“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Biggest Takeaways from the Second Democratic Debate
Over the course of the evening, it became apparent the two frontrunners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, aren't old dogs with new tricks.
Last night, the second round of Democratic debates came and went. Ten out of the twenty candidates who qualified for the debates were chosen at random to participate in the second half of NBC's nationally televised event. Of course, the goal for the Democratic Party is to take the Oval Office and hopefully the Senate.
Over the course of the evening, it became apparent the two frontrunners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, are old dogs without any new tricks. Honestly, it'd be difficult to tell the difference between a clip of Senator Sanders debating in 2016 and 2019—maybe this time around, he's a little more tired. Joe Biden was alarming on the stage: He was ill-prepared, stumbled over his words, and leaned heavily on his smile. It's not that Biden had a terrible night' it's that he only had an okay night— which, for a frontrunner, is not a good sign. There were only three people anyone should be excited to hear from: Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Marianne Williamson.
Between the two debates, candidate Andrew Yang spoke the least by a two-minute margin. During the three minutes he did speak, Yang introduced his Freedom Dividend policy. The Freedom Dividend Policy is a Universal Basic Income plan. All people over the age of eighteen would be eligible to obtain a basic income of a thousand dollars a month. Yang's policy is one of the few proposed that addresses an imminent threat: technology. If corporations like Amazon were heavily taxed, that'd free a lot more money for workers who are displaced due to automated jobs accomplished by AI.
If you look into Yang, he's a contender thanks to his reasonably successful grassroots campaign. Last night, Yang turned his campaign into the trending hashtag #LetYangSpeak. According to the candidate, his mic had been turned off multiple times throughout the evening. The only evidence available is footage of Yang attempting to get a word in but to no avail.
#LetYangSpeak Here’s proof that @AndrewYang was attempting to speak, but his mic was cut off. Coincidences don’t ex… https://t.co/cRhdujENfD— AVWilhite20 (@AVWilhite20) 1561733609.0
In the video, he's speaking, loud enough for Joe Biden to hear him. Beyond that clip, there is no other evidence. If that were, in fact, true, then NBC would have a lot to answer for ah regarding their meddling in a primary debate.
Marianne Williamson, Be Still My Heart
Marianne Williamson sure made a name for herself last night. Her dramatic and chaotic delivery was a delight for many. Yet, she did not come to play games; she came to bring up points of contention and big ideas we need to tackle. According to her, "It's really nice if we've got all these plans, but if you think we're going to beat Donald Trump by just having all these plans, you've got another thing coming. He didn't win by saying he had a plan. He won by simply saying 'Make America Great Again.'" She's right, like she was right about a lot of things: Williamson thoughtfully addressed the need for reparations, slammed ageist rhetoric, and exclaimed of love over hate.
Although her delivery was off-kilter to many, Williamson should not be underestimated for her flowery language; she explained:
"I have had a career not making the political plans, but I have had a career harnessing the inspiration and the motivation and the excitement of people. Masses of people. When we know that when we say we are going to turn from a dirty economy to a clean economy, we're going to have a Green New Deal, we're going to create millions of jobs, we're going to do this within the next 12 years, because I'm not interested in just winning the next election, we are interested in our grandchildren. Then it will happen."
Many Americans never imagined Donald Trump would be our president, but here we are. Williamson's bold statements and captivating delivery about her hopes and dreams for this country have the potential to capture the American imagination. Sure, she may give off the spiritual energy of a wine mom who likes crystals, but why does that discredit her abilities? Remember, the hippies of our nation began revolutions.
Marianne Williamson: I Will 'Harness Love' To Defeat President Donald Trump | NBC Newswww.youtube.com
Yes, We Just Witnessed a Murder
Kamala Harris came prepared last night. Over all the ruckus, Harris reprimanded her fellow candidates with her rehearsed one-liner: "America does not want to witness a food fight; they want to know how we're going to put food on their table."
She continued to command the evening by confronting Joe Biden on his record. Harris challenged the former VP, asserting:
"I'm going to now direct this at Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground. But I also believe, and it's personal— and I was actually very—it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.
"And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me."
Kamala Harris Confronts Joe Biden On Race | TIMEwww.youtube.com
Biden, who was once a spirited debater, floundered in his response. He clarified that he supported busing, but on the state level. Harris clapped back, recounting how in her hometown of Berkeley, California, busing was not enforced. She utilized the anecdote to explain why The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were crucial to this country, which is why we need to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Biden was given thirty seconds to respond. He vouched for his record, reasserting that he always supported Civil Rights, before cutting himself off, saying, "— anyway, my time is up. I'm sorry." Biden caused the most damage to himself, as he failed to successfully defend himself.
Sometimes, You Just Can't Get it Done
Pete Buttigieg was another candidate with a breakout performance. The South Bend, Indiana Mayor may be young, but he's had skin in the game for seventeen years. Buttigieg is a veteran, a politician, a polyglot, and a gifted orator. He also made history last night as the first openly gay candidate to participate in a primary debate.
On the topic of immigration, he broke down the hypocrisy of the Christian-aligning Republican Party. Buttigieg did not hold back, proclaiming:
"The Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion. We should call hypocrisy, and for a party that associates with Christianity to say it is okay to suggest that God would smile on the division of families at the hands of federal agents, that God would condone putting children in cages has lost all claim to ever use religion language again."
The South Bend native also candidly addressed his failure to diversify his city's police force, noting, "I couldn't get it done." He went on to explain the pain his city is experiencing due to the devastating death of a local black man, Eric Logan. Logan was shot and killed by a white police officer. The officer did not have his body camera on at the time of the incident. Buttigieg unpacked how he could not take a position on the matter until the investigation is complete.
The mayor's transparency was received favorably and for a good reason. We need a president who doesn't spread fake news.
Stop Name Dropping
Joe Biden name-dropped Obama almost as frequently as he did Trump. Biden's attempts to piggy-back off the former President's accomplishments highlighted the reason Biden why was only able to make it into the Oval Office as a running mate instead of president: He is not our future. While Biden is a respected Washington staple, his vision for our country is dated and boring. It doesn't capture the America we live in today. After Harris' takedown, it's apparent that Biden cannot justify his unfavorable past.
Maybe California Senator Eric Swalwell was right when he told Biden to finally "pass the torch" to the next generation. Biden slyly smiled and said, "Not yet." However, if last night proved anything, it's that he should've let go of it a long time ago.
Where are you really from: Race, Identity and Power in the U.S. and France
Since President Barack Obama first stepped into office, the American people were startled by a possibility that there didn't have to be a "Black America and White America," anymore, but just "the United States of America." According to New Yorker contributor, author, and associate professor at the University of Connecticut, Jelani Cobb, that was some promising presidential rhetoric, but overall, a lie. Anyone who's read the headlines or seen the news for the past few years can recognize that race relations are far from stable, and the U.S. is far from "united." With issues such as police violence, racial profiling, and the "Black Lives Matter" movement as our modern-day Civil Rights movement, the rift between black and white transcends skin color—it's also a matter of class, power, and the notion of our republic.
As a long-time ally of the United States, France has played an integral role in its development. France has had its share of race problems of its own, seen most prominently through the Algerian War (1954-1962) and lingering racism against people of North African descent that largely populate the banlieues, or suburbs. The war prompted a silence that was only sort of broken recently, by French president François Hollande, who acknowledged the war's brutality, but didn't really apologize. Immigration has always been a hotbed issue in France, but it is especially now more important in preparation for their 2017 presidential election. On the other hand, Americans have a little less time to figure out new policies as the "changing of the guards" is decided next week. Even so, Paris was (and still is) a destination for African-Americans. James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, all found inspiration on French turf.
You may know Coates as the National Book Award-winning author of Between the World and Me. But Coates has also had a history struggling to learn French, as he told us at the opening reception of Festival Albertine last night. He just returned from Paris after a year-long writing fellowship, and there, had various interactions with African-Americans. He used his research to help curate the 3rd annual festival of the famed French-English bookstore housed by the French Embassy in New York City.
During last night's gathering, we were among a room of French, American, White, Black, and more. Coates stood before us and explained the process of selecting his panel for the November 2nd discussion, When Will France Have Its Barack Obama? Joining Cobb on the panel was journalist Iris Derœux, and historians Pap Ndiaye and Benjamin Stora.
What first struck me about the title of this discussion was the use of the word, "when." It suggests that France will have a Barack Obama, and it's only a matter of time. But will France ever have a Barack Obama? The French perspective is so used to seeing White males in political positions that a Black president would seem revolutionary, but would it be more revolutionary than what happened in America?
Ndiaye recounted an anecdote of a modern iteration of W.E.B. Du Bois's theory of double-consciousness. As a Black French man from Paris, when people ask him where he's from, he always answers, logically, "I'm from Paris." But then there's always a follow-up question; "Where are you really from?" This implies that because of the color of his skin and the language that he speaks, people don't feel comfortable accepting him as a Parisian. He must therefore be from somewhere else.
Both France and the United States have had different forms of racism. Americans had slavery, the French had the Algerian war, and that's just two examples. But these major tragedies in world history do not come without aftershocks. Festival Albertine will explore race and identity in the modern age through a series of panels highlighting a number of artistic forms, including art, film, literature, and dance.
The festival runs through November 6th, 2016. For more information, click here. And if you can't make it to New York, all of the events are livestreamed to help spread the messages of these scholars, artists, and writers to people in the rest of the United States, in France, and beyond.