Wed 18 May, 2011
Tags: Cornel West, Don Lemon, Goodwin Liu, Harvard University, Higher education, Racial discrimination, U.S. Senate
Today’s “Quick Takes” includes Cornel West on Barack Obama, CNN anchor Don Lemon coming out of the closet, legacy admissions at Harvard, discrimination against farmers and Ivy League grads, and Goodwin Liu’s nomination for the Ninth Circuit.
Readers are encouraged to share these stories and to offer their thoughts at the end of the post.
Update on Goodwin Liu’s nomination. As suggested on this blog last week, there is now movement on Goodwin Liu’s nomination for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Yesterday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that he was filing a petition for cloture, which would end the threatened Republican filibuster. The Senate is currently scheduled to vote tomorrow on the motion for cloture, which requires 60 votes and would force an up-or-down vote on the nomination.
In his remarks on the Senate floor last night, Reid described Liu as “an extremely well-qualified public servant and impressive legal scholar” who has drawn praise from such conservative legal heavyweights as Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and former congressman and prosecutor Bob Barr. Conservative critics, however, point to what they consider a judicial activist philosophy in Liu’s academic writings, as well as his opposition to the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006 and his remarks on reparations for slavery after a showing of our Traces of the Trade in Washington, D.C. in 2008.
Liu’s nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month for the third time in the last year, but the full Senate has yet to vote on the committee’s recommendation.
The controversy over Don Lemon. CNN anchor Don Lemon has revealed publicly that he is gay in advance of his upcoming memoir, Transparent. The news has generated considerable attention, in part because so few members of his profession are openly gay, and in part because of Lemon’s comments that being gay and black.
In a written statement, Lemon said that being gay is “about the worst thing you can be in black culture,” and in an interview, explicitly connects race and sexual orientation, saying “I equate [being closeted] to people who used to pass for white during the civil rights movement.” Over at Jack & Jill Politics, Jill Tubman agrees, arguing that black culture has been very conservative on homosexuality and that the “closet is deep, sugar—deep and dark.” Renee Martin of Womanist Musings disagrees strong, saying that “Homophobia in the Black community is no worse than homophobia in any community.”
Cornel West takes on President Obama. Princeton Professor Cornel West has caused a stir by calling out President Barack Obama for what he believes is a betrayal of his supporters. West, who strongly supported the Obama campaign in 2008, argues that the president ought to be committed, first and foremost, to the most vulnerable in society. Instead, West believes, the president “has a certain fear of free black men” and has become “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats.” West traces these issues to Obama’s upbringing, which he believes was largely disconnected from the African-American history of slavery and Jim Crow; as a result, West argues, Obama developed “a certain rootlessness, a deracination. It is understandable.” For the backlash against West’s remarks, see these three posts at Jack & Jill Politics, and a long series of tweets by Melissa Harris-Perry, in which she describes West as an ally but says, “I am so damn angry about that article … that I can barely talk.”
Gaining admission to Harvard. Harvard’s dean of admissions, William Fitzsimmons, has told the Harvard Crimson that in recent years, Harvard accepts about 30% of those who apply as legacies, or the children of Harvard and Radcliffe alumni/ae. Legacies, he added, comprise about 12-13% of Harvard’s undergraduates. Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and editor of Affirmative Action for the Rich: Legacy Preferences in College Admissions (2010), likens legacy admissions to an affirmative action program for society’s privileged. In our own film, Traces of the Trade, we offer a Harvard graduate talking about being admitted as a legacy, in order to illustrate intangible privileges that can be handed down through the generations.
Discrimination addressed at the Agriculture Department. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will adopt a series of reforms in order to address a history of discrimination and civil rights failures, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The department in 2009 declared a “New Civil Rights Era for USDA,” began offering settlements in decades-old discrimination claims by black, Hispanic, Native American and female farmers, and vowed to tackle a backlog of 11,000 equal employment opportunity claims. The USDA faced further controversy in 2010, when Shirley Sherrod was fired after comments by her came to light which, taken out of context, appeared racially discriminatory. The reforms now being considered include hiring a chief diversity officer in each state office, and requiring officials to explain the denial of loans to women and minorities.
Discrimination against Harvard and Yale students. This week, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office announced the final settlement in a discrimination lawsuit against a Boston nightclub. On the night of November 20, the management of the Cure Lounge shut down a party for black graduate students and alumni/ae from Harvard and Yale just 30 minutes after the club opened, citing the city’s fire code and “technical difficulties.” However, the attorney general and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination found that race was the issue, quoting the club’s head of security that night:
The Cure Lounge will pay $28,500 to four organizations—the United Negro College Fund, Freedom House, Cambridge College and Bottom Line Inc.—in addition to apologizing to their patrons and the local community, and sending their employees to anti-discrimination workshops.