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This Juneteenth

By Lydia Holt 

You can’t talk about Juneteenth without first talking about the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln was primarily looking to “stick it” to the South by signing this document. It proclaimed all slaves in the rebelling states free. Read more...

Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks, and the Government's Response

By Sheryl Wright

Bradley Manning, the army private accused of releasing government documents to WikiLeaks, is facing 22 additional charges, including "aiding the enemy...through indirect means.” I agree with those quoted in the article who believe that this particular charge is setting up a dangerous precedent.


Roundtable: America—Sweden’s Sweatshop

Sheryl: In a bit of irony, the U.S. is developing an unexpected reputation within the corporate world. Recent stories about an Ikea plant in Virginia indicate the United States—much like Bangladesh, Vietnam, China, and Honduras—is now seen as a preferred destination for corporations in search of lower production costs. Read more...




Entries in National (11)


The Pickaninnies March On Washington

By Lydia Holt

Tara, Lucinda and Lydia rally at the Women's March on Washington. Making America Great Since 1619.


Perhaps it was a subconscious act of self preservation, but in the months and weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, I had convinced myself that America would elect Hillary Clinton as our 45th president--that we had no other viable option. If her opponent were elected it would be disastrous and to maintain my sanity, I firmly believed that we would come through the election with a capable and sane president. When I woke up to the reality of our now 45th, I damn near had a panic attack. The first waves of shock and horror didn’t subside so much as become my new normal, so I, like many others, turned to social media in search of next steps, ways to handle this new normal that would prove to be anything but normal. Word spread that a Women’s March on Washington was in the works. I didn’t know if this was something that would actually happen, but when my sister and fellow Pickaninny called to ask if I wanted a seat on a bus to DC my answer was YES!

The weekend before the march Lucinda came to Brooklyn with poster board. We had planned to brainstorm sign ideas and make signs ahead of time so that we'd have one less thing to do on the Friday before the march. My husband was planning to take the kids to the march here in NY while we were in DC. We searched the internets for ideas, but none of them seemed to fit. There were plenty of great signs, but none really thrilled our Pickaninny spirits.

After Lucinda returned to NJ, she called me. "I have an idea. I was in drum class, and it just came to me. Our Pickaninny with the words 'Making America Great Since whatever year we got here.'" Perfect. We decided to go not with when the first Africans arrived in the Americas but with the year we arrived in the British colonies that would become the United States of America.

We printed and laminated the signs: “Making America Great Since 1619.” We spent the Friday evening before the march taping and stapling our sign to make sure it would make it through the march come rain or high water.

Thanks to two women who think big and get shit done, we had seats on a bus that was leaving NYC at 4:49 a.m. After standing in the cold for a bit while some miscommunication was sorted out we joined the herd of buses heading south down the NJ Turnpike.


The rally and march was incredibly calm. In many large gatherings of humans, I often feel a frenetic and anxious energy that could erupt into chaos at any moment. It was not so at the march. It helped that we were not surrounded by police in riot gear with pepper spray and tear gas at the ready. Even though people carried signs calling out the various injustices that plague our country and world, everyone was unified in their desire to make everyone's voices heard. Chants rose in the air. Women shouted, “My body, my choice!” and men in the crowd responded, “Her body, her choice!” “Black lives matter!” rang out, as did, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Lydia and Lucinda holding photographs of their great grandmother (right) and grandmother

Some looked at our sign and quickly looked away while others asked about the year and what it meant and still others asked to take our picture saying, “Great sign.” At one point a woman walking by handed me a journal saying, “Now it’s your turn.” On the cover, written in black Sharpie, was something like, “Be brave. Write down what you hope will be achieved with this march.” There was a pen tucked inside as well as instructions to mail the journal back to its owner once it was filled using the self addressed stamped envelope tucked into the back. I could only stare at the blank page, but Lucinda said she had some thoughts and began writing. When she was done, a teenaged girl and her mother happened to be walking by and we handed it off to them. “I guess it’s your turn next,” I said.  

By the grace of the Universal Being, we found at the rally our friend Tara, who lives in DC. Lucinda and Tara gave an interview to a journalism major from Baylor University (Texas represent!) just as the march began. Arms linked, with me leading the way holding our sign high, we marched our way toward the Washington Memorial. From what I could hear, as I navigated through the crowd, she actually asked great questions about race and gender and what it meant to be black women at the march. We posed for pictures with the journalist and her mother and kept marching.

Near the Washington Monument

Word spread that there were so many of us that we wouldn't make it to the White House. With the African-American Museum of History and Culture in sight and no idea of what was supposed to happen next, if anything, we decided to leave the march and find something to eat. It felt slightly anticlimactic since we hadn't been close enough to the stage to hear any of the speakers, but we had taken part. Through social media (spotty as the service was with so many of us gathered), we knew that our being there meant so much to the people who couldn't make it to any of the marches. We began working our way, with a few thousand others, toward Constitution Avenue in search of food but soon realized no matter where we turned there were fellow marchers and that this was far from over.

Near the African-American Museum of History and Culture

We marched down Constitution Ave. with our voices echoing off the Department of the Treasury, “We pay taxes. How about you?!” and “Welcome to your first day! We will not go away!” George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Harriet Tubman stared down on us from banners hung on the stone columns, and that’s when it hit me: We are really doing something. Our being in that place, showing up and speaking up was really DOING something. If my ten-year-old had come along, he would have said it was epic, and he wouldn't have been too far off. 

Tara tried her hand at starting a chant but when no one responded she stopped. We laughed. A man nearby said he'd add his voice when she wanted to try again. "We'll do it together," he said. She tried again, and everyone joined in. As the crowd began to disperse, we passed a man yelling out a chant. No one responded at first. He said it again and then once more and then others joined in. We nodded our heads. Lucinda observed, "You've got to just keep saying it and then someone else will hear you and join in."

There is still HOPE in and for this country. There is plenty of space and there are plenty of resources to fight ALL of the injustices in the world. We have just got to keep saying it and doing something about it. Someone else will hear you, see you and join in. We will get through this TOGETHER.



Does “Personal Responsibility” Have to Be a Dirty Phrase

By Lucinda Holt 

A couple of weeks ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic and Aura Bogado in The Nation took the first couple to task for “stressing individual responsibility” and trotting out old stereotypes during graduation speeches they gave at Morehouse College and Bowie State University, both historically black institutions. Maybe the president and first lady did trot out some old stereotypes, but why is stressing individual responsibility a bad thing?


President Obama speaks at Morehouse College graduation. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

Call me old-fashioned, but there is a place—a very important place I would argue—for encouraging young people to be responsible and work hard. I know I run the risk of sounding like some rabid social conservative frothing at the mouth about big government, “entitlements” and the need for “personal responsibility.” But progressives should reclaim “personal responsibility.” The phrase doesn't have to be a euphemism for pulling yourself up by your bootstraps even though someone's got his foot on your neck. And most importantly, personal responsibility doesn't have to be the excuse for not creating policy that supports the least among us.

Coates and Bogado made some great points about how American policies have created the conditions that the first couple are asking young, black people to work hard in spite of. Bogado was quite eloquent in challenging the first couple's emphasis on personal responsibility:

“[President Obama] could have added that even earned rewards can quickly evaporate once race mediates the situation. Like his partner, the president stressed individual responsibility—dangerous and impractical guidance at a time when an undying system of white supremacy continues to dictate not only access to wealth and education, but also continues to determine matters of life and death.”

Stressing individual responsibility is dangerous and impractical? Is it really? I suppose it is if the assumption is that taking personal responsibility precludes creating policy that supports people. Yes, it's ironic that the guy who has made cuts to Pell Grants is telling young people to work harder. I get it.

But in spite of that irony, I see value in both the first couple's calls for personal responsibility and their critics' calls for meaningful policy change. Why do we have to assume that black people either need good policy OR empowerment through personal responsibility? Why can't there be both? Should our discourse about education and the future success of young people and our nation only be about policy or only about personal responsibility? Why must it be an either/or proposition? We need good policies that support those who are struggling, but why does “personal responsibility” have to be a dirty phrase?

A Long Tradition of Personal Responsibility

Personal responsibility could be used, not to blame, but to actually empower people, which it seems is what the Obamas were after in their speeches. Black people have a long tradition of empowerment through personal responsibility. It's this tradition of personal responsibility and hard work that had and continues to have us work to create a just and more equitable country that lives up to its promise. When I use the phrase “personal responsibility,” I'm talking about the insistence that black people be inspired and empowered by their hard work and their capacity to create change—in spite of racism and in spite of policies that limit their access to things like quality education. This message of personal responsibility is one that the likes of Booker T. Washington and thousands of black parents and grandparents, like my very own Esther J. Moore, pushed and pushed.

I am grateful for good policies. The policies that desegregated schools when I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s and ensured that I had an excellent public magnet school to attend paved the way for me. The federal grants that helped pay for college made higher education a reality for me. But I wouldn't have been able to take full advantage of any of this if someone at home didn't value education and encourage me to work hard and take responsibility for doing my very best. But what happened when policies didn't result in change on the ground?

When I started sixth grade, I was supposed to be in a magnet school in the old dilapidated middle school in our district. While a strong magnet program had been created for the new seventh and eighth grade school a few blocks away, there was nothing at the sixth grade level. After the first week of school, I complained to my mother that there was no magnet program as we had been told there would be, and we weren't learning anything and were just being corralled from one class to another. I was panicked that I would fall way behind if my sixth-grade year was lost to sitting in a room with kids chatting and throwing spit balls at one another.

My mother wrote a letter to get on the agenda at the next school board meeting. At seventh months pregnant, she spoke passionately at the meeting about implementing existing policy and not letting children in our neighborhood down. There were white people on the board who claimed that we didn't need the program in our school because children didn't test well enough to merit it. This was a lie, because I had consistently scored exceptionally well on standardized tests and knew that we deserved to have classes that challenged us. Six weeks after my mother spoke at the school board meeting, we had a magnet class at our school. People like my mother pushed for policies that already existed to actually be implemented. My mother had to take responsibility; she had to feel like she had the power to respond to a situation that was not ideal.

And this is what I thought of when I read what First Lady Michelle Obama said during her recent speech at Bowie State University about fixing our schools:

“If the school in your neighborhood isn't any good, don't just accept it. Get in there, fix it. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Get business and community leaders involved as well, because we all have a stake in building schools worthy of our children's promise.”  

Policy isn't a magic bullet that fixes everything. Policy is just the beginning. We need to feel empowered to push for good policies and ensure that those policies are implemented. And young people need to work hard to take full advantage of the opportunities good policy provides.

The Aspirations of Black Children

Ta-Nehisi Coates took issue with not only the first lady's emphasis on personal responsibility, but also her critique of black children's aspirations:

“Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”

I understand how someone like Coates, who came to writing through hip-hop, might take offense to these words. In his piece, Coates defended the artistry of hip-hop, the opportunity hip-hop offers many young people and the right of young people to dream of being whatever their heart desires—even a basketball player. But even Coates had to acknowledge that too many young black people limit their aspirations to sports and entertainment:

“What is specific to black kids is that their dreams often don't extend past entertainment and athletics. That is a direct result of the kind of limited cultural exposure you find in impoverished, segregated neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods are the direct result of American policy.”

Coates makes an excellent point. And instead of taking offense at First Lady Obama's words, I would rather see a shift in the careers we value as a culture and a call for educational and economic policies that expose young people to a wide array of career opportunities and give them the skills and means to actually pursue those careers. I would love to see more young black children aspiring to be the next Alexa Canady or Neil Tyson deGrasse. Why can't young black children dream of being hip-hop artists, basketball players, neurosurgeons and astrophysicists?

Empowered by Personal Responsibility

In calling for young people to work hard and for people to take action to ensure our schools are as great as they can be, the first couple were not pretending that racism and other limitations don't exist. In fact, President Obama acknowledged these limitations:

“We've got no time for excuses—not because the bitter legacies of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they haven't. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; that's still out there.”

In spite of slavery, Jim Crow and persistent racism, the president doesn't want to hear any excuses about why young, black people can't succeed academically. I understand why Coates and Bogado bristled at the president's words about young people not making excuses and First Lady Obama saying that “too many of our young people just can't be bothered,” which sounds a lot like writing “too many of our young people” off for being lazy.


But consider this: If racism and socioeconomic disadvantages aren't going any where, should young, black people just wait for the right policies to magically make it all better? No. Could the president do more policy-wise to ensure that young black people have access to quality education and gainful employment? Yes. But policies aren't the only things that will create the conditions to have young, black people succeed. There is a place for and long history of encouraging young people to have “grit” that resilient, persistent, tenacious quality that Angela Lee Duckworth argues has young people succeed in spite of racism, socioeconomic disadvantage and everything else that conspires to hold some young people down. Personal responsibility and good policy work well together. They are part of the recipe that has had the Obamas and dare I say Coates and Bogado be successful in their respective endeavors.


Climate Change: One Disaster at a Time


Hess Station on 4th Ave between Union and Sackett, Brookly, NY. Craig Ruttle/AP PhotoBy Lucinda Holt 

The Pickaninnies in the Northeast weathered Hurricane Sandy—the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. When I say “weathered,” I mean some of us were hold up inside, while heavy rains and winds up to 80 miles per hour raged outside. We then spent days without power, Internet or other modern-day amenities. I feel lucky to have spent a few nights without power, having long conversations with my seven-year-old daughter and reading with her by candlelight. There was a pleasant simplicity to those days without power that we seldom experience in our modern lives. All in all, the storm could have been much worse for us, and I get that we were very fortunate, especially when I see and hear the stories of devastation caused by downed trees and flooding. 

 I was one of the lucky ones; I experienced none of the loss that so many people are reeling from. But in the days following the storm, I experienced a kind of scarcity that I have only known from images flickering across a screen. I don’t mean the dire scarcity of waiting for hours or days for U.N. trucks to deliver food, but a 70s style gas scarcity. Until I’d spent hours and hours and hours waiting for gasoline post-Hurricane Sandy, scarcity had just been an abstraction to me. This experience has given me an unsettling glimpse of the future—a future where “once in a century” storms come more and more frequently and we end up dealing with this kind of destruction and lack more and more often.

Scarcity in the Land of Plenty

My quest for gas started when the quarter of a tank of gas in my compact car, which can get just about 40 miles per gallon on the highway, only went so far after Hurricane Sandy. My car sips gas! But by the time I had driven around looking for some place with power to charge my phone and computer and then driven from New Jersey to New York to be surrounded by the love and comfort of my Brooklyn crew, my gas gauge was on empty. Normally this wouldn't have been a cause for alarm, but there was no gas to be found.

All but two gas stations I passed were closed. The two gas stations that were open had lines that seemed to be a mile long. I thought hopefully to myself, By the time we get to Brooklyn, we’ll be able to find gas. Once in Brooklyn, I didn’t see one open gas station. Orange cones sat in front of pumps, and yellow “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape roped off the periphery of gas station after gas station. 

I heard from several people that by Sunday things should be back to normal in terms of getting gas. Someone else said, “Well, this isn’t really about a shortage. There’s plenty of gas, but they couldn’t get the gas here during the hurricane with the harbors closed.” Yes, and yes, but the fact that there is plenty of gas waiting to get into a New Jersey harbor didn't change the fact that so little of it was at the pumps. 

I did eventually find an open Hess station in my sister's neighborhood in Brooklyn. Gas was flowing again! I decided then that I would come back later when the lines had died down. On Friday at 4 a.m., I couldn't sleep and had the brilliant idea to go get gas, assuming the line would be shorter. With my gas gauge on E and that glowing, angry orange gas-pump icon telling me I had a limited number of miles to drive, I drove by the Hess station. It was already packed, which seemed like a good sign. People were getting gas, and I wanted to be one of those people. I drove down in search of the end of the line of cars leading to the gas station. Google Maps told me the distance from the end of the line to the gas station was .7 miles to be precise. 

I didn’t have anything else to do at 4:30 a.m. in the morning, so I parked behind the last car in the line. Every 10 to 20 minutes, we would all start up our cars and drive 10 feet. That’s how quickly the line was moving. By the time I was two blocks from the gas station, one of those little police vehicles came down the line, stopping briefly to tell each driver something. When I rolled my window down, the officer stopped just long enough to say, “They’ve run out of gas.” It was 8:45 a.m. I was exhausted. My little car was going to run out of gas, and I was ready to cry. 

Three Cheers for Gas

After dinner on Friday, my sister and I went back to the Hess station to find out when they were expecting the next tanker full of gasoline. Two hours. That's what the the sign on the gas station's convenience store window said. According to some people waiting with their empty plastic gasoline containers, the sign had been up for an hour, and the woman in the convenience store said she had spoken with the driver of the tanker and he was on his way from New Jersey. This made me hopeful. 

The line of people waiting was shorter than the car line. Knowing that standing in line to get gas in a container would be my best bet, I parked near the gas station. I could wait an hour in a line in 44-degree temperatures for a tanker to arrive. I could wait however long it took to move up the line and fill a container with five gallons of gas. I’d done it before and had to do it again. Besides, this line of a hundred people seemed more manageable than the line I'd waited in earlier that morning.

It was a long few hours, chatting with strangers, exchanging stories and moving around to stay warm. By 9:30 p.m. we heard police sirens. New York’s finest barreled into the gas station, escorting the first of three fuel tankers that showed up that night. The line of people erupted into cheers as the tanker pulled into the gas station. When the truck driver got out, you would have thought he had come to personally pump gas into our cars the way we screamed and clapped for him. 

I was at a gas station cheering for a tanker of gasoline—a tanker full of the same fossil fuels responsible for warming temperatures and more powerful hurricanes later in the year. The irony of cheering for gasoline was not lost on me, but I cheered with the best of them. By 3 a.m., I had gotten gas and filled my car with five gallons of gas. 

Voting for a Hospitable Planet

As I type this with the smell of gas wafting up from my hands that I’ve washed over and over and over again and the fatigue of a combined 12 hours spent waiting for gas, I am clear that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is just a taste of what the future might look like if we don’t change course now. It's one thing to spend time feeling bad about deforestation or polar bears swimming for miles and miles because the ice caps are melting, and quite another to realize that “saving the planet” isn’t about saving Mother Earth. The planet will be fine if massive hurricanes rage or sea levels rise significantly. The Earth will go on, but we are the ones who suffer in great and small ways when every year there is a “storm of the century” and severe drought affects 80 percent of the country. The apocalypse the world has been expecting for millennia may not be one global event, but the accretion of one massive disaster after another—tsunami, hurricane, earthquake, drought.

On Tuesday, I’ll be voting for Barack Obama—the man who announced new stricter fuel efficiency standards back in August. By 2025, cars are supposed to get an average of 54.5 miles per gallon. This is a step in the right direction when it comes to reducing fuel emissions, but it’s not nearly as ambitious as standards in other countries. But I can’t expect President Obama to wave his magic wand and fix everything. It’s taken a long time for us to warm up the climate, and it will take some time—which we don’t have much of—and concerted effort on all of our parts to reduce the gases that contribute to climate change. If we’re lucky, we’ll have an opportunity to hold our dear president’s and Congress’ feet to the fire and push them all to make significant changes—changes that can make the Earth a more liveable and verdant place for our children and future generations.


Military Weapons for All?

By Lucinda Holt

I grew up in Texas—a state proud of its gun culture and steeped in the belief that one is not truly free unless one has the right to protect him-or herself with a gun. But I’ve never fired a gun or even held one in my hand. I’ve heard family stories of my grandmother or great-aunt wielding a pistol after some man has done her wrong. These are stories of guns taken up in the heat of passion, which is probably not the time to be using a gun in my opinion. But these stories have been told and retold with pride—pride in a woman’s ability to stand up for herself and not take stuff from anybody. Feminine, gun-wielding power not withstanding, I doubt I ever will touch a gun. I have no desire to be near a gun, and I pray that I’m never in a situation involving a gun.  

While I feel strongly about not wanting to use or own a gun, I completely understand that some of my fellow citizens want to own guns. We all have that right guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Specific laws about guns vary from state to state, but if you want to use a gun for hunting or own a gun for protection, you can do that. But after the most recent senseless shooting in Aurora, Colorado at a movie theater, I can’t understand why we aren’t calling for stronger gun control laws.

While the investigation into the shooting is ongoing, it has been reported that James Holmes walked into the movie theater with four legally purchased guns: two glocks, a shotgun and an AR-15 assault rifle. The assault rifle had an ammunition magazine in it that would allow the shooter to get off 50 or 60 rounds in a minute. Should ordinary citizens be able to purchase weapons and ammunition with this kind of power? Holmes was able to kill 12 people and injure 60 others in a very short period of time all because he had a very powerful weapon. These weapons were designed for the military. I can’t imagine why a civilian would need the capacity to shoot 50 or 60 rounds in a minute. Is that necessary for hunting? If an intruder broke into your home, you wouldn’t need 50 or 60 rounds to take him down.

It’s clear to me that we need better gun control laws, but there have only been a few tepid calls for stronger gun control laws after this most recent tragic shooting. Those calls have been met with silence from elected officials. I know no one wants to anger the National Rifle Association, especially in an election year, but we will continue to have horrific shootings when just about anyone can walk into a gun shop and legally purchase semi-automatic rifles and order high-capacity ammunition magazines online.


Black History: It’s About More Than a Few Notable Negroes

Graphic by NewsOne.com
By Lucinda Holt

Recently I received a letter from my daughter’s teacher explaining that her class would be “introduced to all of the famous African Americans who have shaped our lives and country.” I bristled at “all of the famous African Americans” and resisted the urge to write an indignant “Dear Well-Meaning-First-Grade-Teacher” letter where I explained that history can’t be reduced to a list of famous people—no matter how comprehensive you imagine it is.

History isn’t a simple thing. What was once Negro History Week (Thank you, Carter G. Woodson) has been Black History Month for the past 36 years, but even in a leap year, February doesn’t have enough days to amply teach the complex history of people of African descent in the Americas. The focus on a few notable African Americans seems like a good place to start, but isn’t that where educating American children about black people has been stuck since the 1980s? Am I expecting too much of history lessons in first grade? So maybe six-and seven-year-olds aren’t ready to learn about the complexities of the relationship between Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson or the ethically questionable actions that led to the use of Henrietta Lacks’s cells in so many medical breakthroughs over the past 60 years. But they can handle more than Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream.

Instead of complaining about what Black History Month at my daughter’s school could be, here’s what I plan to do:
  1. Thank my daughter’s teacher. I have to give my daughter’s teacher—who is of European descent—some credit. She is having each student do a report on an African American of note. The students will then dress up as their historical or notable figure and present their report to the class on a special day when all families are invited to attend. (There are six children of African descent in my daughter’s class of 19 students. The thought of having the other 13 dress up as black people makes me nervous. But, these kids are too young to know Al Jolson, so I’ll let that go. And truth be told, what my daughter’s teacher has them doing is a lot better than the Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas posters that got trotted out in February when I was in elementary school.)

  3. Read two books selected by my daughter to her class: Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine (with amazing illustrations by Kadir Nelson) and The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. (My daughter also loves Kadir Nelson’s Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans, but one of her classmates has already shared this book with the class.)

  5. Bring a picture of my great-grandmother Lucinda Amelia Baker to share with my daughter’s class. This picture of my great-grandmother, after whom I’m named, was taken at the turn of the 20th century and features her standing tall and looking straight into the camera. I want them to see a beautiful black woman in a gorgeous dress, hat and gloves. I want them to know that she was a teacher who traveled around teaching in “colored schools.” I want them to know that she traveled around because black people were desperate for teachers then, because so many black people wanted to learn.

I’ll probably be on the verge of tears at that point, because 110 years after my great-grandmother started teaching, all of that self-determination and passion for learning during Jim Crow has been reduced to apathy for far too many black people, and I find that heartbreaking. But just maybe sharing my great-grandmother’s story will fan the flames of that love of learning in some child in my daughter’s class, and if I’m lucky they’ll at least have a sense that black history is so much more than learning about a few notable negroes.