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Trump Speaks, DeVos Backpedals

President Trump kicked off his speech to the joint session of Congress with a nod to the waning moments of Black History Month, a surprising hat tip from a man who has repeatedly told the black community that their situation is so dire that they should just give up and throw in their lot with him. “You’re living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed,” he told Detroit area voters last August. “What the hell do you have to lose?” (One thing that black Michiganders might like to lose is the lead in the Flint water supply, but that didn’t make the final version of the speech.)

He told Congress Tuesday night:

And citizens of America, tonight, as we mark the conclusion of our celebration of black history month, we are reminded of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains to be done. Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.

This was the first time that the president had addressed hate this directly, particularly with regard to the recent threats faced by the Jewish community. The change in tone was welcome. But it was also a fairly stark turnabout from the remarks he appeared to make earlier that day that confused a group of state attorneys. According to Buzzfeed, the president said that there may have been reasons other than hate for the attacks on the Jewish community. “Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people—or to make others—look bad.” Said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, “I really don’t know what he means, or why he said that.”

But the true head-scratcher of the last two days belongs to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She laudably managed to unite pretty much everyone around one idea: That she has no idea how Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were born.

On Monday, President Trump and DeVos met with representatives from HBCUs for a “listening session,” which got more coverage for an unfortunate photo of senior adviser Kellyanne Conway than the substance of the meeting. But DeVos released a statement following the meeting that sought to set things right. The statement praised the schools for their “pioneering” role in school choice:

They started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education. They saw that the system wasn’t working, that there was an absence of opportunity, so they took it upon themselves to provide the solution. HBCUs are real pioneers when it comes to school choice.

Except that the “system” she is referring to was Jim Crow, a brutal caste system designed to… oh well, you know what Jim Crow was. Does she? The reaction to her statement was immediate. Hundreds of angry Twitter users accused her of whitewashing history, among other things. “Shoutout to those who drank from the Colored Only fountain,” quipped one. “You were pioneers in water choice.” Congressman John Conyers [D-MI] issued a statement of his own. “This statement by Mrs. DeVos reveals either a stunning ignorance of history on the part of the person tasked with overseeing our nation’s education system, or an inability to acknowledge our nation’s shameful history of racial discrimination in education, both public and private.”

DeVos corrected the record in a speech delivered to the HBCU congressional luncheon yesterday. “Your history was born, not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism, and in the aftermath of the Civil War,” she said.

This is a lot of turning about in a short period of time. For the communities involved, it’s not political theater. It’s a painful erasure of a history that puts the future at risk.

Not to mention promises deferred. As Politico reported, one HBCU president asked the White House to consider backing a $25 billion infrastructure improvement package for their campuses and year-round Pell grants for low-income students. It seems like a reasonable starting point for a negotiation that would mean both jobs and improved education. “Rather than focus solely on funding, we must be willing to make the tangible, structural reforms that will allow students to reach their full potential,” DeVos said in her original statement. That doesn’t leave much open to interpretation.

On Point

Trump might be open to some sort of immigration reformHe didn’t mention it in his speech, but he did the day before in a private lunch with news anchors. It’s the type of “compromise” bill that would allow immigrants who have not committed serious crimes to live, work, and pay taxes in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides,” he said.Fortune

Trump announced Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement office (VOICE)
After highlighting the victims of crimes committed by immigrants in his speech, Trump talked about VOICE, which was part of a January 25th executive order. “I have ordered the Department of Homeland Security to create an office to serve American victims,” Trump said Tuesday night. “We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media, and silenced by special interests.” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly ordered the reallocation of any DHS resources currently going toward advocating for undocumented immigrants to be re-routed to fund the office.

A notorious immigrant detention center could be reopened in Texas
After the recent executive order aimed to boost security along the U.S. border, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been directed to expand their detention capacity wherever possible. “Among the facilities ICE has apparently set its sights on is a vacant detention center in Raymondville, in Willacy County [Texas], an infamous complex of tent-like structures that shuttered in 2015 following a long history of alleged abuse, neglect, and mismanagement,” writes Texas Monthly’s Leif Reigstad. In 2014, the ACLU published a report on five private prison centers, calling Willacy “a physical symbol of everything that is wrong with enriching the private prison industry and criminalizing immigration.”
Texas Monthly

A Georgia couple, part of a white supremacist mob, sentenced to prison for threatening to kill people at a kid’s party
It’s an ugly story and one that’s notable in part for the justice meted out. After participating in a convoy of trucks driving through a suburban neighborhood and waving the Confederate flag, Jose Torres and Kayla Norton were among a sub-group who stopped to threaten a backyard birthday party for an eight-year-old African American boy. After shouting racial slurs, Torres pointed his shotgun at the group of African American party-goers and said he was going to kill them. Torres was sentenced to 20 years, and Norton was sentenced to 15 years, with six years in prison. The group were active posters of Klan-related and white supremacist materials on social media, prosecutors found.

Lincoln Center to President Trump: The arts are a $700 billion business
President Trump’s threats to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts has compelled the world’s largest performing arts center to make the business case for culture directly to the commander-in-chief. Think of the NEA as more of an incubator of talent, they said, a public-private model fueling arts innovation that generates $700 billion in economic activity every year. “The total cost of the NEA is less than one dollar a year for every American. But because it is so successful and its imprimatur so prestigious, every dollar the NEA contributes leads to nine additional dollars being donated from other sources.”
Indie Wire

Black employees are more likely to be promoted when they are referred by another employee
Two researchers reviewed the records of 16,000 employees hired from 2003 to 2013 in a large U.S.-based sales organization. The organization had a “promote from within” culture, but the researchers found that black and female employees were statistically less likely to be promoted than white male employees—unless the black employees were hired through a referral. Black employees hired via a referral were statistically more likely to receive regularly timed promotions than those who had not been referred. And a black employee with a referral was as likely to get an outstanding promotion as a white employee without one. A follow-up study “suggests that this effect for black employees might have come from a referral’s positive signal of quality that persisted after they were hired.” No change for women, sadly.

The Woke Leader

Remembering a forgotten “Richard Pryor”
Charles Wright wrote three largely forgotten autobiographical novels about a black intellectual from Missouri trying to make it in New York. His books—“The Messenger” (1963), “The Wig” (1966) and “Absolutely Nothing to Get Alarmed About” (1973)—were enthusiastically reviewed at the time, but he disappeared into alcoholism and illness, living for years in the spare room of his editor’s apartment. (Now that’s a novel unto itself.) But reviewer Dwight Garner is making the case that these masterpieces should be reprinted. “The primal subject of Wright’s novels is loneliness,” he writes. “As a light-skinned black man, his narrator feels like a minority tucked inside a minority.” But the prose is free-wheeling, satirical and takes no prisoners. Said one fan, Wright was “Richard Pryor before there was a Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor on paper.”
New York Times

Mahershala Ali is not considered a Muslim everywhere
It’s such a divisive issue that a Pakistani envoy to the U.N. felt it necessary to delete a celebratory tweet. When Mahershala Ali became, it is believed, the first Muslim to win an Oscar—a black Muslim winning an award for a film about black, gay men, at that—Pakistani envoy Maleeha Lodhi tweeted, then deleted, “That’s a first.” Ali practices the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, which is outlawed in Pakistan. Followers face legal action or mob violence. Writer Saba Imtiaz has the background on how Ahmadis became non-Muslims in Pakistan in 1974, and how their minority status has made their lives fraught with certain peril. “The legislation effectively ensured that Ahmadis were treated as heretics and pariahs in Pakistan,” she writes.
The Atlantic

A new virtual reality video series from Google explores race and identity
“Race is part of an individual’s identity that affects how they interact with the world and how the world interacts with them.” So begins this quietly compelling video series, shot in a 360-degree format, in which Googlers talk about race in a personal way. Somehow the format makes the sometimes shocking candor of their confessions easier to absorb. They worry about their children, being accepted, fighting to be seen, and in one notable case, to think about the racism that was imprinted on them as a child. “My whole life I’ve been told to be afraid of or look down on people of color,” says one man as we drive with him down a country road. “It’s super important to be in relationships that write over those old tapes.” Stick around until the end to meet some of the Googlers who are leading the conversation about race inside the company, and sit with the questions they ask.


My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more intelligent and more educated than college professors.
—Maya Angelou