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The 10 Biggest News Stories of 2011 About Race


A white rapper, a black Republican and a Chinese mother all made the Race Relations list of top 2011 news stories. When the year started, no one could predict that 2011 would give rise to debates about whether Asian parents make better parents than Western parents or black voters have been brainwashed to vote Democrat. And thanks to the debut of a controversial book called Is Marriage For White People? by Ralph Richard Banks, stories about the black marriage rate dominated the news cycle. Since there’s no shortage of racial controversies in the United States, narrowing down the top news stories about race and racism wasn’t easy. The decision of a book publisher to remove the N-word from Mark Twain’s classic Huckleberry Finn just missed the cut, as did the controversy Urban Outfitters sparked by carelessly using the name of the Navajo Nation on a variety of merchandise, including a flask of all things. But 10 news stories did make the list. Here they are:

10. Rapper Kreayshawn

White rappers are nothing new. Eminem, the Beastie Boys, Third Bass, Bubba Sparxxx, Snow and Vanilla Ice are just a handful of white hip-hop acts who’ve topped the music charts over the years. But unless you count the occasional detours of artists such as Debbie Harry, Gwen Stefani and Kesha into hip-hop, white female rappers have been few and far between in the music industry. That’s why Oakland rapper Kreayshawn made such a splash when her single “Gucci Gucci” became a hit in the summer of 2011. The success of Kreayshawn, a Russian American, revived discussions about whether whites who excel in “black” music genres are guilty of cultural appropriation. Kreayshawn has also been criticized for allegedly using the N-word. She’s remarked in interviews that she’s chosen not to use the slur but a well-known associate of hers, V-Nasty, has repeatedly dropped the N-bomb in raps.

9. Don Lemon Comes Out

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In May, CNN anchor Don Lemon made the courageous decision to come out as gay upon the release of his new memoir Transparent. When Lemon made his sexual orientation public, he discussed the challenges that being both African American and gay have posed in his life. “It’s quite different for an African-American male,” he remarked in the New York Times. “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.” His comments prompted discussions about whether blacks are more homophobic than other racial groups or whether they’re being stereotyped as such. Similar conversations took place after the African American community was scapegoated for the passage of California’s Prop. 8 in 2008. The proposition banned gay marriage in the state.

8. Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial

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After decades in the making, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington D.C. finally opened to the public in August. The $120 million memorial has not been without controversy. Some African Americans complained that a Chinese sculptor was chosen to create a 30-foot-tall granite statue of King on the National Mall instead of a black sculptor. Writer Maya Angelou criticized how some of King’s notable quotes had been paraphrased on the memorial, arguing that they made the slain civil rights leader appear arrogant. In addition, a USA Today/Gallup Poll found that blacks were much more interested in visiting the memorial than whites. Prominent blacks such as academic Cornel West said that King’s dream had turned into a nightmare, as many blacks continue to face tremendous socioeconomic barriers.

7. Alabama's Immigration Law

Last year Arizona sparked controversy by passing a law to crack down on illegal immigration there. In 2011, Alabama followed suit by enforcing even harsher legislation to crack down on unauthorized immigration in the state. The Alabama law mandates that schools confirm if students are U.S. citizens (which a federal court has barred) and allows law enforcement to arrest those without identification. The new law also stipulates that individuals police suspect of being undocumented immigrants may be jailed without bail. Supporters of the law say it’s needed because Alabama spends millions of dollars annually on services for undocumented immigrants. But some of the law’s original supporters are backtracking because it led to the arrests of two foreign employees at Honda and Mercedes plants in the state. The workers reportedly did not have proper identification when asked for it during routine traffic stops. Their cases have since been dropped, but the episode proved embarrassing for Alabama.

6. Newt Gingrich on Poor Black Kids

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Republican presidential nominee Newt Gingrich set off a firestorm when he remarked during a December event at the Nationwide Insurance offices that: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.” His comments were largely taken as an indictment of poor black children, which Gingrich confirmed by specifically referring to the high unemployment rate among black youth. Whoopi Goldberg of “The View,” Larry Wilmore of “The Daily Show” and a slew of bloggers and journalists responded to Gingrich’s one-dimensional characterization of poor black youth. People such as Goldberg pointed out how poor black children do have a work ethic and role models who work as well. She argued that she’s a success today, despite having grown up poor.

5. Asians in the Library

At the start of the year, Alexandra Wallace was an unknown UCLA college student. By March, however, Wallace made international headlines when she videotaped herself ranting about Asian students’ lack of “American manners” in the UCLA library. During the rant, she complained that Asian students too often spoke on their cell phones in the library, using a series of ching chongs to mock how they spoke. Wallace also complained that the families of Asian students spent too much time at her apartment complex and that “hordes” of Asians were entering UCLA. Millions of viewers watched her recorded rant, and Wallace found herself the subject of articles in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Mail and many more. Plus, dozens of people recorded their own rants in response to her racially insensitive videotape. Because of her newfound notoriety, Wallace announced her departure from UCLA.

4. Psychology Today Writer Calls Black Women Unattractive

All hell broke loose (online, anyway) when Psychology Today blogger Satoshi Kanazawa concluded that black women are “far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women.” He argued that black women weren’t less attractive because they tend to weigh more than other women or have differences in intelligence but because blacks have higher amounts of testosterone than other racial groups. After a loud public outcry, Psychology Today removed Kanazawa’s racially offensive blog post. The “science” Kanazawa’ used to make his conclusion about black women was roundly criticized as well. Psychology Today ultimately fired Kanazawa for his remarks about black women.

3. Is Marriage for White People?

Perhaps the provocative title of Ralph Richard Banks’ 2011 release about the black marriage crisis is partly to blame for why the media couldn’t get enough of it. The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and New York Times are just three in a long list of news outlets to cover Banks’ book, which suggests that single black women should marry interracially to avoid ending up alone, as black men are too often uneducated, incarcerated or otherwise unavailable for marriage. Critics of the book took issue with this characterization of black men or the idea that black women could easily cross the color line in romance. Others pointed out that the black marriage crisis had been exaggerated and that the overwhelming majority of black women do wed.

2. Tiger Mothers

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Yale Law School professor Amy Chua sparked one of the first major race controversies of the year when she suggested in a Wall Street Journal piece that Chinese mothers are superior to Western parents. She argued that by berating their children, depriving them of social activities and demanding nothing lower than A’s in school, Chinese parents raise successful and disciplined offspring. Many readers balked at Chua’s suggestions, arguing that they constituted child abuse and led to robotic-like children with no creativity. Despite the controversy, Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother became a bestseller.

1. Herman Cain

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The name Herman Cain did not ring a bell for most of the American public in January. But when the pizza mogul threw his hat into the 2012 presidential race, his popularity increased exponentially. A Tea Party favorite, Cain stood out not only because of his ultra-conservative views but also because his skin color. The fact that Cain is black challenged the idea that an undercurrent of racism runs throughout the Tea Party. Cain hasn’t shied away from discussing racial issues. He’s discussed growing up in the segregated South as a child and has called on the African-American community to change their political views. He remarked that blacks have been brainwashed to vote Democrat. He also challenged the politically correct term “African American,” noting that he’s an American, not an African. Moreover, Cain hasn’t hesitated to call white liberals such as “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart racist for mocking him. Although Cain ended his political campaign in late 2011 after various women accused him of sexual harassment and infidelity, he’s in prime position to use his new fame to advance his political and professional career.
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