Code Switch

It happened again. The Spanish-language, Miami-based Univision — the fifth-largest television network in the U.S. — has another racial insensitivity mess to clean up.

On Wednesday, Univision talk show host and fashion commentator Rodner Figueroa said that first lady Michelle Obama looks like an apocalyptic ape.

As a kid growing up in San Francisco, filmmaker Arthur Dong often walked by a nightclub just outside of Chinatown. "I remember distinctly looking at the marquee and looking at the glass display case [with] all these wonderful black and white photos of Chinese people, but dressed in zoot suits and 1940s kind of gowns and tuxedos," he says. "And I had never seen Chinese dressed like that."

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has directed his Department of Consumer Affairs to look into reports that some African-American customers at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte were recently subjected to unwarranted fees.

Five days after a white police officer shot and killed 19-year-old Tony Robinson, an unarmed black man, in Madison, Wis., protesters are staging large rallies to demand that charges be filed. Meanwhile, officers are rallying at the Wisconsin State Capitol on behalf of the city's police.

It may be that Claude Fox Sitton so outraged the white Southern segregationists he reported on throughout the civil rights movement because, by all appearances, he could have been standing beside them instead of writing about them in the New York Times.

Jackie Robinson is a household name, a book report staple, an American hero. News of his 1947 debut in the major leagues appeared on the front page of the New York Times, above the fold. Fifty years after he first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, teams across the MLB held moments of silence on the field, and the league's commissioner retired Robinson's number across baseball.

While surfing the Web one day, Janine Harper came across a project where a photographer had taken pictures of her daughter dressed up as famous women, including Coco Chanel and Amelia Earhart. Harper showed the project to her husband, photographer Marc Bushelle, and together they thought it would be wonderful to adapt it for their 5-year-old daughter, Lily. Their goal was to create a fun learning method for Lily so that she could start to "see herself in the story" of black history.

When a 1975 New York Times cover story charged the NYPD with widespread graft and thuggery, we got Al Pacino as Serpico, one lone idealist who exposes the department and lives — just barely — to tell the tale. When the RAMPART report in the '90s likened the LAPD to a gang with badges, we got Training Day, where rookie Ethan Hawk manages to take out the corrupted veteran Denzel.

Over at Guernica magazine, writer Nishta Mehra, whose parents were born in India, shares the story of adopting her son Shiv, who is black, with her partner, Jill, who is white. Adoption can be a challenge for any family. But when you're an interracial family with two moms living in Texas, things get even more interesting.

Guernica has shared this excerpt of Mehra's story with Code Switch readers:

New Orleans is known for its enormous Vietnamese population, one of the largest in the country. But we recently came across a story about a now-lost Chinatown in New Orleans — two of them, in fact — and how they came to be. To understand how these hubs came about, and why they disappeared, we have to rewind the clock 150 years, to the end of the Civil War.

Since 1979, tens of thousands of Iranians have lived in exile in the United States. The Iranian Revolution forced large numbers of the population out of the country, and many have never returned. As Persian New Year, referred to by Iranians as Nowruz, approaches, many look back on old photos and remember an Iran they used to know. The holiday happens annually on the spring equinox and symbolizes a rebirth in Persian culture. Iranians in the U.S. now experience new lifestyles and culture that make Nowruz's themes of rebirth more real than they had imagined.

Note to our readers: This report contains some strong racial language.

This month Selma, Ala., will mark the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday." That's the day police beat demonstrators attempting to march to Montgomery in support of voting rights. Some of the most iconic images of that day were captured by a white photographer — the late Spider Martin.

The first time I learned that gender could be fluid was in sex ed in the ninth grade. I remember the teacher mumbling under her breath that some people don't identify their gender with the biological sex they were born with.

At the time it didn't faze me because I'd never known anyone who'd talked about it or felt that way. But now, three years later, I have a 16-year-old classmate who's transgender. His name is Jace McDonald.

"That is the name I have chosen," Jace says. "It's what my parents would have named me if I was born biologically male."

The Racist History Behind The Iconic Selma Bridge

Mar 5, 2015

The 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., became known as Bloody Sunday because it ended in state troopers beating nonviolent protesters as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

In photos from that day you see the marchers being struck and trampled, and just above them are the bridge's big arches, with the name Edmund Pettus emblazoned across the steel beam.

The bridge has become one of the most hallowed places in America's civil rights history, but who was Edmund Pettus?

A Charlotte news station reported on Monday that the Ritz-Carlton, one of prosperous uptown Charlotte's swankiest hotels, added what looks suspiciously like a black tax to the lobby bar tabs of patrons in town last week for the CIAA, the popular mega-tournament for basketball teams at historically black colleges and universities from Pennsylvania to North Carolina.

"So-and-so is really, really hard to understand." Or: "His accent is so distracting." I remember hearing off-the-cuff remarks like this a few times in college, complaints by classmates about teaching assistants and instructors, almost all of them of Asian descent and non-native English speakers.

You're on the Internet, which means you're never more five seconds away from someone claiming you squashed their First Amendment rights by, say, blocking them on Twitter.

Repeat after me: the First Amendment prohibits citizens' speech from being infringed upon by the government.* But because the universe delights in dark humor, it turns out that one recent, obnoxious claim about free speech violations might have some real legs.

Why Is Milwaukee So Bad For Black People?

Mar 5, 2015

A new report from UCLA finds that K-12 schools in Wisconsin suspend black high school students at a higher rate than anywhere else in the country and has the second-highest disparity in suspension rates between white and black students.

Here Are The Racist Emails Ferguson Officials Passed Around

Mar 4, 2015

The Justice Department's investigation into the Ferguson, Mo., police department reveals a series of racist emails passed around between Ferguson police officers and court officials.

The senders aren't identified by name, but the DOJ says commanders, police officers, and court officials were all involved.

Below are seven emails that the Department of Justice uncovered — it found more, but only published the ones below.

There is a cartoon circulating right now of two people holding protest signs — one is black, the other white. The black figure holds a sign that reads "I Can't Breathe;" the white figure holds a sign that reads "I Can't See." Recently, I have encountered many discussions reflecting the subtle wisdom of that cartoon: It's often white citizens who demand that citizens of color provide evidence that injustices exist — and sometimes, I'm the teacher in these moments.

The Justice Department reportedly did not find enough evidence to charge white former officer Darren Wilson with any civil rights violations for shooting Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Mo. But it did find plenty of evidence of routine discrimination by Ferguson police against black residents.

Editor's note: This post is about the evolution of a word that is highly offensive to some and includes other offensive language.

If, unlike me, you've never had cause to become familiar with the term "spic," you can see it in action in the story of a veteran Boston police officer who allegedly called his Uber driver a "fucking spic" and beat him up for going to the wrong address.

Rosa Parks is well-known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus in Montgomery, Ala., in December 1955. But Parks' civil rights protest did have a precedent: Fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin, a student from a black high school in Montgomery, had refused to move from her bus seat nine months earlier. However, Colvin is not nearly as well-known, and certainly not as celebrated, as Parks.

Thousands of people crammed into a haphazard housing project, surrounded by a massive river, and secured only by a system of dikes. It was a recipe for disaster, one that saw a growing city reduced to flooded marshlands in less than a day.

In the 1940s, Vanport, Ore. was the center of a booming World War II-era shipyard industry, quickly becoming the second largest city in the state. But both its origin, and its destruction, came about thanks to the racially discriminatory housing practices of neighboring Portland across the river.

In a Mississippi courtroom in February, three young white men were sentenced for a hate crime: beating up a black man in a parking lot one June night in 2011, running over his body with a truck and leaving him to die. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who heard the case, asked the young men to settle into their chairs before he delivered their sentence. He had something to tell them.

In the 1960s, Pittsburgh, like most cities, was segregated by race. But people of all colors suffered from lack of ambulance care. Police were the ones who responded to medical emergency calls.

"Back in those days, you had to hope and pray you had nothing serious," recalls filmmaker and Hollywood paramedic Gene Starzenski, who grew up in Pittsburgh. "Because basically, the only thing they did was pick you up and threw you in the back like a sack of potatoes, and they took off for the hospital. They didn't even sit in the back with you."

Mr. Spock, Mixed-Race Pioneer

Mar 1, 2015

At a time when the mere sight of Petula Clark touching Harry Belafonte's arm held the potential to upset delicate sensibilities, the half-human, half-Vulcan character Mr. Spock embodied an identity rarely acknowledged, much less seen, on television: a mixed-race person.

Sure, the mixing of races was allegorical in Spock's case, as was the brilliantly subversive mode for social commentary on Star Trek. But that doesn't mean it didn't resonate.

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