Thanks to generous supporters on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter, anti-racism activist Tim Wise has raised more than $41,000 for a feature film adaptation of his 2008 book, “White Like Me: Reflections On Race From A Privileged Son.”

A frequent MSNBC guest and lecturer, Wise, 44, has crisscrossed the country to discuss white privilege, racial bias, and discrimination. He wants the film to further the national conversation on race, specifically what it means to be white in this country.

“We live with the legacy of inequality,” Wise says in the trailer, “but also the legacy of obliviousness that allows those in the dominant group to rarely even think about these matters.”

The film is enhanced by an impressive list of scholars, including Princeton’s Imani Perry; Michelle Alexander, who ignited much discussion with her 2012 book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”; Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree and his colleague Nilanjana Dasgupta, who does National Science Foundation-funded research on implicit prejudice.

The film is scheduled to be released in September 2013. Watch the two-minute trailer below and let us know what you think: 

by Rita Dove 

On Trayvon Martin, today I find myself at a loss for words — or rather, I used up all the words in the poem itself. The entire matter is so complex and sorrowful, the implications so insidious and dire, that I could only respond in the way I know best– by taking up one angle of vision, one point of view, and writing out of that moment. To say any more would be redundant and dangerously inaccurate.

Trayvon, Redux

It is difficult/to get the news from poems /yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there./Hear me out/for I too am concerned/and every man/who wants to die at peace in his bed/besides.

William Carlos Williams, “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower”

Move along, you don’t belong here.
This is what you’re thinking.  Thinking
drives you nuts these days, all that
talk about rights and law abidance when
you can’t even walk your own neighborhood
in peace and quiet, get your black ass gone.
You’re thinking again.  Then what?
Matlock‘s on TV and here you are,
vigilant, weary, exposed to the elements
on a wet winter’s evening in Florida
when all’s not right but no one sees it.
Where are they – the law, the enforcers
blind as a bunch of lazy bats can be,
holsters dangling from coat hooks above their desks
as they jaw the news between donuts?

Hey!  It tastes good, shoving your voice
down a throat thinking only of sweetness.
Go on, choke on that.  Did you say something?
Are you thinking again?  Stop! – and
get your ass gone, your blackness,
that casual little red riding hood
Im just on my way home attitude
as if this street was his to walk on.
Do you do hear me talking to you? Boy.
How dare he smile, jiggling his goodies
in that tiny shiny bag, his black paw crinkling it,
how dare he tinkle their laughter at you.

Here’s a fine basket of riddles:
If a mouth shoots off and no one’s around
to hear it, who can say which came first –
push or shove, bang or whimper?
Which is news fit to write home about?

After months of little publicity, the official trailer for “Half Of A Yellow Sun” has been released, weeks ahead of the film’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival in September. 
 
The big screen adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s acclaimed 2006 novel has been in the works since 2008. First-time director Biyi Bandele, celebrated Nigerian novelist and playwright, has ushered the project from script to screen. 
 
Unlike most productions in Nollywood, Nigeria’s film industry, “Half of A Yellow Sun” has serious Hollywood power in its starting line-up: Thandie Newton (Crash), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Inside Man) and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) all star. No formal release date has been announced. Watch the trailer below and let us know what you think. (Be warned: there are 10 seconds of strong violence at the 1:33 mark)  
 

Contrary to its pop culture rep as a hipster haven, Brooklyn has the unpleasant distinction of being the bloodiest of New York City’s five boroughs. According to a 2013 NYPD report (for the year 2011), 36 percent of all homicides in New York City occurred in Brooklyn.

In 2012, a group of engaged citizens formed Man Up!, a grassroots group designed to stop gun violence in its tracks. The results have been impressive: No shootings or killings for the past year.

The group’s strategy? Treat gun violence as a public health issue and react to it the same way as a disease epidemic. In layman’s terms, this means the members of Man Up! go into the most volatile areas (unarmed), mediate problems, and offer alternative options for those on a dangerous path.

These “violence interrupters,” as they are coined, are often former gang members or people whose lives have been touched by gun violence. This gives them the credibility and access to be effective on the ground.

The members of Man Up! have been trained by the Cure Violence Initiative, a 13-year-old organization founded by epidemiologist Gary Slutkin. After years of working abroad on disease prevention campaigns, Slutkin returned to the United States in the late ’90s and noticed similarities in dispersion patterns when looking at violent crimes on a map.

“The greatest predictor of a case of violence is a previous case of violence,” Slutkin said at this year’s TEDMED event. Violence, he said, tends to spread the same way as influenza: One person catches it and spreads it among others. Using the same epidemic strategies that helped reduce AIDS cases in Uganda, Cure Violence saw an 67% decrease in shootings during its first year.

Since 2000, the initiative has spread to more than 20 cities worldwide, including New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Baltimore. On average, cities using the Cure Violence model have seen at least a 41% drop in shootings and killings.

“This is good news,” Slutkin said, “because it give us the opportunity to replace some of these prisons with playgrounds, and turn these neighborhoods back into neighborhoods.”

The highly praised independent film, “The Interrupters,” premiered in 2011, showcasing community efforts to end gun violence in inner-city neighborhoods. Watch the trailer below.

This August 14, the graduate program at Case Western Reserve University for a Masters of Finance will welcome 60 new students, culled from more than 1,000 applicants. This entering class will be 95 percent Chinese, all international students eager to learn about securities and capital markets that are newly applicable in their homeland.

This dramatic demographic shift has its echo in American undergraduate ranks. U.S. colleges and universities are enrolling a surge of new students from China, tripling in the last three years, according to data from the Institute of International Education. The first-year class at Case will include 135-150 new international students, the largest cohort in the Cleveland university’s history. The vast majority will be from China.

These students—more than 100,000 in California alone—contributed $21 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011-12, but the fit is tricky and the trend is stirring debate, said Nancy Abelmann, a professor of Asian-American studies and a vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“In the midst of this national debate, not lost is the fact that international students are cash cows,” she said July 9 during a webinar for college admissions staff entitled “Today’s Chinese Students.”

Typically, international students pay full freight and are ineligible for U.S. government aid. “We’re in something akin to the gold rush, a frontier-style environment where college and universities, like prospectors in the 1800s, realize that there is gold out there,” said David Hawkins, the director of public policy at the National Association for College Admissions and Counseling, in an interview with the New York Times.

The webinar, sponsored by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, picked Abelmann as keynoter to give preliminary findings from her anthropological study of some 200-250 students on her own campus. “Changing demographics is really changing the meaning of diversity on campus,” she said. “And the rise of international students coincides with a dip in under-represented domestic minorities.” International students now outnumber American minorities on her campus, she said, and the pattern is spreading across North America.

Faculty can be particularly baffled by this shift. Abelmann said colleagues often ask, “Who made this decision? Who is in charge? And what are we doing about it?”

Language barriers can erode a professor’s confidence and a student’s participation in class. This disconnect can bleed into the social realm. Many U.S. campuses have a club for Chinese-American students speaking English and another for Chinese international students speaking Mandarin.

Another challenge is falsified documents. Zinch China, a consulting company that advises U.S. college administrators about China, published a 2010 report based on interviews with 250 Beijing high school students bound for America. The study concluded that 90 percent of Chinese applicants submitted false recommendations, 70 percent hired others to write their personal essays, and half used forged high school transcripts.

Such findings require context and discernment: one webinar panel addressed “Evaluating Chinese credentials.” For generations, Abelmann said, the United States has attracted “a population of students who went to upper-tier Chinese universities and come here to graduate school. They are very, very different from the fee-paying undergraduate population, which is a wealthier population with different intellectual preparation. Adjusting to this very different new group of undergraduates has been a challenge.”

Abelmann and her colleagues call this new group “indifferent globalizers,” who don’t seek out America’s multi-cultural waters. “Indifferent globalizers have an aversion to building multi-cultural social lives,” she said. “They like the comfort of exclusivity and don’t see why they should apologize.”

Like many in the world, Chinese students perceive Asian economies as creating the best opportunities, and many plan to make their careers at home. “It may be that one reason the students are not so oriented to older models of integration here is that many students don’t intend to stay,” said Adrienne Lo, an anthropology professor and colleague of Abelmann’s at the University of Illinois.

Two days after the women addressed the webinar participants, University of Delaware undergraduate Jianwe Ke described his U.S. collegiate life. He said he traveled to Newark because he wanted applied knowledge in electrical engineering, not more of the theoretical emphasis he had at home. “And,” he added, “in the U.S., there are not so many obstacles between you and your dream.”

Liya Huang is majoring in hospitality management at the College of the Desert in Riverside, Calif., “Before I came here,” she said, “I had no idea of U.S. colleges. I thought it would be similar; I found it was totally different. Chinese universities give you the schedule. You don’t pick the classes you want.”

Abelmann stressed there is much variability among students, and across campuses. The University of California-Irvine serves fifth generation Chinese-American students, and American schools of engineering are often ahead of other departments in retaining and serving students from abroad.

Both Ke and Huang spoke poignantly about making American friends, although not as easily or as deeply as they would like. Huang said orientation at her campus was a wonderful icebreaker full of practical, useful advice. Ke said he joined no clubs, but had found a friend is his lab partner.

“I interested him in Chinese food and he interested me in African-American food,” Ke said. “I have been to his house several times. In the U.S. – how to say? – it gives you many cultures. I can have a beautiful adventure.”

One highlight of the annual Anisfield-Wolf awards ceremony is listening as a gifted local student reads aloud a poem of her or his own making.

Last year, second-grader Isabella Rodriguez commanded a rapt audience with “Home,” a remarkable work that begins “Suppose there is a city in the Buddha’s lap and his knees are the mountains singing.”

Her work was captured by the Traveling Stanzas project, a community arts project led by Wick Poetry Center and Kent State University’s Glyphix design studio. Community members and visitors to Northeast Ohio can see the beautifully designed posters “traveling” our region on Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority vehicles, as well as on Portage County’s PARTA.

Watch this arresting, one-minute video treatment of Isabella reading her poem, with animation by Devon Skunta-Helmink, a Kent State design student. It will whet your interest in our next young poet, appearing at the Sept. 12, 2013 ceremony on the stage of the Ohio Theatre at PlayhouseSquare in downtown Cleveland.

Home from Traveling Stanzas on Vimeo

Home


Suppose there is a city in the Buddha’s lap

and his knees are the mountains singing.

Suppose feathers rejoice when they fall

from an eagle’s wing, spinning and dancing.

Suppose nature is a map leading to willow trees

where spirits roam, speaking in old voices.

Suppose you can climb rocks like a billy goat

with clanking hooves and horns that curl for battle.

Suppose a path of dandelions and buttercups

takes you back to the mountain,

where you call out, “I’m home.”

Poem by Isabella Rodriguez, 2nd grade, Kent, Ohio


.

As the George Zimmerman trial draws to a close, the simmer of daily conversation on social media has heated to a boil.  And comments are growing sharper in anticipation of a verdict in a case that began the night of Feburary 26, 2012, when an unarmed Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by Zimmerman, who is claiming self-defense.

Now, a simple way to indicate support of Trayvon Martin’s family is spreading across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. Instead of the typical signature photos of happy, smiling individuals, people are switching their profile pictures to a simple black square.

The “Justice For Trayvon Martin” Facebook Page turned its profile photo black Thursday evening. “We are blacking out our profile photos in a showing of love, unification and solidarity in support of Trayvon Benjamin Martin,” the page designer wrote. With more than 200,000 fans on the page, the notion spread quickly.

I asked one woman why she changed her picture. “As the mother of a black male…it is the least I can do to show my support to Trayvon’s family,” she responded. “Supporting the blackout might not change a thing, but on this day in history, it will show that I stood up in support of a mother who no longer has her son.”

by Sally Wiener Grotta

A recent Anisfield-Wolf blog post asked, “What Biases Are You Carrying?” In the blog, Attorney Louise P. Dempsey  used the following riddle as part of a lunch talk:

A man and his son were in a car accident. The critically injured man had to be helicoptered to the hospital. His son was rushed by ambulance to the same hospital. When the boy was wheeled into emergency surgery, the surgeon looked at him and said, “I can’t operate. This is my son.”

The blog then asked the question, “How is this possible?”

If you haven’t heard that anecdotal test before, consider your answer for a few moments before continuing to read.

I’ve seen the riddle before. So, I knew the answer. Of course, the surgeon was his mother. But even steadfast feminists (including Dempsey) have been known to not get the answer right away.

Though my previous knowledge of the answer invalidated the test for me, I can’t pretend that I am that of that very rare (probably non-existent) breed that has no bias. My comment on the Anisfeld-Wolf blog was, “Prejudice and bias is human nature. How we handle it in our lives is a measure of our commitment to a just, balanced human society.”

People are tribal by nature. We’re comfortable with what we know, and tend to prefer being with people similar to ourselves. Like most folks, I feel awkward whenever I’m thrown into a crowd of strangers. If those strangers are heavily tattooed and pierced, or particularly raucous, or sporting t-shirts with “offensive” slogans, I really don’t know how to relate to them. I assume from their appearance that whatever I would want to talk about would be far beyond their experience or interest. And that is my loss, because I miss the opportunity to learn from them, have fun with them, and thereby experience a wider perspective of our human existence.

But prejudice is a two-way street. I’m sure those tattooed rowdies would rather I simply stayed away rather than invade their space.

Remaining enclosed in our safe tribal circles is like staring in a mirror. Nothing much changes in our reflection, other than the slight variations of age and circumstances. Without the stimulation of contrary discussions or new perspectives, we become staid, unable to synthesize new thoughts. Living only in the status quo is bad for us personally, as well as economically, scientifically and societally. We need strangers and their fresh interpretations to generate new ideas and instigate growth. But turning our gaze outward, beyond the closed doors of our personal circles, can be frightening. Not only for the strangeness of the experience, but because we may be rebuffed — or worse — by those strangers we are attempting to approach.

Fear of the unknown, fear of being hurt, of being on the receiving end of prejudice, often keeps us in our place. Victims of bias and prejudice, in turn, can become biased and prejudiced about “those others” – anyone similar to the perpetrators of their pain or shame. But you don’t have to have personally experienced hatred or unkindness to buy into the escalating cycle of bias begetting bias, leading to prejudice, devolving into bigotry and cruelty. Consider those raucous tattooed biker-types I mentioned above. My discomfort with them is founded not only on their strangeness to me, but on oft-circulated stereotypes of “those kind of people” being foul-mouthed bullies and even physically violent.

As our communities become more diverse, we have increasing opportunities to either burrow into our safe habitats, lashing out periodically in fear at strangers who dare to invade our world, or we can reach beyond ourselves to discover new ideas, new hopes, new friends.

No, we cannot free our inner thoughts or instincts from inherent bias. But if we keep a national conversation open and talk honestly with each other, if we restrain ourselves from being mesmerized by our own reflections and seek to know, understand, learn from strangers, we can make our world something much greater than a collection of loosely connected, mutually distrustful tribes.

This post originally appeared on Grotta.net. Republished with permission. Sally Wiener Grotta’s new novel, Jo Joe, challenges readers to consider the sources and painful ramifications of prejudice, bias, and preconceptions. 

The gorgeous new documentary, “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” delivers several jolts of insight, including this small one: Women who can hit and bend those beautiful notes have glorious laughs.

Laughter buoys much of this 90-minute film that explores the unheralded world of backup singers. The spotlight falls on Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, Judith Hill, Claudia Lennear, Tata Vega and Merry Clayton. “About time, too,” as Bette Midler remarked in 2011 when she introduced Love as a new inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

These women – mostly African-American – sang back up on countless rock classics, adding vocal transcendence to the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and plenty of others. And because they sang the bridge, they – not the stars – are the ones we invariably sang along to.

Expect to get a head rush of revelation.

Many of these singers were preacher’s daughters, notes director Morgan Neville. “These voices make their way from the church onto vinyl,” he says. British legends such as Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker and David Bowie jumped to hire them, partly to import soul and authenticity into their songs. Neville splices in archival footage of all three performers with their backups – and we see and hear with fresh eyes why “Young Americans” sounds so good.

Neville said that this project blew apart his assumption that the voices in the background were less talented than the ones at the front: “Backup singers can blow away lead singers any day of the week, every day of the week.”

The psychology of being a secondary is explored in these women’s stories. “I felt like that if I just gave my heart to what I was doing, I would automatically be a star,” says a pained Merry Clayton, whose magnificent voice didn’t make her a headliner, despite the best efforts of Lou Adler.

Clayton describes being awakened in the night to record with the Stones – arriving at the studio in silk pajamas and curlers to be handed the music for “Gimme Shelter.” She delivered the immortal “Rape. Murder. It’s just a shot away.” And it still stuns Jagger, 50 years later, as he listens to it here.

The film tucks in other stunning bits. We learn that Darlene Love—Darlene Love!—cleaned houses to pay her bills before her comeback in the 1980s. We soak in the jazz-saturated richness of Lisa Fischer’s voice, and witness her emphatic joy in singing harmony, even after winning a Grammy.

These women take us places that Auto-Tune will never go. Can I get an Amen?

When the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act last month, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the watershed 1964 law had worked as intended: Racial discrimination had decreased and a record number of voters were now people of color. But how well do we remember the inequalities the law was protecting against?

A leader in the civil rights movement, Rep. John Lewis had a front-row seat to the tactics used to keep black people out of the voting booth. Physical intimidation, poll taxes, and literacy tests were all bent to the task. Segregationists designed literacy tests to be deliberately confusing. They imposed tight time constraints to increase errors. “Black people with Ph.D. and M.A. degrees were routinely told they did not read well enough to pass the test,” said Lewis, who won an Anisfield-Wolf award in 1998 for his memoir, Walking with the Wind.

The Civil Rights Movement Veterans has preserved copies of literacy tests administered in Louisiana and Alabama. A few sample questions below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewis is organizing members of Congress to come up with new provisions for the Voting Rights Act. “We’ve come too far, made too much progress, to go back now,” he said in a recent MSNBC interview. “We’ve got work to do.”  

View the full tests here

 

When we first toured my daughter’s private school, I saw a little African-American girl toddling around. She was adorable with her short, curly Afro and cute pink bracelets that matched her pink sandals. I looked around for the girl’s mother and got a little nervous when I didn’t see any black women nearby.

But then a slim white woman with short blonde hair swooped her up. She had been standing next to the little girl the whole time. Why did I assume that a black child would have a black parent?

My assumption wasn’t too far from reality. Most recent data on private adoptions shows that most adoptive parents are white, and they tend to adopt white children.

Last month, NPR’s “Race Card Project” reported on an uncomfortable aspect of adoption: in many cases, black children cost less to adopt than biracial or white children. In one instance that the radio project examined, the fees to adopt an African-American baby were $12,000 less than those for a white child. Some representatives at the agencies say the cost differential is an incentive to coax potential parents to consider adopting children of a different race, as a simple marketplace response to supply and demand. There are more African-American children waiting on adoption lists.

I’m supportive of attempts to see more children adopted. All children should get a fair shot at finding a “forever family.” However, I’m not thrilled with African-American babies being on the clearance rack, so to speak. There are enough messages out there that black children are “less than.” Do we also need them to come to their families at a discount?

A mother to an African-American child asked on the NPR blog: “My son was cheaper than if he’d been white. How will he feel, if he ever finds out about that?”

 

Lawyer Louise P. Dempsey punctuated her recent lunch-hour talk by passing out sheets of paper with a single riddle: “A father and a son are in a serious automobile accident. The father is taken to University Hospitals and the son is life-flighted to Metro. In the operating room, the surgeon says, ‘I cannot operate on this patient; he is my son.’ How is this possible?”

Some of the listeners gathered at the Union Club in Cleveland were stumped. Others knew the answer: The surgeon is the boy’s mother.

 “I didn’t get this riddle the first time, and I consider myself a feminist,” Dempsey said. “And recently, the entire Civil Rights division in Boston saw it, and no one could solve it.”

Dempsey, who serves on the American Bar Association’s Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline, used the brainteaser to illustrate implicit bias. These are the hidden assumptions people carry that influence their behavior despite their explicit beliefs.

Research shows that people can be committed to egalitarianism, and work to behave without prejudice, but still carry implicit bias that bleeds into behavior. “These biases remain in us as a sort of mental residue,” Dempsey said.

Skeptical? Scientists at Harvard, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington have a little test for you. Measure your implicit bias on race, gender, sexuality, religion, weight, Arabs & Muslims and in several other categories. Each test focuses on one variety of bias and takes about ten minutes online. It can come — as mine did on race — with a corrective slice of humble pie. Find out at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/