Obama’s Civil Rights Agenda

November 20, 2008

Hey everybody, this is Geoff.  I work at the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief and I’m a former student of Laura Beth’s.  I have not been writing for the blog lately because law school applications have consumed me.  With all of that thankfully behind me, I am excited to get back to blogging.

I am sure that you know about Change.gov, the website for the office of President-elect Obama.   What you may not know is that this page is already in its second iteration.  Obama’s team wiped the site of its substantive content — i.e. specific policy changes — five days ago and replaced it with a simple statement of change.  Bloggers have done a great job of cataloging the pre-wipe content.  For example, here is what the “Civil Rights” section of Change.gov looked like on November 7th.

Notice the text, “Strengthen Civil Rights Enforcement: Obama and Biden will reverse the politicization that has occurred in the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice. They will put an end to the ideological litmus tests used to fill positions within the Civil Rights Division.”  That language has been removed from the re-launched website, here.  There is also a new, much larger explanation of Obama’s GLBT-related policies.

This change is not very surprising, but it does raise a few questions.  First, why remove the old content entirely before changing it?  The act of taking down all of the issue-pages certainly raised flags here at the ACLU where we were wondering what sort of pushback could have caused Obama to do so.  Now that the page has been restored to a similar state, I am confident that this civil rights agenda will be stable going forward.

Second, what do you think about this language regarding employment discrimination?  “Combat Employment Discrimination: Obama and Biden will work to overturn the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that curtails racial minorities’ and women’s ability to challenge pay discrimination. They will also pass the Fair Pay Act, to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.” Laura Beth, what role can the executive branch play in helping to bolster plaintiffs’ standing to bring these types of lawsuits?  I don’t think the Department of Justice will be brining any cases of this sort, but I hope that I’m wrong.

In any event, there mere existence of this website is a positive development for the future of the executive branch.  Could anyone imagine Bush/Cheney launching a similar page in ’04?  Yikes.  I am just glad to see that transparency will rule the day over secrecy in the new administration.


Yay New Trier!

September 2, 2008

Did anyone think I would type those words?

So today a Rev. Meeks led a boycott on the first day of Chicago Public School’s academic calendar by bussing a bunch of kids (I think 200) from inner city-Chicago’s failing schools to the North Shore’s famous New Trier High School and a grammar school in the same district. New Trier is famous because it is one of the best high schools in the nation. You guessed it — it is in a very wealthy, very white area of suburban Chicago.

A fact sheet distributed by New Trier Township High School District 203 explained the complicated funding formula in Illinois, which relies heavily on property taxes to support schools. According to the fact sheet, the New Trier school district property wealth per student is $1.125 million compared to $150,000 in Chicago.

Last night I wondered what would happen and thought the best outcome would be for the New Trier parents, teachers, and children to welcome them with open arm and think of it as a teach-in. Let’s learn from and about each other. All kids deserve good schools. And guess what? That is exactly what they did! Somehow I suspect that if these busses started showing up every day the New Trier District would not continue their hospitality, but if this means they are for the tax sharing plan long proposed in IL, that would be awesome!

But those are longer term discussions and this certainly is getting a lot of attention around Chicago today that could affect those long term decisions.

For today, the “YAY New Trier” is for knowing that these kids would be coming and doing everything to make them feel welcome (there were cookies and greeters and signs). Now let’s work toward that big issue of equal education opportunity!


I didn’t think it was possible even though I did. . .

June 3, 2008

As the Obama nomination nears, I realize that (at some level) I really did not think an African-American person could be nominated by a major party to run for president in my lifetime.  I figured this out when I turned on CNN just now and Obama is 4 short and I realized in a new way — a concrete way — that it will be Obama (which I have been saying for weeks when I am not panicked).  Anyway, this led me to burst into tears.  The kids were like, “what???”  and I am just speechless.  Wowee.  

I am just so fricking proud of people in the US and Democrats in particular.  This is a huge step and while the pundits will want us to move straight ahead to the general election, we should spend a minute basking in the glow of this amazing achievement for all of us — deomcrats, republicans, whatever.  This is history; right vick?


Mildred Loving, RIP

May 6, 2008

Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court case that struck down Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, was my favorite case in law school, not just for its cool name, but for its implications for a constitutional jurisprudence of personal autonomy. Mildred Loving died on Friday at age 68. Her obituary in the Washington Post is worth reading.


Can’t imagine this on any college campus…

April 25, 2008

This would never happen today. I’m wondering: What’s caused our culture to change so much?


The violence worsens

April 23, 2008

At least seven people were killed in 36 shootings last weekend in Chicago, and 13 of the victims were CPS students, according to the Tribune. Chicago is not releasing death counts on a daily basis, so the actual count could be higher, the Trib reports. Meanwhile, the AP pegs the death toll at nine.

UPDATE 6:27 p.m. 4/23: And five more killings today.


Full of Sound and Fury: Racism Still Going Strong

April 22, 2008

In Macbeth, Act V, Scene V, Shakespeare gives us, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Yesterday Colorado State Legislator Doug Bruce succeeded in simultaneously embarrassing and insulting everyone in my state.  He was arguing against a measure that would legally bring in Mexican migrant workers to help our state’s farmers who have been experiencing seasonal labor shortages since 911. 

From the floor of the House, “I have read the bill twice (and) the more I read it, the more I dislike it,” Bruce said. “I’d like to have the opportunity to state at the microphone why I don’t think we need 5,000 illiterate peasants in Colorado.”

You don’t want to miss the full story on this.  After having time to reflect, he not only failed to apologize, but he confirmed, “There was nothing untrue about the statement.”

Sorry Mr. Shakespeare, sometimes the tale told by an idiot is signifying something; I’ll leave it to everyone out there to decide what it signifies for you.


Why aren’t more people paying attention…

April 16, 2008

… to the spate of poor, minority youth murdered in Chicago?

Here’s the latest news. The count of dead children is 24 so far this school year, after 34 last year.

Here’s two excellent columns Bob Herbert wrote last summer.

This is a bigger deal than NIU; this is a bigger deal than Virginia Tech. It’s time to pay attention. It pains me that so few people in our community are talking about this, or even seem aware of it.


IATs are here, there, everywhere

April 7, 2008

It could just be my own recent exposure to implicit association tests (IATs), but it seems like they’re getting more attention outside academia. Exhibit A: Nick Kristof’s column yesterday. (BTW, Kristof speaks this Thursday at 8 in Leverone!)

I’ve taken Harvard’s race IAT several times (and used it in an experiment for my thesis) but wasn’t aware of UChicago’s test on the shooter effect prior to Kristof’s column. Kristof writes that he was quicker to shoot armed blacks and took longer to holster his gun for unarmed ones. While I was also quicker to shoot armed blacks (649 vs. 707 milliseconds), I took longer to holster my gun for unarmed whites (739 vs. 712 ms). Any interpretations, folks?

A race IAT was a major component of my thesis for LB’s class last quarter. Based on a study at Stanford, which found that undergraduates exposed to the school’s sexual harassment policy displayed stronger automatic preference for men on a gender IAT, my thesis examined whether undergraduates at Northwestern exposed to the school’s hate speech code displayed stronger automatic preference for whites on a race IAT. The result: Nope.

More people should take IATs and consider their biases. Exposing others to these tests could help them better understand how their minds operate.


Just Genius

March 19, 2008

I just want to make clear that this speech is amazing and make it available here.

And, wow – an intelligent, grown-up conversation about race. Shocking. As you know, I think covert racial messages have been at play all along. I hope this ends the stupid conversation about race and begins a fruitful conversation about race and social justice. SOCIAL JUSTICE people.


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