This Week in Racism

The Stolen Bones of Black Children Bombed by the Philly Police

That and more this week in race and racism

Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash

There’s been plenty of racial/racism news on the front pages this week, with a conviction in one police killing at almost the exact same time as another was taking place. We learned that ex-officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd in Minneapolis, and as we were all processing what that meant, we found out police in Columbus, Ohio, had fatally shot teenager Ma’Khia Bryant.

But here’s some other important news that you also need to know.

Not at rest: Why the hell are the bones of two children killed in the notorious Philadelphia MOVE bombing in 1985 sitting in cardboard boxes, first at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and now — well, now no one is sure where they are. A total of six adults and five children were killed when Philadelphia police dropped explosives onto a house where radical Black liberation organization MOVE was based. The remains of 14-year-old Katricia “Tree” Africa and 12-year-old Delisha Africa were apparently given to a Penn professor after the bombing for analysis, and then those bones reportedly moved with him when he accepted a position at Princeton University. But Princeton says they don’t have them. It’s unclear why the bones of these children weren’t turned over to their families in the first place. But there is a long history of research institutions seizing the remains of marginalized peoples, described in this Twitter thread by Anthea Butler that is definitely worth your time.

The vicarious trauma of the Chauvin trial: Watching the trial of Derek Chauvin, the White ex-police officer now convicted of murdering George Floyd, was painful for a lot of folks. But it held a particular kind of trauma for Black men, who saw themselves both in George Floyd and in the Black male witnesses who broke down in tears on the stand. A Black psychologist, Alduan Tartt, told NBC News that this left many Black men feeling “helpless to help him. And we also identify with George Floyd being helpless to stop his life being taken from him. It’s called ‘vicarious traumatization.’”

Climate gentrification: We already know that people of color are often disproportionately affected by climate change and the natural disasters that can come with it. Reporting from The Guardian details how Black folks in one New York coastal neighborhood are being pushed out instead of receiving government aid to rebuild and recover after Hurricane Sandy. Folks in the higher-income and mostly White neighborhood across the peninsula seem to get more help. Why is this happening? It seems to be a mixture of red tape, an unequal distribution of resources for homeowners that need help navigating the maze of aid applications, and the fact that housing segregation generally pushes people of color into areas prone to flooding and hurricane damage.

Covid-19’s orphans: A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics estimated that more than 40,000 children in the U.S. have had a parent die of coronavirus. And though Black children are only 14% of the total child population, the study estimates that 20% of the kids who lost a parent to Covid-19 are Black. This story at Vox Media explains how existing disparities in health, mental health, and education make this even more concerning.

Consequences for biased A.I.? The Federal Trade Commission issued guidance this week for companies that develop and use artificial intelligence, notably telling them they could be held accountable if their products introduce or perpetuate racial or other biases. In particular, it warns: “The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive practices. That would include the sale or use of — for example — racially biased algorithms.” This is important because A.I., algorithms, and predictive analysis are increasingly used for everything from screening job applicants to assigning hospital beds in a pandemic to facial recognition software used by law enforcement agencies. There are plenty of opportunities for discrimination and bias to seep in along the way. The Verge has a good summary explaining what all this means.

Anti-police brutality protest backlash: There’s a lot of reasons to be troubled (or pissed off) by the “anti-riot law” Florida’s governor just signed: It grants civil legal immunity to people who drive into a crowd of protesters, it creates new felonies that could be used against protesters and result in them losing their right to vote, and it would bar people arrested for riot-related crimes from posting bail until their first court appearance (which could take days or weeks). Civil rights groups are fighting the law, which they say will result in innocent people being charged for “rioting” just because a small minority within a protest damages property. “The goal of this law is to silence dissent and create fear among Floridians who want to take to the streets to march for justice,” ACLU of Florida director Micah Kubic said in a statement.

Rediscovering the home that shaped a hero of Black liberation: Archaeologists in Maryland say they’ve found the remains of the homestead where Harriet Tubman likely learned some of the skills that helped her lead enslaved African Americans to freedom. The researchers found numerous artifacts on the land where Tubman’s father once had a house. Tubman would have learned how to navigate local marshes and forests with her father — lessons that would prove useful as she guided folks northward toward freedom. According to a Tubman biographer quoted in this Washington Post article, her father was actually the person who told Tubman about the Underground Railroad.

Stephanie Siek is a writer and editor who loves cats, cookie dough and aborted alliteration.

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