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The First Pride Was A Riot

June is Pride Month, meaning it’s an excellent time to discuss people of color in queer history. Some folks forget the integral role Black and Latino activists played in establishing what we know today as Pride Month. Furthermore, we must combat whitewashed accounts of LGBTQ+ history by celebrating these trailblazers and their stories.

The Stonewall riots in June 1969 are widely regarded as one of the most important milestones in the gay rights movement. Police in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood utilized a warrant to raid a gay bar and arrest gender non-conforming people, which was legal due to New York state law at the time. Gay men of color and drag queens filled the bar, fighting back by throwing bricks and other projectiles. This of course wasn’t the first gay liberation riot, with other notable events preceding it like Compton’s Cafeteria riot. However, it is the event that kickstarted the Pride Month tradition, giving rise to the phrase, “The First Pride Was a Riot.”

Stonewall’s importance to the LGBTQ+ movement cannot be overstated, yet some accounts of the riots in popular culture don’t tell the whole story. The 2015 film, “Stonewall” received strong backlash as many critics lamented the erasure of trans individuals and people of color. The movie’s protagonist is white and cisgender, despite the role trans women of color played during the real Stonewall riots. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are widely recognized as leaders at Stonewall and for the gay liberation movement as a whole, yet they are reduced to minor characters in the screenplay depiction.

The exclusion of queer Black and Brown bodies is anything but a new phenomenon. When looking back on gay liberation history, it’s important to remember what it meant to be both queer and a person of color. A year and a half after Stonewall, the Red Room protest in Houston, Texas showed how the gay liberation movement was not devoid of racism. The bar’s owner was welcoming of only white LGBTQ+ individuals, prompting an organized protest and boycott. In response, organizers wrote, “These racist attitudes oppress all gays as long as the Red Room and others discriminate against blacks,” and that sentiment still rings true today.

As Pride Month winds down, we must never forget the intersectional struggle of trailblazers like Johnson and Rivera. At the time, very few spaces were welcoming of LGBTQ+ folks and even fewer spaces were welcoming of LGBTQ+ people of color. Facing both racism and homophobia, these trailblazers stood tall and proud despite experiencing vile bigotry.

May we remind our friends that true allyship and advocacy are not exclusive of any particular group. Let’s uplift our LGBTQ+ friends and family by taking a moment to remember the people of color that were vitally important leaders in the gay liberation movement.

Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day: Juneteenth

Following the American Civil War, states were slow to officially end the practice of slavery. In fact, over eight months passed between the surrender of the Confederacy and the full ratification of the Emancipation Proclamation. States like Texas, too remote for a perpetual Union presence, resisted the end of slavery and served as a sort of safe haven for slavers. This general refusal necessitated federal intervention.

On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger marched into Galveston, Texas, and formally announced the abolition of slavery:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.

From that day forward, June 19 has been celebrated as the end of slavery. The next year, freedmen organized the first Jubilee Day and celebrated by distributing voting instructions and pooling money together to buy land. For decades, Texas and the national Black community recognized Juneteenth until the Great Depression and Jim Crow-era oppression forced an end to the annual celebration.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, Juneteenth saw a resurgence in popularity. In the late 1970s, Texas declared the day a “holiday of significance . . . particularly to the blacks of Texas,” becoming the first state to do so. Up until 2021, only Hawaii, North Dakota, and South Dakota hadn’t yet recognized the holiday annually. By proclamation of the federal government last year, Juneteenth became a full-scale holiday, on par with Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and all of the others.

There is implicit value in recognizing June 19 nationally. Slavery is one of our country’s original sins and one we still haven’t fully reconciled. Establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday has aided in this process, which requires total awareness and honesty. It’s one of the most important holidays in the Black community and thus deserves this designation.

In Juneteenth’s second year as a federal holiday, may we remember how far we’ve come, and how much further we must go. Whether you call it Emancipation Day, Jubilee Day, or Juneteenth, let us all celebrate freedom with our Black and Brown brothers and sisters.

We Must Address Healthcare Inequity

The pandemic was a mask-off moment for our country. It laid bare a system of inequity that previously escaped significant media coverage, let alone public attention. Suddenly, the plight of service workers, mostly Black and Brown citizens, was on full display. Additionally, the virus moved through our communities in different ways. Access to quality healthcare became vastly important overnight while government loan programs stiffed minority businesses. These problems have all existed for decades, but the pandemic revealed them to our large, mostly apathetic populous.

Another such disparity is vaccine rates among Black and Brown communities. As of April 4, Black people were significantly less likely to have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. In the 47 states that report such figures, only 57% of Black residents have been (at least partially) inoculated against the virus. In comparison, 85% of Asian, 65% of Hispanic, and 63% of white people have received the same. Despite targeted community outreach and aggressive ad campaigns, the Black community still lags all others in terms of vaccination. Given the recent reporting that 100 million Americans could be infected this fall and winter, this inequity deserves our attention.

This isn’t the only medical inequity the Black community experiences. According to recent studies, Black children are three times more likely to die following surgery.

A study published in the journal Pediatrics looked at 172,549 child surgery recipients and found Black children were 3.4 times more likely to die within a month of surgery than their white counterparts. Similarly, Black children were 1.2 times as likely to develop postoperative complications. Researchers have known about these disparities for years. We didn’t know, however, just how significant they were.

Other studies have found people of color often receive a lower standard of care than white Americans. This is the result of systemic underinvestment in minority communities. Hospitals there simply don’t have access to the same level of resources as others. The situation grows more dire every day. We don’t have the means the aggregate hospital data, meaning disparities like these slip through the cracks too often. When groups undergo a large, national study, of course they’ll find disparities. But outside of that infrequent attention, Black families aren’t a priority in healthcare.

This investigation certainly hasn’t helped with the Black community’s general distrust of medical figures. Who can blame them? In the early 1900s, the Tuskegee Study exposed Black men and women to untreated syphilis, ravaging generations of participants and their offspring. In the late 1900s, the Black community came to carry the burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And now, beginning in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic especially impacted Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Black children’s higher likelihood to die or experience post-surgery complications won’t help the medical community address its legacy of racism, inequity, and neglect. This history, however, is real to millions of people of color every day. To ignore this when we discuss vaccination rates or healthcare standards is shameful and dishonest. It’s the medical community’s job to rebuild trust as we continue to face the legacies of systemic inequity.

Drug Courts: An Alternative to Mass Incarceration

Incarceration as we know it doesn’t work. It’s not rehabilitative, economical, nor fair. We lock up a disproportionate number of minorities and most of the country doesn’t ever seem to notice. That’s surprising when you consider the U.S. incarcerates more people than any other country. In fact, although we constitute just 5% of the global population, we make up 20% of the world’s prison population. We need an alternative to traditional drug policy and we need it now.

Rikers Island has been in the news lately for its worsening conditions and unsafe atmosphere for both prisoners and prison staff alike. If you look at other prions throughout the country, you’ll see similar developments. We simply have too many people locked up behind bars. This doesn’t mean, however, that we need to boost corrections budgets and go on a hiring spree for officers. Rather, we must address the systemic issues that have led to our current state.

In short, we can blame drug policies for this mess. A vast plurality of federally incarcerated persons are imprisoned for drug-related offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Over 45% of all federal offenders have been found guilty of crimes like possession, intent to distribute, or holding paraphernalia. This significantly outnumbers the next most common offense, weapons possession, by roughly 24%. The same pool of prisoners demonstrates significant racial inequity as well. Despite making up around 14% of the population, Black prisoners account for almost 40% of all federal inmates. Remember, this is only federal data – not state-by-state data.

The answer to these disparities is to reform our drug-related policies. Legalizing marijuana would be a huge first step in this process, as we’ve discussed several times in the past. This reform has proven difficult, however. Perhaps there is an alternative, in-the-meantime solution to address root inequality in our judicial system.

Spoiler alert: There is.

Drug courts are an alternative judicial discipline seeking to overturn our country’s legacy of mass incarceration. In 1989, Miami opened the first of these bodies in response to a local crack cocaine epidemic. These are small councils, locally authorized to craft tailored rehabilitation plans for drug-related offenses. Drug courts offer free testing, clinical treatment, and individualized case management rather than locking someone up and throwing away the key. They’re also very effective.

Of our 3,000 drug courts, many report a 40% drop in recidivism. This saves the taxpayer somewhere between $5,680 and $6,208 per offender in the long run. It’s clear we need an alternative to traditional incarceration and drug courts might just be the way.

Until we can effect more substantive change, drug courts are an elegant stopgap to our problems. Although there are thousands across the country doing this work as we speak, we must continue to advocate for their presence and establishment in all our communities as we seek to overturn our country’s legacy of inequitable incarceration.

May 27 NF Legislative Roundup: End of Session

In most states, the end of legislative session has arrived. Here’s our last Legislative Roundup for a while!

Arizona

  • Ballot Drop Boxes
    • Why we’re watching: Arizona Republicans are at it again! This year, they’ve been trying to ban the use of ballot drop boxes to further limit minority electoral participation. Thankfully, the measure failed to go anywhere, but the question of voter efficacy is very real for the Black and Brown community in Arizona.

Connecticut

  • Juneteenth Holiday
    • Why we’re watching: This week, as the end of session approached, the Connecticut Legislature debated a bill to designate Juneteenth an official state holiday. As a reminder, Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, is the annual celebration marking the end of slavery. Many states have established the occasion as a holiday since the murder of George Floyd.

Federal

  • Police Accountability Executive Order
    • Why we’re watching: President Joe Biden has long supported measures to reform police departments and this week, he took matters into his own hands. On the second anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, the White House published an executive order creating a database of disciplinary infractions and publicizing more information than ever. While the order only applies to federal agents, it’s a good start.

New York

  • Public Housing Financing
    • Why we’re watching: Amid rising costs and continuing evictions, New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged the Legislature to unlock billions of dollars to repair public housing. As the end of session approaches, not all public housing residents are sold on the issue, given federal guidelines that would make it more difficult to pass on apartments to younger generations.
  • Street Renaming
    • Why we’re watching: New York City has only one army post and up until now, it’s bore the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Last week, officials renamed the street “John Warren Avenue,” after a 22-year-old Black Brooklyn solider who threw himself on top of a grenade to save his platoonmates during the Vietnam War, earning him the Medal of Honor.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Missing Children Inequities

Today is Missing Children’s Day, a reminder for all of us to look out for the well-being of the young people in our lives. We first observed this day in 1983, per a proclamation from the desk of President Ronald Reagan, following the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York City. Ever since, community groups have used today to spread the word about nearby missing children and make our country safer for all kids.

It’s also a great time to discuss “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” or our country’s fascination with some missing persons cases over others.

A 2017 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology study examined the validity of that trend first coined by reporter Gwen Ifill. The study, which marked the first empirical analysis of Missing White Woman Syndrome, ultimately found massive disparities in news coverage of missing persons reports. For example, news outlets tended to not cover Black missing persons cases as often as their white counterparts. This dissonance becomes even more apparent when you compare the frequency of news coverage to the FBI’s data, which tracks missing children. The Hispanic population is similarly underrepresented in relevant news coverage.

The disparities don’t stop nor end with media coverage. According to the Black and Missing Foundation, Black people make constitute 40% of all missing persons despite being only 13% of the overall population. Experts say this inequity goes all the way back to slavery and pre-civil rights society, during which white women were often portrayed as victims in fear campaigns against minorities. Despite the historical foundations of this issue, it’s clearly relevant today.

On this blog, we tend to stick to public policy issues with real-life impacts on communities of color. After all, Black and Brown citizens have grown tired of our leaders offering little more than empty rhetoric following injustice after injustice. It’s only by discussing substantive policy solutions that we can truly improve our communities.

Our discussion of Missing White Woman Syndrome may seem like a departure from the norm. We assure you that we don’t see it this way.

Discussion alone is worth our time, simply because it demonstrates the pervasiveness of racial disparities in our country. They’re often small, invisible, and difficult to discern from related issues. Thus, it’s our job to make sure we point them out.

Additionally, our elected officials look to their constituents for guidance. It may not seem like it all the time, but bottom-up, community-driven pressure still works. After all, the Biden administration extended the pause on federal student loan repayment after immense lobbying from community groups. We can similarly thank community organizing for improvements after the Flint water crisis, the conviction of Derek Chauvin, and federal recognition of the Tulsa Race Massacre. In all these scenarios, and many more besides, vast public opinion outweighed our pro-status quo institutions.

We still believe in organizing as a means of doing good. Talking about Missing White Woman Syndrome is the best way to raise awareness of the media’s preference to cover more sensationalized stories, effectively ignoring the thousands of Black and Brown children in the same boat. Of course, none of this is to say that any missing child is not a tragedy. But where there is smoke, there’s fire. We must influence the press and decisionmakers to keep minorities in the conversation about missing children’s cases.

May 20 NF Legislative Roundup: Resources in Minority Communities

Providing resources to underdeveloped communities is of the utmost importance. Here are some relevant examples in the news!

Colorado

  • SB 150
    • Why we’re watching: Not too long ago, we wrote about the epidemic of missing and ignored Indigenous individuals. Thankfully, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis will sign SB 150 into law, creating the Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives to investigate and provide resources to Indigenous groups and families alike.

Connecticut

  • Eviction Prevention
    • Why we’re watching: Amid rising eviction totals, the Connecticut Department of Housing now has an additional $5 million for eviction prevention programs and resources. For example, the “rent bank” will distribute up to $3,500 over an 18-month period to families facing eviction, saving thousands from homelessness and a lower quality of life.

Federal

  • Permanent Child Tax Credit
    • Why we’re watching: During the pandemic, the White House spearheaded the Child Tax Credit, a supplementary income program based on the number of children living in a household. The program lifted millions of children out of poverty overnight. Now, for several reasons, it’s defunct, something many progressive legislators want to rectify.

Maryland

  • Urban Tree Program
    • Why we’re watching: Tree inequity is a serious problem in majority-minority neighborhoods, significantly affecting community health. In Maryland, the Urban Tree Program looks to overturn that legacy by planting 500,000 trees over the next eight years, fostering a better environment and more equitable society.

New York

  • Rikers Island
    • Why we’re watching: News outlets have heavily covered the predictable meltdown at Rikers Island over the past few months. A federal monitor has been dispatched to oversee implementation of solutions to those issues. Right now, that federal monitor is satisfied with the progress thus far and is not recommending a federal takeover.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

The Benefits of Teacher Representation

Around this time every year, an entire class of high school graduates walk across the stage, grab their diploma, and leave their alma maters behind. It’s an exciting tradition that marks the start of a new stage of life for tens of thousands of students. And while everyone is cheering on their family members on stage, we want to talk about the importance of a group sitting in the audience.

We want to talk about the teachers.

Being an educator is likely the most difficult, rewarding, and important job in our society. They help shape young minds and communicate important values like equity and pluralism, debate over critical race theory aside. It’s often a thankless gig but wholly vital to our communities. Not all our elected officials agree, however. Even fewer will agree that racial disparities in the teaching profession are harmful for students and that it’s in our country’s best interest to support teacher representation and diversity.

We aren’t the only group that feels this way, either. In 2017, the Brookings Institute released a study finding that minority students perform better on standardized tests, have better attendance, and are subject to fewer disciplinary measures when they have at least one teacher of the same ethnicity. The study also claims Black male students with Black teachers in either third, fourth, or fifth grade are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to seek a postsecondary education. It even goes so far as to assign a probability to this phenomenon, arguing that exposure to just one Black teacher reduced a Black student’s likelihood of dropping out by 40%. So, the benefits of having a diverse teaching workforce are educationally substantive.

Isn’t that the only factor to consider? When debating public policy in education, the conversation should stop and end with asking what’s best for students. What can provide them with the best education? What can set them up for success beyond the classroom? It’s time we implement policies with this in mind rather than what we’ve been told is important by talking heads.

Local and state leaders can start by creating a pipeline for minority teachers. Some communities have already done so, collaborating with historically Black colleges and universities, implementing more equitable human resources guidelines, and creating intra-school support groups for minority teachers that provide mentorship and camaraderie. All these fixes are, in the grand scheme of things, free for schools and the taxpayer. So why haven’t we adopted them more widely?

There’s no real reason for the infrequency of these initiatives, rather than a lack of urgency. Most elected officials don’t see teacher representation as a pressing issue, let alone one deserving of investing time and resources. We must help them realize that once you take steps to fix this issue, it may largely take care of itself.

In short, we can create a positive feedback loop for Black and Brown communities. Improving teacher representation creates better educational outcomes for minority students, enabling the latter to become teachers, which further empowers their students. It’s a problem that once fixed, it’s self-sustaining. Hence, it’s important to make a massive, concerted, one-time push in this arena. By doing so, we can help communities break the cycle of poor education and little to no intergenerational wealth.

May 13 NF Legislative Roundup: Notable Disparities

Disparities in our education, the environment, and the economy surround us. Here are a few we noticed in this week’s news.

California

  • AB 1961
    • Why we’re watching: Applying for affordable housing is complicated in California. One must fill out old-school paper forms in different developments. For thousands of homeless Californians who do so, the process can be long and often fruitless. AB 1961, currently under consideration of the California Legislature, would create an online database for individuals to apply for such coveted housing.
  • Climate Change Roadmap
    • Why we’re watching: California has garnered a reputation for poor air quality caused by smog and other pollution. Now, the California Air Resources Board is on a mission to capture carbon dioxide and increase dependence on electric vehicles. Their plan commits to eliminating 91% of California’s oil usage by 2045 – a plan we can certainly get behind.

Missouri

  • Abortion Disparities
    • Why we’re watching: We’ve known for a long time that abortion carries significant racial disparities. In the case that the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Missouri would automatically ban abortions in most cases, which would hurt Black women more than any other group, according to recent studies. Black women are three times as likely to die giving birth as white women, giving this liberty significant importance.

New York

  • Clemency Reform
    • Why we’re watching: Our country incarcerates more of its citizens than any other. Around half of these prisoners are locked up for drug-related offenses that don’t exist anymore in several states, thanks to the recent wave of cannabis legalization efforts. It’s time we seriously consider reforming clemency through efforts like New York’s Fair & Timely Act, which would give thousands a second chance at freedom.

Texas

  • Disaster Planning Disparities
    • Why we’re watching: Just recently, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development gave Texas $1 billion to protect communities from future disasters, such as frequent flooding in Houston neighborhoods. A recent audit of the disbursement of those funds found that Texas didn’t allocate enough toward Black and Brown neighborhoods, favoring their white counterparts instead.

What do you think of the news in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or hit us up through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Disparities in Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the transportation or coercion of people to benefit from their work or service, typically in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation. It’s a global issue affecting millions of people worldwide, but disproportionately impacting communities of color. Like all things that do, the underlying cause is a lack of economic opportunity.

When people think of human trafficking, scenes of kidnappings and interstate travel spring to mind. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s hardly ever the case. Most traffickers trick, defraud, manipulate, or blackmail victims into providing labor. In many cases, the trafficker is someone the victim knows and doesn’t require crossing borders. Thanks to movies, shows, and pop culture, our concept of human trafficking is slightly warped. Often, it involves leveraging victim’s vulnerabilities to create dependency, according to the Polaris Project.

Now that we’ve defined the problem, let’s look at how it impacts communities of color.

Even though human trafficking data is woefully incomplete, smaller jurisdictions provide a glimpse into the issue. For example, in Louisiana, 49% of child human trafficking victims are black girls, despite constituting only 19% of the state’s youth population. Across the country in King County, Washington, 84% of trafficking victims are Black, while only 7% of the population there is Black. Additionally, human trafficking disproportionately hurts migrants from Central and South America, mostly Latinos.

Communities of color disproportionately fall victim to trafficking schemes. Experts agree this is due to a widespread lack of economic opportunity, furthered by institutional racism. Redlining prevented Black families from settling in mostly white neighborhoods where their property could appreciate. Decades-old medical misconceptions prevent families of color from receiving proper medical care. Minorities’ reliance on low-income jobs leaves them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

All these undeniable aspects of life in our country, and dozens more, paint a picture of low economic opportunity for communities of color. This makes such neighborhoods targets for human trafficking. Trafficking is a manifestation of racism in our society. It wouldn’t disproportionately impact minorities but for the effects of institutional racism.

So, when you trace it back, racism is the primary reason people of color experience trafficking.

This is different than the racism spewed by people on social media and in grocery stores. It’s a permeating, underlying, almost invisible racism built into our institutions, social services, political discourse, and legal system. Of course, all of that was borne from the racism of individuals, whether they were aware of it or not. But today, it touches all our lives almost imperceptibly.

The root cause of trafficking demands our attention. By improving social support systems and widening opportunity, we can undercut the vulnerabilities on which traffickers rely. We can simultaneously help people live better lives and end this terrible, global, oppressive practice forever. But only if we recognize the institutions that created these environments and discuss how to fix them.

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