Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald rose to the occasion with their paintings of the former president and first lady, while—importantly—continuing their radical projects in black portraiture.
It was fantastic and yes, grab a tissue…. (thank you, Annie Butterfield for sharing!)
To commemorate President Obama’s last day in office, Ellen took a look back at some of her favorite moments with President Obama and the First Lady.
JAN. 29, 2016
CreditZach Gibson/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will move on Friday to require companies to report to the federal government what they pay employees by race, gender and ethnicity, part of a push by President Obama to crack down on firms that pay women less for doing the same work as men.
The new rules, Mr. Obama’s latest bid to use his executive power to address a priority of his that Congress has resisted acting on, would mandate that companies with 100 employees or more include salary information on a form they already submit annually that reports employees’ sex, age and job groups.
“Too often, pay discrimination goes undetected because of a lack of accurate information about what people are paid,” said Jenny Yang, the chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which will publish the proposed regulation jointly with the Department of Labor. “We will be using the information that we’re collecting as one piece of information that can inform our investigations.”
The requirement would expand on an executive order Mr. Obama issuednearly two years ago that called for federal contractors to submit salary information for women and men. Ms. Yang said the rules would be completed in September, with the first reports due a year later.
“Bridging the stubborn pay gap between men and women in the work force has proven to be very challenging,” said Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, noting that the median wage for women amounts to 79 percent of that for men. “We have seen progress, but it isn’t enough.”
White House officials said that the requirement was intended to bolster the government’s ability to penalize companies that engage in discriminatory pay practices and to encourage businesses to police themselves better and correct such disparities.
Marc Benioff, the chief executive of Salesforce.com, whom the White House enlisted to help make its case for the rules, said that while he “never intended” to pay women less than men, he had discovered that his company was doing so after two female employees approached him about it.
“We’re never going to solve this issue of pay inequality if C.E.O.s like myself and others continue to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in their own corporations,” Mr. Benioff said in a conference call organized by the White House, adding that he was spending $3 million to close the pay gap at his firm.
Mr. Obama was also planning on Friday to renew his call for Congress to pass a measure allowing women to sue for punitive damages for pay discrimination. Republicans have repeatedly blocked such legislation, arguing that it would lead to frivolous lawsuits.
Republicans have sharply criticized Mr. Obama’s moves on pay equity, saying that gender discrimination is already illegal and that additional steps are not necessary.
Jan. 7, 2016 THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE epidemic of gun violence in our country is a crisis. Gun deaths and injuries constitute one of the greatest threats to public health and to the safety of the American people. Every year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children. We’re the only advanced nation on earth that sees this kind of mass violence with this frequency.
A national crisis like this demands a national response. Reducing gun violence will be hard. It’s clear that common-sense gun reform won’t happen during this Congress. It won’t happen during my presidency. Still, there are steps we can take now to save lives. And all of us — at every level of government, in the private sector and as citizens — have to do our part.
We all have a responsibility.
On Tuesday, I announced new steps I am taking within my legal authority to protect the American people and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people. They include making sure that anybody engaged in the business of selling firearms conducts background checks, expanding access to mental health treatment and improving gun safety technology. These actions won’t prevent every act of violence, or save every life — but if even one life is spared, they will be well worth the effort.
Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.
All of us have a role to play — including gun owners. We need the vast majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us after every mass shooting, who support common-sense gun safety and who feel that their views are not being properly represented, to stand with us and demand that leaders heed the voices of the people they are supposed to represent.
The gun industry also needs to do its part. And that starts with manufacturers.
As Americans, we hold consumer goods to high standards to keep our families and communities safe. Cars have to meet safety and emissions requirements. Food has to be clean and safe. We will not end the cycle of gun violence until we demand that the gun industry take simple actions to make its products safer as well. If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should also make sure she can’t pull the trigger of a gun.
Yet today, the gun industry is almost entirely unaccountable. Thanks to the gun lobby’s decades of efforts, Congress has blocked our consumer products safety experts from being able to require that firearms have even the most basic safety measures. They’ve made it harder for the government’s public health experts to conduct research on gun violence. They’ve guaranteed that manufacturers enjoy virtual immunity from lawsuits, which means that they can sell lethal products and rarely face consequences. As parents, we wouldn’t put up with this if we were talking about faulty car seats. Why should we tolerate it for products — guns — that kill so many children each year?
At a time when manufacturers are enjoying soaring profits, they should invest in research to make guns smarter and safer, like developing microstamping for ammunition, which can help trace bullets found at crime scenes to specific guns. And like all industries, gun manufacturers owe it to their customers to be better corporate citizens by selling weapons only to responsible actors.
All of us need to demand leaders brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies. All of us need to stand up and protect our fellow citizens. All of us need to demand that governors, mayors and our representatives in Congress do their part.
Change will be hard. It won’t happen overnight. But securing a woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight. The liberation of African-Americans didn’t happen overnight. Advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans has taken decades’ worth of work.
Those moments represent American democracy, and the American people, at our best. Meeting this crisis of gun violence will require the same relentless focus, over many years, at every level. If we can meet this moment with that same audacity, we will achieve the change we seek. And we will leave a stronger, safer country to our children.
The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
President Obama hopes to make gun control the top issue of his final year in office, saying Americans aren’t more violent than other people but they “have more deadly weapons to act out their rage.”
In an interview published Tuesday in GQ magazine, Mr. Obama said easy access to guns is “the only variable” between the U.S. and other developed countries.
“The main thing that I’ve been trying to communicate over the last several of these horrific episodes is that, contrary to popular belief, Americans are not more violent than people in other developed countries,” Mr. Obama said. “But they have more deadly weapons to act out their rage.”
Asked by interviewer Bill Simmons of HBO if gun control will be the “dominant” issue on his agenda next year, Mr. Obama replied, “I hope so.”
“We have this weird habit in this culture of mourning and, you know, 48, 72 hours of wall-to-wall coverage, and then … suddenly we move on,” Mr. Obama said. “And I will do everything I can to make sure that there’s a sustained attention paid to this thing.”
The president has begun to speak out about gun regulations more forcefully in recent months, following mass shootings at a church in South Carolina and a community college in Oregon. He said in the magazine article that the aftermath of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut in December 2012 was “the worst few days of my presidency.”
Following that shooting, the administration pushed Congress to enact tighter background checks on gun purchases, but the effort failed in the Senate.
“We knew it was a stretch, just because of the politics of Congress and the NRA. But we had to try,” Mr. Obama said. “In the absence of a movement politically in which people say, ‘Enough is enough,’ we’re going to continue to see, unfortunately, these tragedies take place.”
The interview was conducted in the White House, apparently sometime in October. Mr. Obama said in his seventh year in office, he feels “looser” and more confident.
“There’s no doubt that the longer I’m in this job, the more confident I am about the decisions I’m making and more knowledgeable about the responses I can expect,” he said. “And as a consequence, you end up being looser. There’s not much I have not seen at this point, and I know what to expect, and I can anticipate more than I did before.”
He said when he leaves office, he doesn’t want an appointment to the Supreme Court, but would be interested in becoming part owner of an NBA team or the league commissioner.
“Supreme Court justices, obviously, are hugely important,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t have the temperament to sit in relative solitude and just opine and write from the bench. I want to be in the action a little bit more.”
The president revealed he has a virtual driving range in the White House to practice his golf swing, and said he hasn’t smoked a cigarette in five years.
“I made a promise that once health care passed, I would never have a cigarette again. And I have not,” he said.
The new initiative is an awaited counterpart to last year’s initiative for young men, ‘My Brother’s Keeper.’
On Friday, a long-awaited answer was delivered at an all-day forum at Wake Forest University dedicated to the issues facing women and girls of color. The White House Council on Women and Girls announced a five-year initiative that will include $118 million in public and private partnerships devoted to empowering women and girls and lifting them out of poverty.
The conference centered around a White House report, Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color, that focuses on education, health care, criminal justice, and economic opportunity, among other issues. While gains have been made for marginalized American women in recent years, the report noted, significant inequity and barriers to success remain.
While the average woman makes just 79 cents for every dollar a man earns, for example, the gender pay gap is even starker for women of color. Black women earn just 60 cents per dollar earned by the average white man, while Latino women earn only 55 cents. In spite of representing a smaller percentage of the overall U.S. population than do their white counterparts, black and Native American girls are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. Girls of color are more than twice as likely than white girls to become pregnant as teens, decreasing their odds of earning a high school diploma.
Obama addressed the inequalities facing women and girls of color in September during a speech before the Congressional Black Caucus, foreshadowing the initiative announced Friday.
“When women of color aren’t given the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential, we all lose out on their talents; we’re not as good a country as we can be,” Obama said. “So we’re going to have to close those economic gaps so that hardworking women of all races, and black women in particular, can support families and strengthen communities and contribute to our country’s success.”
A letter and a viewpoint in recent opinion pages of your newspaper seem to indicate there is wide support in Lincoln County for gun policies set forth by the National Rifl e Association. This certainly doesn’t hold true for this (unarmed) Newport resident. In the Nov. 6 edition, Bob Spelbrink wrote from Siletz that State Rep. David Gomberg, representing the central coast, was wrong to vote in favor of Oregon Senate Bill 941 last summer because it is “flawed” and, as Mr. Spelbrink and the NRA insist, it “won’t stop a killer.” The bill simply requires that buyers of guns from private sellers undergo a background check, the same as those who buy guns from a dealer. Mr. Spelbrink also favors allowing citizens to carry guns in schools, saying the massacre in Roseburg last month could have been avoided if any of the nine people murdered had been armed. Would Mr. Spelbrink have dared to try to draw a concealed weapon against the crazed killer in that community college classroom? He also neglected to note that police were on the scene minutes after the shooting began and that the killer took his own life. In a Nov. 4 viewpoint headlined “Some facts about guns in America,” three men signed a letter that chastised President Obama for traveling to Roseburg on Oct. 9 “to share the spotlight with his anti-gun rhetoric.” They also criticized the community college campus’ gun-free restriction, and the “media for controlling the narrative for what they tell us and what they don’t.” The media, namely all the major TV networks and state and national newspapers covering the event, reported the existence of a few hundred people protesting the president’s visit (to a heavily pro-gun town where about 20 percent of its citizens live in poverty), others welcoming him, and that his only comment after meeting with some 40 survivors and families of the victims was, “Today it’s about the families. I’ve got some very strong feelings about this. These occasions always remind me that anyone could be the victim. We’re going to come together as a country to see to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place so regularly.” The media reported one of those attending the private presidential meeting as saying “It was all about families.” Another said “It wasn’t a discussion, it was a hug.” The three men say that as concealed carry permits have increased, murder rates have fallen. Their source for this information is the Crime Prevention Research Center, a far-right group founded by Fox News commentator John R. Lott, Jr. They also stated that FBI statistics show guns are used 80 times more often to prevent crimes than they are to takelives. This is reasonable, but it doesn’t prove that guns in the hands of citizens account for this. They also say that 99.9 percent of all guns in America are not used in violent crime, and they list other reasons to own guns for defense, and they warn that the “left wants…to disarm America to insure a compliant population.” Really? Is this really what’s behind attempts by reasonable and serious citizens to stop the killing every year in America of some 30,000-33,000 men, women and children? Think about this: More Americans have died from guns since 1968 than on battlefi elds of all wars in American history. And more Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in every terrorist attack and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined (Nicholis Kristof, NY Times, Aug. 26, 2015). George Collins is a resident of Newport.
Clinton has faced all manner of hate since entering frontline politics – often from women just like her. Why? In an extract from her new book, the activist-writer looks at the hopes held for the 2016 presidential frontrunner
I know Hillary Clinton mostly in the way we all do, as a public figure in good times and bad, one who became part of our lives and even our dreams. I once introduced her to a thousand women in a hotel ballroom. Standing behind her as she spoke, I could see the binder on the lectern with her speech carefully laid out – and also that she wasn’t reading from it. Instead, she was responding to people who had spoken before her, addressing activists and leaders she saw in the audience, and putting their work in a national and global context – all in such clear and graceful sentences that no one would have guessed she hadn’t written them in advance. It was an on-the-spot tour de force, perhaps the best I’ve ever heard.
But what clinched it for me was listening to her speak after a performance of Eve Ensler’s play Necessary Targets, based on interviews with women in one of the camps set up to treat women who had endured unspeakable suffering, humiliation, and torture in the ethnic wars within the former Yugoslavia. To speak to an audience that had just heard these heartbreaking horrors seemed impossible for anyone, and Hillary had the added burden of representing the Clinton administration, which had been criticised for slowness in stopping this genocide. Nonetheless, she rose in the silence, with no possibility of preparing, and began to speak quietly – about suffering, about the importance of serving as witnesses to suffering. Most crucial of all, she admitted this country’s slowness in intervening. By the time she sat down, she had brought the audience together and given us all a shared meeting place: the simple truth.
When she left the White House and decided to run for the US Senate from her new home in New York State – something no first lady, not even Eleanor Roosevelt, had dared to do – I was blindsided by the hostility toward her from some women. They called her cold, calculating, ambitious, and even “unfeminist” for using political experience gained as a wife. These were not the rightwing extremists who had accused the Clintons of everything from perpetrating real estate scams in Arkansas to murdering a White House aide with whom Hillary supposedly had an affair. On the contrary, they mostly agreed with her on the issues, yet some were so opposed to her that they came to be called Hillary Haters. It took me weeks of listening on the road to begin to understand why.
In living rooms from Dallas to Chicago, I noticed that the Hillary Haters often turned out to be the women most like her: white, well educated, and married to or linked with powerful men. They were by no means all such women, but their numbers were still surprising. Also, they hadn’t objected to sons, brothers, and sons-in-law using family connections and political names to further careers – say, the Bushes or the Rockefellers or the Kennedys – yet they objected to Hillary doing the same. The more they talked, the more it was clear that their own husbands hadn’t shared power with them.
If Hillary had a husband who regarded her as an equal – who had always said this country got “two presidents for the price of one” – it only dramatised their own lack of power and respect. After one long night and a lot of wine, one woman told me that Hillary’s marriage made her aware of just how unequal hers was.
Haters condemn her for staying with her husband despite his well-publicised affairs. It turned out that many of them had suffered a faithless husband, too, but lacked the ability or the will to leave. They wanted Hillary to punish a powerful man in public on their behalf. I reminded them that presidents from Roosevelt to Kennedy had had affairs, but the haters identified with those first ladies and assumed they couldn’t leave. It was Hillary’s very strength and independence that made them blame her. When I tried describing the public condemnation Hillary would have suffered had she abandoned her duties in the White House for such a personal reason, this changed the minds of some – but not many.
Finally, I resorted to explaining my own reasons for thinking the Clintons just might be, in Shakespeare’s phrase, “the marriage of true minds”. Yet when I brought this up, some Hillary Haters became even angrier. The fact that Bill valued Hillary as an equal partner – and vice versa – seemed to make them more aware that their own marriages were different. It dawned on me that if a sexual connection is the only bond between a husband and wife, an affair can make her feel replaceable – and perhaps cause her to be replaced. This was not only emotionally painful but devastating when it also meant losing social identity and economic security as well. I began to understand that Hillary represented the very public, in-your-face opposite of the precarious and unequal lives that some women were living. In a classic sense, they were trying to kill the messenger.
Their projections made me realise that I was projecting, too. I couldn’t understand why Hillary wanted to go back to Washington, and so campaigned for the Senate in the first place. Why ask for six more years with a target painted on her back? It seemed quixotic and self-punishing, especially now that she had such great alternatives as creating her own foundation, and supporting female empowerment globally.
Finally, I had to admit that the latter would have been my choice, not hers. If she was willing to face a degree of combat that I couldn’t even imagine, I should celebrate.
As my own part of her senate campaign, I began to invite Hillary Haters to the living room events where Hillary herself was fundraising. To my surprise, all but a few turned around once they had spent time in her presence. This woman they had imagined as smart, cold, and calculating turned out to be smart, warm, and responsive. Instead of someone who excused a husband’s behaviour, she was potentially, as one said, “a great girlfriend” who had their backs.
They also saw her expertise. For instance, George Soros, the Hungarian-born financier and philanthropist, introduced her in his Manhattan living room by saying, “Hillary knows more about eastern Europe than any other American.”
After she was elected to the US Senate on her own merits, she worked constructively, even with old enemies there, and was solidly re-elected to a second term. I began to hear the first serious talk of Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate. By the time the election of 2008 was in the wind, she had a higher popularity rating than any other potential candidate, Republican or Democrat.
Whenever I was on the road before the primaries, I saw a revival of this unconscious coalition in audiences that were interested in politics as never before. There was enthusiasm for these two new faces that stood for a shared worldview. In audiences from very blue states to very red ones, support was more like a Rorschach test than a division by race and sex. For instance, 94% of black Democrats had a favourable view of Hillary Clinton, compared to an 88% favourable view of Obama. After all, he was new on the national stage and the Clintons had earned a reputation for racial inclusiveness that caused African American novelist Toni Morrison to famously call Bill Clinton “the first black president”. Both white and black women were more likely than their male counterparts to support Hillary Clinton – and in my observation, also more likely to believe that she couldn’t win. Male and female black voters were more likely than white voters to support Obama and also to believe he couldn’t win. Each group was made pessimistic by the depth of the bias they had experienced.
Some mostly white audiences seemed to hope this country could expiate past sins by electing Obama. As one white music teacher rose in an audience to say, “Racism puts me in prison, too – a prison of guilt.” Many parents of little girls, black and white, were taking them to Clinton rallies so they would know that they, too, could be president. Older women especially saw Hillary Clinton as their last and best chance to see a woman in the White House. And not just any woman, as one said: “This isn’t just about biology. We don’t want a Margaret Thatcher, who cut off milk for schoolchildren.”
They wanted Hillary Clinton because she supported the majority interests of women. On the other hand, many young, black, single mothers said they supported Obama because their sons needed a positive black male role model.
But the press, instead of reporting on these shared and often boundary-crossing views as an asset for the Democratic party – after all, Democratic voters would have to unify around one of these candidates eventually – responded with disappointment and even condescension. They seemed to want newsworthy division. Soon frustrated reporters were creating conflict by turning any millimetre of difference between Hillary Clinton and Obama into a mile. Since there was almost none in content, they emphasised ones of form. Clinton was entirely summed up by sex, and Obama was entirely summed up by race. Journalists sounded like sports fans who arrived for a football game and were outraged to find all the players on the same team.
It dawned on me that in the abolitionist and suffragist past, a universal suffragist movement of black men and white and black women also had been consciously divided by giving the vote to black men only – and then limiting even that with violence, impossible literacy tests, and poll taxes. Now, this echo of divide-and-conquer in the past was polarising the constituencies of two barrier-breaking “firsts”, never mind that the candidates were almost identical in content. As in history, a potentially powerful majority was being divided by an entrenched powerful few.
Maybe attributing a divide-and-conquer motive was unfair in a country that treats everything like a horse race, but there had to be some reason why the press did not consider what I witnessed on the road – delight in two “firsts” with similar purpose – worth reporting.
Soon, a person or a group’s choice of one candidate was assumed to be a condemnation of the other. I could feel fissures opening up between people who had been allies on issues for years. The long knives of reporters, plus a few shortsighted partisans in both campaigns, deepened those fissures until they bled.
As the New York primary approached, I certainly wasn’t against either candidate, but I still had to decide who to vote for. So I sat down with a yellow pad and made a list of pros and cons for each.
The only obvious difference was experience. This primary race was a rare case in which the female candidate was more experienced in big-time political conflict than the male candidate. She was more familiar with extremists for whom there was no middle ground. I knew that outside the women’s movement, I would be better liked if I chose Obama. Women are always better liked if we sacrifice ourselves for something bigger – and something bigger always means including men, even though something bigger for men doesn’t usually mean including women. In choosing Hillary, I would be seen as selfish for supporting a woman “like” me. But that was a warning, too. Needing approval is a female cultural disease, and often a sign of doing the wrong thing. There was one more note on my yellow pad. Because I still believed it was too soon for Hillary or any woman to be accepted as commander-in-chief, I wrote: If I were Obama, I would not feel personally betrayed by lack of support from someone like me, a new ally. If I were Hillary Clinton, I might feel betrayed by a longtime supporter who left me for a new face. In other words: Obama didn’t need me to win. Hillary Clinton might need me to lose.
Once again the road educated me – by showing me what voters were subjected to. I began to think that the wait for a female president might be even longer than I imagined. On campuses, I saw young men wearing T-shirts that said “Too bad OJ didn’t marry Hillary” (all caps). I watched as MSNBC political analyst Tucker Carlson said of Hillary Clinton: “I have often said when she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.”
A woman reporter for the Washington Post wrote about a Hillary suit jacket that disclosed a bit of cleavage and called it “a provocation”. No such charge had been levelled at male presidential candidates, from John F Kennedy to Obama, when they were photographed on the beach in bathing suits. About Hillary, Rush Limbaugh asked: “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older on a daily basis?”
No wonder such misogyny was almost never named by the media. It was the media.
In making my list about the pluses and minuses of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, I discovered I was angry. I was angry because it was OK for two generations of Bush sons to inherit power from a political patriarchy, but not OK for one Clinton wife to claim experience and inherit power from a husband whose full political partner she had been for 20 years. I was angry because young men in politics were treated like rising stars, but young women were treated like – well, young women. I was angry about all the women candidates who put their political skills on hold to raise children – and all the male candidates who didn’t. I was angry about the human talent that was lost just because it was born into a female body, and the mediocrity that was rewarded because it was born into a male one. And I was angry because the media took racism seriously – or pretended to – but with sexism, they rarely bothered even to pretend. Resentment of women still seemed safe, whether it took the form of demonising black, single mothers or making routine jokes about powerful women being ball-busters.
Once Obama won, a few wise people in his and Hillary’s campaigns – who had been in touch all along – knew there had to be a healing. With my friend and colleague Judy Gold, who was in charge of women’s issues for Obama’s campaign, I planned what we knew would be the first of many healing meetings. There were heartbroken older women who now knew they would never live to see a woman in the White House. There were younger ones who had grown up being told they could be anything, then been shocked by Hillary’s treatment and defeat. African American women and men who had supported Hillary also worried that some would punish them for working across racial lines. Oprah Winfrey and other women in public life who had supported Obama paid a price, too. Some criticised them for not supporting Hillary Clinton, since women were their main supporters and constituency. This was also true for Karen Mulhauser, a white woman and an important and longtime feminist leader, who supported Obama. I had written and spoken in support of their right to choose Obama, and now they, too, helped to heal the wounds of Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
As my last campaign effort, I made hundreds of buttons that said: HILLARY SUPPORTS OBAMA SO DO I. Then I got on the plane to Washington, went to join the crowd at her historic and generous concession speech – in which she pledged her wholehearted support to Obama – and distributed the buttons to the audience. They were in great demand.
This is an edited extract from My Life On The Road, by Gloria Steinem, published by Oneworld, at £14.95. To buy it for £10.47, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.
June 23, 2015 by Kimberle Crenshaw
In 2012, 6-year-old Salecia Johnson was arrested and handcuffed in a Georgia school for having a temper tantrum. In 2007, 16-year-old Pleajhai Mervin was arrested after she dropped cake on the floor in her California school and failed to clean it up to a school security officer’s satisfaction.
Tanisha Denard was arrested at her Los Angeles public high school for being tardy and wound up in solitary confinement. And last year, after 12-year-old Mikia Hutchings scribbled “hi” on a locker room wall at her Georgia middle school, she faced suspension and criminal charges for the childhood prank.
All four girls were Black.
These girls, and millions of their sisters, might well have been the students envisioned by President Obama when he spoke about the need “to tell every child in every neighborhood your life matters and we are committed to improving your life chances, as committed as we are to working on behalf of our own kids.” But girls such as Mikia, Pleajhai, Salecia and Tanisha, however, were unfortunately not the youth that President Obama had in mind when he gathered top civil rights leaders, captains of industry and notable celebrities to join forces to lift up the life chances of the nation’s disadvantaged youth in February of 2014.
The initiative Obama launched—My Brother’s Keeper (MBK)—is a $300 million public/private partnership designed to improve life outcomes only for men and boys of color. It targets resources and attention to youth at risk, but the glaring absence of girls suggests that they are not seen as “youth” or “at risk.”
Mikia, Pleajhai, Salecia and Tanisha represent millions of girls of color who are disproportionately disciplined in school. Black girls are six times more likely than their white female counterparts to be suspended, and suspension can lead to expulsion, placing these girls at high risk of low-wage work and unemployment, homelessness and incarceration. Like their male counterparts, they mature into adulthood facing increased odds of being marginalized in the workforce, subject to high rates of interpersonal violence and facing lowered health outcomes—some estimates suggest people of color experience health outcomes 30 to 40 percent poorer than white Americans.
While the president has personally emphasized the need to show Black boys that he cares about them, and the first lady has declared that “Black girls rock,” the lack of political commitment to address the obstacles that confront women and girls of color seems to arise from a belief that their brothers face such deeply disturbing barriers that women and girls must wait. The case for such trickle-down justice is often grounded in the narrow claim that the data show men and boys of color to be exceptionally disadvantaged—an argument that Georgetown law professor Paul Butler calls “Black male exceptionalism.”
The mantra is repeated so often that leaders, stakeholders and even excluded women have been led to believe that the exclusion of girls and women is not only justified but necessary. The actual data, however, suggest otherwise.
A study recently released by the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies—“Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced, and Underprotected”—reveals that while Black girls face some of the same challenges that destroy the life chances of their brothers, they also face many that are different.
Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 6.15.28 PMFor example, when it comes to disciplinary measures such as suspension and expulsion, Black girls face a higher level of racial disparity than their male counterparts. In Boston, for instance, Black girls were 12 times more likely to be suspended than white girls, while Black boys were only 7.4 times more likely to be suspended than their white male counterparts. In New York, Black girls were 53 times more likely to be expelled than white girls, while Black boys were expelled at a rate 10 times higher than white boys.
The nation needs a gender and racial-justice policy approach that embraces the concerns of boys and girls, men and women, to ensure that the structural factors affecting all people of color are highlighted and addressed. It is impossible to forward racial justice without also centering gender equity and to forward gender justice without centering racial equity.
zHJuwrrf_400x400Kimberlé Crenshaw is executive director and cofounder of the African American Policy Forum. A law professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School, she is a leading authority in civil rights, Black feminist legal theory, and race and the law. She is coeditor of Critical Race Theory: Key Documents That Shaped the Movement.
March 4, 2015 by Stephanie Hallett
The White House launched an initiative Tuesday aimed at combating girls’ reduced access to education around the globe. Let Girls Learn will use $250 million from the federal government and other sources, including private-sector donations, to fund programs dedicated to improving girls’ educational opportunities.
Said President Obama in announcing the initiative:
Wherever they live, whoever they are, every girl on this planet has value. Every girl on this planet deserves to be treated with dignity and equality. And that includes the chance to develop her mind and her talents, and to live a life of her own choosing, to chart her own destiny. That may be obvious to us, but we know it’s not obvious to everyone. Sixty-two million girls around the world who should be in school are not. That’s not by accident. It’s the direct result of barriers, large and small, that stand in the way of girls who want to learn.
Let Girls Learn is effectively an umbrella program for existing federal government initiatives focused on girls’ education. However, through First Lady Michelle Obama, Let Girls Learn is also partnering with the Peace Corps to work on the ground in communities where girls are too often denied an education.
The Peace Corps program will do three things: over the next six years, train community leaders in 11 countries to be advocates for girls’ education; fund projects that expand girls’ learning opportunities, such as building schools and launching technology camps; and train new Peace Corps Volunteers to champion girls’ learning initiatives around the world.
Other federal gender-related programs will receive new funding under Let Girls Learn, such as USAID’s Ethiopia initiative to end early, child and forced marriage. (See this blog post and the latest issue of Ms. magazine for more about child marriage in Ethiopia and elsewhere.) From the White House fact sheet on Let Girls Learn:
USAID is facilitating ‘community conversations’ with girls, their families and their community members [in Ethiopia] to discuss the effects of child, early and forced marriage and encourage them to build adolescent girls’ social, health and economic assets. Families are offered school supplies to help overcome the economic barriers to sending girls to school. And families who keep girls unmarried during the two-year program are awarded a sheep or a goat. An early evaluation of the project found that girls aged 10–14 in the experimental site were 90 percent less likely to be married at the end of the two-year program.
I come to this issue as a concerned citizen, but also as the leader of the world’s largest economy, and the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military. And I’m convinced that a world in which girls are educated is a safer, more stable, more prosperous place. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2015/03/04/girls-education-a-new-priority-for-the-white-house/