Reproductive Choice Challenged in Tanzania

The President of the East African nation of Tanzania, John Magufuli, told a rally on Sunday, September 9, that Tanzanian couples should stop using contraceptives and have more babies for their country.

The surprising recommendation seemingly came out of nowhere. “Those going for family planning are lazy,” asserted Magufuli. “.  .  . they are afraid they will not be able to feed their children. They do not want to work hard to feed a large family and that is why they opt for birth controls and end up with one or two children only.”

Magufuli indicated that his opinion was formed during travel to other countries, including some in Europe. He claimed that contraception led to declining populations in those countries.

“You have cattle. You are big farmers. You can feed your children. Why then resort to birth control?” he asked the rally attendees. “This is my opinion. I see no reason to control birth in Tanzania.”

Actually, there are several reasons. Tanzania’s population, according to Worldometers, a website that compiles nations’ demographic information, is 59,449,107. Based on United Nations estimates, Worldometers says Tanzania’s population will increase to 138,081,621 by 2050. About 32.6% of the population is urban. The median age in Tanzania is 17.4 years. And Tanzania’s population density is 173 people per mile. More babies could make for some pretty crowded areas per mile. Assuming that Tanzania’s youthful median age means high fertility rates, couples having more babies shouldn’t be a problem.

However, producing more babies becomes a problem if couples can’t afford them. Babies cost money. They have to be fed, clothed, educated, and kept healthy through annual visits to doctors for examinations and immunization shots. MP Cedric Mwambe   who was recently quoted in Al Jazeera news, said the country’s health insurance is set up to only cover four children per family.

It’s a problem when governments start inserting themselves in family planning decisions, something that’s intensely personal and should only involve the couples. Having more babies often means fewer local and national resources available to ensure education for all who want it. It means women in particular are made to postpone or give up on ever having an education themselves, which would enable them to obtain jobs  and pursue careers in professions that pay well, and to contribute more money to their families’ expenses.

Thankfully, according to Tanzania’s Speaker of Parliament Job Ndugai, Magufuli’s remarks don’t represent the government’s position, or a new national policy. But it’s disturbing that Magufuli, who only has four children, would see fit to tell Tanzania’s couples, particularly the female half of those couples, to have more babies and stop using contraception. It’s another example of a male government official telling women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies.

If Magufuli ever decided to enshrine his opinions in government policy, he would be in violation of the Maputo Protocol. The protocol is part of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which was adopted by the African Union in 2003 at its summit in Maputo, Mozambique. The African Union ratified the protocol in 2005.

The protocol says that women have the right to decide whether to have children, how many they will have, and how much time they will give themselves between pregnancies if they decide to have more children. It says women have the right to choose any contraception method they want, and to be provided family planning education.

Family planning isn’t the only right under attack. On Monday, September 10, Tanzania’s parliament said female legislators can’t wear false eyelashes and/or fake fingernails. How fashion and appearance have anything to do with female legislators’ ability to draft and vote on new laws is beyond understanding.

There are African cultural traditions that just don’t work all that well in modern times, not in African countries or in nations of the African Diaspora. Men limiting women’s freedoms and choices just because they’re men, is one such tradition that should disappear, never to return.

“Don’t You Know We Hate You People?”

The title is a quote from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer to a woman seeking asylum.

“Like it or not, these aren’t our kids.” — Brian Kilmeade, co-host of “Fox and Friends” on June 22, expressing support for dividing immigrant families at the border and placing the children in cages.

“These aren’t people. These are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.” The unpresident, May 16, 2018.

If you ever doubted that the unpresident and his administration held racist feelings toward immigrants and refugees, the immigration policies they     introduced this year regarding these populations should forever put those doubts to rest.

While many of us were paying attention to the funerals for Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and U.S.Senator John McCain two weeks ago, the unpresident was busy preparing his next policy onslaught on immigrants.

White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, who also assisted the unpresident with creating the “zero tolerance” undocumented immigrants policy, allowing ICE officers to separate parents and their children at the Texas-Mexico border and place the children in cages, came up with the new policy.  It would deny citizenship to legal immigrants who ever used any public assistance programs, like food stamps, health insurance for low-income children (CHIP), or the Affordable Care Act. The new policy would be signed as an Executive Order, going into effect without approval from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Immigrants who have “green cards” are considered legal permanent residents of the U.S., and are permitted to work. They can use public assistance programs, but the immigration system frowns upon such use. That’s because it supposedly places an undue burden on U.S.-born (read “white”) taxpayers, whose taxed earnings fund the programs.  Immigrants have to prove they can be model citizens without having to ever ask for help — even though they also pay taxes, and should be able to avail themselves of public assistance if and when they have to. Many work jobs where they earn less than the minimum wage, supporting families on next to nothing.

One example is Louis Charles, a Haitian permanent resident who has been cited in news accounts about the impact of this new policy. He works 80 hours a week in a psychiatric hospital near Boston as a nursing assistant, but doesn’t make enough to support his disabled adult daughter, who can’t do anything for herself. He relies on public assistance for his daughter’s care. A year ago, he was denied U.S. citizenship. He is appealing the decision.  In addition, Charles’ wife was one of hundreds of Haitians who came to the U.S. following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Haitians, including Charles’ wife, were granted temporary protected status, which the unpresident says he will discontinue. If Charles can’t obtain U.S. citizenship, his wife will also be deported.

Immigrant and refugee advocates say the new policy could affect 20 million immigrants.  Among them are immigrants of color. A large number of immigrants and refugees are seeking asylum from domestic violence or gang violence in their Central and South American countries of origin. They could be beaten or murdered upon returning “home.”

Along with Central and South American immigrants, the number of Black immigrants, both naturalized citizens and undocumented, is growing.  One in 10 Black people in the U.S. are foreign-born, according to a Pew Research Center study. Most came from Jamaica, Haiti and Nigeria. The population of African immigrants in the U.S. increased to 1.6 million between 2000 and 2016. In 2015, there were 619,000 undocumented Black immigrants living in the U.S.  How long will it take for the unpresident to target Black immigrants  and refugees for deportation?

Not long, apparently. There’s already one such case pending in Detroit, Michigan, that of a deaf and intellectually disabled Nigerian man, Francis Anwana, who came to the U.S. at 14. He is now 48. He entered the country on a student visa. His mother realized that his severe disabilities would keep him from getting the care he would need in Nigeria, and  as he had about ten siblings, she was unable to afford his care.

For a few years, Anwana lived in Flint, where he attended the Michigan School for the Deaf. He can’t speak, but he communicates through sign language, which he learned at the school. From there, he moved to Detroit. where he lives in an adults’ foster care facility, cleaning and maintaining the property.

Anwana had applied for asylum, with an attorney’s help, based on the inability to access the medications and care he needs in Nigeria, if he was deported. His mother is too old to care for him. To the shock of his supporters, ICE ordered his deportation to Nigeria anyway, a country he hadn’t lived in since he was a teenager. ICE had scheduled his deportation for September 11, but has postponed it. Anwana is set to meet with ICE on September 21, even though he does not understand what deportation means.

And there’s still the matter of  reuniting the Central and South American refugee children with their parents. There are 416 children left in the U.S., down from more than 2,000 who were finally reunited with parents. The administration and the ACLU can’t locate all of the parents. Many were deported. There were parents that ICE tricked into signing a document agreeing to be deported with their children, but the parents were deported without them.  In the future, as more undocumented parents and children are arrested at the border, the unpresident wants to ignore immigration rules, which limit the amount of time undocumented parents and children can be detained to 20 days, and be able to hold them indefinitely.

Immigrants and refugees in these desperate situations need legal help, and the lawyers need financial contributions in order to provide it. Among them:


The Texas Civil Rights Project

RAICES Bond Fund (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

The Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project



Block Kavanaugh! PLEASE!

Some of you have probably seen this photo before. This was Gerri Santoro. The image has been featured in pro-reproductive choice materials over time to illustrate what could happen if legalized abortion was repealed.

Santoro sought an abortion in 1964,  nine years before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the Roe v. Wade case. Separated from her abusive husband, she had become pregnant by a coworker with whom she fell in love. They decided to try a self-induced abortion, using some surgical instruments they had acquired, and a textbook. The couple registered in a Norwich, Connecticut motel under aliases.

The procedure did not work as planned. Santoro began bleeding profusely, and her boyfriend abandoned her. This is how the police found her; on the floor by a bed, on top of bloody towels, alone, dead. She was 28.

Brett Kavanaugh, the unpresident’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court seat which became vacant due to Justice Kennedy’s retirement, has claimed that he considers Roe v.Wade “settled law.” But no one is sure of that, especially members of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, who asked him about his beliefs on various issues during his confirmation hearing last week. Kavanaugh said very little about anything.

The Repugnantthug members of the committee are delighted with the possibility of  Kavanaugh’s appointment. He would be one of five or so conservative Justices whose rulings would overturn years of legal precedence upholding civil rights, women’s rights, labor union rights, and environmental protections. They are working to make Kavanaugh’s confirmation as quick and easy as possible.

Of the Democrats on the committee only Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California asked tough and pointed questions designed to force Kavanaugh to admit to his conservative beliefs.  The closest anyone came to uncovering Kavanaugh’s thoughts on reproductive choice was Repugnantthug Senator Ted Cruz of New Mexico, who asked him about the dissent he wrote as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the 2015 Priests for Life v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services case.

The anti-abortion Catholic organization sued the Obama administration because it didn’t want to provide its employees with health insurance that would cover contraceptives, as mandated under the Affordable Care Act. The act allowed religious groups to opt out of providing such coverage if it notified insurers and the federal government, but they had to contract with third parties which would provide such coverage. Priests for Choice insisted that even contracting with third parties would make it complicit in providing employees with birth control which the group opposes because birth control prevents pregnancy.

Kavanaugh told the Senate committee that if Priests for Choice filled out the form for health insurance that provided birth control pills, IUDs and other forms of contraception, it would “make them complicit in the provision of abortion-inducing drugs that they were, as a religious matter, objecting to.” He didn’t seem to know that birth control devices do not “induce” abortions. And if he didn’t know that, what might he rule in cases argued before the U.S. Supreme Court which could result in overturning Roe v. Wade?

If abortion becomes illegal again, women would not stop trying to have them anyway. Just as they did before Roe v. Wade, women would resort to self-induced abortions of the type that killed Gerri Santoro, or go to “back alley” abortionists who have no medical training, whose surgical instruments and facilities are not clean and sterile, and risk the possibility of internal infections, butchered reproductive organs, hemorrhaging, and death.

Women of color, as before Roe v. Wade, would comprise disproportionate numbers of deaths by illegal abortions. When abortions were illegal, white women with money could go to Canada, which had legalized abortion, or to other countries to undergo the procedure. Women of color and low-income women generally were more dependent on the “back alley” option, and even those services weren’t cheap. Which led far too many women to the third option, do-it-yourself abortions, using knitting needles, coat hangers, or anything else to insert and “scrape out” the fetus. That option was unsafe and deadly.

Nobody “likes” abortion, but there are times when it is necessary, such as when a woman becomes pregnant through rape, or carrying a baby to term could endanger the mother’s life. Deciding to have one is not something women take lightly. But whether or not to have one should be a decision made by women, not the “state.” And apparently Kavanaugh, along with the conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the unpresident who nominated Kavanaugh, don’t think women have the brains to decide whether, when, or if they should have children.

There may still be time to block Kavanaugh’s appointment.  The following Senators are said to be “undecided.” Please contact them and ask them to vote against Kavanaugh’s U.S. Supreme Court appointment:

Susan Collins, (202) 224-2523.

Lisa Murkowski, (202) 224-6665.

Joe Manchin, (202) 224-3954.

Heidi Heitkamp, (202) 224-2043.

Doug Jones, (202) 224-4124.

Joe Donnelly, (202) 224-4814.


African, Afro-Brazilian Artifacts Destroyed in Flames

The fire that burned down most of the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro  on  Sunday, September 2,  wiped out entire collections that had been painstakingly maintained since the museum’s 1818 opening. The African and Afro-Brazilian artifacts were among the items forever lost.

As Brazil has the second largest population of Africans — descendants of enslaved Africans in Brazil — outside of Africa, the collection played a crucial role in Brazilians’ understanding of race, and how the cultures, languages and spiritual practices of enslaved Africans shaped Brazilian culture.

The museum’s permanent African collection, named Kumbukumbu, a Swahili word meaning memory, memorial or recollection, had 700 items. One hundred eighty-five items from the collection were exhibited, according to the website Okayafrica.  The items included royal sandals from the ancient African kingdom of Dahomey (now the nation of Benin), a royal Dahomey throne,  and an ivory tusk carved in the 19th Century from the Congo River basin.  The Dahomey items were the only representation of the ancient kingdom, which ceased to exist in the early 1900s.

The museum also preserved African and Afro-Brazilian Candomble items. Candomble is a religion that originated in 19th Century Bahia, a predominantly Black state in Brazil. It preserves some of the rituals and practices of the Yoruba, Fon and other West and Central African people. The slave “masters” who colonized Brazil were Portuguese, who were Catholic. They forbade the enslaved Africans from practicing their own religions, so the Africans pretended to worship Catholic saints and the Christian God, while secretly continuing their own rituals and beliefs. The mirror pictured here was used in celebrations of the Oxum Orisha. The museum also had dolls which represented the various orishas, or gods.

Ancient Egyptian artifacts were also part of the collection, including a mummy and coffin, as well as fragments of other Egyptian mummies.

While no determination has been made yet regarding what caused the fire, there are those who say the damage could have been lessened if Brazil’s government had provided money for repairs to the 200-year-old building. And since the building contained a lot of wood, it could have been destroyed by fire before this month. It had no sprinkler system, but the museum had finally obtained to enough money to install one before this incident.

“(The fire) could have been prevented,” said anthropologist Antonio Carlos de Souza Lima in a recent NPR interview. de Souza Lima had an office in the museum, where he kept his archives, and researched Brazil’s indigenous cultures for 38 years.

“If decades ago we have changed from the building — that was an ancient building full of wood that for — be secure for exhibitions or people to be there, should have been completely rebuilt internally and prepared against fire and against a lot of other things.”

de Souza Lima said the museum didn’t have the funds to digitize the collections.”That’s why I say I was so angry. I’m angry against our economic and technical elites, angry against politicians, decision-makers that never cared for heritage, culture and education in Brazil.”

Despite the institution’s destruction, de Souza Lima said he and others are determined to replace it. “We’ll fight to build another museum together with indigenous peoples, together with black peoples (sic) in Brazil, together with scientists from all the world .  .  .

“My archives are very, very small loss towards what we’ve lost as a country, as an intellectual community, as an institution,” de Souza Lima insisted. “So what can we do, (be) depressed? No, we (have to) fight.”







Breathless, or Help a Sistah Out!

Imagine that you are a self-employed artist who creates Black rag dolls, dressed in clothing you design, some of which is made from beautiful African fabrics. You also operate a summer theatrical camp in Washington, D.C. for young people. You write children’s books based on the dolls’ brand, Sugarfoots. You have a son who is going back to college for his sophomore year later in the summer. And you just married for the second time, a wonderful man from Sierra Leon. Life is good.

Then suddenly, not long after you return to the U.S. from your wedding in Africa, you go into a prolonged coughing spell and you can’t breathe.

That’s what happened to Barbara Nyaliemaa Mosima this summer. She was rushed to a hospital emergency room and placed on an oxygen tank that she how has to have with her at all times. Her doctor told her that she had contracted something like pneumonia, and her lungs were 50% inflamed. She will get well, she was told, after a 72 week recovery. When you do the math, it works out to a year, five months, two weeks. That’s a long time to not be generating income.

Mosima has ventured out to sign up for food stamps and buy groceries, but something as routine as picking up some food feels like climbing Mount Everest, especially when one has to carry an oxygen tank around constantly. She has named it “Ralph.” She also has to take steroids to combat the lung inflamation. One of the side effects of steroids is weight gain. Getting around with a few extra pounds and an oxygen tank has got to be challenging

Then there’s the economics of getting sick. Mosima’s medical bills are mounting. Many Black folk don’t have the gold plated health insurance which covers every conceivable malady. Maybe she can get government disability, but there’s a wait for that. A long, excruciating wait.

She can summon energy to cook for herself. With “Ralph” by her side pumping air into her body, she has made vegetarian chili, cookies, tea.

Mosima’s husband Gabriel is stuck in Sierra Leone, waiting for his visa application to be approved. Maybe under another administration, not the one headed by the unpresident, he could get to the U.S. quickly to attend to his sick wife. But know how this administration feels about immigrants and refugees, especially those of color (See: Refugee children separated from parents and placed in cages).

She has established a Go Fund Me page, And she’s raffling off many of her Sugarfoots dolls for $10. Raffle details are at She makes them herself, down to their outfits. She was looking forward to creating their clothes from material she had brought back from Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, her mortgage is due on September 13 — all $2,500 dollars of it.

Mosima blogs every day on her Facebook page, describing how she grapples with her new normal.

“I did not get to run my performing arts camp,” she writes. “I did not increase my income. I was told by my doctor I cannot work for several months, leaving me with no consistent income in sight. And I am sitting on a mountain of debt.

“All of this will one day dissipate. But as I go through the healing process, this will be the summer etched in my mind for many years to come.”





Spare Us From “Old Time Religion”

Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin’s funeral last Friday, August 31, was the homegoing to end all homegoings. The five hour service was full of famous people in the pulpit, on the stage, and in the congregation, from religious and secular communities. The music was a reflection of Franklin’s gospel origins. It was a celebration of the artist’s life and creativity, as well as the last chance for all the fans and friends who loved her to say one last goodbye.

But the eulogy was something else. Reverend Jasper Williams, who heads the Salem Bible Church in Atlanta, Georgia, used the occasion of Franklin’s funeral to attack Black people as responsible for their own racial and economic oppression.

Reverend Williams, who delivered the eulogy at the funeral of Franklin’s father, Reverend C.L. Franklin in 1984, began by alluding to Aretha Franklin’s Queen of Soul title as bestowed upon her by her fans. Using it as a starting point, he went on to say that the Black man has lost his soul, in the religious sense of the term.

To illustrate this loss, Reverend Williams reached for the stereotype of Black fathers missing in action when it comes to supporting their families. “As I look into your house, there are no fathers in the home no more,” he said. He defined women in marriages as nurturers, and men as the breadwinners and the heads of their homes.

“Seventy percent of our households are led by our fine black women. But as proud, beautiful and fine as our black women are, one thing a black woman cannot do. A black woman cannot raise a black boy to be a man. She can’t do that.”  Perhaps he forgot about all of the Black single mothers who raised boys to men, conscientious, responsible men devoted to their families, such as President Barack Obama and basketball star LeBron James. Aretha Franklin raised four sons successfully when she was single between her divorce and her second marriage.

Reverend Williams depicted Black communities as riddled with crime, gun violence and drugs. “Everybody is cracked on crack,”  he said.    He blasted the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and murders of Black men, women and children by racist white police officers.  He said Black people should focusinstead on “Black on Black crime.” “Black lives must not matter. Until  black people start respecting black lives and stop killing ourselves, black lives can never matter,” he asserted.

Legally mandated racial integration, for which Black people marched and demonstrated during the 1960s, ruined Black-owned businesses and contributed to Black communities’ economic downfall, said Reverend Williams. Once the life blood of Black communities, Black businesses were forced to close, as they were unable to compete with their white counterparts.

Seeming to dismiss the issue of the national shortage of affordable housing due to urban gentrification, under which low cost rental apartments have been destroyed and replaced with costly condominiums, Reverend Williams roared, “We (Black people) don’t need housing, we need HOMES!”

Reverend Williams’ eulogy was roundly criticized in traditional and social media for blaming the victims of racism, for sexism regarding Black single mothers who raise families without a husband or male significant other, and for highlighting the myth of the absent, irresponsible Black fathers.

“Reverend Jasper Williams plantation style speech at #ArethaFranklinFuneral is a prime example why there is a total disconnect between young Black people and the older Black church crowd,” wrote Tariq Nasheed in a tweet. “All that cowardly ‘you’s got to do better’ talk ain’t fooling these kids.”

“.  .  .what he said wasn’t the truth but the same consistently disproven rhetoric used by racists to excuse 500 years of racial violence,” tweeted McGyver19. “Black women have held down the church and family despite garbage like Williams diminishing there (sic) efforts and we’ll no longer put up with it.”

In his defense, Reverend Williams told a news conference held in his church on Sunday, September 2, that his words were taken out of context. He remained insistent that Black families must be headed by two parents.

Several Black tweeters wrote that it is ministers like Reverend Williams and his positions which prompted them to flee “traditional” Black churches and look for spirituality elsewhere. Some have embraced other religions. Some have joined the various African religions of our ancestors. Others have left organized religions completely, determined to live their lives as good people who help others. But churches and religions based on the fire and brimstone teachings of old, which demean women, LGBTQ communities, and blame victims of oppression for being oppressed, is not and never was inspiring, liberating or motivating.

If views like Reverend Williams are the best “traditional” Black religion can offer, I think I’ll pass. And so will others Black folks who have given up on finding a “church home.”








“At-ti-CA! At-ti-CA! At-ti-CA!”

“Black people will be free. I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit), and I know you got to disturb the peace if you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in.”

— Aretha Franklin, Jet magazine, December 1970, on offering to pay bail for jailed activist Angela Davis.

I was home from college on a break when the prisoners’ uprising in Attica began on September 9, 1971.

I watched news footage on TV with my mother. We noticed that a lot of the faces of prisoners in photos taken on the prison “yard” were Black. My mother, who was not usually given to comments about racial issues, shook her head and said simply, “They just don’t want our men to succeed.” She didn’t have to explain who “they” were; those who comprised what was then termed “the white power structure,” institutional racism designed to ensure that we people of color stay in our “place.”

Forty-seven years and a new century later, not much has changed for Black people and other people of color in prisons. According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, as of July, Black prisoners, men and women, number 69,244, or 37% of the prison population, which is much higher than the percentage of Black people in the U.S., 12.2%  (U.S. Census, 2010). Latinx are 59,683 of prison inmates, or 32.5%, while comprising 16.3% of the U.S.  Native Americans number 5.2 million in the U.S., or 1.7%, but 2.3% of prisoners, or 4,199. U.S. Whites number 106,913 or 58.3% of prisoners and 72.$% of the U.S.

A majority of prisoners, 46.1%, are incarcerated on drug offenses.  Research conducted by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that Black prisoners, particularly Black men, are given sentences that are 20% longer than whites, primarily for drug offenses. More Black people than white are arrested, convicted and imprisoned.

Longer sentences for other crimes, not just those involving drugs, and more sentences of life without parole, have resulted in prisons being overcrowded, worsening living conditions and tensions within prisons.

Prisoners are exploited as a source of “free” or “slave” labor. Prison inmates are not covered by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery but did not apply to prisoners. It means that prisoners working in prisons  or jobs for non-prison concerns can be paid less than the minimum wage. Heather Ann Thompson, who wrote a book about the Attica uprising, recently told NPR that prisoners barely earn 4 to twenty cents on the dollar.

Galvanized by a 2016 prison strike, and violence this April in the Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina which occurred when guards placed rival gangs in the same area, all prisoners united to launch a national strike. It began on August 21, the date 47 years ago when prison activist, Black Panther leader and author George Jackson was shot and killed by a guard in San Quentin, and the 47th anniversary of the Attica uprising on September 9. Prisoners in 17 states plan work stoppages and civil disobedience until their list of 10 demands is met.

The demands include restoring the right to vote for all prisoners; an end to “racial overcharging, over-sentencing and parole denials of Black and brown humans”, and an immediate end to “prison slavery .  .  . All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.”

It has been difficult for strike supporters on the outside to access accurate information on how many prisoners are participating in the strike. It was organized through word of mouth, social media and use of cell phones. But a news release on August 22 from a strike participant said that prisoners in North Carolina, California, Georgia, South Carolina and Washington are participating.

Additionally, sixty undocumented immigrants detained in the Tacoma, Washington U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center began a hunger strike last week in solidarity with the national prison strike.

The most up-to-date source of information is the strike website, has posted the complete list of the demands, news releases, and suggested strike support actions. Remember the this Labor Day weekend, and consider what you can do to bring about criminal justice reform.

McCain and Race

Many articles have been published about the late Senator John McCain’s heroism and integrity following his death at 81 on August 25 from brain cancer. But not everyone remembers the late Senator in this manner.

We people of color have always had to view individuals the nation designates as “heroes” with a degree of skepticism. Blindly trusting whites to stand by us was never an option. One could believe that a white person was an ally against racism, only to discover that, for whatever reason, the expressions of solidarity were only temporary.  When an inconsistent “ally” is an elected official with the power to enact laws or set policies that affect or control one’s life, people of color generally have to examine every utterance, every behavior of that individual, even if it seems inconsequential or unimportant to the majority population.

For example, there was the incident that took place during McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign event, when a woman in the audience questioned the patriotism of then Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. As the woman went on to say that Obama was an Arab, McCain cut off her rant, taking her microphone. “He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues,” McCain said.

Huff Post guest writer Kelly Hayes of the Native American Menominee nation noted in a recent article that McCain passed up a teachable moment, in which he could have said that Arabs in the U.S. are citizens who work hard and support their country. Instead, she wrote, McCain “(positioned) an Arab  entity as existing in opposition to decency, a positive familial identity and U.S. citizenship.”

McCain was inconsistent in his support for civil rights. In 1983 he voted against a measure that established the national holiday honoring the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Years later, McCain apologized for that vote. But he did not apologized for voting against the Civil Rights Act of 1990, upholding President Bush’s veto. The measure was a response to U.S. Supreme Court decisions which overturned a previous ruling that employers must prove how not hiring “minorities” was a valid business decision. McCain and President Bush claimed that the bill would result in hiring quotas.

There are Asian Americans who are still smarting from McCain’s seeming to refer to all  Asians as”gooks” 18 years ago. At the time, McCain claimed that he was only talking about his Vietcong captors who tortured him for the five years he was imprisoned during the Vietnam War.

Within weeks of making the slur, McCain apologized, according to the Washington Post. “I will continue to condemn those who unfairly mistreated us. But out of respect to a great number of people who I hold in very high regard, I will no longer use the term that has caused such discomfort. I deeply regret any pain I have caused .  .  . I renounce all language that is bigoted and offensive.”

“It doesn’t quite undo the pain,” wrote blogger Emil Guillermo, in a recent article posted on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund website. “And surely, it didn’t alter the continued use in society of offensive ching-chong accents to diminish the status of Asians and Asian Americans.”

In yet another apology, McCain admitted to changing his position on whether the Confederate flag should be flown or forever taken down from the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia. The flag is a particularly horrifying symbol for Black people, who associate it with lynchings, the Ku Klux Klan, enslavement, and Southern racism. But McCain so desperately wanted to win the Presidency in 2000 that he said it was up to South Carolina to decide whether to continue flying the flag.

“.  .  . I should have done this earlier when an honest answer could have affected me personally,” McCain said in a speech before a conservative think tank, the South Carolina Policy Council. “I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.” McCain had lost the state’s primary anyway.

It’s good that McCain was willing to admit to, at the very least, some of his mistakes. It would have been wonderful if he had not made them in the first place, particularly as more than a few were apparently driven by political ambition. He should be remembered for his heroism as a prisoner of war.   But his blind spots regarding race should not be forgotten.



Space is the Place?

A rat done bit my sister Nell, 

With Whitey on the moon,

Her face and arms began to swell, 

And Whitey’s on the moon .  .  .

   Gil  Scott-Heron


That poem was written in the late 1960s but what it implies is just as true today as it was then — the federal budget is more focused on defense, in this case, space exploration, than enhancing the quality of life for the nation’s people.

This isn’t to say that research on outer space and space exploration aren’t important, but too many millions of dollars are devoted to it, to the detriment of other things the U.S. and its people need.

Since he has been in office, the unpresident has been pushing for the creation of a Space Force which would be the armed forces’ sixth branch.  As he envisions it, it would protect U.S. space craft and satellites from attacks, and control U.S. military operations in space. He and his supporters insist it’s needed to ward off any possible aggression in space from Russia or China. It would be created and staffed by the Air Force, and would transfer Air Force personnel to the new entity.

The un-vice president suggested that it could cost $8 billion to create the force, but the Pentagon hasn’t worked out the cost.

While the defense secretary and many Republicans in Congress support it, there are space experts who believe it’s a waste of time and money.

“This is a dumb idea,” tweeted Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, in June. “The Air Force does this already. That is their job. What’s next, we move submarines into the 7th branch and call it the ‘under-the-sea force’?”

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla) also tweeted in June that the armed forces generals don’t want a space force. “Thankfully (the unpresident) can’t do it without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart. Too many important missions at stake.”

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted on August 20 that he is a space force supporter. “But what we really need is a Truth Force — one that defends against all enemies of accurate information, both foreign and domestic,” he wrote.

Most federal spending pie charts show that defense spending takes up more than half of the pie. Other spending categories are underfunded. Some examples of budget matters that require immediate attention more than creating a space force are:

  • Restoring Puerto Rico. Nearly everyone on the island has electricity again, but it took months after Hurricane Maria whipped through Puerto Rico, destroying roads, housing, schools, power lines businesses. Last November, Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello said during a news conference that the island’s restoration could cost $94 billion or more. The unpresident offered to pay 90 percent of that cost, and leave the rest for Puerto Rico, which is bankrupt, to pay.
  •  Clean up Flint, Michigan’s drinking water. Flint is a predominantly Black city. Many children there have already suffered lasting damage to their physical and mental health  from drinking tap water contaminated with lead.   The city is still replacing the corroded water pipes with new ones which will not leech lead into the water, but the process is slow  and expensive. It could cost between $30 million and $1 trillion to complete pipe replacements, according to Science News magazine.
  • Prison reform. The U.S. has the highest prison population in the world, and most of the prisoners were convicted for drug-related crimes under mandatory minimum sentencing.  Black prisoners’ sentences are longer than white prisoners for the same crime. This year the House and Senate passed a bill to address some of the prison reform issues. The First Step Act would cost $250 million over five years. It would fund educational and vocational training programs for prisoners,  providing them the skills they would need to secure employment after being released to their communities. Both Houses of Congress passed the bill this summer, but the tunpresident postponed signing it until after the midterm elections.
  • U.S. infrastructure repairs. Fixing the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges, airports, and water mains. The unpresident proposed $1.5 trillion for these repairs, but more funding than that is needed.

I could name additional programs which the House and Senate could fund instead of a space force, but it would take all night to write and for you to read. With these and other pressing issues on his plate, the unpresident should not be funding his fantasy  of becoming a guardian of the galaxy.





Politics and Immigrant-Bashing

Take a good look at the accompanying photograph. Here we have a middle-aged or possibly older Black man, neatly dressed in a pin-striped suit, holding a violin. This is a photo of my maternal grandfather. He might have been an undocumented immigrant.

All of the U.S. census information lists him as being born in Alabama. But nobody from Alabama spoke like him. The minute he opened his mouth, one would hear that lilt in his voice shared by Black folks from Caribbean countries, or from Latin American countries once colonized by the British.

There are two family stories about how he came to live in the U.S. One says he arrived with  his parents on a boat from Portugal. Another says he ran away from his home in Guyana (called “British Guiana” back then) when he was a teenager and went to England. Later he enrolled in a university there, and majored in music.

He came to the U.S. believing there would be more opportunities to play European classical music  in a symphony orchestra. But racism prevented him from doing so. It was thought that Black people lacked the intellectual capacity, the capability, to play European classical music.

He met and married his second wife, my grandmother, and they moved from her native Alabama to Cleveland, Ohio. Times were tough during the Great Depression, and he had a wife and five children to support. So he got music gigs (not playing European classical) wherever he could, with my grandmother traveling with him (their children were born in different states), but otherwise worked any kind of job he could find. He would repair household items and appliances for people (I still have his tool kit), and sell vacuum cleaners door to door.

In short, he was not a drug dealer, a thug, a gangster, or a “bad hombre” — terms that the unpresident has used to describe undocumented immigrants, with an eye toward drastically reducing immigration generally, whether legal or undocumented. And he is going to great lengths to achieve his goal.

The easiest way  is to stereotype all immigrants as dangerous criminals. The murder of 20-year-old Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts has apparently given him a golden  opportunity to do just that.

Tibbetts’ alleged killer is 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who lives in Iowa’s Poweshiek County. On Tuesday, August 21, he took investigators to a corn field where a body lay under some cornstalks.

According to an NPR news story, a spokesperson for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said it’s “reasonably confident” that Rivera is in the U.S. illegally, a comment disputed by Rivera’s lawyer.

The unpresident  and other Republican politicians couldn’t wait to use the incident as justification for their anti-immigration policies. “You saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful woman,” the unpresident told a rally in West Virginia Tuesday. “It should have never happened .  .  . we’ve had a huge impact but the laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican, released a statement Tuesday, which read in part, “We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can to bring justice to Mollie’s killer.” “Time to build the wall,” Joe Gruters, Florida’s co-chair of the unpresident’s re-election campaign, and a Florida state legislator, posted in a tweet.

The midterm elections are less than three months away. Republicans apparently hope that immigrant-bashing will drive their base to the polls to vote for the party they perceive as doing the most to keep those evil immigrants out of the U.S.

In reality, undocumented immigrants commit only a small percentage of crimes in the U.S.   Research conducted by the Washington-D.C.-based Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank,  shows that the incarceration rate for undocumented immigrants is 0.85 percent, and 0.47 for legal immigrants,  compared to 1.53 percent for “native born” Americans. Even the percentage of undocumented immigrants imprisoned for immigration law violations is miniscule: 0.5 percent.

Both legal and undocumented immigrants contribute to the U.S.economy by working and paying taxes. UnidosUS, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, says undocumented immigrants pay, on average, $11.64 billion in local and state taxes annually.  The income  immigrants generate is helping to keep the Social Security Trust Fund afloat. And immigrants  don’t “take jobs away” from Americans. Most are in farm work, meat packing plants, janitorial services, and other back breaking, low paid work.

They don’t stay in these jobs.   Many eventually start their own small businesses, which in turn create jobs, further aiding the national economy.

Rather than being dangerous and threatening, immigrants of whatever status come to the U.S. for better life for themselves and their families. Just like my maternal grandfather did.