‘The Real’s’ Jeannie Mai is raising awareness of human trafficking in new film The talk show host is executive producer of ‘Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking’

According to the Department of Homeland Security, every year millions of men, women and children are trafficked in countries around the world, generating billions of dollars in profit, making it second only to drug trafficking in transactional crime.

These shocking statistics came as a surprise to Jeannie Mai, co-host of daytime TV show The Real, when she began raising awareness around this epidemic, in which only 2 percent of victims make it out alive.

Mai partnered with filmmaker Sadhvi Siddhali Shree as the executive producer for a powerful and raw documentary entitled Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking. With raw images of life on the streets, heart-pounding rescues and gut-wrenching personal stories, the documentary offers hope and empowerment, with hopes to engage others in a movement to end modern-day slavery and abuse on a global scale.

“It’s all about being woke to what’s happening in the world,” Mai said. “The word ‘trafficking’ is weird in itself and was invented just a few years ago to describe the selling and trading of human beings because we didn’t understand exactly what it was. It started off as sex slavery then modern-day slavery, and now it’s trafficking.”

Mai hopes to create awareness that leads to action. She spoke with The Undefeated about the documentary, as well as about working on The Real, the secret behind her positivity and how she defines success.


What’s the nature of Stopping Traffic: The Movement to End Sex Trafficking?

This film is gritty and, honestly, painful to watch, but it’s real. It will help people understand how human trafficking takes place 360 degrees around us. You’ll feel a calling to contribute to the movement after watching it.

What motivated you to get involved with the film?

It’s been my dream to put together a piece of art that would describe what human trafficking looks like. I joined forces with [Sadhvi] Siddhali [Shree], a beautiful woman, monk, Army veteran and powerful filmmaker. I fell in love with her passion, and we both had the same fervor to educate the world and get people more socially conscious about the brevity of trafficking.

What was your first experience becoming more hands-on with learning about sex trafficking?

I went to Thailand with an organization called NightLight and lived in a brothel for about three weeks. That’s where I really saw the darkness of these women’s lives. They’re trapped and voiceless, and their families are being used as pawns.

[It inspired another documentary I’m working on,] Along the Line, where we shot in Vietnam, Sa Pa, Thailand, to speak with three traffic survivors who shared what it was like to be enslaved, used, abused and manipulated, and how their lives are now as heroines. It’ll come out by early 2019.

What triggered the need to learn more about sex trafficking?

I didn’t know what it was until about eight years ago, when it happened to a family friend in Vietnam. Her uncle had sold her to a brothel as a sex slave to pay off the family debt. I was angry, disgusted and confused. I did research, made phone calls, spoke with government officials and then learned that this situation happens to millions of people every day. She is OK now.

Switching gears, what can we expect for the live airing of season four of The Real?

It’s going to be a fun season with more giveaways, money and amazing, heartfelt stories that’s going to teach you how to love yourself better. Loni [Love], Tamera [Mowry-Housley], Adrienne [Houghton] and I are able to remind women every day that they are valuable and worthy. All of us ladies on the show are a work in progress. We constantly share our hiccups, and we’re transparent about it.

What have you learned from your co-hosts?

First off, I’ve learned to love brown liquor because of Loni. Tam-Tam [Tamera] has taught me the power of poise. She is so poised in every situation of life. Adrienne teaches me about hopeless romantic love, and I’m just like, ‘Let’s get some Netflix and Cheetos.’

What’s the secret behind your positivity?

It’s from turning L’s [losses] into W’s [wins]. Like anyone else, I’ve gone through my own losses, whether that’s relationships, setbacks or insecurities. But when I look back, I really appreciate those experiences because being on the ground taught me how not to only get up, but to stand up and strut.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

There’s always going to be someone who won’t believe in your worth. Don’t let that person be you.

As a TV style expert, what got you into fashion?

I love fashion; it’s my armor. Fashion allows me to tell you my story before I get myself together to tell you. That’s what’s so powerful about it. Style is having that swag from the way you walk, talk, laugh, move your hands, type of vernacular you use. All of that comes together and you are a dope fashion piece, even if you only have a shirt and jeans on.

What’s your advice to women who don’t feel pretty?

Own your pretty, boo! It can be as simple as that you have a great smile or amazing ankles. Whatever it is, find it and highlight what that beautiful part is and dress the rest up. It starts there, and then from the ground up, boom, you bloom.

The new Thurgood ‘Marshall’ movie is a thrilling What-Had-Happened-Was Superstar Chadwick Boseman and director Reggie Hudlin talk colorism and the black film renaissance

Chadwick Boseman remembers the exact moment when he understood why the work he was doing — not just the grabbing of marquees, not just working alongside Hollywood’s top talent, not just surprising critics with how easily he melts into a role of some of the world’s most famous men — was cemented.

He was on the set of Draft Day, a 2014 sports drama about the Cleveland Browns and its general manager (Kevin Costner) who wants to turn around his consistently losing team with a hot draft pick. “When you’re doing a car shot,” Boseman says, leaning in and slightly pushing back the sleeves of his sharp, black bomber, “you’re following the lead car.” He said they stopped in front of the projects. “I get out of the car, and somebody says, ‘Yo, that’s that dude from that baseball movie outside, right?!’ Everybody in the projects came outside, and they were like, ‘Hey, hey, hey! I got your movie on DVD in the house!’ The DVD hadn’t come out yet. They were like, ‘It didn’t come out yet? Oh, no, no. We didn’t mean it that way. But look — I saw it.’ ” He says that’s what it’s all about. “You want people to appreciate what you’ve been doing.”

This week, Boseman’s latest film, Marshall, opens. Once again, the actor takes on a role of a historical, powerful-in-his-field man. He’s portrayed baseball and civil rights icon Jackie Robinson and the influential James Brown. Now he’s legendary lawyer and eventual Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege. Marshall himself was the highest of yellows, and his skin color — on the verge of passable — was unmissable. Boseman, on the other hand is decidedly black, with striking chocolate skin — and that factor almost prevented him from even going after the role.

It’s an interesting casting, to be sure. Part of Marshall’s story is rooted in his light skin. It was a privilege.

Reginald Hudlin, the film’s director, said it’s been a hot topic, even among his close circle. “I’ve had friends who admitted to me, ‘I went in going I don’t know if this casting works.’ And they also have admitted, within 20 seconds, that concern was gone, it had never occurred to them. Because Chadwick’s performance is the exact spirit of Thurgood Marshall. He said that people who have clerked under Marshall, who knew him intimately, are more than satisfied. They’re like, ‘Oh, my God, how did you capture all those little nuances of his personality? You guys nailed it.’ To have that affirmed by people who have firsthand knowledge is a huge relief.”


But Marshall isn’t a biopic. It’s a dissection of one of the best legal minds in American history. And as he has done in his previous biographical work, you stop wondering about the actor at all, let alone the shade of his skin. “If this was a cradle-to-grave story about Marshall, obviously we would have to deal with his complexion,” said Boseman, who is also credited as a producer on the film. “Right now, we’re dealing with one case. He’s walking into this courtroom as a black man. He’s not a black man passing as a white man. He didn’t try to pass as a white man. He showed up as the black attorney, right? He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black, right?”

“They didn’t say,” Boseman stops to laugh, “ ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ”

Marshall, at its best, is an examination of Marshall’s brilliance. It’s an up-close, deep dive into how Marshall changed the course of American history. “Everything is a risk,” Boseman said. “No matter what movie you do, it’s a risk. … It’s also a risk, if you look like the person, to play the role because then there’s the pressure of doing certain things a certain way.”

The court case used to examine Marshall’s legal savvy is relatively unknown — a black man in Connecticut (Sterling K. Brown) is accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson) — and Marshall is stripped of his voice. He’s told by a racist judge that he can’t speak in the courtroom. He couldn’t speak on behalf of his client at all. Instead, he had to employ Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer who is a white Jewish man (Josh Gad), and teach him how to try this case. There’s a tone of Mighty Whitey here, to be sure, intermingled with a lesson on the importance of allies. Timely.

That said, it’s Boseman’s film. And not for nothing, he absolutely nails it. In four short years, the Howard University-educated Boseman has positioned himself as a force. He’s a box-office draw, and at the top of next year he leads the highly anticipated Black Panther, which surely will change the course of Hollywood, or at least continue to challenge the notion that films with predominantly black casts don’t travel internationally.

Not that Boseman isn’t up for the challenge. He’s the black man — sometimes he’s by himself — gracing Vanity Fair-like magazine gatefold layouts representing the next biggest thing in Hollywood. His representation is undeniable. And he understands his worth.


This film feels very much like 2017. It takes place in December 1940, a time when the NAACP was concentrating on its litigation in the South, suing over voting rights and equal pay for black teachers and segregation in higher education. But in the North, issues abounded as well — in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for example, there was a 1933 law that banned racial discrimination in public places, and it went unenforced in 1940. Marshall was 32 years old at the time and just beginning the work that would change the lives of black Americans for generations to come.

That notion of public discrimination is tested constantly — turn to any current news headline or cable TV news lower third for quick proof. And Marshall the movie sometimes feels like a thrilling, current-day, true-life drama. Often, when we talk about the historic work the NAACP did with Marshall as its chief legal brain trust, we think about the work done south of the Mason-Dixon line. But this case is set in a conservative white Connecticut town — away from the hard-and-fast Jim Crow laws that crippled black folks who lived in American Southern states.

“That was very much our intent. ‘Why did you choose this case? Why didn’t you do him as a Supreme Court justice? How come you didn’t do Brown v. Board of Education? Those are all worthy stories, stories that the public thinks they know — ‘Oh, I learned about Brown in fifth grade. I got that.’ You don’t got this,” Hudlin said. “You don’t know this case, you don’t know the outcome of this case, which gives me the chance to be true to genre. Because I think genre is what saves these movies from being medicine movies, which I despise. You want to make a movie that works if it wasn’t Thurgood Marshall. If Joe Blow was against the odds in this legal case, does the movie still work?”

It does. “This crime has all these broader implications, economic implications, for black folk. And for the institution of the NAACP. The truth is messy. Everyone comes into the case with their own particular set of -isms,” Hudlin said. “The challenge is, do you respect the process of the legal system to get to uncomfortable truths? And do you have enough personal integrity to acknowledge uncomfortable truths as they emerge, that don’t fit your preconceived notions? That’s how America works, you know?”


This film premieres right at the start of Hollywood’s award season preseason. In the fourth quarter of each year, we’ve come to expect the year’s best to be presented, or some of the year’s most generously budgeted films to hit the big screen.

But Marshall, perhaps, carries a bigger weight. It feels like a tipoff of a major moment for black creatives both behind and in front of the camera. This is the first time we’ve seen so many black directors working on films of this magnitude and at this level. Coming soon after this film are projects by directors Ava DuVernay (A Wrinkle In Time) and Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), and Gina Prince-Bythewood is writing and directing Spider-Man spinoff Silver & Black. And the list goes on.

“He showed up as a black man and got gagged for being black. They didn’t say, ‘We’re going to gag you because you’re light-skinned-ded.’ ” — Chadwick Boseman

“I would say like three, maybe four years ago … in separate moments … we’ve talked about what’s been happening over the past few years. And I remember leaving several of those conversations, and we said, ‘Let’s not say it publicly, but we’re in the renaissance,’ ” Boseman says. “Let’s not say it publicly, because if we say it, then people will think we’re happy with it. That we’re satisfied with that. So let’s not ever actually say it. I think now we’re at a point where there’s no point in not saying it, because it’s obvious that this is a different moment.”

This is a huge moment, but it comes with questions — plenty of them.

“My bigger-picture analysis is that there are 20-year cycles,” said Hudlin. “You have this explosion in the 1970s with the blaxploitation movement, which created a set of stars and a set of icons so powerful they still resonate today. You can say Shaft, you can say Superfly, you can say Foxy Brown, and those things still mean things to people 40 years later.” He said that then there was a five- or 10-year period, a kind of collapsing, where basically in the ’80s you have Eddie Murphy and Prince. They don’t have folks really able to make movies. “Then, in the ’90s, there was that explosion of Spike Lee, and myself, and John Singleton. Those films were different from the movies of the ’70s. More personal, you know?”

He said blacks were telling their own stories, and there were greater production values. “And then like a 10-year period, a shutdown, and really you have Tyler Perry. And now this new wave, right? And when you look at all three of these periods, the thing is, the movies get bigger, they get more varied in their subject matter, and the production value keeps increasing. When you look at the bounty of black images, of black filmmakers working in film and television — no. We’ve never had it this good. We’ve never had material this rich, and to me, the outstanding question is, when does it no longer become a cycle and becomes a fixture and part of the entertainment landscape?”

As they say on social media, that’s a question that needs an answer.

Black female gun owners speak about Russian Facebook ads ‘I don’t want to be used as propaganda’

Black women who own guns don’t necessarily fit the common conceptions of gun owners. They’re rarely the picture of recreational shooting or gun classes. And some fear that even if they procure the proper training and licensing, they’re not protected by laws designed to shield gun owners from prosecution.

The distance between perception and reality surfaced this week when The Washington Post reported that imagery of a black woman firing a rifle was used in the Facebook ads that Russians bought to influence the 2016 presidential election. The image, which has not been publicly released, might have been intended to encourage African-American militancy and also fan fears among whites, according to the Post report.

Without context, a picture of a black woman firing a rifle is not a neutral image, said Kaitanya Bush, a 42-year-old paralegal in Austin, Texas, who recently bought a 9 mm pistol to protect herself and her family.

Bush said she immediately thought of the cartoon of Michelle Obama on the cover of The New Yorker before the 2008 election. Obama was depicted as a rifle-wielding radical sporting a bandolier and giving her secret-Muslim husband a “terrorist fist jab.” The cover was meant to be satirical — pointing out the ridiculousness of the worst fears of Obama opponents, given that the Obamas were moderate, well-to-do liberals, not the second coming of Assata Shakur and Fred Hampton.

“You can see how that imagery [in the Russian ads] can evoke the same feelings that those had about Michelle Obama bringing this militant side out of the nice and gentle Barack,” Bush said. The New Yorker cover depicted Michelle Obama as “threatening, and fearful, and manipulative, that there is an ulterior motive to this. That we are the temptress.”

Bush said the fear of black women’s radicalism reminded her of the reaction to Colin Kaepernick’s girlfriend, Nessa Diab, after she tweeted an unflattering image comparing Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and Ray Lewis to characters from Django Unchained.

Lewis attributed the Ravens’ decision not to sign Kaepernick to the tweet, which he called a “racist gesture.”

Outside the context of law enforcement, military service, or criminality, images of black people with guns tend to be associated with political radicalism, whether it be the Black Panthers, the photo of Malcolm X holding a rifle and peering out of a window, which Nicki Minaj adopted for the album art of her 2014 single, “Lookin A– N—-,” or The New Yorker cover of the Obamas. Images of gun-wielding black people are metonyms for black militancy.

Black gun ownership is historically connected with defending oneself from state violence or lack of state protection, from Harriet Tubman to violent uprisings of enslaved people. And of course there’s a long history of black people who hunt, or shoot for sport, like the women in this 1937 image of the Howard University women’s rifle team. But such representations of black gun users aren’t as well-known.

Black women with guns don’t enjoy the same positive associations as someone such as Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde or Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, who made the empowered and unafraid gun-toting archetype a key part of their appeal as movie stars. That tide may shift slightly with the upcoming film Proud Mary, which stars Taraji P. Henson as a sexy, skilled hit woman. There’s also Lana Kane, the smart, sensible spy in Archer voiced by Aisha Tyler, whose biting comebacks and uniform of clingy sweater dresses set off by two TEC-9s made her a cult hero. But at the end of the day, Kane is a cartoon.

And so the limited context in which armed black women are seen may have provided an opportunity for Russia.

“It makes complete sense to me that they would do that just to incite some sort of rise out of people,” said Marchelle Tigner, a 25-year-old firearms instructor in Savannah, Georgia, who calls herself the “Trigger Happy Panda.” “When articles came out about me or videos came out about me, I would read the comments. And a lot of the comments were extremely negative, like, ‘Oh, black women have guns now. They’re gonna start shooting people. They’re angry and irrational, and the crime rate in black neighborhoods is gonna go up now.’ They were really hurtful, really mean, and really racist comments coming out, so it makes sense that if Russia wanted to get a rise out of people or incite some kind of hateful feelings in a lot of people, they would post pictures of black women with firearms.”

Tigner is an Army veteran who began carrying a gun as part of her job as a military intelligence officer. It made her uncomfortable, but after she was sexually assaulted at age 19, shooting at the gun range became cathartic instead of anxiety-producing. She now travels the country instructing black women in gun safety. When Tigner saw the news that Russia may have used an ad featuring an image of a black woman firing a rifle as a way to sow division and disrupt the election, she was not pleased.

“Although I might not agree with a lot of people’s beliefs, I would never want to be used as propaganda,” Tigner said. “I never want to be a gimmick. That’s why I carry myself professionally when I’m teaching because I never want my words or my images to be twisted and used against me, or against people for making that decision.”


Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.

Courtesy of Marchelle Tigner

Black women interviewed for this story believe they will not necessarily be afforded equal protection under the law as licensed gun owners because of their blackness. As a result, there’s a cost-benefit analysis that takes place. On the one hand, they feel unsafe in America because of their blackness, and that includes experiences as a gun owner. But they have decided that it’s still worth having the gun to protect themselves from, among other things, racially-motivated violence.

Even though North Carolina is an open carry state, Dione Davis, a 32-year-old cosmetologist and mother, said that she chooses to conceal carry her Glock with a permit. The reason is because she’s black, Davis said.

“I guess I feel like I’m covered but I’m not covered,” Davis said. “I would say … there is a double standard as to how we’re viewed, black gun owners versus white gun owners. Nobody’s looking at my husband or myself as … college-educated … law-abiding citizens when we have a gun. Nobody’s thinking about whether I have four kids at home when you look at me at with a gun. Nobody’s thinking about those things. … White America always has the positive view: They’ve got a family at home, they’re always viewed with life behind them. Black Americans, we’re viewed with no life behind us.”

Philando Castile had a permit for his gun, but died in 2016 after the Minnesota police officer who pulled him over shot and killed him, citing fear that Castile, who disclosed that he had a weapon, would kill him. Marissa Alexander, a black woman from Jacksonville, was imprisoned for firing a warning shot in self-defense at her abusive husband after a judge rejected her defense under the state’s “stand your ground” law.

In every class she holds, Tigner said, black women voice their worries about not having their rights respected or acknowledged. “I’ve even had women say that they didn’t want to be in the photo that we take at the end of the class because they didn’t even want anyone to know that they were in a firearms class,” Tigner said. “It’s kind of scary to think that you can’t learn how to defend yourself without being a target or being looked at as a threat. Even Tamir Rice, he was a kid and had a toy. Not even a real firearm, being a child, and was killed in less than two seconds after [police] arrived on the scene. Things like that are why a lot of parents don’t even want their children to learn about firearms or to take a class, because they don’t want them to be seen as a target, like my parents didn’t. We talk about that in the class a lot.”

For Tigner, the decision not to open carry is a tactical one. “If I was a bank robber and I walk into a bank and you’re open carrying, I’m definitely gonna make sure I take you out first. It just makes you an immediate target and an immediate threat. That’s how criminals think. They look for the harder target. Nobody’s expecting me, this 25-year-old black woman, to have a firearm and to be able to draw and defend myself, and I like that. I like that I’m underestimated.”


With regard to the Russian Facebook ads, Tiffany Ware, the 44-year-old Cincinnati-based founder of The Brown Girls Project and founder of the Brown Girls With Guns workshop, didn’t think it was possible for racial tensions to get worse than they already are.

“My only thought was how could they think that would create more of a divide than what already exists?” Ware said. “From where I live, my view, my perspective, there’s always been this huge divide between African-American people and others. Now there’s even more of a divide. I don’t see how they thought seeing that image would create a greater divide, because I come from a very strong and proud background and all I’ve ever received was pushback for being that way.”

She first became interested in guns after a team she managed was harassed while canvassing for Hillary Clinton. Her team members told her they’d been called “n—–s” and that their campaign signs had been destroyed. Ware said she’s lived in Cincinnati for most of her life and before last fall had been called “n—-” twice. Since December, she’s been called the N-word four times.

Witnessing her children’s anxiety after President Donald Trump won the election spurred Ware to action to protect herself and her family.

“It just made me think and I was like, gosh, what if somebody did — anybody, not just some crazy racist person — but what if somebody did run up in this house, what would I do?” Ware said. “Like, how do I handle that? I need to figure it out.”

When Ware began organizing gun training for black women at a Cincinnati gun range, she said, she and the women in her group would draw stares and the owners made it clear they were not welcome. “They told us we couldn’t continue to come because there were so many of us that we were knocking out their Sunday regulars,” Ware said. “We knew what it was.” So they found another range.

“From white supremacists who terrorized that young child’s birthday party to the little boy who took the trash out for his mother and his neighbor shot him down on the side of the street, you know these are realities for us,” Bush said. “And I as a lawful citizen of this country, if I am going to come up against someone who may have a weapon on them, I am not going to be in that position where I have to fear for my life, where I’m unable to protect my family.”

Black folk must stop trying to avoid jury duty We need to join the system to counter its discriminatory effects

Along with more than 50 strangers, I filed into a San Diego courtroom a few years ago. I ambled to my seat in the jury box, plucked a white laminated piece of paper from the wooden chair, plopped down and skimmed it.

“Have you ever been arrested?”

“Do you know of anyone who has been a victim of a crime?”

Those two questions seized my attention. Does answering yes, I pondered, indicate less fitness for jury service? I next scanned the unfamiliar faces.

Ahead and slightly to my left, a clean-cut white man, the prosecutor, sat at a table canvassing the room’s new entrants. Across from him and farther away from me sat a slightly less polished white man, the defense counsel. He also spent much of his time studying us. In the chair to his left, a young dark-skinned black man with short locs alternated between staring vacantly downward and forward and conferring with his attorney. The judge called me by my new name, Prospective Juror No. 4. If chosen, I would help determine whether the state should imprison this brother for first-degree murder.

I figured I wouldn’t get to serve on that jury, though. California law, in first-degree murder cases, grants the prosecution and defense 20 “peremptory strikes,” the right to excuse a prospective juror without providing a reason. I thought the prosecutor would use one on me for two reasons.

First, I’m a lawyer. Many prosecutors recoil at the prospect of a lawyer juror. The state carried the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant murdered someone, a burden more easily shouldered with a jury of minds more malleable than that of a lawyer, particularly one who focused on race, white supremacy and discrimination.

Second, I’m a black man, about eight years older than the defendant. A troubling reality ricocheted around inside my mind — prosecutors strike black folk from juries at a higher rate, especially when a black defendant stands accused.

I surveyed the other potential jurors, devoting special attention to the few black faces. More Hispanic faces peppered the bunch, but not many. White faces? Only covering my eyes or staring at the ceiling would block them from my vision. Understanding the history of the all-white jury being employed to nearly guarantee convictions of people of color, I fretted about that possibility here. Right then, I decided if I detected a whiff of anything strange — I couldn’t define strange other than by paraphrasing Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s remark about obscenity: I know it when I smell it — I would speak forthrightly about implicit racial bias.

When the prosecutor questioned me to determine whether I would be a favorable juror, he clumsily identified the victim as a black man, cueing me to identify with him. Next, he described a San Diego Police Department policy of tracking local gangs by approaching youths in certain neighborhoods to ascertain which had gang affiliations. He inquired about my feelings on the matter, though no other juror.

A few questions in, I smelled it.

When he asked me a general question about bias — positive I was going home soon, regardless — I veered into a discussion about implicit racial bias. I described what it meant, tailoring the message for the situation. In a room full of white people, I noted that although all of them likely envisioned themselves as good, egalitarian people, the negative stereotypes American culture broadcasts about people of color, particularly black men, barrage them daily. These implicit messages taint how they interpret situations, a phenomenon that affects us all, including people of color. But if we acknowledge that these biases afflict our minds and strive to mitigate their power, we can reach fair decisions. The already quiet room plunged to a new degree of silence.

I knew I wouldn’t serve on the jury. I nevertheless hoped to leave a message that would remain with those who did: The defendant’s blackness provided no evidence of his guilt, but their brains probably assumed it did and they likely weren’t aware of that.

Once we reconvened after lunch, the prosecutor struck me from the jury. My recognition of the many horrors produced by the criminal justice system had compelled me to stand in the ring and fight back, in my own way. I soon learned that systemic injustice led others to adopt a different posture.


A few months back, I pitched my editor a story idea: to interview black prosecutors on the state of black jury service. Are juries as diverse as they should be? If not, why? Do they know if their colleagues strike prospective black jurors because of race? The path I traveled for this story forked into a new direction when a black Southern prosecutor, who wanted to remain unnamed so he could speak frankly and in detail, let loose on black folk who avoid jury service because they don’t want to work within a racist system.

“[Some black] people think that whatever they do, it’s not going to matter. They think the system isn’t designed for them. So when you’ve got a bunch of people thinking that the system is rigged or the system is fixed anyway, then it’s almost like, what difference does it make? It’s only set up to keep the black man down.”

The prosecutor continued: “If you start acting like that about the system, thinking that you need a complete separate system for yourself, you become part of the problem. And it’s nothing better than being an obstructionist. … They tell themselves, ‘I don’t care what ends up happening. You know it’s set up against black folks, so why does anything matter what I say or what I do?’ ”

I spoke to William Snowden, a New Orleans public defender and founder of The Juror Project, an organization focusing on instructing minority community members that their presence in the jury box helps the criminal justice system operate more equitably. He likewise traces apathy toward jury service to feelings of helplessness.

Snowden notices “a mindset of negativity around jury duty and thinking that it’s something that they should get out of and not understanding the importance that they can have in actually being in the deliberation room. Additionally, there is a large community of people of color that have had negative experiences with the criminal justice system, and when they get invited in to kind of be part of it, their initial gut reaction is that this is a bad system. This is an unfair system. And I don’t want to be part of this injustice that kind of gets carried out on a regular basis.

“I think the problem is we have too many black folk,” the prosecutor bluntly stated, “especially in the South, that are saying things to not be on the jury.” He said he often observes black prospective jurors expressing views that indicate they want nothing to do with the system. He told me about a black woman saying she couldn’t judge anyone because of her Christianity, meaning she would never convict the defendant. When prompted to articulate Scripture supporting her views, she floundered.

Snowden unloaded similar tales. “ ‘I can’t vote guilty for someone who is charged with possession of crack cocaine because I don’t believe in this war on drugs and I don’t believe in incarcerating drug addicts.’ When you say something along those lines, the prosecutor will move for what’s called a legal-cause strike to get you kicked off the jury.”

When I heard this, I remembered a white woman from my jury duty experience. She seemingly wanted to get out of her civic responsibility by maligning the system as too racist for her to discharge the duties of a juror. Don’t many, regardless of race, seek to avoid jury duty, I wondered? Polling helps answer this: A Pew Research survey recently found that 58 percent of black people, 61 percent of Hispanic folk and 71 percent of white people, recognize jury service as a mark of good citizenship.

What both men discussed was helplessness leading to apathy, a mental state one should expect to detect principally in minority populations. Their viewing of this dilemma through a racial lens made perfect sense.

Snowden informs those he interacts with for The Juror Project that diversity elevates the system. “What the research shows,” he said, “is when [people of varying viewpoints] get in a room, they are going to have longer deliberations. They’re going to ask more questions and more objective decisions are going to be made. So when we increase the diversity across the board with race, with gender, socioeconomic status, we’re going to get a better outcome.” He delivers a simple message: “Your minority perspective in [the deliberation] room can have a large impact on that particular trial.”


These remarks recalled an episode from ABC’s black-ish. In the episode, titled One Angry Man, lead character Andre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) must serve on a jury. He initially plans on surreptitiously listening to an audiobook during the trial, sneaking an earbud into his left ear. But then the defendant — a young black man charged with burglary and grand larceny represented by an ill-prepared, fumbling public defender — captures his attention and his mood switches. His gaze shifts to his fellow jurors. Eleven white faces. One black one. His. He yanks out his earbud. This nightmare, upon reflection, presented him a great opportunity to achieve some good.

Andre deeply cares about racism and the status of black folk, wanting to parent kids aware of the broader racial struggle as they grow up with access to wealth and resources that few black kids enjoy, including himself, a poor black boy from Compton, California. Provided a chance to make an unjust system fairer, he almost allowed it to slip away. If the a ha moment had never struck him, Andre would have been complicit with the racism and discrimination he rails against in each episode.

We must stamp the complicit label on the sort of black folk Snowden and the prosecutor mentioned. That some feel mired in despondency must elicit sympathy and empathy. But feelings of helplessness only exacerbate the situation if it produces complacency and withdrawal rather than action. Instead of exercising agency, they relinquish their power to act at all. In fact, they gift the unjust system what it covets — their voices muzzled, their presence nonexistent and white folk with unfettered control over the scepter.

Those I interviewed described real people who represent an unknowable number who need to grasp this truism: Defeatism breeds complicity.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Felipe Esparza laughs at his life in first HBO special ‘Translate This’ is the result of studying the comedy greats

Actor and comedian Felipe Esparza describes himself as raw with a real comic sensibility. His new HBO special, Felipe Esparza: Translate This, airing Saturday during Hispanic Heritage Month, captures today’s climate for Latinos in America, and it’s delivered in a manner that would make the most unassuming person laugh.

There are no real pauses in a conversation with the comedian, because he takes any available second to insert an anecdote that rings so true that you have to say, “I almost thought you were serious.”

Esparza finds humor in his life experiences, discussing topics such as immigration, his difficulty translating for his parents, being a once-not-so-great single dad while dating single moms, his current challenges in raising his blond-haired, blue-eyed stepson, and more. He knows his past was part of his journey that would lead him to this point, where he is able to share his story in a way that fills hearts with laughter.

The winner of Last Comic Standing in 2010, Esparza has appeared on numerous TV shows, including Superstore, The Tonight Show, Lopez Tonight, Premium Blend, The Eric Andre Show, Comic View and Galavisión’s Que Locos, where he made more appearances than any other comedian. His film credits include The Deported and I’m Not Like That No More, a feature based on his stand-up comedy, as well as his first stand-up special, They’re Not Gonna Laugh at You. Esparza is also the host of the What’s Up Fool? podcast that he launched in 2014.

Just ahead of his HBO special, he spoke to The Undefeated.


How did your project with HBO come to fruition?

I’ve always wanted to be a comedian and I’ve always wanted an HBO special because I saw Paul Rodriguez, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Howie Mandel — you know, all the greats — and I thought, like, I need to be one of those guys on HBO so I could be considered one day a great, or somebody to say, ‘Oh, man, he’s a great comedian.’ The verification of being on HBO, because HBO is part of my generation. The comedians before me wanted to be on Johnny Carson, you know? They wanted to be on The Tonight Show, and the people would be on The Tonight Show, then they’d be a little famous and that’s it. My dream was to be on HBO. I did my special with my wife. We produced it ourselves, and once HBO found out about me doing my own special, they got 100 percent behind it, and they wanted to show it on HBO, so we’re very happy about that.

Why did you decide to infuse your upbringing into your comedy?

I grew up in a gated community. The windows were gated, the back door was gated. No, I’m only kidding. That’s part of my jokes. A lot of my jokes come from my upbringing, because I grew up in the housing projects, so it was a very tough neighborhood. A lot of my jokes come from there. Once when a burglar broke into our house and they couldn’t find nothing to steal, they woke us up to make fun of us.

When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?

When I was a little boy, my friends played an album of Bill Cosby, and I fell in love with Bill Cosby stand-up comedy, and I wanted to be a comedian right there and then.

How did you overcome your addiction?

Along the way, I got into a lot of trouble. I was in a gang. I was into drugs, and I got into a lot of trouble and Father Greg Boyle from Humble Industries, he came to my house and he offered to help me, and he put me in a rehab for drug addicts for drug rehabilitation. I was there with a bunch of men. It was more like it was open for all religions, they were, like, nondenominational.

It was funny because on Sundays we would all go to different churches. Then at dinnertime, we would all be together again, a lot of drug addicts. It’s like, heroin addicts, I mean, people who just came out of prison, people who were out of prison from doing 20 years, and these are young men. Me, I was in my 20s, hanging around with these old guys. I’ve never been in prison. I’ve never been in jail. The only crime I committed was bringing videos back late.

He said, ‘Hey, guys, write down five things you want to do in your life and accomplish.’ I didn’t know what to write, so I wrote I want to be a comedian No. 1, of course, because that was my dream. No. 2, I like Olive Garden, so I want to go to Italy. No. 3 was to be happy. Four and five, I couldn’t think of anything else. I really thought that he was going to read these in front of everybody and judge us, but he didn’t. I just put it in my pocket and he said to bring it out whenever you’re feeling sad, or feeling down, or you have a lot to do, pick up your five goals and try to see if you can do at least one. I chose the easier one, to be a comedian, because I wanted to be a comedian.

How did you get started?

Back then there was no social media, so I had to do everything like a caveman. I had to go to the library. Remember the library? That place with books. I went to the L.A. County library on Fifth and Grant in downtown L.A. It’s huge! I went there when it opened, and I asked the librarian to help me find books on comedy writing. She introduced me to a lot of comedy writers, people I never heard of, like Steve Allen. I started learning from those guys, and then I started like checking out books of comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and checking out those videos and taking them home and watching them and bringing them back and picking up another one. One day I picked up a magazine called the L.A. Weekly, and it said open mic for young comedians, and I went over there and I did my comedy show. One of the first comedians I met was Jamie Kennedy, and then from knowing him, I started to know other spots to perform. I met other comedians.

What were your reservations about getting into comedy?

At that time I was worried, like … are only Latino people gonna laugh at my jokes? I was only performing in coffeehouses. Then I went to like other places, but mostly like, Latino people were gravitating to me. They were really laughing.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I asked Paul Rodriguez, ‘How did you cross over to mainstream America?’ Then we started talking about mainstream America and crossing over and being funny. He said, ‘If you’re funny enough, you don’t have to worry about that stuff. They’re going to cross over to you.’ So I took that with a grain of salt and I stuck to it, and here we are, Sept. 30, HBO special. That kind of advice helped me out a lot.

How do you feel about where you are in your life?

I think I started at the right time, you know? I was born at the right time where social media got big, and I was there when hip-hop started. I was there when the podcast world began. I have a podcast. Now I’m doing a sports show with a woman interviewing me. You know what I mean? I’m in the beginning of the best times. I’m at the cusp, man.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

The hardest part of my journey, in my opinion, is staying focused, because as comedians, we have a lot of time to kill. Like right now, if I wasn’t doing this interview with you, I don’t know what I would do. I would probably play Madden for the next four hours. A lot of comedians, they fall off the track. They start worrying about, ‘I’m not famous yet. I don’t have enough followers on Twitter; 12 people showed up to my show. My girlfriend showed up, my ex-girlfriend showed up with her new boyfriend and sat in the first row when I was performing.’ So much stuff goes through my head to be a better comedian.

What advice would you give to other comedians?

My advice to anybody who wants to be a comedian is if you really want to make it in this business, start your family at 39 years old, because this is a very selfish business. This business is all about me, you know? Staying focused and writing every day is one of the main things that I’ve done. I try to force myself to write at least one sentence every day, whether it’s funny or not.

Jemele Hill on doing the right thing A lesson from her grandmother: Be better. No matter what.

I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but let’s just say I was 11.

I was spending the night at my grandmother’s house with a couple of my close friends. And they had an idea. A terrible idea.

They wanted me to steal a couple of beers from my grandmother. My grandmother, you see, loved to entertain. She had card parties and hosted all the family gatherings, and so she always had an ample supply of alcohol.

I figured with all the liquor she had, she would never miss a couple of beers. So I got my Ethan Hunt on and stole the beers right out from under my grandmother’s nose. I didn’t even drink it. I just wanted to impress my friends, maybe climb a few spots up the unofficial neighborhood G rankings.

As for Ethan? It took my grandmother less time than it takes to solve a case on Law & Order to figure out beers were missing and I was the culprit.

When she confronted me, I cried and immediately confessed to the crime. My grandmother didn’t whip me. All she said was, “I am extremely disappointed in you,” and walked away.

I was heartbroken because I felt like I had let my grandmother, who was one of my best friends, down. And there is no feeling worse than letting down the people who love and support you.

I had not felt that way since … until two weeks ago when I was sitting in ESPN president John Skipper’s office having the most difficult conversation of my career.

It was the first time I had ever cried in a meeting. I didn’t cry because Skipper was mean or rude to me. I cried because I felt I had let him and my colleagues down.

Since my tweets criticizing President Donald Trump exploded into a national story, the most difficult part for me has been watching ESPN become a punching bag and seeing a dumb narrative kept alive about the company’s political leanings.

If we’re keeping it all the way real, that narrative is often pushed by the folks in the media who benefit most from that notion and all the attention that criticism of ESPN brings.

But this isn’t about that. It’s simply indicative of just how complex things get for people in OUR position — especially if you’re a woman and a person of color.

I can’t pretend as if this isn’t a challenging time in our country’s history. As a career journalist, I can’t pretend that I don’t see what’s happening in our world.

I also can’t pretend as if the tone and behavior of this presidential administration is normal. And I certainly can’t pretend that racism and white supremacy aren’t real and that marginalized people don’t feel threatened and vulnerable, myself included, on a daily basis.

Yes, my job is to deliver sports commentary and news. But when do my duties to the job end and my rights as a person begin?

I honestly don’t know the answer to that.

I do know that we’re clearly living in a time of blurred lines. The president’s recent inflammatory attacks on NFL players, his choice to disinvite the Golden State Warriors to the White House, are just the latest examples of silence being impossible. This is not a time for retreating comfortably to a corner.

Still, Twitter wasn’t the place to vent my frustrations because, fair or not, people can’t or won’t separate who I am on Twitter from the person who co-hosts the 6 p.m. SportsCenter. Twitter also isn’t a great place to have nuanced, complicated discussions, especially when it involves race. Warriors player Kevin Durant and I probably need to take some classes about how to exercise better self-control on Twitter. Lesson learned.

Also, let me be clear about something else: My criticisms of the president were never about politics. In my eyes, they were about right and wrong. I love this country. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t want it to be better.

The events of last weekend showed that the intersection of sports and politics is the most pronounced we’ve seen in decades. Sports always has been intertwined with social change in America. But let’s not forget some of the athletes who instigated that change — Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, Muhammad Ali, Curt Flood and Jackie Robinson — only became beloved icons once history proved them to be right.

In November, I will celebrate my 11th year at ESPN. I’ve grown immensely as a person and a professional during that time and have accomplished things that I never imagined possible.

As I think on it now, I wonder about the real lesson my grandmother, who died seven years ago, wanted me to learn. Sure, not stealing is the obvious takeaway. But maybe the larger point was: Be better. No matter what.

Prosecutors, not just police, can also play a part in the abuse of black lives The exclusion of black jurors changes the game

 

Various players, during last weekend’s slew of NFL games, reignited the protest efforts against racial injustice. Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, for instance, sat on the bench during the national anthem and raised his black-gloved fist after sacking San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer. Before the game, his brother Reshaud led a Black Lives Matter rally through the streets of Seattle’s International District, chanting, “Black lives are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

Now close your eyes and imagine what they demonstrated against. What scenes invade your mind? Most will picture episodes like what Bennett described as happening to him in Las Vegas — an officer forcing him to the ground, his nose smelling pavement, his ears filled with threats and a handgun aimed at his head — a scared and innocent black man fearing death was looming.

We generally finger cops and incidents like Bennett’s as the reason many people of color distrust the criminal justice system while ignoring a potentially far guiltier culprit — the prosecutor. With considerable authority in the legal system, many prosecutors have the ability to trample upon the constitutional rights of black criminal defendants. This malfeasance can reveal itself in a variety of ways, but one is when prosecutors deliberately make juries as white as possible.

Just last July, Washington state’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black criminal defendant after the prosecutor prevented the only potential black juror from serving on the jury. California’s Supreme Court in June overturned the convictions of three Latino criminal defendants, ruling that the prosecutor discriminated against prospective Latino jurors.

When players protest the national anthem, also envision this: Right now, at least one person of color, almost certainly many, in fact, is seated in the criminal defendant’s chair in a courtroom somewhere in America. That person will gaze over at the jury box and spot few if any nonwhite faces because the prosecutor wanted it that way.

Batson v. Kentucky

The prosecutor and defense attorney have “peremptory challenges,” the right to strike a potential juror from serving on a criminal jury without giving a reason. Each side winnows down the jury pool through these challenges until, in most jurisdictions, 12 jurors and four alternates are seated. Many prosecutors habitually exploit this tool by striking people of color based on race, resulting in disproportionately white juries.

This happened in the early 1980s, when James Kirkland Batson of Louisville, Kentucky, stood accused of second-degree burglary and receiving stolen goods. During jury selection, the prosecutor struck all four black potential jurors and all-white jury convicted Batson.

In 1986, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction. This decision barred prosecutors from considering race when striking jurors, declaring unconstitutional a practice that had lasted more than a century.

Defense attorneys can now initiate a “Batson challenge.” This process generally begins after a prosecutor strikes two or more nonwhite people, often raising the eyebrows of defense attorneys, who can then argue they notice a racial pattern and tender supporting reasons. The judge, if convinced the defense has advanced a substantive initial case, will ask the prosecutor for race-neutral reasons for each reason to strike. If the prosecutor fails to convince the judge that race played no role, the judge will find a Batson violation.

The viability for the Batson decision to curtail this scourge hinged on whether discriminating prosecutors would be impeded by the requirement to proffer race-neutral explanations. Justice Thurgood Marshall in the Batson decision argued they could easily concoct reasons that courts would be “ill-equipped to second-guess. …” The Batson challenge, to Marshall, would falter because it “cannot prevent clever lawyers from using peremptory challenges to strike potential jurors based upon impermissible rationales as long as they pretend to use other, permissible bases.” This would mean that only “flagrant” abuses would be punished. Marshall concluded that “only by banning preemptories entirely can such discrimination be ended.”

Three decades of evidence validate Marshall’s pessimism.

 

Widespread Prosecutorial Jury Discrimination

A report from the Equal Justice Initiative, a racial justice organization in Montgomery, Alabama, exposes how prosecutors freely articulate discriminatory statements in open court. In a Louisiana case, for example, a prosecutor disclosed that he struck a juror for being a “single black male with no children.” One Alabama prosecutor struck black prospective jurors “because he wanted to avoid an all-black jury and asserted in other cases that he struck African-Americans because he wanted to ensure other jurors, who happened to be white, served on the jury.” A Georgia prosecutor challenged a juror “because he was black and had a son in an interracial marriage.”

Courts, in these cases, sided with the defendant. These are the blatant occurrences that Marshall figured courts could prevent. When prosecutors behave more cleverly, judges, as Marshall predicted, poorly guard black rights.

Judges routinely allow prosecutors to strike black prospective jurors because they have “low intelligence,” a “lack of education,” children out of wedlock, live in a “high crime area,” are unemployed, or rely on government assistance programs such as food stamps. A South Carolina court allowed a prosecutor to strike a black man because he “shucked and jived” as he walked. One prosecutor struck a prospective juror for “look[ing] like a drug dealer.” A Louisiana court condoned the rationale. An Arkansas judge allowed a prosecutor to rely on a hunch that a black woman would be “unfavorable to the state” even without the prosecutor ever questioning her to find out.

Zooming out from these details reveals a dispiriting tableau — rampant prosecutorial jury discrimination.

Barbara O’Brien and Catherine M. Grosso, two Michigan State law professors, examined at least one jury trial for each inmate on North Carolina’s death row as of July 1, 2010. Their study examined “strike decisions” for more than 7,400 potential jurors in 173 proceedings to discover how prosecutors used peremptory challenges in capital cases. Their data was clear — prosecutors were far more likely to strike potential black jurors.

Across all the proceedings, “prosecutors struck 52.6 percent of eligible black venire members, compared to only 25.7 percent of all other eligible venire members.” These disparities worsened in cases with black defendants. There, prosecutors struck 60 percent of black potential jurors versus 23.1 percent for all other races. “In every analysis that we performed,” O’Brien and Grosso recapped, “race was a significant factor in prosecutorial decisions to exercise peremptory challenges in jury selection in these capital proceedings.”

When asked what their research reveals about America writ large, O’Brien and Grosso responded by email, “from all the evidence we have seen — both experimental work and analysis of strike decisions in real-life trials — there’s nothing unique about North Carolina: Race is a huge factor in the decision to exercise peremptory strikes everywhere.”

Take the Peremptory Challenge Away from Prosecutors

The true number of defendants who have languished in prisons or died there after being convicted by a discriminatorily composed jury would likely startle even the most well-informed, although the exact total will forever elude us.

Society can best address this by pursuing the prophetic wisdom of Marshall: Strip the peremptory challenge from prosecutors, a power they persistently mishandle.

Take the former Montgomery County, Alabama, district attorney, for example. Her office had at least 13 of its convictions reversed for Batson abuses. She, nonetheless, held her job 21 years before stepping down in 2014. She kept enjoying re-election, and voters likely did not know or care she was habitually violating the rights of black criminal defendants.

Her victims, like that of any prosecutor who denied defendants their constitutional right to an impartially selected jury, suffered no police abuse that an onlooker recorded and posted online for the world to witness. But when black athletes conduct their national anthem protests, we should also keep in mind the image of the purposefully constructed all-white jury that could determine their guilt or innocence.

Ibram Kendi, one of the nation’s leading scholars of racism, says education and love are not the answer Founder of new anti-racism center at American University sees impact of policy, culture on black athletes

It’s a Wednesday night at a bookstore in a well-off part of Washington, D.C., and every seat is taken. More than 100 people spill into the aisles or crowd the stacks past the philosophy and cookbook sections to hear Ibram X. Kendi talk about the racist ideas that founded the nation. About how racial progress is always followed by new and more sophisticated racist progress. And, especially, about the deeply held beliefs that most Americans, including black people and liberal whites, woke up with this morning that they don’t even know are racist and wrong.

For instance, “Black neighborhoods are not more dangerous than white neighborhoods and neither are black people,” Kendi tells the crowd. Layers of racist ideas account for why we think so.

Last year, the 35-year-old scholar became the youngest person to win the National Book Award for nonfiction in 30 years for Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.

And this year, his moment continues. He’s just moved to Washington, where he is launching the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University next week. He’s a historian of racism at a time when our public conversation is fixed on it, when successive presidents have triggered the tribal apprehensions of our Mason-Dixon lines, and when the threat of shoot-you-down, run-you-over racial violence feels as close at hand as the peril to the republic from fake facts and revisionist history. This convergence of circumstances keeps him perpetually on book tour.

Ibram Kendi, right, addresses the audience as Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, who was the presenter for the event, stands by.

André Chung for The Undefeated

A diverse group made up a standing-room-only audience during Dr. Ibram Kendi’s recent book promotion event at Politics and Prose.

André Chung for The Undefeated

With the breadth of his scholarship and expanse of his reach, Kendi has been compared to the famed late historian John Hope Franklin, except he wears his locs long and his edges laid. He used to fantasize about a career in the NBA — or, at the very least, on SportsCenter. He’ll hit you back on Twitter.

Just so you know, black people are not inherently better athletes than white people, Kendi says. We only think so because “black people have not only been rendered inferior to white people, they’ve been rendered like animals,” and thus physically superior creatures. It’s an old racist idea that helped justify African-Americans’ suitability for backbreaking labor and medical experiments and the theft of their children. “When we embrace this as part of our identity,” Kendi says, “we don’t understand.” He wants to correct our misunderstandings.

Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism, Kendi says. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, he argues, not the other way around. And if his new center can help identify and dismantle those policies in the U.S. and around the world, he believes we can start to eliminate racism. At least that’s the goal.

As the evening wears on in the crowded bookstore, people line up at microphones to question, challenge or offer up hosannas to this young scholar, who, in many ways, is just getting started.


Ibram Kendi is the new founding director of The Anti-Racist and Policy Center at American University. He is a leading thinker on race and his 2016 book, “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” won the National Book Award.

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi apologizes for the spare office space he shares with a colleague inside American University’s School of International Service. The walls are bare, and his name has not yet made it outside the door. He’s still unpacking from the move to D.C. with his wife, Sadiqa, a pediatric emergency room physician at Children’s National Health Center, and their 1-year-old daughter, Imani. It’s an ambitiously busy life.

Besides being the founding director of the research center, he’s teaching history and international relations as part of a joint appointment that brought him from the University of Florida, where he was a professor of African-American history.

He’s learning the city, and working on priorities for the center — part think tank, policy shop and incubator for anti-racism strategies — which formally launches next fall. It joins dozens of other customized centers of racial research. One of the earliest and most notable, the W.E.B Du Bois Research Institute at Harvard University, rose to prominence under the leadership of Henry Louis Gates Jr. This year, “year zero,” is to raise funds and recruit researchers, faculty and students.

The goal is to identify inequalities, identify the policies that create and maintain those inequalities, and propose correctives in six areas: criminal justice, education, economics, health, environment and politics. Kendi also hopes to create an online library of anti-racist thinking. He’s still considering initial projects.

But when he talks about racism, he is not still puzzling out his ideas. Kendi has spent thousands of hours reading thousands of documents, including “some of the most horrific things that have ever been said about black people,” to uncover the origins of racist thought. His words are distilled, precise, authoritative. His voice never rises. He is, temperamentally, an antidote to the heat of the subject matter and the hyperbole of the times.

“We have been taught that ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas, lead to racist policies,” Kendi said. “If the fundamental problem is ignorance and hate, then your solutions are going to be focused on education, and love and persuasion. But of course [Stamped from the Beginning] shows that the actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” Self-interest drives racist policies that benefit that self-interest. When the policies are challenged because they produce inequalities, racist ideas spring up to justify those policies. Hate flows freely from there.

The self-interest: The Portuguese had to justify their pioneering slave trade of African people before the pope.

The racist idea: Africans are barbarians. If we remove them from Africa and enslave them, they could be civilized.

“We can understand this very simply with slavery. I’m enslaving people because I want to make money. Abolitionists are resisting me, so I’m going to convince Americans that these people should be enslaved because they’re black, and then people will start believing those ideas: that these people are so barbaric, that they need to be enslaved, or that they are so childlike that they need to be enslaved.”

Kendi boils racist ideas down to an irreducible core: Any idea that suggests one racial group is superior or inferior to another group in any way is a racist idea, he says, and there are two types. Segregationist ideas contend racial groups are created unequal. Assimilationist ideas, as Kendi defines them, argue that both discrimination and problematic black people are to blame for inequalities.

“The actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest.”

Americans who don’t carry tiki torches react viscerally to segregationist ideas like those on display at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one young counter-protester dead. Assimilationist ideas are more subtle, seductive and coded.

“You can be someone who has no intention to be racist,” who believes in and fights for equality, “but because you’re conditioned in a world that is racist and a country that is structured in anti-black racism, you yourself can perpetuate those ideas,” says Kendi. No matter what color you are.

Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equal. That the only thing inferior about black people is their opportunities. “The only thing wrong with black people is that we think there is something wrong with black people,” a line that Kendi uses like a mantra.

The Blue Lives Matter (the problem is violent black people) Black Lives Matter (the problem is the criminal justice system, poor training and police bias) and All Lives Matter (the problem is police and black people) arguments are extensions of the same, three-way debate (segregationist, anti-racist and assimilationist) that Americans have been having since the founding of the country.

“We’ve been taught American history as a steady march of racial progress,” but it’s always been a dual march of racial and racist progress, which we see from Charlottesville to “their Trump Tower,” Kendi says.

This is the jump-off Kendi uses to frame the most roiling issues of the day. But before he could build that frame, he first had to deal with his own racism.


Ibram Kendi

André Chung for The Undefeated

Kendi was born Ibram H. Rogers in Jamaica, Queens, New York, to parents who’d been student activists and were inspired by black liberation theology. He grew up playing basketball and still is an ardent New York Knicks fan.

The family moved to Manassas, Virginia, where Kendi attended Stonewall Jackson High School (named for the Confederate general) and dreamed of a career on the hardwood. The slim, 6-foot-1 former guard says he specialized in the no-look pass. “I consider the beautiful pass the most beautiful part of the game of basketball,” he says.

Sweet passing aside, his basketball aspirations were irrevocably dashed his sophomore year when he failed to make the junior varsity team. “I was so crushed,” Kendi says.

He studied journalism at Florida A&M University and initially wanted to be a broadcaster or a sportswriter. But after internships at The Mobile Register and The Atlanta Journal Constitution, he began to shift his career focus. He wound up getting a doctorate in African-American studies from Temple University. His first book, on the black student protest movement in the ’60s and ’70s, was published in 2012. He began researching Stamped from the Beginning the following year.

That’s when he started to re-examine some of his most deeply held beliefs about race. “I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself,” says Kendi. “I had to come to grips with … some of the things that I imagined and thought,” about black people “and one of the first and most obvious ones was the idea that black neighborhoods are more dangerous than white neighborhoods, which is a very popular idea.”

The highest instances of violent crime correspond with high unemployment and poverty, and that holds true across racial lines, Kendi found. Most white poverty, unemployment and thus violent crimes occur in rural areas, while for blacks those ills are more concentrated in densely populated urban neighborhoods. If impoverished white communities “had five times more people, then that community would have five times, presumably, more violent crime.”

“I was born into a world of racist ideas, many of which I had consumed myself.”

Another racist idea: “I believed that black children were achieving at a lower level than white children. And I believed in the existence of an achievement gap,” says Kendi. Standardized tests prioritize reading and writing as measures of verbal proficiency, as opposed to the wider ability to articulate. And they test subject areas where black schools are vastly underresourced.

“I certainly am somebody who advocates equalizing the resources of school and creating a situation in which we actually live up to our pronouncements that we live in a meritorious society,” says Kendi. “But even if these schools persist in being resourced unequally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the students in the schools with lesser resources are intellectually inferior to the students with better resources.” He reaches into history to illustrate his point: Just because slaves’ lives were circumscribed, they faced more adversity and they dealt with more violence, that doesn’t mean enslaved people were inferior to people who were free.

A “more lighthearted area” he had to confront was his ideas about dating black women. “Black women were angry, they didn’t know what they want, they’re difficult,” he’d heard. “And from my standpoint, those are some of the things that I said when I was having some difficulties in dating.” When we have negative experiences with individuals, “we often say there’s a problem with that black group,” without realizing those are racist ideas.

Now, he’s a poster child for black love. He and his telegenic wife met on Match.com and debuted their new last name Kendi (“loved one” in the Kenyan language of Meru) at their 2013 wedding in Jamaica, which was featured in Essence magazine.

Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American studies at Duke University, calls Kendi part of a vanguard of young black historians, which includes Treva Lindsey at Ohio State and Brittney Cooper of Rutgers, who are transforming the field. Part of what makes him right for the moment is his ability to speak to millennials, who have access to lots of information but can’t always decipher what is good or bad. “What he has written is an accessible history of black folks,” said Neal. In terms of a book for general readers “that covers such a wide historical period, the only thing I can think about in terms of comparison is John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom.”

Kendi’s book resonates like the 2015 National Book Award winner, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, said Neal. “Ta-Nehisi’s was kind of an emotional analysis of what this moment is. Kendi’s was to bring that kind of energy, except to do it in a historical context. I think it’s important to be able to talk about the history of these racist ideas, the impact they’ve had on black people and black life.”

With regard to the most front-and-center issue in sports today, athletes and activism, Kendi says it’s important to remember that the athlete/activists of the 1960s — Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Tommie Smith — all spoke out in the context of the Black Power movement, which is “precisely what’s happening now” with Colin Kaepernick and others who were inspired by Black Lives Matter. “We look for athletes to generate movements, when historically athletes have been good at being athletes, which is precisely what they should be good at, and we should be looking to activists to generate movements.” There will then be those athletes who use their platforms to support those movements and ideologies.

Kendi says that while the numbers of black players on the fields, courts and arenas have increased dramatically over the past 50 years, it’s been harder to make shifts at other positions.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sports writers, like the executives.” If those groups “are lily-white, then [a sport] is simply not diverse.”

This kind of analysis gives Kendi cachet beyond the ivory tower and makes him popular with students, Neal said. Young people see Kendi with his locs and his ability to communicate in a vernacular they know and that expands their thinking about the possibilities for their own lives. They’ll say, “This is somebody I can imagine being somewhere down the line,” said Neal.

“We should determine diversity in sports, just like outside of sports, not by the transient players but by the people who are permanent, like the owners, like the coaches, like the sportswriters, like the executives.”

Peter Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at American University and one of those responsible for bringing Kendi to the university, cites Washington as an organic place to do anti-racist work. “To make real lasting change, change that lasts beyond changes of administrations and flips from one party to the next, you really need to reach out to people who are making more fundamental policy on the ground, in the agencies and throughout the government,” he said.

Starr calls Kendi’s vision to use researchers from around the country an approach that mirrors what happens in the sciences. “He’s got a very expansive vision of the center, and we really think this is a center that’s not just the usual, relatively small, one-person shop,” he said.

He calls Stamped from the Beginning the kind of book scholars write in their 50s and 60s. But Kendi’s impact will transcend the written words, Starr said. Especially since American has struggled with racist incidents recently.

In May, bananas were found hanging from nooses at three locations on the American University campus. This followed racist social media messages and a banana thrown into a black student’s dorm in the past few years.

For students of color and “all students, being able to look to someone like Ibram Kendi, who is a model of intelligent scholarship and activism informed by deep contextual and historical understanding,” is powerful, said Starr. He’s got “a fire to make a difference in the world that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in another scholar, frankly.”


Ibram Kendi greets fans at Politics and Prose after discussing his book.

André Chung for The Undefeated

At the bookstore, the questions, and disquisitions posing as questions, continue as the crowd grapples with, or pushes back against, Kendi’s ideas about race and America.

“I think that the issue is that the Africans and the Europeans really can’t mix,” one person steps to the mic to say.

Across the room, another questioner says, “Gentiles are underrepresented on Wall Street. White males are underrepresented in the NBA. At what point does the assimilation shift into something where other factors come into play?”

“All right now, tell it like it is,” says E. Veronica Pace, a genealogist who steps to the microphone and identifies herself as a student of Howard University sociologist E. Franklin Frazier. She asks about the book’s title, which was taken from a speech in which Confederate President Jefferson Davis called racial inequality “stamped from the beginning.”

Finally, the talk is over and people form a line that stretches toward the door to have him sign their books. “If we are all mindful about this and put our hearts and souls into it, we can turn this ship around,” says James Kilgore, whose wife is in the line. He’s says he’s waiting to see what Kendi is going to do.

For starters, he’s working on another book, a memoir entitled How to be An Anti-Racist. “Racist ideas become almost like a drug. Once you hear them and become hooked, you need more in order to sustain the way you see the world, right?” Kendi says. “I was hooked for a long time,” and now “I’m trying to relieve other people.”

And he’s focused on launching the center he’d like to help change the world. The former sports reporter reaches for a metaphor. It’s a rare moment where his equanimity seems to falter, just for a bit, perhaps from the weight of the task at hand. “I’m on the court and I’ve suited up. Now the game is about to start and I have to be ready to perform,” Kendi says. “And to win.”

Dallas’ first female police chief, Ulysha Renee Hall, is officially on duty All of the top three law enforcement jobs in Dallas County are held by minority women

DALLAS — In 1971, when Ulysha Renee Hall was just 6 months old, her father, a 27-year old Detroit police officer, was murdered while working a gambling and prostitution case.

So when Hall decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, her mother wasn’t exactly thrilled. Recounting her mother’s reaction when she broke the news to her, Hall said, “I don’t know if you’re familiar with Fred Sanford [of the 1970s hit TV show Sanford and Son] when he used to ask Lamont [his son], ‘Are you crazy?!’ ”

Hall had all of her faculties about her. And after working for more than 18 years with the Detroit Police Department, on Sept. 5 she started her new job as the chief of police in Dallas.

Although Hall’s decision to pursue law enforcement was met with much trepidation by her mother, she eventually warmed to the idea.

“She wasn’t happy, initially,” Hall said. “But she quickly got on board, and she realized that it was something that at that time I had decided to do and made a decision to go forward with.

“So she realized that it was a calling and she embraced it. Right now, she’s just truly, truly supportive of everything that I want to do and she’s proud of where I stand today, and so I’m excited.”

Another reason for that excitement is that Hall is the first woman named the chief of the Dallas Police Department in the department’s 136-year history. And, along with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson, the top three law enforcement jobs in Dallas County are all held by women from racial or ethnic minorities.

Hall and Johnson are both African-American, and Valdez is Latina.

Valdez was quick to offer some advice to Hall.

“My best advice for her right now is take your time,” Valdez said. “One of my favorite phrases when I first came here — because everybody was trying to get you to do this, do that, do it quickly, how would you change this, how would you change that — so one of my best advice is I’d rather do it right than quick.

“She needs to take her time and assess the situation and then find the best method to go act. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Thirteen years ago when I started, I was the first female sheriff, and I’m the only female Hispanic sheriff in the United States. So everybody’s going to come at you from every direction, every group, and they all want you to come to their function and they all want you to do things a certain way.”

Johnson’s advice to Hall is to become the godsend for the city of Dallas that Johnson knows Hall will become.

“She knows what she’s doing, and she’s been doing it up in Detroit, so I would say don’t change a thing,” said Johnson, who became Dallas County’s district attorney in January. “You’ve already got it down pat.

“Obviously, Detroit is Detroit and Dallas is Dallas, but people are people, and when you really look all over the country, you’ve got hurting people all over the country, and we kind of hurt the same way. But she’s a smart woman, she’s intelligent, she’s articulate, and I am just delighted that she chose Dallas because I know she had some other options.”

Hall doesn’t feel any added pressure taking over a position that across the country has been dominated by men. But she knows she’s a role model for women who want to become a chief of police.

“I’m excited about what this means for other women in law enforcement, but I don’t feel any pressure because of my gender,” Hall said. “I was hired because of my ability, so I’m standing on that.

“I think the one thing that every police chief wants to be, and that’s successful. You want to make sure that you’re addressing the concerns of the community and that you’re taking care of your officers. So that’s the level of pressure that I have — not being a woman.”

Hall earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at Grambling State University and a master’s degree in security administration and intelligence analysis at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Before taking over the top cop spot in Dallas, Hall had served as the deputy chief of police in Detroit since May 2014.

Hall is a huge advocate of neighborhood policing. Detroit’s crime rate saw a double-digit reduction for three straight years in Hall’s neighborhood policing bureau.

Hall, who will be paid $225,000 per year, also plans to establish a citizens advisory board in Dallas.

“Citizen advisory boards are beneficial for the community,” the 46-year old Hall said. “What they’ll do is they’ll allow the deputy chief, the major of each substation, to go out to solicit community members who want to be a part of the board, and they’ll serve in terms of six months to a year. It’ll totally be up to the individual majors and deputy chiefs, and what they’ll do is that community group will come and give information relative to crime, community issues, and they will work alongside of each other in addressing those concerns.

“What’s important is that they’re able to hold that particular command staff accountable for those issues. When they say that there’s a high volume of speeders or hand-to-hand drug trafficking, or whatever issue is in that particular community, then they’re meeting every month or biweekly with that command staff along with the tenants, police officers who are responsible for that area, and they’re saying, ‘You’re not addressing this issue’ or ‘We’re being really successful in this area, let’s duplicate that process.’ So it gives them a one-on-one relationship with the individuals who patrol their areas.”

While those parameters were paramount to Hall’s success in Detroit, she also is stepping into a department that has low morale because of mass departures and/or retirements, as well as a controversial pension fund that has flustered officers.

“I think there’s some challenges that when you look at them as a whole, morale is an issue for the Police Department, and pensions,” Hall said. “But I think before we can do all of that we do have to address morale.

“In order for the officers to do the best job that they can be able to do in the community, they have to be whole: mind, body and spirit. I would just say morale would be first, community engagement, hiring more officers and retaining those officers that we hire. And of course, crime fighting is always side-by-side and simultaneous with each and everything that we do.”

Hall replaces David Brown, who left the department last October and now is a contributor for ABC News.

“I talked to him once I was selected for the job,” Hall said. “He just gave me some words of wisdom, some encouragement, and he’s a wonderful guy and I truly, truly respect his leadership.”

Johnson has already gone out to dinner with Hall several times. And they have a kinship, as they’re both members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.

“I think she’s going to be phenomenal,” Johnson said. “We’re going to truly get along so, so well. We’ve got some of the same ideas in terms of what can we do to help the community because she is concerned about community policing and I’m concerned about community prosecution.

“The politics may be different, but the issues are the same, regardless of where we go in this country. So I just say to her you’ve got it, you’ve been practicing it up there in Detroit. Just take what you know and bring it here, and let’s make a difference.”

Johnson isn’t sure whether Hall being the first female chief of police in Dallas will be uncomfortable for some among the rank and file.

“So the question is whether or not the people under her, if she can pull all the people together to be able to accept that and give her support, and accept some of the ideas she has and her approach to policing,” Johnson said. “Anytime you bring something new to a company or to a situation, you’ve got some people who’s going to try to buck it, and it’s just a question of getting over the bucking and just pressing and making it happen because sometimes you’ve just got to press through it.

“But you know something, she’s a tough cookie. She’s a tough cookie, she’s going to do it, she’s got the stamina, she’s got the smarts, she’s got the intellect. And what I love about her, too, is she’s a God-fearing woman, and I can identify with that. And because she has strong faith, she’s going to have a whole lot of people backing her.”

Growing up Gucci Mane With a new book, new album and new reality show, the Atlanta star is ready for prime time

Radric Delantic Davis wanted the Christmas his mother couldn’t afford to give him — and the eighth-grader was willing to sell slabs of dope to make it happen. Toward the end of 1993, Davis, then 13, had his eyes on a pair of jeans, some new Air Jordans and a Starter jacket. Going back to school, postholiday break meant his classmates would show off their gifts from Santa.

But when his mom told him that bills were really tight and that she could only give him $50, Davis, today known as hip-hop star Gucci Mane, left the apartment with the money and walked to the other side of Mountain Park in East Atlanta’s Zone 6. Davis, who was already selling marijuana for his older brother, Duke, handed a dope man his mother’s $50 in exchange for two tightly wrapped slabs of crack cocaine, roughly 1.5 grams each.

“Now you owe me $50,” Gucci recalls the drug dealer telling him. “Get it?”

It was the moment Gucci realized he was officially waist-deep in Zone 6’s drug game — even if he didn’t have a clue of what he was getting himself into. “I remember … trying to carve out my own individuality,” he said. “I felt like fashion [was] a way to express myself, and I knew the only way I could get it at the time was that route: selling crack. I felt like dope would be the best route … at that time. That wasn’t one of the best decisions I ever made, but I was young.”

“There’s a lot of pain and heartache associated with the drug game that kids need to know about.”

Gucci’s family life, drug dealing and arrests — as well as the perfection of a musical style that would help elevate the careers of a slew of young Southern artists such as Migos, Young Thug and Zaytoven — are on full display in the new The Autobiography of Gucci Mane. In the book, co-authored by Neil Martinez-Belkin, Gucci, who has four top-10 rap singles — including this year’s hit with Migos, “I Get the Bag” — digs deeper into his upbringing than ever before, offering insight into how a kid caught up in Atlanta’s drug game made it through violence, rap beefs, a crippling addiction to the drug lean and run-ins with the law, including a 2005 murder charge (which was eventually dropped), to become the undisputed king of trap music.

“I finally know what it’s like to be a professional, to feel what’s going on,” Gucci said just ahead of the release of the book and his 11th studio album, Mr. Davis (due Oct. 13). The BET reality show Gucci Mane & Keyshia Ka’Oir: The Mane Event, featuring his fiancée, is set to debut Oct. 17. “I now appreciate that, and I’m not trying to take my talent or those opportunities for granted.”


By the time Gucci moved to Atlanta with Duke and his mother, Vicky, in August 1989, he had already experienced the highs and lows of family life.

Growing up in his grandfather’s house at 1017 First Ave., an olive-green two-bedroom near the train tracks in Bessemer, Alabama, young Radric took to his grandfather, the closest thing he had to a father. Gucci remembers Walter Davis Sr. as someone he’d run to and help walk with the rest of the way. He’d dive under his bed in laughter when his granddaddy chased him. But his granddaddy was a drinker, with bourbon often fueling those drunken stumbles home.

Amanda Dudley

When Radric was 7, his grandfather suffered a fatal heart attack. Losing the patriarch of the family triggered infighting that went on for years — his mother and aunts spilled blood on multiple occasions. “My granddaddy’s death divided the family,” Gucci said somberly. “Eventually, we figured it out, to be a tight-knit family again. But I learned a lot in that house.”

“I didn’t want to get caught up in that corner again, so I had to get creative.”

His brother Duke would head down to the Bessemer Flea Market and come home with whatever hip-hop cassettes he could find. The brothers would listen to the albums they could get their hands on, from Run-D.M.C. to N.W.A., committing lyrics to memory, rhyming back and forth. Soon, the bedroom they shared was covered in posters ripped from Word Up! magazine. “He definitely helped shape my taste in music,” he told me. “It kind of formed my love for hip-hop.”


This was long before Gucci’s idea of reaching out to local bootleggers (as a way to get his music out to the locals) came to fruition. With Bessemer in the rearview mirror, Gucci was living in deep financial fear in East Atlanta, worried about how his mother was seemingly always behind on rent and why they couldn’t pay the light bill. “I learned young that if I ain’t got s—, then I just ain’t got s—,” Gucci writes in the book. “If I wanted something in life, I would have to find a way to get it myself.”

Gucci said that while he’s glad he experienced what it was like to sell drugs, it’s a part of his life he never wants to return to — a point he’s trying to make clear to young people tempted by the hustle and the money. “Everything isn’t as glamorous as it seems,” he said. “It ain’t all glitz. … There’s a lot of pain and heartache associated with the drug game that kids need to know about in order to deter them from taking that route.”

Brandon Putmon

By the time he was 21, Gucci was hustling every day on the corner of a Texaco gas station, which had become a place of trade. He was in college at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College when his formal education came to an end. In April 2001, he was arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to 90 days in jail. It was the first time Gucci had been charged with a crime — and the experience made him think about pursuing music.

“It forced me to make a choice,” he said. “I didn’t want to get caught up in that corner again, so I had to get creative. It made me go, What else can you do? I wanted to challenge myself to try to make a career of being a rapper.”

More than a year removed from a stint in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, Gucci, who started writing the memoir while incarcerated, knows his comeback was never a sure thing. If he could do some things over again, he would. But the trap king’s roots, and his past, remain close to his head and his heart.

Cam Kirk

“I would tell my young self, ‘Hey, Gucci, you got an amazing future ahead of you. You’re a fascinating person. You’re going to be one of the most remarkable people to ever walk the face of the earth,’ ” he said. “So with that being said, you gotta conduct yourself with class, you gotta conduct yourself professionally, because the world is going to watch you and the world is going to imitate you.”