Media

~Stigmas, Formerly Incarcerated, will we ever get a real reprieve to live a normal life?~

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“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker … but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.” ― Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Michelle Jones served 20 years in prison for a heinous crime: murdering her 4-year-old son. During her two decades behind bars, Ms. Jones compiled a record of accomplishment that would be remarkable even for someone who had never been locked up. She published a scholarly article on the first prisons for women in the United States. She wrote a play that will open in December in an Indianapolis theater. She led a team of incarcerated women whose efforts won the Indiana Historical Society’s prize for best research project for 2016. Not best research project by prisoners. Best project. Period.

All of this helped Ms. Jones gain admission to N.Y.U.’s doctoral program in American studies, where she started last week. But Ms. Jones’s stunning record wasn’t good enough for top administrators at Harvard University, as this paper reported on Thursday. In a rare move, they overturned the history department’s admission recommendation and rejected Ms. Jones.

Ms. Jones’s remarkable story put me in mind of a similar one — that of Reginald Dwayne Betts, the Yale Law graduate whose initial application to the Connecticut bar was recently rejected. Mr. Betts, who was convicted of carjacking in 1996 when he was 16, went on to astonishing success after his release in 2005, including publishing three books, being admitted to a Ph.D. program and being accepted to all of the nation’s top law schools. Yet as he continues to pursue admission to the bar, it’s clear that what matters most is the crime he committed as a teenager.

Cases like that of Ms. Jones and Mr. Betts come at an inflection point in the nation’s history. After 50 years of prison building, more and more Americans are expressing doubts about the harsh policies that have made this country the world’s largest jailer. At the same time, some of the people who have spent serious time in our jails have such impressive resumes that they are penetrating the world of the elite. For so long, the world of “us” never touched the world of “them” in many corners of American society. Because of people like Michelle Jones, that is changing.

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What will the gatekeepers of privilege do when confronted with gold-star applicants who have a criminal record? Harvard’s answer — you can never outlive your crime — is an affront to a first-rate candidate and brings shame on those responsible.

But Harvard’s rejection of Ms. Jones (and my university, Yale, rejected her as well, though the reasons remain unclear) is more than that. It reveals the truth about why mass punishment persists and the lie we are telling ourselves about the possibility of redemption.

Here’s the thing about harsh justice in America. More and more people criticize it, but most eagerly shift the blame for who is responsible. I saw this repeatedly in California, where I just spent a year living and teaching. I lost count of the number of conversations I had with colleagues and friends about criminal justice in which somebody bemoaned the state of affairs in “the Trump states.” I responded by bringing up the fact that California led the prison-building movement in the 1980s and ’90s, and would share stories about a visit to San Quentin prison, located just across the water from San Francisco, where I met dozens of men serving life sentences. Nobody from the Trump states put them there, or is keeping them there, I would say. That’s on California voters and their elected officials. That’s on you.

I suspect that the administrators and professors who helped block Ms. Jones’s admission are a lot like my friends in Connecticut and California. They consider themselves liberal, and they think mass incarceration is a problem. Somebody’s else’s problem. Blame the judges, prosecutors, legislators, police, probation officers, prison guards. Just not us.

But rejecting an overwhelmingly qualified candidate like Michelle Jones for no reason other than her criminal record sends a clear message from the bastion of liberalism on the banks of the Charles: If something is to be done to make America more just and merciful, somebody else is supposed to do it.

It also exposes the way that our unforgiving system of justice has touched all of our institutions. In court, judges tell people that their conviction carries a sentence of years, or probation. The truth is far more terrible. People convicted of crimes often become social outcasts for life, finding it difficult or impossible to rent an apartment, get a job, adopt children, access public benefits, serve on juries or vote.

As eager as I am to champion Ms. Jones’s cause, I do so with one crucial caveat. Michelle Jones and Reginald Dwayne Betts capture our attention because of their extraordinary accomplishments. As compelling as their stories are, we cannot let these exceptional people become the standard by which we judge somebody returning from prison. You shouldn’t need to win awards from a state historical society to gain admission to a Ph.D. program, and admission to the bar shouldn’t be reserved for those who write three books and obtain multiple degrees.

Mass incarceration and its never-ending human toll will be with us until we come to see that no crime justifies permanent civic death. N.Y.U.’s acceptance of Michelle Jones is an example of an institution leading the way toward a more forgiving nation. Harvard’s rejection of her shows just how far we still have to go.

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“The stigmatized individual is asked to act so as to imply neither that his burden is heavy nor that bearing it has made him different from us; at the same time he must keep himself at that remove from us which assures our painlessly being able to confirm this belief about him. Put differently, he is advised to reciprocate naturally with an acceptance of himself and us, an acceptance of him that we have not quite extended to him in the first place. A PHANTOM ACCEPTANCE is thus allowed to provide the base for a PHANTOM NORMALCY.” ― Erving GoffmanStigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

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~We Can Turn Mass Incarceration Around~

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You Just Got Out of
Prison. Now What?

A Cycle of Poverty and Incarceration

Poverty is the largest driving force behind what the Children’s Defense Fund calls the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline.” Most of the individuals entering the criminal justice system are at a financial disadvantage; about 60 percent of intakes into the state and federal prison systems report annual incomes under $12,000. These low incomes reflect higher rates of unemployment and the unavailability of decent jobs for people who lack a college education. During the past four decades, most of the growth in lifetime risk of imprisonment was concentrated among men who had not been to college. For many of these men, prison has become a normal part of life. According to the National Research Council, among African American men born in the late 1970s and who dropped out of high school, 70 percent have served time in state or federal prison. For white and Latino men in the same cohort, the rates of imprisonment are 28 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

Incarceration sharply curtails the economic prospects of individuals and the communities to which they return. In 2011, nearly 700,000 people were released from either a state or federal prison, and most faced a multitude of challenges on returning to “free” society. Parents with minor children may have accumulated years’ worth of child-support arrears or had their parental rights rescinded. With few assets besides the “gate money” provided at release (usually between $50 and $200), those who have been disconnected from friends and family face uncertain housing and homelessness.

Upon release from prison, returning citizens have few opportunities for work that will be satisfying and provide a living wage. The National Research Council reports that up to one-half of former prisoners remain jobless for up to a year after their release. Barriers to employment associated with having a criminal record include restrictions on licenses in certain professions and the loss of personal and professional contacts while incarcerated. People of color with a criminal record have a particularly difficult time finding a job, especially one that enables them to invest in their futures, in part because of the stigma that attaches to a record. Blacks without criminal histories experience job callback rates closely matching those of whites with a felony conviction.The National Research Council report suggests that “pervasive contact with the criminal justice system has consequences for racial stratification that extend well beyond individuals behind bars.”

Mass incarceration also has a significant impact on U.S. poverty rates. Had it not been for the dramatic rise in incarceration rates between 1980 and 2004, researchers estimate that the poverty rate would have fallen by about 2.8 percentage points, instead of dropping by only 0.3 percentage points. This translates into several million fewer people living in poverty.

Systems of Disinvestment Have Led to Increased Incarceration

Many people affected by the criminal justice system grew up in communities with schools and other public institutions that failed them. As states were dramatically increasing funding for corrections, they were simultaneously cutting or not raising funding for social and government services targeting poverty, such as public assistance, transportation, and education. State spending per prisoner is three times that per public school student, and prison costs exceed spending on higher education in some states. These patterns exemplify the pattern of disinvestment contributing to mass incarceration. Communities of color have borne the brunt of this emphasis on incarceration at the expense of education. Researchers have documented vastly disproportionate incarceration and criminalization of people of color, particularly black men. While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for more than 60 percent of those imprisoned. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that one-third of male African-American children born in 2001 can expect to serve time in prison at some point in their lives, compared to 17.2 percent of Hispanics and 5.9 percent of whites; 5.6 percent of black women born in 2001 are likely to go to prison at some point in their lives, but only 0.9 percent of white women and 2.2 percent of Hispanic women.

At the same time, disinvestment in education, particularly in low-income communities of color, has reduced social mobility and limited access to the social capital needed to revitalize those communities. Incarceration’s reach has now grown too big to ignore, with stratification researchers characterizing incarceration as a powerful engine of social inequality.

Mass incarceration has, in the words of Todd Clear in Imprisoning Communities, “made disadvantaged communities worse.” Patrick Sharkey, in Stuck in Place, for example, links the high rates of incarceration with concentrated poverty and marginalization, racial stigmatization, and lack of investment and resources that are fundamental both for the positive development of children and the mobility of adults. The Justice Mapping Center has mapped the concentration of incarceration rates in disadvantaged communities all around the country: millions of dollars per neighborhood are spent to imprison residents of these communities.

We Can Turn This Around: The Transformative Potential of Investing in Individuals, Families, and Communities

The struggles people face when returning home, including returning to the same context that led to prison, increase the chance that they will give up on the struggle to achieve long-term financial stability through lawful means. But a movement to reverse this tide has emerged. Driven largely by directly affected communities and supported by the contributions of the academic community, this movement links the need for fundamental reform of the criminal justice system with the need for change in the public policies that have underinvested in low-income communities of color and over invested in the criminal justice system. These advocacy organizations and networks include the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, JustLeadershipUSA, and the New York Reentry Education Network. They are joined by a surprising convergence of public figures across the political spectrum, including Tony-winning composers, political conservatives, and President Obama.

Through this work, we have seen the transformative power of investing in people and communities. By investment, we mean both building financial stability and increasing capacity through education, social capital, and meaningful employment so people can provide adequately for themselves and their families. These forms of investment kindle hope among the formerly incarcerated (many of whom did not believe they even had a future) and enable positive contributions to families and communities. Providing resources, support, and capacity enables people affected by incarceration to invest in their futures and to become actively engaged in the effort to rebuild their communities.

Education is a key component of this investment strategy. Just as lack of educational opportunity increases the likelihood of poverty and incarceration, access to high-quality education plays a critical role in facilitating mobility. One study showed that almost all soon-to-be-released prisoners reported needing more education (94 percent) and job training (82 percent), while the need for a driver’s license (83 percent) ranked higher than the need for employment (80 percent). The link between lack of education and recidivism is strong. A bachelor’s degree reduces the likelihood of returning to prison to 5.6 percent, in contrast to 66 percent for those without a BA. For those with a master’s degree, the recidivism rate drops to less than 1 percent.

Programs such as College and Community Fellowship (CCF) have proved successful in supporting the formerly incarcerated as they move along the path to higher education. CCF supports women affected by the criminal justice system in pursuing a college degree by enveloping them and their families in support services while they complete their degree. CCF was the first reentry-based organization to use postsecondary education as its core strategy for moving women out of marginalized subsistence and into mainstream society. In addition to achieving an extremely low recidivism rate, these programs give people a sense of hope, a belief in the future, and a willingness to invest in themselves, their families, and their communities.

Early in its history, CCF noticed that students needed to build their financial capability to succeed in college and beyond. They found that their students held many misconceptions about financial management and lacked confidence to control their financial lives. These insights triggered a series of efforts to help students address their financial needs.

CCF first introduced a student debt and financial aid counseling program and later added credit counseling services. In 2013, CCF joined The Financial Clinic’s New Ground Initiative, a capacity-building initiative that helps New York City reentry programs embed financial development in their services. The New Ground Initiative focuses on improving the lives of formerly incarcerated individuals through a combination of financial development strategies that help build financial security and improve financial mobility. The New Ground Initiative trained all counselors working with students at CCF to integrate “financial development” strategies into their conversations and build financial awareness and training into all services. The Financial Clinic’s approach invites all staff to begin with their own personal financial security as a way to build this capacity.

Financial training provides CCF’s students with the tools they need to make sound financial choices and build assets. In one year of the New Ground Initiative, CCF pulled credit reports for 100 percent of participants and organized debt for more than 150 participants, including student loan debt. CCF staff worked with program participants to address defaulted student loans, pay down credit card debt, and increase credit scores. CCF also sets goals with 100 percent of participants and works with them to open bank accounts and develop spending and savings plans. By embedding financial development into their existing services, CCF is better able to provide their students with the tools they need to succeed and ensure the sustainability of financial development practices as a central part of CCF’s service delivery model.

CCF’s work with students also uncovered an important advocacy issue. For-profit colleges were using predatory practices to target individuals with records. Deterring these practices is now part of The Financial Clinic’s policy agenda.

As we move into a more progressive bipartisan era of criminal justice policy, we must not relegate those who have been affected by criminal punishment to the economic margins. We must find ways to increase their chances of success by providing reintegration services that offer more than transitional housing, transitional employment, and stopgap medical services. We have the opportunity to embrace a public policy agenda that builds on the successes of programs like CCF.

The climate of public policy reform in the criminal justice sphere has taken on new energy in the past few years. An investment-oriented strategy would build postsecondary education and financial capability services into the design of reforms aimed at reducing incarceration and facilitating successful reintegration. Too often, reentry programs and policies aimed at providing a “second chance” have neglected education, particularly post secondary education, as a core component of funding, program design, and accountability measures.

Building financial capability should also be a mainstay of criminal justice and educational initiatives. Promising policy directions include President Obama’s announcement in July 2015 of an Experimental Sites Initiative, restoring Pell grants for groups of incarcerated students around the country. This initiative was spurred, in part, by the leadership of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition, a national nonpartisan group advocating for access to higher education inside prisons. This kind of investment enables the United States to reduce incarceration and equip individuals, families, and communities with the tool to rebuild their lives and realize their potential.

So many people come out with so many good intentions. And every door is slammed on them… When you’re told no at the employment line, when you’re told no trying to get back to your family, or you’re told no because this community is unaccepting of you — you try to figure out where you belong. And for many, sometimes it becomes rough and you resort to that old stuff.
— College and Community Fellowship student

I can’t tell you how many formerly incarcerated people or poor people or people of color wouldn’t… invest a dollar to get $150 because you have to believe you’re going to be here at 65 to want to put away even a dollar for your future.
— Formerly incarcerated leader

On Quest for Democracy Day at the capitol in Sacramento, April 27, 2015, 250 people split up into 30 teams to visit legislators’ offices to advocate for legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and their communities.

Our Formerly Incarcerated Quest for Democracy (Q4D) Day continues to grow and evolve. This year we had over 250 committed people, many of whom were returning from previous years’ Q4D. We had around 30 teams of people advocating on legislation relevant to formerly incarcerated people and our communities.

Grassroots co-sponsors got a chance to educate community members about their bills. And Sen. Holly Mitchell as well as Assemblymembers Reginald Jones-Sawyer and Autumn Burke addressed participants. See the box below showing all the bills we were there to endorse.

It’s important to recognize the larger context of our quest: It is the drive for greater recognition of a class of people for whom democracy looks a lot different. We don’t have a guaranteed right to vote – if we move to another state we could easily lose it. We’re still struggling for the fundamental rights of citizenship, such as the right to sit on juries.

Television( #1 Device Of The Enemy) Black History Reflection

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Considerable public concern has arisen over the issue of media diversity, as it is generally accepted that mass media has strong social and psychological effects on viewers. Film and television, for example, provide many children with their first exposure to people of other races, ethnicities, religions and cultures. What they see onscreen, therefore, can impact their attitudes about the treatment of others. One study found, for instance, that two years of viewing Sesame Street by European-American preschoolers was associated with more positive attitudes toward African and Latino Americans. Another study found that white children exposed to a negative television portrayal of African-Americans had a negative change in attitude toward blacks.

Throughout the 20th Century, minorities have made significant strides towards autonomy and equality in American society. From the right to own land to the right to vote, and further still, the squelching of Jim Crow era segregation in the South. These advances are part of who we are as Americans, yet it seems they have not fully infiltrated the collective whole of American society. Despite the political rights and power that minorities have obtained, the supremacist ideologies and racist beliefs that were indoctrinated into the American psyche are just recently being reversed. However, these ideas that were ingrained in the mindset of Americans for so long have given way to a less conscious variant of segregation. No longer is it the blatant practice upheld by the law and celebrated with hangings and beatings, but instead it is a subtle practice that is the “crown jewel” of the entertainment, media and film industries. We might not see confederate flags flying in parks or signs relegating colored people to separate facilities, but we do see minorities cast as criminals and leeches to “white upper-class” America. It is the Paramount Pictures, NBC’s, ABC’s and Universal Studio’s of the world that are the propagators of the negative stereotypes and inescapable stigmas that many thought were left behind once the shackles of segregation were broken. Unfortunately, they are resurfacing in our sitcoms, newscasts and big screen movies. Historically, the portrayal of minorities in movies and television is less than ideal. Whether its appearing in disparaging roles or not appearing at all, minorities are the victim of an industry that relies on old ideas to appeal to the “majority” at the expense of the insignificant minority.” All blame, however, cannot be placed on the white males who run the industry, for a small number of black entertainers perpetuate these stereotypes as well. Even though they defend their actions as an “insiders look” into the life of a certain minority group, they are guilty of the same offenses that opponents have indicted the media, film and entertainment industries of. We cannot contribute to the viscous cycle that is the unconscious racism of the media, film and entertainment industries; instead we need to break the cycle and formulate a new industry that is more representative of the reality that is American society today.

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“Even today the motion picture has not quite outgrown its immaturity. It still uses talented Negro players to fit into the ~d stereotypes of the loving Mammy and comic servant…”

-Edith J. R. Isaachs in “TheaterArts, “August, 1942

Blacks have been treated as second-class citizens since the inception of this country. Forcibly brought here as slaves to the white man, blacks have never been treated as completely equal to whites. Stereotypes of blacks as lazy, stupid, foolish, cowardly, submissive, irresponsible, childish, violent, sub-human, and animal-like, are rampant in today’s society. These degrading stereotypes are reinforced and enhanced by the negative portrayal of blacks in the media. Black characters have appeared in American films since the beginning of the industry in 1 888. But blacks weren’t even hired to portray blacks in early works. Instead, white actors and actresses were hired to portray the characters while in “blackface.” (http:/www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/open.htm). By refusing to hire black actors to portray black characters, demeaning stereotypes were being created as blacks were presented in an unfavorable light. In addition, blacks were purposely portrayed in films with negative stereotypes that reinforced white supremacy over blacks. This has had a tremendous effect on our society’s view of blacks since motion pictures have had more of an impact on the public mind than any other entertainment medium in the last ninety years. (Sampson 1977; 1)

The media sets the tone for the morals, values, and images of our culture. Many people in this country, some of whom have never encountered black people, believe that the degrading stereotypes of blacks are based on reality and not fiction. Everything they believe about blacks is determined by what they see on television. After over a century of movie making, these horrible stereotypes continue to plague us today, and until negative images of blacks are extinguished from the media, blacks will be regarded as second-class citizens.

We have come a long way since 1914, when Sam Lucas was the first black actor to have a lead role in a movie for his performance in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. 1915 is a significant date in motion picture history because D.W. Griffith released The Birth of a Nation, which supported the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group based predominately in the southern United States, and is possibly the most anti-black film ever made. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked very hard to try to ban the film due to its vicious portrayal of blacks as subhuman compared to the glorified Ku Klux Klan. The Birth of a Nation was important because it led to the creation of a new industry that produced “race films” for African-Americans. (http://www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/introduction.htm) These portrayed blacks in a positive light and 4’ddressed some social concerns of the community. Before “race films,” blacks were nothing more than “shufflin, shiny-faced, head-scratchin’ simpletons with bugged out eyes who leaned on brooms and spoke bad English”, but after the introduction of “race films,” blacks were depicted with more dignity and respect. (http://www.ardmoreite.com/stories/070798/ent_blacks.shtml) In order for blacks to ensure that they would have positive roles and stop reinforcing negative stereotypes through film, they had to make their own movies.

Noble Johnson, born April 18, 1881, in Marshall, MO, died January 9, 1978, in Tucaipa (San Bernadino), CA, was an actor and a producer, appearing in numerous films starting in 1916. On May 24, 1916, Johnson was ambitious enough to create his own movie company and became the president of Lincoln Motion Picture Company. This was the first movie company organized by black filmmakers. The first movie produced by Lincoln Motion Picture Company was The Realization of a Negro ‘5 Ambition and was released in mid 1916. It was the first film produced in America that featured blacks in dramatic non-stereotyped roles. (Sampson 1977; 2) It portrayed a Tuskegee graduate leaving the South and getting an admirable position from a white racist businessman for saving the man’s daughter. The second production was titled A Trooper of Troop K and was released in January of 1917. It attempted to build race pride by “showing that Afro-Americans were allied militarily with Anglo-Americans.” (Rhines 1996; 21) Lincoln Motion Picture Company was an all-black company and was the first company to produce films portraying blacks as real people with real lives. In the past, Blacks had been relegated to roles of slaves, rapists, and stupid buffoons.

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Noble Johnson’s brother, George, was responsible for the marketing of Lincoln. The Johnson brothers wanted the films to cater to a wider audience, but they were primarily booked to play in schools, special venues at churches, and the few “colored only” theaters that existed. By 1920, Lincoln had finished five films. Noble Johnson was split between his acting and producing career and was forced to give up the presidency of the company to pursue a career at Universal. Lincoln productions became so popular and had such high demand that Lincoln management decided not to wait for the returns from the films already produced to make additional films, but accepted an offer for financial backing by a white financier, P.H. Updike. Lincoln attempted to target as wide an audience as possible with their brochure, which read, “The Company will not only produce pictures entertaining to Negroes, but to all races. Our market is as large as we make it; the world is our field…” (http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/Guest/lincoln.htm) Although the ambitious company was very talented, white audiences were simply uninterested at the time and the company was doomed to failure.

Another black-owned independent film company that produced “race movies” was the Micheaux Film Corporation. It was founded in 1918 by Oscar Micheaux, in Chicago, as the “Micheaux Film and Book Company Corporation. Oscar Micheaux was born January 2, 1884, in Metropolis, Illinois. In 1908, at the age of 24, Micheaux began writing novels about his life experiences as a homesteader and the few people that he knew. His first book was The Homesteader, and proved to be immensely popular. Noble and George Johnson approached Mieheaux to purchase the film rights to The Homesteader. Micheaux despised films that portrayed blacks negatively and stereotypically. Micheaux offered to direct his adaptation, but the Johnson brothers refused so Micheaux decided to produce the film himself. His first film, The Homesteader was produced in 1919 and was financed by fellow farmers, who were both black and white. Between 1919 and 1940, Micheaux produced over 35 films covering a wide variety of subjects, including the racism of Jim Crow laws, racial solidarity, assimilation, and the politics of skin color. He offered a wide-ranging look at black life in early ~ America by portraying blacks in melodramas, gangster stories, musicals, and dramas about social problems without resorting to stereotypes. (http://www.mdle.com/ClassieFilms/SpecialFeature/feb597.htm)

Micheaux rejected typical Hollywood roles for blacks. He frequently showed blacks in positions of power, authority, and respectability. He offered fully developed black characters as opposed to the simplistic, cruel stereotypes of mainstream film. On many occasions, he presented controversial subjects, such as lynching, in his films. Much like the Johnson brothers’ films, blacks would only see Micheaux’s films when they were originally released, not society at large. His films were shown in big-city ghetto houses in the North and at segregated theaters in the South as well as black churches, schools, and social organizations. In 1929, “race movies” made by black producers started to die out and Hollywood saw an opportunity. The mainstream movie industry began producing films with black casts for black audiences. The Micheaux Film Corporation ceased operations in the late 1940s, but Micheaux left a legacy – all of his films were independently made and inspired other blacks to be independent. (http://www.mdle.com/ClassicFilms/SpecialFeature/feb597.htm)

The first Hollywood film to feature an all-black cast was Hearts in Dixie, which was produced in 1929 and directed by Paul Sloane for Fox. “This film introduced to wider audiences, one of the film industry’s most polemic figures ever -Stepin Fetchit.” (http://www.moderntimes.comlpalace/black/introduction.htm) In the film, the audience is introduced to the faithful black plantation workers, toiling hard in the fields all day and relaxing at night by singing and dancing. Stepin Fetchit typifies the lazy, but goodnatured slave, unwilling to work, but forgiven for his errant ways. When the white boss playfully” kicks Fetchit in the rear-end, Fetchit grins broadly and winks slyly at the audience. This is an example of the typical screen ‘darkie.” Fetchit, a ‘black clown,” is a ‘good nigger,” lazy and shiftless, yet “all right at heart. Most importantly, he “knows his place. (Noble 1969 [1948]; 50) Fetchit’s depiction of blacks is extremely degrading and demeaning. Blacks across the country were presumed to fit Fetchit’s stereotype of being lazy, stupid, foolish, and yet well intentioned. For those who had never encountered black people before, but had seen a Stepin Fetchit film, they were left with a warped, skewed view of blacks by Fetchit’s performance.

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Stepin Fetchit was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Perry in Key West, Florida, in 1902. He studied for the priesthood before turning to show business. He acquired his name from a racehorse that he won money on, Step and Fetch it.” The first film he appeared in was Show Boat for Universal. Fetchit rocketed to fame with ‘his wide-grinned inanity, shuffling and dawdling,” eternalizing the American concept of the “darkie.” Hearts in Dixie was Fetchit’s first starring role. His immense talent was generally used by the majority to reinforce the stereotype of the lazy, stupid, good-for-nothing Negro. (http://www.moderntimes.com/palace/black/introduction.htm) Most black Americans had a love/hate relationship with Stepin Fetchit. While he was an extremely talented entertainer and a pioneer in the film industry for blacks, at the same time, he reinforced horrible stereotypes of blacks as buffoons. In 1952, the Hollywood movie studios announced that they would stop the casting of Stepin Fetchit characters in future films because they did not want to risk offending blacks. (Sampson 1977; 248-250) Although Hollywood stated that they would not cast Stepin Fetchit characters any longer, this was not entirely true. The stereotype of blacks perpetuated by Fetchit would be present in Hollywood in one form or another for many many years to come.

Even the roles that blacks have in films produced today are sometimes reminiscent of those degrading “darkie” roles that Stepin Fetchit played so well. In the recent comedy, Nothing to Lose, starring Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence, it is abundantly clear that Hollywood has yet to abandon those negative stereotypes of blacks first created in the early 20th century. Robbins plays Nick Beam, a nice ad-executive, who loves his wife dearly. He is “the quintessential white guy, a square straight and narrow, while Lawrence plays the “wise-ass, street-smart black guy.” One day, Nick comes home from work to find his wife in bed with another man. Distraught, he drives the streets of LA aimlessly until he finds himself the victim of an attempted carjacking by Lawrence. (http://www.salonmagazine.som/july97/entertainment/nothing970718.html)

In the film, the white guy lectures the black guy about the immorality of armed robbery (“You are a bad person”) and the black guy ridicules the white guy for his wimpiness (“You don’t have the respect of your woman”). The Hollywood tradeoff is evident. The “white guy gets to be virtuous and the black guy gets to be cool.” Throughout the whole movie, Lawrence plays the part of the court jester sidekick to “Robbins’ lanky aristocrat, trading full humanity and dignity for sassing rights.” Lawrence essentially plays the part of a modern day Stepin Fetchit. In one scene, Lawrence jumps from the car and dances around comically screaming “My ass done fall asleep I dint know an ass could fall asleep!” (http://www.salonmagazine.som/july97/entertainment/nothing970718.html) Lawrence’s character perpetuates the existent negative stereotypes of blacks as buffoons and yet no one seems to notice or mind.

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Negative stereotypes of minorities in film can be found in Hollywood as recently as May 19, 1999, with the release of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.” Many of the extraterrestrial creatures have ethnically tinged caricatures. One character, Jar Jar Binks, has created quite a conflict. An amphibious creature with floppy ears surprisingly similar to Rastafarian dreadlocks, he has a wide nose, bulging eyes, and fat lips, speaks in a Caribbean-style pidgin English and acts as the stupid, bumbling, good-for-nothing sidekick to the Jedi Knights. “Wall Street film critic Joe Morgenstern called Jar Jar ‘a Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with Butterfly Mequcen,”‘ a reference to a slave servant in “Gone with the Wind.” Additionally, “Los Angeles Times critic Eric Harrison said the primitive tribe that Jar Jar belongs to – the Gungan – is ruled by a fat, buffoonish character, seemingly a caricature of a stereotypical African chieftain.”‘ Media arts professor Daniel Bernadi from the University of Arizona is troubled by the role that Jar Jar plays in the movie. “‘He really is sort of your ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy,’ Stepin Fetehit, loyal, bumbling colored other???. Even when he saves the day, he does it by accident, so his heroism is sort of a joke, and what makes it more problematic is he does it in the service of ‘whiteness.”‘ ( The legacy left by Stepin Fetchit is still evident in movies today. Hollywood loves to employ the stereotype of the lazy, loyal, stupid, bumbling, black buffoon. Sub-consciously obsessed with the reinforcement of negative stereotypes of blacks and positive stereotypes of whites, Hollywood may never abandon the “nigger” role in its films.

How Culturally Sound Is America On This Issue?

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Although Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder, witnesses have testified he murdered over 100 babies over three decades. If true, this would rank Gosnell as one of the top five known serial killers worldwide of the 20th and 21st Centuries by victim count.

But if you only tune in to broadcast t.v. news, you will have never even heard the name “Gosnell.” According to an April 4 open letter demanding coverage of the Gosnell trial from 20 conservative leaders:

Since the Gosnell trial began three weeks ago, ABC, CBS, and NBC have given the story ZERO seconds of coverage on either their morning or evening news shows. They have not covered Gosnell once since his arrest in January 2011, and even then, only CBS did so.

Massof, who, like other witnesses, has himself pleaded guilty to serious crimes, testified “It would rain fetuses. Fetuses and blood all over the place.” Here is the headline the Associated Press put on a story about his testimony that he saw 100 babies born and then snipped: “Staffer describes chaos at PA abortion clinic.”

The Washington Post has not published original reporting on this during the trial and The New York Times saw fit to run one original story on A-17 on the trial’s first day. They’ve been silent ever since, despite headline-worthy testimony.

And about that AP story Newsbusters’ Tom Blumer noted something peculiar:

AP has not applied the “abortion” tag to any of its 19 “Big Stories” about Kermit Gosnell.

Thus, anyone who attempts to do a tag search on the AP’s web site looking for uses of “abortion” won’t see anything about Gosnell – but they’ll see all kinds of reports about how mean social conservatives, supposedly backward states, and GOP presidential candidates are trying to curb “reproductive rights.”

If there’s an explanation for this practice other than to deliberately minimize readers’ potential exposure to the horrific practitioners, practices, and procedures in the abortion industry as it really operates, I can’t imagine what it would be.


The verdict is in: the jury found Dr. Kermit Gosnell guilty of first-degree murder – murder of three babies born alive while under his care in a so-called clinic he ran in Philadelphia. Abortionists like Gosnell – and the hypocrites at Planned Parenthood who turned a blind eye to his heinous crimes – are united against the sanctity of life.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday to block a new Alabama law that would force three of the state’s five abortion clinics to shut down. The law, like measures passed in Mississippi and North Dakota that are under challenge, would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Proponents say it will protect patients in emergencies, but the clinics and prominent medical groups call it medically unnecessary and an unconstitutional effort to force the closing of the clinics in Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery, which rely on visiting doctors.

GAO opens investigation into Planned Parenthood’s use of taxpayer money

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office confirmed Thursday it is launching an investigation into how the country’s largest abortion provider spent millions of taxpayer dollars.

Planned Parenthood received more than a half billion dollars in federal funding last year. The GAO’s investigation is in response to a request made by more than 50 members of Congress in February who asked for a detailed report on how money is being used by Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers across the country.

Specifically, lawmakers want to know what procedures and services they provided and the number of people who were served and how much it cost.

The GAO’s investigation comes on the heels of a settlement involving a Texas affiliate of the organization, which paid $4.3 million in July to settle allegations of fraud in billing to a health program for the poor. The settlement was $3 million more than what had been announced earlier by the Texas Attorney General.

The charges were they falsified patient records, fabricated records and billed for services not even provided.

$4.3 million is a drop in the bucket. The reason they settled is they knew they’d be found guilty and didn’t want the negative publicity.

But even if none of this happened, this is NOT something that tax-payers should have to foot the bill for. The government should not be using tax-payer dollars to subsidize baby murder.
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