President Obama Releases Trailer Previewing His Last State of the Union

The President will deliver the address on Jan. 12

Source: President Obama Releases Trailer Previewing His Last State of the Union


One Phone Call Showed Me How People Dismiss Black Humanity When They Defend Police ~ Julia Craven

WASHINGTON — Interviewing a source can be an eye-opening and harrowing experience, especially when speaking to someone who has been victimized — or someone who feels her people have been wronged.

The Huffington Post published a story last week giving an account of the now-famous McKinney, Texas, pool party police debacle, based in part on an interview with one of the partygoers who had a gun pulled on him. But the real shock came when a resident who wasn’t even at the party emailed me to say that I had it all wrong.

“The story you just posted where you interviewed [the partygoer] is ridiculously inaccurate. I live in the community and know people that witnessed the incident first hand. I am also on a neighborhood Facebook group and was getting information before anything even escalated,” the woman, who called herself Jen, said. “If you’d like to talk to one of the adults in the video who was a first hand witness to the whole situation, and not responsible for trespassing, I can put you in contact.”

Jen rescinded the offer when asked about contact info for two women who can be seen attacking 19-year-old Tatiana Rhodes in a video. McKinney police were called sometime after the altercation. Rhodes, one of the party hosts, said the women were hurling racial slurs at the black teens — Rhodes herself was allegedly called a “black fucker” — and telling them to go back to their “Section 8 homes.” 

Instead, Jen replied with a lengthy screed that gave insight into how some people can defend McKinney police officer Eric Casebolt’s handling of the situation. Her email hinted at the deep-seated mindset among white Americans who dismiss black humanity in order to preserve an unwavering deference to authority — so I called her.

As the phone rang, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from our conversation. But our chat turned out to be meaningful and worth dissecting. It illustrated how white fear and misperceptions can be used to justify actions that traumatize or sometimes even end black lives. It showed the troubling ease with which some people can explain away this trauma as an inevitable — and, worse, acceptable — outcome of black behavior. 

Before ending our chat, Jen, whose last name I’m withholding, told me she didn’t want to be quoted — and I let her know that requests to talk off the record need to be made prior to an interview with a reporter, not after.

She required him to use force. Had he grabbed her arm and had she followed him willfully, it wouldn’t have looked the way it looked. But she required the force.

Jen’s take on the majority of the day’s events differ from testimonies given by teenswho were actually at the party, though everyone agrees the chaos began with an end-of-the-school-year cookout. Jen said that teens were trading off a key to get into a pool area and that when the security guard started denying them access, the situation began to escalate. She accused the teens of rebelling — she said they started “taking over,” “jumping the fence” and “being aggressively sexually active.” 

Her analysis of what happened says something about why this incident sparked a national conversation that has further exposed racial divides. Jen didn’t see this as an incident involving implicit racial biases. (Based on her Gmail account photo, I guessed that she is white, and I also assumed she knew I’m black based on my Gmail account photo.) She refused to consider Casebolt’s actions — particularly his treatment of 15-year-old Dajerria Becton — as part of a widespread practice of police brutalizing black people. She didn’t seem to see any problem with the way he acted. 

The emphasis in the following block quotes was added by HuffPost.

So basically once the cops were called, nobody would leave. Nobody would listen to authority. Nobody was doing what they were supposed to be doing. … The cop? Was he out of line? That’s for the police department to decide. It sure seems like he was kind of a loose cannon. But at the same time, when it came down to arresting this girl, he asked her multiple times, “Get away, get away, get away, get away.” She kept coming back. She kept coming back, yelling racial slurs. Finally, he had enough with her. And here’s the deal, if you’re trying to maintain control in like a mob-like situation — because that’s what it felt like. It felt like a mob. I had moms posting on Facebook “What’s going on,” leaving the pool because they didn’t feel safe. And not because the kids were black. It had nothing to do with that. It had to do with the energy of the situation. 

While Jen tried to discount the role that race played in her description, the racial undertones can’t be ignored. Black people are regularly associated with “mobs.” It’s a common media theme — whether we’re protesting or just turning up at a party — primarily because blackness is associated with unruliness, violence and trouble. A group of black folks, or even rowdy kids, can’t just be hanging out. We have to be doing, ya know, “mob” stuff. Or, as Jen put it, displaying a “blatant” disregard for authority and order — pretty much asking to be kept in check. 

As Casebolt ordered the black kids to the ground, white teens were walking around freely, including 15-year-old Brandon Brooks, who filmed the incident. Brandon offered a poignant perspective to BuzzFeed:

“Everyone who was getting put on the ground was black, Mexican, Arabic,” he said. “[The cop] didn’t even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible.”

In her remarks to me, Jen disregarded this aspect of the situation and, instead, placed most of the onus for what went wrong on those kids. I wish I could say I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. 

And I don’t know if that’s how they’re raised. I don’t know if there’s maybe — it was just a general sense of entitlement that they didn’t have to follow the rules.


Jen sounded so caught up in the vision of black rambunctiousness that the age of these kids — some as young as 14 — didn’t seem to matter. And perhaps it didn’t. Black children, especially boys, are often seen as older and less innocent than their white peers. 

Jen also sounded relieved to get her sentiments off her chest. I’m not sure if she was just frustrated that the prevailing narrative was different than the one she believed or if she had been harboring these thoughts for too long. But something was coloring her perspective:

As far as the little girl goes, that was brutally taken down, it appeared that way. It absolutely appeared that way. See, that’s exactly what she wanted you to think. She was running her mouth, running her mouth. It’s cancerous in a situation like that. In like a mob mentality like that, people like her are cancer. And it spreads. So all of a sudden she gets control, guess what’s gonna happen. Everybody else is, “Oh, well, she gets to do this, she gets to do this.” And it spreads. The officer, I believe — and this is just my opinion, I cannot speak to what he was thinking — I feel like she was threatening the situation. He asked several times; still she wouldn’t leave. [He asked her] several times; still she wouldn’t leave. She kept running her mouth … like she was calling him racial slurs. It was just ugly and nasty. So finally, he decided to detain her.

At that point, you’re detained, sweetie. You have to follow the rules. Whether or not you think you should be detained or not, he’s made that choice because that’s what he feels he needs to do to maintain control. What did she do? She slithered up. Yeah, she pulled. She’s fighting him. She required him to use force. Had he grabbed her arm and had she followed him willfully, it wouldn’t have looked the way it looked.


I thanked Jen for sharing her perspective. Then I asked if she felt as though Casebolt could have handled the situation better — especially considering how small Dajerria is — but she still couldn’t bring herself to place any blame on the officer. She repeatedly said she didn’t know how cops are trained and emphasized what the teenage girl could have done better, saying she “was absolutely out of control.” Jen was firm in her stance that when an officer “arrives to do his job, you do what he tells you to do.” 

White Americans as a whole tend to trust their local police more than black Americans do — 67 percent compared to 36 percent, according to a recent HuffPost/YouGov survey. Jen did admit that Casebolt’s handling of the situation didn’t look good a few times during our conversation. She also continuously pulled away from that observation and returned to the idea that the true culprits were the black kids — and that Casebolt was only responding appropriately to their threats:

She absolutely was breaking the law. By simply resisting what he was telling her to do, that’s breaking the law. And when you’re a criminal, you get treated like a criminal. Do I think he could have handled it better? I really don’t know. I don’t know what his training is. … Do I feel like she deserved to be taken down? Yes. In my opinion, she was obstructing justice. She absolutely deserved what she got. But what that looks like — I mean getting down to the details, do I think it could have been better? I honestly don’t know. It looks very cringy. … She’s not doing what she’s told. She’s absolutely interfering with [Casebolt’s efforts]. That’s a threat. And I know that they are trained to deal with those threats. Whether or not he did as he was trained, I don’t know. I don’t know what that looks like because I haven’t been trained. I don’t what that looks like. You want to look at it and say, “Oh, she should never be thrown to the ground.” But at the same time, what other choice did he have?


Casebolt could have acted like other officers on the scene, opting for a softer, more patient approach to the so-called mayhem. He didn’t have to yank Dajerria by her arm, push her head into the ground, pull her by her hair and complete his abuse with a knee in the back. He could have not let his emotions take over. He could have been a “guardian” instead of a “warrior.” This was a pool party. 

Essentially, Casebolt could have done his damn job. After I spoke with Jen, Casebolt resigned from the force following the McKinney Police Department’s decision to launch an investigation into his questionable conduct. 

Anyway, yeah, it looks brutal. It makes your gut reaction — your initial reaction is to just “Get off that baby girl.” That was my reaction, too. Hearing those wails, your momma bear instinct comes out. … And as far as drawing his gun, if you watch the video slow, and I think it’s at 3 minutes 13 seconds, you can see a kid coming up on his left with his hands near his pockets like he’s gonna pull something. Did the cop feel threatened that he felt like he needed to pull his gun? Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe not. Your gut reaction is to say, “Oh, you don’t pull a gun on teens.” But I don’t know. I have no idea.


I was shocked that she tried to justify Casebolt pulling his gun on two people at a pool party, but then it hit me: Jen is a victim of a larger systemic issue. Racism ruins everything it touches, even those privileged by the power dynamic. It probably hasn’t even crossed some folks’ minds that their views are hurtful and damaging.

This one woman’s comments on Dajerria and the other black kids struck a nerve with me. They reminded me of the first time I was called a “nigger” by a white guy who saw no value in me. They reminded me of when my great-grandmother explained to an 8-year-old me that I was black and that meant I was different. I couldn’t be a kid. I didn’t have any wiggle room to make average, youthful mistakes and grow from them, because blunders can get black people killed. Perceived defiance, like Dajerria’s, has been the catalyst for other controversial police shootings. Who’s to say things couldn’t have escalated this time? 

The reality is that black people are all too quickly seen as criminals, aren’t afforded the benefit of doubt and are held to incredibly high standards of personal responsibility that we’ll never attain because as long as our skin is black, we will never meet white standards. We’re expected to be a reflection of them, yet flawed white perception is never assuaged. Instead, black behavior is endlessly attacked.

It was a painful conversation. I took a break after getting off the phone with Jen because the rage that consumed me was too much. See, I encounter racism frequently, but Jen’s obliviousness to how her racially biased opinion would make me feel caught me off guard. It was almost like she expected me to understand where she was coming from — like this was how everyone, including black people, feels about black people. It was so nonchalant and normal for her.

Like I said, Jen is a victim. But what differentiates us is that she’s primarily a victim of her own ignorance. She can defeat her prejudice through education, greater awareness and stepping outside of her white comfort. Black people, on the other hand, can’t directly control or change the ignorance that fuels these systems of racial oppression. 

Dajerria, the other black teens at the party and black folks in general are in a Catch-22 — and I don’t know if there’s a way out.

Magic Monday – A Flashmob In Yemen

Random awesomeness is the best kind of awesomeness. Now I took nearly three weeks of Arabic and the only words I remember are Habibi (meaning beloved) and oddly enough Autobus (meaning bus, transpiration). But let us focus on Habibi. What is not to love about this flashmob in Yemen? The beautiful music, people having a good time, and dancing, all combine to create an awesome experience. Plus, it reminds us that even though we may be separated by language, custom, miles and oceans, people are people and we all desire love and belonging. Dance and Enjoy!!

Thank you, Madiba by Carike Claassen

I was only six years old when Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa. I had no conception of politics. I only knew, at that time, the fear that reigned in South Africa. As we approached the transition to a democracy, uncertainty crept in. And even though I had no idea what the fear was about, it is strange how very clearly I recall, nineteen years later, all of a sudden not being allowed to play outside as late as I always had. The kitchen cupboards filled with canned food, the feeling that everything was set to flee at a moment’s notice.

Strange how easily we human beings do that, is it not? How easily we let fear overcome love and trust. How even a six year old with no idea of politics knows somehow that it is time to be afraid now.

I grew up, along with this fledgling democracy. And as I grew, I learned. For the first time, the context within which that fear had taken place became clear – I realized exactly what South Africans had been perpetrating against fellow South Africans for decades. And the more I learned, the more in awe I was of Nelson Mandela.

I was – and always will be – in awe of Madiba because he epitomized mankind’s greatest hope: That love really can conquer all. That the dark shadows of fear can be chased away by the light of love, hope can be sparked and flamed by sacrifice and courage, and ignorance must eventually give way to understanding.

I don’t want to cheapen Madiba’s legacy by pretending that we, as a nation, don’t still have a lot of work to do. Because as far as we have come, a lot remains to be done in order to achieve true freedom for all, prime amongst which is the reduction of poverty and inequality.

I do, however want to take a moment to reflect on an amazing person and his life story, and say, from the bottom of my heart: Thank you, Madiba. Thank you for the integrity, kindness and patience. Thank you for the tremendous personal sacrifice that you made in order to lead South Africa. And most importantly, thank you for that very powerful reminder that “love comes more naturally to the human heart.”

Whatever challenges remain to be overcome in my own life, in South Africa, and by mankind in general – let us walk our long roads with full hearts, as you taught us.

With love.

We are Wendy. Hear Us Roar. by Ren Martinez

I will keep this short and sweet. I’m a social activist that despairs of political alliances. I feel that politics is one of the worst things that can happen to a government. It’s so plainly seen in our current world, so deeply polarized in shades of black and white, like armies across a chessboard prepared to do battle. What checkmate will bring, I’m not entirely sure, but I am certain that’s not what democracy is about.

That being said, I want to celebrate Wendy Davis.

Wendy Davis, a woman that stood for nearly thirteen hours without leaning, sitting, or bathroom breaks. Outfitted in a smart suit and bright pink tennis shoes. A woman who spoke of women’s health and how the pursuit of happiness is nothing without the freedom of choice. A woman who was faced by the row of faces staring her down but did not waver in her stature nor falter in her words.

And, when she was shut down, the room stood up with her. Senator Leticia Van De Putte, after spending the day at her father’s funeral, took the podium and challenged those who would silence her. “At what point does a female senator need to raise her voice to be heard over the male colleagues in the room?” she demanded. The crowd raised their voices in unison until the clock struck past midnight.

My Facebook feed is a long sweep of celebration, people raising their glass to Wendy Davis (as well as cheering for the death of DOMA, but that’s another article for another day). I see fists in the air, smiling faces, people standing side by side (metaphorically speaking) and I have am proud and honored to stand alongside them.

This is what Wonder Woman must feel like every day.

TED Talk Tuesday: Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

A personal favorite, I love this talk dearly. In many ways it fully embodies the mission and goal of Minus The Box, to eliminate the single story through the creation of a space where multiple stories can exist equally and without judgment.

I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” ~ Chimamanda Adichie

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” ~ Chimamanda Adichie


What this demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.

Now, I loved those American and British books I read. They stirred my imagination. They opened up new worlds for me. But the unintended consequence was that I did not know that people like me could exist in literature. So what the discovery of African writers did for me was this: It saved me from having a single story of what books are.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit, and his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket made of dyed raffia that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them was how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.

So after I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate’s response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide’s family.

This single story of Africa ultimately comes, I think, from Western literature.”

So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.

It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word, that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is “nkali.” It’s a noun that loosely translates to “to be greater than another.” Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.

Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, “secondly.”

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.

TED Talk Tuesday: Elif Shafak: The politics of fiction

This week’s TED Talk Tuesday is from author Elif Shafak speaking on identity and the danger of living a closeted and sheltered. She makes some interesting points about life, gender, and the value of stories.

From her, I learned, amongst many other things, one very precious lesson — that if you want to destroy something in this life, be it an acne, a blemish or the human soul, all you need to do is to surround it with thick walls. It will dry up inside. Now we all live in some kind of a social and cultural circle. We all do. We’re born into a certain family, nation, class.But if we have no connection whatsoever with the worlds beyond the one we take for granted, then we too run the risk of drying up inside. Our imagination might shrink; our hearts might dwindle, and our humanness might wither if we stay for too long inside our cultural cocoons. Our friends, neighbors, colleagues, family — if all the people in our inner circle resemble us, it means we are surrounded with our mirror image.” ~ Elif Shafak

” And it’s happening everywhere, among liberals and conservatives, agnostics and believers, the rich and the poor, East and West alike. We tend to form clusters based on similarity, and then we produce stereotypes about other clusters of people. In my opinion, one way of transcending these cultural ghettos is through the art of storytelling. Stories cannot demolish frontiers, but they can punch holes in our mental walls. And through those holes, we can get a glimpse of the other, and sometimes even like what we see.” ~ Elif Shafak

There is much more. Enjoy!


Walk a Mile in My Heels By Katherine McAllister

When I was a kid, being a girl meant dressing up in pretty clothes, painting my nails, occasionally trying on my mother’s make up and high heels, and waiting for my inevitable boobs to come in.  Years later, I’m 23, and I still dress up, I have my own make-up rather than having to steal my mothers, and the boobs have arrived, well sort of.  But while growing up, never did it cross my mind, that one day being a girl would mean having to defend myself from a potential government that wants to take my rights away.  I grew up learning about all the women through history that already fought these battles whether it was at the Seneca Falls Convention or the pivotal outcome of Roe v Wade.  I appreciated these women for putting themselves on the line to pave the way for fellow and future women.  I looked up to them for their strength and bravery to say, “We are women, and we are just as important so deal with it.” But never did I think that the battles already won by the women from history, would become my battles in the present.  Never did I think that I would have to step up to the plate and say “Stay away from my uterus!”  And yet here we are, living in 2012, and still fighting for our rights and our bodies.

It is election year and with that comes contentious debates, but this year it also brings a new grouping of people who wish to take away rights from women and lessen our value in this country.

The men in power who attack women, and then insist they care for us should think carefully before they speak.  When you tell me that rape is just “another method of conception,” you clearly don’t care about me Mr. Paul Ryan (  When you tell me, that you want to defund planned parenthood, a safe haven for many girls to go to when they are pregnant and lost or simply need a form of birth control, you don’t care about me Mr. Mitt Romney  (http ://www.huffingtonpost. com/2012/03/13/mitt-romney-planned-parenthood_n_1343450.html).  When you tell me, that if I were raped I should “make lemonade out of lemons” Mr. Santorum, you don’t care about me (  When you tell me that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” you not only don’t care about me Mr. Akin, but you have a warped sense of reality and endanger all women to fall prey to those who can say they didn’t rape us legitimately (  To all the men in power, power of any kind, who find themselves arrogant enough to even think they can speak for women and their bodies, if you have proven not to care about me, why should I go to the voting booth and care about you?

How would you men feel if Viagra could no longer be made available?  I mean it’s covered by insurance, but, let’s face it, what woman with all these restrictions you’ve all placed on her, would want to have sex at all? So if we don’t want to have sex with you, kind of pointless to help your penis, no?  If our forms of birth control are going to stop being covered, shouldn’t yours?  What about vasectomies?  I mean, if Mr. Romney wants to defund Planned Parenthood and take away women’s resources of not only not getting pregnant but not contracting diseases, then, isn’t it only fair we take away another form of your birth control?  Isn’t a vasectomy just “murdering” your chances of having a child?  What if we placed a ban on masturbation?  I mean, isn’t that right there just a waste of a possible life? Sure you’re just having fun but that’s viable DNA being thrown out right there.  If women are considered pregnant two weeks prior to conception in Arizona (in other words, every time a woman has sex she’s considered pregnant), isn’t it only fair that you too have to rid yourself of any sexual activity that doesn’t involve procreation?

If these scenarios seem ridiculous to you, it’s because they are.  But with such a preposterous line of arguments against women, it seems fitting to offer up an equally preposterous line of solutions for men.

This country was built on the idea that we are all created equal.  And if I have to stand up and fight all over again on issues that shouldn’t even be brought up, then I will.  I am no longer a little girl.  Today I am a woman.  And you know what, Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan, Mr. Akin, Mr. Santorum, and every other “Mr.” out there who’s arrogant enough to speak for women, don’t you dare judge, condemn, or even attempt to speak for women on anything unless you have walked a mile in their heels.

Keep your minds on helping the country and away from imprisoning our uteruses.

 About The Author – Hey my name’s Katie McAllister. I’m a college graduate in NYC, owner of my little dogs Goliath Apollo Creed and Thor Van Damme, lover of Mac n Cheese(from the Kraft blue box especially), always one to take a spin in a revolving door than to walk through the regular door, and has already earned my masters in couch potato-ing with movies and TV. I grew up in a tiny town in upstate New York.  And while I can appreciate that atmosphere I knew it was never for me.  I was looking for excitement and I was looking to be a part of it.  So I got my grades, graduated high school, and took a train to come live in Manhattan.  I stepped out of Grand Central and immediately I was Dorothy Gale with my ruby slippers and all; in Manhattan I had left my Kansas and I had found my “Oz.”As I’ve gotten older I have realized the power of my voice, the power in all our voices actually.  Now that could be because I come from a very loud family but it’s also in large part due to what I see occurring around me. Too often SILENCE has contributed to a stagnant lifestyle with no changes in sight;  something that can be used as an excuse for politeness when let’s face it, there’s nothing polite about keeping quiet when something is wrong in the world. So here I am, not hushing or keeping it down, and letting my voice carry on just about anything: food, movies, tv, politics, or even mac n cheese. I have a passion for writing, especially when it comes to injustices in the world.  I never appreciated the “quiet” of things in life. I was always loud, talkative, and noisy from the time I was five years old right up until the present at 23 years old.  When it comes to important issues in our world, let’s face it, silence is overrated.