Friday, March 30, 2007

Dismantling the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division

Bush’s long history of politicizing justice
It’s not only the U.S. attorneys who are threatened by partisan politics. Since Day One, the Bush administration has been quietly dismantling the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.
By Alia Malek in Salon Magazine

Mar. 30, 2007 | The current U.S. attorneys scandal shows that the Bush administration was mistaken in its belief that it could politicize the nation’s top federal law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice, with impunity. The attorney general’s chief of staff and the director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys have both had to leave their jobs, and Congress has begun grilling DOJ leadership. But having decimated another entire sector of the DOJ in plain sight for six years with little consequence, is it any wonder the Bush White House figured nobody would miss a few prosecutors?

Since George Bush took office, his administration has been not so quietly dismantling the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which is responsible for enforcing the nation’s civil rights laws, and doing it for the same reason the eight federal prosecutors were fired: to use the enforcement power of the federal government for Republican gain. Instead of attending to the Civil Rights Division’s historic mission, addressing the legacy of slavery by enforcing anti-discrimination laws, the Bush administration has employed the division to advance the political agenda of a key GOP constituency, the Christian right and also, quite literally, to get Republicans elected. 

Accomplishing these goals required a drastic change in personnel, which necessitated dismantling the hiring system, forcing out or silencing career (nonpolitical) staff, and replacing them with people without civil rights expertise but with demonstrated ideological and partisan loyalties. It was a project that took years to execute because several checks on such a scenario had long been in place, checks that earlier administrations of both parties had respected.
As it was happening, current and former employees tried to alert the outside world, with little success. But with the spotlight on the department and its attorney general, momentum may finally be building. Last week, a House Judiciary subcommittee held oversight hearings on the Civil Rights Division, and witnesses testified to the changes the Bush administration had effected there.

A principal witness at Thursday’s hearings was Joe Rich, a 37-year veteran of the division and former chief of the Voting Rights Section, who left in 2005. In his testimony, Rich charged that under the Bush administration, “the essential work of the division to protect the civil rights of all Americans is not getting done.” He also said that the connection between the current prosecutors scandal and what happened to the division should not be minimized, telling senators, “The political decision-making process that led to the questionable dismissal of eight United States attorneys was standard practice in the Civil Rights Division years before these recent revelations.”

The Civil Rights Division was established in 1957 by an act of Congress, with the mandate to enforce the nation’s few federal civil rights statutes. With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, the division suddenly had a lot more work to do. Since 1957 and before the election of George W. Bush, there had been four Democratic and four Republican presidential administrations (counting Nixon-Ford as one).
The division is composed of 11 “sections,” eight of which do litigation: Housing and Civil Enforcement, Employment, Education, Disability, Special Litigation, Criminal, Appellate and Voting Rights. The division’s 700 employees, half of them lawyers, are spread out across several buildings in Washington. Long gone are the days when the whole Department of Justice and the FBI could fit into the art deco building on Pennsylvania Avenue known as Main Justice.

The leadership of the division—known as the Front Office—has always been appointed by the president. Most of those appointees have not been experts in civil rights law, says Brian K. Landsberg, a former division section chief and the author of “Enforcing Civil Rights: Race Discrimination and the Department of Justice.” That lack of expertise was compensated for by the core of the division, its career attorneys who have the sophisticated understanding of the law that civil rights enforcement requires, says Landsberg, now a law professor at the University of the Pacific. “Even if the political appointees did have that expertise, there aren’t enough of them to do the background work.” In addition to career attorneys providing the political appointees the expertise they might lack, the dialogue, partnership and mutual respect between the two have been credited with keeping the division above the partisan fray.

The Bush administration’s actions over the past six years seem almost prima facie evidence that it does view civil rights enforcement—which had traditionally been on behalf of African-Americans, women and other racial, ethnic and religious minorities—as a partisan matter. In perhaps a case of projection, it seems to have also expected career people to abuse their power on behalf of partisan goals.

Thus the administration sought to recast the division in its own image, by minimizing outside input, getting rid of career people and hiring loyal Bushies. Simply choosing John Ashcroft, a religious fundamentalist and political conservative, as the attorney general immediately indicated that Bush’s promises to heal and unite the nation after the 2000 election did not translate into Cabinet choices that would reflect the divided political mood of the country.

In an e-mail to his 125,000 employees on his first day on the job, Ashcroft promised to guarantee “rights for the advancement of all Americans.” But actions were soon speaking louder than words. Regular meetings of the division’s section chiefs and the political leadership were virtually discontinued. In a tradition dating to the 1950s, presidents have asked an American Bar Association committee to provide a confidential rating of the qualifications of judicial candidates before the nominations are sent to the Senate for confirmation. Ashcroft and then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales met with the ABA and then terminated the ABA’s advisory role. Once Ashcroft began hiring his own choices, career attorneys noticed that many of the new hires were members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. Ashcroft himself was called an active supporter of the Federalist Society, and several of the top legal positions throughout the administration were all held by Federalist Society members.

Then, much the way some companies go green, DOJ under Ashcroft went Pentecostal. In correspondence, use of the word “pride” was forbidden because the Bible calls pride a sin; employees were also asked to never use the phrase “no higher calling than public service.” Ashcroft instituted prayer meetings, leading a Bible study at 8 a.m. sharp each day, some days even in his office, on others in a conference room at Main Justice. All department employees, regardless of their religious affiliation, were invited to attend, but in reality few did.

Against this backdrop, in the fall of 2001, the first real showdown between the Front Office and the division as a whole took place, over a little-known lawsuit against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, which runs metropolitan Philadelphia’s mass transit system. For four years the division’s Employment Litigation Section had been pursuing charges that SEPTA’s hiring practices discriminated again women applicants by requiring results on a physical performance test that the division argued had little relevance to what was required by the job. Without talking to anyone involved with the case, the Front Office jettisoned it, citing a need to divert resources to the war on terrorism.

Though the Employment Section voiced objections, it carried out orders and withdrew from the case. But in what came to be seen as retaliation for voicing that dissent, the Front Office stripped the section chief, her deputy and the lead counsel of their duties and exiled them to a newly created task force in the Civil Division with no real responsibilities. The retaliation was so unprecedented that the other section chiefs, out of fear, stopped their informal monthly meetings, which they had long used to keep the components of the far-flung division connected.
In the past, disagreement between career attorneys and the Front Office, whether under a Democratic or Republican administration, was not unexpected. Dialogue between the permanent staff and the political appointees served as a check and balance between the political goals of any one administration and a goal that was not regarded as political—the enforcement of federal civil rights laws. By the end of 2001, it was clear that the old give-and-take between the staffers and their politically appointed bosses was now viewed as unforgivable insubordination.
Career staffers began to leave. As their ranks thinned, and as the survivors were effectively neutralized, the Bush administration, in its effort to minimize any resistance to its agenda for the DOJ, sought to replenish the division with loyal hires.

Hiring decisions had always been subject to political staff’s approval, but the judgment of the career core of the division had historically been trusted. The Front Office stopped consulting the careerists. Résumés had once flowed up from the sections to the Front Office; now the flow was reversed. The divisions, starting under Ashcroft and continuing under Alberto Gonzales, were told whom they could hire and whom they could promote.

The numbers show what has happened to the division’s staff since 2001. A Freedom of Information Act request in the summer of 2006 by the Boston Globe for the résumés of successful applicants since 2003 also showed that among the new hires were people who had worked for prominent conservatives, belonged to the Republican National Lawyers Association, had volunteered for the Bush-Cheney campaigns, and had limited civil rights experience. The résumés showed that only 42 percent of lawyers hired since 2003 have civil rights experience, compared to 77 percent in the two years prior, when career attorneys were primarily responsible for hiring. Almost half of those new hires with “civil rights experience” had gained it by either defending employers against discrimination suits or by fighting against affirmative action policies.

Career lawyers say the new hires are increasingly white males with Federalist Society or Christian Legal Society credentials, even though many of them are shocked to find themselves in the Civil Rights Division. Richard Ugelow, a former employment deputy chief who now teaches at American University, says his students who ranked other divisions in the Department of Justice as their preferred choices for placement found themselves called to interview in the Civil Rights Division. One thing about those students’ résumés stood out: They were members of the Federalist Society.

What was this newly conservative incarnation of the Civil Rights Division being asked to do? From the beginning, part of the Bush administration’s purpose was advancing the Christian right’s agenda, and one element of that agenda was the erosion of the wall between church and state. At the same time, in a five-year period beginning in 2001, the division brought no voting cases on behalf of African-Americans and only one employment case on behalf of African-Americans.

John Ashcroft, devout son of a Pentecostal minister, became infamous for demanding modesty of a statue in the Main Justice building. The attorney general spent $8,000 in taxpayers’ money on a dark velvet curtain to completely hide the naked marble breasts of the “Spirit of Justice.” (After 9/11, the DOJ staff also received copies of the lyrics to a jingoistic song that Ashcroft had penned himself, “Let the Eagle Soar.” He asked staff to sing it at the beginning of the work day at his prayer meetings.)

But less overtly, the administration was harnessing the power of the division’s Appellate Section on behalf of certain religious groups, under a doctrine developed by the Front Office called “Viewpoint Discrimination.” One career attorney in the section, speaking anonymously, describes the doctrine as intended to “defend the rights of Christian Evangelicals to proselytize in public forums, like school.”

A former deputy section chief, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says that the administration has a very specific litigation strategy, and that is to “try to lower the wall of separation between church and state.” The former deputy section chief says, “These aren’t discrimination cases. These are free speech cases, at the end of day. They want to be able to wear T-shirts with religious messages and hand out fliers about church meetings at schools.” Under the Bush administration, the DOJ was suddenly suggesting a moral equivalence between protecting minorities from discrimination and enabling nonminorities to proselytize in public forums.

Meanwhile career lawyers in Appellate were blocked from working on civil rights cases. Instead, attorneys were given dockets with deportation orders of illegal immigrants to occupy their time. When they did write a civil rights brief, they were told to weaken their arguments by citing the opinions of conservative judges, even when those opinions were dissenting opinions, and by ignoring authoritative Supreme Court precedents.

“Instead of legal briefs,” says one current employee, “they want to file policy papers.”
Promoting the Christian agenda was meant to help the GOP at the ballot box. Often, however, the division was used to help Republicans win elections more directly. It was in the Voting Rights Section, which Joe Rich had headed from 1999 to 2005, that the Bush administration clearly saw a valuable tool for partisan gain. In his testimony last week, Rich charged that “the priority, indeed obsession, of this administration was not to protect the rights of American voters but with ... politically charged pursuit[s].”

After each census, voting districts are redrawn to account for population changes. In the case of states with a history of voter discrimination, those states must submit their redistricting plans to the Voting Rights Section of the division, as per Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Given the nation’s history of racial discrimination at the ballot box, the question the section must consider in deciding whether to “pre-clear” any plan is, will this harm black voters?

First in Mississippi and then in Texas, the Front Office facilitated or directly approved redistricting plans that created net gains for GOP candidates, patently disregarding the recommendations of the analysts and lawyers of the Voting Rights Section. Though in both instances they counseled the Front Office that the law required the opposite actions, they carried out the Front Office’s orders.

Then, after Rich’s departure from the division, and under new Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the section’s power was again used to the advantage of Republicans. A new law in Georgia required voters to present a government-issued picture ID in order to vote at the polls on Election Day. Staff had prepared a detailed and comprehensive memo analyzing the information provided by the state and other interested parties, and had concluded that the change would have a discriminatory effect on minority voters—they recommended that the law not be pre-cleared. The next day, the Front Office ordered pre-clearance of the Georgia law. After that case, the Front Office barred the Voting Rights Section’s staff attorneys from offering any recommendations on any cases.

Later it was exposed that a political hire in the Voting Rights Section, Hans von Spakovsky, who played a central role in approving the controversial Georgia voter identification program and who had been in charge of setting the section’s substantive priorities, had anonymously authored a law review article that endorsed the kind of system Georgia sought to enact. His attempts to hide his views may turn out to have violated Justice Department guidelines. Von Spakovsky left the division for the Federal Election Commission as a recess appointment. Similarly, the person who had been named as the senior counsel for voting rights in the section was a defeated Republican candidate for Congress.

In the past two years, as reporters for both Salon and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers have noted, the DOJ has dispatched ideologues from the Civil Rights Division to become U.S. attorneys. Alex Acosta, the current U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Miami, left the Civil Rights Division after serving as its assistant attorney general. Another former political appointee in the office of the assistant attorney general for civil rights, Matt Dummermuth, was nominated to be U.S. attorney in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last December.

Most notably, Gonzales, as attorney general, appointed Brad Schlozman, former principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, as interim U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri late in 2006. While deputy head of the Civil Rights Division, Schlozman had overseen the redistricting of Texas and Mississippi. He had also personally reversed the career staff’s recommendation that the Georgia voter ID law be challenged. In fact, he had penned an opinion piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution supporting the law.

As U.S. attorney in Missouri last fall, Schlozman brought voter fraud indictments a week before the midterm elections against four individuals associated with a group registering poor and minority voters in Kansas City. Such timing contradicted Justice’s policy, Joe Rich told Salon in an interview, of waiting till after an election to bring indictments, lest an investigation unnecessarily affect the outcome of the vote. It was perhaps not irrelevant, though, that Nov. 7, 2006, promised to be hard on Republicans, and that the Republican senator, Jim Talent, was in a close race, and that Kansas City was full of Democratic voters.

Talent lost his seat to Democrat Claire McCaskill on Nov. 7, and the Democrats took control of the House and the Senate. Not long thereafter, the Bush administration finally lost its free pass to politicize the U.S. attorneys, the Civil Rights Division and the rest of the Department of Justice. The decision to fire eight federal prosecutors, most of them highly rated for their performance, attracted the attention of the new Congress. Six years into the Bush era, investigations have, at last, ensued.

History books will likely not be kind to the Bush administration. The consequences of the administration’s actions, however, extend far beyond the fate of any one elected official.
Optimists believe that once this administration’s term comes to an end in 2008, the division may once again be able to enforce the nation’s civil rights laws without regard to partisan motives. Others, like Joe Rich, are more pessimistic. “They can try to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again,” Rich told Salon, “but you’ve lost career people with the institutional memory to do that.” In his testimony on Capitol Hill, Rich asserted that only “vigilant oversight” would restore the Civil Rights Division and the Department of Justice to their historic role of leading the enforcement of civil rights and protection of equal justice under the law.

Similarly, if the Bush administration is not penalized by the voters or their elected representatives for treating the Department of Justice as a political tool, there is nothing to stop successive administrations—whether Republican or Democrat—from doing the same when it’s their turn in power.
-- By Alia Malek

Posted by Nuttshell on 03/30 at 03:22 PM
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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Interview With Barrington Irving Who Will Fly Solo Around The World

By Xavier Murphy

I don’t know what publication this may be from but a family friend sent this to me.

This month we interview Barrington Irving the 22-year-old Jamaican-American,who is attempting to fly solo around the world on March 23, 2007.

Where in Jamaica are you from?

How long have you lived in Florida?
I’ve been living here in Florida since I was six.

How did you become interested in flying?
Captain Gary Robinson who is Jamaican approached me when I was 16 and asked me if I ever considered becoming a pilot. I wasn’t that interested at first because I was unaware of the career opportunities and didn’t see many blacks in the aviation field. Captain Robinson began to mentor me and took me to the airport to see the Boeing 777 he flew and after taking a tour I was hooked. I eventually turned down football scholarships to pursue a career in aviation even though I did not know how I would be able to afford flight lessons.

How did you be come involved with planning a flight around the world?
After earning my first pilot’s license I had the greatest feeling ever and I wanted other youths in the community to experience the way aviation touched my life. I did not want to wait until I was 40 because I’m not sure if I would make it pass the age of 21 or even 25 in my neighborhood. I told myself if I had one opportunity to make a significant impact, I would fly around the world to show kids that I did it and it didn’t matter where I came from. It wasn’t until a year later that I found out I would be setting world records of being the youngest as well as first of African descent to fly solo around the world.

What age was the youngest person to have accomplished the same feat?
To my knowledge the youngest person is 34 years old.

How many black people have done this?

What was your motivation to accomplish this feat?
To show kids a better alternative from the negative influences on the streets.

I know you are raising funds for the trip. How is that going?
I’m currently seeking additional funding and I’ve reached 75% of my goal. It is vital that I have the necessary funding in place in order for me to depart.

At the recent PM reception it was mentioned you would start your solo flight in Jamaica. Is this still the case?
I’m currently working with the Consulate and Honorable Prime Minister Portia Simpson in order to make this happen. It is a privilege and honor to have the belief, love, and support of my country.

What route will you take?
Eastbound and I will stop in countries such as the Azores, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Egypt, Dubai, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, China, Japan, Russia.

Why are you taking that route?
This route will provide better winds which will help me conserve fuel and travel faster.

Do you need special permission from some countries to fly in their airspace?
Absolutely, it is a must that I have the proper clearances.Universal Weather is a sponsor of my flight plan. If I’m not cleared I could get shot down or go to jail.

Have you taken any practice runs?
I’ve done extensive mountain flying, island flying, icing, and thunderstorm flights.

How will you entertain yourself an extremely strenuous, lonely trip around the world?
As I complete this flight I will be thinking about the many individuals that helped to make this voyage possible. I will also be thinking about the many students that are counting on me to succeed.

Once you complete the flight will write a book?
I certainly will and also plan to have a documentary.

When I was growing up in Jamaica I was told if you don’t know mathematics you can’t become a pilot. What educational background and subjects would you say are important?
Having a good understanding of math, science, english, reading comprehension, and communications is a must. In this industry you will work with many people and it is important that you are professional on the ground and in the air.

Thanks for the interview. Do you have any word of encouragement for the young Jamaicans out there who want to become pilots?
I would like for young Jamaicans to know with God all things are possible. I went from washing planes to owning an aircraft worth $600,000. I also dared to follow my dream when everyone said I was too young and would not be able to afford it. Also special thanks to mom and dad for instilling the Jamaican values that have made me the man I am today.

Posted by Nuttshell on 03/27 at 09:45 AM
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Sunday, March 25, 2007

I love the Slowsky’s

Posted by SPN on 03/25 at 09:30 PM
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Urge President Bush to save lives in Darfur by launching “Plan B” immediately.

A letter from Bill Frist

Join Me in Calling the White House

Dial 1-800-671-7887 to urge President Bush to save lives in Darfur by launching “Plan B” immediately.

Once you’ve hung up, click here to report your call back to the Save Darfur Coalition.

Each year I travel to Africa as a medical missionary. I’ve just returned from my latest trip, a deeply troubling visit to the Sudan.

Due to a series of increasingly violent attacks on foreign aid workers in Darfur over the past six months, international efforts to protect civilians and provide them with food, clean water, shelter, and medical care are in a state of crisis.

Countless men, women, and children are in real danger of falling prey to violence, starvation, or disease as a result of these attacks.

The U.S. must take the lead in working with the international community to end the violence. The lives of millions hang in the balance.

Please join me in calling the White House comment line today to urge President Bush to launch “Plan B,” his tough, three-tiered plan to push Sudan to end the genocide, before more lives are lost in Darfur.

It will only take two minutes of your time and could make a world of difference for millions of people in need. Just follow the steps below:

1. Dial 1-800-671-7887 (toll-free)
2. Once you’ve been transferred to the comment line leave your comment using the talking points below:
* I’m calling to urge President Bush to implement “Plan B” to help bring an end to the genocide in Darfur. Specifically, I am asking him to:
* Enforce tough sanctions against Sudan;
* Work with the UN to authorize and enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur to protect civilians from Sudanese bombers; and
* Press the UN for faster deployment of UN peacekeepers to protect civilians in Darfur.
3. Click here to report your call back to the Save Darfur Coalition (this step is crucial - please don’t skip it.)

The U.S. and the international community are all that stand between millions of civilians in Darfur and the Sudanese regime’s policy of genocide. Hundreds of thousands have already been killed, and time is running out for millions more.

Without tough “Plan B” measures to accompany diplomatic efforts, the international community’s efforts to end the violence in Darfur are doomed to fail.

Please follow the steps above to join me in calling the White House comment line to ask President Bush to launch “Plan B” without further delay, then click here to report your call back to the Save Darfur Coalition.

I hope you will help me spread this message of urgent action by forwarding my email to your friends, family and co-workers and asking them to join you in taking two minutes to call the White House.

Thank you for your ongoing advocacy on behalf of the people of Darfur.


Senator Bill Frist, M.D.

Donate to Help Save Darfur
Help build the political pressure needed to end the crisis in Darfur by supporting the Save Darfur Coalition’s crucial awareness and advocacy programs. Click here now to make a secure, tax-deductible online donation.
The Save Darfur Coalition is an alliance of over 175 faith-based, advocacy and humanitarian organizations whose mission is to raise public awareness about the ongoing genocide in Darfur and to mobilize a unified response to the atrocities that threaten the lives of more than two million people in the Darfur region. To learn more, please visit

Posted by SPN on 03/21 at 03:27 PM
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Monday, March 12, 2007

Job Corps student in Shreveport, LA around 1981

There’s no way I could easily find his name.

Posted by SPN on 03/12 at 07:08 PM
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Striped Shirt in Caddo Magnet High School

Maybe one day I’ll look through my yearbook and find his name.

Posted by SPN on 03/12 at 06:58 PM
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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Museum Office in Shreveport, LA

I caught her on the phone when she should’ve been watching over us bad kids.


Posted by SPN on 03/07 at 07:48 PM
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My dog Max.

I called him “Max” because of Disney’s movie, ”The Black Hole”.  I think my brother gave me that dog.


Posted by SPN on 03/07 at 07:23 PM
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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ignoring “black” . . . on mama’s account?

Debra J. Dickerson got quite a few blistering letters from readers.  Some were off the mark and some were rather insightful.  I’ve included one that I thought was rather good. —Nuttshell

As a black man raised in a predominantly white environment for the balance of my childhood, I can understand some of the issues, perceptions, and complexes that inevitably await Ms. Dickerson’s kids. What I don’t understand is how a woman who claims to have “lived” (her use of the past tense telling) blackness completely abdicates her DUTY AS A MOTHER to teach her children to cope with the burdens of race and enjoy the diverse fruits of their heritage.

Her account of her family history is the quintessential American story of the American Dream denied, deferred and ultimately, enjoyed to a certain degree. She is the great-granddaughter of slaves, she grew up knowing a living, breathing testament to America’s Shame. Her father was fought in World War II, fighting for freedoms he himself was denied. She herself experienced personally the sting of Jim Crow segregation. And yet, with the help of her loving “Mis’Sipi Mama,” she became a highly educated, nationally recognized author and columnist, married a white man, and had beautiful kids. Who would NOT want to teach her kids about such a triumphant story?

Her primary rationalization: she wants to shield her children from the evils of racism the legacy of what society has done to black folk. But that means that she is denying her children a chance to learn about history. But if all Ms. Dickerson teaches her children is that her people were raped, enslaved and “Jim Crow’d” by people who looked like their Daddy, then maybe ignorance is bliss for her kids. My parents had the presence of mind to teach me about their family histories, which share much in common with hers. They also taught me that black folk, despite all the things done TO them, had done much FOR themselves, each other, their country and their world, despite centuries of dehumanization.

Moreover, Ms. Dickerson seemingly, and shamefully, associates black culture with “high fives,” “might ta coulds,” slang and “ghetto passes.” In so doing, she ignores her own advice. In HER OWN BOOK, The End of Blackness, wherein she exhorts the readers to remember the broad diversity of black culture. The contributions of black Americans to the intellectual, social, political and cultural institutions at home and abroad are limitless. She denies her children the knowledge of this, so as to make their choice of identity a foregone conclusion. If I were a biracial child and knew nothing of my own rich heritage as a black person, I’d choose white, too. You’re not giving your kids choices if you limit their access to all of the information about their heritage. You’re making it for them. Based on this article, it’s no stretch to guess that the Dickerson children will learn more about their own culture in presumably predominantly white schools than at home.

My parents raised me in an interracial environment, and I’m glad of it. It enriched my life. But they also taught me about the realities of race in America, and the difficult job of coping with racism of a subtler, softer strain. They knew people out there would hate me or underestimate me because of the color of my skin, and they PREPARED me for it. No parent of any carbon life form would neglect to teach her offspring how to protect themselves from predators. Racism is a societal predator, and to allow her five-year old son to think that black people are “burned” is no less irresponsible than allowing that child to believe that Barney is a real dinosaur.

Ms. Dickerson, my heart goes out to your children. This article, more than others, reeks of self-loathing and self-doubt about being black in America. It’s no crystal stair, but it comes with many blessings and triumphs which are clearly evident from your own family history. Why deny your children the exposure to their family, their culture, their history? They can live their own lives on their own paths however they choose, but how they process the information you give them may surprise you, and us. IMHO, you are doing them a tragic disservice by shielding them from part of themselves, and by associating your own heritage with well-worn stereotypes and presumptions.
-- namepeace

Posted by Nuttshell on 03/06 at 03:45 PM
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Don’t be black on my account

A black mother’s gift to her biracial children.
By Debra J. Dickerson (Salon Magazine)

After reading this article and all the letters (134) in response, I am still trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings regarding this article.  As a parent of a bi-racial child, I wonder if I’m as twisted as Debra J. Dickerson.  I sense she has some unresolved identity issues.  Will her children suffer as a result. --Nuttshell

Mar. 05, 2007 | Out of the blue last week my son, who is 5, asked me if I’d ever been “burned.” I thought he was referring to the tattoos that I always tell him and his sister are boo-boos (how else to justify voluntary scarring when I won’t even let them use a butter knife?), so I repeated my usual lie and added that “Mommy would never play with fire.” I thought this was a safety discussion. He looked confused.

“Oh. I thought that was why you were brown.”

My biracial, white-looking baby is discovering race. Granted, both of my children think my nappy, unprocessed, Sideshow Bob hair looks that way simply to entertain them, and never understand why everyone asks if I’m their nanny. I can’t say I wasn’t on notice. But I’d envied them their racial innocence. Too bad them days are over. 

My son first brought up the subject of race two months ago. I took him and his 3-year-old sister to a concert at an inner-city elementary school right before Christmas. There were lots of cornrowed kids singing “Jingle Bells.” My own child, as he sat fidgeting in my lap, stared at the crowd around him goggle-eyed and perplexed.

“Mommy,” he said, craning his neck to scan the room, just so he could be certain, “everybody’s brown. Really, look! They’re all brown.”

We live in snow-white upstate New York, but was he really so clueless?

“Why is everybody brown, Mommy?”

Yup. He was. Caught unawares, I just gulped for air. But he was waiting for an answer.

“Really, Mom. Everyone’s brown. Everyone. Why?”

Finally, I responded. “Mommy’s brown, honey,” I said, and I covered his hand with my own. “See?”

This did not compute. He blinked at me a few times and went back to squirming around and checking out all the brown people in the room.

The music was playing but his questions continued. I talked about how, like Mommy, these people had two brown parents while he and his sister had a brown mom and a ... “not brown” dad. (My kids are not brown at all; homie’s blond and his sister has waist-length ringlets with natural blond highlights.) I told him that he and his sister would likely get “browner” as they got older and talked about variety being the spice of life. I analogized from the many colors in his paint box and reminded him that his Grandma Johnnie was brown but that his Grandma Ruth was ... not brown. Then, I took a deep breath and laid it on him.

“Honey. You’re black. Did you know that?”

And even as the words left my mouth, I knew they made no sense. He was talking skin color, I was talking politics.

Hopelessly lost now, he just gaped up at me. Then he pulled his black clip-on tie from his sweater and said, helpfully, “My tie is black.” Still wriggling on his brown mommy’s lap, he went back to staring in confused wonderment at all the Negroes.

Now, two months later, he has come up with an explanation. “They” are all brown because “they” are irresponsible with flammables. I know I need to nip this in the bud. But how on earth do you explain things as complicated as race and blackness to creatures who believe that the police will know when we need help because they all have baby monitors in their cars? They’re so young; I’m still in the gooey, overprotective stage of motherhood wherein I shield them from knowing about crime, homelessness, war, rape, pedophilia and the horrors of capitalism. But I’m supposed to tell them that white people, their father’s people, enslaved, raped, sold and Jim Crow’d us simply because we look burned all over? And I’m supposed to tell them now, when my 3-year-old daughter is still oblivious to the whole subject of race, that racism is far, far from over? Even if I wanted to tell them all this, I’m not sure where I’d start.

And then, last night, while still meditating on my son’s burn theory, I located the true source of my ambivalence about helping my children discover their blackness.

Like most kids, mine love to “give me five” to signal any sort of triumph. Last night, I realized that I’d stifled a reflexive impulse to teach them part of the high-five—“on the black hand side.” Back in the militant ‘60s and early ‘70s when I was a kid, black men would often slap each other five, then flip their hands over and do it again on “the black hand side” or “the black man’s side.” Now it’s rarely done and only then as kitsch, but what explains my hesitance, my refusal, to initiate my children into the club when this relic of my identity formation naturally surfaced? As I thought about that, all at once it hit me that I never “talk black” with my kids either. None of the “used ta coulds” and “mighta woulds” and “he be’s” that I slip into so comfortably with my Miss’ippi mama and relatives back home. Without realizing it, I had made Chez Debra Ebonics-free when the kids were in earshot, even though my bilingualism has been the key to my mainstream success. So why wasn’t I teaching them to be bilingual? Why was I refusing them their ghetto pass?

If I’m honest, I know why. It’s because I know they’re not black. I am but they’re not. They’re biracial.

I lived blackness. All they can do is study and perform blackness. My parents were Mississippi sharecroppers who became part of the Great Migration north. My great-grandfather, who lived well past 100 and was still kicking when I was a child, had been born a slave. His son, my grandfather, got a “Klan escort” out of Mississippi. I saw “Whites only” signs when we went visiting down south and remembered white cops coming to my A’int Mazelle’s to “urge” her to teach her kin from up north in St. Louis “how to behave.” Clueless, I hadn’t yielded my place in line to whites at the country store. At my own home in Missouri I knew not to enter South St. Louis after dark, and I grew up sharing my World War II combat veteran father’s bitterness at the racism of the Marine Corps. Segregation made black culture pervasive in our lives; the same oppression that so limited our options gave us all a common frame of reference. My kids can only study that in books.

I never make them the soul food I grew up eating—it’s so unhealthy, however heavenly. Besides, I only know how to make cornbread and cabbage for eight. I live far, far from my relatives; my kids have spent far more time with their relatives on their father’s side because travel is foreign, and too expensive, for my working-class family. I lasted only a few Sundays taking my kids to a black Southern Baptist church like the one I attended growing up because I couldn’t, in good conscience, give my implicit stamp of approval to all that drove me away in the first place. We belong to a Unitarian church now, though I deeply miss gospel music. Had the kids and I stayed in D.C. things might be different, but now that we live in upstate New York, we encounter very few black people and even fewer who are not mainstream professionals, with all the requisite class implications that follow (affluent, private-school educated, i.e., not very culturally black).

I can’t bring myself to turn my kids into cultural tourists of their mother’s people by, for example, sending them to black church camps during the summer, like some of my bougie black friends have done. Blacks are not exotic creatures to be visited on brief safaris. How could I ever make my daughter understand why I wept through “The Color Purple” on Broadway a few weeks ago? Truth be told, I don’t even want her to understand how cathartic that was for someone born a poor and very black woman. I don’t want to force experiences on my son and daughter just to make them feel black. And that’s not because they look white. It’s because they’re half-white, features be damned.

As much as blacks bemoan the “one drop rule,” no one works harder to enforce it and keep it alive. See: blacks’ attitude toward Tiger Woods. I thought he was as much a self-hating sellout as most blacks did with his “Cablinasian” routine. Then, I heard him say that he didn’t consider himself solely black because it was an insult to his mother. That nearly blew a hole in my brain. He’s absolutely right—it is an insult to the mother who carried him, birthed him in agony and raised him. Why on earth should her Thai heritage count for nothing and his dad’s black heritage count for everything? If my children ever self-identify as “white” I’ll be crushed. That would be tantamount to saying all my love and sacrifice and devotion meant nothing. Mrs. Woods is not a brood mare and neither am I. If my kids end up identifying as “black” rather than white or biracial, I’ll be secretly pleased. But in the end, if they can go toe to toe with me, they can consider themselves whatever they like.

Given the level of intellectual and moral rigor to which I plan to hold my children, I can’t in good conscience as a human being tell them which category to pick, if any. If that means they prefer sushi to fried catfish, so be it. If they prefer Europe to Africa, if they’re consumed by environmentalism but not civil rights, fine. Since my son recently whined about wanting a bigger house and blithely opined that “everyone has a car,” I’m more focused on teaching them about class and injustice than race right now. Still, I dug out all the old family photos of my Jim Crow ancestors to teach them about their forebears as individuals, not via their relationship to whites (that will come later). I’ve also invested in books like “I Like Myself,” “The Skin I’m In” and “The Colors of Us” to teach them about all the variations in the human race and among people of color. I want them to understand that their lives will be enriched by diversity, not by forced field trips to where the Negroes live. We break out the globe frequently and I teach them about Africa and England, the two places I know figure in my bloodline. I ask them to get Daddy to tell them about their Scottish and Norwegian heritage, but I doubt he does. No matter, the world will teach them about their whiteness.

My attitude on all this will undoubtedly evolve with time and my kids will come home with more and more questions about being black. I still don’t know what to do with the more exclusionary facets of our culture, like Ebonics or “on the black man’s side.” I don’t know whether I’m begrudging them their blackness or sparing them baggage that might hold them back, but we’ve got time. I look forward to it, because, like the T shirt says, if you love something, set it free. I grew up black. They’re growing up multiracial citizens of the world, born to two cultures, neither more worthy or intrinsically interesting than the other. Because passing for black is no better than passing for white.

-- By Debra J. Dickerson

Posted by Nuttshell on 03/06 at 03:37 PM
Blogging • (0) CommentsPermalink

Sunday, March 04, 2007

new website

check out the new site for

ive been a busy boy

Posted by bbeard on 03/04 at 05:00 PM
Blogging • (3) CommentsPermalink

Friday, March 02, 2007

Girlfriends and Relationships

Girlfriends and Relationships

When you are in them, sometimes seems like you are stuck

You think I’m doing the right thing but then you look around and wonder
Wasn’t I in a better place before you came along? 

I was told relationships and friendships are a lot of work
You only get out of it what you put into it
And anything worth having is worth working for, heard that one just yesterday on the radio
All those old cliché’s

But who’s listening to them anyway

If relationships are about partnerships can you tell the partner because they just don’t get it.

Seems like you do all the work and give, and conform and try to change who you are to make them happy. I mean what should be 50/50 has now turned into 80/20 or even 95/5.

But still late at night I’m listening as one of my girlfriends calls with the latest drama about one of their relationships and how their partner did them wrong.  How I try to be a sympathetic ear but after the 4th time this has happened in 3 years it becomes hard.

You try to give sound advice and tell them maybe its not always that person maybe there is something in you.  But then that friend turns on you. But if you really think about it, you are the one calling disturbing me when I have to get up the next morning to rant about all the back bending you are doing in your relationship and how your partner is never there for you, and it’s the same conversation year after year.

But what do you really get in return for all your back bending?

An ulcer!  And you are giving me one too just listening to you!

Why? Because of the stress of not being able to be who you really are putting all that work into something that in the end you shouldn’t have been working for anyway because guess what….

They weren’t the one.

Funny how you get with all the bad ones and the sad ones before you find the right one then have to be hit over the head with a brick to be able to tell they are the one, because you don’t recognize the good ones when they are staring you in the face.

Why can’t that one person willing to make the relationship work be wearing a sign that says

“Here I am!”

Would make life and relationships easier don’t you think?  At least for me then I could go back to sleep!

© March 2, 2007 Alondra Reid

Posted by loni on 03/02 at 03:43 PM
Poetry • (0) CommentsPermalink


I was feeling my muse as I do sometimes and well you will understand.


What is beauty?
Is it skin deep? Is it the color of skin, the texture of hair, the shape of hips, bulging biceps?

What is beauty?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder or so they say.
But who says what beauty is anyway

Beauty could be the sunrise
Birds flying across the sky

Beauty could be a baby’s smile and the light in their parent’s eye.

What is beauty?

Is there a real definition or meaning?
Who’s to say that what is beautiful to me may not be beautiful to others or others shouldn’t think it beautiful.
Who determines the worth of beauty?

Is beauty a standard by which we all must live and strive to achieve or are we content to be happy with who we are and find beauty every day around us.

What is beauty other than a standard that some shallow man or woman somewhere decided to judge the world by to see if we all can measure up.

Beauty to me is a state of mind, because beauty can be found in the smallest and simplest of places

Beauty is in a kiss, a look, the sky, the earth, people

Beauty is God and it is love. Beauty is what the world is made of
If everyone conformed to a standard what type of world would this be?

One without beauty.

© March 2, 2007 Alondra Reid

Posted by loni on 03/02 at 03:07 PM
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Sundial on a cloudy day.

What else can I say?

Posted by SPN on 03/02 at 12:29 PM
PhotographyHigh School Memories • (0) CommentsPermalink

Pool Shark in Shreveport LA around 1982


Posted by SPN on 03/02 at 11:21 AM
PhotographyHigh School Memories • (2) CommentsPermalink
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