A brilliant Latina law scholar

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Tanya Hernandez

I was writing to an editor at a magazine this evening about an opinion piece one of our law professors is going to write for them, and as I was going through her credentials, I thought, “She’s one brilliant Latina!”

An alumna of Brown University and Yale Law School, Tanya Hernandez is a professor of law at Fordham School of Law. Her expertise centers on discrimination; Latin America/Latin American law; and employment.

In 2013, she was selected by a Manhattan Federal Court judge to sit on a council that would weigh in and advise on New York City’s controversial Stop & Frisk policy.

She penned this opinion piece for the New York Times about civil rights: affirmative action, voter rights, and same sex marriage rights.

And in this piece she penned for the Huffington Post (before the Supreme Court ruled on Affirmative Action), she covered one of my favorite things to bring up when debating matters of race with friends: implicit bias.

The thing is, once I bring it up, it usually shuts the (Facebook) discussion down. The person feels I’ve insulted them, when in reality, I haven’t, because I’ve had implicit racial biases as well. We all have! And as Hernandez explains, they can be overcome:

As a decision is expected within the next two weeks, one thing I hope the Court will consider is that research in the field of cognitive psychology reveals that we all harbor biases and that affirmative action policies assist in addressing those biases.

Part of the reason for enduring social hierarchies is that individuals rely on stereotypes to process information and have biases that they don’t know they have. These implicit biases, as psychologists call them, are picked up over a lifetime, absorbed from our culture, and work automatically to color our perceptions and influence our choices.

Over a decade of testing with six million participants of the collaborative research venture between Harvard University, University of Virginia, and the University of Washington, called “Project Implicit,” demonstrates pervasive ongoing bias against non-Whites and lingering suspicion of Blacks in particular. Some 75 percent of Whites, Latinos, and Asians show a bias for Whites over Blacks. In addition, Blacks also show a preference for Whites.

In the educational context, studies of school teachers indicate that teachers generally hold differential expectations of students from different ethnic origins, and that implicit prejudiced attitudes were responsible for these differential expectations as well as the ethnic achievement gap in their classrooms. This is because teachers who hold negative prejudiced attitudes appear more predisposed to evaluate their ethnic minority students as being less intelligent and having less promising prospects for their school careers.

The pervasive existence of implicit bias in society and its manifestation in the educational setting, strongly suggests that the selection of students can be similarly affected by unexamined stereotypes and implicit biases. Bluntly stated university Admission Offices are not immune from the operation of implicit bias.

But we are not slaves to our implicit associations. The social science research indicates that biases can be overridden with concerted effort. Remaining alert to the existence of the bias and recognizing that it may intrude in an unwanted fashion into judgments and actions, can help to counter the influence of the bias. Instead of repressing one’s prejudices, if one openly acknowledges one’s biases, and directly challenges or refutes them, one can overcome them.

Read the rest of that piece here, and then check out this sampling of academic articles she’s written on a bevy of important topics:

  • Defending Affirmative Action: An International Legal Response, in vol. 29 Civil Rights Litigation and Attorney Fees Annual Handbook (eds. Steven Saltzman & Cheryl I. Harris 2013).
  • Racial Subordination in Latin America: The Role of the State, Customary Law and the New Civil Rights Response (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013) (https://sites.google.com/site/racisminlatamerica/)
  • HATE SPEECH AND THE LANGUAGE OF RACISM IN LATIN AMERICA: A LENS FOR RECONSIDERING GLOBAL HATE SPEECH RESTRICTIONS AND LEGISLATION MODELS, 32 U. Penn. J. Int’l Law 805-841 (2011) (http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1103&context=jil).
  • “What Not to Wear” — Race and Unwelcomeness in Sexual Harassment Law: The Story of Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, in Women and the Law Stories 277-306 (2010 Foundation Press book chapter, Elizabeth Schneider & Stephanie Wildman eds.).
  • Afro-Latin@s and the Latino Workplace, in The Afro-Latin@ Reader: History and Culture in the United States 520-526 (2010 Duke Univ. Press book chapter, Juan Flores & Miriam Jimenez Roman, eds.).
  • Latino Anti-Black Violence in Los Angeles: Not “Made in the USA,” 13 Harvard Journal African American Public Policy 37-40 (2007).
  • A Critical Race Feminism Empirical Research Project: Sexual Harassment & The Internal Complaints Black Box, 39 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1235-1303 (2006).  Available online at: http://lawreview.law.ucdavis.edu/issues/Vol39/vol39_no3.html.
  • Sex in the [Foreign] City: Commodification and the Female Sex Tourist, in Rethinking Commodification: Cases and Readings in Law and Culture 222-242 (Joan Williams & Martha Ertman eds., NYU Press 2005) (book chapter).
  • To Be Brown in Brazil: Education & Segregation Latin American Style, 29 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 683-717 (2004-05).   Available online at:http://www.law.nyu.edu/journals/reviewoflawandsocialchange/issues/ECM_PRO_065694.

 

What *can* we do to #BringBackOurGirls, really?

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A friend of mine wrote the following on Facebook today and I nodded along while reading, thinking he was dead on: this CAN’T become another #StopKony2012. (Remember that hashtag?)

‪#‎bringbackourgirls‬ cannot turn into:

1) a call for or an acceptance of US military intervention. Beware of calling for US military intervention! That has not led to anyone’s peace and sovereignty. Beware of what you are being fed and what is propagated through the media. Let’s not have Kony part 2. How much do you really know about Nigeria and what is happening there?

2) It also cannot turn into people wearing head wraps at rallies that aren’t actually making political demands or willing to do anything beyond wearing head wraps together.

Activism is about strategy + action—not just taking actions

What can you do:

Think before you act
Do your homework
Evaluate the interest of the parties involved 
Organize others
Mobilize interventions that apply pressure politically, economically or socially. (hint: wearing a head wrap does not count)

— Jef Tate

Motherlode‘s (the New York Times‘ motherhood blog) writer KJ Dell Antonia wrote an excellent piece about real ways we can help #BringOurGirlsBack:

“In the long run, the best way to fight extremism is education, especially education for girls,” he said. “More broadly, female empowerment isn’t a magic bullet, but it does help create opportunities and bring women out of the margins and give them a voice. One great program is the Village Savings and Loan, which encourages female savings and entrepreneurship around the world and has a great track record.”

Because no number of educated women are a match for men with AK-47s, we also need to support programs that involve men in promoting gender equality, including women’s education and reproductive rights, like the many members of the MenEngage Alliance, and to talk about gender equality in a way that includes men as well as women.

If the missing Nigerian schoolgirls come home, their problems won’t be over. Even assuming (with ridiculous and probably unwarranted optimism) that they have been untouched during their captivity, their communities and even their male family members may regard them as damaged goods. It’s that attitude, writ large, that led to their kidnapping; on the smaller scale, it may mean they can never regain what they have lost.

“Real action” to bring about change for the schoolgirls of Nigeria, and for the schoolgirls and boys yet to come, can come from our laptops, our raised voices and our wallets if we let the passion that this story ignited burn on. #BringBackOurGirls will end, but it won’t be the end of the story. #GenderEquality isn’t a very exciting hashtag. But it’s the only message that could, eventually, mean #NeverAgain.

Read the whole piece here.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (When our parents age)

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Excerpt from “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast of the New Yorker.

“I was just talking to somebody yesterday who said the worst thing for a parent is to have a child who’s a writer.”New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast.

I would like to write about my parents.

I wrote a couple of columns about my father’s Parkinson’s when I was a newspaper reporter for the Home News Tribune, and I’ve blogged about his illness on this blog once or twice. But I would like to someday write stories about them, their childhoods, and especially, how my dad was pre-Parkinson’s.

And as for my mother, that’s more complicated.

I’ve never been the super close daughter (the type to talk about every single detail with her mom) that she was with her mother. (My grandmother is still alive, but she has Alzheimer’s, which means my mother has lost, in essence, her best friend.) Add in the fact that she is stressed because she’s my father’s full-time caregiver, and it’s even more complicated.

Thankfully, our relationship is a bit better (much less bickering) since I’ve lived on my own (after a separation and subsequent divorce that she didn’t agree with at first) but, like all things, it could be better.

I have some things to work out, or talk about (?), in order to make that happen. And then I hope to write about them more, especially my mother, since she’s not very open about her feelings (hey, maybe we are alike, after all!) because as the most hardworking immigrants I know, my parents have some interesting stories that deserve some pixels on the Internet.

Now back to cartoonist Roz Chast. I learned about her latest work via a wonderful interview on “All Things Considered” on WNYC:

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Roz Chast

“The longtime New Yorker cartoonist is an only child and became the sole caretaker for her parents, George and Elizabeth Chast, when they reached old age. In her new, illustrated memoir — Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury USA, 2014) — Chast mixes the humor with the heartache. It’s about the last years of her parents’ lives and her relationship with them as their child and conflicted caretaker.

“They never had what’s known these days as ‘The Talk’ — an acknowledgement that their deaths were inevitable. As a result, Chast says, everyone was in denial and actively avoided the subject, even as it was staring them squarely in the face.”

“Chast’s parents — who were both born in 1912 — lived independently in Brooklyn up until their early 90s. Things started to go downhill in 2005 when her mother fell off a step stool at age 93. ‘She was in bed for a few days, and it was clear that what was going on was more than the fall off the ladder,’ Chast recalls. ‘That was the beginning of their sort of slide into the next part of old age — you know, the last chapters.'”

My parents are in their late 60s, early 70s. I can’t imagine it getting to this point Chast describes, but I guess my brothers and I should prepare ourselves sooner rather than later. And today, after reading this story in The New York Times, about a man who is 111 years old, I agree wholeheartedly with Chast:

“When people talk about extending the human lifespan to 120 it bothers Roz Chast. ‘That upsets me for a lot of reasons,’ she tells NPR’s Melissa Block. ‘I feel like these are people who don’t really know anybody over 95.’ The reality of old age, she says, is that ‘people are not in good shape, and everything is falling apart.'”

Though my parents aren’t in their 90s, my father has a chronic disease that renders him pretty immobile, and so, I too, can’t imagine wanting to live to 111. (God bless this man who has, though!)

Listen to the entire interview with Roz Chast here, and read an excerpt from her illustrated memoir via The New Yorker.

When ‘zero tolerance’ goes too far

Photo via NBC News: http://nbcnews.to/1nGKpQT
Photo via NBC News: http://nbcnews.to/1nGKpQT

Via POLICYMIC: 

Dontadrian Bruce (pictured above), age 15, is a student at Olive Branch High School in Olive Branch, Miss.

On Feb. 3, assistant principal Todd Nichols summoned him out of class. Nichols showed Dontadrian a photo he had posed for during a recent biology project, in which the boy had his hand up displaying three raised fingers – his thumb, forefinger and middle finger. “You’re suspended,” said Nichols, “because you’re holding up gang signs in this picture.”

Three days later, a disciplinary committee confirmed Dontadrian’s punishment: “Indefinite suspension with a recommendation of expulsion.”

Wait, what? The above photo was taken by the boy’s mother, Janet Hightower. It recreates the “incriminating” image: “He’s a good child,” she insists. “I know what he does 24 hours a day.”

Dontadrian also says he had no clue that this gesture was affiliated with the Vice Lords, a Chicago-based street gang with active Deep South chapters. He claims he was holding up three fingers to represent the number on his football jersey, like the other players did during practice.

Read more about Dontadrian’s hand gesture and how, per U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, “[exclusionary] discipline is applied disproportionately to children of color and students with disabilities,” here via PolicyMic.

Carlos McCray, a professor in Fordham’s Graduate School of Education, is familiar with cases like Dontadrian’s. His research links discipline with achievement in urban schools and, most recently, he commented on a case (also in Mississippi) in which a 5-year-old who was nabbed by police for wearing the ‘wrong color’ shoes.

McCray co-authored this book on hip-hop culture, values, and school: http://amzn.to/1ixvIRd
McCray co-authored this book on hip-hop culture, values, and school: http://amzn.to/1ixvIRd

McCray’s research found educators are subscribing to the utilitarian principle, thinking, “If I can get a few of these problem students out of the classroom, then I’ll be able to teach everyone else,” it’s effectively ushering a number of students out of school.

That line of thinking is flawed, McCray said, again pointing to the numbers. The New York Times looked at Baltimore public schools and found that in 2004 alone, there were 26,000 school suspensions and expulsions.

“That’s very problematic,” he said. “Research shows the more students are suspended or expelled, the more they’ll end up dropping out. Thirty percent of sophomores who drop out have been suspended three times more than their peers who remain in class. While we talk about the achievement gap, we also have to talk about the discipline gap. How can students learn when they are not in class?”

Great question. Read more about McCray’s work here via Inside Fordham.

On Latin Hip-Hop

Calle 13
Calle 13

I’ve been thinking a lot about Spanish-language — or, if you prefer, Latin — hip-hop, lately. Perhaps it’s because I seeing gains by artists I can call friends, such as Los Rakas from Oakland, Calif. (Also this. The band led by Tony-winner Tray Anastasio, of Phish fame, covered Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux? Whaaaaa?)

A recent article in The New York Times and a segment on NPR’s Alt.Latino also prompted me to reflect where the genre has been and where it’s going (as well as growing.)

The Times’ Jon Pareles interviewed René Pérez Joglar and Eduardo Cabra Martínez from Calle 13 in advance of their forthcoming album, Multi_Viral (March 1).

Check out this excerpt from the Feb. 21 piece:

From its debut album in 2005, Calle 13 has spurned genres. It dabbled in the Puerto Rican hip-hop called reggaeton but refused to be bound by it. Since then the duo has constantly expanded its music, drawing on the folkloric, the electronic and the orchestral, mixing from a world of sources — discovered in the course of their ever-expanding tour circuit and lately, Mr. Cabra said, on YouTube.

Calle 13 has won 19 Latin Grammys, more than any other act, and it has rallied international audiences with songs that hold messages of solidarity, sympathy for the hard-working poor and demands for freedom and individuality, like the Andean-flavored “Latinoaméricano.” Calle 13 keeps its distance from party politics, but not from hot-button issues: Mr. Pérez strongly supports Puerto Rican independence, regularly describing the island as a colony of the United States.

“I think every musician has a responsibility when they are making music,” Mr. Pérez said. “Sometimes people are hard on you because you say things. But I prefer that, rather than to be an artist that does not say anything and that’s why people like you. It’s almost like you’re invisible. There is a lot of music going on that for me is invisible.”

Pareles also chatted with colleague Ben Ratliff about the band’s impact and political activism via their music in this Times’ “Popcast.” Listen here.

Over at Alt.Latino, hosts Jasmine Garsd and Felix Contreras invited Latin music blogger Juan Data, as well as a pioneer of Mexican hip-hop, rapper Bocafloja, to discuss how hip-hop trickled into Latin America, changing the music scene forever.

Juan Data brought up Mellowman’s “Mentirosa.” Remember that song? Blast from the past. Listen to “How Hip-Hop Changed Latin Music Foreverhere. (And check out this October 2013 Alt.Latino segment on the women of Latin hip-hop.)

Though the number of Latin hip hop artists has increased, and the genre’s profile is somewhat raised, it’s important to support independent artists for several reasons. Mostly, because I’m sure the mainstream public can’t tell the difference between Latin hip-hop, reggaeton, bachata, and so on.

Supporting indie artists is also a way to find fresh, new music – a godsend since it’s not the same old reggaeton/urbano songs played one million times on the Spanish language radio stations.

I always tell folks to listen to Los Rakas, a duo out of Oakland, Calif., via Panama, that I’ve worked with in the past. The pair’s profile keeps rising and they have a dual album and some other exciting stuff on the horizon.

In the meantime, check out their song, “Hot,” currently playing in the video game, FIFA ’14. That’s big!

Last year, a Chicago-based DJ friend (Christian Vera of Soulphonetics) hipped me to an artist by the name of The Color Brown. Real name Ruben Borrero, Color Brown was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Chi-town.

I love this quote he gave Northeastern’s Independent when asked about the name, “The Color Brown.”

“After coming to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, I had a newfound love for the Latino culture in general. Not only Puerto Ricans, but also Mexicans, Salvadorians, Guatemalans, Colombians, Venezuelans—just everybody that identifies themselves with this mix of cultures that have to go through the same struggles in this country, regardless of their country of origin. I also realized that white Americans often referred to us as “brown” people not as an offense, but as a way to categorize us. I guess “The Color Brown” is an attempt to re-conquer this word and this color that all Latinos share in common in one way or another. It is, in short, my tribute to the struggle of all those brown people in the United States.”

That’s what it’s all about, especially the part about loving the Latino culture as a whole.

The Color Brown has a new song, La Excepción (free download!). With a backing beat by J.Cole, the song is about working hard by any means necessary to make it, no exceptions. Listen to the track below.

*** Update, Feb. 27: After I posted this story, I was contacted by some reggae/hip hop artists from Chile! They’re called Sur Flow (Southern Flow) and their song, “Old School,” is on the raggamuffin tip! Good stuff that brings me back to college parties in the late 1990s.

Here are just a few Latin hip hop artists I recommend:

Choquibtown, Bomba Estereo, Ephniko, La Mala Rodriguez, Ana Tijoux, Chingo Bling.

MTV Iggy has a good list here. And these ladies below.

‘They’re Watching Us: So What?’

Screen shot 2013-10-28 at 3.01.01 PMAs Bill Keller wrote in The New York Times on Oct. 27, “Glenn Greenwald broke what is probably the year’s biggest news story, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance apparatus constructed by the National Security Agency (NSA). He has also been an … an advocate of a more activist, more partisan kind of journalism.”

Well, on Nov. 14, Greenwald will join a powerhouse of panelists at Fordham Law School to discuss the new revealed surveillance powers of the NSA.

Panelists, including author and NSA expert, James Bamford; playwright and professor, Ariel Dorfman; and computer security and privacy specialist, Bruce Schneier; and other distinguished guests, will discuss: 

  • What effect is the expansive American surveillance state having on us?
  • Are the programs Edward Snowden revealed inhibiting the way we think, speak, and create, distorting social interactions, or damaging individuals or communities?

Join luminaries from the fields of literature, technology, media, and policy for a discussion of what we know—and don’t yet know—about how surveillance is reshaping our public and private lives.

This event, which is sponsored by the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, will take place at Fordham Law‘s McNally Amphitheatre, on Thursday, Nov. 14, from 7 – 8:30 p.m. RSVP here.

Depressing documentary Saturdays

Image via NYTimes article, "The Unstudied Art of Interrogation."
Image via NYTimes article, “The Unstudied Art of Interrogation.”

Sometimes (many times) I have these days to myself in my apartment so I can just watch mindless amounts of television and rest. Yesterday, I decided to watch (and listen to) nothing by depressing documentaries about false accusations and wrongful convictions.

First up, I watched “The Central Park Five.” (Give me a few seconds here to curse out the justice system and court of public opinion in my head. Thanks.) Talk about injustice.

The film “explores the story of the miscarriage of justice that engulfed Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, the black and Latino teenagers from Harlem who were wrongly convicted of the horrific 1989 crime. The brutal beating and rape of a white woman in New York City’s Central Park provoked public outrage and sensational headlines during the prosecution and conviction of the five defendants. Less known is the story of the eventual exoneration of the men, who served full prison sentences.”

I remember that crime. Not vividly; I was very young. But I remember some news coverage and the front page of the New York tabloid newspapers. I remember my parents watching the news and having this opinion of New York as this super dangerous place.

Ken Burns did a masterful job on this documentary. The archival news coverage was something to see. It was an epically awful crime. Beat so bad that one of her eyes popped out of its socket. It was no surprise that the entire city wanted the rapist(s) caught.

What transpires (coerced confessions from five teens!) is disgusting. And it’s so easy to say “I would never confess to a crime I didn’t commit,” this documentary shows how easily it could happen.

Next was “The Thin Blue Line,” a film by Errol Morris, “depicting the story of Randall Dale Adams, a man convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit. Adams’ case was reviewed and he was released from prison approximately a year after the film’s release.” This occurred in 1976.

This one didn’t include a false confession, but a pair of eye witnesses who were known liars. Oddly enough, after he was released, Adams sued Morris. You can read about that drama in Wikipedia.

After watching these two documentaries I thought (hoped), ‘there’s no way this could ever happen again, right? RIGHT?”

Wrong.

As a special bonus to my “depressing documentary Saturday,” I listened to a podcast of “This American Life,” where a segment featured a former police detective in Washington, D.C. who screwed up one of his first big homicide investigations by getting a 19-year-old homeless woman to admit to helping beat a man to death back in 1994 even though she was completely innocent.

Retired detective Jim Trainum basically admits that during 17 hours of questioning, he basically provided details of the crime, which she ended up using to “confess” after she simply couldn’t take the questioning anymore. She also had children she had been told she could get home to.

She was eventually charged with felony murder, failed a polygraph test, and spent months in jail. Months later, Trainum got ahold of the log at the homeless shelter where she’d been staying. He saw she was actually in the shelter during the murder and the charges were dropped.

In that same episode, “This American Life” examines the case of Jeffrey Womack, who spent most of his adult life as a suspect in one of Nashville’s most notorious crimes. And for all that time — until another man was convicted of the crime — Jeffrey refused to be questioned about it. He also spent much of that time being suspected of the crime by friends and neighbors.

You can listen to the episode, “Confessions, here.

These days, when we think of interrogations, it’s easy to conjure up images of suspected terrorists being questioned for hours on end in Guantanamo Bay. That’s our reality now. But do those interrogations work?

According to this article in the New York Times, there hasn’t been much research into the practice of interrogation at all.

“We don’t have any idea — other than anecdote or moral philosophy — what really works,” said Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, author of “Law and the Long War: The Future of Justice in the Age of Terror.”