The Official Blog of Dr. Jeremy Levitt

Black youth: Let them be recognized, not radicalized.

(Orlando Sentinel) Black youth protesting on the streets of America should be recognized and celebrated, not demonized. For four centuries, black youth have been the moral compass of the U.S.

Black youth have borne the brunt of violent oppression fighting enslavement, racial segregation and inequality from our landing in 1619 through the demise of Jim Crow in 1965 to the present. There would be no abolitionist crusade, civil-rights movement and ensuing anti-Apartheid and women’s rights movements without them.

In the 1960s, black youth internationalized America’s civil-rights movement by confronting racial tyranny and violence from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., and by staging Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins from Greensboro, N.C., to St. Augustine. They, too, were called “thugs” and terrorists, and many were brutally beaten, jailed, tortured and murdered fighting for equality and justice.

Most Americans considered the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his youthful followers to be anti-American troublemakers, traitors and communists. Not unlike today, they were spat on, beaten, hosed, gassed, attacked by dogs, unlawfully detained, terrorized and murdered by police and white citizens, begging the question: Who were and are the real thugs and terrorists?

Black youth have fought in every American war from the Revolutionary War in 1775 to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and ongoing military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant in the Middle East. They’ve acquired special training and skills while sacrificing life and limb to protect freedom and democracy at home and abroad. It’s in our interests to ensure that they succeed.

Black youth have earned the right to protest against systematic police abuse, and we must realize that not all protests must duplicate the placidity of the 1963 March on Washington. Not all resistance movements can or should be docile; some necessitate lively provocation. Even Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress included a military wing; yet he, like King, was a Nobel Peace laureate.

Unfortunately, unarmed black youth, especially young men, have endured the brunt of violent repression by police agencies across the country. Is such cruelty producing a national security crisis? Black youth have played a critical role in protecting our nation since its founding, but neglect and abuse change tradition.

Since when have driving while black, running while black, walking while black, standing while black, shopping while black, injured while black, making eye contact while black, playing loud music while black, breathing while black and cuffed while black justified summary executions?

Black youth are keenly aware that every encounter with police may be their last. This brand of fear, intimidation and harassment has caused severe anxiety and undiagnosed sickness from depression to intermittent explosive disorder. What caused Ismaaiyl Brinsley to explode, murder two New York City police officers and commit suicide? Was he simply crazy?

Why did Freddie Gray run after making eye contact with the police? Police abuse generates fear, distrust and deep-seated disdain and conflict. Domestic and foreign forces intent on attacking the U.S. through various modes of radicalization are experts at manipulating dread. Will police brutality and its damsel impunity activate recruiters, self-radicalization, lone-wolf terrorism or a new generation of anti-American activists?

The FBI and Homeland Security Department believe there are no specific or credible terror threats to the U.S. homeland from ISIL. They’re wrong. Information technology and social media know no boundaries.

Disenfranchised anti-establishment youth are potential bombs waiting to be detonated. Elton Simpson may be only the tip of the spear severing the fig leaf. Remember that Sgt. Hasan Akbar, sentenced to death for the murder of two fellow soldiers during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, was from Watts, Los Angeles, notorious for police brutality.

Disenfranchised youth can and are being violently radicalized by one ideology or another. What do the cases of Jasmine Richards, Alton Nolen, Zale Thompson, Jeff Fort, The Colorado Three, Newburgh Four, or the 2009 Bronx terrorism plot reveal? Black youth have sacrificed more than any other group to uphold and protect America’s security and values. We must stop sacrificing them at the altars of fear, apathy, indifference and hate before we birth a generation of martyrs.

Hassle Doctrine denies justice for young black males in Fla.

(Orlando Sentinel) What do hoodies, Skittles, loud music, texting, popcorn and good old American foul language have in common? The answer is senseless killings, a not-guilty verdict, a hung jury, a flawed justice system and Florida’s broken cultural ethos.

The erosion of human compassion in Florida is truly frightening. It is especially scary in the case of young black males. If Michael Dunn were black and Jordan Davis and his friends white, would there be a hung jury or a hanging?

I’m not a liberal or a Democrat, but I clearly realize that the sleeping giant in the Florida justice system is an ingrained pathology of racism backstopped by a double dose of societal denial. That said, black-on-black violence is perhaps more problematic, and blacks and whites should be equally outraged when murder occurs in Pine Hills. Trayvon Martin, Davis and Chad Oulson were, in my opinion, murdered. George Zimmerman, Dunn and Curtis Reeves should either be imprisoned for life or sent to the gallows.

That said, I am not concerned about the outcome of the Reeves “movie shooter” trial. Why? In Florida the justice system statistically provides white victims of white-on-white gun slayings greater justice than victims of white-on-black gun-related killings. I believe that Reeves will be rightfully convicted for killing Oulson. Whether or not Oulson, a husband, father and Navy veteran, yelled, cursed, made threats or threw popcorn at Reeves will be irrelevant at the end of the day. Why? Because the jury will rightly determine that Reeves’ deadly response was criminal.

The jury verdicts in the Martin and Davis cases reek of racial animus. Why? Because Floridians naturally consider black male youth threatening and thus lack compassion for them. This fear of black male autonomy appears to be turning the self-defense Castle Doctrine into the Hassle Doctrine where: black male youth autonomy (strike one), loud hip-hop music or trips to the store (strike two) and firm verbal retorts to white-male directives (strike three) may lawfully amount to fear of “imminent death or great bodily harm,” justifying the use of deadly force. Dunn was apparently so threatened by the presence of an SUV full of unarmed black youth that he shot into it 10 times, killing Davis.

After fleeing the scene of the crime, enjoying pizza and a good night’s rest, he conveniently alleged that an unarmed child brandished a weapon and called him a Cracker. What is a Cracker anyway? I know people in Florida who consider it a nickname. Nonetheless, add using what may be perceived as a white pejorative to the new Hassle Doctrine and a hung jury or not-guilty verdict seems virtually guaranteed in Florida.

The truth of the matter is that Dunn appears to be a bigot and misogynist. A neighbor told investigators he physically and psychologically abused his first two wives, forcing one to have sex with strangers in a swingers club the night after they were married.

Dunn’s 12-member jury was composed of four white men, four white women, two black women, one Asian female and one Hispanic man, but no black men. I wonder why? It will be interesting to learn more about the debates and dynamics that underwrote the hung jury and mistrial. The jury deliberated for about 32 hours over four grueling days but remained deadlocked on first-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter charges against Dunn. Why?

As things currently stand, no one has been held accountable for killing Davis, despite the fact that the evidence is overwhelming and in jailhouse letters Dunn admits to his racist proclivity of violence toward blacks. He wrote that the “jail is full of blacks and they ALL act like thugs …This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these [expletive] idiots when they’re threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior.” In another note he wrote, “The more time I am exposed to these [black] people, the more prejudiced against them I become.”

Why aren’t more Floridians outraged by Davis’ killing? As Martin Luther King Jr. noted in reference to the St. Augustine Movement, Florida must now “bear the cross” of racial justice.

Decades later, King’s dream remains elusive in Orlando.

(Orlando Sentinel) The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 85 years old last week. I have thought about him more this year than in years past. I wonder what he would think about Orlando’s racial topography.

Take a look around Orlando and the surrounding areas. Are we raising our children in racially exclusive or segregated communities where they don’t socialize or interact with children of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds? Do the parents and children north of Interstate 4 socialize with the parents and children south of it? Denying problems is a convenient response to hard societal questions. Have we become accustomed to existing peacefully in largely segregated communities?

Who is responsible for ensuring that our children become culturally competent anti-racists? This is the American dream, right? If not, what types of children are we raising, educating and releasing into society?

I ask these questions because my family recently experienced several racialized episodes at my daughter’s new school, causing me to ponder the racial state of our union. As an African-American father raising children in a predominantly white community, I don’t have the luxury or privilege of ignoring racial caste or racist behavior. I wish I did.

My oldest daughter attends what is touted to be one of Orlando’s most prestigious private schools. She is one of few African-Americans in her entire grade. I was concerned about enrolling her for several reasons, including feedback from parents that diversity was not a priority except in the recruitment of star athletes and that there was a general climate of racial insensitivity.

Since the school was founded under the logic of white flight after legal segregation was struck down, I also had concerns about its enduring heritage. There is no racial diversity on the board of trustees or in senior administration, and there is an acute lack of diversity among teachers.

Unfortunately, diversity, particularly African-American, can only be found among the ranks of the menial staff — those working the hardest for the least income. I was and remain concerned about how the attitudes of some parents and children may reflect the school’s racial hierarchy, which apparently seems normal to most families.

Notwithstanding, after several conversations and face-to-face meetings, my wife and I were impressed with the way in which the middle-school director and his senior staff addressed our concerns. We enrolled our daughter in the school’s summer math program, and she excelled thanks to a committed math teacher. When the fall semester began, everything was peachy, and she made new friends.

Then, like a hurricane, my daughter was assaulted with sexually inappropriate and racist taunts from fellow students. Yes, the N-word was used several times, and children were disciplined. While their behavior was malicious and injured my daughter’s spirit, I don’t believe that all of the children involved had malicious intent. In fact, I question whether some of them understood the gravity of the N-word. Why didn’t they know?

After speaking with several African-American families with children who attend and attended the school, I learned that what happened to my daughter was not an isolated incident, and that there may be a pervasive legacy of racial insensitivity. Students and teachers are not provided with cultural competency training, which would strengthen social relations and help diversify the curriculum, and there is no specific policy on racially offensive language and behavior.

To his credit, the school president personally apologized to my family and has constructively engaged several African-American families in a discussion about how to improve the school. He has also been a proponent of diversifying the school’s board of trustees. Upon request, he has committed himself to leading a meeting of African-American families to ascertain the scope of what appears to be a wider problem and solicit their assistance in determining what actions need to be taken to ensure that his students are prepared to succeed in a multicultural America.

I think King would demand that elite and privileged schools confront rather than reinforce Orlando’s segregated landscape by intentionally devising culturally rich and safe learning environments that train new generations of highly educated and culturally competent child-leaders, despite their otherwise segregated existence.

We remain faithful. Keep hope alive.

Wise, resilient Namibians go from apartheid to democracy.

Have you heard of Namibia?

(Orlando Sentinel) On Oct. 18, I departed Orlando for Windhoek, Namibia, in southern Africa, as a U.S. delegate of a government of Namibia-sponsored trade mission. I traveled with Stephen Snively, honorary consul to Namibia for the state of Florida, and met up with 19 other delegates from the United States and Canada. Namibia’s ambassador to the United States, Martin Andjaba, led the delegation.

Our central goal was and is to explore ways to promote public- and private-sector development in Namibia, and strengthen relations between our countries. It had been 12 years since I last visited Namibia, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the country transformed from a former apartheid state into a burgeoning democracy.

Namibia is absolutely beautiful. It is a prettier version of Palm Springs, Calif. Namibia is the second-most sparsely populated country in the world behind Mongolia. It is about five times the size of Florida with a population of 2.3 million, about the same as the Orlando metro area.

Namibians are fiercely independent and very hospitable. This is amazing, given that Namibians were brutally colonized by the German Empire between 1884 and 1915. From 1904 to 1907, long before the Nazi takeover, Germany committed several unspeakable acts of genocide against black Namibians.

South Africa acquired control of the colony in 1915 after defeating German forces in World War I. In 1919, the League of Nations mandated German “South-West Africa” to South Africa to administer. South Africa proceeded to institute a wicked form of apartheid rule over South-West Africa until Namibian independence in 1990. Amazingly, Namibia developed a sustainable democracy and program to combat historic inequality in one year.

While problems persist, today, 23 years later, Namibia is a thriving democracy with a free-market-driven economy and healthy appreciation for the rule of law. It boasts some of the largest game reserves and highest sand dunes in the world. It has breathtaking valleys, roaring rivers and spectacular and abundant wildlife and is an ideal place for eco-tourism, hunting and foreign investment.

Namibia is mineral rich and has a healthy supply of copper, diamonds, gold, granite, lead, tungsten, uranium and zinc. However, Namibians are the country’s greatest resource — they are patriotic, resilient and wise.

Although we disagree on many issues, Steve and I admire the graceful, patient and prudent way in which Namibians, particularly black Namibians, have managed extremely complex racial, sociopolitical and economic issues. Ninety percent of Namibians are Christian. While black Namibians of different ethnic backgrounds dominate the political arena and comprise 94 percent of the population including coloreds (mixed race), foreign corporations command the lucrative mining sector, and white Namibians own the bulk of land and businesses, meaning they control the economy. Consequently, black Namibians, particularly the millennials (born between 1980 and 2000), are becoming increasingly concerned about racialized economic disparities in what can only be described as a rigid economic caste system.

Young Namibians want their own bowl of Mopane worms (a popular food) now and do not fully embrace incrementalism as a viable empowerment strategy to combat nearly two centuries of brutal colonialism and apartheid. Notwithstanding, what Steve and I greatly admire about Namibians is their authentic belief that the rule of law is the best vehicle for resolving the country’s complex societal issues such as land redistribution.

Africa captures the heart and imagination. Steve and I come from very different worlds but have a resounding affection for Namibia. Steve is white, and I am black. He is a baby boomer, and I represent Generation X. Steve is from the Midwest, and I am from the West Coast. He was raised on a farm, and I was raised in the city. Steve is a Republican, and I am an independent. He is a domestic lawyer, and I am an international lawyer. I am a trained scholar, and Steve is not. Notwithstanding, we have more important things in common: We are both Christians with a sincere belief in international public service and an abiding connection to Namibia. Our friendship is born out of our mutual connectedness to God, rule by law and country — Namibia, that is.

Bottom line on N. Africa: U.S. needs foreign policy

(Orlando Sentinel) Egypt, Libya and Tunisia are in Africa, not the Middle East. Major media reports and U.S. government briefings on the virulent democratic movements in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia over the past month give the impression that the Middle East is on fire, not North Africa.

In fact, Africa is rarely mentioned by popular media. Consequently, most reporting and analysis is being filtered through Middle East, not Africa, lenses, which explains why political forecasting has been so difficult. The geo-politics and internal dynamics of the Arab world in Africa are considerably different than in the Middle East. The current crises in North Africa are better viewed through the prism of Africa’s legacy of authoritarianism, bad governance, human-rights abuses, impunity and underdevelopment, not the war on terror or Sunni extremism — issues that experts on Africa are arguably better equipped to examine and prognosticate about than specialists on the Near East.

Major media networks have bombarded viewers with a wide range of Middle East experts and commentary, and White House statements and State Department briefings have been confusing and uninformed.

To make matters worse, the U.S. intelligence community appears to have been caught off guard by the tide of events in North Africa. I attribute poor U.S. prognostication about unrest in North Africa to a skewed post 9-11 national-security framework that seeks to connect disorder in the Arab world to Islamic extremism and terrorism.

Bad forecasting is also a result of weak intelligence collection and analysis in Africa, a public diplomacy apparatus wholly disconnected from civil society in the Muslim world in Africa and a new schizophrenic foreign policy that continues to nurture relationships of convenience with autocratic leaders in North Africa, only to dispose of them when confronted with internal turmoil.

The Obama administration’s policy toward Egypt, Libya and Tunisia is reactionary and shortsighted. It appears to be overzealously shaped by civil-society discontent in the Arab world in Africa, not U.S. national-security interests or regional security concerns.

In fact, David Welch, former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, stated that Moammar Gadhafi’s help on intelligence matters was “exemplary.” Tunisia has also proved itself to be a valuable U.S. ally in fighting terrorism. Consequently, the U.S. has not challenged its dismal governance and human-rights records.

For example, in the case of Egypt, we fund and train its military and intelligence sectors, yet a cursory review of the State Department’s human-rights reports on Egypt over the past decade reveals a pattern of extreme abuse by its security forces. So, why would the Obama administration facilitate, endorse and support a military coup de grace in a nation with a well-documented history of abuses by security forces?

Perhaps more important, how can the U.S. advocate for the rule of law and democracy in Africa and beyond and simultaneously support undemocratic and extra-constitutional changes of power in North Africa?

International law provides no basis for the forceful removal of power of authoritarian regimes that are not abhorrently violent (genocidal) and unduly repressive. Meaning, that mass civil society discontent and demonstration does not provide a legal basis for the coerced removal of a government simply because it is undemocratic. This is in part why the U.N. Security Council’s recent resolution on Libya stopped short of authorizing enforcement action against Gadhafi’s government.

The bottom line is that the Obama administration does not appear to have a viable foreign policy toward Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, let alone Africa. The apparent “go along to get along” approach is reactionary and ill-conceived. American foreign policy in North Africa should not be driven by domestic “freedom movements,” but rather balanced against broader strategic interests in the region, and the real possibility that hasty transitions of power will unshackle traditionally contained anti-American forces.

Economy’s future lies in a global education

(Orlando Sentinel) What is the value of a global education? Over the past 20 years, I have traveled all over the world as an international lawyer, educator or tourist. In nearly every place that I have worked or visited, I found that the world knows more about us than we do about them.

This truth is evident in the richest and poorest nations from Cape Town to Cairo and Calcutta to Calgary. Test: Can you locate Kyrgyzstan on a map?

The United States is no longer a world leader in secondary education, ranking 18th among 36 nations assessed, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Hence, not only do we comparatively know far less about the rest of the world than we should, we are also falling behind lesser-developed nations like China, India and South Korea in core subjects’ areas like math and science.

How can we adequately compete in the global marketplace and simultaneously remain ignorant about our competitors? Not only are we collectively ignorant about world geography, foreign cultures, languages, people and history; even more disturbing, we have yet to acquire a local or national appetite to learn about them.

This is a problem that has its genesis in American culture and supremacy, and the false notion that the world revolves around us. It often originates from and is reinforced in our K-12 and higher-education systems, given our excessive reliance on Western or Eurocentric perspectives and approaches on nearly every issue. Such perspectives filter into every facet of our educational, economic, social and political orders.

For example, why are we still teaching our children that Juan Ponce de León and Christopher Columbus discovered Florida and America, respectively, if Native Americans were living here when they arrived? Local perspectives do not create global outcomes.

We are a nation of immigrants — some by choice, others by force — with global histories and connections throughout the world. While our strength rests in our diversity and shared history, we have failed to harness them to forge positive relations with other nations. As we become more interdependent on the forces of globalization, whether it be economic, geopolitical, informational, cultural, social or technological, we must become more enlightened about how events and circumstances thousands of miles away affect our daily lives and vice versa.

In order to tackle today’s global challenges from, among others, reducing American indebtedness, combating terrorism, ending foreign wars, protecting the natural environment and effectively responding to humanitarian crises, we must reinvent educational approaches to produce a new generation of global thinkers, leaders and technocrats.

America’s parochial psychology has negatively impacted our global image, moral standing and ability to compete internationally. What are K-12 schools doing to prepare students to compete in the global marketplace? How many K-12 schools offer courses in Arabic, Mandarin or international studies? How many universities are training linguists and regionalists with expertise in Africa, Asia and the Middle East? How do you prepare American students to compete in a world where success necessitates global insight and collaboration if globalism is not a part of the curriculum?

These are the questions that we must begin to grapple with from primary school through college. At Florida A & M University College of Law, we, too, wrestle with these issues. Consequently, we have taken them head-on by developing academic and experiential opportunities that prepare our students to compete globally.

In the past two years, our students have immersed themselves in the study of international law, studied abroad on every continent and served as interns at the most prominent institutions in the world. They include the Caribbean Court of Justice in Trinidad and Tobago, International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda in Tanzania, International Fund for Agricultural Development in Italy, Interpol in Thailand, North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium, Supreme Court of Ghana, United Nations and the World Health Organization in Switzerland, as well as the U.S. intelligence and public-diplomacy communities and not-for-profit sectors.

The future of our economy rests in our ability to compete globally. Global education is vital to American hegemony. Are you doing your part?

President Obama, race and the unpatriotic right.

(Orlando Sentinel) The far right and its right-wing brethren’s most recent barrage of indignant and visceral attacks against President Barack Hussein Obama has led me to conclude that the scourge of anti-Obama fanaticism is nothing more than foolish racism masquerading as patriotism and phony Christianity.

It is no secret that the far right and its institutions have an unjust guttural dislike for President Obama. After allowing George W. Bush to destroy our economy and international standing without challenge for eight years, the far right’s central strategy for helping America is to attempt to delegitimize Obama with trailer-park prowess.

Right-wing disdain for the first African-American president is primordially violent and expressed in dishonest, uninformed, racist and unpatriotic rhetoric and demonstration.

I am not concerned with right-wing dishonesty, ignorance, racism or hate marching; these are not new phenomena in American culture and politics. However, what concerns me is the combustible combination of these perspectives when combined with a lethal dose of violent and unpatriotic actions targeting the U.S. president.

Certain fanatical people and groups, not worthy of specific mention, recently toted guns at presidential town-hall meetings wearing menacing T-shirts that read: “It is time to water the tree of liberty.”

This was a symbolically threatening parity of Thomas Jefferson’s celebrated call for vigilance: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots.” Regrettably, this dangerously insolent and unpatriotic message was aimed at the leader of the Free World.

A patriot is one who loves, supports and defends his or her nation and loves its citizens, especially the U.S. president. A patriot subscribes to symbolic values such as honoring the flag, singing the national anthem and fighting nonviolently for fundamental freedoms. A patriot honors the U.S. president, irrespective of his or her biases.

The U.S. president is the head of state and government, as well as the highest official in the country and commander in chief of the armed forces. He is not only the most-influential and -recognized political figure in the world, but also the living embodiment of our democracy.

While I believe that it is healthy to constructively engage and criticize government, the far right has shamed our nation by attacking President Obama with unpatriotic idioms and schemes.

As a close follower of presidential politics, I do not remember another time when an American president was so unpatriotically maligned by Americans, namely, right-wing politicians and media, and the millions of Joe and Judy plumbers who would disown Jesus if they knew he was African, and Obama if he were the Second Coming.

The truth remains that right-wing anti-Obama rhetoric around abortion, health care, education, gun control and foreign policy are cowardly coded smoke screens intended to mask fear and racism.

Whether it is the birthers movement, gun-toting right-wing anarchists, bigoted congressmen, hate marchers or garden-variety dogmatists, the fact remains that Obama won the election.

Any American family that participates in the far-right campaign against President Obama by, for example, depriving their children of the opportunity to receive apolitical words of wisdom and encouragement from the president and leader of the free world, is unpatriotic.

Is it patriotic to stifle debate with right-wing anti-Obama propaganda when our nation stands in the balance between a broken economy, a controversial war on terrorism, a sick health-care system and an uneducated educational system? Is it patriotic to malign the first African-American president with racially coded and violent messaging?

The far right and its right-wing brethren have shown that they are driven by envy and racial animus.

I would remind the far right what the Apostle Paul wrote, ” . . . there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” Hence, Obama is the U.S. president and leader of the Free World because he was appointed by God. Need I say more?

Sotomayor: Race-baiting and the unpatriotic right.

(Orlando Sentinel) Shortly after President Barack Obama selected Judge Sonia Sotomayor — originally a Bush the First appointee — as his nominee to the Supreme Court, key Republican Party operatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity and G. Gordon Liddy launched a barrage of racist, sexist and unpatriotic public attacks against her.

The attacks allegedly were for a statement she made in a lecture which later was published by the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal.

What appears to have fueled the far-right backlash is that a Latina judge would dare state that she “would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Sotomayor’s statement was, in part, made in response to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s odd assertion that wisdom rather than gender would result in a wise old man and a wise old woman reaching the same conclusions in deciding cases. I wonder whether O’Connor envisioned a 70-something white male and a 50-something Latin woman when she made her statement.

Would a wise Latina judge vote to uphold cases that perpetuated sex and race discrimination as did Supreme Court Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Benjamin Nathan Cardoza? I think not. To argue otherwise is to indict the definition of wise.

Moreover, what is so controversial about Sotomayor’s commentary? Is the mere suggestion that a wise Latina could reach a better conclusion than a white male objectionable? Has anyone asked whether or not Sotomayor may be right in a country that is soon to be a majority-minority? Would it be less controversial if she had said “a wise woman” rather than a “wise Latina”?

If one were to read Sotomayor’s entire commentary titled “A Latina Judge’s Voice,” it is clear that she forwarded the basic premise that the gender, national origin and personal experiences of judges impact their judging. Is this really a novel revelation? Does such an assertion warrant racial attacks against a senior member of the American judiciary? Is this simply Washington politics, or is there a more primordial and insidious rationale?

Limbaugh, Gingrich, Hannity and Liddy’s shameful and ignorant attacks on Sotomayor are nothing more than race-baiting, and they exemplify the worst sort of sexism, racism and lack of patriotism we have come to expect from fledging pre-integration ideologists.

Last Friday, Limbaugh went as far as to claim that the only way to be promoted in a Barack Obama administration is to hate white people. I did not know that Limbaugh was the chosen spokesman for white America. Few whites that I know, whether Republican or Democrat, support this type of race-baiting. Perhaps, bobble head didn’t know that Sotomayor was formerly married to a white man.

In addition, if hating white people were the litmus test for advancement in the Obama administration, there must be a plenitude of white-on-white violence in Washington, as nearly all of Obama’s key appointments are white men and women. In fact, Obama has yet to appoint a single “traditional” African-American to his Cabinet. Attorney General Eric Holder’s parents are from Barbados, and U.S. envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice, who is married to a white man, does not hold a traditional Cabinet position.

For anyone to refer to Sotomayor as an ignorant and racist Latina is not only foolish, but sorely disconnected with a post-segregation America.

Racism may be defined as a belief that inherent or biological differences among races, rather than cultured experiences, alone determine the superiority of one race over another resulting in racial hatred and intolerance of other races.

Sotomayor is no racist and has not authored racist jurisprudence, or, for that matter, employed a “poor choice of words” in her Berkeley La Raza Law Journal article. The attempt of the far right to block the first Latina Supreme Court nominee with hateful and bigoted rhetoric will damage the Republican Party’s ability to redefine itself as inclusive; alienate women, minorities and fair-minded white voters; and, in time, unwittingly confirm Sotomayor’s visionary premise about Latina decision-making.

Black History Month has lessons for all of us.

(Orlando Sentinel) Do Orlandoans embrace Black History Month? I could not help but think how ironic it was that Super Bowl XLIII, America’s most-watched and celebrated athletic event took place on Feb. 1, the first day of this special month.

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Eric Holder’s confirmation as the first African-American attorney general, Susan Rice’s confirmation as the first African-American-woman U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Michael Steele’s election as the first African-American chairman of the Republican National Committee, I wanted Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers to win the Super Bowl during Black History Month.

Yes, I’m biased, and I like fairy-tale endings. Not only did the Steelers win their sixth Super Bowl (the most in NFL history), but Tomlin became the youngest coach to do so, and Santonio Holmes was selected as Super Bowl MVP. I love this country.

Many believe that Black History Month is a month-long affirmative-action holiday for African-Americans, and many have little interest in celebrating it or learning about the contributions of blacks to American society and beyond. Some have a primordial reaction to, and fear of, this designated month and believe that celebrating it is racist. Go figure.

This is unfortunate, given that African-American is older than American history, not vice versa. All Americans, irrespective of our racial, ethnic or religious backgrounds, are makers of African-American history. Obama’s election as the first African-American president is a case in point.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a central pioneer in the study of black history, selected the second week in February for Negro History Week because it marked the birthdays of two of the most-influential figures in American politics — Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.

Other significant events that took place in February make it an ideal time to celebrate black history. They include the birth of W.E.B. DuBois, the famed intellectual, civil-rights leader, pan-Africanist and co-founder of the NAACP (Feb. 23, 1868); the passing of the 15th Amendment giving blacks the right to vote (Feb. 3, 1870); the taking of the oath of office of the first black U.S. senator, Hiram R. Revels, a Republican from Mississippi (Feb. 25, 1870); the founding of the NAACP (Feb. 12, 1909); the historical civil-rights lunch-counter sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, N.C. (Feb. 1, 1960); and the unforgivable murder of Malcolm X (Feb. 21, 1965).

Central Florida should embrace Black History Month because it provides a great opportunity to reflect on the highs and lows of race relations in the area, including the establishment of the town of Eatonville in 1887, making it America’s first and oldest African-American incorporated municipality. Eatonville has produced several prominent leaders including the Rev. John Hurston, the town’s third mayor and pastor of the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, and his daughter Zora Neale Hurston, a renowned author, folklorist and cultural anthropologist.

Orlando is also the first city to have an African-American marital monopoly in law enforcement with Val Demings serving as police chief and her husband, Jerry Demings, recently being sworn in as sheriff of Orange County.

Black History Month lows include the legacy of enslavement and racial segregation in the city, white terrorism as demonstrated by the Ocoee and Rosewood genocides of 1920 and 1923, respectively, and the 1951 bombing assassination of NAACP President Harry T. Moore — the civil-rights movement’s first martyr — and his lovely wife, Vyda in Mims.

From Orlando to Ouagadougou to Ottawa, Black History Month provides us with the opportunity to study the histories and contributions of people of African descent to humanity as well as history-makers not of African origin, such as Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Andrew Goodman, Abraham Joshua Heschel and John F. Kennedy. From this background, Orlando and America’s dual legacy of tragedy and triumph as a maker of African-American history should be taught in our schools, studied in our universities, pondered on our patios and discussed with fellow Orlandoans, particularly among those who live on opposing sides of the train tracks.

Out of moral darkness and into the bright light.

(Orlando Sentinel) WASHINGTON — I begin writing this column early Monday morning, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and one day before the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States and the country’s first African-American president.

It is 20 degrees outside, and I am sipping on hot coffee in the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington D.C. four blocks from Capitol Hill. The hotel is buzzing with a spirit of anticipation and renewal. The streets are crawling with the rejuvenated spirits of hundreds of thousands of people from every conceivable background.

As King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is played over and over in the hotel lobby, I am reflecting on his legacy as well as other civil- and human-rights leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. I am proud that freedom and liberty are ingrained into the African-American identity, and that we faithfully served as America’s moral compass during its darkest chapters.

It is fitting and poetically ironic that King’s birthday falls on the eve of the inauguration of our first African-American president. Within a 24-hour period, Americans will not only hear about and contemplate King’s dream, but also witness it. It is a dream made possible by the hopes, imaginings and hardships of American descendants of slave masters, enslaved Africans and other groups seeking to perfect our union. Despite our violent and unjust history, only a great nation could evolve from legal segregation to the lawful election of an African-American president less than 45 years out of this nation’s apartheid.

As hotel guests arrive for the inauguration, I see euphoria on their faces. There is a grand sense of unity among people from all walks of life — a harmonious patriotic flow among Americans that I have rarely seen. I too feel elated. I ask a beautiful elderly African-American woman sitting next to me what Obama’s election means to her, and she looks me square in the eyes, and with a gracious smile, replies, “Freedom. I can now go to the Lord in peace.”

A 40-something white woman sitting a table away overhears our conversation and begins weeping. I take a teary-eyed sigh and silently lean back in my chair, filled with pride. For many, Obama’s inauguration signals a new era of consciousness that will eventually deliver a death blow to racial bigotry. Time will tell.

As I sip on my coffee, a man pats me on the shoulder while passing by and loudly says, “How did you like the ball?” The night before, my wife and I had attended the 2009 Inaugural Latino Gala at Union Station that featured Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez and George Lopez. It was fantastic. I felt privileged to witness so many blissful people dart around the District to attend the various galas.

My family and I left the hotel that morning, walked on the National Mall and visited a few of the Smithsonian Institution’s wonderful museums. The Mall and museums were packed with tens of thousands of people eagerly waiting for Obama’s inauguration. Although the nation’s capital is not known for being jovial, on this day, everyone was unusually buoyant. It was pleasantly eerie.

On Tuesday, my wife and I woke up early, dressed in triple layers and marched to the Capitol. It was our “March on Washington” to fulfill a shared dream. It was very cold, and we waited like huddling sheep for nearly two hours before the gates of history opened. We watched the inauguration unfold 150 yards away from President Obama to the backdrop of nearly 2 million roaring souls. Thomas Jefferson abolished the American slave trade; Abraham Lincoln emancipated black Americans; and King led America out of segregation and moral darkness. America has wisely chosen a man once considered three-fifths of a person under our original Constitution to lead the country and the world out of political and economic turmoil. What a wonderful country. No recounts required.

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