Black, White & Greek
In 1963, in the midst of the heated debate over the desegregation of American schools, the University of Alabama announced that it would for the first time allow African Americans to enroll. Fifty years later, in September 2013, two University of Alabama sororities rejected an African American student because of her race. As a result, an anti-racist student group called the Mallet Assembly and other members of the community took action to prevent segregation within the university’s Greek system.
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Furious Buddhists Are Making Life Hell for Sri Lanka’s Muslims
Muslims are under attack in Sri Lanka. Recent reports indicate that gangs of Buddhists have been roaming the streets, administering bloody mob beatings, and attacking places where Muslims work and worship. Raw pork has been thrown into mosques, the Halal logo has been banned, and the prominent Muslim government critic Azad Sally has been arrested. One dramatic incident ended with government commandos being deployed to maintain law and order after a gang of Buddhistsinjured four people at a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, forcing it to close and a curfew to be put in place.
Moulavi Fazil Farooq, from the Islamic political group All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, told me that Muslims’ “freedom of religion and freedom of speech” are under threat in Sri Lanka. He also sent me in the direction of one of the Buddhist groups that have been accused of carrying out the attacks: Bodu Bala Sena, which roughly translates as “Buddhist Power Force.” Their stated aim is to “protect” Buddhist culture in Sri Lanka, as it’s apparently under threat from Muslim and Christian groups. (For context, 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is Buddhist—less than 10 percent is Muslim, fewer still are Christian.)
The George Zimmerman Trial Reminded Me of Who I Am in America
It’s easier to hide from the specter of Trayvon Martin than it is to face his dead body sprawled awkwardly on the concrete. I was trying to escape it desperately last Saturday night, when George Zimmerman was found not guilty. I was at a fashion brand’s swanky event in a nightclub in Manhattan surrounded by obligatory white kids who like rap and probably have trust funds, boozing myself into a stupor. The next morning, when outraged people took to the streets all over the country, I went to a screening of Sophia Coppola’s Bling Ring and caught up on some reading at a coffee shop. I tried to ignore the news. I didn’t want to bear to think about it because it all hit way too close to home.
Usually, instances of black folks dying doesn’t fuck me up that much. The music I listen to every day is full of references to black men shooting or getting shot at. Like Tupac said, “Niggas been dying for years…” Not a day goes by that I don’t catch a story of a young black man who has met a violent end. Sometimes it’s through gang or drug violence, other times it’s by the hand of the cops, still other times a senile neighbor shoots a 13-year-old kid for no reason. Black death is so constant and relentless all over the country that news of new tragedy has started to lose its resonance for me.
The suddenness, violence, and pointlessness of deaths like Trayvon’s is hard for me to imagine, much less understand. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening on a different planet. I didn’t grow up in the ghetto. I’ve spent much of my life in the suburbs. I’ve lived around rich white folks, I went to school with them, I slept with their daughters, I took drugs with them, and I came of age with them. When you’re a black person who’s been in the company white people as much as I’ve been, sometimes you find yourself saying, What’s the difference? Aren’t we all the same?
But any time I’ve ever gotten too impressed with the progress of the arc of the moral universe toward justice, I’ve been smacked back to reality. It always comes when I least expect it—getting pulled over for no reason or followed around by a counterman in a stank-ass bodega that didn’t even have the fucking wave cap I was looking for. In those moments, I remember, as much as I’d like to forget, that we are not the same. We are not treated equally in the eyes of the law and we don’t face the same obstacles.
Gay Men Can’t Donate Blood, But Some Are Trying Anyway
Last Friday, I tried to donate blood.
After taking a test to prove that I’m HIV negative (whoop!) I went to Kaiser Permanente Blood Donor Center in Hollywood, Los Angeles, and told the receptionist that I was there to donate.
She gave me some forms to fill out and a free pen (whoop!) to fill them out with.
Things were going great until:
"Male donors: [have you] had sexual contact with another male even once?" I marked yes, and handed my form back to the receptionist.
I was taken to a side room by a nurse who went over my form with me. “Unfortunately, since you have had sexual contact with another male, that’s a deferral,” she said.
An activist en route to donate blood.
The reason I was trying to donate blood (despite having put my penis inside other men on multiple occasions) was as a part of the first-ever national gay blood drive, an event organized by documentarian Ryan James Yezak in an attempt to draw attention to what many see as an unfair rule.
Why Are So Many Gypsies Killing Themselves?
Gypsies and travelers have long been a marginalized group. I suppose that’s one of the pitfalls of intentionally side-lining yourself from mainstream society for hundreds of years. But recent changes to legislation surrounding traveler communities (meaning they no longer have government-approved places to settle) has made them even more segregated. A report showed that travelers and gypsies are in significantly poorer health than other UK-resident, English-speaking ethnic minorities. They’re also more likely to suffer from miscarriages, still births, the death of young babies and older children because their access to healthcare—as a group with no fixed address—is limited. Which is obviously all extremely depressing.
Another related bum-out is the fact that, within the last five years, the rates of drug abuse in both communities have risen exponentially, and suicide rates have grown to be six times higher than those of the general UK population. Travelers and gypsies are already both pretty closed communities, and I imagine they’re not going to become any less reluctant to talk when it comes to their family members killing themselves, so there’s not a huge amount of information out there as to why this has suddenly started happening. To get a bit of insight, I called Shauna Leven from the charity René Cassin.
Ex-residents of Dale Farm.
VICE: Hi Shauna. Can you unwrap this statistic that suicide rates in the traveler and gypsy communities are six times higher than the general UK population?
Shauna Leven: First, I should just say that these statistics apply to Romani gypsies and Scottish, Welsh, and Irish travelers, not so much the Roma people who’ve started coming here more recently. However, they too experience the same kind of discrimination in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s hard to delve into specifics, because the NHS doesn’t collect statistics on health issues for this ethnic groups as it does for other ethnic groups.
Why aren’t they collecting statistics?
It’s just not part of the NHS framework. Gypsies and travelers are recognized as an ethnic minority, but the discrepancy between, say, the life expectancy of travelers and the general population is mostly ignored. If you were seeing the same kind of thing in the Muslim community, for example, it’s much more likely there’d be statistics taken. Our first recommendation towards solving the problem is to go out and do more research about the topic, because that’s the first issue here.
The first issue is what’s causing it?
Yes—well, higher suicide rates are really the result of a convergence of factors. Racism against gypsies and travelers is often referred to as the last acceptable type of racism here in the UK. Educated, socially conscious people often don’t hesitate before using the words “gyp” or “pikey” or other things like that, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. It shows the level of social exclusion that travelers automatically fall under for being travelers.