Black History Month Edition: Ron DeSantis Doesn’t Want Blacks to Vote; The NFL Doesn't Want Blacks to Coach; Death by Fashion; Miseducation of Black History, and Billie Holiday Sings
My thoughts on the top--and top-ish--stories in this week's political, sports, and pop culture news.
Much of my newsletters focus on how politics and popular culture treat marginalized people because how marginalized people are treated affects the well-being of all people. That treatment defines who we all are as Americans—and as human beings.
Most marginalized groups are individually small compared to the entire population. Latinx are 18.7%; Blacks 12.1%; AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) 6.2%. Whites are 57.8%. The total of these marginalized groups is 37%. U.S. adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or something other than straight or heterosexual are at 7.1%, though they are part of all groups.
How we are portrayed in the news, movies, TV shows, and songs is as important as the laws that are passed because this contributes to how the rest of population—even other marginalized groups—perceive us. That perception can either make us more welcome or further alienate us. It can reveal to people their biases and change them, or it can justify their biases, which then remain the same.
A U.S. News & World Report and The Harris Poll showed that more than 40% of Americans deny that systemic racism exists in the U.S. While 47% of White Americans didn’t believe systemic racism existed, more than 80% of Black or African American did, as well as more than 70% of Asian or Pacific Islander respondents and nearly 70% of Hispanics.
The only thing about this poll that surprises me is that it wasn’t 100% of Blacks, AAPI, and Hispanics acknowledging systemic racism. Not only do they experience it on a daily basis, but the evidence is daily in the news: “25 simple charts to show friends and family who aren't convinced racism is still a problem in America” (Business Insider); “Studies find evidence of systemic racial discrimination across multiple domains in the United States” (Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies); “Systemic racism: individuals and interactions, institutions and society” (SpringerOpen).
Denying the existence of systemic racism is pretty much like denying the existence of electricity. Yet, one can understand the panic among some White politicians who have seen the future—and that future is a few shades darker than them. By 2044, the U.S. population is expected to be majority non-White. Finally, a true Melting Pot.
Black History Month is important because it’s an opportunity as a community to celebrate our accomplishments and our common cultural experience. But it’s also an opportunity to show the rest of the country a more realistic portrait of who we are, what we go through, and what we want. This is especially important at a time when politicians like Florida governor Ron DeSantis are trying to erase our participation in government through voting restrictions and belittle our contributions to this country by censoring education.
But the Black community has heard it all before and has not been deterred. We live, learn, love—and fight back. Always have. Always will. Today’s special Black History Month edition of “Kareem Reacts to the News” is part of that tradition.
Politics: Ron DeSantis Doesn’t Want Blacks to Vote
Voters’ mail-in ballot requests cancelled as Florida passes new voting restrictions (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Hundreds of thousands of Florida voters had their requests for mail-in ballots cancelled last month, a consequence of a new law championed by Ron DeSantis.
“The change is part of a suite of new restrictions on voting by mail – including new identification requirements and ballot drop box limits – Republicans passed after the 2020 election. Previously, Florida voters could elect to automatically receive a mail-in ballot for every election for up to four years. The new measure cancelled nearly all of the standing requests on file at the end of 2022. Voters can also now only request to automatically receive a mail-in ballot for up to two years.”
MY TAKE: Experts believe that Florida’s new regulations, which are complicated and many people don’t know about, will result in a million fewer people voting—mostly the old, the poor, and people of color. This is Jim Crow legislation under the guise of fixing a voting system that not only wasn’t broken, but was praised for its efficiency and integrity.
The only way to reverse this open and relentless attempt to disenfranchise Black voters is to show up at the next election and vote out of office the Republicans who have endorsed this racism. If they succeed in taking away our voice and power, it will only encourage them to pass more laws to marginalize and silence us.
Sports: Black Can Crack
The NFL Doesn’t See Color—Unless They’re Hiring Coaches
While I’m happy that we had two Black quarterbacks in the Super Bowl—a giant leap forward—I don’t want that to be a distraction from other areas where the NFL is deliberately biased.
Mahomes v Hurts: America’s fear of a Black quarterback begins to fade (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “…Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts brace for this Sunday’s Super Bowl – and in the last state to observe Martin Luther King’s birthday, to boot. Though they figure to be forever yoked as the first Black quarterbacks to face each other in a Super Bowl no matter who wins, the history they’re poised to make has yet to touch off a media frenzy. In one sense, that’s progress.
“…This year’s Super Bowl is more than mere validation of the Black quarterback. It’s proof of their evolution into a proper institution. It used to be that a Black quarterback had to be an otherworldly talent (Michael Vick, Cam Newton) or an undeniable one (McNabb, Warren Moon) for teams to justify a starting spot for them. Now, it’s plain common sense. Four years ago the Baltimore Ravens were in a long post-championship swoon, and coach John Harbaugh appeared as good as gone. To save his neck, Harbaugh benched Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco and elevated Lamar Jackson, then just a rookie out still figuring out the game, and the Ravens have been AFC threats ever since.”
MY TAKE: Seeing these two Black quarterbacks battle it out in the Super Bowl was a bright spot in an otherwise dim year for the NFL’s image. I clearly remember years ago when sports writers, fans, and owners openly claimed that Black football players were not smart enough or not leaders enough to be quarterbacks (“Not their fault, just in their nature.”). Naturally, the racist naysayers were proven wrong and today we like to believe that kind of idiotic thinking is a thing of the past (“Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes Had to Disprove a Misconception”).
And so we celebrate.
Not so fast. Remember how after Obama was elected president there were many loud proclamations how that was proof the U.S. was not systemically racist. The daily lives of Black people in health, education, jobs, and police interaction proved differently. So did dozens of studies. Hate crimes have been on the rise, with almost 70% of them being based on race or ethnic background. The levels are higher today than they’ve been since the 1990s (“Report: Hate Crimes Increased in Several Major US Cities in 2022”).
Yes, we should rejoice that Black quarterbacks are finally being judged for the content of their game rather than the color of their skin. Not so for coaches, though. NFL owners still are treating them like field hands—disposable and easily replaced.
How NFL teams use Black coaches to clean up their messes (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: “…The experiences of Black interim coaches call into question whether the Panthers will consider Wilks a legitimate candidate. Though Black coaches are vastly underrepresented among the league’s head coaches and coordinators, they have historically been better represented among the league’s interim coaches, The Post found. The trend echoes a corporate America phenomenon known as the ‘glass cliff,’ in which women and people of color are called on to lead in times of crisis.
“It also, some Black NFL veterans said, allows teams to get credit for hiring Black leaders when the stakes are low. “It might pad some of those stats” that measure the league’s diversity, said Terry Robiskie, a Black former coach who twice served as an interim coach but never received a full-time job. He said his interim stints should not count when the league tallies its Black head coaches.
“…Typically inheriting losing teams midseason, interim coaches rarely perform well, amassing a combined winning percentage of .347 since 1990. For White coaches, The Post found, performing this poorly appears to have little impact on their ability to turn their interim experience into a full-time job: Ten of 32 White interims who replaced full-time coaches midseason were promoted to the permanent job, with a combined winning percentage of just .361.
“For Black coaches, though, the bar is higher. Just three of 14 Black interim coaches, not including Wilks this season, were retained on a permanent basis — and all three led their struggling teams to records of .500 or better.”
HOW THE NFL BLOCKS BLACK COACHES (The Washington Post)
SUMMARY: Despite the league’s end-zone pledge to ‘END RACISM,’ Black coaches continue to be denied top jobs in a league in which nearly 60 percent of the players are Black.
“It is a glaring shortcoming for the NFL, one highlighted by the findings of an investigation by The Washington Post. Black coaches tend to perform about as well as White coaches, The Post found. But while White candidates are offered a vast and diverse set of routes to the league’s top coaching jobs, Black coaches face a much narrower set of paths. They have had to serve significantly longer as mid-level assistants, are more likely to be given interim jobs than full-time ones and are held to a higher standard when it comes to keeping their jobs.”
MY TAKE: The stats prove that Black coaches are at least as effective as White coaches, so why is it so hard for them to get the job? “What’s the criteria [for hiring a coach]?” asked Leslie Frazier, defensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills. “Sometimes it’s because he’s ‘a great leader.’ Sometimes it’s because he ‘came up the same way I came up.’ But the common theme … is [an owner is going] to hire someone that looks like that owner.”
The NFL claims it’s not their fault because they don’t do the hiring. Despite exhaustive efforts to promote diversity, Troy Vincent, a former all-pro and now the league’s executive vice president of football operations, explained, “We’re still dealing with America’s original sin — slavery — and the misconception of who Black men are. So we’re just trying different things.”
Year after year, it’s the same excuses. Every time a Black person is wrongfully killed by the police, the NFL and teams do something PR-worthy to prove their commitment to equality. Anything but actually hire Black people to do jobs they have proven themselves capable of doing.
Health: Death by Fashion
Dozens of lawsuits claim hair relaxers cause cancer and other health problems (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Nearly 60 lawsuits claiming hair relaxer products sold by L’Oréal and other companies cause cancer and other health problems will be consolidated in a Chicago federal court, according to a Monday order from the US judicial panel on multidistrict litigation.
“[T]he products…use chemicals to permanently straighten textured hair…. The lawsuits allege the companies knew their products contained dangerous chemicals but marketed and sold them anyway.
“‘We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70, but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%,’ study leader Alexandra White of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Safety said in a statement.
“Uterine cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer in the US, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with rates rising, particularly among Black women… [T]housands of women could end up suing over the products, which are typically marketed to women of color.”
MY TAKE: Black hair has always been a focal point in civil rights. Activist Angela Davis is perhaps one of the most recognizable Black women whose lush afro was a direct assault against White beauty ideals. In 1972, a study of Black teens in St. Louis showed that 90% of young men and 40% of young women wore their hair naturally. The same trend was seen throughout the country. Almost immediately, afros were banned in some work places and lawsuits ensued. And they are still going on today (“How Natural Black Hair at Work Became a Civil Rights Issue”).
Director Regina Kimbell’s 2010 film My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage documented the history and politics around natural black hair in the U.S. Maya Angelou was one of the producers of Good Hair (2009), focused on the economics of black women buying weaves and perming their hair. A line often quoted from the film is from comedian Paul Mooney: “If your hair is relaxed, they are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they are not happy.”
The allegation here is that L’Oréal has a product that causes cancer and that they knowingly marketed it mostly to women of color. Straightening hair is a throwback to when Black women thought they would be more attractive and accepted if they looked like White women. Black men also used to conk their hair using dangerous lye-based products. Marcus Garvey warned against the practice: “Don’t remove the kinks from your hair! Remove them from your brain!”
Whatever the reason, it’s a life-threatening practice that we don’t want to pass down to our children.
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Kareem’s Video Break
This scene from the movie Tap (1989) features some of the greatest tap dancers ever: Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, Sammy Davis Jr., Jimmy Slyde, Sandman Simms and one of the Nicholas brothers. This shows why tap dancing is such a joyous and celebratory form of art.
Education: Reading, Writing, and Racism
The War Against Educating Blacks and Teaching About Blacks in Education
Blacks are under fire from all fronts of education. As you will read below, Black students trying to get a college education face a much rougher road than White students, often due to economic pressures. At the same time, Republicans are waging an unrelenting campaign against including much of Black history, art, literature, and other accomplishments in order to appeal to conservatives who don’t want their children learning how influential Blacks have been to the country’s history, or how badly they’ve been treated in the past. Dehumanizing Black achievements makes it easier for White constituents to continue to feel superior while marginalizing Blacks’ rights.
High costs and discrimination: US study details obstacles for Black students (The Guardian)
SUMMARY: “Black students have lower six-year completion rates for any kind of degree or certificate program than students in any other racial or ethnic group, a new study has found.
“According to the study by Gallup and Lumina Foundation, which was released on Thursday, Black students must contend with various challenges to completing post-secondary programs including high costs and racial discrimination.
“Black students in the least racially diverse programs are more likely to feel discriminated against or physically or psychologically unsafe, the study found. Among all post-secondary institutions, 21% of currently enrolled Black students said they ‘frequently’ or ‘occasionally’ felt discriminated against.”
MY TAKE: Direct discrimination by teachers, administrators, and peers is only a part of the problem. Black students are less likely to finish their bachelor’s degree than other groups partially because they are twice as likely to be caregivers or have full-time jobs. Because of these economic challenges, some for-profit schools target struggling Black students by signing them up for high-interest loans for inferior programs. Black students desperate for a degree in the hopes of bettering themselves and their families dig themselves into a deeper debt hole.
Education has always been a major cornerstone to marginalized people claiming their rightful place, power, and voice in society. The deck may be stacked against Black students, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change decks. To counter this set-up for failure, colleges and universities need to be more flexible in offering classes online that fit with work schedules. Also, predatory for-profit schools need to be more closely regulated. Finally, school counselors have to be more aggressive in actively advising Black students how to formulate a realistic plan to achieve an education, while taking into consideration their circumstances.
Our role doesn’t end when we send them off to college—it just begins.
College Board CEO asked to resign over AP African American Studies curriculum changes (USA Today)
SUMMARY: “The back-and-forth between Florida and the College Board continued this week with the circulation of documents suggesting the state and company had been in talks well before the release of guidelines for the new AP African American Studies course.
“The College Board – a nonprofit with immense clout over the country's education system, overseeing the entire Advanced Placement program as well as the SAT college admissions exam and its precursor the PSAT – has insisted that Florida officials had little influence over the revised framework.
“Now, some organizations including the National Black Justice Coalition are calling for the longtime head of the College Board, David Coleman, to step down.
“An updated outline of the course this month excludes or de-emphasizes topics including reparations and Black Lives Matter, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had criticized as woke indoctrination, vowing to ban the course from the state's classrooms. Certain well-known Black authors, such as Kimberlé Crenshaw and Angela Davis and others associated with topics including critical race theory, were also absent from the new guidelines.”
MY TAKE: I remember how hard we fought back in the ‘60s and ‘70s to get African American Studies included in curriculum. We also struggled for schools to hire more Black professors to teach these course, not because skin color matters when teaching historical facts, but because Black students needed to see more Black role models. They needed to be inspired by Black intellectuals to know that academics was a possible career path for them. Just as today we try to promote more STEM education in order to teach Black children that there are career opportunities in science for them.
I never thought we’d now be fighting to maintain the integrity of such courses just because a few politicians want to pander to racists who don’t like being reminded of White culpability in slavery, lynching, and the Civil War. My ancestors didn’t participate in the genocide of Native Americans, but as an American I still feel some responsibility for our collective actions. Feeling compassion and taking responsibility for awful actions your country did in the past is a way of avoiding making these mistakes in the future. Ignoring them is guaranteeing we’ll repeat our mistakes.
AP courses are only the beginning. Anyone who wants our children to grow up with a worthwhile and accurate education needs to fight these policies of exclusion in our schools, especially at the state and local level. It does our children no good to have them be less informed than the children from other states who’ll they’ll be competing against for jobs. And it does our country no good to promote such blatant racism that demeans Black people’s history and achievements.
ALSO READ: “The College Board Strips Down Its A.P. Curriculum for African American Studies” (The New York Times)
Music: When the Blues Aren’t Dark Enough
Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit” Live 1959
“Strange Fruit” is one of the most powerful and dark songs ever written about the cruelty humans inflict on one another. The song about the lynching of Blacks in the South is sometimes called the beginning of the civil rights movement.
One of the things I like most about the song is that it was originally written by a Jewish teacher and songwriter Abel Meeropol, who used to perform it with his wife in folk venues in the 1930s. The collaboration between a Jewish teacher and a Black jazz singer symbolizes to me the support all marginalized people need to give each other to achieve equality for all.
Billie Holiday recorded “Strange Fruit” in 1939 and it has since been named by Time magazine as “Best Song of the Century.” Holiday feared a violent backlash but performed it anyway in memory of her father who died because he was refused treatment at a White hospital.
The version I included is the 1959 version, twenty years after she first recorded it. The early version displays all the polished skills of Holiday’s magnificent voice: the clarity, the sharp edges hiding behind a slow drawl. But the later version reveals less artifice and more emotion. We can see on her face and feel in her voice the disappointment that so little had changed in that twenty years. Yet, it would take another 63 years for lynching to be finally be federally outlawed (“Lynching is now a federal hate crime after a century of blocked efforts”). No wonder she sang the blues.
We ain't got no legs? Oh Sammy. The greatest entertainer, multi-talented showman ever. What a great clip!
To those whose comments today seem to deny the racism that is so pervasive - where do you live? Where is your brain? Most importantly, where is your heart? There are more opportunities for people of color, but there are still more dangers. The abuse of the word WOKE is because so few people know its real meaning. How would you feel if everytime you walked out of your home imminent danger was lurking? Or DWB? Knowing that your life was always in a precarious situation. Denial of the truth doesn't make it go away. A lie repeated a thousand times is still a lie. You think what Desantis & others are doing to restrict the vote is nothing & meaningless? It is a SYSTEMATIC denial of rights. Teaching only what the governor agrees with will not bring about enlightenment.
Strange Fruit indeed. Ode to Billie Holiday. There are so many sad & horrible stories. It's not just the things Kareem has written, but the daily occurrences that befall people of color.
There should be a rule. Everyone should be either in an interracial relationship or marriage. The children produced will be interracial. See how that would work.
Kareem. Thank you for your words & your foundation to bring about better education & hope for the future. Good health, love & respect to you always.
"Ron DeSantis doesn't want Black people to vote." Kareem I would love to have a deep one on one conversation with you. I have had so much respect for you over the last 50+ years that I am equally puzzled by your nonsensical comments. Highlighting policies that you believe are detrimental is fair game and this is a great platform for that. Making statements effectively calling Ron DeSantis a racist is very different and honestly you better be prepared to back that up which you haven't.
We as a society have lost the capacity to "agree to disagree." Case in point it seems that every time that Governor DeSantis has a policy or a position that is contrary to your world view your approach is to say he is a racist instead of debating the issue at hand and making your case. Yes this is your platform, yes a blog by definition is a one directional platform to share your beliefs on any given topic, bravo.
There are a lot of clowns out there pushing their own agendas of self promotion and will ring that bell repeatedly regardless of what is the truth. You've always been a man of integrity and I expect more.