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Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  stands by a river at sunset time Photo from PBS series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
PBS series: The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross
Black history is American history
Commentary by Black Kos editor Denise Oliver Velez

"“The story of the African-American people is the story of the settlement and growth of America itself, a universal tale that all people should experience,” said Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. whose new series, "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross" will premier on PBS October 22.

The series is accompanied by a book with the same name, which Kam Williams reviewed for The Afro:

By and large, history books have marginalized the African-American community by either omitting or minimizing its cornucopia of contributions to the country. Similarly, the African-American psyche has been trivialized by a host of harmful stereotypes which suggest that we aren’t as diverse or as capable of experiencing the same full range of emotions as Caucasians.

How else can you explain that the mayor of New York City might rationalize employing the “stop and frisk” police tactic against blacks in wholesale fashion, as if criminality is a racial trait instead of judging people by the content of their character as envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King a half-century ago? Fortunately, {The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross} has just been published in the face of such persisting, institutionalized prejudice.

He interviewed Gates, who said:
“To tell the whole sweep of African-American history — no one’s tried to do that. That was what we were crazy enough to do,” Gates said in an interview on Wednesday. He hopes the series will find its way into the nation’s schools as well as its living rooms, and acquaint audiences of all ages — both black and white — with black history, about which he says both races are equally ignorant.
“How can I help with the conversation about race? Schools are tools for the formation of citizenship. My target is the school curriculum: getting an integrated story told”

I have been using Gate's previous series, Black in Latin America, in my anthropology and women's studies classrooms and look forward to this new tool to illustrate and compliment efforts to incorporate black history and culture into both disciplines.  

The series will be broadcast in six parts.

Episode One: The Black Atlantic (1500 – 1800)
Tuesday, October 22, 8-9 p.m.

Episode Two: The Age of Slavery (1800 – 1860)
Tuesday, October 29, 8-9 p.m.

Episode Three: Into the Fire (1861 – 1896)
Tuesday, November 5, 8-9 p.m.

Episode Four: Making a Way Out of No Way (1897 – 1940)
Tuesday, November 12, 8-9 p.m.

Episode Five: Rise! (1940 – 1968)
Tuesday, November 19, 8-9 p.m.

Episode Six: It’s Nation Time (1968 – 2013)
Tuesday, November 26, 8-9 p.m.

For me, what is crucial about this is that it does not only deal with the past, since its conclusion in episode six brings us up to now, and raises questions for the future
After 1968, African Americans set out to build a bright new future on the foundation of the civil rights movement’s victories, but a growing class disparity threatened to split the black community in two. As hundreds of African Americans won political office across the country and the black middle class made unprecedented progress, larger economic and political forces isolated the black urban poor in the inner cities, vulnerable to new social ills and an epidemic of incarceration. Yet African Americans of all backgrounds came together to support Illinois’ Senator Barack Obama in his historic campaign for the presidency of the United States. When he won in 2008, many hoped that America had finally transcended race and racism. By the time of his second victory, it was clear that many issues, including true racial equality, remain to be resolved. Now we ask: How will African Americans help redefine the United States in the years to come?
I was particularly pleased to see that the series airs the voices of black women who played a key role in school integration and black movements.
Among them are:

Ruby Bridges, who many remember as the subject of the iconic Norman Rockwell painting "The problem we all live with", depicting the day in 1960 that she entered first grade on the first day of court-ordered desegregation of New Orleans, Louisiana public schools, accompanied by U.S. Marshals.  

 photo RubyBridgesNormanRockwellcopy_zps282da7dd.jpg

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, award winning journalist, who with Hamilton Holmes, in 1961 became the first black students admitted to the University of Georgia.

Many histories leave out the voices of black revolutionary women, like those from SNCC and the Black Panther Party, which was founded today, October 15th, in Oakland, California.

The series includes Kathleen Neal Cleaver, who is still an activist focusing on inmate's rights, and who teaches at both Yale and Emory University.

PBS continues to bring us important programming, withstanding continued efforts by the right to see it defunded.  

I'm looking forward to this series—kudos to Professor Gates and Public Broadcasting.

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                  News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
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The survival of ancient tyrants spoils Africa’s record of improving democracy. Economist: Too many dinosaurs.
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Between independence from colonial rule in the early 1960s and the end of the cold war in 1991, not a single African ruler was peacefully ousted at the ballot box, except in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. But since Mathieu Kérékou of Benin and Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda bowed out graciously in 1991, at least 30 African leaders or ruling parties have let their countries’ voters kick them out. Multiparty systems in Africa now far outnumber single-party ones. This contrasts strikingly with the Arab world, where so far almost no incumbent-ejecting elections have taken place anywhere.

Yet Africa still harbours too many dinosaurs whose time ought to have passed. Half of the world’s 30 or so longest-serving rulers are African. Some, such as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, now nearing 34 years in charge, started with genuine popular consent. So did Yoweri Museveni, pictured with Mr Mugabe, who has run Uganda since 1986, but like Mr Mugabe is now loth to let go (see article). Several other old-timers have been in charge even longer. Teodoro Nguema of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea pushed out his even ghastlier uncle in 1979. Angola’s José Eduardo Dos Santos became president, on a supposedly Marxist ticket, in the same year. Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, has presided over Sudan since 1989. None of these grim figures would still be in charge if his people had more freedom.

The continent’s biggest democracies, South Africa and Nigeria, have not lately been a compelling advertisement for representative government. South Africa, ruled by the African National Congress since 1994, is in danger of becoming a de facto one-party state. Nigeria’s politics is so corrupt that it gives the D-word a bad name. In both countries large majorities of people still live in penury, despite the rise of billionaires at the top.

In the short term at least, autocracy does not seem to hamper economic growth. Some anti-democrats—Ethiopia’s late ruler, the authoritarian Meles Zenawi, is a favourite example—have seen their economies grow faster than those of more democratic neighbours. The increasingly ruthless Paul Kagame has made Rwandans a lot better off. Thanks to oil, Equatorial Guinea and Angola are among the fastest-growing countries in the world.

Yet Mr Mugabe has pauperised a once-rich country, and some of the least-free countries are also the most economically backward. Most of the 300 or so desperate refugees who drowned off the Italian island of Lampedusa on October 3rd were from Somalia and Eritrea, Africa’s worst performers in political participation and human rights, according to the Mo Ibrahim index of African governance. As the index has repeatedly shown, countries that do well in political participation and human rights also tend to do well in economic development. And democracy is the best guarantor of peace, which is the best foundation for growth


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The black pride movement continues to make strides in Latin America. The Grio: Artists, educators laud black heritage in DR.
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 In a school auditorium filled with laughing students, actresses Luz Bautista Matos and Clara Morel threw themselves into acting out a fairy tale complete with a princess, a hero and acts of derring-do.

Morel had wrapped a white plastic sheet around her multi-colored blouse, while Bautista donned a brown paper bag over her blue tights. The two black actresses wore their hair free and natural, decorated only with single pink flowers.

“Yes, you’re a princess,” said Bautista to Morel, who fretted that she didn’t look like a traditional princess with her dark complexion and hair. Bautista then turned to a young girl sitting in the front row, who shared the same African-descended features as both actresses. “And you too,” Morel said as the child smiled back at her.

The theater group Wonderful Tree has visited schools all over Santo Domingo and some in the countryside to spread the word among black children that their features and heritage should be a source of pride. That message, though simple, has been nothing less than startling in this Caribbean country, where 80 percent of people are classified as mulattos, meaning they have mixed black-white ancestry, but where many still consider being labeled black an offense.

Wonderful Tree represents a larger cultural movement that’s working to combat the country’s historic bias through arts and education. The Dominican choreographer Awilda Polanco runs a contemporary dance company that’s trying to rescue Afro-Caribbean traditions, while the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo has been training primary school teachers to respect and celebrate their students’ African heritage, including with skits that young children can more easily understand.

It’s a bid to transform a color-obsessed society where a majority of the country’s 10 million people choose to identify themselves as “Indio” — or “Indian” — on government documents despite theirblack roots, and many reject afros in favor of closely cropped hair or sleek blowouts. Public schools for decades even prohibited students from attending classes with their hair loose or in a natural frizz.

10-year-old Germaris Hernandez adjusts her headband as she watches a theater performance by the company “Arbol Maravilloso” or “Wonderful Tree” that that encourages black children to wear their hair natural instead of straightening it, through a fairy tale story, in Moca, Dominican Republic. (AP Photo/Manuel Diaz)

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Four panels on race and gender at NYC Comic Con. Racialious: Racialicious attends New York Comic Con 2013.
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Let’s keep this short, sweet, and blunt: I’m disappointed at the lack of panels dealing exclusively –or even mentioned in summary– with issues of diversity, gender, sexuality, and other marginalized views at New York Comic Con 2013.
I can’t recommend and won’t be attending too many panels this year. Of 334 panels and screenings I was able to find 3 focusing exclusively on marginalised voices in fandom. 3 panels in 4 days of con-going. (Gosh, how will I ever will I have the time make it to all of them?) I’m thrilled to be attending what I am, but the lack of diverse content is concerning, to say the least.
On Thursday night there’s the LGBT and Allies in Comics panel presented by the New York Times and Geeks Out. X-Men writers Marjorie Liu and and Greg Pak will be featured along with Dan Parent and Rich Bernatovech.What do you think?

While there are panels that have at least one person of color featured, there’s no focused panel on any marginalised issues in comics, fandom, or media to be found on all of Friday.

                   Wonder Woman and Vixen, Baltimore Comic Con 2012 Photo: Flickr/Stephen Little

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A Discussion of Steve McQueen’s Film ‘12 Years a Slave’. New York Times: An Essentially American Narrative.
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Amid comic book epics, bromantic comedies and sequels of sequels, films about America’s tortured racial history have recently emerged as a surprisingly lucrative Hollywood staple. In the last two years, “The Help,” “Lincoln,""Django Unchained,""42” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” have performed well at the box office, gathering awards in some cases and drawing varying degrees of critical acclaim.

The latest entry in this unlikely genre is “12 Years a Slave,” the director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir. A free black man living in Saratoga, N.Y., Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into brutal servitude in the Deep South. During his ordeal, he labors at different plantations, including the one owned by the sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who has a tortured sexual relationship with the slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o).

Following a buzzed-about preview screening at the Telluride Film Festival and the audience award at the Toronto International Film Festival, “12 Years a Slave” arrives in theaters Friday amid much online chatter that it may be headed for Oscar nominations. But Mr. Ejiofor, who portrays Northup, and Mr. McQueen, known for the bracingly austere “Hunger” and “Shame,” both say that getting audiences to see an uncompromisingly violent and quietly meditative film about America’s “peculiar institution” is still a challenge even with the presence of a producer, Brad Pitt, in a small role.

                                                      Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
From left, the writer Nelson George, who moderated a discussion of “12 Years a Slave” in SoHo with the film’s director, Steve McQueen; the artist Kara Walker; the lead actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor; and the historian Eric Foner.


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The production company once known for comedy specials and faith-based movies is stepping up its game — and hoping to do the same for Hollywood in the process. The Wrap: Can CodeBlack Change Hollywood’s ‘Cliched’ Approach to Black Viewers?
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For 15 years, Jeff Clanagan sold comedy specials and faith-based movies to people watching at home. When the home-entertainment market collapsed a few years ago, he began to chart a new path for CodeBlack Entertainment.

He joined forces with Lionsgate, home to Tyler Perry, and decided to focus on something new: quality. CodeBlack had always released movies for African-American audiences, acquiring 15 to 20 movies a year and selling them at Wal-Mart and other retailers.

His new bosses asked him to make less with more, releasing fewer movies each year but diversifying his output, producing and distributing a wider array of films for the same market. He’s still producing comedy specials, but also starry films like “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete.”


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In the first nine months of 2013, white conservative men dominated the guest lists on the  Sunday morning shows. MSNBC was the only network achieving notable diversity in its guests, particularly on Melissa Harris-Perry's show. Republicans and conservatives are hosted significantly more on the broadcast Sunday shows than Democrats and progressives. Media Matters: REPORT: Once Again, Sunday Morning Talk Shows Are White, Male, And Conservative.
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Media Matters has continued its monitoring of the Sunday morning talk shows on broadcast and cable networks. Following up on our previous studies, we've added data for July, August, and September to the existing data collected for the first six months of this year on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, NBC's Meet the Press, CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, and MSNBC's Up with Steve Kornacki and Melissa Harris-Perry. Unless otherwise specified all charts and analysis below are based on the full nine months of data.

White Men Still Represent The Largest Proportion Of Guests Except On Melissa Harris-Perry. Six of the seven shows analyzed -- This Week, Face the Nation, Fox News Sunday, Meet the Press, State of the Union, and Up -- have hosted white men at a significantly higher rate than their 31 percent portion of the population. Melissa Harris-Perry provided the greatest diversity among guests, providing a much higher rate of white women and African-American guests than the other programs; Up also hosted a higher percentage of people from those demographics than CNN or the broadcast programs. Latino, Asian-American, and Middle Eastern guests have been largely absent from the Sunday shows. Native Americans fared even worse, with only two appearances (one on Melissa Harris-Perry and one on Up) out of a total of 2,436 appearances over the nine-month period studied.


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You loved my karaoke performance and think I’m amazing on the dance floor. I’m pretty sure I know why. Slate: Socializing While Black.
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I’ve written before of the “persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform,” in the case of Cleveland hero Charles Ramsey and his hilarious black neighbor counterparts. For another recent example, take the black couple who earlier this year found themselves as the lively antidote to an otherwise weak recurring Jay Leno skit “Pumpcast News,” earning raves for their seemingly impromptu karaoke performances in front of a gas pump. They were pretty entertaining, singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” with giddy abandon.

But the sometimes tense cultural politics of karaoke—oh yes, there are many—definitely came into play here. As one commenter at Gawker noted, the couple’s song choices were apparently surprising:  “The last thing you would (if we're all honest with one another here) expect this guy to sing would be an 80s North Jersey Hair Band anthem. Then she breaks out the New Wave. Tremendous.” (Bear in mind, of course, that it may all have been a hoax.)

The issue of black social performance, though, goes beyond viral YouTube sensations—for when you’re a black person who finds herself at a predominantly white social event, there’s a good chance that you’ll be expected to be the main source of entertainment. I recently “crashed” a particularly fancy wedding at an estate in Sonoma Valley. (We were in town visiting my boyfriend’s brother; his band played the reception, and the bride and groom kindly allowed us to attend.) At first we were hesitant to join in with the predominantly white, older crowd as they shuffled to “Higher Ground”; after all, we didn’t know anyone except the band. But it wasn’t long before a grey-haired old man hustled over to us on the sidelines and implored us to join them on the dance floor. “Come on guys!” he proclaimed. “Show us how to do it!”

Oof. Clearly, he meant no harm—folks never do—but it was obvious that we, the only black people in attendance, were expected to make the night hipper for the actual wedding guests. But we were not “party motivators,” and we sure as heck weren’t going to put on a show for a group of people we didn’t know and would never see again. Eventually we let loose a little bit more, but it was hard to shake the feeling that each person who coaxed us into dancing alongside him was eager to associate himself with the cultural cachet of the wedding’s only black guests.

Being expected to dance, to inspire others to dance, or (sheesh) to teach others to dance is a frequent occurrence for me and many of my black friends. Thanks to Miley Cyrus, white girls beg us to show them how to twerk when we’re out at a club. Sometimes—when they’re not putting their hands in our hair—they’ll be so in awe of our (not overly awe-inspiring!) dancing that they’ll blatantly record us on their phones. Recently I watched a young woman belt out “Baby Got Back” at karaoke; she later drunkenly informed my boyfriend that she is “a black girl in an Irish girl’s body”—as if that were some sort of compliment.

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Voices and Soul

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by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

At a time when deficits and debt ceilings are debated; at a time of record unemployment and income inequality; at a time when demegoguery of minorities and the common working stiff is the franca linqua of the land; I stand at the corner of Main Street and Commercial Avenue and watch a...

Train Above Pedestrians

Where moonlight angles
                  through the east-west streets,
down among the old
                  for America
tall buildings that changed
                  the streets of other
cities circulate
                  elevated trains
overhead shrieking
                  and drumming, lit by
explosions of sparks
                  that harm no one and
the shadowed persons
                  walking underneath
the erratic waves
                  not of the lake but
of noise move through fog
                  sieved by the steel mesh
of the supporting
                  structures or through rain
that rinses pavements
                  and the el platforms
or through new snow that
                  quiets corners, moods,
riveted careers.  
                  Working for others
with hands, backs, machines,
                  men built hard towers
that part the high air,  
                  women and men built,
cooked, cleaned, delivered,
                  typed and filed, carried
and delivered, priced
                  and sold. The river
and air were filthy.
                  In a hundred years
builders would migrate
                  north a mile but in
these modern times this
                  was all the downtown
that was. And circling
                  on a round-cornered  
rectangle of tracks
                  run the trains, clockwise
and counter, veering
                  through or loop-the-loop
and out again. Why
                  even try to list  
the kinds of places  
                  men and women made
to make money? Not
                  enough of them, yet
too many. From slow
                  trains overhead some
passengers can still
                  see stone ornaments,
pilasters, lintels,
                  carved by grandfathers,
great uncles and gone
                  second cousins of  
today—gargoyle heads
                  and curving leaves, like
memorials for
                  that which was built to
be torn down again
                  someday, for those who
got good wages out
                  of all this building
or were broken by  
                  it, or both, yet whose  
labor preserves a  
                  record of labor,  
imagination,
                  ambition, skill, greed,
folly, error, cost,
                  story, so that a  
time before remains
                  present within the
bright careening now.

-- Reginald Gibbons

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Welcome to the Black Kos Community Front Porch

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Originally posted to Black Kos community on Tue Oct 15, 2013 at 12:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges and Rebel Songwriters.

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