Showing posts with label Thurgood Marshall. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thurgood Marshall. Show all posts

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Obama at Howard: Best Speech of his Presidency?

President Barack Hussein Obama came to Howard University and delivered what many Black people will regard as the best speech of his presidency. (Click here for one absolutely hilarious reaction.) As with Larry Wilmore's White House Correspondents' Dinner Speech, we expect most white people to disagree. Here's why they are wrong on both.
In content, reference and tone, both the President and Wilmore were not speaking to white people. They were speaking directly to Black people. 
Mr. Obama started by name checking the resident student dormitories at Howard. In doing so, he speaks to the people who either lived in, partied at, heard about or wanted to party at one (or more) of the dorms. This may number 900,000 Black people, give or take...I'm not even kidding.
He also name checked the pantheon of Black activists and achievers: Thurgood Marshall, David Dinkins, Zora Neale Hurston, King, of course, but also Fanny Lou Hamer, and James Baldwin, just for starters. This was a profane and profound way to acknowledge the giants who came before him, contrary to those, black and white, who say he is unmindful of the debt he owes. 
He moved on to reference and name check Wilmore, currently experiencing some negative feedback: many white people simply did not get Wilmore's brilliant WHCA Dinner speech. Obama thus provided support (yo, Larry, my nig....) and cover . 
In the end, Mr. Obama remains a traditionalist and a conservative (this is why he did not mention Stokely Carmichael, BTW, another Howard graduate who passed on a full ride at Harvard...). Some of his key points are as follows:
1. Vote like you life depends on it. It does. As he noted, "In 2012, 2 out of 3 turned out to vote. In 2014, 2 out of 5 did. And you don't think this made a difference in who I had to deal with?" It matters, Mr. President. It matters.
He predicted voting will matter even more in the coming years, given efforts to deny the right to vote to a significant section of the population (read: Black people). As Mr. Obama noted, the US is the "only advanced democracy on earth that goes out of its way to make it difficult for people (read: Black people) to vote" 
2. Let the bigots talk, then rebuke them...hard. His subtext was that this might come in the form of exceptional and competent performance:
In this way, he syncs with Wilmore's WHCD talk. White people simply didn't get Wilmore's repeated references linking Ted Cruz to the Zodiac Killer, but Black people knew what he meant: you can look exactly like a serial killer and run for President of the US. As Cruz (and Trump) prove, you don't even have to be competent, as long as you (and your serial killer doppelganger) are white. 
This also explained Mr. Obama's operating philosophy for the last eight years: to get things done, you have to effectively deal with people with whom you disagree. It's tough, but it's just the way things work. Quoting Zora Neale Hurston, he reminded us that "nothing that God ever made is the same thing to more than one person."  The key takeaway here is that you must stay woke. As the President said, passion is no substitute for strategy. You MUST RESPOND. Mr. Obama suggests doing so in a polite way, which is, in general, good advice. (Of course, we still think Black Lives Matter has it mostly right....)
3. Keep fighting. Racism is not going away. As he noted, "I don't know who came up with that Post-racial thing. It wasn't me." No, Mr. President. It was the same people who will now become your post Presidential BFFs (Best Friends Forever): the bigoted conservatives who  did everything they could to make you a one term President (unsuccessfully, I might add) and are currently working to limit voting rights (successfully, I might add). These people will use your Presidency as proof that racism doesn't exist. As with global warming, immigration, Wall Street and the chances of Donald Trump becoming their nominee, they will be wrong. Very wrong. 
Not so for Mr. Obama, who ended where he began, with hope, with Yes We Can. To paraphrase Mr. Wilmore, Yes, you did, Barry....er....Mr. President. Yes, you did... 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Why #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsBoycott are a waste of time...

An effort to boycott the Oscars has gained significant traction, even leading to "a history-making announcement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences about diversifying its membership.."
Simple economic analysis reveals why the Academy responded so quickly. It also reveals why the course of action chosen is likely to be less effective than many hope. Finally, it points to a more effective solution.
As noted in the charts above and below, both drawn from the 2014 Motion Picture Association of America Stat Book, Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics comprised 46% of movie ticket sales in 2014.
You don't need an MBA from the University of Chicago to know policies and practices that disrespect 46% of your customers, while several of your employees make statements that appear to channel Donald Trump's perspective on diversity, are bad for business. As I wrote in an MLK Day post, Dr. King stated quite clearly that "If you respect my dollar you must respect my person."
So it is here. 
Even more relevant is the fact that Asians, African-Americans and Hispanics comprise a large share (46%) of tickets sold to the top grossing movies in 2014.
Why #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsBoycott Won't Work
A boycott of a specific, one day only event is likely to fail to generate significant change. Institutions tend to respond with tokenism, defined as "the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce." Tokenism implies that if one Black (or minority, or woman) benefits, all members of the target group do. (Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, but was Mr. Thomas really as qualified as Mr. Marshall? What does the record show?)  
In this case, the appointment of Black people in highly visible positions, as ceremony hosts or even as CEO is symptomatic of this approach. (Should these people step down?  Hell no. Why would you do that?) While the reality is these appointments do not  have the power to actually change the shape of discrimination, this does not mean they have no value. (It depends upon the person: Marshall vs Thomas....)
Given the facts outlined, a more effective approach may be for members of the affected groups to boycott all new films for, say, a week or a month.
Historically, these groups have been prevented from working together toward a single goal, so a coordinated effort is a long shot.
But economic analysis reveals it would be the most effective approach.