Festival to Highlight Black ‘Films with a Purpose’

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

On Saturday, October 12, at Los Angeles Center Studios in California, and in conjunction with its anniversary, the nonprofit Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC) will present its inaugural Faith-based Inspirational Film Festival.

The 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. event at Los Angeles Center Studios in California will feature “Emanuel,” the story of a white supremacists’ murder of nine African Americans at bible study. There will also be a screening of “Amazing Grace,” the documentary of the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. A question and answer session with several prominent local pastors will follow each screening.

(Courtesy Photo/ NNPA)

“This is also our 25th year for our main film festival which provides a forum for emerging African American filmmakers,” stated Sandra Evers-Manly, who founded BHERC.

“It is critical for Black filmmakers to share their talent,” Evers-Manly states.  “We must create avenues that allow people to express themselves through the arts. In my opinion, film is one of the most powerful mediums of art there is. The goal is to make sure that Black artists are in an industry that is welcoming; an inclusive industry where they don’t have to fight to tell their stories. We have seen some breakthrough but still have a long way go.”

The 25th annual African American Film Marketplace and S.E. Manly Short Film Showcase festival will open with the Los Angeles Premiere of Five films funded by Films With a Purpose (FWAP) a BHERC initiative. The Festival will take place Wednesday October 23 – Sunday, October 27, 2019 held at Cinemark 18 Theatres at The Promenade @ Howard Hughes LA Complex in Los Angeles, California and The Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles.  The Festival will present a combination of over 90 documentaries and short films, over 50 filmmakers and concludes with a Q&A after each film block. The community-at-large is invited to celebrate the artistry of this year’s filmmakers whose projects cover diverse topics, stories, techniques and broad themes multi-layered with humor, drama, and reality.

The Opening Night Reception and Award Gala are set to be held at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles to honor the behind-the-scenes professionals who have made laudable contributions to Black Hollywood and the community on Friday, October 25. Hosted by award-winning and veteran Actor/Director William Allen Young the 2019 class of honorees are:

  • Ivan Dixon Award of Achievement: Charles Floyd Johnson, Executive Producer CBS Television Series, “NCIS,” three-time Emmy award winner and first African-American to produce a Primetime Drama Series;
  • President’s Award: Neema Barnette, Writer\Director\Producer, First African American Woman to direct a primetime sitcom and receive a major studio deal;
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Oz Scott, Director\Producer and Executive Producer “Black Lightning”;
  • Paul Robeson Legacy Award: Harry E. Johnson, Sr., President and CEO, The Memorial Foundation (Builders of the King Memorial)
  • Community Service Award: Pat Prescott, Morning Show Host, 94.7 The Wave

One of the highlights of the Festival is the annual Youth Diversity Film Festival for Middle and High School students. These aspiring young filmmakers study the craft at local arts organizations and schools in the Los Angeles community and across the country. Closing the Festivities on Sunday, October 27 will include the classic Soul Food & Film Reception.

The mission of BHERC is to advocate, educate, research, develop, and preserve the history and future of African Americans in film and television.  BHERC also supports the work of student filmmakers including those who have become blockbuster producers, directors, and creators of some of Hollywood’s most significant, and most memorable movies.

The organization provided scholarships and supported the early works of filmmakers such as Gina Prince-Bythewood and Ryan Coogler.  Prince-Bythewood directed groundbreaking films like “Love & Basketball,” and “The Secret Life of Bees.” Coogler, of course, earned fame by directing the global phenomenon, “Black Panther.”

So, how did the cousin of Civil Rights Icon Medgar Evers become so intertwined in the film industry? “I would ask my mother, ‘Why don’t you see us on TV,’” Evers-Manly said, referring to the shortage of African Americans on the tube when she was growing up in California. “My mother finally said, ‘Change it,’” Evers-Manly recalled.  “It was as simple as that for her. While a lot of people came to Hollywood to be actors and actresses, I came to try to bring about change for more of our images in front of and behind the scenes,” Evers-Manly — a former President of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP — told NNPA Newswire.

A spinoff of BHERC is an initiative, Films With a Purpose – or FWAP.  This endeavor is an innovative, invitation-only fund established to provide independent and diverse students and filmmakers who need funding to tell the stories that no one else will.  “This is the one area that I truly believe in,” Evers-Manly stated.

Unlike BHERC, Evers-Manly said FWAP has a goal to support the production and completion of diverse films. FWAP, selects films that tell stories to inspire, educate, uplift, challenge and in some cases bring about action.  The FWAP fund is more than an advocate for filmmakers of color. It is an innovative and provocative resource for use in “assaulting the ills that plague our society, that scream for action and answers; giving a platform to a new generation of filmmakers and artists,” Evers-Manly noted.

Both efforts share a common goal, which is to continue to support African Americans in filmmaking.  “We have to help infuse the pipeline within Hollywood and get more diversity behind the scenes,” she stated. “We must tell stories that uplift and educate about our community, being mindful of important issues that impact our community. We must have films that have purpose.”

For tickets log on to www.bherc.org or call (310) 284-3170. For more information about BHERC, visit www.BHERC.com. For addition details on FWAP, visit www.filmswithapurpose.com.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Remembering Fannie Lou Hamer in October

Fannie Lou Hamer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the proliferation of pink ribbons is about to start. Too many will make this both a marketing and a profit-making opportunity, while others will wonder how they can use their health insurance to afford a mammogram. 

While Black women get breast cancer at a lower rate than White women, we are 42 percent more likely to die from it. And young Black women, those under 35, are twice as likely as White women to get breast cancer, and three times as likely to die from it. Black women are also three times as likely as White women to get triple-negative breast cancer, an especially aggressive form of breast cancer.

Focus on Black women 

I am privileged to know Ricki Fairley, a triple-negative breast cancer survivor and marketing maven who now holds a leadership role at the nation’s oldest and largest Black women’s breast cancer network group. Sister’s Network describes itself as a “survivorship organization” that provides support for Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. Propelled by her own survivorship story, but also by the many women she has provided support for, Ricki is passionate about the reasons that African American women must be informed and engaged around breast cancer issues. 

Our civil rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer, died of untreated breast cancer. She was just 59 when she made her transition. At 44, she had surgery to remove a tumor, and the hospital also gave her a hysterectomy without her consent. Had Fannie Lou Hamer noticed a lump, would she be inclined to return to the health care system that had already oppressed her? Probably not. 

Fannie Lou Hamer was poor and vocally Black in the South. Serena Williams is wealthy, Black and an international superstar. Despite her privilege, Williams also experienced the differential way the health care system treats Black women. Serena might have died giving birth to her daughter Alexandra. 

Ignored or dismissed 

Because Williams was gracious enough to share her story, we are reminded that Black women are all too often ignored or dismissed by health care providers. Consider the thousands of Black women that are being sidelined by a health care system that does not hear our voices. 

What must we do to ensure that Black women don’t carry the heavy burden of health disparities? We must be mindful and aware of the risks of breast cancer. We must talk about breast care with our sisters and our young ‘uns. We must engage in a policy conversation about the ways health insurance can support our breast health. We must engage our civic organizations in breast health education. 

Remember her 

We must remember Fannie Lou Hamer, who said she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” That means as tired as we are of being tired, we must also be committed to taking care of ourselves. She challenged us all to be less sick, less tired, and more self-aware. If we celebrate her, we must hear her. 

The health care system is biased against Black women, and we must take our health care in our own hands. And in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, be supportive of organizations like the Sister’s Network, an organization that provides opportunities and services for the Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. 


Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available at www.juliannemalveaux.com.

Looking for layers

LOS ANGELES – With a tug on the pull cord, the power washer comes to life and Mark Bradford, immaculate in a white T-shirt and matching jeans, picks up the nozzle. He blasts water at a canvas made of layer upon layer of glued, colored paper. It’s hanging on a wall inside a garage bay at his studio.

Why is the man “60 Minutes” declared one of the “most important and influential artists in America today” working a power washer? The answer is one key to understanding Bradford.

A couple of years ago, as he walked around the city, the artist, who notices everything, spotted workers sandblasting graffiti. He watched them and then took note of what was left behind, the traces of paint that remained. Bradford liked that look, so he bought his first power washer. And while the act of spritzing a wall with a hose may look random, it isn’t. This sort of experimentation is why Bradford will joke that “I’m in grad school forever.”

His studio is full of failed tests – a mound of papered basketballs, an LA street grid marked by caulking. The artist who recently had a work sell for $12 million estimates that he tosses out more than half of what he starts. The piece under the hose, though, is coming together. Bradford particularly likes how the black paper is peeking through the other layers of colored paper. He references Miles Davis, the late trumpeter, as he describes his process.

“When he does improvisational jazz, it is so structured around this history of what he knows,” Bradford says. “There is improvisation, but I know what I put under there. I keep exacting notes. Every time I put on a different piece of paper, I take a picture and it goes into my database. I know exactly what color I put on yesterday. So when I’m sanding, I know it’s a dark gray.”

Bradford, his shaved head now speckled with scraps of wet paper, reaches up to show a section of the canvas he’s drawn to. As he moves, he cuts a striking figure: trim, all in white and 6 feet 7 1/2 inches tall. Virtually every article written about Bradford notes his height. But what sets Bradford apart is more than physical. It’s how he approaches the world.

When he sees or hears something unexpected, he doesn’t walk away; he walks toward it. He asks questions, sparks conversations and takes the time to listen. That curiosity, whether through meeting people or the books he devours, drives Bradford’s work. No other contemporary artist has so effectively tackled the thorny and intertwined issues of race, sexuality and politics and used them to connect the chapters of America’s complicated history.

As an artist, Bradford’s quest has inspired the sprawling, multidimensional paintings built of everything from discarded movie posters to window caulking. In his life, it has directed him to a social mission that’s just as special, a nonprofit he founded in 2014 called Art + Practice.

“What makes him so inspired to me is that he’s been able to take some of the ideas of social justice and equity being proposed within the painting and found ways to enact them in the world at large,” says Christopher Bedford, the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art. “It doesn’t mean that he’s changed. It just means his means have changed.”

– – –

There’s nothing revolutionary about an artist creating a foundation. But the nonprofits set up by Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchell and Robert Rauschenberg, to name three, were created to launch after the artist’s death. Bradford, 57, founded Art + Practice for immediate impact. He provides as much of the organization’s $1 million annual budget as needed. And he does it his way, generally declining grants so that the nonprofit can remain independent and flexible.

Ford Foundation President Darren Walker remembers advising Bradford, after a visit to his studio: “You should seek funding from foundations for this work. You should really have someone write grant proposals, and you can raise money to pay for these programs you’re running.

“And he said, ‘When I sell my next painting, I’ll just put aside enough money for the next year.’

“Who turns down an opportunity to apply for a grant from the Ford Foundation?” Walker marvels. “I think what it means is he, first, has the financial resources to self-fund and that, secondly, money from donors comes with strings attached and those strings might inhibit his creativity and the kinds of innovation he wants in his programs.”

Art + Practice differs from most other arts nonprofits in two other important ways. While many museums try to reach people in underserved communities by bringing them to galleries outside their neighborhoods, Art + Practice is about making things better right here. In this case, here is Leimert Park, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles established in the 1920s and once a key cultural center for African American artists and intellectuals. This is also where Bradford worked as a hair stylist in the 1980s and eventually opened his first studio.

Leimert is not SoHo. Drugs, violence and the Rodney King-related riots in 1992 left the area battered. But the neighborhood has been undergoing a revival and, next year, it will be a stop on the city’s new light-rail system. This is where Art + Practice opened its 3,000-square-foot gallery in 2014, a space programmed in partnership with institutions including the Broad and the Hammer Museum at the University of California at Los Angeles.

And, second, there is the “Practice” side of the nonprofit. Notably, it has nothing to do with art. Art + Practice partners with First Place for Youth, a Los Angeles-based organization, to help foster children transition into adulthood, providing job training, housing and a rent-free office for First Place.

The foster mission emerged the same way as many of Bradford’s ideas. One day, while walking through Leimert Park, he noticed a group of young people hanging out in the plaza. He did what he usually does when he’s curious, whether at a comic book store or on a street corner. He walked up to these strangers and peppered them with questions. Why were they here? He learned that they were foster children who, at 18, had “termed out” of their group home and had nowhere to go.

“Here’s a constituency of people who did not ask for any of this, who did not ask to be so marginalized,” Bradford says. “And then the support system is just pulled out from under them. Some of them have gone from group home to group home and not of their volition.”

The beauty of the relationship, First Place’s leaders say, is that Art + Practice offers support without pretending to be the experts.

“From the very beginning, the whole team has been very humble in letting us decide what we’re trying to do and not trying to tell us,” says Claudia Miller, First Place’s vice president of advancement. “For me, in the fundraising world, it’s amazing to have a donor who recognizes our program staff is the experts in this. He’s not telling us what to do. It’s, ‘Tell me what you need. Tell me who you need to be introduced to.’ “

Ann Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum and a frequent partner of Art + Practice, remains in awe.

“It’s so multilayered,” she says. “There are many artists who have incredible social practices, but this one is, in particular, highly complex, ambitious and very successful.”

– – –

As an artist, Bradford is a reflection of all the places stitched into his past: the hair salon where his mother worked; the boardinghouse about 15 minutes away in West Adams, packed with other single-parent families; the streets of South Los Angeles, unable to resist the crack epidemic taking hold. He was a gay, black man in the age of AIDS. The roots of his life now make up a swirling, cultural stew that Bradford is forever exploring.

The materials are important. Early on, Bradford noticed the end papers, used to set hair in a permanent wave, that would wind up on the floor of his mother’s salon. He decided to use those papers in his art; for one thing, they were certainly cheaper than paint. Over time, he has added to his repertoire: colored paper, glue, movie posters, ropes, caulking – basically, anything that he can twist, tug, cut, burn and wrestle until it comes alive. He is known for the sprawling canvases that mix paint and paper. But he is not afraid to explore completely different mediums. In “Spiderman,” a video piece premiered at the Hammer in 2015, Bradford performed a six-minute stand-up routine that played off his experience going to an Eddie Murphy concert during the comedian’s red-leather-suit heyday in the 1980s.

What defines Bradford’s work, whether it’s a snaking sculpture crafted of rope and glue or a swollen growth suspended from a ceiling, is how effectively he uses abstract art to talk about police brutality, women’s rights or the way American history is interpreted.

“There is too much under the surface that must still come out, and there are artists, such as Bradford, who aren’t going to smooth things over,” wrote Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott in describing Bradford’s 2017 piece at the Hirshhorn Museum, “Pickett’s Charge,” a meditation on a Civil War battle.

As a philanthropist, Bradford is just as deliberate.

It would certainly be easier to hand out grants or satisfy the social service component of his nonprofit by offering foster kids painting workshops, but that’s not the point. Art + Practice, he decided from the start, needed to truly serve. That meant that the mission he created with co-founders Allan DiCastro, his longtime partner and a former bank analyst, and Eileen Harris Norton, a friend and art collector, would be linked to Leimert Park.

As a child, Bradford remembered going to museums and getting back in the school bus and returning to his neighborhood.

“The things I understood in my community were things I saw walking by. I saw the church,” he says. “I saw the wig shop. I saw the restaurant. I wondered … what if there had been a little contemporary art space next to the salon?”

Putting the gallery in Leimert brings art curated by major institutions into the neighborhood. It also means that museum leaders and donors, eager to collaborate with an artist as prominent as Bradford, find themselves coming to exhibition openings in a part of town they would not usually visit.

What’s more, Bradford is always thinking of his social mission. Take what happened last year when Bradford came to install “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” which he had exhibited at the U.S. Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.

As is typical when Bradford’s involved, the show wouldn’t be about just what was in the galleries. While in Baltimore working on the installation, Bradford heard about the Greenmount West Community Center, a space founded by a former school principal named Kisha Webster in Baltimore. In the two years she had been running the center, Webster had blown through her savings and had her Nissan repossessed. Now she was facing eviction.

“I had already decided I was going to close the center,” Webster says. Then Bradford came in.

“I knew Greenmount was the right place within five minutes,” says the artist-philanthropist. “I could hear the kids’ laughter, I could hear the joy, and I could see that this was an organization that had a lot of love but needed resources.”

He called Walker, whose Ford Foundation was helping fund the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Bradford exhibition. He asked that money be directed to Greenmount. Then he brought Webster to meet with BMA director Bedford and other museum leaders.

“I didn’t want the BMA to come in for three months and do what I call sprinkle collaborations,” Bradford says.

In the end, the BMA split a Ford Foundation grant, with $150,000 going to create a printing press business to make T-shirts, tote bags and other products at Greenmount. Webster estimates that sales from that business now account for a third of her roughly $300,000 annual budget.

“I was like, I’ll believe it when I see it,” she says. “But he called everybody from the BMA. They all got Ubers and came over here. They’d never been over here. Mark does not talk about his philanthropy. He just does it.”

One thing Bradford does not do is mix the production and presentation of his art with Art + Practice. There will be no Mark Bradford exhibitions at the gallery, no Bradford murals crafted by foster kids. It is important, he says, that the only direct link between his art and the nonprofit is the money he can provide to fund the mission.

They are both important. But they are different parts of his life. And he needs to protect his studio process.

“Some days, it ain’t great,’ he says. “Some days, it feels like wallpaper. Literally. I can show up and turn on the lights and start dipping that paper in water. But if you’re not in the room when stuff is not going well, you’re going to miss it when it is going well. I can work with incredible doubt, I can work with incredible insecurity, I can work with flashes of confidence where I understand what this work is when it unfolds to me. But I can always work.”

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Black women lead diversity efforts at 4 Utah colleges

Adrienne Andrews said they were all at a conference together when they realized it.

“Wait, there are four black women in this room doing this work at the highest levels in our institutions. That’s phenomenal, right?” Andrews said.

Andrews, Tasha Toy, Schvalla Rivera and Tamara Stevenson lead the diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at four Utah universities. Andrews is at Weber State, Toy at Dixie State, Rivera at Southern Utah and Stevenson is at Westminster College.

“It’s overwhelming and it’s fantastic and wonderful at the same time,” Toy said.

The four women work on their schools’ diversity policies, curriculum, hiring, enrollment, trainings, resource centers, community events and building relationships, among other things.

In July, Andrews met with the Weber State women’s basketball coach to talk about how to better connect her players with the community. It’s a chance for the female students to support others, particularly young girls who might look up to them, she said.

“There’s a lot of power in that. Growing up, I did not see a lot of people who looked like me,” said Andrews, who was raised in Layton.

“Utah is not going to look the same” in the future, Toy said, and people need to learn how to interact and work with someone who is different than them in the global economy.

Minorities made up 20% of enrollment at Utah’s public colleges and universities in fall 2018, the Utah System of Higher Education reported. Like USHE schools, Westminster College and Brigham Young University had mostly white students, followed by Hispanic, then multiracial, Asian/Pacific Islander, black and American Indian/Native Alaskan students.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)
(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

People come from all types of backgrounds, with different religions and sexual orientations, Stevenson said. A diversity officer can help college leaders, students and community partners figure out what they need to do for everyone to have “a healthy, respectable learning, working, living environment,” she said.

“As long as we have society, there’s going to be equity and inclusion issues,” Rivera said. “…There’s always going to be misunderstandings and disagreements.” That’s why it’s important to have people trained in jobs like hers, she said.

“There’s some people who don’t understand the positions who may think that they just place people of color in these positions,” Rivera said, but there’s research and theory that goes into helping schools and corporations navigate these issues.

Last year, clothing retailer H&M apologized after a black child model wore a sweatshirt that said “coolest monkey in the jungle.”

“People in my position, we speak truth to power. We are the people in the room that say no, I do not advise that, and this is why,” Rivera said.

Andrews recently looked over plans for a Weber State campus building and was glad to see that they included a gender neutral family bathroom and wheelchair ramps, issues she would have brought up.

“A lot of times … there is not an intent to leave people out. There’s not an intent to make it difficult for one group over another. Sometimes that just happens because that’s what we’ve always done, or because people haven’t thought it through,” Andrews said.

Generally, people “want to know more” and be educated, Rivera said.

“Especially for this area, we have a lot of very, very nice people who are well-meaning,” she said. “They just haven’t been exposed to a lot of different people. And so a lot of misunderstandings occur not necessarily because an individual is intending to be evil or malicious in any way.”

When people do make mistakes, “I think we should have grace and understand that we didn’t always know everything that we know now,” Rivera said.

Sometimes it’s tough, though, to help people “understand that free speech is free speech,” Andrews said. “And how do we navigate speech that feels hurtful or hateful, and is hurtful and hateful, but still is able to to be spoken?” she said.

It’s helpful to have each other for support in this job, Andrews said, because “when something happens on one campus, it’s usually a matter of time before it happens on another campus.”

“If racist signs appear on your campus or in your community, you’re on, because people expect a response or a discussion, or they want to know how to respond and seek your support in figuring that process out,” she said.

Police shootings of African American men that made national news in the summer of 2016 led to a community discussion at an Ogden coffee shop and town halls that continue in 2019, Andrews said. She still tears up thinking about the people who gathered for a vigil held at Ogden Municipal Building after the mass shootings in March at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“I try to find ways to help people connect with each other. I try to find common ground. It doesn’t always work, but I still keep trying. Because when it works, oh my gosh, it’s glorious. It is. It’s absolutely life changing when it does work,” Andrews said.

MEET FOUR UTAH INCLUSION LEADERS

Adrienne Andrews
Where from: Layton, Utah
Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science and women’s studies from the University of Utah; master’s degree in women’s studies from Minnesota State University and political science from Rutgers; post-graduate degree in conflict resolution and mediation from the U.
Previous jobs: Director of the Center for Youth Policy and Programs for the State of New Jersey; instructor at Rutgers and Minnesota State University Mankato; U.S. Supreme Court intern.
How long at Weber State: Since 2005

Schvalla Rivera
Where from: Terre Haute, Indiana
Education: Bachelor’s degree in social sciences and history from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College; master’s degree in political science and international affairs and a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Indiana State University
Previous jobs: Dean of students at Western Nebraska Community College; assistant dean of students and director of intercultural life at Cornell College; director of international and multicultural student affairs at Vincennes University.
How long at Southern Utah: Since 2018

Tamara Stevenson
Where from: Detroit, Michigan
Education: Bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s degree in organizational communication from Wayne State University; specialist of arts and doctorate in educational leadership from Eastern Michigan University.
Previous jobs: Corporate communication in the automotive and health care industries and public education; adjunct instructor in communication and higher education administration.
How long at Westminster: Since 2012

Tasha Toy
Where from: Augusta, Georgia
Education: Bachelor’s degree in history and master’s of education in instructional technology from North Carolina Central University; doctorate in higher education research and policy from Seton Hall University.
Previous jobs: Director of multicultural and international student programs at Berry College.
How long at Dixie State: Since 2018

Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today.

Artificial Intelligence Oh dear… AI models used to flag hate speech online are, er, racist against black people Tweets written in African-American English slang more likely to be considered offensive

The internet is filled with trolls spewing hate speech, but machine learning algorithms can’t help us clean up the mess.

A paper from computer scientists from the University of Washington, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, found that machines were more likely to flag tweets from black people than white people as offensive. It all boils down to the subtle differences in language. African-American English (AAE), often spoken in urban communities, is peppered with racial slang and profanities.

But even if they contain what appear to be offensive words, the message itself often isn’t abusive. For example, the tweet “I saw him yesterday” is scored as 6 per cent toxic, but it suddenly skyrockets to 95 per cent for the comment “I saw his ass yesterday”. The word ass may be crude, but when used in that context it’s not aggressive at all.

racial_bias_hate_speech_detection

An example of how African-American English (AAE) is mistakenly classified as offensive compared to standard American English. Image credit: Sap et al.

“I wasn’t aware of the exact level of bias in Perspective API–the tool used to detect online hate speech–when searching for toxic language, but I expected to see some level of bias from previous work that examined how easily algorithms like AI chatter bots learn negative cultural stereotypes and associations,” said Saadia Gabriel, co-author of the paper and a PhD student at the University of Washington.

“Still, it’s always surprising and a little alarming to see how well these algorithms pick up on toxic patterns pertaining to race and gender when presented with large corpora of unfiltered data from the web.”

The researchers fed a total of 124,779 tweets collected from two datasets that were classified as toxic according to Perspective API. Originally developed by Google and Jigsaw, an incubator company currently operating under Alphabet, the machine learning software is used by Twitter to flag any abusive comments.

The tool mistakenly classified 46 per cent of non-offensive tweets crafted in the style of African American English (AAE) as inflammatory, compared to just nine per cent of tweets written in standard American English.

“I think we have to be really careful about what technologies we implement in general, whether it’s a platform where people can post whatever they want, or whether is an algorithm that detects certain types of (potentially harmful) content. Platforms are under increasing pressure to delete harmful content, but currently these deletions are backfiring against minorities,” Maarten Sap, first author of the paper and a PhD student at the University of Washington, told The Register.

When humans were employed via the Amazon Mechanical Turk service to look at 1,351 tweets from the same dataset and asked to judge if the comment was either offensive to them or could be seen as offensive to anyone.

Just over half – about 55 per cent – were classified as “could be offensive to anyone”. That figure dropped to 44 per cent, however, when they were asked to consider the user’s race and their use of AAE.

shock_computer

Q. If machine learning is so smart, how come AI models are such racist, sexist homophobes? A. Humans really suck

READ MORE

“Our work serves as a reminder that hate speech and toxic language is highly subjective and contextual,” said Sap.

“We have to think about dialect, slang and in-group versus out-group, and we have to consider that slurs spoken by the out-group might actually be reclaimed language when spoken by the in-group.”

The study provides yet another reminder that AI models don’t understand the world enough to have common sense. Tools like Perspective API often fail when faced with subtle nuances in human language or even incorrect spellings.

Similar models employed by other social media platforms like Facebook to detect things like violence or pornography often don’t work for the same reason. And this is why these companies can’t rely on machines alone, and have to hire teams of human contractors to moderate questionable content.

Sap believes that removing the humans from content moderation isn’t the way to go.

“We managed to reduce some of the bias by making workers more aware of the existence of African American English, and reminding them that certain seemingly obscene words could be harmless depending on who speaks them. Knowing how flawed humans are at this task, especially given the working conditions that some companies put their content moderators in, I certainly don’t think humans are flawless in this capacity. However, I don’t think removing them from the equation is necessarily the way to go either. I think a good collaborative human+AI setting is likely the best option, but only time will tell.” ®

Sponsored: What next after Netezza?

New wave of Black films crests at Toronto festival

films
NETFLIX
Eddie Murphy is Rudy Ray Moore in “Dolemite Is My Name.”

BY DWIGHT BROWN
NNPA NEWS WIRE FILM CRITIC 

Nearly 500,000 film lovers flocked to the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), screening hundreds of films from all over the world. Artistry and diversity, the hallmarks of TIFF, were on view. 

Black artists, filmmakers and films were a key part of the mix. Big budget movies, small indie films, documentaries and shorts filled out the innovative programming. Check out the best of the best and the most noteworthy. 

BLACK FILMS,  FILMMAKERS

‘Atlantics’ 

An ill-fated romance in Senegal takes center stage in this visually stunning ode to passion and yearning. French actress-turned-filmmaker Mati Diop won the Cannes’ Grand Prix for co-writing this love triangle between a young woman (Mama Sané), an out-of-work construction worker (Ibrahima Traoré) she loves, and a wealthy fiancé (Babacar Sylla) she disdains. 

With Claire Mathon behind the camera, Dakar looks picturesque and the composition of each scene is as perfect as the lighting. Diop tells her story using lots of imagery and long scenes that test patience. The beautiful cast looks like they stepped out of Essence Magazine. Themes of class divide, spirits from beyond and girlfriends who like to party often crowd what could have been a simple love story. Still, the romance in this film prevails.

Alfre Woodard portrays a warden in “Clemency.’’

‘Clemency’ 

The debate over the death penalty gets a new spark with this very personal look at a humanistic warden (Alfre Woodard) who makes end-of-life experiences as compassionate as possible for those on death row. It’s as if Warden Bernadine Williams goes on cruise-control as she and her staff strap in inmates for that lethal injection. 

She thinks she’s fully prepared for everything. Then there’s an inevitable catastrophe that magnifies the toll her job takes on her psyche and husband (Wendell Pierce) and sobriety. Writer/director Chinonye Chukwu’s message is that executing criminals is inhumane. Slow steady drama builds and builds. 

Woodard creates a protagonist who is equally likeable and unapproachable. Her steely performance is complemented by supporting cast members: Aldis Hodge as the cop-killer next in line for death; Richard Schiff as the convict’s hopeful lawyer; Danielle Brooks as a person from the prisoner’s past. 

‘Dolemite is My Name’

When you need encouragement, comedian Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) commands, “Put your weight on it.” It’s a mantra he takes to heart as he shifts his talent from struggling comic and spoken-word pioneer to novice DIY indie filmmaker. 

Moore’s alter-ego is Dolemite, a feisty, martial-arts-loving character he pushes to the front of his first movie. Under the guidance of director Craig Brewer (“Hustle & Flow’’), with a hilarious bio/ script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Eddie makes a splashing film comeback as the outrageously bold and determined artist who became an integral part of the 1970s Blaxploitation era.

Never one to take no for an answer, the brash Moore gives Murphy a great opportunity to work his comic genius. And he does, along with a hilarious dream team who milks laughs: Keegan-Michael Key, Craig Robinson, Tituss Burgess, Wesley Snipes, Mike Epps, and the shameless scene-stealer Luenell (“I Got the Hook Up 2’’).

Add in cameos by T.I. and Snoop Dogg and a plotline that leads to euphoria and this bit of hilarity becomes an amazing crowd-pleaser and an inspiring movie. 

GLEN WILSON/FOCUS FEATURES/TNS
Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in “Harriet.”

‘Harriet’

The responsibility for getting Harriet Tubman’s legacy as an abolitionist and the history of the Underground Railroad told right is a weight few filmmakers could carry. Director Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou’’) is up to the task and has a vision.

Her efforts are helped by Terence Blanchard’s emotionally charged musical score, John Toll’s evocative cinematography (he makes everyone’s complexion incandescent) and Paul Tazewell’s costumes. The script, by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, pulls the characters into one epic tale of inhumanity, humanity and legendary acts of bravery. 

Cynthia Erivo (Tony winner “The Color Purple;’’ film “Widows’’) plays “Minty” (Tubman’s nickname) with conviction. The evildoers (Joe Alwyn, Jennifer Nettles) and saviors (Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe) are perfectly portrayed. Lemmons can be heavy on the flashbacks (black and white clips of a family breakup seem redundant), and the footage looks like a cross between an art/indie film and a Lifetime network movie. 

But overall, she has accomplished a difficult mission that brings the life of an extraordinary liberator into full view. Finally. the film medium has produced a public record of Harriet Tubman’s heroism. Now it’s time for Tubman’s image to be on the $20 bill. 

‘Just Mercy’ 

A young Harvard educated lawyer, Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), could have his pick of law firms, instead he heads to rural Alabama to set up a small law practice that seeks to reverse death row sentences for wrongfully convicted prisoners. There are many in need, but one of his primary clients is Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), who was convicted of killing a White woman.

The film is set in 1989 and stars Jordan, but if you close your eyes and imagine a young Sidney Poitier in the lead role, you’ll get a feel for the tone of this well-intentioned but typical crime drama. Director Destin Daniel Cretton’s approach to the genre is formulaic, but gets the job done.

Cretton and co-writer Andrew Lanham use the real lawyer Stevenson’s award-winning nonfiction book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’’ as source material to depict poor Black men being railroaded into death sentences in the south— well into the late ‘80s. Foxx gives his best performance since “Ray.’’ 

Jordan breaks out of his normal hero-ish mold to play a goodwill attorney, and that’s refreshing. Supporting cast of Brie Larson, Rob Morgan, Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, O’Shea Jackson Jr., and Karan Kendrick are particularly interesting to watch. 

A very northern and stiff lawyer learns how to acclimate to a friendlier rural southern Black community and it’s a startling juxtaposition that adds depth to the proceedings.

‘Waves’ 

Filmmaker Trey Edward Shults made an impressive directorial debut with the ultra-realistic family drama “Krisha.’’ This return to familial themes in “Waves’’ focuses on a wealthy Black household. 

A dad (Sterling K. Brown) and stepmom (Renée Elise Goldsberry)—helicopter parents—pressure their teenage son (Kelvin Harrison Jr, “Assassination Nation’’), a high-school wrestling champion, to succeed. He, however, is clandestinely living large, beset with injuries and having major girlfriend problems. 

His younger sister (Taylor Russel) waits in the wings for the attention she deserves. 

Shults’ script and direction jump-start start this teen saga with a kinetic verve reminiscent of filmmaker Harmony Korine’s wild and debauched “Spring Breakers.’’ 

Quick, flashy MTV-like edits (editors Isaac Hagy and Shults), a heavy-bass musical score (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross) and an envious playlist of hip artists set the tone. The look of the film is perfect: production design by Elliott Hostetter; set decoration by Adam Willis; cinematography by Drew Daniels; and costume design by Rachel Dainer-Best.

The plotline in Acts I and II leads to a clichéd stereotypical interpretation of a young Black man’s life, which would be suspect coming from a Black filmmaker, and is almost insulting coming from a White one. Act III takes the film in a completely different direction, which is fraught with heavy emotion that doesn’t always ring true. 

Something like TV’s overly touchy-feely “This Is Us.’’ In fact, watching Sterling K. Brown shed tears on screen, like he does incessantly on the TV show, is like watching a rainstorm on a tropical island. It’s an event, but it’s no surprise. 

BLACK ARTISTS IN FILMS

‘The Goldfinch’ 

The novel of the same name by author Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This weakly developed screen adaptation will likely win a Razzie. Can’t blame the premise: A kid, Theo (Oakes Fegley), and his mom enter the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A bomb ignites.  She dies. He is taken in by a friend’s wealthy mother (Nicole Kidman). 

Theo’s worthless father (Luke Wilson) wrestles him away, eyeing the kid’s money. A missing painting of a goldfinch—worth millions—is lost in the explosion. Who has it? Years later Theo (Ansel Elgort) can’t shake his tragic past. Director John Crowley endeared himself to audiences with his sweet, simple period film “Brooklyn.’’ 

In this muddled and overly complicated interpretation of the book (Peter Straughan screenwriter), a series of preposterous circumstances and an overabundance of characters stymies any plausibility. Fegley’s performance fails to make a lasting impression. The photogenic Elgort is handcuffed by a poorly written character.

Veteran actor Jeffrey Wright gives the only spot-on performance, but even he can’t save a silly storyline from itself. And why cast a Canadian actor (Finn Wolfhard) and a Welsh actor (Aneurin Barnard) in a pivotal role as Theo’s “Russian” friend Boris (young and old) if they can’t master the accent? Tech credits are solid. Little else is. 

‘Honey Boy’ 

His public meltdowns were documented in the news. And now, it’s as if actor/writer Shia LaBeouf wants the masses to know that his erratic behavior is the result of an irregular childhood. Otis (Noah Jupe as the 12-year-old; Lucas Hedges at the 22-year-old), is a child actor being bullied by his ill-tempered father (LaBeouf). Life ain’t easy.

Though first-time feature filmmaker Alma Ha’rel directs what’s on the page pretty well, the story, lead characters and their conflicts never gel. LaBeouf lays the bad dad persona on thick, making him appear cartoonish. Bryon Bowers (TV’s “The Chi)” plays an AA friend.

Musical artist FKA Twigs portrays a neighbor in a rundown motel. Cast also includes veteran actors Clifton Collins Jr. and Laura San Giacomo. Well-intentioned project. Iffy results at best. 

‘Hustlers’ 

A group of industrious strippers bilk Wall Street men out of thousands of dollars during the money-raining days leading up to the great recession. Writer/director Lorene Scafaria (“The Meddler’’) bases her script on a New York Magazine article that chronicles the con games run by Samantha Barbash, a scheming hostess at New York’s strip club Scores.

The women swipe credit cards, charge up clothes, buy houses and set up an enterprise that is quite profitable. Sets (production design by Jane Musky), costumes (Mitchell Travers) and cinematography (Todd Banhazi) provide plenty of eye-candy. The pacing (editor Kayla Emter) is tight too. 

Your eyeballs will pop out of your head when 50-year-old J. Lo, as ringleader Ramona, shimmies down a stripper pole displaying the abs of a twentysomething. 

As she leads her robber posse on an excursion filled with peril, joy, riches and life lessons, you will be thoroughly entertained.

Constance Wu, Mette Towley, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart and a cameo by ex-stripper Cardi B add magic as the women go from self-help to self-employment, to self-infliction. Enjoy, and don’t forget to tip! 

Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at DwightBrownInk.com.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Black Restaurant Week Spotlights African American Restaurateurs

A culinary experience kicks off this Sunday aimed at highlighting African American restaurants. It’s called Black Restaurant Week.

General Manager Chamoria Clark of The Island Spot in Oak Cliff said it’s a time to take in the food, the history and culture that influences food.

“So, we say the three R’s. Reggae, rich food and rum are what we kind of bring to the table,” said Clark.

She says when you come to The Island Spot, you’re not getting a knock-off of Jamaican cuisine. You’re getting the real deal.

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“We still get several of our seasonings from Jamaica,” she said. “We have a lot of Jamaican chefs, Jamaican servers.”

It’s a family owned and operated business. A family eager to share what makes their beloved Jamaica so special.

“It’s not just the food, it’s the whole experience. We have little place-mats that have patois on them, so you can learn something you didn’t know before you came,” said Clark.

It’s why Clark says they’re excited about Dallas’ Black Restaurant week.

“Blackness encompasses so many kinds of ethnicity’s and backgrounds and heritage.”

Several restaurants throughout Dallas will be featured – each bringing its own flavor to the table.

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The restaurants include Records BBQ, Shells-n-Tails 2 Geaux, Peace Love Eatz, Lolo’s Chicken-N-Waffles, South Dallas Café, Kookie Haven and The Island Spot.

It’s not just about great food though. Organizers say it’s about putting a spotlight on sometimes overlooked black restaurateurs, helping them sustain business, and, in turn, add to the quality of life in their communities.

Dallas is roughly 25 percent black. Clark says it’s important that black culture is well represented in the food scene.

“I think that diversity adds depth, it gives perspective, it can help commerce, tourism, everything so I think it’s really important to have.”

Black Restaurant week in Dallas kicks off this Sunday, October 13.

Stereolab in 10 Songs

“John Cage Bubblegum” isn’t just the name of a Stereolab song.

It’s a catchphrase-worthy encapsulation of what makes the band great. Formed by Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier in 1990, the group have long walked a tightrope between accessibility and obscurity, crafting experimental pop songs that have transcended their time. Voracious music lovers with a deep interest in Marxist theory, Stereolab could pen songs that talked about the excesses of capitalism that sounded like futuristic French pop. You could imagine the characters in a sci-fi illustration by Shag putting on a Stereolab record while they sit back and drink martinis on a luxurious space station. And they did it all with a cheeky sense of humor, best exhibited by the calling card they carved into the runout etching on their first 45: “Neu Kids On The Block.”

After going on a long hiatus in 2009, the band have recently returned to touring as a wave of reissues for their early records have come out. They’ll be stopping by on Thursday, October 10, to play a show at Crescent Ballroom. If you haven’t been exposed to their dreamy, propulsive music before, now is as good a time as any to lose yourself in the Stereolab universe.

Here are 10 entry points into the Stereolab catalog — one from each of their records.

“Surrealchemist” (Peng!, 1992)

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This highlight from Peng! finds the ladies of Stereolab intoning lyrics like “over the cowering mendacity of bourgeoise/Christian civilization” with bucolic melodies in a hazy atmosphere before the song builds up to a heavy organ workout. It shifts from British folk-rock to White Light/White Heat-era Velvet Underground in the blink of an eye.

“Pack Yr Romantic Mind” (Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements, 1993)

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Transient Random-Noise Bursts doubles as both the band’s major-label debut and U.S. premiere. It finds the band in full krautrock mode. Embracing charging motorik rhythms and hypnotic guitars, Transient highlights like the 18-minute long “Jenny Ondioline” show off Stereolab’s Faust and Neu! fan club bona fides.
The highlight of the album is “Pack Yr Romantic Mind,” a chill slice of lounge perfection that fuses bossa nova, ye-ye, and ominous guitar licks into gorgeous space-age bachelor pad music.

“Fiery Yellow” (Mars Audiac Quintet, 1994)

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“Fiery Yellow” is the closing number on Mars Audiac Quintet. It sounds like the kind of music exotica legend Esquivel would have written if he lived in the age of The Jetsons. The track is Martin Denny’s “Quiet Village” floating in zero gravity, making it the perfect song to listen to while putting together a tiki party for visiting alien dignitaries.

“Metronomic Underground” (Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1996)

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While earlier Stereolab albums built their songs around drones and compelling riffs, Gane was inspired to switch songwriting gears after remixing the work of legendary ’60s psychedelic band The Godz. The songs on Emperor Tomato Ketchup are driven by hypnotic patterns that inspired the band to try on new approaches, like their take on funk. “Metronomic Underground” shows off this looser, funkier side of the band as they apply their brand of cosmic cocktail music to blaxploitation soundtracks. The track sounds like vintage Curtis Mayfield stoned on some extra skunky Martian junk.

“Miss Modular” (Dots and Loops, 1997)

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In a parallel universe, Stereolab wrote music for the Katamari Damacy games. “Miss Modular” is Exhibit A for why it would have been a dream gig for the band. Their bubbly, eccentric melange of jazz, cocktail music, sighing harmonies, and drones would have been a perfect fit for those video games. Go ahead, try listening to Sadier and Hansen sing without picturing yourself as Katamari’s prince of the universe, running around and rolling up trees and pigeons and swing sets while Stereolab sing about trompe l’oeils.

“Come And Play In The Milky Night” (Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, 1999)

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For all the sunny aspects to their music, Stereolab had a knack for creating unnerving soundscapes. Working with Tortoise’s John McEntire and multi-instrumentalist and studio wizard Jim O’Rourke as producers, the band explored more disquieting textures on songs like “Come and Play in the Milky Night.” Anchored by eerie radio noises and dark guitar strumming, “Come and Play in the Milky Night” is a song for the after-hours, when the party is winding down and the uncertainty of the future is staring you dead in the face.

“The Black Arts” (Sound-Dust, 2001)

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Sound-Dust is deeply significant in the Stereolab discography. It’s the last album to feature guitarist and singer Mary Hansen. She was struck by a truck while she was on her bicycle. She died in December 2002 at the age of 36. It’s a loss that would reverberate and shape their remaining albums. The band’s interpersonal dynamic would grow increasingly tense, especially after the breakup between Gane and Sadier, who were both musical and romantic partners for most of Stereolab’s existence.

But that all comes later. For now, we have the delightful “The Black Arts,” which solves the question of what Vince Guaraldi’s music would sound like if he composed it after taking an entire sheet of acid.

“Cosmic Country Noir” (Margerine Eclipse, 2004)

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Opening from a bed of video game sounds and rinky-dinky beats, “Cosmic Country Noir” builds up to another cooing Stereolab vocal reverie until the guitars begin to sprawl out and twist into knotty shapes. Like many of the songs on Margerine Eclipse, it has a subtly disorienting effect on the listener, thanks to the record’s dual-mono mixing (where each instrumental and vocal part is hard-panned to hit in either the left or right channel only). It’s a fitting testament to Hansen’s work with the band: The production creates a hole by design that none of the songs manages to fill.

“Pop Molecule” (Chemical Chords, 2008)

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This is the band’s ninth and final studio album. Gane and Sadier offer varying reasons for why the band split, including exhaustion from touring (and the strain it placed on their families) and creative conflicts. For most of the band’s run, Gane wrote the music while Sadier was the primary lyricist. She ended up forming a side project, Monade, to flex the songwriting muscles she wasn’t able to use in Stereolab.

As curtain calls go, Chemical Chords is as good a stage bow to go out on as any. Especially with a marvel like “Pop Molecule,” wherein the Stereolab boys and girls earn their acid rock merit badges with this drum-driven freakout.

“Laserblast” (Not Music, 2010)

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While Chemical Chords is the last “proper” album by the band, they later put a collection of unreleased tracks that were recorded during that same period. While many of the songs on Not Music share the same Motown/Brazilian music/French pop DNA that can be found on Chemical Chords, there are interesting deviations from the Stereolab formula on this P.S. to their swan song. Take a song like “Laserblast,” which combines intricate, tangled guitar chords with New Wave-y textures and percolating percussion that would sound right at home in an old Merrie Melodies joint. No matter how well-worn their sonic territory was, Stereolab could always find new combinations of retro sounds and make them sound like transmissions from the future.

Stereolab are scheduled to perform at Crescent Ballroom on Thursday, October 10. The show is currently sold out.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Middle Class Racism

We_want_white_tenants.jpg

What do you picture when someone refers to the “Trump’s base”? If you’ve watched television coverage of his rallies or read any of the dozens of articles in which reporters and commentators try to explain Trump’s appeal, then you probably imagine white people wearing “MAGA” hats and t-shirts chanting “Lock her up” or “send her back” in an arena in a mid-size Midwestern or Southern city. You might assume they include laid-off industrial workers, residents of declining cities or rural areas who view immigrants as a threat, people who spend their weekends at gun shows, and uninsured people who resent the “government intrusion” of the Affordable Care Act.

These are probably the people you picture when you read that polls show support for Trump increasing when he tweets what many consider racist jibes at women of color in the U.S. Congress or calls a black Representative’s district a “rat and rodent infested mess.” While you shake your head in frustration at these poor foolish dupes, you might also feel some empathy. It isn’t their fault they were “left behind” by the global economy or laid low by the exploitations of the opioid scandal. They just aren’t smart enough to see that they’re being manipulated.

As several recent articles have pointed out, this story is wrong. It ignores Trump’s real base  while reassuring the  educated urban middle class and elites that the problem with this country lies somewhere out there, among people who can easily be labelled as racist, xenophobic, homophobic, old-fashioned, and most important, working-class.

If you detect some exasperation here, you’re right. We’ve been making presentations and talking regularly with reporters and about working-class voters – by which they almost always mean white working-class voters – since 2007. We study class and race in Youngstown, Ohio, a racially-segregated deindustrialized community, so reporters called then to ask whether white industrial workers would vote for an African American or a woman. Now they’re asking why white working-class people would be drawn to Trump’s anti-immigrant, racist, and sexist bravado.

We could say plenty about the complicated relationship between racism and the working class, but we also know two things. First, although Trump does attract significant support from the working class, but his real base is the middle- and upper-class. Second, while his white working-class fans might respond with open approval to Trump’s racist appeals, his more educated, better-off real base embraces it, too.

In reality, the base for Trump, and the core of the Republican Party, is whiter, more rural, older, and more religiously conservative than Democrats. They are also richer. Democrats benefit from what some have called the “diploma divide,” winning more votes from people with college degrees, the most commonly-used basis for pollsters to talk about class, but Republicans take the lead – as Trump did in the 2016 vote – among those with incomes of $50K or more. It’s simply not true to Trump’s appeal comes primarily from economically-insecure voters.

The sad reality is that many voters don’t just tolerate the President’s nasty remarks because they appreciate his tax cut or his anti-abortion, pro-business Supreme Court nominees. Both racist attitudes and an investment in the racist policies that reinforce inequality in this country also appeal to many voters who, we’d like to think, ought to know better.

In part, Trump’s racism appeals because it violates the social rules that many white middle-class people resist. Since at least the 1990s, they’ve been hearing that they have to be careful what they say about women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, and that rankles. Some genuinely don’t get why it’s racist to call a black Congressman’s district “rat-infested” or to suggest that Representatives of color should go back to the troubled countries they supposedly came from. When critics call these statements racist, many white middle-class people hear a different message: it’s never acceptable for white people to criticize people of color. As Kevin M. Kruse suggested in a New York Times op-ed, Trump voices the resentment many white voters – of all classes — feel about not being able to say what they think. For many, Trump’s statements reassure them that they are not racist, they’re just not “PC.”

This points to a core problem in discussions of racism: the focus on individual attitudes rather than on structural inequities. To call someone racist is to judge their character. And most white middle-class people – like most human beings – think of themselves as good people. They don’t hate people of color because of their skin. That would be racist, and only bad people are racist.

What they tend not to understand – and what Trump’s tweets repeatedly distract us all from discussing – is that racism is structural. Hating people of color isn’t a prerequisite for investing in a system that provides most white people with better health care, better educations, more power in the workplace, higher incomes, and more opportunities to get ahead and secure a comfortable life. We can see this in several of the letters to the New York Times after it ran a commentary arguing that white people’s rejection of school busing in the 1970s and 80s reflected their resistance to having their children go to school with black people. Several white parents wrote in to insist that they weren’t racist. They just wanted their children to attend a better school. Yet this ignores the likelihood that the school in the white neighborhood was better because of the higher incomes of white families and the higher property values in white neighborhoods, or because the children who attend that school deal with less day-to-day anxiety and disruption than those in more challenged neighborhoods.

Those economic conditions reflect racial disparities as well as government and business practices designed to reinforce those disparities. Did white parents create those economic conditions? Not directly, though they probably elected the politicians who implement the policies and may well have had an economic interest in the businesses that also contributed. Did they and their families benefit from those policies? No doubt. 

The racial resentment we see today is rooted in the idea of meritocracy. In the land of opportunity, no one wants to believe that their success might stem from any unfair advantage. This is another reason why Trump’s racism appeals to white middle-class voters: they believe in meritocracy.  If the system is fair, as they believe it is, then whatever getting ahead they eked out reflects their intelligence, abilities, and hard work, not a system that is rigged or unequal. They may well see Barack Obama’s two terms as President as proof that meritocracy works. If America elected a black man, isn’t that proof that racism doesn’t hold back those who deserve to rise? And it that’s true, then why should we believe that racism is what keeps others down?

They either don’t know or don’t believe what a 2018 report from the Economic Policy Institute shows: that African Americans continue to lag far behind whites in every economic category, from education to income to home ownership, unemployment, and incarceration despite their rising education rates and incomes. Perhaps they base their vision of the black experience in America on what they see on TV, which today offers more and more positive images of people of color, especially African Americans, than a few decades ago. In recent years, in part because of Black Lives Matter, the rise of white supremacist activism, and anti-immigration efforts, racism and racial inequality have become center stage issues in American politics. That all of this has occurred while the white middle-class have seen their wages stagnate, their jobs become less secure, and their children struggle to achieve the trappings of middle-class life all contributes to resentment.

That may explain why instead of blaming corporations or Wall Street for not raising wages or for cutting jobs, many white middle-class voters hold on to the belief that good business principles require companies to make those choices. They worry over how to pay for their children’s or grandchildren’s college tuition but don’t question Republican policies of cutting state funding for education. They worry about their children’s futures, wondering if they will ever find good jobs or afford to buy homes of their own. Yet they hold on to the hope that they or their children will someday be in a position to reap the benefits of conservative policies for themselves.

To be fair, Democrats also make choices that shore up their economic and racial privilege, though might be somewhat more likely to wrestle with their choices or to acknowledge the inequities they are supporting. Republicans seem more likely to see hope in policies that support corporations or in cutting taxes, while Democrats may believe that everyone will do better if our society ensures more opportunities for those without their advantages.

The geographic divide also contributes to these perceptions. It isn’t just that Trump’s supporters are more likely than other voters to live in racially segregated Rust Belt cities or mostly white rural areas, it’s also that in those regions, white middle-class voters are less likely to recognize how people of color contribute to the economy. In coastal cities, many of the progressive white elites rely on immigrants and workers of color to do the lower-paid jobs that make their lives easier. They work as nannies, home healthcare workers, landscapers, janitors, bus drivers, and food service workers, and their relatively low wages make these services affordable for the white middle class in high-cost urban areas.

While benefiting from the low-cost services that working-class people of color provide, many middle-class homeowners don’t want them living nearby, so they support exclusionary zoning laws that bar low-income housing in their neighborhoods. Some localities have pushed back, passing local ordinances that emphasize more inclusionary zoning, but at least, eleven legislatures have in turn passed state-level rules that block such rules. This fall, the US Supreme Court will take up the legality of inclusionary zoning ordinances — one of several cases focused discrimination that the Trump-stacked court will decide this year and the one that most clearly addresses structural racism.

All of this suggests that instead of just castigating Trump as a racist individual, Democrats should put more focus on the injustice built into the system. That means advocating for policies that help increase opportunity for everyone and reduce structural inequities. But it also means that instead of just responding to Trump’s racist tweets, candidates should use those comments as opportunities to talk about the injustice of Republican policies.

Sherry Linkon is a professor of English at Georgetown University and a faculty affiliate of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. Her most recent book is The Half-Life of Deindustrialization: Working-Class Writing about Economic Restructuring (University of Michigan Press in 2018.) She is the editor of Working-Class Perspectives.

John Russo is a visiting researcher at the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, co-author with Sherry Linkon of Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown, and managing editor of Working-Class Perspectives.

Photo credit: Farm Security Administration (Public Domain) via Wikimedia

October is Black Fine Art Month at DuSable Museum

Self-taught artist and sculptor Debra Hand points to her work as she speaks at spoke at the launch of inaugural Black Fine Art Month. Hand said She selected this piece to represent the strength of women and as a tribute to Dr. Margaret Burroughs. (Photo by Mrinalini Pandey)

By MRINALINI PANDEY
Contributing writer

Pigment International, a multi-media arts collective founded in 2017 and based in Chicago, partnered with the DuSable Museum of African American History to launch Black Fine Art Month in October.

This month’s inaugural program will highlight five “Salon Talks” scheduled every Thursday through October featuring artists, teachers, historians, and journalists associated with the art world and focusing on Chicago’s role in shaping the history of Black Fine Art.

In addition, an exhibition hosted by Pigment Intl. will be on display commemorating the Black Fine Art Month at the Harold Washington Skylight Gallery at the DuSable in recognition of 400th anniversary of the first arrival of African slaves in America.

The kickoff press conference took place at the Ames Auditorium of the DuSable Museum on Thursday morning where several artists, collectors, and curators had gathered to laud the contributions of Black aesthetic and tradition in art.

Addressing the press conference, Patricia Andrews-Keenan, Black Fine Art Month Founder and Co-founder and CEO of Pigment Intl., outlined the genesis of the Black Fine Art Month, explaining that the idea was born out of the need to celebrate Black Fine Arts and find ways to elevate the visibility of Black artists to sell their work.

With her background in PR and marketing, Andrews-Keenan worked diligently with her team to acquire the domain name and partners to launch BFAM, subsequently winning the support of about 60 partners across the country.

Artist Dayo Laoye; Chicago-based artist and one of the featured panelists on the roster for Salon Talks, and Rev. Marrice Coverson of the Church of the Spirit opened the press conference with an acknowledgment of the African spirituality, and actor/singer Leslie Michele presented a small excerpt song performance from a multi-generational musical drama “1619: The Journey of a People,” commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first Africans arriving on the continent in the British colony. The play, directed by Ted Williams III, will later be performed in entirety on Nov. 16 at the DuSable Museum.

Perri Irmer, president and chief executive officer of the DuSable, also addressed the press conference, recalling the legacy of Margaret Burroughs, the museum’s founder, and the rich history of the institution since its inception in 1961. Reminding the audience about the significance of the Black Fine Art Month in

“There is no such thing as Black History Month. Every month is Black History Month. Black history is American history,” Irmer said during the press conference, adding, “Black art is world art. It is American art. It is worth our attention. It is worth our investment.”

“One of the efforts that we are making at the DuSable Museum following Margaret Burroughs’ mission is to show black excellence, to educate all people through African American history and art and culture. And especially reaching our youth. And especially supporting and encouraging our youth; young artists and story tellers.” Irmer said.

Recognizing the importance of black aesthetic in art, Irmer emphasized on telling one’s stories themselves and encouraged young black artists to tell their stories in their voices and narratives. Irmer heartily extended her gratitude and excitement in DuSable’s partnership with Pigment Intl. to continue the story of Black people and their experiences.

Echoing Irmer’s thoughts, Andrews-Keenan said, “We have seen so many unique things come out of the African American experience in art. We at Pigment International attempt to shine a light on the entire black experience in the arts. [We] Formed an artist collective in Chicago to help promote, celebrate, and expand the reach for their work.”

Extending gratitude to Irmer in support of DuSable’s collaboration with Pigment International in the inaugural launch of the Black Fine Art Month, Andrews-Keenan said, “This was the right way to begin this.”

Andrews-Keenan and her team at Pigment Intl. believe that it is paramount to recognize the importance of Black aesthetic in art and gain footing at local, national, and global levels because they believe that Black art has always been important.

“Unless majority culture lifts things up, people don’t know about them. This is the way to lift things up within the Black culture and recognize the value of Black art.”, she said, adding, “What makes Chicago such a great place for this is that some of the great art movements out of the country have come out of Chicago- Works Progress Arts movement, Afrofuturism, AfriCobra, the Black Art movement and others. So, we think Chicago is one of the epicenters in the world for Black art and it seemed fitting to launch the Black Fine Art Month in Chicago.”

In the past, Pigment Intl. has represented its artists at Gold Coast Art and Art Miami/Art Basel exhibitions and welcomes artists of color from diaspora population in its collective. Currently, the Chicago-based art collective has over 15 artists, painters, photographers, and a sculptor. Blake Lenoir, a contemporary artist from South-side-Chicago, whose piece titled “Saline Synapses” is displayed at the gallery exhibition at DuSable, was documented as Viridian Artists “30 under 30” after his work at the Art Miami/Art Basel gained recognition.

Like Lenoir’s other paintings, “Saline Synapses” has a powerful message to offer. It is a painting depicting generational health in the African American population affected by years of diabetes and heart disease. Other works that speak to generational experiences and family history of the African American population are works by artist Lesley Martinez Etherly that are also on display in the gallery at DuSable.

Other Pigment Intl. artists whose work will be on display at the DuSable include Debra Hand, Minnie Watkins, Dana Todd Pope, and Eddie “Edo” White.

Black Fine Art Month runs through Oct. 31, and the schedule of events is available at https://www.blackfineartmonth.com/calendar The next Salon Talks are scheduled for Oct. 19, Oct. 24, and Oct. 30.

hpherald@hpherald.com

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