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Opinion | A little diversity could have saved everyone from a lot of blackface embarrassment

Josh Moon

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Diversity is important.

If nothing else, I’ve learned that much from the last week-plus of debates over blackface.

Chances are, if the governor of Virginia or any of these other white people had found themselves an actual black friend — and not the fake one they drag out as a human shield when they say offensive things — there’s at least a decent chance some of this fallout could have been avoided.

Because maybe, just maybe, there are more decent people than not, and maybe, just maybe, those decent people would have been swayed by their black friends explaining to them the long, ugly, offensive, mean and downright disgusting history of blackface.

Let’s start at the beginning: With babies used as bait to lure alligators out of lakes.

That’s right.

Real, live children. Used as bait. Sometimes locked in cages. Sometimes dangled from ropes.

Always black babies.

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Because in America, in the 1800s, what could be more expendable than a black child?

While there is now debate over just how common the practice was, one thing is certain: The stories of black children being used as bait were widespread and common.

There were newspaper and magazine stories about the practice. Songs were written about it. It was depicted in films.

And because African Americans in the time period of 1619 through roughly 2019 were treated by many as subhuman, this whole thing became a knee-slappin’ joke.

The black babies were turned into a comedy character, known as a pickaninny. And the pickaninny found its way into all sorts of cute and hilarious predicaments that were immortalized on postcards and in figurines in the early 1900s. Scenes such as pickaninnies dangling above the heads of hungry alligators, or with a pained expression after an alligator bite.

Or my favorite: the children’s pencil holder with the black baby hanging out of the gator’s mouth.

From there, the pickaninny became a fixture in plays and minstrel shows, always depicted by a white actor in blackface. And always sending the all-white crowds into uproarious laughter as he fell off cliffs or was dragged away by various wild animals.

The ignorant, bumbling pickaninny quickly grew into the character of the ignorant, bumbling black man or the aw-shucks mammy who was put on Earth to please the white folks. And those characters quickly spread from comedy shows to all other forms of entertainment, helping to push the narrative that blacks are less intelligent, animalistic, easy to fool and expendable.

From the mid-1800s until the early-1900s, there was rarely a black person portrayed on a stage who wasn’t the subject of ridicule, derision and hatefulness.

Those characters are what blackface depicts.

And I can guarantee you — because I’ve watched old videos of white people in blackface in college and high school minstrel shows — that such portrayals in the 1970s, 80s and 90s had similar goals — to use the ignorant, bumbling blacks as the punchline to jokes.

On Monday, the Auburn University student newspaper, The Plainsman, reported on numerous old photos it found while digging through yearbooks from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. In one example found by the paper, Gov. Kay Ivey’s sorority, while she was a member, staged a play using rushees in blackface.

Ivey’s spokesman told the Plainsman that the governor was unaware of the page. Which seems fairly unbelievable, given that she was the president of her sorority pledge class at one point.

There were several other blackface pictures in other yearbooks that the Plainsman staff found. All of them fairly similar: A bunch of white kids, some in blackface, all laughing and having good ol’ time. All amused by the bumbling, comedic actions of the black folks.

They’re college-age kids, far old enough to know the history of the characters and hurtful nature of their actions. Old enough to know that they’re poking fun at other humans, reducing them to something second-rate.

But there was no black face in those photos to wear the hurt and humiliation.

Maybe if there had been — if a few black students had been in the frats and sororities — then their experiences and friendships could have played a role. Maybe the white students would have considered how hurtful and ignorant such characters could be. Maybe they would have approached such things from a totally different perspective.

And that’s why diversity is so important.

 

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Opinion | For the love of money, people will die

Joey Kennedy

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Just as Donald Trump is leaving it to individual states to set policies on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is refusing to issue a shelter-in-place order to try to curb the virus’ reach.

So local mayors and governors in other states are proactively making decisions to protect citizens and to try to slow the infection down.

Jefferson and Shelby counties are the epicenter for the virus in Alabama, which makes sense because a quarter of the state’s population lives here. As of this writing, there were at least 135 cases in Jefferson and Shelby counties. That’s a meaningless number, though, because as you’re reading this a few hours later, the number could have doubled.

To his credit, Mayor Randall Woodfin proposed an ordinance, passed by the City Council, that orders city residents to shelter in place. There are big exceptions – people can leave their homes to go to work and to the grocery store (although companies like Shipt and Instacart will deliver to your home). They can visit their doctors, and walk outside as long as they keep the 6-foot social distancing standard in place. And Woodfin said the police aren’t going to arrest anybody for leaving their house. This isn’t martial law, Woodfin said.

But it is leverage to keep people at home, and to prevent them from mixing in groups and spreading the virus. This highly contagious disease is moving quickly.

In Tuscaloosa, Mayor Walt Maddox has set a curfew from Friday night until April 3. People are not allowed out of their homes from 10 p.m. to five a.m. The goal, Maddox said, is to reduce social gatherings, especially among the city’s young people.

Again, that makes sense. And Maddox didn’t rule out other steps, either. As of this writing, Tuscaloosa had just 10 cases, but that number is sure to rise. Still, Maddox is making these important decisions before the cases get out of hand.

Yet, Trump says he wants the nation back open by Easter Sunday (April 12). Ivey says she has no intention of issuing a statewide shelter-in-place order.

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The motivation for both Trump’s and Ivey’s reluctance to act, comes down to one thing: The love of money.

The economy is taking a pounding, that is true. People are dying, too. But Trump would rather people, sick or well, return to their jobs to give a boost to the failing economy. Then, here’s what Ivey said, as reported by Alabama Political Reporter: “We have seen other states in the country doing that (shelter in place, lockdowns), as well as other countries … (but) (w)e are not California. We are not New York. We aren’t even Louisiana. My priority is to keep the Alabama economy going as much as possible, while we take extraordinary measures to keep everyone healthy and safe.” 

You can’t do both. That’s already been proven. So to Trump and Ivey, money matters more  than saving lives, even those of ourmost vulnerable people.

Trump was so late taking any action that the virus got out of hand in parts of the country, and deaths spiraled. Testing lagged, emergency personal protection equipment wasn’t ordered. Some senators had enough warning to sell off millions of dollars in stock before the market crashed, but they didn’t send out the alarm because with Trump, if the problem is ignored it doesn’t exist.

But see, Trump can’t lie his way out of this one, even though he’s giving it all he’s got.

Testing is just getting up and running in Alabama, but we still have more than 300 cases in less than two weeks – and the number of cases in Alabama now is rising by double digits each day.

The virus is especially dangerous for people who have compromised immune systems or lung, heart, and liver problems. Like my wife, Veronica. Like one of my great students at UAB who has cystic fibrosis. Like many grandmothers and grandfathers, and aunts and uncles out there. Like our good friend Jo Ellen O’Hara, the longtime food editor at The Birmingham News back when it was a newspaper. Jo Ellen is 82 and now living at Fair Haven retirement center. We saw what the novel coronavirus did to nursing homes in Seattle, Washington.

Young people are getting sicker, too, with a good percentage of hospital admissions, nearly half in some places, being people up to age 49. Anybody can get sick, and anybody can die.

That’s why the health experts and scientists urge the lockdowns and sheltering in place. Because as long as it’s business as usual,the virus will keep spreading, and making people sick, and killing.

People take a chance when they fill up their vehicles at the gas station; who knows who filled up at that pump before you and left the virus behind. Wear plastic gloves when you pump gas. Opening a door can transfer the virus to your hand, and it’ll get inside you if you touch your face. That’s what all the hand-washing and don’t-touch-your-face warnings are about.

But for Trump and Ivey, a “few” deaths are just the price we have to pay to keep the money rolling in.

These are some screwed-up priorities.

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | U.S. Senate runoff moved to July

Steve Flowers

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The GOP contest for who sits in our number two U.S. Senate seat has been delayed until July 14, 2020 due to the coronavirus. The winner of the battle between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville will more than likely be our junior US. Senator for six years.  

Neither are spring chickens. Sessions will be 74 and Tuberville will be 66, when the winner takes office.  This is not the optimum age to be a freshman U.S. Senator because seniority equates to superiority in the U.S. Senate.  Given their age of arrival neither will be given much deference or have much influence. Sessions’ 20 years goes for naught. He does not get his seniority back. Instead, he goes to the back of the line as would Tuberville.

Sessions really does not want to be influential. During his tenure he wanted to be the choir boy and Eagle Scout of the Senate.  He was the most honest and conservative member of the Senate. He wore that badge proudly and would again.  

Tuberville is planning to be Trumps bodyguard and valet.  He will not know where the bathroom is, what committees he has been placed on, or where to sit, much less how to pass a bill or get anything accomplished for Alabama.  After about six years he will realize he is a Senator from Alabama, not Arkansas or Florida.  His only mission as a campaigner appears to be that he can shoot a gun and wants to be Donald Trump’s pawn

The irony with this Trump love affair is legitimate polling that points to a Tuberville victory also reveals a Trump loss. Trumpprobably is not going to be president when either Tuberville or Sessions takes office.  Anybody with a cursory knowledge of how our president is elected under the Electoral College System realizes that if Trump loses any of the key pivotal battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Pennsylvania, he loses the Whitehouse.  If Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, current polling clearly has him favored to carry all of those states.  He is pretty much a lock to win his home state of Pennsylvania.

The winner of the Tuberville-Sessions contest will be our junior senator.  Either one will beat our anomaly, Democratic interloper Doug Jones, probably 60 to 40.  Being the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate Seat in the Heart of Dixie is tantamount to election, especially in a presidential election year with Donald Trump atop the ticket.

It really does not matter which one is elected, they both will vote conservatively and look at their roles as being a reactionary ideologue.  Neither will garner much power.  However, that does not matter when you have Senator Richard Shelby as your senior Senator.  He has enough power that we really do not need a second senator.

Most pundits were saying Tuberville had momentum and washeading towards a victory, especially with Trump’s endorsement.  However, with 15 weeks to prepare rather than 10 days it is a new ballgame.

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Allow me to share two cardinal caveats I have shared with you over the years, and which I have recently shared with national media people who have asked for my insight on this race. First, Alabamians have shown a unique but overwhelming aversion to one politician endorsing another for another office.  I was taught this rule of Alabama politics when I was a young legislator.  

It is a cardinal rule in Alabama politics that you do not get involved in other races.  Alabamians have a very dim view of this practice.  They seem to inherently say, “We elected you to your office.   You ought to be thankful for that and not show an arrogance that you are so good and anointed that you want to tell us who to vote to place in another office.

George Wallace, in his hey-day, when he was at the height of his popularity, would endorse someone and invariably they would lose. Less y’all forget, Trump endorsed Luther Strange for this same seat.  He then lost to Roy Moore.  Then Trump endorsed Roy Moore and he immediately lost to Doug Jones.  Alabamians do not think much of endorsements, in fact they resent them.

The second caveat is Alabamians will universally, overwhelmingly vote for someone from their neck of the woods.  It is called Friends and Neighbors politics. Jeff Sessions lives in and is from Mobile.  The voter turnout in Mobile-Baldwin is going to be the highest in the State because there is a tossup runoff race between Jerry Carl and Bill Hightower to fill Bradley Byrnes 1st Congressional District seat.

We will see in mid-July week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at: www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | The tumbleweed effect

Joey Kennedy

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It’s a Wednesday in March, and I’m standing on a sidewalk between the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center and Spencer Honors House at UAB. Nobody is in sight. Not one person. I almost expect a tumbleweed to bounce past my feet and head across the empty green toward the decrepit Humanities Building.

Yes, it’s Spring Break, but during most every Spring Break, some students stay on campus. Not this year. The COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) has seen to that.

Sadly, next week when Spring Break ends, the UAB campus will be just as deserted.

This lack of people at UAB is reflective of Birmingham itself in these early days of a pandemic that could last 18 months.

Coming into work during rush hour, there were hardly any vehicles out. I pulled up to Chick-fil-A on Five Points South, and there were more open parking spots at curbside pickup than there were cars waiting for food. This is one of the busiest Chick-fil-As in Alabama, but unlike most mornings, the restaurant isn’t slammed today. The dining room is closed. The most telling indicator, though, is I had no trouble parking on campus.

There is a silver lining, right? We’re all going to get checks from the government, says the government. I’ll believe it when I cash it. Unemployment nationwide, at record lows a few days ago, is expected to soar in the coming weeks. Unemployment Insurance claims have jumped as the coronavirus shocks and awes the U.S. economy.

Just a week ago, Birmingham was the bustling city we love. Now, tens of thousands of people are practicing social distancing, mainly by sheltering in place at home. Those who can, work from there. Those who can’t maybe soon missing paychecks.

“Life feels completely different,” a news announcer says.

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That’s because life is completely different.

Only seven days ago, Alabama confirmed its first coronavirus case, a patient in Montgomery who is already out of the hospital. Now, Alabama is approaching 100 cases, nearly half of them in Jefferson County, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Alabama. Nationwide, there are close to 10,000 cases.

Everything is canceled or delayed. The Republican Primary runoff between Jeff Sessions and Tommy Tuberville is pushed back to July 14 instead of March 31.

Weddings are postponed and family reunions canceled. There is an invisible danger surrounding us, pressing into our personal space, so we don’t go to church to pray or to funerals to grieve or to movies to forget. Or to school to learn. College students are subjected to online classes from wherever they live, and that’s not the most efficient teaching.

I have a student who is back home in the Czech Republic. Many of my students are scattered throughout the nation, and since we won’t be back on campus for the remainder of the semester, they’re likely to stay right where they are, at their family home. Besides, home is where the heart is. And now the school. And now the dorm. And now Mom’s cooking. And Dad’s drinking.

It’s a Shipt economy we live in now. We get our groceries delivered so we don’t have to risk the trip into Publix.

Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill is shut at least until the end of the month. If you know of any restaurant dining room open, drop me a line. My birthday is next week, and my wife wants to take me out.

Isolation and loneliness aren’t the only coronavirus side-effects. Hospitals are postponing elective surgeries and procedures. My wife is scheduled for a cardioversion (shock to the heart to restore normal heart rhythm) on April 1, but it looks like that’ll be put off until who knows when.

But you know what? It could be worse, and it will be, but not like it could be. This, too, shall pass. Probably not as quickly as we want or hope, but we’ll make it to the other side.

The Black Plague, which struck Medieval Europe in 1347, killed approximately one-third of Europe’s population (25 million – 30 million) before it played itself out in 1350. We don’t have the black plague, but mainly because in this modern society; we have great medical technologies and doctors who aren’t going to bleed you to cure you.

Donald Trump spent weeks downplaying the virus and mishandling the government response, at one point calling the disease a “hoax,” We’ll be paying the price for that for months if not for more than a year. Some Republicans even now remain skeptical that the disease is as virulent as it is, though itcontinues to spread and has killed more than 100 people in the United States.

To stay ahead, one must plan ahead. Not Trump. He flies by the seat of his ample pants, and that has come back to bite him – and us – right on the rump. Still, Trump continues to brag about how well he’s managing the crisis, though at least 60 percent of Americans disagree.

If you think about it too much, it gets discouraging. I think I’ll go outside and look for a tumbleweed.


Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Stay calm, stop hoarding

Bill Britt

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Grocery shelves are empty, no milk, toilet paper or eggs, and even grass-fed beef that sells for nine-dollars a pound is gone.

But that’s not because there’s a lack of food, it’s because people are making panic-purchases and hoarding.

We are better than that.

“There’s plenty of food and plenty of things in the supply chain,” Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “And as long as customers just buy what they need and don’t hoard, there will be no problems at all – there’s plenty of food in the supply chain.”

Earlier this week, State Health Officer Scott Harris also urged Alabamians not to panic buy.

“First of all, just remember to be prepared, but there’s no advantage to being over-prepared,” he said. “There is no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of things other than temporarily for paper products, as we all know about, but we have no concerns or issues that people won’t be able to access food if they need it. I would say in any type of closure activity throughout the world grocery stores have been exempted from that. And it would be no different, in this state as well. Grocery stores have to remain open because people have to be able to access that food.”

While self-preservation is a basic human instinct, this is not a time to return to our baser nature.

But now is a time for those who profess faith to remember the words of the psalmist who said, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

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There is food, but those who choose to purchase mass quantities of unneeded food and supplies are making it difficult for everyone who is on a tight budget or practicing restraint. There is no reason for anyone to buy more than they need, to do so is to ignore the idea of shared responsibility and community.

Grocery store workers are putting themselves on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle by assisting customers, stocking shelves and cleaning the facilities, a thankless job for the wages they earn. Over-buying places a heavier burden on those workers and also threatens their well-being while taxing the entire food pipeline.

Hoarding may help one family, but it will hurt many others. This is not the way Americans and Alabamians should behave.

Even in a time of social distancing, every citizen should remember they are apart of a broader community and not an island unto themselves.

Total stocks of chicken were up 12 percent from last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Frozen pork supplies are 11 percent higher than last year and shares of pork bellies were up 32 percent from last January. There is plenty of American and Swiss cheese, but its caught in a supply chain that didn’t anticipate people losing their minds.

For example, total red meat supplies in freezers were up 5 percent from the previous month and up 3 percent from last year according to the USDA, but still, the meat aisles are empty because some people are buying more than they need.

Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S., has hired more than 2,000 workers in the last week to keep up with increased demand from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, is hiring 100,000 new workers to keep up with demand, especially for basics, like food and household supplies.

Kroger and Amazon are just two examples of companies stepping up, so that essential needs are being met.

Not hoarding is a way of respecting our neighbors and those who work in warehouses and grocery stores.

Indeed, it can feel like a gripping moment of uncertainty. Doing things that makes us feel safe is reasonable enough, but when it causes us to forget that we are all in this together, it leaves us all more vulnerable.

Self-sacrifice, a sense of shared burden, is the hallmark of a great society.

Anxiety, panic and fear are soul killers diminishing our ability to function much less contribute our talents and labor for the greater good.

We are better than our fears, so we can ride out this present storm with hope for tomorrow because tomorrow will surely come. In the meantime, stay calm and stop hoarding.

 

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