All posts by Imani Johnson


Trump’s Address to Congress 2.28.17

On the evening of the last day of Black History Month, Mr. Trump stood before the joint houses of Congress to deliver his speech. Starting off, he condemns the anti-Semitic attacks and the drive-by shooting of Indian immigrants. He says that, while politics may be divided, the United States stands together when it comes to the heinous acts of hate. Trump then goes on to give nationalist-tinged rhetoric about America’s readiness to take her rightful place in the world.

He addressed the crumbling infrastructure he hopes to rebuild, later mentioning the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. In his speech, Mr. Trump claims that he will create tens of thousands of jobs, which is true; however, these jobs will only be temporary, and will end when the construction of the pipelines is completed. He says that he will end the crisis that faces inner city children of Chicago, Detroit, and Baltimore, then says we must address the influx of drugs and people over our borders. With this being said, he again affirmed that a wall would be built along the southern border of the United States.

In combating the threats from outside the U.S., Trump also said he wished to continue the fight against radical Islamic terrorism, which is why he introduced the “improved vetting procedures” that culminated in his travel ban. He also claims that he wishes to work with Muslims specifically in the fight against ISIS, which seems strange coming from the man who introduced a travel ban for those from several primarily Muslim countries.

Trump turns to jobs and the American market next, saying that he will most definitely bring back jobs. However, he doesn’t introduce any real plans to do so. He also says that the tariffs that other countries have on American goods are ridiculously high, so there must be change. If he is suggesting higher tariffs for foreign goods, that could hurt our market, because other countries will also raise their tariffs on American products.

He moves to immigration next, saying that a merit-based system would be in the best interest for America. Mr. Trump also restates his intent to roll back the ACA, his support for Devos and her school choice plan, and the law enforcement of the U.S. His plans to expand the military defense budget are also discussed, as well as more of the “unifying” theme he seems to present throughout the speech.

In his speech, he presents a long list of things he’d like to do, but the actual implementation of them remain up in the air. His vague calls for “unity” and putting aside “trivial” differences seems to belittle some of the very real issues that have divided people throughout the country. While newspaper outlets have called this speech “surprisingly presidential” for Mr. Trump, that is more of a criticism than praise, considering the shock that comes when Mr. Trump actually seems like he might be taking his job seriously.

Homophobic Hip Hop

If you’re like me, the release of Migos’ new album was the highlight of your week when it came out, and you’ve been blasting it ever since. At the gym, in your car, walking through campus; it really doesn’t matter, because the album is consistently lit enough to get you through any part of your day.

Following the release of their album, Migos interviewed with Rolling Stone, during which the interviewer asked how they felt about iLoveMakonnen coming out. Apparently this was news to Migos, and there was an awkward silence before Quavo expresses his surprise. Even more, they express distaste with the fans and others who supported iLoveMakonnen’s decision, with Offset saying, “This world is not right.” Along with many others, Migos seem to believe that not being cisgendered and heterosexual undermines the credibility of a hip hop artist.

This attitude is not at all new to hip hop culture. While some artists have been accepted in mainstream culture recently, for the most part the hip hop culture and lifestyle is seen as incompatible with anyone whose identity lies outside of gender norms. This credibility issue continues to come up, with even artists that say they support LGBTQ artists not wanting to have ties with them. When giving statements supporting the LGBTQ community and the artists that identify with some part of it, straight hip hop artists often preface their support with, “I’m not gay but…” Why is this qualifier necessary? Why is hip hop so determined to separate itself from certain groups of people?

Some artists don’t believe hip hop culture will ever fully accept LGBTQ artists in their ranks, because, according to an interview with Snoop Dogg, it’s such a “masculine” genre. Migos themselves have often raved about the diversity of hip hop in Atlanta, yet cannot reconcile the idea that diversity can include personal identities about sexuality. With hip hop lyrics often littered with slurs about gay men, artists who don’t identify as straight men are often disinclined to be real about their sexuality, in fear of losing “credibility” in the hip hop culture.

In a Vulture article earlier this month, the writer posits that rejecting the idea that anyone who is not straight can be a “real” hip hop artist is simply bigotry used to protect the hierarchy in hip hop culture. To be a “real man” means certain things, and for the most part, hip hop doesn’t seem inclined to work to change that.

There have been a train of artists working to provide more inclusion for LGBTQ artists in hip hop. Many, like Jay-Z, have changed their tune concerning old lyrics spouting homophobia, apologizing for them. The recent uptick in artists coming out has forced many hip hop artists to grapple with their own homophobia, and if they are still going to discriminate against artists, and other individuals, who don’t fit their idea of a “real” hip hop artist. While hip hop has often been used as a tool of social activism to fight against injustice, it seems that a glaring blind spot has existed with LGBTQ rights, and will most likely exist for a long time until many more artists within hip hop work to change that aspect of culture that discredits artists who aren’t straight men.


For further reading:

Snoop Lion Talks Homosexuality in Rap Music, Frank Ocean’s Coming Out

Migos’ Wild World: One Night Inside the Studio with ‘Bad and Boujee’ Trio

Rap is Less Homophobic Than Ever, But It Has a Long Way to Go

How Homophobic is Hip Hop in 2016?

Has Hip Hop Outgrown Homophobia?: A Timeline

From A$AP to Jay Z: 15 Hip Hop Stars Who Think Homophobes are Muthaf*ckers

Trump’s First Week (and a half) in Executive Orders

This past week and a half has been a complete mess in the realm of politics and social justice. I am in no way saying, however, that the U.S. was the standard of justice before, because it certainly has never been close. That aside, if you decided that your best form of self care was to take a break from the news for a while, here’s a short recap of the executive orders signed by DJT in his first week and a half as president, to help catch you up on what’s going on!

Executive Order 1:

The official title of this order is Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal. Signed on January 20th, this mouthful is Trump’s first step in his attempts to repeal the ACA, or Obamacare. While this order does not give any framework for how this is to be done, or the new healthcare system that Trump plans to implement, it does start the process by which he wishes to allow healthcare providers to compete for their customers in an open market.

Executive Order 2:

The order Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects was signed on January 24th. This order expedites the reviewal process for any infrastructure process deemed “high priority” to 30 days, within which timeframe the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Equality must give a decision about the implementation of the project. If a project is indeed decided to classify as high priority, deadlines must also be constructed for the completion of the infrastructural project. Some of the projects listed as fitting this description of beneficial infrastructure were airports, bridges, highways, and least surprising of all, pipelines.

Executive Order 3:

This order, called Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the U.S., was released on January 25th. Here Trump states that “aliens”, including those who overstay their visas, pose a problem to the safety of American citizens, especially those who engage in criminal activity. In this act, he directs that 10,000 more immigration officers be hired, and gives state and local law enforcement agencies the power to act as immigration officers where they see fit. In addition, a weekly report will be issued, chronicling all the crimes of illegal immigrants.

Executive Order 4:

On January 25th as well, the Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements order was signed, stating that law enforcement agencies along the Mexico/U.S. border should take whatever lawful actions necessary to secure the border. Included among the actions deemed necessary is the construction of a wall along the border, with the planning and implementation of such to begin immediately, as is the procuring of funds for this project. This order also directs the hiring of an additional 5,000 Border Patrol officers, and reiterates the permission that state and local agencies have to act as immigration officers.

Executive Order 5:

Two days later, another order was issued, this one called Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. In the opening paragraphs of this order, it says that the United States must not allow entry to people who “engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own), or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.” In addition, this order states that visas and other benefits to “countries of national concern” will be invalid for at least 90 days. These countries are Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Iran, and Somalia. Green card holders, while not mentioned in this order, have also been affected. In addition, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is to be suspended for 120 days while it is reviewed, and upon reinstatement, priority will be given to those seeking asylum for religious persecution. Syrian refugees are called “detrimental” to the interests of the United States, and are not permitted to enter the country indefinitely. Over 5,000 refugees per year will be considered a financial burden, and thus greater than that will not be allowed.

Executive Order 6:

This order, called the Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees, was issued on January 28th. In summary, this order limits the lobbying abilities of any employee of the executive office for 5 years after the end of their employment. It also limits the communications that former employees are allowed to have with current employees in their department.

Executive Order 7:

The executive order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs was signed on January 30th. It begins by stating that for every regulation implemented, two must be rescinded, and thus making the net costs of new regulations zero. Any additional costs that must be incurred are subject to additional approval, which could slow the implementation process.

While this may seem like a lot to take in, this doesn’t even begin to cover the other executive actions that Mr. Trump has issued so far, which include eleven memorandums and one proclamation. The memoranda are basically executive orders that don’t require the heavy documentation of an executive order, yet still carry the weight of the law. Proclamations are not binding as law, but merely strong suggestions. If you’d like to look further into these, the White House’s official website has all the executive actions and their exact texts. 

This article was edited for clarity at 5:26 p.m. on 2/8/17.

3 Reasons MLK Wasn’t Who You Think

With MLK Day last week, my Instagram and Twitter were filled with quotes from MLK and posts about how his peaceful legacy is the only right way to fight for our rights in this country. This is the same routine that we go through every year. Martin Luther King Jr. is often painted as the ideal activist, the peaceful contrast to the more radical Malcolm X. However, while MLK did give his “I Have a Dream Speech,” lead a March on Washington, and win a Nobel Peace Prize, here are three ways we are often wrong about Dr. King.

1. He was considered dangerous by the FBI.

Even though hailed as the example all protesters and those seeking change should look to today, Dr. King was considered dangerous by the FBI while leading marches, sit-ins, and boycotts in the U.S. In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, MLK encourages tension, because it brings issues to the forefront, no longer allowing them to be ignored. In the book, The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., he says, “If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace. If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.” Because of his stance, the organization called King “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country,” validating their illegal surveillance of King as an issue of national security. Under FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI even went so far as sending a threatening letter to MLK, telling him, “you are done.” This letter, encouraging MLK to commit suicide, was also intended to discredit his work for racial equality.

2. He wasn’t actually against disobeying the law.

For those who say that protesters should follow the example of Dr. King, obeying the law so that the police will respect them, so that they won’t be attacked: you are wrong. Some of the demonstrations, like sit-ins, were against the law. The police showed up for them, just like they do today. Black people protesting has always been viewed as a threat, whether it’s peaceful or not. In fact, MLK was arrested 30 times over the course of his activism. His plan was to peacefully protest, which meant he did not attack those he was protesting against. However, that doesn’t mean he advocated always following the law. He is quoted as saying, “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

3. He didn’t only fight against segregation.

Although segregation and voting rights were often the focus of MLK’s activism, he did not ignore the cries for equality in other sectors. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that the structural inequalities were not only for black people, but also other people of color and those of lower class status. He saw flaws in the capitalistic and materialistic system of the U.S. and worked closely with labor movements across the country to refocus on the rights of workers as human beings. We shouldn’t forget, when delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, it was a part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Without an economic restructuring, he knew progress would be hard to achieve and maintain. Police brutality was also on King’s mind, when he was arrested on September 3, 1958. In an article from the New York Times, King’s is quoted, after being released on bond, saying that police tried to break his arm, choked him, and kicked him into a cell. In addition, he publicly spoke against the Vietnam War, knowing it would sever his relationship with President Johnson. In his speech entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, MLK realized that it wasn’t just the United States’ injustices on its own soil that must be addressed, but also those overseas.

It is true that MLK championed a nonviolent approach to change, but activism has never been viewed as acceptable when coming from people of color. He was radical in his time, and we should never try to whitewash history to make Martin Luther King, Jr. palatable to the masses today. The pedestal that King is often placed on was constructed on what is considered safe for history. But that is not the end of his narrative. Standing up for rights of black people even if it meant breaking the law, contesting the economic system of the United States, and breaking ties with a president over a war are not the actions of someone considered a “safe” example. They are the actions of someone who actively believes in change and realizes that radical activism may be required to get there.

For further reading:

What an Uncensored Letter to MLK Reveals

The King Center

The Papers of Martin Luther King Jr.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence

The MLK History Forgot

Dr. King Jailed; Charges Beating

This article was edited for clarity at 12:37 p.m. on 1/30/17.

Can Trump Actually Overthrow Roe v. Wade?

In several speeches and interviews, President-Elect Trump has claimed that he will overturn the landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, throwing each of the 50 states back into their pre-1973 forms (in which most states were firmly against abortion. With a Republican-controlled House and Senate, as well as the prospect of Mr. Trump’s choice for the Supreme Court, who will most likely share the same conservative leanings, many have been thrown into panic, wondering if their state will soon decide to outlaw abortion in the next four years. However, while there has been much concern around this, can Trump really cause the reversal of a Supreme Court decision? Even as President, will he have the power to overturn a decision made by the highest court in the United States? Two possible ways could be 1) the Supreme Court itself reversing its decision, or 2) Congress creating laws that slowly erode the provisions of the decision.

In the past, rulings have been overturned if the Court finds that they have erroneously made a decision that violates Constitutional rights. Justice Harry Blackmun, when writing the original Roe v. Wade decision, cited the first, fourth, ninth, and fourteenth amendments of the Constitution, saying that they protected a woman’s right to privacy, and that outlawing abortions (before the baby can live outside the womb) was therefore unconstitutional. Thus, the decision cannot be overturned on this basis. However, this decision was also based on the assumption that prenatal life is not considered one of the “persons” protected under the Constitution as well. The only way Roe v. Wade could be overturned on this basis would be if scientists came up with a consensus on when life begins in the womb, and thus when the fetus is protected under the Constitution. While there are many differing views, there has not yet been an agreement, and there is not likely one to be made soon.

One of the more likely ways that abortion rights could be affected is through Congress. While it would be extremely difficult for the Republican-led House and Senate to start the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision, it would be easier for them to create legislation that slowly eroded at the provisions of the decision, in order to make abortions so difficult to receive that they were basically obsolete. While not yet obsolete, legislation has moved in this direction in some ways. The Hyde Amendment has restricted Medicaid from funding abortion in almost all cases since 1976. According to Planned Parenthood, 1 in 5 women from ages 15-44 rely on Medicaid for their healthcare. In addition, this policy has been applied to other healthcare programs reliant on the federal government (like that for federal employees and military families). The Federal Abortion Ban of 2007 prohibits abortions in the second trimester of pregnancy. Currently, Arizona Representative Trent Franks is pushing for a federal law that bans all abortions after 20 weeks. In addition to these specific measures, states can also limit abortions in their jurisdictions, by limiting insurance coverage and placing undue restrictions on clinics, among other things. Protestors outside of Planned Parenthood clinics often discourage women from getting abortions, as does the required anti-abortion counseling mandatory in 35 states and waiting periods in 27 of the same states.

For the most part, while the Supreme Court has handed down a decision that allows abortions under the Constitution, federal legislature and states have found ways to slowly chip away at the provision. While there are other nuanced ways that this decision could be overturned, it is not likely that the decision will be completely overturned by Trump in his four years of presidency. However, the Republican-led Congress may pass laws that further restrict the ruling, and individual states can further restrict those decisions. Although no definite decision may be made in the near future, it is possible that these types of decision may become issues that are brought before state and federal legislatures. As college students, we have the privilege to be old enough to be active in our government’s processes, and I suggest that we take the time now to stay up to date on what’s happening in our state and our country.

For Further Reading:

Why Do Our Rights Make You Uncomfortable?

On August 26th of this year, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines across the country by sitting during the national anthem before the start of the football game. What many people don’t know is, that on August 14th and August 20th Kaepernick also did not stand for the anthem, but these protests did not garner much attention because the quarterback was not in uniform for those games. However, as Kaepernick’s protest gained national attention, he took a stand to clarify his reasons for protesting. In an interview, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Despite this, critics swooped in, claiming that he had no right, that he was un-American, that he was disrespecting the troops that fight so hard to secure our freedom.

However, despite the criticism, Kaepernick continued to kneel, and he was not alone. The 49ers safety Eric Reid, Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane, U.S. National Team midfielder Megan Rapinoe, and many others across the country began to join in Kaepernick’s protest as the year went on. Not only in professional sports, but athletes in college sports and high school sports took up the cause as well. Bands and families of players also began joining the protest to support the movement. From kneeling, to locking arms, to raising fists, the protesters’ solidarity has scared and angered many.

There are some problems with their criticisms. Are these not the rights that soldiers fight to protect? Many troops have come forward on social media to support Kaepernick’s right to protest. Does the United States actually treat all citizens (those that aren’t cisgender white males) as equal first class citizens? In North Carolina alone, HB2 declares that this state doesn’t view all citizens equally. Nationally, the election of Donald Trump despite his misogynist, racist, and xenophobic views says otherwise. Doesn’t the first amendment guarantee the right to free speech? It says, in fact, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” So, what is the problem?

We do NOT get to pick which civil rights and liberties that others get to exercise, especially those who want to limit others to protect their own positions of privilege or avoid things that make them uncomfortable. In addition, this is a peaceful protest, that many people love to suggest to movements in lieu of other methods (for example, those who criticize the Black Lives Matter movement). If a peaceful protest is suggested, yet still criticized when implemented, I think it is safe to say that what is actually being asked for is silence and acceptance of the inequalities to which these protests desire to bring light. Being uncomfortable, because your norm is being threatened by others exercising their rights or fighting for those that have been denied to them, might mean you need to check your privilege.

13th- The Amendment that Snuck in Slavery?

“The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prisoners.” This bleak quote from President Barack Obama opens what would be some of the most informative yet disheartening 100 minutes of my life.

The current system, the prison-industrial complex, had its origins within the roots of slavery. After the addition of the 13th Amendment, that only formally outlawed slavery, there were 4 million people suddenly free in the United States. While the idea of incarcerating African Americans began then, for things small as loitering, the current manifestation of mass incarceration was not fully realized until the 1970s, when the prison population began to increase. From nearly 360,000 to over 2.3 million in 2014, the prison population has increased at a phenomenal rate. This was no accident.

It took some preparation to create the expansive system in place today. In DuVernay’s documentary, she explains that it began with Nixon’s “law and order” stance, which was directed primarily at black political movements, antiwar sentiments, and women’s liberation movements. Next, Nixon focused his policy on what he coined as the “war on drugs.” This was, according to former Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman, simply a way to associate the anti-war hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and thus criminalize the two groups.

From there, we move to Reagan’s presidency, where the modern “War on Drugs” really took form. It was during this time that crack cocaine came on the market, a drug that was not in powder form like cocaine, and was cheaper and became more readily available in inner-city neighborhoods. While the medical effects of cocaine and crack are the same, the consequences are so much different. The form used primarily by minorities carried a much higher criminal sentence than the form used primarily by white, middle class citizens.

In addition, the media was demonizing black men, calling them “super predators.” No politician could afford to be “soft on crime” if they wished to win any type of office in the United States at that time. Policies and laws passed were focused on ensuring that criminals served their full sentence and that prisons were full. Black movements were criminalized as a threat to American democracy. I found it interesting that Dr. King, who is today cited by many white people opposed to the Black Lives Matter movement as the epitome of an acceptable protester, was considered one of the most dangerous people in the U.S. by the head of the FBI at that time. Leaders of black movements during that time were incarcerated, forced to flee the country, or killed to stifle their progress. Police gunned down Fred Hampton, one of the leaders of the Black Panther movement who was known for uniting blacks, whites, Puerto Ricans, and Native Americans, in his home as he slept beside his pregnant wife.

Police violence has become so common today that one almost has to become numb to continue to function on a daily basis. Laws uphold the prison system, as do many private companies that profit from mass incarceration. Many companies thrive on the cheap or free labor that comes from inmates, who are disenfranchised and considered second-class citizens, even after they have paid their debt to society, even if they were only incarcerated for a minor, nonviolent offense. Private company coalitions, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, are groups of politicians and corporations that make laws and propose them. ALEC has garnered $1.7 billion per year in profits from the laws they propose and get passed.

The 13th Amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” That little clause, “except as a punishment for crime,” makes all the difference. We have simply witnessed the evolution of slavery from its most blatant form of human beings in chains and bonds, to its current form of targeted incarceration and revocation of rights. In Ava DuVernay’s documentary, there is no shying away from the problem, or renaming it to make one feel more comfortable. This is as it should be; comfort zones have never produced change anyway.

Black Liberation Teach-In Series Presents: Afrofuturism

For this event, UNC Black Liberation decided to go with the title This World Ain’t Our Home: Afro-Futurist Galaxies of Black Art and Thought. As someone who knew very little of Afrofuturism, I was interested to see exactly how the event unfolded, and I was not disappointed. Continue reading Black Liberation Teach-In Series Presents: Afrofuturism

Virunga: Saving the Congo

Last Thursday, the First Year Council began its series of documentaries with the film Virunga. Covering over 3,000 square miles high in the jungles of the Congo sits Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, home to the last of the endangered mountain gorillas. The park’s headquarters are situated in Rumangabo, where an orphanage holds the only captive mountain gorillas in the world, which were rescued as babies from poachers who had killed the adult gorillas. These orphaned gorillas are cared for in the hopes that they will one day be ready to return to the wild and join the other gorilla populations. Continue reading Virunga: Saving the Congo