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Will All Black Face Wearing Politicians Stand?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

VA AG Mark Herring- Creative Commons

In the few days since we discovered that VA Governor Ralph Northam wore black face in a 1984 medical school year book photo while standing next to a costumed KKK member, VA Attorney General Mark Herring admits to wearing black face in college. Herring apologized.

As an African American, I know this racist problem is something that is not indicative of just Virginia politicians, Democrats or Republicans. It is indicative of white America. While many white Americans may not have worn black face, many still do not understand the pain it causes for many African Americans. And the racial backlash against African Americans continues today, without one having to wear black face.

The fact that whites believe it is appropriate to post photos wearing black face whether in college, medical school or elsewhere shows the race divide in America. These photos cut to the core of emotional pain for many African Americans. While for many white Americans, wearing black face is hilarity at the expense of Blacks.

Megan Kelly was fired from the Today show because she commented that she saw nothing wrong with wearing black face. Obviously, she was not alone in her thinking. VA Governor Ralph Northam faces resignation calls by nearly every politician except former Congressman Jim Web (D.VA).

Just as sexual harassment was once common place in the work place and elsewhere, it was never acceptable to women. Likewise, wearing black face may have been acceptable in certain white circles, it was never acceptable to African Americans. Just as women are not being too sensitive about sexual assaults, blacks are not being too sensitive about racism in America.

White actors and musicians during the time of slavery and up to an including into the 1900’s would cover their faces in black dye and create stereotypical and racist portrayals of slaves and African Americans. The representations would show blacks as being inferior to whites, being sub- intelligent with a low IQ and being less than human, childlike and acting like buffoons. The white Black faced actors and musicians played parts and sang in ways to dehumanize and ridicule African Americans, making them the butt of jokes for white audiences. These portrayals were funny to whites but degrading to African Americans.

For those who miss the racial tone of black face, consider the fact that many African Americans dress up in costume on occasion disguised as white persons. Most Blacks do not feel the need to smear white shoe polish on their faces in caricature. There is an undeniable racist element to black face.

There is nothing illegal about the use of Black face by white Americans. However, to many African Americans, it amounts to a betrayal by those politicians who they believed to be an ally on race issues. On a grading scale, the black face by Herring does not rise to the level of Ralph Northam’s photo complete with KKK member. However, we don’t need to give grades for racially insensitive and racist photographs. What we need are discussions.

Both Herring and Northam’s depictures of black face show the real need for discussions on race in America and white privileged thinking. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking during Black History month in 2009, said that we are a “nation of cowards” on issues involving race. We never see the need to discuss race until the next event occurs. And then we punt on it until the next event. I suspect the same will be true of these incidences.

Maybe it’s time for all politicians who used Black face, laughed while someone else used black face or ever thought about using black face step forward. And maybe, it’s time to begin the race discussion in earnest. Like talking to your child about sex, it’s a very difficult topic to discuss. The race discussion is a necessary albeit a difficult and painful one.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor. She appears regularly in the media on topics of law and politics intersecting at race and gender.

The Extreme Hypocrisy of the Republican Party

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Donald Trump, Public Domain

The Republican party was once known as the party of Abraham Lincoln. Now it is known as the party of Donald Trump, a reality star, creator of the birther movement and race baiter in Chief. Time and time again, the Republican party has shown its hypocrisy in the Trump era by failing to speak out against racism and bigotry.

The other day, Congress failed to censure Iowa Representative Steve King for saying “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization—how did that become offensive?” To answer King’s statement, white supremacy was offensive to many persons as far back as Abraham Lincoln’s time. The House passed a resolution condemning white supremacy but failed to rebuke King. Every Republican House member should have requested a vote on censuring King, if not seeking his resignation. It is not enough just to fail to appoint him to committees. Steve King should have been asked to resign for his hideously racist comments.

Time and time again, the Republican party fails to address racism and bigotry under the Trump era. Donald Trump following the August, 2017 Charlottesville, Nazi rally where Heather Heyer was killed by a hate filled Nazi supremacist, stated there were good people on both sides—meaning the Nazi’s and their protestors. No Republican lawmaker serving in the House or the U.S. Senate strongly condemned Donald Trump for referring to Nazi’s, Neo-Nazi’s  and white supremacists as “good people.”  It’s as if Trump can do no wrong when it comes to siding with racists.

Donald Trump  sets the tone for white supremacy and bigoted speech. Even before he was elected, he fueled the birther movement alleging that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in this country, without any valid basis for the assertion. It was likely one of Trump’s proudest moments when the first African American president produced his birth certificate—just like slaves once did to show they were free persons.

Once Trump ran for office and won, he became race-baiter-in chief. He gives a platform for all the Steve Kings to stand on. Trump called Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” as well as other NFL African American players who kneel during the playing of the national anthem in protest of police brutality against Blacks. He refers to Mexicans as rapists; He disparages judges of Hispanic descent. He views African countries as “shithole” nations. To point out all of Trump’s racist remarks would take up more space than needed to make the point. Republicans fail to see the big fat elephant in the room named Donald Trump.

Recently, when N.Y. representative Rashida Tlaib stated we should “impeach the mother f’er”, Texas Republican Representative Brian Babin called her words “ill-conceived and inconsistent with our national values.” I don’t ever recall Babin or any GOP legislator calling any of Trump’s comments inconsistent with our national values. The only thing that would have delighted me more would have been if Rep. Tlaib had used Trump’s own language that he called Colin Kaepernick—a SOB.

The latest Republican hypocrisy seems focused on holding the federal government workers hostage while Trump demands a Mexican border wall. As most folks will remember, Mexico was supposed to pay for the wall. Time and time again, Trump chanted that point to his base. Yet, now it appears the wall will be financed on the backs of American taxpayers and on the hostage taking of the federal government workers—the vast majority that live in Red states and towns. No Republican member is calling for Trump to back down from his wall double talk and re-open the government. Mitch McConnell won’t even bring a vote to the floor to open the government and then continue talks about the so-called wall that Mexico would have paid for.

All the talk about the wall is double talk and code talk for race baiting. As the president demands a $5 billion ransom money to open the federal government in exchange for a so-called wall, he continues to ramp up incidents of persons killed by undocumented persons. Some of those victims were killed by guns, yet I fail to see any gun control measures being introduced and passed.

Immigrants contribute significantly in the U.S. from serving in the military, owning businesses, paying taxes, doing menial jobs, inventing and investing in our economy and society. As recently seen in the news, some undocumented immigrants work in Trump’s many businesses with forged papers. When it is to Trump businesses’ advantage, undocumented immigrants are valuable. To his base, he calls them rapists and murderers.

As an African American, I know this country has long been known for its hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another when it comes to race and race relations. The explicit race baiting language used by Trump and supported implicitly and explicitly by Republican lawmakers without rebuke brings the hypocrisy to an extreme level. If this were a fake reality show, it could be dubbed “Extreme GOP Hypocrisy”. Sadly, this is our new norm under the Trump era.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor.

A Study in Patriotism: Trump versus Colin Kaepernick

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

Just in time for the start of the NFL football season with preseason in August, 2018, the issue of the players’ kneeling during the national anthem begins a new again.  Recently, the Miami Dolphins owners stated that the team intends to punish players who kneel or otherwise protest during the national anthem with up to a four game suspension and fines, according to documents obtained by USA Today.  However, the team owner later retracted the statement and proposed plans for suspension or penalties.  The local media covered the Dolphins intentions before there was the retraction.


Meanwhile the New York jets took the opposite approach by emphatically stating the opposite of no intention to fine players for their right to peaceful protest under the First Amendment. Previously, the NFL  intended to institute a policy of sanctions and requiring that players stand for the anthem—before the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) filed a grievance. The filing of the grievance resulted in the NFL putting on hold any policy against players’ protesting the treatment of Blacks killed by police.

The whole controversy is mistakenly centered around the anthem, kneeling and patriotism—when the real issue is protest of police brutality of Blacks. The kneeling protest began in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to protest the mistreatment of Blacks by the police and our failed criminal justice system.   It sparked a fire storm that resulted in the misinterpretation by many persons, including Donald Trump, of the protests being about lack of patriotism.  And Trump’s criticisms helped to fuel the negativity surrounding the protest

The purpose of the protests is to bring attention to the injustices inherent in the criminal justice system and mistreatment of Blacks. Kaepernick stated in 2016 that he’s “not anti-American”. I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from.”

Last week Donald Trump insisted to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that fines must occur for players, mostly African Americans, who conduct peaceful protests.  One would think that Trump has more important things to be concerned about other than taking away constitutional rights away from NFL players.

There is nothing inherently illegal, unpatriotic or morally wrong with the NFL players’ protests.    Ironically, Donald Trump, who complains loudly about lack of patriotism by Colin Kaepernick, met in private behind closed doors with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump placed full trust and confidence in Putin’s denials concerning Russian interference with our 2016 election over that of the findings of our U.S. intelligence community. Trump attacks the press, our allies, our intelligence community, the First Amendment, to name a few. Trump defends and supports Neo-Nazi’s who kill innocent persons, rogue dictators who kill and torture their people including Kim Jong- Un and Vladimir Putin. Trump even considers turning over a citizen and former U. S. ambassador to Putin for questioning.  Do Trump’s actions appear as being patriotic?

Trump’s Foundation was recently sued by the N.Y. Attorney General who alleges that the Trump Foundation, instead of paying chartible organizations paid itself.  The lawsuit alleges the Trump Foundation was used as a checkbook for payments to benefit Mr. Trump.  Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick, who has been without an NFL job for over a year, has paid over $800,000 to charitable organizations, since the kneeling controversy began.

The NFL players who are protesting mistreatment of Blacks in the criminal justice system and seeking change to a failed system are real patriots.  Challenging the lack of liberties and justice for all Americans does not make one unpatriotic. Through kneeling to the anthem, these players’ protests intend to bring attention to a system that has systemically denied criminal justice rights to African Americans and other persons of color—going back for centuries.  And hopefully, one day a change will occur with patriotic efforts to make America live up to her pledge of – “with liberty and justice for all”.

Real patriots try to help make America better for all. Thanks Colin Kaepernick for your patriotism.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and legal commentator on multiple media outlets.

Starbucks Coffee Summit Won’t End Their Racism

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

StarucksKevin_Johnson_resizedStarbucks CEO Kevin Johnson wants the two black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks and the former manager, Holly Hylton, to meet. Johnson apologized to Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two African American men. And Starbucks intends to close all 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 to hold a workshop for its employees on what it calls “unconscious bias” training or what I like to refer to as conscious racism.

In suggesting the meeting between the manager and the two Black men, Johnson says the former manager is suffering and needs to reconcile with the two men. That’s like Trump saying he felt there were very fine people on both sides of the aisle during the Charlottesville Neo Nazi rally. I am sorry but how does Johnson sympathize with the white privileged racist abuser? She is the abuser and Nelson and Robinson are the aggrieved parties. You cannot have it both ways.

Last week Hylton, the now former manager, called the police on the two men within two minutes after they arrived at the Starbucks while waiting for a business associate. After the incident was taped by a bystander, the video went viral with millions of hits. It has sparked yet again another conversation on race in America. Meanwhile, the two men arrested were detained at a Philadelphia jail for hours before the prosecutors declined to press charges. Does Johnson feel sorry for Hylton because she lost her job? Is that justification for Starbucks to suggest to convene a meeting between the parties? I hope the Starbucks CEO feels sorry that the two Black men will now have an arrest on their record—even though no charges were filed. Being a Black man in America is difficult enough but with an arrest charge, it is strike two.

While there are often two sides to every story, there is only one reason for the manager’s actions—racism. Yet, I am sure she now feels remorse too. Her remorse is most likely directed towards what happened to her—not to the two individuals. In the process, she had to either resign or was fired from her job. A video about her actions went viral for the world to see. And I am sure that she feels badly that the incident may have a bearing on her future employment if an employer Googles her name. It won’t be nearly as bad as future employment opportunities for Robinson and Nelson with an arrest on their record.

In 2009 when Harvard Professor Henry “Skip” Gates was arrested for trying to get inside his own house while locked out, President Obama suggested and held a meeting between the arresting police officer and Professor Gates. Gates is African American. The officer is white. It became dubbed as the “beer summit”. It served no purpose other than a publicity photo op. The arrest incident with Professor Gates also became viral with President Obama calling the actions of the police officer “stupid.” They were both stupid and racist. Ditto for the Starbucks manager’s actions. Nothing was accomplished with the “beer summit”; nothing will be accomplished with a Starbucks coffee summit.

Now if Starbucks wants to do something to effectuate change in its culture, sanctions should be made a part of any racially sensitivity training. Employees are discharged for stealing which is a crime. I am sure that Starbucks would not entertain keeping a manager who stole from their stores. Discrimination in public restaurants is also against the law. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of race, among other categories, in any public accommodation such as Starbucks restaurant.

In order to affirm the importance of Starbucks understanding the deep resentment in the African American community against their actions, Starbucks should immediately change its policy to include taking immediate termination actions against any employee who is found to have discriminated against any minorities. That change in policy would speak volumes while upholding the law against discrimination.

A Starbucks coffee meeting between Hylton, the racist abuser and the abused and aggrieved two parties will serve no useful purpose—other than a photo opportunity for Starbucks. We need for Starbucks to take action to prevent future racist actions and not an Instagram photo opportunity.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal commentator, speaker and former prosecutor.

Starbucking While Black

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

police-chase_medium Police arrested two African American men sitting in a Philadlephia Starbucks who were waiting for another mane to arrive for a meeting. A Starbucks manager called the police–stating the men had not placed an order.

Starbucks intends to conduct a racial bias, racial sensitivity workshop training at all of its 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 in response to the Philadelphia store manager calling police and having two Black men arrested for failing to place an order–ala for no apparent reason. Starbucks CEO has since apologized in person to the two men. The arrest trespass charges were dropped by the prosecutor’s office. But the arrest remains on the two men’s record—for now. The Starbucks situation is yet another example of how implicit racial bias and racism works in this country. The simple things that a white person takes for granted and does on an everyday basis are often challenged of Blacks by white individuals. Fortunately, in this case, no one was shot and killed by police.

I applaud Starbuck’s attempt to make amends for the wrongs. However, they would need to do far more than a one day workshop given by former Attorney General Eric Holder, Sherilyn Ifill and others. Racism has existed in the U.S. since the first Blacks were brought here in the 1600’s. And it permeates and exists on a conscious and subconscious level throughout society. Blacks understand it. Whites often fail to understand and try to find another reason for why an incident like this one occurred.

If Starbucks wants to take the corporate lead on implicit racial bias training and conduct continuous ongoing training year-round with follow-ups, site visits by secret customers to assess stores’ compliance, sanctions for failing to adhere to policy, then I think some progress could be made. However, if Starbucks plans nothing further for the rest of this year, then I wonder if this is a ploy to protect their brand.

I discuss these issues and more on the Bill Press morning show on April 18, 2018.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney, legal analyst, speaker and former Baltimore prosecutor.

Stephon Clark’s Killing and a Demand for Justice

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

GunOn March 18, 2018 Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old Black man, father of two children from Sacramento, California was one of the more than 230 persons shot and killed by police in 2018. Mr. Clark was unarmed when he was shot and killed in his grandmother’s back yard. Mr. Clark’s family attorney, Benjamin Crump, arranged for an independent autopsy. The autopsy conducted revealed that Clark was shot 8 times in the back. A total of 20 rounds were fired at Mr. Clark. These autopsy results contrast with the statements of the officers who claim they feared for their lives. Mr. Clark was not armed but only possessed a cell phone.

Every year on average, there are 1000 persons killed by police in the U.S. Clark’s shooting death has once again caused outrage over the killings of unarmed Black men to be shot and killed by police in the U.S. Blacks are shot and killed by police at a rate of almost 3 times that of whites. Since 2005, there have only been roughly 80 arrests or charges of police officers. There have been even fewer convictions. Only 13 officers have been convicted of killing unarmed persons from the period of 2005- 2017. Even with convictions, the sentences on average are relatively light from probation to a few years. The exception was the Walter Scott case where the former officer received a sentence of 20 years for shooting unarmed Scott in the back multiple times as he ran away.

Following Mr. Clark’s death, I appeared on Al Jazeera to discuss the silence of the Trump administration, Clark’s case and the disparity of Blacks systemically killed by police in the U.S.

Debbie Hines on Stephon Clark shooting from Debbie Hines on Vimeo.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor.