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Boarding schools are one chapter of a long, painful history.

Upon her confirmation as Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland launched an investigation into our country’s history of boarding schools for Native Americans. In response, Congressional Democrats asked federal agencies to create infrastructure to support Indigenous groups that will inevitably experience trauma and grief as the investigation gets underway. Such infrastructure could include subsidized counseling or a staffed crisis hotline – anything to lessen the emotional impact of the research.

But what will Haaland’s probe uncover?

In 1860, the Bureau of Indian Affairs transitioned Fort Simcoe in Washington State into an Indian Boarding School, designed to assimilate Indigenous youth to American culture. This re-education emphasized different aspects of Protestant ideology, including the importance of private property, the nuclear family structure, and material wealth. Additionally, teachers taught students the English language, simple mathematics, and the arts. Given these institutions’ goal of overruling the traditional Native American way of life, it’s no surprise that Christianity was a recurring theme throughout it all.

In just 20 years, the U.S. commanded 60 such schools for over 6,000 students. Teachers instilled strict regimentation, according to previous investigations. After all, a strictly structured life was the cornerstone of white America at the time.

All these themes directly contradicted Indigenous values and culture. Most tribes believed in communal ownership of the land. The idea that someone could own part of the land and keep others away from it was totally foreign to Native Americans. Rigid individualism, however, was central to the boarding schools’ purpose of obliterating the Indigenous way of life.

Col. Richard Henry Pratt is among the most well-known proponents of total assimilation. Pratt established the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, pictured above, where he served as headmaster for over 25 years. As leader of the country’s most infamous boarding school, Pratt was the central figure of the larger effort to assimilate Native Americans.

His motto was “Kill the Indian, save the man.”

In his effort, he sliced off the traditional braids of young Indigenous children. Pratt’s employees replaced their students’ birth names with white, mostly Christian ones. They similarly forced students to eat white foods and adopt the “appropriate” utensils. Lastly, and perhaps most disgusting of all Pratt’s measures to dehumanize children, the schools forbade students from speaking their native languages. Classrooms applauded colonizers like Christopher Columbus and endorsed the myth of the “model minority,” such as those that took part in the first Thanksgiving.

It’s apparent why our lawmakers felt the need to allocate funding toward helping Indigenous groups grapple with this painful history. An attempted total annihilation of Native American culture is not a light subject. Congressional Democrats’ call for substantive emotional support is a recognition of what it takes to embrace reality. It takes more than recognizing the facts; it requires empathy.

We must give communities of color time to grieve their losses throughout American history. This is especially true in instances of erasing a community and culture. Stories like the Tulsa Race Massacre and those of Indian boarding schools can evoke trauma and it’s our job to be cognizant of that potential effect. We cannot simply ask minorities to “move on” and “get over” history when it still impacts their communities to this day. Surely, there is room for humanity as we move forward in public policy, together.

November 5, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Election Recap

Across the country, voters swarmed the polls to make their voices heard. Here are some of our favorite victories from this week!

Atlanta

  • Mayoral Runoff Election
    • Why we’re watching: Atlanta is among the fastest gentrifying cities in the country. Two mayoral candidates, Felicia Moore and Andre Dickens, will compete in a runoff later this month after both campaigned on affordable housing for Atlanta’s communities of color.

Boston

  • Election of Michelle Wu
    • Why we’re watching: Boston elected its first woman and person of color to be mayor all in the same night! Wu campaigned on improving the immigrant experience in Boston, given her upbringing, and seeks to make her city a proving ground for progressive policies.

New Jersey

  • Reelection of Gov. Philip Murphy
    • Why we’re watching: Even as progressives saw defeat after defeat this week, Gov. Murphy successfully won his bid to retain office. One of Gov. Murphy’s major campaign policies was the reduction of excessive mandatory sentencing for crimes, long a focus of criminal justice activists.

New York City

  • Election of Eric Adams
    • Why we’re watching: New York City voters have chosen Eric Adams to be their next mayor – only the second time a Black person will occupy the office. Adams’ focus on reform and history as a police officer will make for interesting policy decisions regarding Rikers Island and affordable housing.

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!

What is gentrification, really?

We’re likely preaching to the choir, but gentrification is the process by which a poor area of a city experiences an influx of wealthy, usually white residents. This displaces the mostly minority inhabitants of a neighborhood by driving up housing prices.

Social justice activists have focused on five-over-one architecture, seen below, as a symbol of gentrification. That moniker comes from most of these buildings’ character: a brick, multi-use first floor with up to five additional levels for high-density residence. Most developers choose this style when erecting new housing in older, urban districts. It’s easy to see why. Five-over-one housing is cost-effective, quick to build, and doesn’t look all that bad. The recent boom in this sort of architecture has created a newfound awareness of gentrification in urban neighborhoods. In fact, a popular TikTok trend spotlights five-over-one buildings for that very reason.

But activists’ general antipathy for five-over-one distracts from the genuine issues with gentrification.

Now, of course five-over-one construction can be a sign of gentrification. But it isn’t always an indication of wealthier residents displacing their low-income, mostly minority counterparts. Sometimes, five-over-one architecture actually helps lower housing costs, per this TikTok by user Jacob Gotta.

The primary reason for five-over-one’s popularity is that it’s the cheapest way to build housing, per most contemporary zoning laws. So even when cities allocate resources toward building low-income housing, it’s usually designed to be five-over-one. Building codes incentivize varying exteriors and certain fire-preventative materials while bureaucratic tendencies lead to quicker approval for more formulaic aesthetics.

If you aren’t a fan of the appearance, that’s your right. But we should shift the discourse on gentrification from what it looks like to what it does to people’s lives.

Rather than labeling every aesthetically similar building as “gentrifying,” take a beat and investigate the housing prices and history of that building. If its construction displaced minority residents of that neighborhood, then it’s gentrification. It the building’s presence drove up housing costs, which priced low-income residents out of the area, then it’s gentrification. When it comes to something as important as affordable housing, we should seek evidence that goes beyond what we see.

This disparity between real-life effects and aesthetic preference is played out every day in local city council and zoning meetings. That is the appropriate venue to air concerns about five-over-one housing. Some municipalities have instituted citizen review boards to endorse architecture that matches its neighborhood. Not only can these groups help break up the repetition of five-over-one housing, but also preserve local history.

That solves the aesthetic issue. The “human” issue, however, is more difficult to rectify.

One obvious solution is to incentivize more low-income construction. That way, new development doesn’t have to displace low-income residents. In most places, this would require a massive upheaval of zoning laws. In short, you can’t build whatever you want wherever you want it. Zoning laws dictate where different sorts of buildings can exist. We’ve been highlighting a recent zoning battle in Connecticut, where organizers want to transition single-family zones to multi-family, fixed-income properties. That’s the solution toward which most communities should strive. By opening huge tracts of unwalkable land for the right development, we can provide housing for all.

Gentrification isn’t a necessary evil. There are ways we can remedy its impact on minority communities without falling for the aesthetic trap. Keep that in mind when you see a five-over-one building in your neighborhood.

October 29, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: A Look at Immigration

This week, we’re highlighting some of the biggest headlines in the world of immigration, for better or worse. Check them out below!

Federal

  • Abuse of Asylum Seekers
    • Why we’re watching: For decades, activists have complained about immigration officials’ abuse of asylum seekers. This week, Human Rights Watch confirmed their stories in a report detailing threats of sexual violence, racism, and generally inhumane treatment at border detention facilities. In response, the Biden administration has promised to institute reforms even though the report spanning the Trump years.
  • Light Punishments for Border Patrol
    • Why we’re watching: The House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform released a report detailing the light punishment for immigration officers’ transgressions. Investigators found that 60 employees violated their code of conduct by posting racist, vulgar images of migrants. Only two such employees were fired for their violations.
  • Compensation for Separated Families
    • Why we’re watching: This week, the Biden administration announced that families separated may be eligible to receive $450,000 in compensation. Trump’s policy of family separation garnered significant media attention, and many suspected his successor would endorse similar protocols, but this Department of Justice-sponsored mission is a step in the right direction.
  • Sanctuary Establishments
    • Why we’re watching: We have highlighted the importance of sanctuary cities in the past, and maybe the Biden administration heard us. On Wednesday, the administration announced that ICE could no longer infiltrate schools, hospitals, campuses, places of worship, foster care facilities, and other establishments to deport migrants.
  • Pathway to Citizenship
    • Why we’re watching: Congress is editing its reconciliation bill a little more every day, shedding provisions spanning from paid leave to regulating drug prices. One section we hope makes the cut is the proposed pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, endorsed by business leaders in Arizona to bolster the labor force across the country.

What do you think of the bills 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 Varying Degrees of Blackface

Halloween is a time of trick-or-treating, feasting on candy, and several other fun traditions. Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when cultural appropriation rears its ugly head most often. Ignorant or spiteful people don costumes mocking or evoking all types of cultures, and in some cases, even donning blackface. These instances blow up on social media all the time, leading us to believe it necessary for the following warning.

If you must ask if it’s offensive, it likely is.

Blackface, for example, still has a place in popular media. Aisha Harris, podcast host and writer, published a New York Times opinion piece laying out the most popular film and television examples of the offensive costume. In it, she explains that not all blackface is created equal. Sometimes, artists use it to evoke the past, and in doing so criticize our country’s history. Other times, directors will employ blackface as a critique on present-day America, ripping the mask off an underlying, permeating racism that plagues our institutions. On the more worrisome side of the spectrum, sometimes creators will use blackface just because it’s hot button, essentially taking advantage of a taboo without doing much to satirize it.

On Halloween, all those superlatives go out the window. It’s a holiday during which we dress up for amusement. Donning blackface, or any other culture’s traditional garb, is to level offense. There’s no valid reason to dress up in that way. It’s impossible to satirize or educate; one can only evoke emotion and do it “just because.”

Thankfully, in the wake of the summer of 2020 protests, we’ve grown more sensitive to these offenses. Actors fielded criticism for their roles from decades ago and mostly apologized for their part in furthering a stereotype, when applicable. But even though popular media is a huge stage for blackface, it tends to happen everywhere else on Halloween.

Sometimes, doing the right thing is about doing the bare minimum. This is one such time. Don’t use blackface and don’t dress up in another culture’s traditional wares.

The most common forms of cultural appropriation include using a sombrero and wearing a Native American headdress to evoke Pocahontas. What’s true about blackface is also true about cultural appropriation. On a holiday meant for fun costumes, cultural appropriation dismisses the validity of other cultures and pushes negative stereotypes.

Do yourself, other cultures, and everyone you know a favor this Halloween. Don’t use blackface or appropriate anyone’s culture.

October 22, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Police Accountability

Every day, police and private citizens alike murder Black and Brown individuals and escape accountability. This is where such cases stand.

Colorado

  • Elijah McClain
    • Why we’re watching: Aurora has settled in principle with Elijah McClain’s family, which has been seeking reforms ever since his death. In 2019, police officers harassed McClain for no legitimate reason, injecting him with a lethal dose of ketamine. City officials did not disclose the details of the settlement, but McClain’s family now has some closure amid their ongoing organizing efforts.

Georgia

  • Ahmaud Arbery
    • Why we’re watching: This week, the men responsible for chasing down and murdering Ahmaud Arbery in cold, racist blood are standing trial. A video of the incident is poised to take center stage, with many observers noting its likeness to slave patrol propaganda. The fight for accountability here is just beginning, and we hope it doesn’t take too long.

Illinois

  • Laquan McDonald
    • Why we’re watching: Chicago police murdered Laquan McDonald in 2014, leading to a barrage of resignations, failed reelection bids, and oversight complaints in the Windy City. Rahm Emanuel was mayor at the time and largely escaped the resulting blowback from activists and the Black community. On the seventh anniversary of McDonald’s death, the Senate held a confirmation hearing for Emanuel, who’s seeking the ambassadorship to Japan.
  • Marcellis Stinette
    • Why we’re watching: How long does accountability take? In the police murder of Marcellis Stinette, it’s taken over a year. Despite the combined efforts of the State of Illinois and the FBI, Stinette’s family has not found any closure. That same family is now mounting a pressure campaign to force investigators to do the right thing – promptly.

Pennsylvania

  • Fanta Bility
    • Why we’re watching: Police gunfire was responsible for the death of 8-year-old Fanta Billy over the summer in Philadelphia. Despite plenty of eyewitnesses, no charges have been filed against the three officers responsible for firing into a crowd. Bility’s family and community are now demonstrating regularly to demand accountability.

What do you think of the bills 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!

Life is a highway…in more ways than one.

Infrastructure has been a constant theme of the Biden administration. That isn’t surprising, considering the state of our roads and bridges, not to mention recovering from the pandemic. In most of the big-ticket proposals, Congress has shown a willingness to combat the decadeslong effect that highway construction has had on communities of color.

And there’s good reason for such provisions. Over the years, our highways have been molded by both personal and institutional racism. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 is responsible for the construction of our interstate system. While most of that planning involves highways between major cities, plenty of it created paths through metropolitan areas and neighborhoods. Therein lies the problem.

Keeping costs low was key in building our interstates – that meant finding the cheapest real estate in town. More often than not, that’s where Black communities built themselves up. Redlining all but guaranteed that Black and Brown citizens would be pooled together in underdeveloped areas. Developers, fueled by private, corporate, mostly white investment, bought up all the land they could in majority-minority neighborhoods. Local governments even aided their quest by granting extra-wide rights of way.

The effect was devastating. Highways destroyed historically Black neighborhoods across the country. A highway decimated Durham’s Hayti neighborhood, dubbed the “Black Wall Street of the South.” Interstates similarly sliced up sections of New Orleans, Baltimore, Detroit, and Richmond, laying waste to Black businesses and communities in their wake. While tragic, these are key examples of institutional racism’s vicious and inescapable cycle. Throughout our history, however, Black neighborhoods have fallen victim to acute, personal racism.

Kevin Kruse, a Princeton professor, claims that highway construction in Atlanta was abjectly fueled by the desire of local officials to segregate their city in the late 1950s. Then-Mayor Bill Hartsfield notably called for a “boundary between the white and Negro communities on the west side of town,” and highway construction fit the bill. Across the country in Minnesota, builders presented the state with two plans to build I-94. The first proposed route was along an abandoned railroad and the second was through the Rondo neighborhood, inhabited by Black residents in their exodus from tenement housing in downtown St. Paul.

Minnesota chose the path through the Black neighborhood, displacing 750 families and 120 businesses.

Our history is dotted with dozens of examples of this sort of racism, whether abject or institutional. From the work of Robert Moses in New York to the construction of I-70 in Indianapolis, lawmakers have clearly used highways to disrupt Black economies, culture, and excellence. Now, the federal government seeks to rectify these past injustices through monumental legislation – efforts held up by moderate Democrats.

To block antiracist legislation is to be complicit in racism. Party identification, grassroots credentials, and political relationships all fall to the wayside when it comes time to support an agenda. The segment of Congress we’re talking about has, in the last year, blocked voting rights legislation, major police reform, and the abolition of the filibuster. These are all changes sold to social justice groups throughout the 2020 campaign cycle. It’s high time our leaders follow through.

We must hold legislators accountable for their promises. Bottom-up pressure is the best way to ensure that we accomplish genuine reform and hold policymakers to their campaign promises. Part of that is educating our elected officials about the finer points in our history, like the racism of highway construction. By letting them know the experiences of Black communities like Hayti and Rondo, we can ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to our neighborhoods today.

October 15, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Reconciliation Bill

This week, we’re switching it up! Are you confused about all the coverage of the reconciliation bill in Washington? Our Legislative Roundup focuses on the different elements of the Build Back Better Act as they relate to social justice. Keep reading – we promise we kept it simple!

Education

  • College tuition aid
    • Why we’re watching: The bill promises two years of free community college for all students, regardless of income at the time of application. Many progressives see this as a step towards a more expansive free-college-for-all proposal that would help lower-income families break the cycle of poverty. Additionally, the bill boosts Pell Grant funding.

Families

  • Child tax credit
    • Why we’re watching: As part of an earlier pandemic relief package, Democrats created the child tax credit, which lifted hundreds of thousands of families and their children out of poverty. Now, Democrats want to expand the program into 2025 while increasing the payments.
  • Child care
    • Why we’re watching: Child care is among new families’ highest expenses. Along the lines of the child tax credit, the reconciliation bill allocates $450 billion toward lowering the cost of child care and providing two years of pre-K for young children.

Workers’ Rights

  • Paid leave
    • Why we’re watching: Our country is the most developed in the world that doesn’t mandate paid leave. Under the reconciliation bill, workers would have access to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, during which they would earn two-thirds or 80% of their normal pay, depending on their tax bracket.

Climate Change

  • Clean electricity performance program
    • Why we’re watching: This program incentivizes the biggest polluters to shape up. If passed, the law would mandate utility companies to increase their renewable supplies by 4% each year or risk regulatory fines.
  • Electric vehicle charging
    • Why we’re watching: Electric vehicles are the answer to solving Black and Brown neighborhoods’ high exposure to air pollutants. Measures of the Build Back Better Act would accordingly allocate funds towards EV charging infrastructure.

What do you think of the bills 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!

October 8, 2021 NF Legislative Roundup: Judicial Rulings

Our judicial system is rigged against communities of color, but we’re making progress. Don’t believe us on either count? Look at these recent court rulings from around the country.

California

  • Ruling on Private Prisons
    • Why we’re watching: The Biden administration is facing staunch criticism for its strict immigration laws, mostly by way of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. California, in a separate effort to ban private prisons, also rolled in a prohibition on private immigrant detention centers, a provision recently reversed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel.

Connecticut

  • Racial Disparities of Judicial Rulings
    • Why we’re watching: In Connecticut, Black and Brown defendants with no prior criminal history were convicted at higher rates than their white counterparts. This first-of-its-kind data revealed the discrimination faced by minorities when they first enter the judicial system as well as the continued impact of mandatory minimum laws.

Georgia

  • Ruling in Ahmaud Arbery’s Mental Health History
    • Why we’re watching: Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley ruled that Ahmaud Arbery’s mental health records were inadmissible in the trial of his murderers. The judge ruled that Arbery’s medical privacy trumps the defendant’s right to a robust trial and that there is no evidence Arbery was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time of his death.

Maryland

  • Ruling on Vehicular Assault
    • Why we’re watching: Last year, Jared Lafer drove into a group of Black Lives Matters protesters, leaving one man with two broken legs. The entire assault was captured on video, but a grand jury recently refused to indict Lafer, who reportedly created memes following the event, mocking the protesters. 

Texas

  • George Floyd Posthumous Pardon
    • Why we’re watching: Many labeled George Floyd, brutally murdered last year in Minneapolis, as a drug user and criminal thanks to a 2004 arrest on the word of Houston officer Gerald Goines. Now, Goines is the focal point of a massive policing scandal and stands accused of fabricating evidence. The Texas parole board has accordingly recommended a posthumous pardon for Floyd, clearing his name of the 2004 charge.

What do you think of the bills 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!

 

NFL, or the “Never Fair League.”

Autumn is in full swing throughout the country. This means people are visiting apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and attending NFL games to mark the onset of a new season. Last month, the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off the NFL season with a bang and ever since, our Sunday televisions have been filled with spectacular touchdowns and laughable taunting penalties.

One thing we haven’t seen too often at football games is kneeling.

Just five years ago, Colin Kaepernick’s routine protests were the subject of thousands of hours of criticism from football fans, who saw his refusal to stand for the national anthem as disrespectful to the country and even worse, to veterans. We won’t harp for too long on these criticisms, because there’s no way we can say anything that hasn’t already been said. It’s worth mentioning, however, that when an organization like the NFL outright rejects the real purpose of protests, it’s pretty revealing of that group’s values.

Last year, amid nationwide protests against police brutality and race inequality, the NFL finally backtracked from its original stance of encouraging all players to stand for the anthem. The league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, finally admitted the errors of his ways in June of 2020. He highlighted the NFL’s concern for the systemic oppression of Black people and apologized for discouraging peaceful protest.

This apology did not mention Colin Kaepernick.

It’s high time that we admit the NFL, from the league office to its 32 teams, blackballed Kaepernick. That’s why the league’s aforementioned apology couldn’t reference the former 49ers quarterback. To do so would’ve been a clear indication that Kaepernick was welcomed back in the league. His absence from the NFL’s statement is just as revealing, however.

If football isn’t your thing, then it’s fine to skim this section.

Kaepernick’s statistics didn’t warrant getting permanently benched when he was pulled by the 49ers staff. In 2016, he racked up 2,709 total yards and 18 touchdowns. Additionally, his career interception rate was only 1.8%, the second lowest in NFL history. Despite these marks, the 49ers replaced Kaepernick with Matt Barkley, who threw 10 interceptions in 2016 despite playing in five fewer games. Kaepernick finished that season as a backup, never to play another NFL snap.

When you compare his statistics to other second-string quarterbacks from around the league, the mistreatment jumps off the page. Kaepernick outpaced seven qualified starters in Total Quarterback Rating, one of the most well-regarded measures of a quarterback’s level of play. He performed better in this statistic than Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, and even Carson Wentz – all starters for their respective teams. All of the available metrics paint the same picture. Colin Kaepernick deserved a job as a backup quarterback in the National Football League.

Unfortunately, the NFL shied away from ever offering him that role. There was a glimmer of hope in 2019, when the league organized a one-man combine for Kaepernick. League officials drummed up a media frenzy and gave the Kaepernick camp only two weeks to agree to the tryout. The NFL also required the former Niner to sign a waiver stating that he would never sue the NFL if he went unsigned. After all of that, the event imploded. Rather than performing at professional facilities, Kaepernick ended up at a high school throwing to former college talents. The entire effort was a charade, designed to give ammunition to Kaepernick doubters and avail the NFL of any blame.

And that’s likely where Kaepernick’s time in the NFL sphere ends. Maybe one day, the NFL will truly embrace the principles it claims to hold dear. Systemic racism is real and plagues every facet of our lives.

Thankfully, football players haven’t stopped the protesting. Just last year, Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill declared his intent to skip his senior season unless his home state adopted a new flag. When Hill launched his protest, Mississippi had used a Confederate flag-inspired insignia for 126 years. But on November 3, 2020, voters approved a new design without such a hateful symbol.

Fighting for social justice in football is alive and well. It’s different than it once looked and doesn’t have the same players leading the charge. Maybe the NFL is on its way to really embracing these viewpoints and helping create positive change. It may also be true that swallowing the pill of explicitly apologizing to Kaepernick is a bridge too far. Either way, the world will never forget how he furthered the police reform movement.

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