Wed 11 May, 2011
Tags: Freedom Riders, Goodwin Liu, Health and health care, President Obama, transatlantic slave trade
“Quick Takes” offers a mix of news, opinion, and research related to race, privilege, and inequality.
Today’s “Quick Takes” includes the the legacy of the Freedom Riders, an online tool for tracing African-American heritage, the significance of President Obama’s birth certificate, an update on Goodwin Liu’s nomination, and new research on race and health.
Readers are encouraged to share these stories and to offer their thoughts at the end of the post.
President Obama’s birth certificate. A great deal of ink has been spilled over the release by the White House two weeks ago of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate. New York Times columnist Charles Blow offered the most concise explanation of the fear that the “birther” conspiracy will never be put to rest, because this issue was never really about where the president was born:
[I]t’s rooted in faith: faith that American exceptionalism was never truly meant to cover hyphenated Americans; faith in 400 years of cemented assumptions about the character and capacity of the American Negro; and faith that if the president doesn’t hew to those assumptions then he must be alien by both birth and faith.
Status of Goodwin Liu nomination. Since I last reported on President Obama’s nomination of Professor Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit, the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted along party lines to advance the nomination to a vote of the full Senate. This was the third time the committee has approved Liu’s nomination in the last year, but a threatened GOP filibuster has so far prevented an up-or-down Senate vote.
There are cracks appearing, however, in the Senate logjam on judicial nominations. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats broke the Republican filibuster of John McConnell to serve as a R.I. district court judge by a vote of 63-33. And yesterday, Edward Chen, another Obama district court nominee, was confirmed 56-42 after a deal was struck to end a threatened filibuster and bring the nomination to a floor vote.
Liu’s nomination for the Ninth Circuit has generated controversy in part because of a video in which he speaks about slavery reparations on a panel with Judy Woodruff and Charles Ogletree, following a screening of our PBS documentary, Traces of the Trade, in Washington three years ago.
Tracing the African Diaspora. The new web site “African Origins” provides a database of historical information on Africans transported across the Middle Passage during the suppression of the transatlantic slave trade. The database contains records of 9,453 Africans who were liberated by Courts of Mixed Commission in Havana and Freetown, and will be supplemented with information supplied by members of the public. The site aims to document the geographic, ethnic, and linguistic history of millions of Africans sold into slavery during the 19th century. The project is based at Emory University, draws on the work of David Eltis and other scholars who collaborated on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. It is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute at Harvard University.
The significance of the Freedom Riders. The Washington Post offers an engaging exploration of the legacy of the Freedom Riders, for the 50th anniversary of that storied chapter in the civil rights movement. The premise is that fifty years after teenagers and young adults enduring beatings and arrests in the fight against racism, young people are not inspired to take similar action. A 19-year-old interviewed for the article emphasizes how much society has changed, saying that black and white college students today “dress alike, listen to the same music and have no second thoughts about dating across racial lines.” Yet one former Freedom Rider, Lew Zuchman, argues that “Things are demonstrably worse for young blacks. … We’ve got rid of some cosmetic issues that were important, but things haven’t changed that much.”
Race does not determine donor kidney success. It has long been known that transplanted kidneys from black donors are less likely to survive transplantation. In a study reported in the May issue of the American Journal of Transplantation, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center find that the cause is not race, but rather a recessive gene carried some black donors. The unusual copy of the apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1 ) gene is found in just 10-12 percent of black individuals, but this was enough to generate a notably higher kidney failure rate for black donors and, thus, the misleading impression that race was playing a major role in donor kidney survival.