The real reasons some black women refrain from reporting injustices

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The real reasons some black women refrain from reporting injustices

As decades-old sexual assault allegations increase, so does the question: why didn’t women report it sooner? Shame, fear of reprisals and the unfortunately common belief that they are responsible for provoking the offender are just a few of the many reasons why women choose not to report a threat, harassment or assault.

Of course, individual women will have their own unique reasons but, as a group, Black women are the least likely to report. Surveys point in part to cultural reasons, ranging from pressure to protect Black men to not putting personal business in the street. Notably, however, Black women also say that they don’t think anything good will result from reporting. What we are or aren’t able to imagine after we’ve been victimised matters because the action we take will be the one that we can imagine bringing the desired outcome – and if we can’t imagine it, we won’t act on it. Black women don’t report at the same rates as other women because Black women can’t imagine being treated justly.

The 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume said that ‘nothing is more free’ than the human imagination. Perhaps. But for some of us, imagination is overwhelmed by dehumanising experience. As a result, we are paralysed, and the kind of imagining involved in taking action is undermined. The range of imaginable outcomes directly impacts the range of possible courses of action that the imagination presents to the mind. Depending on what we imagine as an outcome, we might decide to alert the authorities – or, alternatively, we might decide not to tell anyone, let alone the authorities. What we imagine as a desirable, realistic outcome will guide us to the action that we imagine will bring it about. What we imagine will depend on what we’ve experienced, and if we can’t imagine an action bringing about the desired outcome, we won’t take that action.

As a Black woman, I hold affirming beliefs about myself balanced against the reality that society doesn’t share them. This is what the sociologist W E B Du Bois in 1903 called double consciousness – seeing myself in one way, while simultaneously aware that oppressive society sees me in another – and it truncates the faculty of imagination. It takes the mind on a wild, dizzying ride that dead-ends in a paltry selection of actions to bring a desirable outcome. Black women navigate life doubly, even triply conscious at the intersections of gender, race and sexuality, polluted with traffic and noise. Our situation is unique.

This September, Christine Blasey Ford gave her testimony of sexual assault before Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the US Supreme Court. Writing an op-ed in The New York Times in response, the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw reflected on lessons still unlearned since Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas before his own Supreme Court nomination in 1991: ‘We are still ignoring the unique vulnerability of black women.’ Those of us who are, like Hill, multiply marginalised have to contend with the power of intersecting negative outcomes from everywhere – including ‘our people’. Sandwiched between antiracist groups who sided with Thomas and ignored Hill’s gender, and feminist groups who ignored her race, Hill was subsequently split in two – with neither group caring about the wellbeing of the woman they were busy cleaving. Under these continuing circumstances, what Black woman readily imagines being taken seriously, being seen as someone worthy of protection, and receiving justice as a realistic outcome?
In those brief moments between a harassment, assault or threat, and imagining what to do, our imagination presents us with an array of possible actions we can take. Those precious moments are crucial to our wellbeing. If our imagination is full of the ugly ways that the authorities interact with people like us, if it is cluttered with the doubt and distrust we know we are likely to face from people who don’t know us (and some who do), we might be unable even to conceive of doing anything more than disclosing to a person we trust, let alone turning to an authority.

In 2015, I received a letter via snail mail from a man who – credibly – threatened to come to the campus where I work and ‘teach me a lesson’. He was enraged by an op-ed I wrote for The Washington Post after I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia. In the article, I wrote that, during my tour, many white visitors chose to visit only the house, bypassing the slave quarters. I said that it shouldn’t be an option to avoid confronting something so critical to US history, given that slavery’s legacy continues to this day. I received more than 700 online comments. Of the comments I read, most were nasty, ad hominem attacks on my gender, race and sexual orientation. To them, I wrote a response. I didn’t know what to do about the threatening letter.

Someone unlike me in the ways that matter would have immediately contacted campus security, but that never occurred to me. I couldn’t imagine that I would be seen as someone worth protecting. I also did not imagine calling the police when I was the victim of an attempted sexual assault at the age of 19. I didn’t consider reporting it – it simply never came to mind.

My life matters to me, but I’m aware that it doesn’t matter – or doesn’t matter much – to many others, precisely because it is a black life. There wouldn’t be a Black Lives Matter movement if this were not so. Expecting Black women who have been harassed, sexually assaulted or threatened to report it is asking them to do something Herculean: override an overwhelming number of experiences in which they have been doubted, disbelieved, ignored, treated unjustly by the police, and told to keep silent to protect ‘our’ men by people we trust. Black women are squarely in a vortex of contradiction, leaving our imagination blunted – and a void where justice should be.

Ironically, while our imaginations fail, the privileged ones’ imaginations are impoverished. The ones who navigate the world virtually free from the experience of repeatedly being doubted and disbelieved, the ones whose experience with denial is to refuse it, will be unable to imagine what it is like to be us, or to have to search through a sea of negative outcomes to locate a couple of positive ones – if our imaginations let us – that we then often discard. They will refuse to try to imagine what it is like to be the prey of predatory men in a racist rape culture.

Let us hope that as more women disclose, report and pursue justice, our collective imagination will coax justice out of fantasy and into reality. As for me, I was lucky that nothing came of that threat. I was lucky that the sexual assault wasn’t ‘completed’. And it’s a good thing, too, because I can only imagine what would have happened if it had.


Posted by The NON-Conformist


Aretha Franklin, the undisputed Queen of Soul, dies at age 76

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Aretha Franklin — the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and known as the “Queen of Soul” for powerful anthems like “Respect” and “Chain of Fools” — died Thursday morning at her home in Detroit. She was 76.

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Image: E! News

Born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee, to C.L. Franklin, the most prominent black Baptist preacher in America during the mid-20th century, and a gospel singer, Aretha Louise Franklin began performing in front of her father’s congregation at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, which she considered her hometown. She became a star on gospel caravan tours with her father, known as “The Million Dollar Voice,” who became her manager when she was 14.

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Black women candidates feel slighted by Democrats

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An illustration of a donkey blindfolded

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

There are at least 43 Democratic black women running as challengers for U.S. House seats, but only one — Lauren Underwood of Illinois — has the backing of the national campaign organization.

Why it matters: Black women are a powerful voting bloc for the Democratic Party as they work to capture the House and Senate. In 2016, 94% of black women voted for Clinton over Trump. In Alabama’s special election, they helped Doug Jones win — 98% of them voted for him, compared to just 34% of white women. Now they’re running for office in overwhelming numbers, but some feel the party isn’t investing in them.

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The big picture: Right now, there are only 19 black women serving in Congress. Only 67 women of color overall have been members of Congress since 1964.

Be smart: The conversation about the party’s support of the black community — both as voters and candidates — is not going away any time soon. Just look at Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign in New York, where she’s getting headlines like “Cynthia Nixon’s Political Run Should Be Taken Seriously Because She Takes Black Voters Seriously.”

Black women running say their enthusiasm isn’t matched by groups like the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Even the Congressional Black Caucus is backing Michael Capuano, the Democratic incumbent in Massachusetts’ 7th district, over his challenger Ayanna Pressley, who’s a black woman.

  • There’s been a focus on the progressive vs. moderate fight within the Democratic Party, making some feel overlooked. “I think some of the other groups [like progressives] have gotten more attention than any racial group,” Kimberly Hill Knott, who’s running for Congress in Michigan, told Axios. I don’t hear the national party talking about an urban agenda.”
  • But one progressive candidate who is also black, Kerri Harris, who’s running for U.S. Senate in Delaware, said she’s had no recognition from the party. “They can keep pretending like we don’t exist or come out against us as candidates, but they’ll realize the best way to uphold our Democracy is to encourage it.”

One big challenge: Politics is driven by money. If you’re not raising a lot of it, you’re viewed as unelectable. But raising money as a first-time candidate and a black woman is often half the battle, according to the candidates interviewed by Axios.

“These are organizations that are meant to help make sure black interests are represented and yet everybody is looking at who’s more electable based on money.”
— Alabama congressional candidate Audri Scott Williams

The other side: While some candidates want more from the national party, black women were praised at the DNC’s annual Women’s Leadership Forum this year, with Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters and DNC Vice Chair Grace Meng calling them the “backbone” of the party.

  • The DNC’s Political and Organizing Director Amanda Brown Lierman said in a statement: “While the DNC does not endorse in contested primaries, we work with our state parties to make sure first-time candidates have the tools and information they need.” She added: “African-American women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and we know we can’t take them for granted. That’s why we’ve made meaningful investments in our state parties in order to turn out and engage women of color.”
  • The DCCC didn’t address the number of black women on their Red to Blue list, but said they’ll keep working on diversity of candidates because it’s “crucial to winning back the House.” DCCC spokesman Kamau Marshall added: “The DCCC is proud to support the historic number of women and African American candidates running for Congress, who will bring a wealth of knowledge and cultural competence to the political table for Democrats.”

By the numbers: A recent collection of polls (from the Associated Press/NORC Center and CBS News) shows the diversity among black voters. Only 1% identify as Republicans, 92% disapprove of President Trump, and the 59% who identify as Democrats is smaller than the percentage of black voters who actually vote for Democratic candidates.

The bottom line: Black women candidates want more from the Democratic Party, but Democrats might not have to worry much about how they’ll vote in 2018 or 2020.

By Alexi McCammond/Axios

Posted by The NON-Conformist


Is the Women’s March more inclusive this year?

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This weekend is an important horizon on the U.S. landscape of women’s history: People across the nation will mark the anniversary of the historic Women’s March on Washington. But for some women, the anniversary is another reminder of the shortcomings of the 2017 Women’s March.

Critics said the march centered on cis white women at the expense of women of color and trans women, both groups who many felt had more to lose under a new administration many saw as hostile to human rights. At the start, organizers of the women’s march were almost all white, though they quickly course-corrected by bringing on Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour.

But some underrepresented women felt their issues — such as racism, discrimination, police brutality, LGBTQ inclusivity, and immigration — were relegated in favor of issues that matter most to straight, white, middle-class women.

“We have to decide: Do we want equality and justice for a select group, or do we want it for everyone, and we know all these issues are tied together,” said Ruth Hopkins, a Native American writer and activist. “Gender justice is related to economic justice and racial justice and we have to think about all these things.”

As the 2018 Women’s March and sister marches converge on Saturday and Sunday across the country, many women are asking: Has anything changed?

Women of color have a complicated history with feminism

Feminism’s long history of perceived racism, combined with what some women saw as a lack of intersectionality at last year’s march, resulted in many black women and women of color refusing to attend.

Intersectionality, coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, is the recognition of how different backgrounds and the racism, sexism and classism that come with those identities overlap and impact the ways people experience oppression and discrimination.

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Not a Single Black Woman Heads a Top Fortune 500 Company

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The lack of diversity in upper levels of corporate America in 2017 is shocking.

Every year, Fortune magazine releases its Fortune 500 list, a ranking of the top 500 most profitable corporations in the U.S. In the 63 years Fortune has published the Fortune 500, the CEOs at the head of the 500 listed companies have traditionally skewed male. This year’s list is no exception, even if it contains a slight improvement in its gender balance: The 2017 rankings include the most number of female CEOs ever in the list’s history—a total of 32 women. This marks a 50 percent increase from last year’s list, in which there were only 21 female CEOs.

But while this year’s Fortune 500 makes history in gender diversity, it is in no way representative of a country where women make up about 47 percent of the workforce, according to the Department of Labor. More glaring still is its miniscule number of women of color—Geisha Williams from PG&E, the first Latina ever featured on the Fortune 500, and Indra Nooyi from PepsiCo are the only two on this year’s list. In addition, there are no black women among this year’s Fortune 500 CEOs.

The lack of gender and racial diversity on the Fortune 500 reflects larger systemic trends about the makeup of corporate America. For instance, while women of color make up one-third of the workforce, they comprise only 16.5 percent of employees for S&P 500 companies, according to the research organization Catalyst. There are even fewer women of color in senior positions: less than 10 percent of managers, 3.9 percent of executives and a scant 0.4 percent of CEOs. In looking at the overall makeup of women in S&P 500 companies, white women surpass women of color in every major employee category. The corporate boards in Fortune 500 companies are no more diverse, where the latter hold only 3.1 percent of seats.

The obstacles facing women of color in the workforce, particularly in corporations, are born of both gender and racial biases. Catalyst labels these roadblocks a “concrete ceiling,” a telling contrast to the “glass ceiling” typically encountered by white women.

“Not only is the ‘concrete ceiling’ reported to be more difficult to penetrate, women of color say they cannot see through it to glimpse the corner office,” Catalyst President Sheila Wellington said to Forbes in 2015.

For women of color, the “concrete ceiling” places the prospect of moving up the corporate ladder even further out of reach. A survey conducted by the Center for Women Policy Studies showed that 21 percent of women of color said they did not feel free to “be themselves at work.” In addition, one third of women of color thought they must “play down” their race to succeed.”

One of the facets contributing to this “concrete ceiling” is the fact that women of color are perceived and treated differently because of their race and gender, especially by their male counterparts. Past studies have shown that women of color who try using the same tactics as men to get ahead in the workplace often see diminished results in the form of less advancement and slower pay growth.

Not only do women of color face obstacles seeking promotions in the workplace, but they are consistently paid less than other white women and far less than white men. The oft-repeated line is that women, in general, make 78 cents for every dollar that a man makes. According to a 2014 report from the American Association of University Women that compared the earnings of women to men, black women made 64 cents, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women made 65 cents, indigenous women made 59 cents, and Hispanic women made 54 cents for every dollar white men earned in 2013. The only minority group to earn more than white women was Asian-American women, who still earned just 90 cents on white men’s dollar.

by Celisa Calacal/AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Natural Hair Bias Is the Latest Tool Being Used to Criminalize Black Girls, Marginalize Black Women


The fight over natural hair is a fight over the right of a people to define their beauty on their own terms. 

In Malden, Mass., the long-simmering argument of how appropriate it is for African-American women to style their hair as they choose hit a new crescendo. In an attempt to, as the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School interim director said, “… promotes equity by focusing on what unites and by reducing visible gaps between those of different means,” the school placed a restriction on hair thickness and extensions that seemed to directly contradict U.S. Department of Justice guidelines on race-based policies.

This policy and its uneven enforcement — the school rarely, for example, punishes students for hair color, another dress-code violation — led to the repeat suspensions of African-American female students. Singled out were Mya and Deanna Cook, who have received more than 16 hours’ detention, were removed from their team sports and banned from their proms — all for having braided hair. This has, since the breaking of this story, led to a letter of condemnation from the state’s Attorney General Office, a lawsuit from the ACLU and the school district suspending the controversial policy.

“The policy specifically prohibits ‘shaved lines or shaved sides’ as examples of drastic or unnatural hairstyles, and ‘hair more than 2 inches in thickness or ‘height’’ as an example of hair that is distracting and thus not allowed,” Genevieve Nadeau, the chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Division of Civil Rights, wrote.

“These prohibitions appear to specifically reference hairstyles such as ‘fades’ that are commonly worn by Black male students, and ‘afros’ that are most likely to be worn by Black students (both male and female). These styles are not simply fashion choices or trends, but, in addition to occurring naturally in many cases, can be important expressions of racial culture, heritage, and identity.”

Cases such as the one in Mystic Valley seem to go beyond cultural insensitivity and constitute an implicit attack on African-American females’ right to be who they are. A 16-year-old Black student in Montverde, Fla., who happens to have naturally curly hair, was told recently that her hair was a violation of the school’s “no dreadlock” dress-code policy. In 2013, a 12-year-old in Orlando, Fla., was told to either straighten or cut her puffy hair or face expulsion. The student, at the time, was being subjected to bullying by her classmates for her hair.

As profiled by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at the Ohio State University, African-American students are more likely to be removed from instruction than their white counterparts for minor infractions such as dress code violations due to implicit bias. In one cited example, Black students in North Carolina public schools were six times more likely to be suspended than white students for dress-code violations. These offenses are, in less-served schools, typically handed over to the police to handle.

This prosecution of Black hair amounts to the criminalization of being African-American. Attacking one class for what would be acceptable with another constitutes not just a mentality that seems to persist and proliferate through miseducation and lack of positive exposure but also an open-ended attack on what it means to be oneself.

“These attacks leave a very dangerous and destructive message,” Carlota Zimmerman, a career and lifestyle coach, said. “To be told by your teachers, adults, by your society that your hair, as it is naturally, is ‘wrong,’ or ‘inappropriate’ for school, that you should change yourself to be deemed worthy to get an education, to get opportunities? We’re sending a terrible message to our Black youths that as they are is wrong. As they are is not fit to be educated, to be valued, to contribute. This message destroys lives since our lives are based on our self-confidence, on our sense of self, our sense of value.”

Black Hair Discrimination

In order to understand this controversy, a few points must be made clear. To start, most women have a natural hair state. Unless descended from specific Native American, Asiatic and Western European ethnicities, most women’s hair — when left to its own volition — will take on a curly, fizzy, wavy or otherwise voluminous state. The 2012 Disney movie “Brave,” for example, took a good deal of flak on social media for showing a Scottish “Disney Princess” with a full mane of frizzy red hair.

Women’s hair care is a multi-billion-dollar global industry. The daily maintenance and personal expense needed to keep hair at a publicly acceptable level are one of the greatest headaches women deal with as part of their daily routine.

“There’s no such thing as ‘wake up and go,’” an uncredited Black woman is reported saying, per Kovie Biakolo. “Whether I wear my hair naturally, curly or straightened via flatiron, making it presentable is a process. When it’s curly, it gets dry very quickly and goes flat after a day or two. I have to re-wet, moisturize, comb and brush almost every day to keep the curls looking healthy and full. When it’s straight, I have to touch up my hair with a flatiron even to wear it in a ponytail. That’s not to mention the process of straightening it in the first place, which is nearly two hours of washing, blow drying and straightening.

“This upkeep doesn’t sound like much, but all this work brings my hair nothing close to white standards of beauty,” she continued. “I fight with and destroy my hair to get it to look as close as possible to a standard I know it will never achieve because it’s just not in its nature. But what’s the alternative?”

While hair struggles are a natural part of being a woman, rarely does this warrant more than odd looks outside the Black experience. While non-conforming hairstyles might be brushed aside as a fashion faux pas or a non-event if done by a non-Black woman, when Black women wear hairstyles that don’t conform to “white standards,” it can lead to job terminations, school suspensions and even arrests.

Take, for example, 2014. On March 31 of that year, the Army announced that it has updated its appearance and grooming policy. The policy, known as AR 670-1, banned cornrows, braids, twists and dreadlocks, arguing that these hairstyles interfere with the fitting of essential equipment, such as combat helmets. This turned out to be ironic, as most of the women affected by this policy chose these hairstyles to reduce the maintenance time needed and to be more “combat-ready.” The policy was overturned shortly thereafter.

Since the inception of the country, Black hair has been linked to negative stereotypes about being African-American. “Hair type rapidly became the real symbolic badge of slavery, although, like many powerful symbols, it was disguised, in this case by the linguistic device of using the term ‘Black,’ which nominally threw the emphasis to color,” Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson wrote in his book “Slavery and Social Death.” “No one who has grown up in a multiracial society, however, is unaware of the fact that hair difference is what carries the real symbolic potency.”

“These attacks on Afrocentric styles and fashions are unfortunately definitely not new. I was speaking to a Black female friend who, in the 1960s, did some modeling with the likes of Richard Roundtree of ‘Shaft’ fame, and she was telling me stories that were interchangeable from today,” Zimmerman added. “Racism has all the time in the world.  I think the difference is nowadays with social media, these attacks are getting far more attention, and also due to social media, more people of color are finding comfort and strength in accepting themselves as they are. So, there’s less tolerance and much more public anger.

The Bias against Natural Hair

In 2016, the Perception Institute conducted an online study into how perceptions of African-American women are influenced by explicit and implicit biases toward their hair. The study was inspired in part by SheaMoisture’s 2016 “Break the Walls” campaign, which challenged retailers’ traditional position of separating hair products by race, with nonwhite products being delegated to the “ethnic” section. By segregating products meant for women of color, there may be a subliminal message that ethnic hair is somehow different from “normal hair.”

To test this, the Perception Institute tested users for implicit and explicit biases by showing photos of a single model wearing both straight and “natural” wigs and asking what words and phrases come to mind when they see the photos.

The study found:

  • Black women that consider themselves naturalistas are the most positive about textured or natural hair, seeing it as “beautiful,” “sexy” and “professional” at a greater amount than any other population, including other Black women;
  • Black women remain sensitive of social stigma surrounding textured hair;
  • Millennials are more accepting of natural hair than any other women in the sample;
  • Black women are more anxious about their hair than White women;
  • Ruining their hair is the excuse for a third of all surveyed Black women skipping exercise;
  • Twice the number of Black women feel pressured to straighten their hair for work than white women;
  • Black women invest more time-wise and in actual expense in their hair than white women; and
  • White women are more likely to be explicitly biased against Black hair compared to “smooth” hair, finding it to be “less attractive,” “less beautiful’ and “less professional.”

“It is curious that the study found millennials to be the most accommodating to textured hair,” Alexis McGill Johnson, the executive director of the Perception Institute, said. “This is significant because even if most of us would say that an afro is beautiful to a survey, we’ve taken in so many social cues about hair that it is hard to escape media about it. These millennials have been involved in online communities, replacing the cultural knowledge we have lost in the decades we have been straightening our hair and creating reaffirming images that helped replace the negative schemas.”

The Enemy in the Mirror

The bottom line with hair bias is that, for many, it is veiled racism. Textured hair reminds the prejudiced viewer of Black culture and draws an unthinking reaction. There may be no convenient solution to implicit racism except to expose it at every opportunity.

There is another component to hair bias, however, which could be combatted. To illustrate this, let us take, for example, the former first lady Michelle Obama. When she entered the White House, she had heavily processed “smooth” hair. To the casual viewer, she met the visual expectation of a successful, professional Black woman — well coifed, well dressed and well spoken. When, while on vacation, she allowed her hair to go natural, the criticism she received, despite changing nothing else of her public persona, was severe.

This is even more shocking in retrospect considering she has been seen wearing her hair naturally more often, to the Internet’s acclaim, since leaving the White House.

Since the time of slavery, natural, “nappy” hair was seen as being more undesirable than hair that mirrors Eurocentric styles. Unprocessed, non-straight hair suggested the person was uncivilized, uneducated or somehow dangerous. To be accepted, African-American women (and men) not only subjected themselves to hot combs, lye-based hair treatments and a host of other hazardous treatments, but they also taught their daughters to do the same. This is reflected in the oft-repeated unwritten rule, “Straighten your hair for the interview, wear it natural once you are through the door.”

This notion that success and beauty are connected to straight hair still proliferates in the media. Many of the role models for African-American women have chemically processed straight hair because it is what they were told was needed to be taken seriously. Entire generation – both white and Black – have seen the allegedly most successful and socially acceptable among Black women wear their hair straight and formed an association between straight hair and Black success and Black beauty. This is how implicit bias is born.

As pointed out in the article Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, various African tribes adapted elaborate hair braiding patterns as a messaging and identification schema as early as the 15th century. One of the ways slavers would break newly captured enslaved women of their identities was to shave their heads.

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

posted by The NON-Conformist


It’s Official: Black Women Are The Most Educated Group In The U.S.

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According to the National Association of Education Statistics, African-American women are the most educated group in the U.S. population. Between 2009 and 2010, Black women earned 68% of associate’s degrees, 66% of bachelor’s degrees, 71% of master’s degrees and 65% of all doctorate degrees awarded to Black students.

“By both race and gender there is a higher percentage of Black women (9.7 percent) enrolled in college than any other group including Asian women (8.7 percent), white women (7.1 percent) and white men (6.1 percent),” reported Slate.

The percentage of Black students attending college has increased from 10%-15% from 1976 to 2012, while the percentage of white students fell from 84%-60%.

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