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This Week In Race: Honoring Forgotten Women, A Sporty Hijab, Carson The Revisionist

The Comfort Woman statue, with bird on shoulder, beside an empty chair symbolizing survivors who are of an old age without having yet witnessed judgement, in Glendale, California.
Frederic J. Brown
AFP/Getty Images
The Comfort Woman statue, with bird on shoulder, beside an empty chair symbolizing survivors who are of an old age without having yet witnessed judgement, in Glendale, California.

It was quite a week: The new GOP health plan was released to a decidedly tepid response. It's predicted to negatively affect millions of black, brown and low-income people. The president accused former president Barack Obama of having his Trump Tower home wiretapped, but he has not, as they say, brought the receipts. And here are a few other things...

Of Little Comfort

The world is finally starting to recognize the women, mostly Korean, who were forced to serve as sex workers to the occupying Japanese during World War II. The so-called "comfort women" were largely invisible for several decades after the war; Japan refused to officially acknowledge their existence, let alone extend an apology. To date, cities in several US states have honored these women and the devastation they endured. Memorials have appeared in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia and California. And more are in the works.

But a new permanent exhibit planned for Atlanta's National Center for Civil and Human Rights has been canceled. The Japanese consul general intervened to express his government's displeasure to several important Atlantans. After that, there was worry among the city's business community that the Japanese businesses in Atlanta might decide to go elsewhere. And the plans for the memorial were cancelled. Helen Ho, an adviser to the memorial task force, said there was a silver lining: if the proposed memorial hadn't been so controversial "I don't know if as many people in our region and in the nation would've known about the comfort women story."

The Amistad was not a Carnival Cruise

Newly confirmed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, in his first address to HUD employees spoke of the value of immigrants' tenacity and their ability to build America, even when they came from greatly diminished circumstances. In addition to people coming to these shores to escape oppression and poverty in, say, Europe, Secretary Carson told the assembled, " there were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less..."

He promptly received a flood of corrections and more than a little shade from, well, everywhere. The Anne Frank Center tweeted "WE CONDEMN REMARKS of #BenCarson today that slaves are 'immigrants.' @WhiteHouse we say #BlackLivesMatter and so should you." The NAACP tweeted "Immigrants???" and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton added "This can't be real. Slaves were not & are not immigrants. 2017." All thought the Secretary might want to brush up on his history.

Troubling statistics on transwomen who are POCs

If it's hard to be a transwoman, try being a transwoman of color. Transwomen who are black or brown have a much higher chance of being assaulted or killed than do their white trans sisters. Over a nine-day period, three black transwomen were killed in Louisiana alone. Think Progress says 27 transwomen were killed in 2016 "a record high — and almost all the victims were women of color." The piece is a long read, but a good one. And it points out who gets paid attention to, comparatively speaking. In the word of one POC transwoman, "bathrooms are important, but how important are they if you're dead?"

Langston would be proud

In her new book, We, Too, Sing America, activist Deepa Iyer looks at how Muslims (and people mistaken for Muslims) have been discriminated against since the 9/11 attacks. Iyer points out that anti-Muslim sentiment extends across nationalities, ethnicity and skin hues. She also looks at how the state perpetuates racism through "detentions, national registration programs, police profiling, and constant surveillance."

On a somewhat related, but happier note, Nike did something smart: the company created a line of athletic wear for female competitive athletes who wear hijab, allowing them to keep their modesty and their competitive edge.

The Nike Pro Hijab was developed after some Muslim athletes asked for a headdress that wasn't as cumbersome as the traditional head scarf many of them wear. They also wanted one made of breathable fabric that wouldn't overheat them. Nike's hijab is stretchy and one piece, with a longer "tail" in the back that keeps it tucked in. The sleek headgear won't be available to the public for another year.

Diasporan Dramatics

Wondering why so many African-American characters in the movies turn out to be...British? So was Samuel L. Jackson, who talked about it in a radio interview with Hot 97, while he was promoting his newest movie, Kong. (Sigh. But he is the hardest working man in show business.) And Jackson happened to talk about the prevalence of black British actors in American film. The New York Times polled several Afro-British thespians and got some interesting responses. Check Chiwetel Ejiofor's response. Hmmm....

Once You Drink Black...

Apparently, a craft brewer in Birmingham actually named his product this and thought it would be amusing. Because, y'know, his beer is black stout. Thanks to The Root for catching this. (Doesn't all beer matter, though?)

Maybe he thought he was being an ally. How to be one really confuses some people. So we at Code Switch thought we'd ask all the questions on what makes a good ally, and what doesn't.

Finally, you've heard about dressing for success? Now we bring you dressing for condemnation. Code Switch's Adrian Florido brought us this terrific story about the revival of Louis Valdez' classic play Zoot Suit. Adrian's post connects anti-immigrant sentiment during World War II and the Islamophobia (even against people suspected of being Muslim) so apparent today. So good.

Practice self-care, people. Turn off 24-hour newsfeeds. Play music that makes you happy. Eat cupcakes. Tickle a baby. See you next week.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book ( Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.
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