ENDING RAPE ILLITERACY: On October 21, a DC-based feminist group projected the phrase “rape is rape” onto the Capitol building. The message may seem obvious but it is also much needed, as Republican Richard Mourdock showed at the final Indiana Senate debate. Explaining why he opposes abortion with no exceptions, he said pregnancies resulting from rape are “something that God intended”—the latest in a long line of gaffes by male politicians about sexual assault. Feminists have done a lot to change policies, but not enough to change minds. Widespread ignorance about what rape is is one of the biggest hurdles we have in chipping away at rape culture. Last year Republicans tried to pass a measure to redefine rape as “forcible” rape, the response was swift. Thanks to national organizations, online activism and a clever Twitter campaign, the language was taken out of the bill. Feminists also succeeded in convincing the FBI to update its archaic definition of rape.
These victories are important, but it’s crucial that we shift from a reactive stance to actively changing the broader culture . We need to spend less time worrying about ultraconservative misogynists and extremist politicians and focus on shifting the way we all think about sexual assault and consent. We need to think and act much bigger. The American people, young women especially, are ready for a new message about sexuality and for a definition of rape that is accurate, strong, progressive and indisputable. See TheNation.com for more. JESSICA VALENTI
SUING WALL STREET: As with most disasters, the 2008 housing crisis hit low-income communities of color hardest. After the housing bubble burst, black and Latino homeowners were nearly twice as likely to lose their house to foreclosure as their white counterparts. Now the ACLU is hoping to hold Wall Street accountable for its role. Along with the National Consumer Law Center and the law firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, on October 15, the ACLU filed an unprecedented lawsuit accusing Morgan Stanley of encouraging predatory mortgage loans to low-income African-American borrowers. The plaintiffs claim the bank pushed the now-bankrupt New Century Financial Corporation to sell high-risk mortgages in Detroit, violating both the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. From 2004 to 2006, African-Americans living in the Detroit area were 70 percent more likely to receive a subprime loan than white borrowers with the same income and credit background.
According to Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Project, Morgan Stanley urged New Century to “target neighborhoods that had been subject to decades of residential segregation and credit discrimination so it could flood those markets with toxic loans without having to compete against better credit opportunities.” When Morgan Stanley made it clear it was interested in purchasing such high-risk subprime loans to sell on the securities market, “it was not concerned with whether those loans would be economically viable for homeowners.” Activists hope the lawsuit sets a precedent, ensuring that firms like Morgan Stanley are held liable for the discriminatory impact of their practices. To read the full complaint, go to aclu.org. CHRISTIE THOMPSON
ON RUSSELL MEANS: Russell Means, who died on October 22, was a relentless advocate of indigenous people worldwide. The Lakota activist came to national prominence on Thanksgiving in 1970, when he led the American Indian Movement in a day of national mourning at Plymouth Rock.
In 1973, Means and AIM seized Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in a standoff with federal agents that lasted ten weeks. The occupation was empowering for Means and brought attention to the dire conditions at Pine ridge. “For seventy-one days we walked in freedom, without a white man’s rules or regulations,” he said.
Means was committed to the struggle against colonialism, but he was often critical of the left. In a 1980 speech, he reflected on Marxism. “You cannot judge the real nature of a European revolutionary doctrine on the basis of the changes it proposes to make within the European power structure and society,” he said. “You can only judge it by the effects it will have on non-European peoples.”
“There is another way,” Means went on. “There is the traditional Lakota way and the ways of the American Indian peoples. It is the way that knows that humans do not have the right to degrade Mother Earth, that there are forces beyond anything the European mind has conceived, that humans must be in harmony with all relations or the relations will eventually eliminate the disharmony.” ROSAMUND HUNTER
RACIAL JUSTICE?: On October 10, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. Texas, a case that challenges the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions policies. While the ruling, likely to come in June, may alter only Texas policies, it has the potential to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, which in 2003 upheld race as one of many permissible factors in higher education admissions.
The National Black Law Students Association, representing some 6,000 law students, was one of many groups to rally outside the Court that day. If the admissions policy is struck down, Kendra Brown, national chair of NBLSA, predicts a drastic impact not only on schools but professions across the board. In an amicus brief, the NBLSA responded to claims that students of color admitted under such policies underperform academically by emphasizing that in fact “people under perform when social and historical cues conspire to tell them they are less than competent.”
No fewer than seventy-three amicus briefs were filed defending race-based admissions, from groups including Teach for America, the Anti-Defamation League, the League of Women Voters and the American Jewish Committee, as well as many universities, student groups and members of Congress. Even Fortune 100 corporations and businesses filed briefs, as racial diversity is increasingly associated with profits. (Only seventeen briefs were filed supporting Fisher.)
Defenders of affirmative action often argue that diversity benefits the community. But more important , affirmative action scrutinizes the myth of meritocracy to address historically institutionalized racial disparities. The outcome in Fisher will have much to say about whether we can expect institutionally backed equality of education for future generations. LUCY MCKEON
Nation blogger Greg Mitchell reports that an Associated Press poll finds that 56 percent of Americans harbor “anti-black” views—and the media look the other way.