Black Art Matters Closing Reception, 6-10 p.m., The Gallery Below, 718B N. Weber St., $5, facebook.com/thegallerybelow.
For Black History Month, The Gallery Below chose to present a truly fascinating and eclectic exhibition of art created by black artists. The gallery walls may soon empty of the photography, paintings, drawings and more that have been enriching the space all month, but not before the exhibition goes out with a bang. Join the gallery for a closing reception in partnership with Poetry719’s Colorado Springs Black Voices Matter open mic. Local poets, musicians, dancers and more will take the stage, with refreshments and revelry both inside and outside the gallery.
Chatter fills the fourth floor of the Global Center for Academic and Spiritual Life as people settle on couches around a wooden structure covered in light pink plastic blossoms. Curators refer to it as “the altar,” and it’s affixed with a poster reading, “I, Too, Am Divine,” the name of the exhibition celebrating black spiritualism.
The space was filled with laughter and music as people enjoyed authentic Cajun cuisine — home-cooked by one of the event curators — and Ethiopian dishes ordered in. The night began with speeches from two of the curators and a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the black national anthem.
The exhibition will run during the rest of spring semester and feature pieces by black artists at NYU, hand selected by the three curators, A’Nisa Megginson, Hunter Major and Harmony Hemmings-Pallay. The idea was to give black students a space to safely explore their spirituality and blackness through art and discussion.
“We’ve never seen a space on this campus that intentionally integrates both [blackness and spirituality] together,” Major said. “I think that blackness doesn’t fit into one religion or spiritual identity at all so we’re trying to create a space that’s not just a room but a movement and a connection between people.”
Over the course of the semester, the curators plan to host various events in the venue including discussions, teach-ins and tours. The physical space is accompanied by a digital campaign spanning across Instagram, Twitter and soon YouTube. The campaign will feature live streams, photos and interviews with black faculty on campus, as well as prominent black figures outside of the NYU community.
“I wanted to cater to conversations that had to be cut short because the event ends and the Kimmel building closes at 11 p.m.,” Major said. “Social media is a space where people can stay in touch and engage in a lot of different ways.”
One of the main hopes for the opening event and the exhibition as a whole is to provide a space for black students and faculty on campus to get to know each other.Tisch first-year Brittany Alexander, an artist that contributed to the exhibition, was especially looking forward to this aspect of the exhibition.
“[I’m excited for] meeting the other artists, seeing how they create their art and what inspires them,” Alexander said.“I’m really excited to talk about that and black spirituality and finally be able to relate to people in my own community about spirituality.”
The opening alone touched some of those in attendance, like Steinhardt senior Maya Mahmud.
“It was so beautiful; I remember singing [“Lift Every Voice and Sing”] in Kwanza,” Mahmud said. “I actually took the lyrics home to put them up. I’d never sung it in a such a public space with people I didn’t know.”
The curators are still accepting and encouraging submissions to the exhibition. The application can be found here:
This week, the AFRO concludes its special Black History Month coverage “Honoring the Black Press: Past and Future.”
In week one, we recognized the legacy of the Black Press over the course of two centuries and the social and political context in which it was born, highlighting places on the timeline where it’s voice have heard the loudest and with the greatest impact.
In week two, we looked at highlights in American history when the Black Press was there to capture the scene, unpack the story, and deliver the truth. We were reminded of the warrior spirit of the Black journalist. We remembered our professional responsibility as well as our obligations to our community.
In week three, we honored our BBWs (Beautiful Black Women) for their relentless commitment to justice and equality through storytelling.
A guiding principle of all journalism is to tell the story without becoming the story. For the Black Press it goes even deeper. While Black journalists retain the required measure of objectivity, we can never divorce ourselves from the reality of our existence on this planet. So, Black journalists must be the truth that we tell.
In this final week, we celebrate how far we’ve come, acknowledge where we are, and make note of what it will take to forge forward.
“From hot type, to cold type, to digital, the AFRO has been at the forefront of the ever-changing media landscape for 126 years,” says Frances “Toni” Draper, publisher and CEO of the AFRO-American Newspapers. “Today, we offer a wide variety of platforms to get the word out, including a robust array of social media products. However, our basic mission of championing our people, our causes, our hope, dreams and aspirations remains strong–likely stronger than it ever was. Black lives have always mattered and continue to matter to us.”
To conclude this series, we talk to Black male journalists, stewards of America’s truth, about how they perceive their individual role in the collective work of the Black Press, the state of the Black Press today, and the future of its reach among its own community.
Dorothy Boulware, former AFRO managing editor contributed to this article.
Anthony Wilson, lead instructor, NABJ Multimedia Short Course, NC A&T University, and
Anchor/Reporter for ABC11 in Greensboro, N.C.
“As a native Baltimorean who remembers the twice a week publication of the Afro, I’m happy to provide some quotes you might consider useful.
“Going back to the days when Wiley Daniels was the only brother Baltimore viewers could watch anchoring daily, the men and women who sit in those chairs have understood the expectations of news consumers who look like us. We’re role models, of course, but we’re also representing the community’s concerns in editorial meetings while sharing information about openings in our newsrooms.
“Objective reporting is the goal for journalists who are not editorial staff, but many who support Black owned outlets expect them to take sides on issues that concern the African-American community(for example, the constantly evolving Smolett developments).
“That said, to paraphrase a metaphorical observation about relative cause and effect, if the newspaper industry has a cold, the Black press is battling pneumonia. Ad dollars are shrinking, which affects the salaries journalists can expect from media, and some of them choose to go where the money seems to be. But the tide could be turning now, as so called mainstream media trim staffs with layoffs and early retirement offers and experienced Black journalists consider their options.
“At best, the Black press absolutely continues the mission established back in 1827 by ‘Freedom’s Journal.’ The challenges today are money and access to the potential audience. Those who prefer print media as a primary source for news are aging just as many papers are shrinking, physically and editorially. Some of the businesses that traditionally advertise in print media are hurting, too, and that affects the amounts they spend with the Black press. And we’re now a couple of generations in with an audience that expects access to news and information online, for free.
Social media are definitely where today’s Black audience gathers today. We are, and we look for, much more than ratchet video clips and gossip…although the interest in the lifestyles of so called stars remains a consistent driver of online activity and engagement.
We who continue to support our legacy media hope publishers and editorial staff can find the right mix, one that can make the Black press in general and the AFRO in particular a multigenerational, multimedia must read. We can get very real with each other while occupying a mutually agreed comfort zone: a church, a club, a gym, a hair salon or a barber shop. The former Johnson Publishing brands are struggling with that challenge now, especially after the current owners of Ebony were late with payments to freelance writers. Other members of the Black press have a unique opportunity now to bridge that gap, and continue the necessary work as griots and moderators of the ongoing conversations within the Black community.
Ron Harris, former managing editor of the Howard University News Service and former managing editor of the Afro-American Newspapers.
“As an African-American journalist, someone who comes from a community that has dealt with injustice and inequity for its entire existence on this continent, I am extremely attuned to and drawn to changing that reality for African-Americans, other historically oppressed populations and other Americans as well. Consequently, I have spent my career reporting and writing stories that expose inequities in American society, health care, education, law enforcement, jobs, culture and politics, as well as seeking solutions those problems.
“With a handful of of notable exceptions — a few large newspapers and cable news networks — most media, including the Black press, are in decline and struggling to survive in the face of a new economic paradigm created by technological advances that have shifted how Americans get their information. However, if the Black press, which to some degree has been in economic decline for decades, aggressively applies innovation to new technology, this can be a time of invigoration. In many ways, social media and the web level the playing field for the Black press, allowing it to be more timely as well as provide readers and viewers a broader pallet of information and to focus our attention in a way mainstream media does not.
As for now, Black news outlets have not scratched the surface of the possibilities of social media to engage the African-American community. The key is to broaden its audience. Right now, its audience skews too old. It has to create a newsroom driven by young journalists under the tutelage of more experienced professionals that will be much more creative and innovative. The ideas and the innovation will come from youth and those willing to embrace new idea and new formats. While not abandoning the valuable lessons of the past, they will divine a new way of delivering the information our community so desperately need.”
Dwayne Wickham, dean of Morgan State University’s Global School of Journalism and Communications
“The mission of the American Black Press hasn’t changed much in its 192-year existence. It continues to be that of an advocate for racial equality, racial justice and the uplifting of the black race.
”The current social and digital media platforms, like the penny press was when Freedom’s Journal was first published in 1827, are delivery systems by which news and information are transmitted to people. Throughout history, purveyors of news and information had to master these delivery systems to reach an audience. And I expect the Afro American Newspapers will continue to do this.
“The greater challenge to the Afro American, and other black newspapers, is to maintain the ability to research and report news and information of importance to black folks in a timely fashion. They cannot be an empty vessel and survive for very long. While the challenge of hiring and retaining skilled journalists is not unique to the black-owned newspapers and their digital offshoots, it is a more critical concern for them because of their special mission. So, black newspapers must aggressively pursue black journalists to staff their newsrooms. And they have to continue to do the things that made them an indispensable part of black life in America for more than a century. They must faithfully tell the stories about black folks that most other news organizations underplay, or ignore. They must do more reporting, and less repeating of news.
“And most important, they must continue to speak truth to power.”
In Tom we distrust. Photo: Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image
Thomas Friedman is among the most successful political commentators in the world. A global readership devours his books on globalization. America’s premier newspaper prints his every reflection on current affairs. Event planners pay him more for a single speech than the median American household earns in a year. Awards committees shower him in prizes. Presidents seek his counsel.
And yet, there are still some Americans who can say that “we live in a meritocracy” with a straight face.
Forget Friedman’s past apologia for war crimes. Forget his praise of Russian autocracy, and the fresh prince of Riyadh (which is to say, forget “suck on this,” “keep rootin’ for Putin,” and “Arab Spring, Saudi style”). We need not cherry-pick from Friedman’s back catalogue to establish that he is living proof of a systematic market failure in the hot-take economy. An examination of his most recent column will suffice.
In “Is America Becoming a Four-Party State?” Friedman argues the following: The Democratic Party is growing ever more fractured between “grow-the-pie” moderates and “redivide the pie” progressives, while the GOP is on the cusp of a civil war between the “limited-government-grow-the-pie” right, and the “hoard-the-pie, pull-up-the-drawbridge” Trumpists. These unprecedented fractures in the two major parties — combined with the fact that globalization has rendered all traditional political divisions anachronistic — means that there is a significant chance that the U.S. will develop a four-party system by November 2020.
The problem with this argument is that none of its premises are true. In fact, some are so egregiously false, it is difficult to understand how anyone who reads the New York Times on a regular basis — let alone, writes for it — could actually believe them.
The Democratic Party is less ideologically divided than it’s been for most of its modern history. Friedman writes that Democrats are suffering from a “deepening divide”; that the “level of outrage in its base” is “sky high”; and thus, while “our two parties have usually managed to handle deep fractures,” this “time may be different.”
For perspective: Throughout much of the 20th century, one wing of the Democratic Party believed that African-Americans deserved full civil rights and more economic aid, while another maintained that state governments had an inalienable right to look the other way when white people tortured and murdered uppity blacks. This disagreement — about whether the federal government had an obligation to assist the racially oppressed, or to “live and let lynch” — proved too insignificant to fracture the New Deal coalition during its first 16 years of existence. And even then, the Dixiecrat revolt failed to produce a durable third-party system. The structural barriers to such a development in American election law (among them, onerous requirements for ballot access, and a winner-takes-all election system that condemns third parties to spoiler status) proved too formidable. After Strom Thurmond and George Wallace threw their fleeting tantrums, southern Democrats gradually reconciled themselves to life beneath the GOP’s big tent.
The divisions in today’s Donkey Party don’t just pale in comparison to those of Harry Truman’s, but also of Bill Clinton’s, and (at least, arguably) Barack Obama’s. In the 1990s, Democratic voters and politicians disagreed about whether abortion services should be subsidized or banned; welfare, expanded or cut; immigration, increased or restricted; and Social Security, “reformed” or protected. Under Obama, this split over entitlement spending persisted. By contrast, in 2019, virtually all of the Democratic Party’s internal divisions aren’t about which direction policy must move on, but only how far. Last year, the party’s most conservative House candidates campaigned on their absolute opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and in favor of incrementally expanding the state’s role in health care. Moderate Democrats want to expand tax credits for job training, while progressives favor free public college; but all agree that Uncle Sam needs to increase subsidies for labor-force development. Pro-life Democrats are, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. White Democrats have never been more “woke” on racial issues. In 2017, not a single congressional Democrat voted for Donald Trump’s tax cuts; in 2001, 12 Senate Democrats voted for George W. Bush’s.
It is true that, since 2016, an ascendant progressive wing has sought to move the boundaries of their party’s consensus leftward. But there is nothing remotely unusual about a major American political party being home to both incrementalist and radical wings. Moreover, as Sean McElwee of Data for Progress has demonstrated, the ideological divisions among the Democratic rank and file aren’t nearly as sharp as those among the party’s elected officials. In fact, Democratic primary voters have never been as ideologically united as they were in 2016; the vast majority of Bernie Sanders supporters have warm feelings for Joe Biden, and vice versa.
So, what is Tom Friedman’s evidence for the claim that the Democratic Party’s contemporary divides are more fatal than ever before?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office released FAQs about her Green New Deal resolution that suggested that the congresswoman supported guaranteeing economic security for people “unwilling to work.” Ocasio-Cortez’s office subsequently retracted that document, and one of her advisers explained that they never intended to endorse an unconditional, universal basic income. Rather, her chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti explained that by those “unwilling to work,” they specifically meant late-career fossil-fuel-industry workers displaced by a Green New Deal.
“We were essentially thinking about pensions and retirement security,” Chakrabarti tweeted. “E.g. economic security for a coal miner who has given 40 years of their life to building the energy infra of this country, but who may not be willing to switch this late in his career.”
Nevertheless, one of the highest-paid, most-celebrated political analysts in the United States published a column — more than a week after Chakrabarti’s statement — arguing that Ocasio-Cortez’s (nonexistent) support for sloth subsidies reflects an intra-Democratic ideological divide so fundamental that it could break the American two-party system in a manner that trivial disagreements over the propriety of lynching never could.
Moderate Democrats do not care more about growth than progressives; they just care less about equality. Here is how Friedman defines the Democrats’ intractable divide:
That phrase — economic security even for people “unwilling to work” — was not just noted by conservatives. It rattled some center-left Democrats as well, because it hinted that the party’s base had moved much farther to the left in recent years than they’d realized, and it highlighted the most important fault line in today’s Democratic Party — the line between what I’d call “redivide-the-pie Democrats” and “grow-the-pie Democrats.”
Grow-the-pie Democrats — think Mike Bloomberg — celebrate business, capitalism and start-ups that generate the tax base to create the resources for more infrastructure, schools, green spaces and safety nets, so more people have more opportunity and tools to capture a bigger slice of the pie.
Grow-the-pie Democrats know that good jobs don’t come from government or grow on trees — they come from risk-takers who start companies. They come from free markets regulated by and cushioned by smart government.
… Redivide-the-pie Democrats — think Bernie Sanders — argue that after four decades of stagnant middle-class wages — and bailouts for bankers and billionaires but not workers in 2008 — you can’t grow the pie without redividing it first. Inequality is too great now. There are too many people too far behind.
This is a cogent summary of how a self-proclaimed “grow-the-pie” (i.e., moderate) Democrat might understand the current divide within Team Blue. As such, it is tendentious and poorly substantiated.
The government did not foster Friedman’s beloved “digital revolution” merely by regulating and cushioning “free markets.” It also directly funded and developed the technological advances that made the internet (and thus, Silicon Valley) possible. Risk-taking venture capitalists and entrepreneurs may create jobs by developing internationally competitive products, and discerning untapped consumer demands. But businesses can’t meet consumer demands when consumers do not have disposable income. And when the richest people in the country hoard income gains, and middle-class wages stagnate, mass consumer demand flags (and/or, becomes reliant on easy credit) — and so does economic growth. The explosion of inequality in the United States over the past four decades has not correlated with exceptionally high growth. In fact, the “redivide the pie” Scandinavian social democracies (which feature higher levels of taxation, redistribution, and state ownership than Bernie Sanders has dared to propose) have seen much higher growth in GDP per hour worked (a.k.a. productivity) since 1970 than the U.S. has.
Moderate Democrats may emphasize their commitment to growth, while progressives put more rhetorical weight on the moral necessity of redistribution. But it does not follow from this that the former’s policy ideas are more conducive to growth than the latter’s. If an inevitable trade-off between reducing inequality and increasing GDP did not exist, there’s reason to suspect that American centrists would have to invent it. After all, if implementing Bernie Sanders’s agenda wouldn’t reduce growth, then it is awfully hard to rationalize opposing drastically higher levels of progressive taxation and transfers in a nation where the wealthiest 0.1 percent own as much as the bottom 90 percent, and the welfare state does not guarantee working people affordable health care or child care, in defiance of OECD norms.
To his credit, Friedman evinces support for incremental redistributive reforms. But the best-selling author does suggest that government and redistribution cannot “create good jobs” — and feels no obligation to substantiate his assertion with evidence of any kind.
Limited government is not the Republican Party’s “most core principle.” After exaggerating and misconstruing the divides on the left side of the aisle, Friedman turns his foggy gaze to the right.
Trump’s decision to declare a “national emergency” on the Mexico border has violated the party’s most core principle of limited government. In doing so it’s opened a fissure between the old limited-government-grow-the-pie Republicans and the anti-immigrant hoard-the-pie, pull-up-the-drawbridge Trumpers.
This might make you wonder whether a party that has spent the past half-century demanding endless expansions of the military-industrial complex — and of subsidies for its favorite corporations — might not value “limited government” so much as upward redistribution.
If so, you are not Tom Friedman. In fact, Friedman proves himself impervious to evidence that contradicts his thesis even when he himself provides that evidence. Immediately after claiming that Trump’s emergency declaration has opened a fissure that just might break the GOP in half, Friedman writes:
The early signs are that the limited-government types — led by Mitch McConnell — are so morally bankrupt, after having sold their souls to Trump for two years, they’ll even abandon this last core principle and go along with Trump’s usurpation of Congress’s power of appropriation.
The Pulitzer Prize winner then carries on with his argument, as though he has not just explained why it isn’t true.
All of the traditional conflicts in American political life have not become archaic and irrelevant. Not content to ahistorically declare intractable crises within both major political parties, Friedman concludes by ahistorically announcing the death of all the conventional political divides in Western democracies:
Ever since World War II until the early 21st century, the major political parties in the West were all built on a set of stable binary choices: capital versus labor; big government/high regulation versus small government/low regulation; open to trade and immigration versus more closed to trade and immigration; embracing of new social norms, like gay rights or abortion, and opposed to them; and green versus growth.
Across the industrial world parties mostly formed along one set of those binary choices or the other. But that is no longer possible.
What if I am a steelworker in Pittsburgh and in the union, but on weekends I drive for Uber and rent out my kid’s spare bedroom on Airbnb — and shop at Walmart for the cheapest Chinese imports, and what I can’t find there I buy on Amazon through a chatbot that replaced a human? Monday to Friday I’m with labor. Saturday and Sunday I’m with capital. My point? Many of the old binary choices simply do not line up with the challenges to workers, communities and companies in this age of accelerating globalization, technology and climate change[.]
These ravings are so detached from empirical facts or logical coherence that they would seem self-refuting if printed in a comments section or shouted from a street corner. But since they were penned by one of America’s preeminent columnists, in the nation’s paper of record, let’s review why the advent of Uber drivers did not condemn all conflicts between capital and labor to the dustbin of history.
The existence of unionized workers — who also consume imported goods, and therefore, benefit indirectly from exploitative labor practices in the third world — is not a new development. Nor, for that matter, is it especially novel for a working-class family to supplement their income by renting out a spare room. (Also, the kid has his own spare room? Or did the steelworker convert his kid’s room into a spare room? If the latter, where is the kid sleeping? Is the steelworker a capitalist now because he sold his own dang kid?)
Uber is a relatively new company. But Uber drivers have no particular reason to identify with capital instead of labor; the average Uber driver makes about $10 an hour, and lacks many of the basic benefits that unionized workers take for granted.
Furthermore, it is hard to imagine why an American who performs hard labor five days a week, works as a cab driver on weekends, tends to Airbnb tenants in the evening — and still can’t afford anything but “the cheapest Chinese imports” at Walmart — would find the notion of a fundamental conflict between capitalists and workers alien to his experience.
Beyond the psychedelic incoherence of Friedman’s conception of the contemporary precariat, there’s a more basic problem with his analysis: Virtually all of the “binary choices” that he rattles off do, in fact, cleanly divide America’s two major parties in 2019. The Trump-era GOP has tried to cut programs that benefit labor, so as to finance tax cuts for capitalists. Democrats have opposed those measures, and put forward a variety of plans for redistributing resources in the opposite direction. Republicans are trying to restrict gay rights and access to abortion on both the state and federal levels; Democrats are working to do the opposite. Immigration now splits the two parties more sharply than at any time in our modern history.
If you are a gay Mexican-American with undocumented family members, who relies on Medicaid for affordable insulin, in what sense do the “old binary choices” not line up with the challenges you face? What if you are the median American family whose wages have not kept up with the rising costs of health care, housing, and higher education?
The esteemed columnist does not say.
Instead, he is content to toss a mess of thinly connected ideological assertions beneath an absurdly hyperbolic question headline that he barely bothers to defend.
And since the free market in hot takes rewards such tripe — and capitalism compels us all to subordinate our values to the profit motive — lesser columnists are often forced to do the same.
A museum, two decades in the making, centering on African-American musicians is finally getting close to opening its doors in downtown Nashville in the coming months. As the National Museum of African American Music inches closer to its $50 million funding goal and construction workers labor away to complete the permanent interactive space, H. Beecher Hicks, III, president and CEO of the NMAAM, is anticipating what’s to come.
The influence that Africans Americans have had throughout the history of American music will be chronicled throughout the space in five permanent and temporary exhibits, and a 200-seat theater. According to plans that were unveiled late last year in the Tennessean, the museum space will occupy 56,000 sq. feet and will include artifacts such as “a leopard-print dress once worn by Whitney Houston to Nat King Cole‘s argyle sweater.” The museum, first conceived of in 2002 and which has hosted events to honor the likes of Nile Rodgers, Patti LaBelle, Charlie Wilson and Kirk Franklin over the last several years, boasts Darius Rucker, CeCe Winans, Keb’Mo and India.Arie as national chairs.
According to Hicks, the permanent exhibits will take visitors from the influence of slavery on American music through present time. It will include “Wade in the Water,” a gallery on religious music that highlights the 1940s-1960s; “Crossroads,” an exhibit on blues and the Great Migration; “Love Supreme,” a gallery on the emergence of jazz; “One Nation Under a Groove,” an exhibit about R&B, funk, techno, disco, go-go and more from the 1960s-1990s/early 2000s; and “The Message,” a space dedicated to hip-hop from its early iterations to today.
Hicks says the museum has met about 75 percent of its fundraising goal and construction on the museum will be completed at the “very end” of 2019 with the museum slated to open either later this year or in early 2020. On Feb. 19, the museum announced it was $1 million closer to its goal thanks to a joint gift from the Regions Foundation and the Mike Curb Foundation.
Next week, the museum expects to release rates and information for members of the community who would like to become “founding members.”
As the museum finalizes its plans, Hicks spoke to Billboard about what to expect.
A rendering of the interior of the National Museum of African American Music.Courtesy Photo
Billboard: Why Nashville?
H. Beecher Hicks, III:Why not Nashville? Nashville really is America’s music city. We like to say that if you look at it from a little bit of a historical presence, Nashville and Tennessee are like the crossroads of American music. Really, it was born in the South and then at the end of slavery and the beginning of The Great Migration, when our grandparents began to migrate North, whether they were going to Detroit or New York or Los Angeles, they very possibly went through Tennessee. So they left breadcrumbs in Memphis and left breadcrumbs in Nashville and breadcrumbs in Johnson City. Tennessee really, in so many ways, is kind of the crucible center of American music, even though in more modern times it’s been more prominent in other cities. We’re just bringing it back home.
What will the first temporary exhibit be about?
It will be on the Fisk Jubilee Singers and their impact on funding for [Historically Black Colleges and Universities]. In particular, the chorus and glee clubs that are such an important part of the HBCU experience.
You’ve partnered with a few artists, such as Darius Rucker and India.Arie, to get this done. How important were those partnerships for the museum?
We certainly make lots of friends along the way. Like anything else that you’re creating, it’s the one-on-one relationships [that matter]. You kind of get together with folks to kind of see and tell the story. You help them understand what’s in it for them, what’s in it for the culture [and] what’s in it for the community.
Black music has touched every genre of American music. How do you decide what goes into this museum?
We’re very fortunate that we have a skilled staff and a really skilled group of consultants that are working with us. We started out going to ethnomusicologists and music scholars around the country several years ago and asking them to tell us their stories of the music that African Americans have the most impact on around the nation. That was sort of boiled down into a storyline. Then we brought on a senior scholar, a woman by the name of Dr. Portia Maultsby, who is [the lead ethnomusicologist at the museum]. We have since hired a staff of curators who are experts in their own right in blues, jazz and in public history.
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 20, 2019 (American Heart Association News) — Serena Williams and Beyoncé are at the top of their professions. Williams is one of the best tennis players, and arguably athletes, of all time. Beyoncé is a singer who sells out arenas within hours.
But last year, they shared similar stories: Each experienced life-threatening complications in their pregnancies.
In that one way, these two superstars are just like millions of other black women in the United States.
Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s partly why the overall rate of pregnancy-related deaths has climbed over the past two decades, making the maternal mortality rate in the United States the worst in any industrialized country, according to a 2016 analysis published in the journal The Lancet.
“It’s basically a public health and human rights emergency because it’s been estimated that a significant portion of these deaths could be prevented,” said Dr. Ana Langer, director of the Women and Health Initiative at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
The reasons behind the racial disparities are many and complex, she said. Lack of access and poor quality of care are leadings factors, particularly among women at lower socioeconomic levels.
But there’s a bigger problem, Langer said. “Basically, black women are undervalued. They are not monitored as carefully as white women are. When they do present with symptoms, they are often dismissed.”
That’s what happened to Williams when she experienced a pulmonary embolism a day after giving birth to her daughter via cesarean section. Williams was gasping for breath and recognized that blood clots were blocking one or more of the arteries in her lungs.
“Because of my medical history with this problem, I live in fear of this situation,” she wrote in an essay about the issue last February. “So, when I fell short of breath, I didn’t wait a second to alert the nurses.”
But medical employees initially dismissed her concerns, wasting crucial time before her diagnosis and the treatment she specifically requested.
Williams’ story illustrates the biggest problem facing black women, even when they are successful and affluent, said Dr. Allison Bryant Mantha, vice chair of quality, equity and safety in the obstetrics and gynecology department of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“Racism affects so many things before the patient even gets to the clinical encounter,” she said. “Both implicit bias and structural racism affect how women are cared for in the health care system.”
The cards are stacked against them once they enter that system, she said, pointing to the report, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care,” published by a division of the National Academy of Sciences.
The report’s researchers found that, among other factors, bias and stereotyping regarding people of color can impact the level of health care they receive.
That differential treatment can happen through direct care or from communication gaps in which crucial details about a patient’s medical history fail to get passed along, Bryant Mantha said.
“All told, some African-American women are probably entering pregnancy less healthy than other women,” she said.
Last summer, Beyoncé revealed she had experienced toxemia, also known as preeclampsia, while she was pregnant with her twins. The condition left her entire body swollen and she was confined to bed rest for more than a month before she had an emergency C-section.
Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of all maternal death. Women who experience pregnancy-related health problems — including preeclampsia — have a higher risk for developing heart disease following childbirth.
Dr. Emily Petersen, a medical officer in the CDC’s reproductive health division, said the federal government is working with state-based health care networks to standardize care and look for situations when interventions could make the biggest difference. There’s also a push to increase education about bias.
“Some hospitals and health care systems have implemented training on implicit or unconscious bias,” Petersen said, “to think about how people’s backgrounds and unconsciousness may be affecting their care.”
Langer said publicizing cases such as Williams’ or those profiled in investigative stories in recent years by NPR and ProPublica also help tackle the problem.
“It’s important to illustrate what’s happening and make the public aware because it can encourage the health establishment to take on this crisis much more seriously,” she said.
In the end, said Bryant Mantha, the blame — and the solution — belong to everyone.
“It feels like an (obstetrician) problem, but really, maternal mortality is a broader societal problem,” she said. “If everyone pays a little more attention to their piece of the pie, hopefully we can start to move the needle.”
The official launch of the Kansas African-American History Trail will be held in Wichita this week.
Eight sites across Kansas have been selected as charter members that depict black history, including an underground railroad passage and a cabin that once was the headquarters for abolitionist John Brown.
Ted Ayres serves as board director for The Kansas African American Museum and project coordinator for the grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. He says each site speaks volumes about African-American history.
“You can go and whether it’s 15 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour, two hours,” he says, “you’re going to be absorbed and learn a lot about our state and its role in American history and African American history.”
Ayres says the official launch will provide more details about the trail concept and its purpose, as well as give information about each of the current sites along the trail — in Osawatomie, Topeka, Lawrence, Leavenworth, Nicodemus, Fort Scott and Wichita.
The launch event is at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at The Kansas African American Museum in Wichita.
Carla Eckels is director of cultural diversity and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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