The ‘Non-African-American’ Ethiopian Immigrant

Adrian Murphy / Flickr

Ethiopian flag

What does it really mean to be “African American?” Does the term refer to people with slaves as ancestors, or is it just as applicable to recent African immigrants?

It’s a conversation we’ve previously explored, and it’s front and center in an ongoing legal dispute involving a jazz club near Howard University.

Here’s the gist, according to the Washington City Paper: The Enterprise Theater & Jazz Lounge was opened by Charletta Lewis, who is now suing her landlord. She claims that landlord Michael Ressom racially discriminated against her by leasing her a building that wasn’t up to code, and therefore, she couldn’t legally open for business. Lewis is black, Ressom is an Ethiopian immigrant. Her complaint states that Ressom “is a non-African-American man.” Ressom and his lawyer declined to comment to the City Paper, while Lewis’ lawyer Jimmy Bell explained:

“He’s not African-American!” Bell says, when asked if Ressom’s ethnicity damages his case. “African-American means you are a descendant of a slave! This guy’s an Ethiopian immigrant, who wasn’t naturalized as a citizen until November 2010.”

General discrimination claims of this sort aren’t that all uncommon. Some taxicab complaints were officially filed with the D.C. Taxicab Commission by people who write they are black and claiming they were racially discriminated against by African cabbies. But for every story about animosity between D.C.’s black and Ethiopian communities, there is another about good will and unity between the groups.

Still, our question remains: is lumping everyone together as “African American” really the most accurate racial identifier?

Nonprofit Leader Sues D.C., Claims Discrimination

Brian Turner / Flickr

The D.C. Attorney General has accused Cornell Jones and his nonprofit of using District HIV/AIDS money to renovate a strip club. But Jones claims it’s a case of racial bias, and now he’s suing the city right back.

Miracle Hands, the nonprofit in question, had plans to renovate a warehouse into a job training center for District residents with HIV/AIDS (the warehouse later became a strip club). Jones’ $2 million suit claims that Miracle Hands used D.C. money to hire an architect to draw up plans for the center and that they hired teachers to run job training classes elsewhere, the Washington City Paper reports:

By 2008, the suit implies, those classes were derailed by racism. Miracle Hands was promised some $500,000 in funding to get their center up and running, but the organization was stiffed when the city rerouted the money to non-blacks.

… If Miracle Hands provided the services it was supposed to, that should be easy enough to prove. The claim that they’ve been victims of discrimination, though, would seem thin, since the Miracle Hands saga played out under two black mayors. That said, a National Institutes of Health study released in August revealed that black scientists weren’t getting their due despite the organization taking pains to avoid discrimination, meaning race bias can be a fickle and complex force.

Jones’ formal claim of discrimination comes after took to his WOL-AM 1450 talk show Saturday to accuse white city leaders of going after him because he’s black. He also used an anti-gay slur in describing two white, openly gay councilmen.


Housing Discrimination Against Minorities, the Disabled Persists in Nation’s Capital

Shane Adams / Flickr

It’s been four decades since the first federal fair housing laws came into the books, but a new report finds that D.C. needs to ratchet up its enforcement against discrimination in housing.

The report, issued by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and posted below, found that builders are constructing apartment buildings that aren’t handicapped-accessible. It also found that some District landlords still practice racial discrimination against African Americans, and that there’s a lack of subsidized housing units west of Rock Creek Park, in a predominately wealthy and white part of the city.

When a person feels they are a victim of housing discrimination, they can file a complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights. The office received 397 house discrimination cases from 2002 to 2010. Complaints, which can contain more than one basis for discrimination, were filed based on the following categories:
Continue reading

“A Southern Plantation in law enforcement”

Flickr: Jonathon D. Colman

Yesterday, over 50 African American employees began the process of filing a discrimination complaint against the Capitol Police, a federal police force tasked with protecting the United States Congress:

In a press conference, members of the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association announced they intended to file a classwide request for counseling with the Office of Compliance, which will “initiate a process that will in all likelihood lead to yet another discrimination complaint” filed against Capitol Police, according to association member and Capitol Police Lt. Frank Adams.

Cited as reasons for the action are reprisals, hostile work environment and discrimination committed against black employees by the Capitol Police, the Capitol Police Board and the senior employment counsel for both, Frederick Herrera.

“The United States Capitol Police Department continues to project a model culture of discrimination as reflected in a ‘modern day version of a 19th Century Southern Plantation in law enforcement,’” Adams said.

The U.S. Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A decade ago, over 300 Capitol Police employees filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit which has yet to be resolved.