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raceAhead: Alabama Voted, Thank Black Women

Black voters in Alabama, specifically black women, are being given the credit for Doug Jones’ victory squeaker last night.

There will be many opportunities for Senator-elect Jones and other Alabama legislators to thank them going forward.

Here are a few, off the top of my head: Do something about their maternal death rate and protect them from intimate partner violence, which is alarmingly high in your state. Your infant mortality rate jumped dramatically last year, and the death rate of African American babies is twice that of white ones. Could you look into that? End disproportionate punishment of their black kids in school. Make it easier for them to vote. Maybe tackle workplace safety, equal pay and sexual harassment, particularly in low wage service jobs. Invest in their startups.

Here’s another. Ask them what they need, because they know. Remember that many of the black voters who are being celebrated today come from a long line of women who have always looked out for others, even when the favor wasn’t returned.

Here’s one memorable example, which will hopefully be coming to a theater near you soon.

In September, 1944, a young mother named Recy Taylor was abducted while walking home from a church revival in rural Abbeville, Alabama. Next came a sedan filled with seven men. A desperate drive to a secluded pine grove. A brutal gang-rape perpetrated by six of them. Taylor was told they’d return and do worse if she told anyone. First, she told her father. And then she told everyone.

Her case went to a grand jury twice, but when charges were never filed, the NAACP office in Montgomery sent their best investigator out to find out why. Her name was Rosa Parks.

Long before she was famous for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Parks was a trained NAACP investigator and led a national campaign to stop sexual assaults against black women, which was a persistent experience in the violent Jim Crow South.

This remarkable story is the subject of a new documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor, by filmmaker Nancy Buirski. The film has gotten mixed reviews, more for Buirski’s shortcomings as a journalist, rather than the importance of the subject. “It would have been better for the world if this movie had been made decades ago, because the facts that are brought out in Buirski’s film are—and ought to be known as—a constant and inextricable correlate to African-Americans’ ongoing and frustrated quest for civil rights,” says The New Yorker’s Richard Brody.

You can watch the trailer here.

The story is far from over, at least for Taylor’s family. In 2011, the Alabama Legislature issued a formal apology for its “morally abhorrent and repugnant” failure to prosecute Taylor’s case.

And when Danielle McGuire, a white historian of racial and sexual violence recently visited Taylor at her younger brother’s home to interview her for her doctoral dissertation, she found a family still in search of answers.

McGuire brought boxes of her research, including copies of the state’s original investigation along with archival newspaper accounts and letters of support for Taylor, all material the family had never seen and had spent decades searching for.

“The box contained evidence of both the original crime against Taylor and the state’s efforts to dismiss, diminish and disappear her victimization,” she said. She presented the case in front of Taylor and her siblings, her nieces, nephews and their children. “It was a multi-generation tribunal ready to bear witness,” she said.

The crimes of the past do not stay buried. They fester and boil and rot everything from underneath, and all too often are spackled over into systems that do more harm than good. In this way, the truly beautiful state of Alabama is not an exception, nor is it exceptional. But every step forward toward sunlight and inclusion is a step in the right direction. Sweet home and blue skies, indeed.

So yes, by all means, thank black women. But also make sure they have seats at the leaders’ table.

On Point

Former NFL running back fights his demonsFair warning, this is a deeply disturbing story. Larry Johnson, who played for the Miami Dolphins among others, opens up about his struggles with what he believes to be chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the degenerative brain disease now linked to more than 100 former football players. He cannot remember two of his NFL seasons. His suicide ideation is so profound, that he fantasizes persistently about jumping off roofs — “One [voice]is telling you to do it; one is telling you don’t,” he told The Washington Post. “One is telling you it’d be fun.” He is anxious, paranoid, and volatile, and will lapse into long silences. His mind feels like it’s filled with static. He’s so afraid of losing himself, that he’s making video highlights of his career – partly to jog his memory, partly as a time capsule for his seven-year-old daughter. He’s 38 years old.Washington Post

Michael Che becomes the first person of color to be a head writer for SNL
I’m not sure I exactly follow this story, but it seems overall to be good news. Che will be sharing the head writing spot with his Weekend Update co-host Colin Jost, who according to Shadow and Act has been a co-head writer for the last three seasons. In any event, the popular duo will be joining Kent Sublette and Bryan Tucker who are also billed as head writers. It seems like a lot of head writers, but I’m happy for Che. He joined the SNL cast in 2013 and has garnered legions of fans for his masterful news fauxcasting.
USA Today

An epidemic of suicide among American farmers and ag workers
The rate is more than twice that of veterans, and this moving piece from The Guardian begins to touch on why. “Farming has always been a stressful occupation because many of the factors that affect agricultural production are largely beyond the control of the producers,” explains one expert. Debt, financial uncertainty, the vagaries of nature, all play a role. And it’s global – suicide rates for agricultural workers are reaching crisis proportions in places like the UK, Australia and India. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the suicide study, thinks the numbers are actually underreported –  many farmers disguise their deaths as accidents. But the note that Ginnie Peters found on the day her husband took his life, tells the desperate tale. “My dearest love,” it began, and continued for pages. “I have torment in my head.”
The Guardian

USA Today editorial board slams President Trump for his choice of words in Gillibrand-themed tweet
On Tuesday, President Trump published a tweet that seemed to indicate that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand would be willing to trade sexual favors for campaign contributions. Gillibrand is one of six Democratic senators calling for the president to resign in light of allegations of sexual assault, but the only one to get called out on Twitter. “A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush,” they wrote. They go on from there.
USA Today

The Woke Leader

Remembering the Nanjing Massacre
In 1937, the Japanese launched an invasion of China; on December 13, the then-capital city of Nanjing was finally taken. What happened next was a horror of massive proportions. As many as 300,000 people, including children, were massacred in the weeks of rampaging that followed. Some 200,000 women and girls were raped and entire communities razed. Chinese president Xi Jinping led a somber remembrance ceremony today, careful to say that China would “look forward” to deepen its historically fraught relationship with Japan. But the pain runs deep, despite attempts to downplay the magnitude of the event. Click through for more history and videos from some of the 97 remaining survivors.

Sex in the time of AIM
Amanda Mull has written a surprisingly charming tribute to AOL’s iconic instant message service, which shuts down on December 15 after twenty years. (It was still alive, you ask?) Her essay, part memoir part cultural treatise, paints a picture of what it was like to truly be the first generation to come of age in a new digital world. Girls could be anonymous in an interesting way back then, interpersonally, with no permanent record to embarrass you later. “The halcyon days of AIM were a time before easily disseminated screenshots, so unless someone you knew in real life was mad enough to print out what you said in an IM and bring it to school, it was a receipt-free existence,” she explained. To be a tender teen with a communication platform, anonymity and the option to “self-identify as cool,” meant it was a surprisingly safe space for girls – who are still looked upon as sexual objects and not humans with agency and desires – to talk about sex. Warning: She talks about sex.

Can blind people be racist?
Sure, they found the wokest blind people around for this short video, but that doesn’t change the fact that these good-natured, mostly white folks took the question seriously and had real insights to share. (It appears to be from a series that seeks to deconstruct blindness, not race.) The race question is interesting for reasons beyond the obvious. While their blindness does, for some, take racial cues out of their interactions at least initially, most were honest about the fact that “seeing race” had nothing to do with eyesight. Most had been tempted to stereotype others, and one said that her blindness did little to negate her white privilege. “Yes, I’m racist, I think every white person is racist,” she said. “I participate in institutions, I benefit from capitalism which was built on slavery and racism.”


Like so many of his contemporaries, (1942-1948 Alabama Governor Chauncey) Sparks was an outspoken opponent of “federal encroachments” on the rights of states, particularly in such domestic affairs as race relations. Toward the end of Sparks’ administration, the legislature passed the Boswell Amendment, which limited the increasing number of black voters in the state. The amendment gave county registrars the power to deny suffrage to voters who, in the view of the registrars, did not understand relevant constitutional issues.
Harvey H. Jackson