aronov’s body in the East River.

Moore’s mother, getting no help from the police, called the press. They were not interested either. She made flyers and passed them out. The police would not help her till the fourth day, the day her daughter died: she had called a politician to get on their case.

The detective assigned to the case sometimes would not return calls for days. After spending less time on it than the police had spent looking for that rich white woman’s dog, he gave up.

The next day, the day before Mother’s Day, her body was found – not by the police – under an old ice cream truck just a few blocks from her house.

Her mother is suing the New York police for racism. They say it is a hard thing to prove in court.

See also:

Read Full Post »

SotomayerSonia Sotomayor (1954- ), one of the top judges in New York City, was chosen on May 26th 2009 by Barack Obama for the Supreme Court.

The Senate will hold its hearing, probably in July. Barring any ugly surprises, she is expected to pass easily: Democrats control 59% of the Senate. She would be the first ever Hispanic on the court and the third woman.

Sotomayor has degrees from top universities, Princeton and Yale, and has more experience as a judge than anyone named to the Supreme Court in the past 70 years.

Her views are centre left, well within the mainstream. She is closer to the centre than Obama himself. She will not change the balance on the court since she is taking the place of David Souter, also centre left.

The first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, once said a wise old man and a wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. To which Sotomayor said:

I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

And about being unaffected by her colour:

I wonder whether achieving that goal is possible in all or even in most cases. And I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of colour we do a disservice both to the law and to society.

Being Catholic she would make the court two-thirds Catholic – in a country that is mostly Protestant.

Sotomayer has not yet ruled on hot issues like abortion, the death penalty or gay marriage.

The case that is most likely to hurt her is Ricci v DeStefano: the New Haven fire department gave a test for some open positions for captain and lieutenant. When no blacks scored well it threw out the test: otherwise the black firefighters would take it to court for using a racist test. Instead the white ones did, arguing racism the other way. Sotomayor agreed with New Haven.

Sotomayor is Nuyorican – a Puerto Rican who grew up in New York. Her parents came from Puerto Rico to New York in 1944. Her father was a welder, her mother, a nurse. She grew up in the public housing projects of the Bronx (Soundview, Bronxdale Houses, Co-op City). Her family was the only one in the neighbourhood with an encyclopedia (Britannica). By 1964, at age ten, she knew she wanted to go into law like her hero on television, Perry Mason.

She went to Catholic school and then to Princeton on a scholarship. Princeton was like another country. She was in over her head, but she got help and graduated at the top of her class. She went on to Yale to get her law degree and was editor of the law review.  She came back to New York to practise law. In 1992 President Bush, the first one, made her a judge.

See also:

Read Full Post »

Edmund Perry

EdmundPerryEdmund Perry (c. 1968-1985), a 17-year-old black boy, was shot dead on June 12th 1985 by Lee Van Houten, a white plainclothes policeman,  a few blocks from where Perry lived on West 114th Street in Harlem. The New York Times does not ordinarily report murder north of 96th Street, but this time they did: Perry, it turned out, had just graduated from Exeter, one of the top private schools in America, and was set to go to Stanford University.

At first it seemed like yet another case of an out-of-control policeman who held black life too cheaply. But it turned out not to be so simple: Perry, according to witnesses, was trying to rob Van Houten! With his brother Jonah, no less, who was an engineering student at Cornell at the time! Jonah was later tried and found not guilty. Van Houten’s shooting was ruled justifiable.

Robert Sam Anson, a white writer for Life magazine, had a son at Exeter who knew Perry. Anson wondered what on earth would possess Perry, with such a bright future, to throw it all away by robbing someone.

After ruling out a police cover-up, Anson asked Perry’s friends and neighbours about him. They always had such nice things to say. At Exeter it was the same. But all the nice things they said did not add up. In time he found that Perry had been selling drugs at Exeter. But that only deepened the mystery.

Exeter was not a great place for blacks. One black student said they were a kind of minstrel show put on to give white students a sense of diversity: “By God, their kids are going to be well-rounded. They’re going to have Rossignol skis and Lange boots and a black roommate for ‘an experience.'”

It seems the racism at Exeter affected Perry far more profoundly than the other black students. It consumed him with anger and made him a radical, one who saw Martin Luther King as a sell-out.

His white teachers and classmates did not understand him: every time he tried to open up and be honest with them he wound up hurting their feelings. He could not talk to them. The only people who understood him were black students and the one white teacher who had grown up in Harlem. But they could not help him.

Perry did not fit in at Exeter, and yet Exeter changed him so much that he had a hard time fitting in with Harlem.  He was torn between two worlds with no place to call home.

Anson made all this into a book, “Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry” (1987), but in the end he had no answers. Michael Eric Dyson, who could have wound up becoming another Perry himself, said it was because Anson did not try to understand the black world that Perry came from, so he could not understand Perry or his anger.

The book was turned into a made-for-television film, “Murder Without Motive: The Edmund Perry Story” (1992).

See also:

Read Full Post »

Kelis_7Kelis Rogers (1979- ), better known as just Kelis, is an American R&B singer. She is best known for “Milkshake” (2003): “My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard, and they’re like, it’s better than yours. Damn right, it’s better than yours. I can teach you, but I have to charge.”

Her two other top ten hits on the American R&B charts are: “Caught Out There” (1999), the one where she says “I hate you so much right now!” over and over, and “Bossy” (2006).

No one knows why, but her music does way better in Britain than in America. Maybe it is her hair. I first heard her on Virgin Radio from London (the same is true for Macy Gray). Not only did “Milkshake” and “Caught Out There”  make the top ten in Britain, so did “Trick Me” (2004),  “Millionaire” (2004) with Andre 3000 and “Lil Star” (2007) with Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley, songs  largely unknown in the States.

Kelis Trick meKelis ft. Andre 3000 - MillionaireKelis - Lil Star

Her next album comes out later this year (2009).

She has been married to rapper Nas since 2005, but separated from him in May 2009 and filed for divorce. This came just two months before she is expected to give birth to their son! She suspects him of seeing other women. They met in 2002 at a party after the MTV Video Music Awards. Before that she was just a fan of his.

She grew up in Harlem in New York. Her father was a jazz musician and her mother a fashion designer. Her father is black, her mother is Puerto Rican and Chinese. Her name comes from putting their two names together: Kenneth + Eveliss = Kelis. It rhymes with “police”.

She went to a private school in Manhattan where most people were white and did not understand her. At 13 she cut off her hair and when it grew back she started colouring it blue, green, platinum and pink, something she is known for even now. Her natural hair is Type 3 (pictured above).

Growing up she sang at church and learned to play the piano, violin and saxophone. At 16 she got in to the La Guardia High School for the Arts, a magnet high school in New York. But just then she was kicked out of the house for reasons unclear and had to support herself.

At high school she formed a singing trio, BLU (Black Ladies United). It did not go anywhere but one thing led to another and it brought her to the attention of the Neptunes – Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo. With them she was able to land a recording contract with Virgin in 1998. They wrote and produced her first two hits, “Caught Out There” and “Milkshake” and much of her early music.

Kelis about her music:

Am I R&B because I’m Black? Am I pop because I have a song called “Milkshake”? Or can I just be who the hell I am? Good Lord, people make it seem like we’re doing heart transplants here, but we’re just making music!


See also:

Read Full Post »

zoe-saldana-1-0509-lgZoe Yadira Zaldaña Nazario (1978- ), better known as just Zoe Saldana, is an American actress. She plays Uhura, miniskirt and all,  in the “Star Trek” film that just came out. She was also in “Drumline” (2002) and “Guess Who” (2005). She will be in James Cameron’s  “Avatar”, due out in December 2009.

In 2008 Maxim, the men’s magazine, said she was one of the hottest women in the world (#42) and People magazine the year before said she was one of the most beautiful. She says her beauty does not come from anything physical:

Look at me. I’m skinny, I have a big nose, no tits and no ass, but in a room full of beautiful women, I would still leave with the most gorgeous guy.


Saldana is no Trekkie: when she played one in “The Terminal” (2004), she got the Vulcan hand sign wrong. Before doing the “Star Trek” film she had never even seen the 1960s television show that it is based on. But she did get to meet Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura back then. Nichols gave Saldana her blessing. Saldana sees Uhura as being “very elegant and stoic”.

Saldana was born to Dominican parents in New Jersey. The Wikipedia says her mother is Puerto Rican, but her own website says she is Dominican.

She grew up in a mixed neighbourhood in  Queens in New York City, speaking both Spanish and English. At nine her father was killed in a car accident and a year later the family moved to the Dominican Republic. She won a scholarship to one of the top dance schools there and studied ballet, jazz and Latin dance. She came back to New York at 17 and studied theatre. Her stage acting in New York got her noticed by Hollywood.

ZoeSaldanaWhenever she goes to the Dominican Republic, the press asks her if she American or Dominican. She says she is a mujer negra, a black woman. When they tell her no, she is trigueñita, light brown, she answers, “I am a black woman.”

When Esquire magazine asked her “that fucking question”, as she puts it, the one about her ethnicity, she said, “I’m Dominican, Lebanese, Indian, Irish, Jamaican. But I hate going into that. I just say, ‘I’m from Queens.’ ”

Her name was put up for an NAACP Image Award for her part in “Guess Who”. She played the female lead, a black woman who brings home her white boyfriend, Ashton Kutcher,  in a reverse remake of the Sidney Poitier film,  “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967).

She played a female pirate, Annamaria,  in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003), but she did not appear in any of the other “Pirates” films.

The actresses she looks up to are Salma Hayek, Whoopi Goldberg and Angelina Jolie.

She wants to win an Oscar: “I’m not going to be like, ‘I just want to be known for my work.’ No, I want that golden statue on my shelf.”


See also:

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: