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Mumia Abu-Jamal's Radio Essays

Commentaries by the award-winning journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal
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Mumia Abu-Jamal's Radio Essays
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Now displaying: May, 2009
May 31, 2009
It would be easy to describe the present faux controversy over the nomination of 2nd Circuit of Appeals Court judge, Sonia Sotomayor, to the U.S. Supreme Court as media-generated, and thus, unreal. But that would be too easy. As forces on the political right decry the jurist as "racist", "reverse racist", or "biased", such terms do far more than spur flagging newspaper sales, it amps up the summer hearings for her nomination. And while it may not reach the temperature of the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill senate hearings, it will get plenty of attention, if only for the wrong reasons. It is almost laughable to seriously consider the 'racist' claims launched by the Limbaugh, Gingrich and Tancredo axis of the Republican Party, given their manic xenophobia when it comes to Mexican immigrants, an issue that has driven millions of Latinos away from the GOP. But, for argument's sake, let's examine the question, from a central core issue. Are Latinos a race? The short answer is no. Latinos, or Hispanics, are a linguistic and cultural community, but one of stunning diversity. In fact, Hispanics are a conglomeration of many races -- and indeed, many cultures, formed over centuries. There are millions of people who are as dark-skinned (or darker) than African Americas, but are classified as Latinos, who are of Puerto Rican, Dominican or Mexican heritage. The lesson in this is that race is often a national construct, which may be transformed by crossing a border. Decades ago, one would think, there were no Hispanics (or at least the term wasn't used). People were classified according to their national heritage, or they were called "Spanish -surnamed." But the lives, experiences, and dreams of people can be profoundly different, depending on where one's family hails: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Argentina or Cuba. All of these people may be called Latinos, but they are white, red, brown and black. Their familial and genetic histories draw Spain, Italy, the Americas and Africa. In sum, Latinos are not a race, as race is understood in this country, but a linguistic and multi-cultural community of breathtaking diversity. The irony is that Judge Sotomayor, if she were born in many Latin American countries (instead of the Bronx), would have "blanca", or "claro" on her birth certificate (meaning white). Only in the US does she become a 'person of color', simply because whiteness in the American sense, is a narrow, exclusive domain. Many millions who now consider themselves white had grandparents who weren't considered white, especially given their southern European places of origin. But, things change; even our definitions of race. (c) '09 maj
May 29, 2009
It has been over 1/2 a century (55 years) since the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Brown vs. Board of Education case, desegregating American public education. The decision came to be regarded as a landmark ruling, one which transformed the very nature of U.S. public schools. Or did it? There is no question but that Brown dealt a severe blow to the common American practice of educational apartheid, by finding the nation's public school systems, which were unevenly divided between Black and white institutions, were separate and unequal, and thus violative of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. As such, Brown became the precedent by which all racial segregation came to be declared unconstitutional. But back to the public schools. Who can doubt that millions of public school students now attend inner-city schools that are just as segregated as they were 50 years ago? How can this be, we wonder? Well, there are differences. Funding for schools is based on property taxes, and as inner cities are sited in poor urban cores, where taxes are lessened, there are fewer resources for such schools. And while racial segregation is unconstitutional, class segregation is not. This, coupled with the segregated housing customs which still determines where people live, also determines where young people go to school. Just because a law changes, doesn't mean life does. There are other reasons, as well. Millions of whites fled to the suburbs, and many built private schools that could legally segregate. Much of this energy went into the voucher school movement, so that parents could siphon off public monies to pay for private, and even religious schools. With some major American cities facing drop-out rates of 50%, public schools are failing in their mission of teaching and training children to handle the glaring needs of tomorrow. And what of No Child Left Behind? It was by any honest measure, a disaster. The less said about it, the better. --(c) '09 maj
May 28, 2009
As the prospect of GM (General Motors) being forced into bankruptcy looms closer, the company (as well as the government) enters yet the next phase in a long, bitter and seemingly intractable war against workers -- and not just members of the UAW (United Auto Workers). For the courtroom represents a battleground more vicious than any negotiating table, for there, the rules are (to borrow a phrase from segregation days) 'separate and unequal.' That's because civil laws favor corporations. How could it be otherwise when lawyers are trained in corporate and contract law -- and rarely, if ever -- labor law? Under bankruptcy law, prior contracts can be broken, and new arrangements made, as long as creditors and investors get paid. What of a man or woman who has spent decades at work for the company? Isn't that an investment? To the investors and bondholders that is irrelevant. They, and the White House, will have driven GM into bankruptcy court, not UAW, which has bent over so far backwards they're in knots. In Sept. 2007, UAW signed a "landmark" pact with GM, in which the union assumed massive health care costs under what's called VEBA (volunteer employee benefit association). According to the terms, GM donates cash or stock to the UAW to administer VEBA, and GM agrees to the present work force of 73,000 workers. The VEBA contract was for 4 years, expiring in 2011. Two years later, and tens of thousands have been laid off. Even before bankruptcy proceedings began, UAW heads were being pushed to accept GM stock (now around $1.40 a share) and corporate debt, instead of cash to run VEBA, and urged to accept "immediate cuts" to retiree benefits at the insistence of Timothy Geithner's Treasury Department, citing GM's "financial difficulties." GM, we tend to forget, is a multinational, which builds and sells cars in Mexico, Canada and Asia. And while sales have indeed slumped in the Americas, sales are hot in Asia. In China, the world's most populous market, an American car is still a status symbol, and China's economy is still the healthiest on earth, growing at an annual rate of 6%. Moreover, while jobs are being lost in the U.S., and retirees' benefits are slashed, the bailout billions will fuel GM's efforts overseas, where, for example, a Chinese auto worker earns $3 an hour, versus $54 an hour for an American. Does that make economic sense? Only when the bottom line is the be-all and end-all of existence (as in capitalism). Meanwhile, six top GM execs recently sold all of their GM stock, sending a signal of imminent bankruptcy. Having eaten the goose of GM profit, they leave the bones. (c) '09 maj
May 1, 2009
Message to May Day
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