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Serena Williams and the Racism Faced by Black Athletes in America

Sports and politics often intertwine themselves in American history. Jesse Owens defied Adolf Hitler at the Olympics, Muhammad Ali tossed a gold medal in the Ohio River, and Jackie Robinson played baseball amid racist death threats. These moments were all expressions of the fight for equality.

Now, decades removed from those events, the coexistence of sports and politics has returned to the national zeitgeist.

Professional athletes now clamor for social justice: Colin Kaepernick knelt during the anthem, Lebron James organized against voter suppression, and throughout her all-time great career, Serena Williams has defied the racist history of tennis.

Williams’ historic on-court success hasn’t prevented her from joining the fight for equality. From penning essays against systemic racism to pointing out double standards within tennis, she has given other professionals an example of how to use their voice for good. And as a result, she’s been met with racist vitriol in the media and sports industries.

Williams has been drawn in racist caricature and been subjected to a disproportionate number of drug tests. Additionally, she has dominated a sport with a pronounced history of patriarchy and racism.

Her career, and the careers of hundreds of others, highlight the dissonance between allyship and sports fandom. The “shut up and dribble” crowd will reject any political expression from athletes of color. For decades now, white America has gone from rooting for Black athletes on Sundays to crossing the street to avoid them on Mondays.

The George Floyd protests in 2020 brought these conflicts to the limelight once more. The NBA let athletes swap names on jerseys for social justice slogans while Big 12 Conference athletes implored fans to “cheer for us beyond [the field].”

It’s a good thing that these issues have come to the forefront of conversation among sports fans. Progress can only happen once we all recognize our privilege and listen to the experiences of people of color, including our sports heroes.

Until peaceful protest by athletes is met with unanimous approval, sports will continue to be a vessel for social change in America. Athletes possess a huge soapbox to stand on. They should feel comfortable using their platform for good and speaking out against injustice. If they lose some “fans,” who cares? If fighting for equality causes spectators to abandon their favorite teams, they were never fans to begin with.

NF Legislative Roundup: Week of Feb. 15, 2021

It’s that time again! Welcome to Neighborhood FORWARD’s weekly Legislative Roundup, where we flag bills of note in state legislatures across the country. This week, Arizona targets our fundamental rights, Maryland aims for a redemption arc, and more. Check out our highlights below!

ARIZONA

  • HB2309
    • Why we’re watching: HB2309 is just one of a slew of bills targeting people for exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful protest. HB2309’s broad language means that even if someone did not commit an act of violence or property damage, they can be charged with a felony just for participating in a protest. This bill and others like it are a thinly-veiled jab at the Black Lives Matter movement. Clearly the folks in power are worried by our mass mobilization last summer, so we must be doing something right.
  • SB1713
    • Why we’re watching: Oh, Arizona… you’re catching our eye for all the wrong reasons. The legislature is trying to push through multiple voter suppression bills, including SB1713, which would require Arizonans to submit photocopies of certain documents in order to vote by mail. Considering Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud, it’s clear the state’s 2020 election results have some legislators desperately searching for underhanded ways to keep their seats.

CALIFORNIA

  • SB464
    • Why we’re watching: Introduced this week, SB464 would expand California’s food assistance program, CalFresh, to include people whose immigration status currently precludes them from the program, such as undocumented immigrants or DACA recipients. Everyone is struggling due to the pandemic, and immigrants are no exception. No one deserves to go hungry. Period.

MARYLAND

  • SB0224
    • Why we’re watching: Kudos to Maryland! Last week, they made our “naughty” list thanks to a prohibition-esque bill seeking to criminalize some types of tobacco, but today they make a comeback with the Value My Vote Act. This bill would require state correctional facilities to provide incarcerated individuals with a voter registration application and documentation that their voting rights have been restored upon their release. SB0224 has garnered bipartisan support and is backed by multiple advocacy groups, including Schools Not Jails and Out for Justice.

MINNESOTA

  • HF904
    • Why we’re watching: While Maryland escaped our critique this week, Minnesota is not so lucky. Like bills we’ve seen in other states, HB134 is a bill with good intentions that doesn’t seem to consider the unintended consequences it may cause. By criminalizing a tobacco product that is smoked almost exclusively by Black adults, this bill and others like it give law enforcement yet another reason to target Black and Brown folks. There are ways to impact public health without singling out minority groups.

As always, we encourage you to pay close attention to what your local government is focused on and how legislation could affect your neighborhood. See a bill you’re excited about or one that concerns you? Send it our way at info@neighborhoodforward.com or message us on any of our social channels and we may feature it next week!

Barack Obama and the Frequency of Microaggressions

For people of color, microaggressions are a part of everyday life. Stories like Michelle Singletary’s about a white man telling a Black father it was nice seeing him playing with his children, are tales that all people of color have experienced.

Comments like those, and perhaps the more common, “You speak English pretty well,” directed toward someone with Brown skin, are known as microaggressions. They’re subtle comments or observations that wouldn’t have occurred if the subject wasn’t a person of color.

The prefix “micro” refers to the invisibility of the comments to their speaker. Often, the perpetrators don’t even know they said or did something offensive.

Such behavior is omnipresent in our society. Even then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama experienced microaggressions on the campaign trail. In comments relating to his opponents, Joe Biden called his future boss “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright.”

And these comments didn’t stop when Barack Obama was sworn in.

Of course, the 44th President faced plenty of outright racist attacks as well. But microaggressions permeate our society even further than explicit racism. This is because white people often don’t realize they’re being racist.

Some might believe that microaggressions are relatively benign. After all, maybe the speaker meant better, or just wasn’t aware they said something wrong. But research suggests they are anything but harmless. Not only are the victims acutely aware of the comment or gesture but being subtly told that you’re dishonest or stupid is simply hurtful.

Committing microaggressions unchecked will only extend this behavior. Extending that behavior can snowball into larger, more overt expressions of racism. Our language determines our beliefs, according to the theory of linguistic determinism. So, if microaggressions are part of someone’s vocabulary, they are locking themselves into a vicious cycle.

Of course, there are remedies. Dr. Kevin Nadal, an expert in microaggressions, highlights the importance of calling out your friends’ problematic behavior. Being vigilant for sometimes imperceptible behavior is how allies can let others know they’re committed to social justice in every aspect of their lives.

The best way to work against microaggressions is to recognize your own. Think about your body language the next time you share an elevator with a person of color. And always be ready to criticize micro-aggressive behavior when you see it, even when it’s directed toward presidents.

Neighborhood Forward Legislative Roundup

Happy Friday!

Welcome to Neighborhood FORWARD’s first legislative roundup. Each Friday, we will be highlighting bills that Black and Brown folks should be watching. We predict that these pieces of legislation would have a major impact, be it positive or negative, on our neighborhoods.

MISSOURI: 

  • SB66
    • Why we’re watching: SB66 would essentially signal an open season on nonviolent demonstrations. If passed, the bill would decriminalize hitting protesters with a vehicle or using other deadly force, as well as categorizing rioting as an assembly of at least six people violating state or federal laws. This bill is a direct attack on our First Amendment rights. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend this piece by the Rev. Darryl Gray. 

MARYLAND: 

  • HB134
    • Why we’re watching: HB134 proposes banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, which are preferred by 80% of Black adult smokers. Prohibition against menthol cigarettes will not transform public health in Maryland, and any law that disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities increases the frequency of dangerous interactions between minorities and law enforcement. HB134 would do more harm than good.  

WASHINGTON

  • HB 1267
    • Why we’re watching: This bill was introduced directly at the Governor’s request in response to the tragic death of Manuel “Manny” Elliis. The legislation calls for an independent investigation for officer-involved shooting deaths of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and requires investigators to be trained on how to apply a racial lens. If passed, this bill could save other Black Washingtonians from the same fate as Manny.
  • HB 1054
    • Why we’re watching: This bill calls for civilian oversight of law enforcement and provides a path to decertify officers with a history of misconduct. Increased accountability for law enforcement builds trust with the communities they serve, and bad apples should be weeded out, not protected by the blue wall of silence.
  • HB 1001
    • Why we’re watching: This bill calls for law enforcement agencies to reflect the demographics of the communities they serve. Increased diversity is a must as we move toward police reform.

Did we miss any bills you’ve been following? DM us on any of our social channels or email us at info@neighborhoodforward.com and let us know! The legislation you flagged may just be in next week’s roundup.

George Washington Carver and the Importance of Black Monuments

Representation matters. It matters in popular culture, in government, and in our history. Across this country, there are almost 100,000 places of historical significance. Yet only 2% of them are dedicated to Black history in America.

President Roosevelt dedicated the first of these in 1943. It honored George Washington Carver and his contributions to science, education, and environmentalism. In other words, it took 167 years for this country to begin its journey of recognizing the legacy of Black excellence.

George Washington Carver’s contributions to this country make his monument a good start in our national reckoning of the institution of slavery. Carver revolutionized agriculture, singlehandedly developing hundreds of products using peanuts, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. Additionally, he helped popularize crop rotation and eventually taught at the Tuskegee Institute.

Of course, dedicating monuments in celebration of Black leaders is only half the battle. We must also tear down monuments celebrating the lives of historical figures that opposed the fight for social equality.

This debate took center stage in the summer of 2020. Activists highlighted Confederate statues as tangible reminders of the crimes of this country’s past and its refusal to move forward together.

Most of this protest revolves around the plethora of statues honoring Confederate traitors, who fought to divide the country and protect the institution of slavery. The argument in favor of such monuments is that for better or worse, they represent our history. But many historians don’t buy into this analysis.

Most argue that statues are meant to honor history, not preserve it. That education takes place in classrooms across the country, not in our public parks. Children shouldn’t look at statues of Robert E. Lee right after statues of Martin Luther King Jr. The similarity equates their contributions to society, even though one helped save this country and the other tried to destroy it.

They’re anything but equal. 

Statues quite literally tower above us. This isn’t coincidental. Monuments elevate their namesake and indicate that we should hold them in high esteem. The best way forward is to critically look at every park, monument, statue, and memorial and ask if it honors our values.

Harriet Tubman and Representation on the $20 Bill

Today is National Freedom Day. 155 years ago, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law, ordering the institution of slavery abolished. All this time later, we still have work to do, but we must celebrate the contributions of Black leaders who built this country.

One of those leaders was Harriet Tubman. Not only did she escape slavery as a young woman, but she also helped dozens of slaves follow in her footsteps as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. She fought in the American Civil War, helped lead the women’s suffrage movement, and for her excellence, she was the first Black woman to be honored on a stamp.

It’s no wonder she was nicknamed the “Moses of Her People.”

All of these extraordinary tales of courage and righteousness made her a sensible choice to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Recently, Jackson has come under fire for his ownership of slaves and his treatment of America’s Indigenous people.

Who better to replace him than an icon of the abolitionist movement?

That is, until the Trump administration reversed course. Citing technical issues, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that Tubman wouldn’t see the front of the $20 bill until President Trump left office. These claims rang hollow next to Trump’s professed admiration of Andrew Jackson.

Want to know what whiplash is? Whiplash is expecting a Black heroine on the $20 bill during one presidency, then being subjected to praise of one of our most objectionable ones. To deny Harriet Tubman the honor she rightfully deserves in deference to America’s racist past sends a terrible signal to young Black girls. It tells them that history, no matter its crimes, will always supersede their struggle.

Thankfully, the Biden administration has noted this shift and committed to a quick transition to Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. But it has taken far longer than it should have.

It’s a struggle plenty of other countries deem worthy of currency representation. Just three years ago, Canada declared Viola Desmond would grace its $10 bills. Her refusal to move seats on a segregated bus predated Rosa Parks’ more famous protest. Kate Sheppard, a prominent New Zealand suffragette, has occupied her country’s $10 bill for decades now.

Why does the United States refuse to give recognition where it’s due?

The answer to that question is the same as so many we asked in 2020. The country’s past is laden with racism and prejudice. It’s asinine to think that 50 years of desegregation will erase systems and sentiments that have lasted hundreds of years.

To rectify these past injustices, we must reform, reinvest, and reimagine our neighborhoods. But first, we should look at the past and draw inspiration from Black heroes like Harriet Tubman. Looking backward is the only way we can move forward.

Neighborhood FORWARD’s Statement on Insurrection at the U.S. Capitol

We’ve known there are two Americas for some time now.

All summer, we watched as the country marched against police brutality, trying to get the point across that Black Lives Matter. In response, law enforcement rolled through our cities in tanks, sporting weapons of war trained on the very people they swore to protect. When Black America protested, our institutions responded violently and rapidly.

Last week, the rage of those who have felt left behind by progress was on full display. Emboldened by a refusal of their “leader” to condemn white supremacy, whether in Charlottesville or during the Presidential debates, domestic terrorists sought to interfere with a free election and murder high government officials. Bearing nooses and the flag of traitors, they attacked our country.

We’ve known the deck was stacked against people of color for decades. We didn’t, however, know how willing some in government would be to invite this plague into our house.

Between law enforcement spurring terrorists past the barricades and defiant Republican politicians applauding their presence, this was not a display of white privilege, this was a display of white power. It’s a power that is reinforced by our institutions and evident throughout our history. For the last four years, that power has been wielded and weaponized by a significant group of our elected officials.

We deserve better.

Neighborhood FORWARD denounces these actions in the strongest possible terms. The fact that domestic terrorists, encouraged by vicious lies from their authority figures, were allowed to take the house of the people is unacceptable. The fact that they took pictures bragging about their insurrection is unacceptable. The fact that they were encouraged to do this is unacceptable.

No, we don’t want to hear that our leaders are standing in solidarity with us. No, we don’t want to see them kneel while wearing kente cloth. No, we don’t want to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” with a group seeking the erasure of our neighborhoods and safety.

We want real change, right now. Bold, common-sense reforms are needed to rectify the issues facing us. Providing affordable housing to combat historic redlining can help marginalized groups generate wealth. Prioritizing rehabilitation instead of punishment can end the cycle of recidivism. Making elections simpler for all can erase the legacy of decades of voter suppression.

These reforms can help solve the greatest issues of our time.

The rise of far-right extremism is but one of the many challenges facing our country. It permeates our institutions, communities, and relationships. To combat it, we need structural changes that reinforce the rights of people of color and move our communities forward.

Neighborhood FORWARD calls on every federal elected official to condemn last week’s insurrection. We dually call on Congress and the Biden administration to prioritize efforts to reform, reinvest, and reimagine communities of color across the country.

Moving forward is only possible by looking backwards. As such, let us never forget the events of January 6. May they inspire us to forego empty rhetoric and pursue genuine change.

It’s Time to Have That Uncomfortable Conversation

Being an ally is more than showing up every couple years for a protest. It’s more than putting a black square on your social media, and it’s more than voting for president. Being an ally is an unending process by which individuals can build trust and solidarity with marginalized groups. It isn’t absolute, nor is it easy. But it is something to aspire to in 2021 and every year that follows.

To start, understand that the path of allyship is uncomfortable. You’ll be faced with your implicit biases as well as the real effects that your skin color has had on your life. Be realistic about the world around you and detach your ego from conversations about social justice. Just because you’ve worked hard in life doesn’t mean that you didn’t benefit from systemic injustice.

Learning and listening are the name of the game for allies. Actively researching how our systems impact marginalized groups can broaden how you view your own life. Certainly, that research should include listening to individuals in those marginalized groups. When listening, don’t interrupt with counterpoints, nor play down their hurt. Just listen.

Make sure to take on the struggle of marginalized groups as your own. Allyship is about erasing the distance between “me” and “them” in how you see the world. White people are connected to redlining, police brutality, and environmental injustice, whether they immediately see it or not.

One of the most powerful demonstrations of allyship came last summer, when white protesters moved to form a line between police and other protesters. This use of white privilege as a literal shield demonstrates the sort of awareness that allyship requires.

Then, turn education into action. Social media is a great tool to spread the word and educate others. But it means nothing if you aren’t there when something happens. Be willing to protest for the cause, to donate resources, and to vote during elections. This is how to create substantive change. Support organizations that are professionally acting in the interest of marginalized groups and in that way, show them you’re an ally.

Allyship is especially important in the workplace. Office taboos and hierarchies tend to keep marginalized people on the outside while punishing those that point out that fact.

This is most obvious during meetings. Look around the room during strategy meetings or presentations. Would the group benefit from having a viewpoint that’s different from the others? The answer is yes. Inclusion has intrinsic value, so decisions made in echo chambers are inherently worse off than those made in diverse groups.

Additionally, pay attention to how others are treated around the office. If you see something objectionable, speak out immediately, not after the fact. Many of us might be scared to go against the grain of more senior employees. But a study found that Black women and Latinas don’t believe they have allies in the workplace. Speaking up in the moment is a clear demonstration that you’re committed to understanding these issues instead of fueling them.

Allyship is also much more than this blog. Please check out Amélie Lamont’s “Guide to Allyship,” an open-sourced and simple guide to being an ally.

Whether in the office, on the street, or in the home, allyship is constant. It will be uncomfortable to engage topics of privilege and your role in discrimination. By embracing this discomfort, you show marginalized groups that you’re ready to use that privilege for good. What could be a better resolution than that?

What Happens When It Gets Cold?

Homelessness is happening year-round, but what happens when it gets cold outside?

The definition of cold to a homeless person is 50 degrees. At 50 degrees, hypothermia can start to set in, and the elements become harsher. Most states get below 50 degrees, even places like Los Angeles, putting their homeless population at risk.

In big cities like Chicago, the amount of homeless people is upwards of 80,000 people, too many for the beds available at homeless shelters. With no beds left for them, people have to turn to the streets during the cold winter months.

On the streets, most homeless people are just trying to find shelter from the elements. In some cities, tents are not allowed and taken from the person using them. Cities claim that the tents block pedestrian walkways or parks. In reality, tents are an easy way to help the homeless population stay warm in the winter and year-round in general, given them as much break from the elements as possible.

When the shelter is full and they can’t use a tent, the homeless population is left with the task to find warmth in other forms. Some people use blankets or coats, others have to use industrial trash bags. But unfortunately, even with all the possible options of warmth used, homeless people still face hypothermia and frostbite. If not treated immediately, loss of limbs and death can occur.

The effects of hypothermia can set in between 32-50 degrees. The body temperature starts to lower below 95 degrees and requires emergency attention. Without that emergency attention, the person can die.

While hypothermia leads to a lot of deaths, frostbite takes the limbs of many homeless people. Frostbite happens when the body becomes exposed to cold weather, and the tissue starts to die because of it. While in mild cases, the area has to be warmed up, in severe cases, the limb may have to be amputated because the tissue has died. It is unknown the number of limbs lost by homeless people, but it continues to affect them every year.

With about 700 people dying from the cold weather and hypothermia each year, cities need to expand the options for the homeless population. There should not be people dying from hypothermia or losing limbs to frostbite when it is preventable. The expansion of homeless shelters needs to happen. There should not be a ban on tents, which serve to protect the body from the elements.

The treatment of the homeless population needs improvement all around, but especially when it comes to the cold months. The easiest thing you can do this winter is consider donating supplies to your local homeless shelters.

AIDS: The Other Disease Hurting Black Americans

December is AIDS Awareness Month

The system of oppression put into place in the healthcare system has continued to fail people of color in all aspects of health, and the AIDS epidemic is no different. While the stereotype surrounding AIDS is that only gay or bisexual men live with the disease, that is not the case.

Black women account for the largest share of new HIV diagnoses. Black transgender women are more likely to have HIV than any other ethnicity or race of transgender women. Black Americans are more likely than any other group to die from HIV/AIDS.

Discrimination, stigmatization, poverty, limited access to healthcare, and the fear of the disease. All of these things contribute to Black Americans facing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic.

With less access to private health insurance and limited healthcare options, Black Americans are less likely to be on medication or virally suppressed. The prescriptions to help limit the symptoms of HIV/AIDS and increase the length of the person’s life are often expensive. If the person does not have insurance to cover it, out-of-pocket payments are costly. This leads to a higher risk of unknowingly transmitting HIV.

The stigmatization that surrounds HIV/AIDS leads to the labeling of those individuals as part of a group that is socially unacceptable. Because of this, the person with HIV/AIDS could be socially isolated, or individuals even refusing contact with the person. Black Americans are already discriminated against and adding on an HIV/AIDS diagnosis would only make it worse. While this might not be the case, the fear of this happening prevents people from getting tested.

If the person decides to get tested and does test positive, care is often not sought out because of the price of care. In both situations, it is a losing scenario in a person’s thought process leading to so many not even knowing they have the disease.

Talking about HIV/AIDs openly, especially the disproportionate effects on the Black community, are necessary to ending the stigmatization behind HIV/AIDS. The healthcare system needs to change how it handles HIV/AIDS and begin to treat it like the epidemic that it is. Neighborhood FORWARD stands with the Black community who have HIV/AIDS and with the Black community that has suffered from the effects of stigmatization.

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