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Farewell, DCentric

Today is my last day as the senior reporter for DCentric. It’s been a little over a year since I started writing for this blog, and I’m blown away at just thinking about all of the interesting topics I’ve had the opportunity to explore.

I have my own highlights, among them: producing a series on D.C.’s unemployment divide; asking why the local crime and punishment museum hires black men to wear prison jumpsuits; exploring what’s behind rock bands playing D.C.’s Ethiopian restaurants; and writing about gentrification — a lot. I’m also grateful that I’ve been able to share some personal stories about identity. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my posts at least half as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

This beat has been challenging, too. Race and class can be loaded, emotionally-charged topics, and they typically come with broad declarations of what’s right and wrong. I’ve learned a lot in my time here, but above all, it’s that things aren’t usually cut and dry. I hope meaningful conversations about these issues continue to happen in D.C., and that they grow in number. Such discussions will be important as we figure out how to navigate all of the changes our city is going through.

So, many thanks to my colleagues, both here at WAMU 88.5 and elsewhere. You’ve provided me with support and feedback, and for that, I am grateful.

And finally, of course, I’d like to thank to you, the readers. I strongly believe in DCentric’s mission: to explore race and class and open up a space for elevated discourse. If I’ve had any success here, it’s in large part to the readers. Thank you for following my work, questioning it, offering insightful comments and contributing to this ongoing conversation, whether in person or over Twitter. I’m moving on, but stay in touch. Seriously!


Can Wireless Tablets Bridge The Digital and Education Divide?

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Teacher Bernadette DeSario works with students conducting historical research on wireless tablets.

Coolidge High School students sit in small groups as they prep for their Advanced Placement U.S. history exam. They’ll be expected to write essays on the materials they’ve learned.

“How or why did the anti-slavery movement become more radical during the period between 1815 and 1816?” teacher Bernadette DeSario asks the students during a class last week. ”We’re going to look at a couple of websites that will provide us with primary source documents.”

The students hunch over small, wireless tablets, swiping the screens as they read letters and other 19th century documents, looking for information to support their answers.

Coolidge doesn’t have many computers, principal Thelma Jarrett said. These students get to use tablets provided by Verizon Wireless, through a program running at four D.C. high schools. It’s intended to level the playing field for high school students in low-income schools, particularly as they get ready for college. The program includes tablets that students can use during class, and also a bus converted into a “learning lab,” stocked with tablets, printers and other devices. The bus, which visits the school once a week, is where students go to get help from Howard University tutors in writing college essays and applying to schools.

Coolidge is a Title 1 school, meaning a high percentage of its students come from low-income homes; 64 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunches. DeSario said many of her students don’t have access to technology, and that the using the tablets helps them develop good, online research skills.

“It’s putting them so far ahead,” she said. “When they get to college, they’re going to be expected to know how to use this technology.”

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Marion Barry: Breaking Down Race, Plexiglass And ‘Dirty Shops’

dbking / Flickr

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry

Councilman Marion Barry’s criticisms of Asian-owned stores in Ward 8 set off a whirlwind of criticism and debate Thursday. Here’s the rundown: Barry made some offhanded remarks after he won the contested Ward 8 council seat race, captured by NBC4 Washington: “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

On Thursday, Barry’s Twitter account clarified his criticism, aiming it at carry-out joints that sell greasy food and put up plexiglass barriers between customers and employees. And many of such restaurants, he said, are owned by Asians. Barry faced criticism throughout Thursday, including denunciations from Councilman Tommy Wells (Ward 6), Council Chair Kwame Brown and Mayor Vincent Gray. Barry eventually apologized for offending the Asian American community. Barry said he intended to criticize some, not all, Asian-owned businesses, but he remained staunch in his view that Ward 8 deserves better food options and less plexiglass.

Part of Barry’s scourge centers on the feeling that predominately black Ward 8 is often disrespected, and that feeling is at the heart of many issues east of the Anacostia River. By bringing race into the mix, Barry touched upon a history of animosity. In many cities, some view Asian grocers and liquor store owners in predominately black communities as profiting off of customers while not treating them with respect.

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In Your Words: George Zimmerman And To Be White And Hispanic

Courtesy of Orange County Jail

A 2005 photo of George Zimmerman.

Race looms large in the story of Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teenager shot and killed by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman. Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the Feb. 26 incident and hasn’t be charged with a crime. The lack of charges have led to nationwide protests by those who believe Zimmerman would have been charged had Martin not been black.

But how much does the race of the shooter matter in the story? Zimmerman’s father is identified as white and his mother as Hispanic. Many believe Zimmerman racially profiled Martin, but Zimmerman’s family has used his ethnic heritage as a defense against such claims.

A number of you weighed in on the role of race in the story and the complexity of racial identity for Hispanics, who are considered a minority group in the United States. C_vs writes that Hispanic is an ethnicity, referring to “people of various backgrounds who are united by the Spanish language and Latin-American culture.” But Hispanics can be of any race.

Laribos writes that the Martin case highlights the need for more nuanced ways to identify Hispanics:

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Dissecting Geraldo Rivera’s Hoodie Comment

Peter Kramer / Getty Images

Geraldo Rivera is a FOX News correspondent.

Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black Florida teenager killed by Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman, was wearing a hoodie at the time of the shooting. Zimmerman, who hasn’t been charged with a crime, told a 911 dispatcher that Martin “looks like he’s up to no good, or on drugs or something,”

As the case has captured national attention, many have focused on the hoodie. It’s being used as a symbol to stand in solidarity with the Martin family, and now, it’s being partially blamed for the incident. Controversial television personality Geraldo Rivera said on the March 23 edition of “Fox and Friends” that:

I believe that George Zimmerman, the overzealous neighborhood watch captain should be investigated to the fullest extent of the law and if he is criminally liable, he should be prosecuted. But I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies. I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.

Rivera went on to say that he tells his “dark-skinned” son Cruz to not leave the house wearing a hoodie because “people look at you and they — what do they think? What’s the instant identification, what’s the instant association?”

Many then took to Twitter to criticize Rivera, who then tweeted this:

Its sad that I have to be the one reminding minority parents of the risk that comes with being a kid of color in America--channel the rage
Geraldo Rivera

Rivera’s advice shifts responsibility from aggressors to victims, much like saying rape victims were “asking for it” because of what they were wearing. But Rivera’s statements also somewhat allude to the painful decisions that many parents have to confront, of how to protect their black and brown children in a world where racism exists and can costs lives.

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Trayvon Martin And How ‘A Million Hoodies’ Began

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a "Million Hoodie March" in Manhattan on March 21

The case of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager shot and killed Feb. 26 by a Neighborhood Watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., has captured the nation’s attention. The shooter, George Zimmerman, claims self-defense and hasn’t been charged with a crime.

“This guy looks like he’s up to no good, or on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told a 911 dispatcher, adding that Martin was wearing “a dark hoodie, like a gray hoodie.” Moments later, Zimmerman shot an unarmed Martin in the chest, and claimed it was in self-defense.

Daniel Maree, 24, started the Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin rally and social media campaign.

Federal authorities said Monday that they would take over* join the investigation. The announcement came on the same day that Daniel Maree, a 24-year-old digital strategist in New York City, wrote a blog post and uploaded a YouTube video, pushing for Zimmerman to be charged. Maree asked people to post photos of themselves wearing hoodies with the hashtag #millionhoodies, sign a petition calling for Zimmerman’s prosecution and for New Yorkers to march on Union Square Wednesday. The Million Hoodies for Trayvon Martin movement is now spreading to other cities, including D.C. (Disclosure: Maree used to be my neighbor and we’ve hung out a few times).

The Martin case resonated with Maree on a number of levels. He grew up in South Africa where “as a black person you feel like you’re at home” since the country is majority-black, Maree said.

“When you come to the States, when I came, it was kind of surprising. You actually do feel like a minority, because you are one. That feeling is tangible,” Maree said. “And then to have situations like this, which happened to Trayvon Martin, it shows it’s not just a feeling that we’re imagining. It’s real.” Continue reading

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman And Beyond Black And White

Werth Media / Flickr

A photo of Trayvon Martin appears on a protester's sign during a March 19 rally in Sanford, Fla.

A national debate about racism in the criminal justice system has been reignited by the Feb. 26 killing of an unarmed black teenager in Florida by a non-black man who hasn’t been charged with a crime.

Here’s what happened, according to news reports and newly-released 911 recordings: Trayvon Martin, 17, was walking from a convenience store to his father’s house in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. That’s when Neighborhood Watch volunteer George Zimmerman, 28, spotted him. Zimmerman called 911, reporting a seeing a suspicious person. “This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman said to the dispatcher, and began following Martin. A struggle ensued and Martin, unarmed, was fatally shot in the chest. Zimmerman claims self defense and hasn’t been charged with a crime. Federal authorities announced late Monday that they would launch a full-scale criminal investigation following protests over local police’s handling of the case.

The narrative appears to be a sadly familiar one, of seemingly double standards, of little to no punishment when the shooter is white and when the person shot is black. Benjamin Crump, the Martin family’s lawyer, has said that if the roles were reversed and Trayvon Martin was the shooter of a white man, an arrest would have been made immediately.

Orange County Jail

A 2005 photo of George Zimmerman.

But a letter from Zimmerman’s father, Robert Zimmerman, to the Orlando Sentinel complicates the narrative. Robert Zimmerman writes that his son, George, is “a Spanish speaking minority.” (He also goes on write that his son has black family members. “The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth,” the letter states.).

Orlando Sentinel reporter Rene Stutzman has been closely following the case and had an exclusive interview with Robert Zimmerman. Stutzman tells DCentric that George Zimmerman’s father is white and his mother is Hispanic.

Does Zimmerman’s Hispanic heritage change the larger story? Maybe not, but it does demonstrate that America’s longstanding black-white debates about racism have been complicated by the country’s shifting demographics. Racial identity for Hispanics is much more fluid than for other groups. Many Hispanic immigrants feel they are accepted as white by larger society, but those with darker complexions still face plenty of discrimination, according to a 2010 American Sociological Association report. In other words, a light skinned Hispanic, such as Zimmerman, may be treated as a white man by larger society, while a darker Hispanic may be treated as black. And when it comes to racial profiling, anyone can discriminate against anyone else. A person can even be sued for racially discriminating against another person of the same race.

In the end, no matter how many debates about race this case spurs, one thing won’t change: a teenager who was carrying little more than a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea is dead. And for now, a community is torn apart as so many questions remain unanswered.

Photos: What Won’t You Stand For?

Want to end racism? Why not start with putting it on a T-shirt.

Until 8 p.m. today, a pop-up booth will be in Farrguat Square where people can create T-shirts with customized messages. It’s part of USA Network’s Characters Unite campaign to bring awareness to hate and discrimination.

Passersby can stamp T-shirts that read “I won’t stand for…” with a number of words, including discrimination, intolerance, homophobia, racism, sexism and hate. Some individuals, including D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, told DCentric about what they chose to stand against. Is there anything you won’t stand for? Why?


‘Linsanity’ and the Redskins: Race in Sports

Race has increasingly become part of the story in the buzz around the first Asian American NBA starter, Jeremy Lin of the New York Knicks. Last week, a headline writer at ESPN was fired for publishing the headline “Chink in the armor” following a Knicks’ loss. The discussions and outrage surrounding the offensiveness of the phrase have led some in the D.C. area to revive an old question: is the name of Washington’s football team, the Redskins, racist?

Local newscaster Jim Vance offered his commentary during an NBC4 telecast, calling for greater attention and dialogue to the appropriateness of the team name. He states, “I don’t know if it should or not be changed, but I’d sure rather not be cussed out for raising the question.”

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But despite such calls, there’s little impetus to change Washington’s franchise name. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought by Native American activists who wanted the team name changed. And the Redskins team is one of the most profitable in the country, so there’s a lot of brand value attached to the team name.

Help Diversify Our Reporting

Roger H. Goun / Flickr

Have you moved to D.C. in the past few years, but already had some kind of connection to the city? Perhaps you grew up here, or your parents once lived here. DCentric wants to hear your stories, and you can share them with us by filling out this brief survey.

The survey is DCentric’s first foray into a new WAMU 88.5 initiative called the Public Insight Network. It aims to create an online database of regular, everyday people who want to inform our station’s reporting by sharing their diverse experiences and backgrounds. Particularly given DCentric’s focus on race and class, this program is another way to diversify the voices that are heard in local media reports.

By filling out the DCentric form, or this generic one, you’ll become part of the database that our station’s reporters and producers can comb to find sources. And for those concerned about privacy, here are some of the basics: we won’t quote you without explicit permission and your information won’t be shared with anyone outside of the newsroom.