Aura Bogado | The Nation

Aura Bogado

Aura Bogado

Racial justice, Native rights and immigration. 

‘Young Lakota’: Reproductive Justice and Coming of Age on the Rez

(Courtesy: PBS.org)

Young Lakota, which is airing on PBS and available to view online for the next few days, focuses on reproductive justice on the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to an estimated 30,000 Oglala Lakota. The documentary follows the political efforts of one-time President Cecilia Fire Thunder, and introduces us to Sunny Clifford, who returned to the rez to both understand her roots, and to make a difference. While the film does a good job at highlighting some of what’s at stake on Pine Ridge, it also misses the opportunity to recognize the institutional barriers created by the US federal government that create profound poverty on the reservation.

Pine Ridge exists within South Dakota, where in 2006, voters took to the polls to decide on a ballot measure aimed to ban any and all abortions, including terminations for pregnancies that were the result of rape or incest. In response, Oglala Lakota President Cecilia Fire Thunder suggested that her nation would open a women’s clinic on Pine Ridge. As is made clear in the film, Native nations hold tribal sovereignty, which trumps state law—so while it would be controversial to open a clinic that provides abortion, it would be perfectly legal to do so on Pine Ridge, regardless of South Dakota’s law.

What follows is an internal battle between Fire Thunder and Tribal Council members. This is one way Young Lakota thrives. It doesn’t collapse all Oglala Lakota people into one. Some stand with Fire Thunder, but others do not. At a time when there are few films about Natives and the challenges their nations face, filmmakers Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt illustrate the agency with which the people highlighted in the film come to their own conclusions.

But perhaps most central to this film is the way it captures 21-year-old Sunny Clifford’s political awakening. Clifford is transformed by the battle on Pine Ridge, and is obviously inspired by Fire Thunder. While other young people are also featured in the film, Clifford’s story is the most compelling. She chooses a side in the abortion ban battle, and her decision to campaign against the proposition and for Fire Thunder are almost metaphors for her decision to campaign for own dignity—along with the dignity of her people.

The film opens by introducing us to Clifford, and almost immediately to her boyfriend, 18-year-old Rodney Spotted Elk. He’s shy and quiet, and we don’t know much about him—but the relationship ends after Spotted Elk becomes violent. We know he is a drinker, especially at night. It’s facts like these where the filmmakers fail to make connections to larger structural issues facing Pine Ridge.

Pine Ridge borders the tiny town of Whiteclay, Nebraska, population 14. What Whiteclay lacks in population however, it makes up for in liquor stores and alcohol sales—four outlets sell more than 4 million cans of beer there per year, almost exclusively to Oglala Lakota. Alcohol was long banned on Pine Ridge, but people knew they could cross the border to obtain it. The sales are lucrative for white-owned companies, and grew so out of control that the Oglala Lakota sued storeowners, along with corporations like Anheuser-Busch, Pabst, and Miller in 2012. But Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Jason Schwarting was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

While the federal government holds obligations to the Oglala Lakota, it hasn’t stepped in to solve the problem of alcoholism—a problem that kills Natives on Pine Ridge, while making white corporations wealthy. The federal government also ignores the systemic issues that make Pine Ridge one of the most dangerous places to live—and to die—in the United States: average life expectancy for women in the US is 81, but it’s 52 on Pine Ridge; for men in the US it’s 76, but 48 on the reservation. The numbers are no better when it comes to unemployment, wealth, diabetes and infant mortality. While Spotted Elk’s violence towards Clifford is nowhere near excusable, Young Lakota glosses over his possible alcoholism as if it’s merely a personal issue, and not part of the structural reasons why Pine Ridge is the way it is.

Nevertheless Young Lakota is worth watching. It’s a rare glimpse into Pine Ridge that celebrates the resistance and complexity of the Oglala Lakota who live there—and remind us that people like Sunny Clifford are working to make meaningful change.

Typhoon Haiyan: The Global Poor Bear the Deadly Brunt of Climate Change

Residents of Hernari rebuild their homes after Typhoon Haiyan

In 1494, Spain and Portugal were in serious competition over other peoples’ lands. This bothered the church, and Pope Alexander VI made it his duty to write up the Treaty of Tordesillas, which dictated that Spain was free to attempt to conquer lands west of an imaginary line on the Atlantic, and Portugal could attempt the same for all lands east of that line, essentially creating Eastern and Western hemispheres.

A little more than two decades later, Spain’s influence in what it thought was a new world grew nearly as much as its avarice. It wanted more lands, and all the resources that came with those lands. Ferdinand Magellan, who was Portuguese, offered his services to King Charles of Spain. His plan was to sail west, as the treaty obliged—but to sail so far west that he would essentially reach the Eastern Hemisphere, and attempt to conquer those lands for Spain. He eventually landed in what we now call the Philippines.

What we remember today is that Magellan led the first circumnavigation, going not only around the world itself but also cleverly around an international treaty. What we forget—or never learned to begin with—is that the nearly two-year voyage ended poorly for the explorer. Magellan was cunning enough to deceive a powerful religion and a budding empire, and was even crafty enough to get some indigenous leaders to sign on board for their own colonization on an island called Mactan, off the island Cebu in the Philippines.

But that wasn’t the case when it came to a local indigenous chief named Lapu Lapu. Magellan was sure that he could convince Lapu Lapu that he, too, should accept colonization, and he scheduled a meeting to do just that. And in case words didn’t do trick, Magellan brought along ships, mortars and more than 6,000 warriors that would. What Magellan wasn’t prepared for was the ferocity of Lapu Lapu’s resistance, backed by thousands of his indigenous warriors, who emerged victorious in the 1521 Battle of Mactan. Spain could claim that its agent sailed around the world—but it couldn’t claim that he could conquer anything. The Spanish would wait almost forty-five years before attempting to colonize the islands again.

Lapu-Lapu City, the warrior chief’s namesake that largely covers most of Mactan Island, was largely spared by Typhoon Haiyan. But the rest of the Philippines hasn’t been so lucky. Because the sheer magnitude of destruction there has been so devastating, rescue efforts haven’t yet started in earnest. And the immediate cleanup will be costly. To that end, the United States Agency for International Development has donated the paltry sum $20 million. Not only will that kind of money not get very far for the swift aid the Philippines needs right now, but it’s not even a drop in the bucket of the debt owed for the historical carbon emissions the United States has created in the atmosphere, which have created the kind of changes in the climate that lead to massive typhoons in the Philippines for the last three years in a row.

When Pope Alexander VI divided the world, he drew a vertical line separting east from west. But colonization, and the resource plundering that followed, can be better understood as a north-south phenomenon. With little exception, the global South was colonized by the global North, which benefited not only from the theft of land but also from the theft of resources, often in the form of exploited labor and raw materials. The global North was then able to accumulate untold wealth as a result. But what’s often left out of that calculation is the fact that the global South wasn’t only depleted of its tangible labor and materials on earth—it was also stripped of its climate rights.

As I’ve explained previously, climate debt accounts for the historical carbon emissions created by the global North and owed to the global South. The atmosphere is shared by all of the inhabitants on earth, and we should have equal access to it. Yet between 1850 to 2004, the global North created almost 70 percent of the carbon build-up in the atmosphere—created during a time in which the global North accumulated untold wealth at the cost of enormous carbon emissions.

The consequences of those massive carbon emissions equal changes in the climate that fuel destruction in the form of typhoons like the one that ravaged the Philippines. But as fmost countries in the global South were pillaged of their resources, they were also pillaged of their ability to amass wealth. That means that when a massive storm strikes in the global South, those countries are far less likely to have the necessary wealth to mitigate the destruction. While the global North holds only about 15 percent of the global population, it has created the vast majority of historical climate emissions—allowing it to accumulate 80 percent of the world’s wealth. The global South is home to about 85 percent of the world’s peoples, has created only 30 percent of historical climate emissions, and has amassed only 20 percent of the world’s wealth.

And although emerging economies like China are certainly responsible for growing levels of current carbon emissions, it doesn’t come close to what the United States emits on a daily basis. The US has successfully lobbied to keep the Pentagon out of any and all international climate negotiations and agreements. Our military consumes more than 300,000 barrels of oil daily—and that doesn’t count contracted facilities. If the Pentagon’s carbon emissions in its thousands of military basis around the world were counted, the United States would be the clear top polluter. Instead, its operations—and subsequent pollution—remain uncounted when we talk about climate change.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

It is dishonest to analyze Typhoon Haiyan without acknowledging the global North’s historical carbon emissions, and current US pollution. As part of the global North, the United States owes a debt to the Philippines, and to the entire global South. A $20 million donation won’t do much, especially at a time when it’s already too late. Instead, the United States would be better suited to develop state-of-the-art energy technologies and share them with the world, and with the global South in particular. There are dozens of ways to pay down the climate debt. And they will only be realized once we admit what we owe.

Five hundred years ago, Lapu Lapu was able to resist Spanish colonization, and inspired generations of Fiipinos to fight against imperialism. As the corpses of climate change begin to rot in the Philippines, it’s important to remember that ghost of resistance.

Peter Rothberg looks at how to help the Philippines recover from Haiyan.

Why Does Los Angeles Criminalize Black and Brown Youth?

At school

Los Angeles is already a so-called minority majority city, where people of color outnumber whites. It’s located in California, which is one of four states that, along with the District of Columbia, already also boasts a majority of people of color. In a matter of decades, people of color will be the majority in the country as a whole. Places like Los Angeles are crucial to watch and to understand, because they give us a good glimpse into the nation’s future, and into how people of color will soon fare in the United States.

There’s a pervasive myth that because white folks have been the overwhelming majority since the founding of the United States, it makes sense that wealth and power is concentrated in that majority. By this flawed logic, poverty and disempowerment is naturally concentrated in communities of color. That myth is convenient because it assumes that inequality is a natural consequence of percentages—and not a system that’s based on skin color.

But if Los Angeles is any indication, people of color—and black and brown people in particular—will continue to be criminalized. More alarming is the fact that that targeting of people of color starts at a young age, specifically against minors. The Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest school district in the United States, teams up with what’s called the Los Angeles School Police Department, or LASPD. The LASPD is the largest public school police department in the nation, and employs nearly 500 officers that exclusively police children, some as young as 6 years of age. The vast majority, 74 percent, are Latino. 10 percent are black, 10 percent are white, and 6 percent are Asian.

The LASPD issues tickets for alleged fighting or marijuana possession—but its truancy enforcement drew condemnation, because officers often ticketed minors who were simply late to school, instead of actually skipping school. Up until recently, an LASPD truancy ticket was a $250 fine, but that cost could easily have gone up, especially when children weren’t that keen to tell their parents they were caught late for class. Arriving to school just fifteen minutes late could have cost families up to $1,000.

The good news is that, in an effort led by the Labor/Community Strategy Center, officers no longer issue citations against children who are late. During the 2012–13 school year, truancy tickets were down 80 percent. In fact, all LASPD tickets are down. And, for the moment, the LASPD doesn’t issue fines—although it does place students into the Los Angeles County Probation Department. Still, citations have decreased, and there are currently no fines attached to them.

But, according to a new report titled “Black, Brown and Over-Policed,” and issued by the group that pushed to amend the truancy tickets, all is not well for Los Angeles public school children. In fact, it’s clear that a civil rights crisis has gripped LA’s schools. According to the report, Latino students were twice as likely to be ticketed than were white students. Since Latino students make up 75 percent of the district, to 10 percent white students, one might think to pass on the statistic. But black students also make up 10 percent of the district—yet black students are six times as likely as white students to be ticketed. At a time in Los Angeles when white students and black students are on perfectly equal footing in terms of numbers, they’re on extraordinarily unequal footing when it comes to criminalization.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

The Los Angeles school district illustrates that a changing demographic doesn’t automatically mean equality. In fact, a changing demographic may instead illustrate how insidious inequality truly is across racial lines. It’s an important example to keep in mind as we head towards becoming that so-called minority majority nation. Los Angeles issues nearly half of all of its student tickets to minors under the age of 14—meaning that, for some of that district’s youngest residents, school becomes more of a trap than an educational opportunity.

Hope is not lost for LA’s students. As the Labor/Community Strategy Center points out, officers police youth, issue tickets and implicate students for occurrences that were always solved by educators without criminalization. Ditching class, getting in a fight, or carrying a pack of cigarettes can all be solved creatively and lovingly—and without the use police officers and tickets.

The fight against marijuana prohibition must put racial justice at the center, writes Carl L. Hart.

Halloween Has Already Become a Horror Show

Julianne Hough

It’s not yet Halloween, and Julianne Hough is already apologizing for her decision to don blackface at Mike Meldman’s annual party. She attended the festivities with a group of friends who dressed up as the cast of Orange Is the New Black—with Hough as the character known as Crazy Eyes. Unfortunately, Hough wasn’t the only adult who made the choice to wear blackface this year.

I was disappointed, though not too surprised, when I saw that Hough wore blackface. Racist costumes are a sad staple of each year’s Halloween. I also wasn’t too surprised that someone reappropriated a character of color from Orange Is the New Black this Halloween. Although some have argued that the show provides its audience with a humanizing view of prison life and reveals the horrors of the prison industrial complex, many of us have also argued otherwise. The characters are often written as caricatures rather than anything else—and are easily digested as such. A Netflix series that leans on racist tropes becomes a problematic inspiration for someone who seems unable to heed numerous advisories against blackface. Let the nightmare begin.

In her apology, Hough tweeted that she is “a huge fan of the show Orange Is the New black, actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she created.” While Hough was collapsing a drama-comedy series, an acclaimed actor and a problematic character all into one, it apparently never crossed Hough’s mind that wearing blackface doesn’t honor anything except a long history of racism. If it did cross the mind of any of the friends she attended the party with as members of the cast, they likely stayed silent, and played along. This silence is crucial, for it becomes the tacit vehicle through which racism is accepted. Meldman’s annual parties are well attended, yet it’s unclear if anyone in attendance uttered a word in protest. It wasn’t until photos of the scene emerged that Hough issued an apology.

Halloween has long been a holiday on which it’s acceptable for people to flex racist imagery a little more than usual. Some kinds of racism are always accepted a little more than others, of course. Just a few years ago, John Legend and Christine Teigen dressed up as Cowboy and Indian, although their offensive idea never gained negative national attention. Playing Indian continues this year, with Tonto costumes to match the Lone Ranger fantasy—but, as Adrienne Keene has pointed out, Tonto only scratches the surface.

The Nation is facing a crippling postal rate hike—donate by October 31 to help us foot this $120,272 bill.

But perhaps most disturbing this year is the fact that so many people have decided to dress up as Trayvon Martin (sometimes with, and sometimes without a friend dressed as George Zimmerman). Although one photo has garnered the most attention, several people thought it would be a good idea to spin the killing of an unarmed black teenager into some kind of joke. Black death has become so trivial that, for some, it’s now a costume to wear, complete with blackface.

Silence is a form of endorsement—and in these cases, that means quiet approval of costumes that celebrate racism and death. Yet social media are not allowing these incidents to go unnoticed, with users making it clear that blackface, in any version, is unacceptable.

While we celebrate that small triumph, let’s not forget that one month from today, most people will be celebrating Thanksgiving, while silently endorsing the death of Natives who made it possible.

Ari Berman looks at the new fight against disenfranchisement in America half a century after the King years.

Fusion and Latino Media’s Race Problem

Ad for ABC and Univision's new cable network targeting Latinos, Fusion

Latinos are already the majority in California, and are on their way to becoming the country’s biggest majority in the next few decades. Nevertheless, relatively few major television networks cater to Latino audiences, or even cast Latino actors. So it makes sense that new networks are emerging to create programs for, by and about Latinos. The problem is that the racism entrenched in Latino culture is slowly but surely seeping out into these new media products.

When we talk about media diversity, we tend to think in broad racial strokes, often along the lines of white, black, Asian, Native and Latino. But those of us who think more critically about race know that these categories are fraught with error. For too many people, “Latino” implies the skin color brown, or at least some hues of brown. But people who are white, black, Asian, indigenous and any mix thereof can be Latino. Therefore, rather than thinking of Latino as a color category, it’s perhaps better understood to include those people who descend from Latin America. It’s not a perfect term, but useful when thinking about people who hail from a certain geographic region.

Spanish language media don’t have a good track record when it comes to race. During the last World Cup, Univision nationally broadcast a popular program out of its Miami studios that featured a segment where hosts wore wigs meant to be Afros and held sticks for spears in an apparent attempt to poke fun at black people. Univision apologized, but only after a national outcry pressured them to. It’s not unusual, however, to find programs that demean blacks, indigenous people, Asians and Muslims on Spanish-language television.

Univision is now working with ABC to launch a new Latino-oriented cable channel called Fusion. And while it’s an English-language channel, it already seems to plagued by the same racial problems that prevail in Spanish-language media. After seeing a press release for Fusion’s new morning lineup, New York University professor Arlene Davila questioned what Fusion actually means when it says “Latinos”—and Davila isn’t the only one asking. Black Latinos, as well as those of indigenous descent are already familiar with the racism that’s common in Latino communities, and many black Americans who are not Latino, know it well, too. Responding to the Maynard Institute’s Richard Prince, Fusion conceded that the network isn’t bringing on any black Latinos at all. The morning show does feature two pale Latino journalists—both originally from South America—and one Greek-American comedian named Yannis Pappas.

Pappas is an interesting choice for Fusion. He isn’t Latino, and it’s not clear whether he’s even funny. As a Erin Siegal McIntyre recently pointed out to me, Pappas’s sense of humor includes tweets like “My ex & Republicans have a lot in common, my ex shut down the sex towards the end of the our relationship and the Republicans are also cunts.” Pappas’ jokes, if they can be called that, don’t just stop at misogyny. Another recent tweet features a photo of Pappas along with his cohosts as he makes a face, referring to himself as “a special needs child.”

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

There are plenty of hilarious Latinos of all shades who could surely provide Fusion’s morning humor—without insulting women and making fun of differently-abled people while doing it. And while the two other hosts on board, Pedro Andrade and Mariana Atencio, seem like capable journalists, one can’t help but notice how perfectly light their skin is on the Latino spectrum.

Fusion has a rare opportunity to get something right for once when it comes to race, and when it comes to Latinos in particular. But it looks like they might already be squandering that opportunity.

Dave Zirin looks at Alex Rodriguez’s dark side as a slum lord exploiting Latino tenants.

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Protesters lay on the ground dressed in red at Monday’s die-in at Columbia University, New York, as part of Take Back Manhattan, which celebrates indigenous culture and history. The act was meant to symbolize the sinister significance of Columbus Day for many of the continent’s native peoples. (Courtesy of Jerry Levy)

Monday marked Indigenous Peoples’ Day—which counters the federal holiday known as Columbus Day. As evidenced by the current debate surrounding the Washington football team’s name, words are profoundly important. In the United States, Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes the self-determination of indigenous peoples in the Americas against colonization. But a recent well-intentioned effort that sought to improve Columbus Day by calling it Bartolomé de las Casas Day essentially erases the work of Natives who worked to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and instead attempts to unnecessarily create a new white hero.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first officially marked in Berkeley in 1992. The year was significant because it signified 500 years after Columbus’s arrival to island on which the Dominican Republic and Haiti now exist. Indigenous resistance to colonization and its celebration has never enjoyed the luxury of downtime—but the years leading up to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival were particularly crucial. Part of the reason is that Natives had moved to cities in unprecedented numbers in the decades leading up to the 500 mark.

The middle of the last century was one in which the US federal government became fixated on dissolving Native identity and tribal assets. The Termination Era, as it’s called, set the context for what happened in an ultimately failed attempt by white lawmakers to disappear Natives and their remaining land. In the late 1940s, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, began airlifting provisions onto the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe because of particularly brutal winters. The food helped some Natives get through some seasons, but didn’t reach everyone. The BIA soon concluded that bringing in much-needed food didn’t solve the lack of resources, and the agency began opening relocation points in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Denver. The program provided moving expenses, as well as job training and job placement services for Navajo and Hopi citizens. Within a couple of years, an expanded program known as Urban Indian Relocation Program shipped Natives off of their nations into a dozen urban cities—including San Francisco and Oakland. What Vine Deloria described as Red Power, a pan-Indian freedom movment, was probably most visible less than two decades later, when Natives took Alcatraz Island for nearly two years, beginning in 1969.

One of the people closely associated with the movement was Mildred “Millie” Ketcheschawno. A Mvskoke, or Muskogee Creek Nation citizen, Ketcheschawno took advantage of the relocation program, and moved to Oakland. Ketcheschawno was no stranger to relocation. As a child, she had left her community at Shell Creek in Oklahoma to attend an Indian boarding school in Kansas. By the time she arrived to Oakland, other Natives were arriving as well, during the height of the Termination Era—a time during which the US federal government conveniently sought to end its treaty obligations to Natives while still taking possession of Native lands and resources.

Nevertheless, Ketcheschawno thrived in her new home. She became increasingly involved among the Bay Area’s urban Indian community, and eventually moved to Los Angeles and then back to Oklahoma for some time. But she made the decision to move back to the Bay Area to continue her education—and to organize. In 1991, with the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival looming, Ketcheschawno’s work in the group known as the Resistance 500 was crucial in getting the Berkeley City Council to adopt a name change.

In Berkeley in 1992, the entire year was known as the Year of Indigenous Peoples, and October 12 was dubbed Indigenous Peoples Day. Today, most Natives and their allies will refer to the holiday with this name, to honor the resilience of indigenous peoples over the avarice of a colonizer.

For clarity, when we write about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we should note that the apostrophe goes after the “s,” and not before it. If the apostrophe were placed before it, we would collapse all indigenous peoples into one (keep in mind that the US government recognizes nearly 600 Native tribes and nations within its borders—and that doesn’t begin to count indigenous peoples in the rest of the Americas). In Berkeley and elsewhere, the day is celebrated as Indigenous Peoples Day, with no apostrophe—which drives the same point. On this day, we don’t just think about the land and resources that we take advantage of, but of the people themselves, and their self-determination.

That is why I was dismayed to read Matthew Inman’s Columbus Day comic. In it, Inman debunks several persistent and celebratory myths about Columbus, and draws attention to Columbus’s bloody rampage instead. Although the beginning is far from perfect, it’s a good start that leaves the reader to question why we would celebrate Columbus to begin with. But it goes completely downhill from there.

Inman urges that we instead celebrate Bartolomé de las Casas, whom he describes as a wealthy adventurer who underwent changes in the Americas and eventually became the Defender of the Indians. As it went viral, Inman’s analysis drew increasing fury from those who rightly pointed out that de las Casas had argued for the enslavement of African peoples, even though he later renounced his support for it. Inman tacked on an addendum explaining that de las Casas had, indeed, promoted the African slave trade. Although Inman flippantly acknowledges this truth, he also dismisses it too soon.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

But Inman also never stops to consider the damaging narrative that de las Casas embodied—one in which indigenous peoples wait in silence to be saved by a white charity complex. By centering on de las Casas, Inman and others who descend from settlers are still lauding a white “hero.” When I celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day yesterday, I celebrated my Guarani people, and I celebrated our capacity to exist for so long in the face of terror. I didn’t celebrate a new hero because I already have those who came before me.

What saddens me most is Inman’s failure to acknowledge the work of people like Millie Ketcheschawno, who embodied resistance in the face of Indian boarding schools, and the relocation program in the middle of the Termination Era. Ketcheschawno and others like her, and not de las Casas and others like him, paved a path for us to celebrate the survival of indigenous peoples. Let’s not forget that.

Dave Zirin looks at how Rick Reilly’s plan to use his in-laws to defend the Redskins name backfired.

California Just Got a Little Safer for Undocumented Residents

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) after signing AB60, which facilitates driver's licences to undocumented immigrants, during ceremonies in Los Angeles on October 3, 2013.  This is one of several recent laws passed of late by the California State Legislature that favor immigrants. (Reuters/Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti/Handout via Reuters)

California is home to more undocumented immigrants than any other state—and a lot of those estimated 2.5 million people will likely benefit from a number of sweeping bills that have recently been signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Some of the individual pieces of legislation have been weakened since they were first introduced, but will nevertheless improve conditions for some of the state’s most vulnerable residents. While the Obama administration continues its record setting deportations, and Congress is unwilling to pass comprehensive reform, these bills will positively impact undocumented communities.

The Trust Act: The federal government mandates that local jails and prisons share fingerprints with immigration authorities in order to identify people thought to threats to public safety. But under the program, called Secure Communities, people who have never even been accused of committing a crime have been caught in the dragnet. The Trust Act now ensures that only immigrants who have not accused or convicted of a serious offense will now be handed over to immigration authorities for deportation.

The California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights: Most of the state’s domestic workers are immigrants, and all had few protections under the law. This bill, which expires in three years unless it is renewed by lawmakers, makes it so that overtime kicks in after 9 hours of work per day, or 45 hours of work per week.

Driving privileges: Starting next year (or as late as 2015), an estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants will be eligible to apply for a driver’s license. The license will be marked to indicate status, but Assembly Bill 60 will allow drivers to operate vehicles under the law, and obtain car insurance.

Practicing the law: 36-year-old Sergio Garcia applied for a Green Card 19 years ago—and has been waiting for adjustment status ever since. In that time, he finished school, took and passed the bar exam, but was prohibited from practicing law because of his status. But now, thanks to Assembly Bill 24, Garcia and others like him can be admitted to the bar.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Cutting back on extortion and retaliation: Nearly ten percent of California’s workforce is undocumented—and two bills ensure workers aren’t threatened because of their status. Assembly Bill 524 recognizes the threat posed by revealing a person’s real or imagined status as extortion. Senate Bill 666 expands existing protections for immigrant workers by suspending or repealing an employer’s licenses for retaliating against an undocumented whistleblower that files a complaint about sexual harassment or other unsafe working conditions.

Governor Brown signed additional bills to that will help undocumented students, as well as U.S. citizen students whose parents have been deported, as well as bills that will regulate who can profit from immigrants applying for federal immigration programs. Brown has said that California is now "forging ahead." That's made easier by the fact that the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats. California has set a new standard for undocumented immigrants. It's now up to other states to follow. 

Dave Zirin looks at poor immigrants effected by MLB player Alex Rodriguez's slum apartment buildings.

Napolitano’s Hypocrisy on Immigration

Former head of Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivering remarks at the Center for American Progress in 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

For the second time now, there’s a crucial bill called the Trust Act sitting before California Governor Jerry Brown for approval. The bill would essentially put a halt to the way that immigrants are targeted and criminalized for deportation under a program called Secure Communities. That program grew into a major cog of the federal government’s deportation machine—largely under the leadership of Janet Napolitano, who headed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). But Napolitano has left Washington and is currently enjoying an appointment as the head of the University of California. And now, she’s told a group of students that she supports the Trust Act.

Secure Communities requires that local officials turn over the fingerprints of everyone who is arrested or processed through a jail or prison to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. If that person is deemed a threat to national security or the public, the agency issues what’s called a detainer, which instructs local jails and prisons to hold the immigrant in question for up to forty-eight weekday hours, until that person can placed into ICE custody. Secure Communities was stared by the Bush administration in late 2008—but it didn’t really take off until President Obama came into office. As DHS Secretary, Napolitano made sure the program was made mandatory for all jurisdictions. Today, more than 3,000 counties have no choice but to participate. But the program is fraught with problems.

Although detainers are set to expire after two working days, that doesn’t always happen. These forty-eight-hour detainers last much longer—and can even take months. The cost to feed and house the immigrant that ICE has requested a detainer for is placed on the local jurisdiction, leaving cash-strapped counties alone to carry the financial burden of a federal request. And the nature of the crimes that the person for whom a detainer is issued for is nearly always negligible. According to the latest preliminary data revealed by TRAC, less than 11 percent of the people for whom ICE detainers are issued for present a threat to national security or to public safety. In fact, the overwhelming majority of ICE detainers have been issued for people who haven’t been convicted of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

The result on immigrant communities is devastating enough—but it’s not just non-citizens who are being directly affected. Although detainers are meant issued exclusively for immigrants, the practice has also been extended to hold citizens. Just this year Gerardo Gonzales, a US-born citizen, was held on an ICE detainer hold for six months. He was released only after he filed a lawsuit.

Although the name suggests that Secure Communities is about keep people safe, it’s had the opposite effect. At best, the program overwhelmingly targets immigrants who haven’t been convicted of any crime for detention and deportation, and it’s costly to counties that are still recovering from the recession. At worst, it’s a program that has violated the constitution by holding citizens without grounds—not for a day or two, but for months.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

California’s Trust Act seeks to change the course of Secure Communities. Currently, ICE detainers are not warrants issued by judges, but requests issued by arbitrary standards. Under the Trust Act, counties will decline to hold people for whom ICE detainers have been issued for, unless that individual has been convicted of a serious or violent crime, such as child abuse or murder. When the Trust Act was passed by California lawmakers and placed before him a year ago, Governor Brown declined to sign it. His office apparently worked with lawmakers to craft a new version that would suit Brown’s criteria, and a new bill was passed. Brown, however, has so far failed to sign the bill into law. There is no solid indication whether he will or he won’t. In the meantime, California continues to needlessly cooperate with Secure Communities.  

As DHS head, Napolitano gave Secure Communities teeth with which to tear families apart. But now, Napolitano says she’s supporting the Trust Act, and has even told Brown to sign the bill. But she has yet to make her statement public. Even if she does, it will only halt Secure Community’s disastrous effects in one state. If Napolitano truly wants to begin to repair her legacy on immigration and deportation, she can begin by publicly supporting the Trust Act—and publically condemning the program she worked so hard to create.

Laura Flanders looks at the implications of California’s new Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.

How Not to Talk to White Parents

Three-year-old Steven Johnson holds an enlarged banner of Skittles candy, as he joins a “Justice for Trayvon Martin hoodie rally” on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The New York Times ran an opinion piece this weekend titled “Explaining Twerking to Your Parents.” In it, writer Teddy Wayne chronicles the moment at which white people might have to explain twerking to their parents. The result is disastrous. Wayne’s piece remains one of the most read and e-mailed well past the weekend on which it was published in the paper and posted online. It’s offensive on the surface—but it’s also harmful, in that it shifts attention away from the conversation that parents have with their black kids about racial profiling, vigilantism and death.

Following Trayvon Martin’s killing by neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman, mainstream news media began publishing articles about “the talk.” While previously, the talk often meant a conversation about sex and adolescence, this talk is much more complicated. It’s one in which parents explain to their black children that they will be racially profiled; one that’s had in order to sometimes save black lives. As part of a national conversation about race, major newspapers, including The New York Times, wrote about the talk. Many white writers expressed that it was hard to imagine even having to explain to a child that their skin color automatically makes them suspect, and as such, a candidate for early death.

Wayne has now taken what was a growing conversation about the life—and death—of black teenagers, and poached it to become what he calls “the big ‘twerk talk.’” The actual contents of Wayne’s talk are perhaps hilarious for some white readers, despite the article’s clearly racist tone. Early on, Wayne writes:

Explain that twerking is a dance move typically associated with lower-income African-American women that involves the rapid gyration of the hips in a fashion that prominently exhibits the elasticity of the gluteal musculature.

Aside from what sounds like a clinical diagnosis of a practice he clearly doesn’t bear the authority to explain, Wayne relegates twerking to impoverished black women—making invisible the actual lives of black women by perpetuating detestable stereotypes. Because Wayne’s twerk talk is one that’s likely based on white parents who want to understand Miley Cyrus’s cannibalizing Video Music Awards performance, Wayne goes on to construe that Cyrus should get a pass for exploiting black culture (albeit for no good reason). In a couple of short paragraphs, Wayne not only ridicules black women, who survive despite the apparatus of systemic racism that continues to deprive equal access to education, housing and wealth, but also establishes that Cyrus’s brazen “cynical act of cultural appropriation” is perfectly warranted.

Wayne’s decision to take a developing conversation about race and reduce it to what he calls the twerk talk is troubling precisely because of the ongoing need for an intergenerational dialogue between white children and their parents that centers on racial bias and institutional racism. Just a few weeks after George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the murder of an unarmed black teenager whom he described as a “real suspicious guy,” Wayne resolves to repeat racist tropes himself, and willfully disregards cultural appropriation without reason. The newspaper of record, meanwhile, does the dutiful work of publishing it for a massive audience.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

It’s bad enough that Wayne writes racist garbage about people he plainly does not understand—but the added intrusion is his ability to help quash what was becoming a national conversation about race while doing so.

The race-baiting of America is missing the point.

An Open Letter: How I Failed Chelsea Manning

Manning in Fort Meade, Maryland, February 23, 2012. (Reuters/Jose Luis Magana)

Dear Chelsea,

I lost count of how many times I read your brilliant statement yesterday, a statement that illustrates your conviction for justice, and one that now places you with some of the most radical thinkers in history. I can read any single sentence from it and examine it with awe—and as a fellow writer, I can attest to how hard that is to do. Yet perhaps I’m writing accolades to you in order to distract myself from what is much harder for me to write, and to admit: I failed you, Chelsea Manning.

I should have paid much better attention to you and your trial. I could lie and tell you that I didn’t have time, but it’s simply not true. I failed you because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the many charges levied against you. I failed you because of the way the unbelievable power of the US government was used against you. I failed you because it was easy to ignore you, and leave you in the backseat of my mind. I chose to read about you only from time to time, at my own convenience. I chose to talk about you with friends and colleagues only occasionally, but would stop talking about you when they quickly lost interest. And for all of that, and more, I’m sorry.

In your statement yesterday, you referenced the Declaration of Independence—only to improve upon it, by letting us know that you are “gladly” paying the price of imprisonment “if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.” By closing with that line, you’ve made clear that you recognize your duty to be one that advances the limits that keep the United States from achieving a full democracy. By expanding on the document that declared this nation into being, you’ve broadened the conversation to include the still-revolutionary idea that all human beings are equal, regardless of their gender.

You also made clear that you rooted your actions in the long struggle for racial justice. Few white women ever draw attention to the forced removal of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and Seminole people during the Trail of Tears. Few white women recognize the sad significance of the Dred Scott decision, which failed to confer citizenship on free or enslaved blacks. Few white women—especially white women who are preparing to serve a prison sentence—recall that more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. Most white women do not have to think about these injustices, and their silence secures their comfort in a stolen land that became wealthy on stolen labor. Yet you not only risked your comfort—you risked your very life.

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!

Your statement hardly comes as a surprise. You had already made perfectly clear that you believed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dehumanized people, and that that dehumanization made it easier to kill innocent people with impunity. And yet, I didn’t really listen. I skimmed articles, skimmed analysis, but never made the decision to support you like I should have. I’m sorry, Chelsea. I’m sorry, at the very least, that I wasn’t a better listener.

I understand now that you wanted to make the world better for women of color like me. Now it’s up to me to make the world a better place for women like you.

With love,


Read more about Chelsea Manning’s recent statements here.

Syndicate content