Schwarzeneggar supports Jim Crow

This  governor of California vetoed SB 1121.  The bill would have ended 70 years of blatant racial discrimination in California by extending the same overtime rights you and I enjoy to the nearly half million farmworkers toiling in the fields.

Let’s be clear:  this is a public official supporting with his power and authority the systematic abuse of the thousands and thousands of people who do the work that keeps you alive.  There is little other way to look at it.  History will judge him an even worse racist than those of 50 or 100 years ago because Schwarzeneggar should have known better.

The reason he gave for his veto is that the cost would be too high for the industry, forcing them to higher fewer workers. He wrote: “Unfortunately, this measure, while well-intended, will not improve the lives of California’s agricultural workers and instead will result in additional burdens on California businesses, increased unemployment and lower wages.”

This is the same reason that was given when they tried to ban the short-handle hoe; or get rid of the Bracero Program; or limit the use of cancer-causing pesticides; or force employers to provide restrooms for workers.  Like all those cases, the reason is bullshit.  In each of these instances, profits rose after the industry was forced to act ethically.

If you are so-inclined, you can email the governor and tell him what an ass he is.  If there is an afterlife, I hope his is spent bent over in the hot sun feeding a bunch of fat people who don’t know (or care) he exists.

Contact him at

Support Overtime for CA Farmworkers

This is a picture of Arturo Rodriguez (UFW President); Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter, CA); Msgr. James Murphy (Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament); and scores of farmworkers. They are kneeling in California’s State Capitol building and praying that Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar will sign SB 1121 into law.

The bill–which is now on the Governor’s desk–would give farmworkers the same right you and I already have: overtime pay for overtime work.  Schwarzeneggar only has a limited amount of time to sign it.

Authored by Florenz, the bill “would lift a 1941 exemption in state labor code that excludes farmworkers from getting overtime pay after an eight-hour day or a 40-hour week. California farmworkers now get overtime pay only after a 10-hour day or a 60-hour week.”

You can read more about it here and here.

The 450,000 farmworkers in California deserve more than time and a half.  They perform the life-giving work that you and I depend on to do, well, everything we do.  Right now, you owe them your support.

Call or email Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s office NOW and tell him to sign the farmworker overtime bill into law.  Dial 916-445-2841 or send and email via the official correspondence link.

Troops to the border

The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arm of the Department of Homeland Defense (DHS) is getting some armed assistance with the addition of 1,200 National Guard troops on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The National Guard’s mission is to fortify the border until CBP can hire and train 1000 new agents.  The urgent needs are the twin tides of illegal immigration and drug/weapons smuggling.  As this release report from the Armed Forces Press Service attests, little distinction is made between the two kinds of criminal activity the National Guard is meant to curb.

This isn’t the first time the National Guard has stepped in to provide “relief” for a border police system that is seemingly always taxed to its limits.  For two years, from 2006 to 2008, more than 6,000 troops participated in “Operation Jump Start,” building fences and fortifying barriers for CBP while they sought to hire more people to fill their needs.

The drug and weapons situation at the border (as well as away from it) is a serious problem for Mexico, as it is for the U.S.  This latest deployment of troops by the Obama Administration is recognition of this, at some level.

The unfortunate thing is, this is little more than PR.  The drug and weapons problem at the border is tantamount to a raging widlfire.  The U.S. has just opened its garden hose.

The harder and more productive stance would be to ask how we can both snuff out the current blaze as well as stop promoting future fires.  That would mean interrogating the ways U.S. weapons producers help add dry tinder to an already combustible situation and how U.S. consumers of drugs are the match.

It would also mean interrogating the policies promoted by the U.S. and its international agencies that make economic life in Mexico what it is for the rural poor.

But this token deployment is not innocuous.  Anytime you send armed people to an incendiary situation there is the potential of danger.  Their non-offensive position is another boost to the low-intensity-conflict strategy at the border, one that hopes to scare the migrant flow into the hazardous terrain of the desert.  The end effect is a loss of life without a bullet fired.

Ask Profe

I’ve been trying out Formspring on the down low for a few months now. It’s been okay, a little monotonous over time, but that’s due largely (I think) to the fact I’ve been kind of anonymous on it (or ficticious?) and, really, what kind of questions do you ask a person you don’t know?

I’ve decided to try it out as myself, with the hopes it might inspire some interesting conversations about things I care about and others (at least one person) care about as well. On top of that, there seems to be a shortage of informed educators using the service, so maybe I can add to that trend as well.

You can ask me a question–anonymous or otherwise–related to anything at

Cosmopolitan San Francisco in 1855

Beginning in 1849, the lure of gold made San Francisco into an “instant city,” and a cosmopolitan one at that, with more than half of its population born somewhere other than the United States.

This quality almost certainly added to its mystery and exceptionalism, while also shaping both the need and the contours of its version of “white supremacy.”   For many accustomed to life amidst a more racially and culturally homogenous population, assumptions of racial difference and fitness proved invaluable tools in an almost natural effort to grapple with newness by “rationally” organizing daily, multiracial interactions marked by difference.   At the same time, life in San Francisco helped to further solidify such assumptions, providing a detailed observer with an avalanche of new “evidence” and expertise.

One early account ( from the The Annals of San Francisco, published in 1855) communicates the combination of exoticism and informed certainty that could result:

The every-day aspect of the plaza and streets was of the most curious and interesting kind. Take the plaza, on a fine day, for a picture of the people. All races were represented. There were hordes of long pig-tailed, blear-eyed, rank-smelling Chinese, with their yellow faces and blue garbs; single dandy black fellows, of nearly as bad an odor, who strutted as only the negro can strut, in holiday clothes and clean white shirt; a few diminutive fiery-eyes Malays, from the western archipelago, and some handsome Kanakas from the Sandwich Islands; jet-black, straight-featured, Abyssinians; hideously tattooed New Zealanders; Feejee sailors and even the secluded Japanese, short, thick, clumsy, ever-bowing, jacketed fellows; the people of the many races of Hindoo land; Russians with furs and sables; a stray, turbaned, stately Turk or two, and occasionally a half naked shivering Indian…

[The] multitudes of the Spanish race from every country of the Americas, partly pure, partly crossed with red blood—Chilians, Peruvians and Mexicans, all with different shades of the same swarthy complexion, black-eyed and well-featured, proud of their beards and moustaches, their grease, dirt, and eternal gaudy serapes or darker cloaks; Spaniards from the mother country, more dignified, polite and pompous than even their old colonial brethren; “greasers,” too, like them; great numbers of tall, goat-chinned, smooth-cheeked, oily-locked, lank-visaged, tobacco-chewing, large-limbed and featured, rough, care-worn, careless Americans from every State of the Union, dressed independently in every variety of garb, not caring a fig what people thought of them, but determined to “do the thing handsomely,” and “go ahead”…

Live Aid (25 years ago today)

On July 13, 1985, perhaps the largest concert event of my lifetime took place.

Live Aid was a benefit concert for sub-Saharan African relief, a single day comprised of two concerts–one in London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s JFK.

Born in Bob Geldoff’s head, Live Aid was a trans-Atlantic follow-up to 1984’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, the UK single that inspired USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” the following spring.  They raised some $245 million dollars as a result of this one day.

I was one of the more than 2 billion people that watched the live broadcast, a day’s worth of music shown in more than 60 countries.

It was an historic day on many levels. The surviving members Led Zeppelin played onstage for the first time since Bonham’s death.  U2 blew people away with their concert performance, no doubt beginning the generally accepted view of them as one of the best live bands of the next generation.  The Who played, their first time on stage since their ’82 “Farewell Tour.”  Black Sabbath reunited, as did Crosby, Still, Nash and Young.

There were famous no-shows, people who were invited but did not perform for one reason or another.  Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, and a host of others were invited to perform but didn’t. Some had conflicts, some had a falling out with US promoter Bill Graham. Others didn’t believe Geldoff’s vision. Springsteen later said he didn’t know it was going to be as big as it was.

The show began at 12 noon GMT at Wembley. The band Status Quo played the first set.  Two hours later, the show began in Philadelphia with Joan Baez.  The shows ran concurrently, with one act on stage at a time, the UK audience watching the US stage via satellite when it was live, and vice versa.  Paul McCartney closed out the UK show, formally closed with a rendition of “Do They Knoew It’s Christmas.”  Bob Dylan and friends Ronnie Wood and Keith Richard were the last act, taking the US stage at around  3:30 am London time, followed by “We Are the World.”

For all this greatness, and the greatness that never was to be, one performance stood out the most for me. The set played Queen was one of the most amazing live rock moments I have ever seen, largely for the crowd’s participation, but due in no small part to Freddy Mercury’s command of the stage. It left a memorable impression on my 12-year-old self.  I was never a huge fan, but I forever carried a tremendous amount of respect for the band after this day in July 1985.

Here’s their entire set, in 3 parts:

Black Women and HIV/AIDS

A discussion of HIV/AIDS and communities of color on the June 22, 2010 episode of The View is causing controversy for its spread of misinformation relating to the cause of Black women’s HIV/AIDS rates.

On the episode, Sherri Shepherd–who is a regular host of the show–along with comic D.L. Hughley–who was a guest–were discussing the FDA ban on blood donations from gay & bisexual men, when talk turned to men living on the “down low”–men who live straight lives but engage in homosexual sex.  Here’s the exchange:

Hughley: When you look at the prevalence of HIV in the African American Community, it’s primarily young women who are getting it from men who are on the down low.  That’s the thing.

Shepherd: The down low is black men who’ve been going out. They are having sex with men and they’re not telling their girlfriends or their wives that they’re gay and their husbands, as well. And it’s very prevalent with African American women because they come home and have sex with their wives or their girlfriends. And they’re not telling them that they’re gay.

Shepherd: It’s so big in the Black community with women because they’re having unprotected sex with men who have been having sex with… with men.

Indeed, as this story with Dr. Kevin Fenton (Director of the CDC’s’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention) reports, Black women comprise 61% of new HIV infection cases among women.  According to recent research, 80% of those cases are coming from women engaging in heterosexual sex.  This data is but the tip of an epidemic iceberg for African American women.  As the above piece states,

At 61 percent, Black women have an infection rate nearly 15 times higher than White women. Latina[s] represent 17 percent of all new HIV cases among women. White women are only 15 percent.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and these figures trend to perhaps the most startling of them all: AIDS is the leading cause of death among Black women between the ages of 25 and 34.

The things is, recent research disproves the “down low” phenomenon as the cause of these high rates.  As Dr. Fenton described: “In fact, we have looked to see what proportion of infections is coming from male partners who are bisexual and found there are actually relatively few. More are male partners who are having female partners and are injecting drugs or using drugs or have some other risks that may put those female partners at risk of acquiring HIV.”

In short, the rates are high largely because of unprotected “straight” sex.

Shepherd and Hughley were undoubtedly reporting what they thought they knew, something akin to contemporary “common sense” knowledge of HIV/AIDS and communities of color.  It is, in part, the result of various campaigns in the 90s to spread awareness of the virus and disease within these same communities, campaigns which largely promoted increased use of condoms.  At the time, HIV/AIDS prevention efforts often targeted segments of these communities which they viewed as “high risk.”  “Straight” men living on the “down low” was one such target.

I recall some HIV/AIDS prevention materials being disseminated throughout San Francisco’s Mission District at the time which were specifically targeted to such men.  From literature in bars and community centers, to large billboards in the heart of the barrio, there was a clear message being spread.  The same kinds of materials were common in my home across the bay, Oakland.  There I saw the results of campaigns directed at both Latinos and African Americans.

Science–and the HIV/AIDS prevention community–knows better now.  This will hopefully make for more effective efforts to stem the spread of the virus.  It certainly needs to find greater purchase within the campaigns that are now being developed to target communities of color.

Yet the effect of these educational efforts of the past–when considered against a sociocultural context that continues to be disproportionately disconnected to current scientific information, as well as far too often nurturing of homophobia–will mean “common sense” understandings like Shepherd’s and Hughley’s will continue to spread within these communities.

The response of GLAAD to this episode (while perhaps lacking in empathy of the larger context) is important.  All organizations who care about these issues–and this should include far more than those who identify as queer organizations–need to confront misinformation with the truth, and do so in a vigilant manner.  More importantly, organizations which already have an authoritative voice within our communities need to step up to the plate and  begin to take a greater interest in the problems that are slowly killing us from the inside out.

For more information visit:

Black AIDS Institute:
My Sistahs:
Office of Minority Health:
National Minority AIDS Council: