Saturday, June 30, 2007

All-American Presidential Forum

Friday, June 29, 2007
By: Associated Press and

WASHINGTON (AP) A historically diverse field of Democratic presidential candidates -- a woman, a black, an Hispanic and five whites -- denounced an hours-old Supreme Court affirmative action ruling Thursday night and said the nation's slow march to racial unity is far from over.

"We have made enormous progress, but the progress we have made is not good enough," said Sen. Barack Obama, the son of a man from Kenya and a woman from Kansas.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first female candidate with a serious shot at the presidency, drew the night's largest cheer when she suggested there was a hint of racism in the way AIDS is addressed in this country.

"Let me just put this in perspective: If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34 there would be an outraged, outcry in this country," said the New York senator.

In their third primary debate, the two leading candidates and their fellow Democrats played to the emotions of a predominantly black audience, fighting for a voting bloc that is crucial in the party's nomination process.

One issue not raised by questioners, the war in Iraq, dominated the past two debates. Queries about AIDS, criminal justice, education, taxes, outsourcing jobs, poverty and the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina all led to the same point: The racial divide still exists.

"There is so much left to be done," Clinton said, "and for anyone to assert that race is not a problem in America is to deny the reality in front of our very eyes."

While the first two debates focused on their narrow differences on Iraq, moderator Tavis Smiley promised to steer the candidates to other issues that matter to black America. In turn, the candidates said those issues mattered to them.

"This issue of poverty in America is the cause of my life," said John Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee.

Said Obama: "It starts from birth."

Obama criticized President Bush's No Child Left Behind program. "You can't leave money behind ... and unfortunately that's what's been done," he said.

Clinton spoke of her efforts in Arkansas to raise school standards, "most especially for minority children."

Delaware Sen. Joe Biden urged people to be tested for the AIDS virus, noting that he and Obama had done so. Cracked the Illinois senator: "I just want to make clear I got tested with Michelle," his wife, Obama said drawing laughter from the predominantly black audience.

The debate was held at Howard University, a historically black college in the nation's capital.

Black voters are a large and critical part of the Democratic primary electorate, making the debate a must-attend for candidates seeking the party's presidential nomination.

A half century of desegregation law -- and racial tension -- was laid bare for the Democrats hours before they met. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court clamped historic new limits on school desegregation plans.

Clinton said the decision "turned the clock back" on history, and her competitors agreed.

The conservative majority cited the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case to bolster its precedent-shattering decision, an act termed a "cruel irony" by Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissent. The 1954 ruling led to the end of state-sponsored school segregation in the United States.

Obama, the only black candidate in the eight-person field, spoke of civil rights leaders who fought for Brown v. Board of Education and other precedents curbed by the high court. "If it were not for them," he said, "I would not be standing here."

Biden noted that he voted against confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion. He said he was tough on Roberts. "The problem is the rest of us were not tough enough," he said, seeming to take a jab at fellow Democrats. "They have turned the court upside down."

All the Democratic candidates in the Senate opposed the confirmation of conservative Justice Samuel Alito, another of President Bush's nominees. Clinton, Biden and Obama voted against Roberts; Sen. Chris Dodd voted for his nomination.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the first major Hispanic candidate, said race is about more than passing new laws and appointing new justices. "The next president is going to have to lead," he said, vowing to do so.

Dodd said "the shame of resegregation in our country has been occurring for years."

The nomination fight begins in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with relatively few minorities. But blacks and other minority voters become critical in Nevada, South Carolina and Florida before the campaign turns to a multi-state primary on Feb. 5.

About one in 10 voters in the 2004 election were black, according to exit polls, and they voted 9-to-1 for Democrat John Kerry. In some states, blacks make up a bigger share of the voters. In South Carolina, for example, blacks made up about 30 percent of the electorate in 2004, but were more than half of the voters in the state's Democratic primary.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the country's only black governor, introduced the candidates with a warning that a dispirited GOP "is not enough to elect a Democratic president nor should it be. We need to offer a more positive and hopeful vision ... to run on what we are for and not just what we are against."

Among those in attendance were entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, congresspeople Sheila Jackson Lee, Maxine Waters, Elijah Cummings and John Lewis; National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman and noted scholar Cornel West.

“This is really historic," syndicated columnist DeWayne Wickham, who has covered every presidential campaign since 1984, told in an interview before the debate. "In the tradition of the black press, we seek to tell our own stories."

“This debate was relevant. It connected with African American people,” Rep. Jackson Lee (D-Texas) told She went on to say it was provocative. “It was a real debate, real issues for real people in a black environment.”

Two women in the audience who declined to give their first names said they enjoyed the debate, but wished the candidates could have gone more in-depth.

“Overall, I thought the debate was good, but some of the candidates played it too safe,” said Y. Thompson from California. “Tavis echoed what many in the audience thought. Hilary was an excellent venue for this kind of forum.”

R. Smith from Washington, D.C. said she would have liked to have heard more of what she called the “urban agenda,” but she liked that the candidates dealt with “racial disparity, health issues, Hurricane Katrina and issues pertaining to New Orleans.”

“Clinton was strong on three issues: Health care, Darfur and AIDS,” said Dr. Silas Lee, who joined the Clinton campaign as a pollster from New Orleans, focusing on black issues related to Hurricane Katrina. He said he thought, though, based on conversations with several audience members, that a number of people wished they had heard more about the living wage, affordable housing and health care.

Colorado State Sen. Peter C. Groff, executive director of the Center for African American Policy at the University of Denver and publisher of, said this debate was the toughest to date for the Democratic candidates.

"One can make the argument that this was the most challenging debate for the candidates since it wasn't all about Iraq. For the first-time to date, candidates were required to consider other critical issues other than the war in Iraq,” Groff told in a statement. “The issue of war remained a sub-text throughout, but this debate seemed to satisfy a general hunger for discussion on other major bread-&-butter issues. The forum was a great opportunity for presidential candidates to answer questions about the unique issues facing African-Americans and Africa. It is the first time in the history of the republic that all major candidates for president were gathered -- on an HBCU campus no less -- to discuss these issues."

The Republicans candidates will engage in an All-American Presidential Forum at Morgan State University in September.

"Regardless of what you think about Sen. Barack Obama, Obama was in a unique position," Groff said. "He had to ‘prove’ his authenticity -- a role not required of any other candidate -- while not pandering or acting ‘too black’ for the remaining 80 percent of the electorate. He had to strike a balance between authenticity and preventing general election campaign fodder for his potential GOP rival who could use footage against him as a racial wedge issue.”

“The debate was a lot of conversation of agreement and little clarity of the distinctions between the candidates,” said Dr. David Anderson, radio talk show host and pastor of Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, Md.

“Clinton was the clearest communicator about the disparity of AIDS, race, health care and had a strong response to the tax burden issue between the wealthy and middle class. Richardson gave a succinct and cogent response to the tax problem by recommending a policy to give tax breaks and holidays for corporations that invest in our inner cities. That was one of the most practical statements of the night, in my opinion," Anderson told "Obama was clear on trade with Africa, which was right on."

"I do think Sen. Obama missed an opportunity, however, when the candidates were asked about Darfur and how America did nothing in Rwanda,” Groff said. “This should have been an opportunity to 'remind' Biden, Edwards, Dodd, Richardson and Clinton of their inaction on Rwanda despite previous influence, and that many remain in those same positions today while faced with genocide in Sudan."

“The night's most disingenuous moment is when Sen. Dodd roundly criticized today's Supreme Court ruling on race in public schools despite his voting ‘yea’ for the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts,” said Groff. “This should have presented an opportunity for both Tavis Smiley and panelists."

Dem Debate at Howard University

I was stuck at work when it happened Thursday night, but I was happy to finally see for the first time in my life a presidential primary debate that tackled issues of importance to my community, even if I did have to catch the repeat on C-SPAN. I did get to see the post debate focus group made up of African-Americans on PBS last night in addition to the C-SPAN interview Tavis did Friday morning.

The 90 minute Democratic debate was organized and moderated by Tavis Smiley and televised on PBS Thursday night. It brought all eight current Democratic candidates for president to the Howard University campus in Washington DC to answer questions on issues that haven't been discussed in the other debates such as HIV-AIDS, criminal justice, education, taxes, outsourcing jobs, poverty, the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina and the hours old 5-4 Supreme Court conservative majority decision placing new limits on school desegregation plans.

The other unique feature was that it had African-American and Latino journalists Michel Martin, DeWayne Wickham and Ruben Navarrette asking those questions. The audience was also packed with African-American leadership ranging from entertainer and activist Harry Belafonte, congresspersons Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Elijah Cummings (D-MD)and John Lewis (D-GA)to National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman and noted scholar Cornel West.

As to who I'd like to see get the Democratic nomination as of June 2007, it's a toss up between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) with John Edwards running third. That still leaves much room for me to change my mind between now and when the primary elections actually start getting cranked up in February 2008. I'm not making my final choice until probably December 2007 or January 2008. But whoever ends up with the nomination by the time the convention occurs in Denver, I'm pleased with the quality of candidates we have in the Democratic primary and wouldn't be disappointed in the final outcome.

Sen. Clinton already according to some polls has 40% support in the African-American community and did plenty in this debate to ensure she not only holds on to it, but set herself up for the opportunity to build on it.

Sen. Clinton garnered the loudest applause of the night when she stated in a response to a question on HIV-AIDS, "Let me just put this in perspective: If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34 there would be an outraged, outcry in this country."

Sen Obama has a burden that the other candidates don't. He has to prove to many African-Americans that he's with us on our issues while not alienating his middle of the road predominately white support by not appearing 'too Black'.

African-Americans will be the decisive voting bloc in the Democratic primaries and the 2008 general election. While Hispanics outnumber us population wise, what many people forget is that they don't vote in the consistently high sustained numbers that African-Americans do and that some of that Hispanic population growth is made up of people who aren't eligible to vote yet. In 2004 African-Americans were one of of every ten voters in that election and that vote went 9-1 for Sen. John Kerry. In South Carolina, where an early primary test will be held February 5, African-Americans cast 30% of the votes in the 2004 election and were 50% of that state's 2004 Democratic primary voters.

In September there will be a similar Republican forum at Baltimore's Morgan State University for the Republican candidates. That will be the only debate featuring the GOP candidates I'll bother watching. It'll be fun to see them squirm while having to answer questions that address African-American concerns they've ignored.

Friday, June 29, 2007


I'd heard about Sicko when it was in production about two years ago. I have several friends in the health-care industry who reported to me that they'd been told by their supervisors NOT to talk to Michael Moore.

So what's the health care industry 'scurred' of? Universal single payer health care and this movie, which opens in 440 theaters nationwide today.

It has been a mild irritant to me that other industrialized nations such as Canada, Great Britain and even Costa Rica have universal free health care for their citizens and the richest country on the planet doesn't.

That lack of universal health care is costing us.

When you buy a new car for example, $1000 of the cost of it goes toward paying for health insurance. One of the reasons US car companies are getting their butts kicked in the world marketplace is that Toyota and Hyundai don't have to factor health-care costs in their pricing.

But back to Sicko. I went to a press event this morning in front of the Baxter Avenue Theater (where it's being shown in Louisville) staged by a coalition of groups that are pushing for universal single payer health care. HR 676 authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) seeks to establish such a system. In addition to being co-sponsored by 75 members it is supported by 13,000 doctors and businesses.

The bill is currently in the House Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources Committees.

I'm definitely planning on heading over to the Baxter to see it this weekend.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Black Music-A Forceful Sound For Change

I wrote earlier this month in a post that Black music is a powerful, multi-generational, creative force.

Black music is also a powerful force for change and social consciousness as well. It's demonstrated every time someone sings the Civil Rights era theme song 'We Shall Overcome' at a protest somewhere in the world.

From Billie Holliday singing her haunting anti-lynching song 'Strange Fruit' (that you can watch a video of her performing it by clicking on it in TransGriot Video) to rappers, protest and socially conscious lyrics have been an integral part of Black music.

I can remember hearing Edwin Starr's 'War' and Freda Payne's 'Bring the Boys Home' on the radio. Both songs were written when the Vietnam War was raging and got frequent airplay. As the Iraq War becomes more unpopular those songs are making a comeback as well.

The struggle for civil rights and the awakening of Black pride is exemplified by James Brown's 'Say It loud I'm Black and I'm Proud' and the Impressions Curtis Mayfield penned tune 'Keep On Pushing'.

Marvin Gaye got ecological issues on Black America and the world's radar screens with 'Mercy Mercy Me The Ecology' and other socially conscious tunes. Parliament-Funkadelic's early stuff was political and you'll catch me humming a 80's era anti-war ditty called 'Bullet Proof' from time to time as well.

But the master of writing socially conscious songs has to be Stevie Wonder. Stevie has tackled subjects ranging from apartheid ('It's Wrong'),the push for a MLK national holiday ('Happy Birthday')to discrimination ('Cash In Your Face').

Stevie wasn't the only one writing socially conscious lyrics in the 70's. Some of the Philly International artists contributions were songs such as Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' 'Wake Up Everybody' with Teddy Pendergrass singing lead and McFadden and Whitehead's 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now'. The Isley Brothers 'Fight the Power' is another anthem of mine. There's even a Village People song called 'Village People' in which it talks about the emerging gay rights movement. Janet Jackson and Prince have written some as well on various albums.

I can't sleep on the original rapper, Gil Scott-Heron. One of my favorite songs from him besides 'Johannesburg' and 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised' is one that slams the Reagan administration on his 1981 Reflections album called 'B-Movie'.

Speaking of rappers, Grandmaster Flash's 'The Message' still resonates with me and I absolutely love Public Enemy. Where do I start with them? There are just too many PE songs to choose from that fit the bill but a few of my favorites are '911 Is A Joke, 'Can't Truss It', and 'Burn Hollywood Burn'. I like Queen Latifah's 'U-N-I-T-Y' which commented on the negative language used to describe women a decade before Don Imus got sacked for using one of those terms.

You don't have to be a multi-platinum selling artist to create a song that grabs people's attention either.

Houston-based rapper The Legendary KO penned a song that symbolized the anger of African-Americans over the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the glacial response to it. He fittingly remixed Kanye West's 'Golddigger' and titled it 'George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People'. The song ended up getting downloaded by 2.5 million people worldwide.

So when it comes to getting Black America's message out, if the mainstream media won't do it, you can bet that you'll hear it on one of our R&B stations. It'll be the song we'll be dancing to with a slammin' track and socially conscious lyrics.


You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if he says so
You can buy all the make-up that MAC can make
But if you can’t look inside you
Find out who am I, too
Be in a position to make me feel so damn unpretty

TLC has a dynamite song from their Fan Mail CD called 'Unpretty' that talks about self-esteem. All women from time to time have those issues and transwomen are no exception.

Since we transpeople get bombarded by so much negativity from society, if you don't have the self-love and rock solid self confidence you can easily fall victim to negative karma in terms of how you feel about yourself inside and out.

Combine that with the knowledge as African-Americans that our women are regarded as some of the most beautiful on the planet. You can easily see where that can lead one to fall into the trap of believing that you can't possibly measure up to that standard. It also causes some transwomen to do things like inject free silicone in our bodies in an attempt to live up to that beauty standard as well.

The unpretty feelings are especially acute in the early stages of your transition when the hormones haven't had time to work their magic on your body and you are very much caught between the male and female realm.

Even after you get through the rough spots of early transition and have lived your life for several years as a female, there are times when some snide comment, an unfamiliar situation, dating, a negative comment questioning your gender identity or looking at government-issued ID documents that have a gender code on them that don't match your current gender presentation can reawaken all those awkward, depressing, unpretty feelings all over again.

I've been transitioned for over a decade now and I still have my moments from time to time. I can't imagine what it's like for the transkids now.

Then again, maybe I can.

I remember early in my transition when I told some friends that I wasn't going to allow myself to get caught up in that 'obsessing over my beauty' mentality. It didn't take long before I was sitting in the nail shop twice a month, getting the hair done, doing facials and clay masques once a week and all the other things that sistahs do to make themselves look presentable to the male species.

Combine that with the fact that I come from a long line of historians. I'm acutely aware of the role that African-American women played and continue to play in not only shaping our society but looking fly while doing it. To know that's part of the legacy that you are now charged with representing honorably can be daunting at times and leads me to wonder if I'm doing enough to uphold it.

I guess because I lived the first quarter of my life stuck in a male body I'm a little more sensitive to the outside packaging and care about presenting a good image both inside and out. Early on I felt like I had to be on my 'A' game in terms of my gender presentation. As I got more comfortable in my skin and learned who Monica was and what she stood for, I gradually got away from putting that kind of pressure on myself.

For the most part I do a pretty good job of living up to being the Phenomenal Transwoman that I am but I have to be honest. I have my moments when I fight to avoid feeling unpretty and fail.

Sometimes I end up wallowing in it for a day or so, scarfing up Blue Bell homemade vanilla and listening to Sade CD's. Other times I just call my homegirls who give me a swift kick in the rear, a verbal pep talk and tell me to get over it.

With the constant beauty messages that we are bombarded with, it's hard not to feel unpretty at times, but as long as you love yourself and are satisfied with your life those unpretty periods don't last long.

Old School vs. New School Music – What Defines Them? And What Exactly is ‘Middle School?’

Monday, June 25, 2007
By: Patrice Gaines

Right smack in the middle of the discussion about old school versus new school music is Monie Love.

One of the premiere female rappers from the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Monie Love once had a Grammy-nominated hit called “Monie In The Middle.” Today, the mother of three is touring the country hosting True School parties sponsored by True School Corp., an organization of seven brothers that promotes the music Love believes is being ignored.

“Middle school is a completely unrepresented era of music -- whether it's hip-hop or R&B -- almost to the point that radio would want to convince us it does not exist,” Love told

She said younger people who follow acts like Pretty Ricky, Bow Wow and B2K have places to go and radio stations where they can hear their favorite songs.

“There is a place for my mother to go when she wants to listen to Barry White, Anita Baker and James Brown,” said Love. “There is no place for me and everybody in my era to go hear our music."

She is talking about the music of the late 80s, 90s and the early 2000s “all the way up to about 2004.” That roll call of artists includes Guy, then Blackstreet, Brownstone, SWV and Total. “You don’t hear those songs,” said Love.

While Love seems clear on what "middle school" is to her, just how to define old or new school depends on who you ask.

“Old school can be Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Master Flash, or for some other people, it may be 2pac,” said Farai Chideya, host of National Public Radio’s “News & Notes,” which is doing a series on hip-hop this month. It was Chideya who suggested in an interview with Love that the music she was describing could be called middle school.

“To me, old school is Eubie Blake, old blues, though that is far before my era,” Chideya told “It depends on your cultural reference.”

But political activist Kevin Powell, a writer and hip-hop historian, avoids using the terms old school and new school.

“I just like black music period,” Powell told “Looking at my iPod, I have Ella, Duke, Stevie, as well as the Tommy Boy collection of hip-hop. I’ve never gotten into that dividing of our music into categories. I think it’s a way to discard very vital parts of our musicial tradition.

“I say classic hip hop like others say classic rock. I say classic jazz. I don’t want to say what Duke and Ella and Miles did was old school. We need to see as it all as a flowing of our tradition.”

While DJ Nabs, the XM radio host of “The Product and The Power," agrees in philosophy with Powell, he told that he doesn’t have a problem using the terms.

“Old school is timeless music,” said Nabs, who is based in Atlanta. “It’s everything that stands the test of time. New school is the younger generation’s interpretation of Old School -- and they don’t even know it. There are images and ideas that are new to younger people. What they have really done though is just built on to what has been here before.”

To Steven Ivory, a freelance music journalist based in Los Angeles, old school is simply the soul music he grew up on.

Ivory, 51, said he listened to “Motown, the O’Jays, the Philadelphia sound, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Five, Temptations and Gladys Knight. The stuff before that was referred to as the golden oldies."

Ivory told he recognizes that record companies need to brand or title music, but he points out how meaningless titles can be.

“When I listened to the music being called neo-soul -- Maxwell, D’Angelo, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu -- it reminded me of listening to Marvin, Aretha, Stevie, Curtis Mayfield, the architects of that music," said Ivory. “I decided these kids are not making something new. They are making something old.”

In all of African music, since the beginning of time, until now, there has been a continuity in rhythms, emotions and creativity, everyone agrees.

“There are things Smokey Robinson, Teddy Pendergrass, Barry White and especially Al Green did when I watched them in concert on TV, and I saw the same traits watching Jodeci perform,” said Love.

Of course, there are music fans and critics who dismiss any new music that uses synthesizers or drum machines instead of real instruments. These critics totally discard any music created by sampling, the practice of reusing a portion of an earlier recording as an instrument or element of a new recording. Sampling is common practice today, especially among hip-hop & R&B artists.

In the 1994 book "Black Noise" by Tricia Rose, Eric Sadler of Public Enemy fame offered an explanation of his process of composing, using sampling. “You got stuff darting in and out absolutely everywhere,' he said. "It's like someone throwing rice at you. You have to grab every little piece and put it in the right place like a puzzle. Very complicated. All those little snippets and pieces that go in, along with the regular drums that you gotta drop out in order to make room for it."

Sampling came out of the inner city, when young rappers used inexpensive digital technology to rework old compositions and create new music.

“If you broaden the consciousness, you will see that people were sampling in the 1800s and 1900s,” said Chideya.

“Black people have used whatever we have at our disposal to make music,” said Powell. “Today, one of my friends uses his Mac book to make sounds. People will use ultimately what is at their disposal.”

People who dismiss sampling, said Powell, “ignore the tradition of African people to make something out of nothing.”

“Hip-hop sampled from every kind of music, which is why it took over,” said Nabs, who also plays saxophone. “If you don’t understand the production side, you can think they just took something, and that was it. If you listen, you get it.”

Nabs and others say record companies, some radio stations and the media must bear responsibility for any lack of creativity seen in today’s music. Most radio stations play the same type of music over and over, and major corporations market and push a narrow selection of what is made, they said.

“The music industry is ... about disposable music, about the hit records and not creating concept albums,” said Powell. “Could Nina Simone really exist in these times? Would Prince really exist in these times? I don’t think so.

“I was listening to great 1960s reggae music the other day, and it had nothing to do with Bob Marley. I can’t refer to that music as old school. It’s just great, great black music. When you listen to James Brown music, you can’t tell me his music isn’t timeless.”

“The big picture is that we black people don’t own much,” says Nabs. “We don’t control our music. The frustration of hip-hop is it that it is being presented as if it is one-dimensional. I’m 38, and I still vibe with Mos Def, and he’s not on BET or commercial music stations.”

“I think it comes down to no matter who is making the music or how old they are, the music is either good or bad,” said Ivory. “You can put any title on it, but the people who bought Gladys Knight buy D’Angelo. I have decided I am going to choose to see the classic R&B I grew up with as classic music, a framework for newer music, as vital and important as Beethoven and Brahms. We have so changed modern culture through our music. We should revere it.”

Monie Love will do her part to make sure people don’t forget the not-so-old music. She's inviting everyone to have a middle school music party in their community.

“It might be a naive thought, but with these traveling parties and interviews, hopefully, this music will pick up, and radio programmers will start picking it to be played,” said Love, who is mother to three children, ages 16, 10 and four.

“Everybody has a soundtrack for their life," she said. "There was a song on the radio when you lost your job and got in the car and turned on the radio. When everything is grim and the outlook looks dark, music is the only thing that makes you feel good.”

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

In Need of Statesmen (and Stateswomen too!)

By Cornel West
From the Covenant With Black America Blog
April 25, 2007

We are facing a crisis in the quality of leadership in our country. Our people and our country need more statesmen (and stateswomen), as statesmanship is qualitatively different than the garden-variety leadership that we’re experiencing.

Statesmen take seriously the ability to be themselves, as opposed to the many spinsters who are willing to pose and poster, to pander to a particular group, rather than be real. Opportunism is pervasive and has left us with just a few folk who will not allow themselves to be grinded up by a mechanical formulaic structure. There are some who are shaping the climate of opinion; they’re our thermostats and not thermometers. They’re not satisfied with simply recording, but shaping the dialogue. Our brothers and sisters who are engaged in that kind of education elevate the citizenry of this country.

The continuing challenge at hand for statesmen and stateswomen is to operate above the political fray, to preserve their integrity. True statesmanship is rooted in the hopes and aspirations of the people, and is also informed by the voices of the people.

Throughout our history, ordinary people who believed enough in themselves to try to transform the cynicism and the threat to statesmanship have been the crux of social movements. As a people, we are capable of producing great social change. Look within and you will realize that YOU are the leaders you’re looking for.

So, how many statesmen and stateswomen are in the house?

—Cornel West

Monday, June 25, 2007

July Ebony Magazine Explores Culture of Disrespect

If you haven't done so or don't have a subscription to Ebony magazine, you may want to head to your nearest bookstore or magazine rack and purchase the July issue.

I've already read it. One of the must read articles is by my fellow Houstonian and frequent CNN commentator Roland Martin, who writes an essay about why certain terms are strictly in house things that other cultures can't say.

But I'm not going to spoil the fun of reading one of our iconic magazines for you. I strongly urge you to get this issues and read it for yourselves.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Transgender Athletes Get Into The Game

My love of sports also includes me participating in them as well. I played Little League baseball as a kid and was on my high school's varsity tennis team my senior year. I also played basketball pick up games, tennis and bowled until I started transition. After I moved to Louisville I played softball on my church team in 2002 and recently started bowling on a regular basis again.

So as a transgender sports fan I was pleased to hear about the International Olympic Committee's decision to allow transgender athletes to participate in the Olympics starting with the 2004 Athens Games. Under the Stockholm Consensus, the IOC allows transgender athletes to participate in their new gender two years after they've undergone genital surgery. If the operation took place before puberty, the athlete's gender will be respected.

In the case of a post-puberty gender transition, the athlete must undergo complete genital surgery and get their gonads (their ovaries or testes) removed before they can compete. They also have to get legal recognition of their chosen gender, complete hormone therapy to minimize any sex-related advantages and wait two years before they can become eligible to apply for a confidential IOC evaluation.

While most transwomen are okay with the new policy, transmen understandably bristled at the genital reconstruction requirement. Jamison Green in a 2004 interview criticized the genital reconstruction completion requirement.

"I don't think that needs to be a criteria," said Green, who sits on the board of directors of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute. "Many female-to-male people can't afford to have genital reconstruction, so I think that's an unreasonable penalty."

That thought is echoed by Keelin Godsey (left in photo), who is a transgender track and field star at Bates College has a goal of making the US Olympic team and competing in Beijing next year. The transman is delaying his transition in order to make it happen.

Transgender athletes are not a new issue. Stella Walsh, the Polish-born 1932 100-meter Olympic gold medallist and 1936 silver medallist dominated women's sprinting during the 30s and 40's. The naturalized American citizen was revealed by an autopsy to have male genitalia and XY chromosomes after she was killed by a stray bullet during an 1980 armed robbery in Cleveland.

Renee Richards battled the USTA during the 70's and filed suit in 1977 for the right to play at the professional level as a woman. Mianne Bagger recently underwent the same struggle in the golfing world.

Canadian mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq has been on the receiving end of biowomen complaints, Hateraid and petition drives to bar her from competition after she started winning races.

The IOC, dogged by persistent rumors in the world press of dominant Eastern European athletes such as Irina and Tamara Press of the Soviet Union being 'men competing as women' and fears of women being fed male hormones for competitive advantage like the East German women were during their 70's and 80's runs of international sports dominance, instituted a mandatory gender verification test starting with the 1968 Mexico City Games.

It was interesting to note that the Press sisters, despite winning gold medals in Rome and Tokyo and setting a combined 26 world records never again competed for the Soviet Union at the international level once the gender verification test was made mandatory.

The IOC gender test was initially a gynecological exam that evolved into a chromosomal test called the Barr Test. It was invasive, unreliable and was scrapped before the Sydney Games in 2000.

It led to some awkward situations such as 1964 Olympic gold medalist sprinter Ewa Klobukowska from Poland being ruled ineligible for the European Cup women's track and field competition in 1967 because of 'ambiguous genitalia'. She was stripped of her Tokyo Games gold and bronze medals by the IAAF but gave birth to a child years later.

A year later 1966 Austrian downhill skiing world champion Erika Schinegger failed the test after it revealed she was chromosomally male, making her ineligible for the upcoming 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France.

Erika later transitioned and reemerged on the international skiing scene as Erik Schinegger.

While the test has been scrapped at the Olympic level, in December 2006 at the Asian Games being held in Qatar, 800 meter silver medallist Shanti Sounderajan from India failed a post race gender test and was stripped of the medal she'd earned.

Some of the issues against transgender athletes stem from ignorance or jealousy. In 1996 a Thai volleyball team made up primarily of gay and transgender people nicknamed the 'Iron Ladies' won the Thai national championship and was immortalized in two Thai films of the same name. Thai government officials barred two of the transpeople from joining the national team and competing internationally out of fears and concern for the country's international image. Canadian mountain biker Michelle Dumaresq is constantly accused of having an 'unfair advantage' by biowomen especially after she began to frequently win events on the Canadian mountain biking circuit.

The 'unfair advantage' argument is actually a bogus one and medical science is increasingly backing that up. Even though a transwomen grows up with testosterone coursing through her body, hormone replacement therapy takes the muscle building advantage away over time. A genetic female skeleton is lighter, so a transwoman has the handicap of lugging around basically a heavier skeleton with FEMALE musculature.

The IOC was followed by the Ladies Golf Union (Great Britain), the Ladies European Golf Tour, Women’s Golf Australia, the United States Golf Association, USA Track and Field, and the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association in crafting policies governing transgender athletic participation in events sponsored by their organizations. The Women’s Sports Foundation, United Kingdom and the United States-based Women’s Sports Foundation have issued policy statements supporting the inclusion of transgender athletes in sport. Other international governing sporing federations have followed the IOC's lead when it comes to determining eligibility of transgender athletes in their sports

Curiously the NCAA, in a policy that is under review, requires that transgender athletes compete in the gender designated on their official government documents, for example, driver’s license, birth certificate or passport. As of yet no high school governing bodies have announced policies addressing the participation of transgender athletes.

But with the increase in transgender kids transitioning at earlier ages, it's time to discuss the issue of transgender athlete eligibility to participate in school-based sports before it goes to court. New York's Harvey Milk High School for GLBT students was in 2003 considering starting athletic teams to play in the New York Public Schools Athletic League.

But best of all, the IOC ruling validates us as people. Athletes all over the world have a common dream of standing on that top step and receiving an Olympic gold medal. One day it may be a transgender athlete that is standing there being recognized as the best in the world. It would also be cool to see a transgender athlete hit the winning basket at the buzzer, score the winning goal or win a race.

The best part is that it may happen in my lifetime. If Michelle Dumaresq is correct about the 110 stealth transpeople already competing at Olympian levels, it may have already occurred.