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Author Carol Anderson Parallels America’s Fight For Racial Justice To 100 Years Ago

Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University. In her spare time she writes op-ed pieces for The Guardian that cover issues in America regarding racism, white supremacy, our Justice System, and more.

American Capitol Building

US Representative Ayanna Pressley Reveals She has Alopecia

Last year, Ayanna Pressley made history by becoming the first Black woman elected to Congress from her home state of Massachusetts. Her success came in large part as a result of her progressive policy positions, such as her support of the Green New Deal and her proposal to lower the voting age to 16, which have resonated with voters particularly during a time of increased political polarization. Pressley is well-known for her distinctive natural hairstyle, which Slate describes as “waist-long, abundant Senegalese twists,” which has given inspiration to Black women and girls as such hairstyles are often considered to be unprofessional despite the fact that, for many Black women, they are natural. As such, Pressley’s iconic hairstyle became a political statement as well, as it symbolizes personal strength in the face of pressure to conform with society’s expectations of how Black women’s hair should look.

For Pressley, the sudden loss of her hair could not have come at a worse time. As the House of Representatives was preparing to impeach Donald Trump, Pressley noticed that her hair was falling out at a rapid pace, much to her shock and horror. In a video produced for The Root, an online publication focusing on “Black news, opinions, politics, and culture,” Pressley described the experience of not wanting to go to sleep because she knew that she would lose a substantial amount of hair overnight, and she would find new bald patches on her head regularly. 

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Because her hair is a tremendous element of her public image and a key component of her political persona, Pressley described the loss of her hair as feeling like the loss of a limb. The worst night of Pressley’s personal hair loss story was the night before the House voted to approve articles of impeachment of Donald Trump, which coincided with the final stage of alopecia where all of the hair on her head was completely gone. Still mourning the loss of her hair, as well as the loss of her mentor Elijah Cummings, Pressley appeared in the House chamber to cast her vote nevertheless, wearing a wig and having not yet told the public about her hair loss. And not only that, but the moment was also the anniversary of her mother’s death, causing Pressley a tremendous amount of stress.

Pressley’s story captures an intersection of several factors impacting American life today, including racism, gender, and politics

Pressley knew that she couldn’t appear in the House chamber with a bald head, as the sudden and unexplained change in hairstyle would have been interpreted as a militant political message, which the solemn occasion did not call for. So she contacted Jamal Edmonds, a hair caregiver who created a custom wig for her hours before she was due to appear in the House chamber. While Pressley thought Edmonds had done a “beautiful job” of creating her custom wig, she felt as though she couldn’t recognize herself in the mirror, and was embarrassed about having to keep the secret of her hair loss. Pressley knew that she had to go public with her alopecia eventually, but wanted to wait for the right moment to do so. 

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Pressley’s story captures an intersection of several factors impacting American life today, including racism, gender, and politics. For many people, especially men, hair is a superficial concern and the loss of hair does not lead to any major problems. But for many Black women, especially those who work in a public-facing role like Rep. Pressley, hair represents an important aspect of personal identity, as the public at times places a disproportionate and often negative focus on the hairstyles Black women choose to adopt. And as she is a person who works in politics, which can be a nasty and cutthroat line of work, Pressley’s hair loss carries political ramifications as well. Pressley not only had to undergo the loss of her hair, which in many ways is a key part of her identity as a Black congresswoman, but also had to do so in the context of a presidential impeachment, which naturally draws tremendous attention and scrutiny, making the prospect of keeping her hair loss secret a tremendous challenge. By revealing the fact of her hair loss, Pressley feels as though she is free to experiment with different styles as she adapts to her new natural appearance.

Since telling her hair loss story, Pressley has received a tremendous amount of support from her peers in Congress as well as the general public. The other three members of the “squad,” a coalition of four congresswomen of color who advocate for progressive causes, all voiced their support; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that she was a “living blessing,” and Representative Ilhan Omar said she was “stunningly gorgeous and a magnificent black queen.” Rashida Tlaib voiced her support as well, calling her “queen” and tweeting a crown emoji. Ayanna Pressley’s embrace of her natural hairstyle in the contentious political sphere has inspired Black women and girls across the nation, and her courage in sharing her story of alopecia under remarkable circumstances continues to inspire. 

Montauk Lighthouse

Newsday Finds Widespread Racial Discrimination Among Long Island Realtors

A major three-year investigation by Newsday has revealed a widespread, systemic practice of racial discrimination against Hispanic, Asian, and Black Long Island homebuyers. Newsday characterized the investigation, which involved 240 hours of secret recordings, 25 trained undercover testers, and tests of 93 real estate agents, as one of the most extensive investigations they’ve ever conducted. According to the report, black buyers face disadvantages roughly half the time they enlist brokers, and other minorities also faced disadvantages but a lower rates. In order to ensure widespread access to the information, Newsday opted to remove their website’s paywall for this article, which the newspaper described as “essential and groundbreaking.”

According to the detailed and lengthy report, “house hunting in one of the nation’s most segregated suburbs poses substantial risks of discrimination.” For this project, the newspaper used a paired-testing approach in which they sent undercover testers with hidden cameras to 93 agents on Long Island to determine whether their experiences differed on the basis of race, with testers of different races claiming similar financial situations and housing requests. On Long Island, which is home to 2.8 million people, divisions exist along lines of race, class, and politics, and Newsday’s investigation highlights how a discriminatory real estate industry perpetuates this separation, disadvantaging people of color.

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The investigation featured tests conducted on all parts of Long Island, in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and found that Black homebuyers received different treatment 49% of the time, Hispanic homebuyers 39% of the time, and Asian homebuyers 19% of the time. Additionally, the report claims that real-estate brokerages steered white prospective homebuyers towards majority-white neighborhoods and encouraged minorities to seek housing in neighborhoods with high minority populations. One real estate agent, for instance, told a black customer that Brentwood has “the nicest people,” but the same agent advised a white customer to “do some research on the gang-related events in that area for safety.”

While the results of the investigation are not comprehensive enough to prove legal wrongdoing, they form a body of evidence that provides a general understanding of the extent of racial discrimination in Long Island housing, opening the door to potential future legal action against the offending parties. 

The investigators also found that real estate agents engage in other forms of discrimination. For example, agents commonly refused to provide home tours or house listings to minority testers unless they met financial requirements that weren’t imposed on white testers. Real estate agents had a tendency to choose places like Merrick, which has an 80% white population, for white customers. Additionally, the real estate agents demonstrated a pattern of sharing information about racial, ethnic, or religious demographics of different communities with white customers but not with minority customers. In these cases, the agents in question violated fair housing standards, which prohibit agents from discussing the racial makeup of communities when selling houses if doing so is meant to “steer” prospective homebuyers towards communities with similar racial characteristics. One agent, for instance, warned a white tester about Huntington, saying “You don’t want to go there. It’s a mixed neighborhood.”

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The investigation was comprehensive, covering areas where 83 percent of Long Island’s population live, from poor areas to wealthy ones like the Hamptons. Although real estate agents and brokers are bound by law to follow fair housing practices, many of the individuals who were subjects in the investigation clearly failed to do so in Newsday’s account. The newspaper also sent reporters to classes where fair housing standards were taught to real estate professionals, and described these classes as “shockingly thin in content.” Upon learning about being treated differently on the basis of race, one tester described the news as “pretty outrageous and, of course, offensive.” Overall, the investigation focused on twelve of the most popular real estate brands on the island, and find that only two of the firms showed no evidence of disparity in treatment along racial lines. Before publishing the report, Newsday informed the firms in question that they had been subjects of an investigation and shared their results, offering them a chance to review the evidence, respond, and take appropriate action. While the results of the investigation are not comprehensive enough to prove legal wrongdoing, they form a body of evidence that provides a general understanding of the extent of racial discrimination in Long Island housing, opening the door to potential future legal action against the offending parties.