Obama seeks to mend rift with black community
By Caren Bohan
WASHINGTON | Thu Jul 29, 2010 2:25pm EDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama sought on Thursday to repair damage to his relationship with the black community caused by his administration’s firing of an African-American government official.
A political fracas erupted last week after Agriculture Department employee Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign when conservative media depicted her as anti-white because of a speech she had given.
Obama later said his administration had jumped the gun and offered Sherrod her job back after a full airing of her speech showed her remarks were taken out of context.
In a speech to the National Urban League, a major civil rights organization, Obama underscored his regret for the incident, calling Sherrod an “exemplary woman.”
“She deserves better than what happened last week,” Obama said. He said the episode was “a bogus controversy, based on selective and deceiving excerpts of a speech.”
“Many are to blame for the reaction and overreaction that followed these comments, including my own administration,” said Obama, who made history when he became the nation’s first African American president.
African Americans are a key base of support Obama’s Democrats hope to mobilize in the November elections, where they are at risk of losing their majorities in Congress.
The controversy further hurt Obama politically because it overshadowed his efforts to trumpet the passage of the historic financial reform bill and an extension of unemployment benefits.
The audience gave Obama a friendly reception and he made several jokes, including mentioning how his job was turning his hair gray.
Obama spoke of a theme he has emphasized in some previous appearances before black audiences: responsibility.
He devoted most of his speech to a discussion of his education reform initiative and talked about the need for holding teachers and students accountable, and also urged parents in the audience to get involved in the classroom.
You’ll Never Believe What This White House Is Missing
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: July 24, 2010
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
The Obama White House is too white.
It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.
But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand “the slave thing,” as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.
The first black president should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him — a long political tradition underscored by Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 when she complained about the “smart-ass white boys” from Walter Mondale’s campaign who tried to boss her around.
Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.
The West Wing white guys who pushed to ditch Shirley Sherrod before Glenn Beck could pounce not only didn’t bother to Google, they weren’t familiar enough with civil rights history to recognize the name Sherrod. And they didn’t return the calls and e-mail of prominent blacks who tried to alert them that something was wrong.
Charles Sherrod, Shirley’s husband, was a Freedom Rider who, along with the civil rights hero John Lewis, was a key member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the ‘60s.
As Lewis, the longtime Georgia congressman, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he knew immediately that something was amiss with the distorted video clip of Sherrod talking to the N.A.A.C.P.
“I’ve known these two individuals — the husband for more than 50 years and the wife for at least 35, 40 — and there’s not a racist hair on their heads or anyplace else on their bodies,” Lewis said.
We may not have a “nation of cowards” on race, as Attorney General Eric Holder contended, but we may have a West Wing of cowards on race.
The president appears completely comfortable in his own skin, but it seems he feels that he and Michelle are such a huge change for the nation to absorb that he can be overly cautious about pushing for other societal changes for blacks and gays. At some level, he acts like the election was enough; he shouldn’t have to deal with race further. But he does.
His closest advisers — some of the same ones who urged him not to make the race speech after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue exploded — are so terrified that Fox and the Tea Party will paint Obama as doing more for blacks that they tiptoe around and do less. “Who knew that the first black president would make it even harder on black people?” asked a top black Democratic official.
It’s the same impulse that caused Obama campaign workers to refuse to let Muslim women with head scarves sit in camera range during a rally. It’s the same impulse that has left the president light-years behind W. on development help for Africa. In their rush to counteract attempts to paint Obama as a radical/Muslim/socialist, Obama staffers can behave in insensitive ways themselves.
“I don’t think a single black person was consulted before Shirley Sherrod was fired — I mean c’mon, “ said Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, a black lawmaker so temperate that he agreed with an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal on Friday by Senator James Webb of Virginia, which urged that “government-directed diversity programs should end.”
“The president’s getting hurt real bad,” Clyburn told me. “He needs some black people around him.” He said Obama’s inner circle keeps “screwing up” on race: “Some people over there are not sensitive at all about race. They really feel that the extent to which he allows himself to talk about race would tend to pigeonhole him or cost him support, when a lot of people saw his election as a way to get the issue behind us. I don’t think people elected him to disengage on race. Just the opposite.”
Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s House delegate, agreed: “The president needs some advisers or friends who have a greater sense of the pulse of the African-American community, or who at least have been around the mulberry bush.”
And why does the N.A.A.C.P. exist if not to help clear a smeared champion of civil rights who gave a stirring speech about racial reconciliation at an N.A.A.C.P. banquet? Its president, Ben Jealous, shamefully following the administration’s rush to judgment, tweeted Monday night that Shirley Sherrod was a racist without even calling his Georgia chapter president or reviewing the N.A.A.C.P.’s own video of the speech.
It was Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, who, after hearing the entire speech, pushed to get it out and helped clear Sherrod’s reputation on CNN.
The president shouldn’t give Sherrod her old job back. He should give her a new job: Director of Black Outreach. This White House needs one.
Rebecca Lindell and Rod Mickleburgh
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail Published on Friday, Jul. 30, 2010 11:59PM EDT Last updated on Saturday, Jul. 31, 2010 3:52PM EDT
Jordan Smith had never held hands with a man in public before. But late one September night in 2008, the 27-year-old airline pilot impulsively intertwined fingers with his boyfriend, as they walked home through the city’s well-known gay neighbourhood.
Their affection lasted all of five minutes. A group of young men accosted the couple with a series of gay slurs. One of them then struck Mr. Smith from behind, sending him unconscious to the sidewalk, a hard tumble that broke his jaw.
“That night, we just threw caution to the winds,” Mr. Smith recalled this week. “You see what happened.”
His assailant, Michael Kandola, was eventually sentenced to 17 months in prison, after a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled the attack a hate crime.
The incident was far from isolated that year. Over all in 2008, Metro Vancouver police forces reported 34 hate-crime cases motivated by sexual orientation, the highest per-capita frequency of such attacks in the country.
They contributed to a disturbing trend across Canada that saw hate crimes against gays and lesbians more than double, from 71 in 2007 to 159 a year later. The numbers, reported last month by Statistics Canada, have prompted some to label Vancouver “the gay-bashing capital of Canada.”
While figures may reflect more reporting of anti-gay crimes than an actual new wave of assaults, Vancouver Councillor Tim Stevenson, a United Church minister who has been “out” for 30 years, doesn’t shy from the tag.
“Unfortunately, we are the gay-bashing capital,” Mr. Stevenson said. “While I don’t think there’s been a huge spike, it’s on the increase. Gay-bashing is not going down, that’s for sure. The question is: ‘Why not?’ ”
On the eve of the city’s enormously popular pride parade, an annual event that attracts more than half a million spectators, with politicians, police and community leaders marching together among raucous, celebratory gays, lesbians and transgendered, the troubling persistence of gay-bashing continues to cast a pall over the party.
“There’s still a lot of societal liberation that needs to take place,” said Vancouver Pride Society president Ken Coolen, attesting to ongoing instances of hate crimes and well-publicized gay-bashings.
Just this month, four men were arrested in connection with two separate attacks on Vancouver gay men. Both incidents are being investigated as possible hate crimes.
And on Aug. 10, a verdict is expected in a high-profile assault at the Fountainhead Pub that left Ritch Dowrey with permanent brain damage. The incident brought more than a thousand community members into the streets, demanding an end to anti-gay violence.
“In spite of all the advances that have been made, people are still coming down to our ’hood, screaming and yelling and calling us names and occasionally bashing,” said Ron Stipp of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere. “That has to stop.”
Yet, for all that, reasons for the Statscan findings are not clear-cut.
There is consensus among activists, police and statisticians alike that the rise in reported hate-crime cases is as much due to a new comfort level between gays and police than to any new wave of gay-bashing.
“The more trust there is, the more likely victims are to come forward and report what happened to them,” said Warren Silver of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, which compiles the data for Statscan.
Vancouver Police Department Inspector Mario Giardini is more blunt. “In the immortal words of Scotty Bowman, statistics are for losers,” said Insp. Giardini, head of the VPD’s Diversity and Aboriginal Policing section.
He pointed out that 2008 was the same year police held a series of forums in the gay community, urging victims to report crimes to police, assuring them all would be “as fully investigated as possible.”
But Doug Janoff, author of a book on homophobic violence in Canada, speculated that the higher prevalence of reported attacks in Vancouver is not merely because more gays are coming forward.
In contrast to Toronto and Montreal, which have compact, well-defined gay areas, Vancouver’s gay neighbourhood is centred in the more porous West End, close to huge events that attract rowdy partiers, said Mr. Janoff. “That mix is a recipe for disaster.”
Indeed, Mr. Stipp said there is always a jump in anti-gay incidents during the city’s mammoth summer fireworks extravaganza on English Bay in the heart of the West End.
At the same time, however, Vancouver police have been as good as their word, Mr. Stipp affirmed. “There’s been a sea change in attitude. The era when we didn’t trust police or consider them our friends is gone.”
When a man started yelling and advancing towards him and his partner recently, Mr. Stipp quickly dialled 911. The guy took off, but police arrived almost immediately and nabbed him two blocks away.
That’s quite a change from 14 years ago, when then Vancouver Park Board commissioner Duncan Wilson was savagely beaten with a pipe while out walking with his gay partner. Police didn’t show up to take his statement until the next morning. Their report described the brutal assault as a “traffic altercation.”
“The world is a different place now, with a police force that actively recruits gays and lesbians, and whose chief marches in the pride parade,” Mr. Wilson said.
Yet the hate goes on. Why it does is a complicated matter that stretches beyond the gay-basher stereotype of yahoo young guys fuelled by beer and testosterone, although that certainly plays a role.
“For whatever reason, it’s become a sport for some young people, after they’ve had a few drinks,” Mr. Stevenson said. “Once the bars close, gay men get worried that these people are going to be out there, prowling.”
Mr. Stipp points to elements of the faith community that regularly lash out against homosexuality. “A lot of churches still preach hatred. What they need to do is say from the pulpit that gay taunting and homophobia is not on.”
Culture may be a factor, as well. A rough survey by the gay magazine Xtra! claimed that South Asian men have faced or are facing gay-bashing charges in numbers disproportionate to their population.
While South Asian gays and lesbians dispute the finding and deny their community is more homophobic than any other, they acknowledge its inherent conservatism.
“There is definitely less sensitivity to that issue,” said Fatima Jaffer of the South Asian lesbian support group, Trikone Vancouver. “Family and marriage are very important. Sometimes it takes a while for a community to adapt to new ways of thinking.”
Regardless of motivation, the rising numbers of reported hate crimes are distressing to Mayor Gregor Robertson. “They contradict what we may feel is a safe and livable city in comparison to others,” the mayor confessed. “They demonstrate that we have a lot more work to do.”
Mr. Stipp of West Enders Against Violence Everywhere says he hopes the celebrations of Sunday’s big pride parade will not eclipse the ongoing need for gays to be on their guard.
“We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” he said. “What we want is to be able to go outside without always having to look over our shoulders. That day may be coming, but it’s not here y
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus blasted Australian Samantha Stosur 6-2 6-3 and advances to the finals of the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford California. Stosur is the number one seed, she is currently ranked number five in the world. Stosur has a lot of talent but she is still having trouble with her form since losing the French Open final.
When is Samantha Stosur going to win a grand slam singles title? Stosur has a huge serve, big forehand, excellent speed, good volleys, and fitness. However, Stosur’s backhand is her weakness and she needs to improve it. Next, I feel Stosur is still suffering from the shocking upset in the French Open final to Italian woman Francesca Schiavone. Stosur was the favourite to win the French Open after she beat Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Jelena Jankovic. I was disappointed in Stosur captulating in the French Open final she just got very tight and crumbled under the pressure.