How Ralph Northam is spending his Black History Month

OPINION — The lessons of this February’s Black History Month commemorations have already veered far beyond the usual ones that begin and end by quoting a snippet of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech — the part about judging folks not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. A new curriculum is being written in real time, affecting real-life politicians and their constituents. And Virginia is hardly the only state not ready for the big exam.

Of course, the politician in question, Gov. Ralph Northam, has been learning as he goes — about blackface, about apologies and about redemption.

The Criminal Justice Bill Shows Where the GOP Is on Race

OPINION — Sen. Tim Scott, Republican from South Carolina, was optimistic after the Senate passed an amended bill this week that makes bipartisan progress on an issue — criminal justice reform — that has divided lawmakers for years.

Scott, an original co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement: “By cutting recidivism, encouraging job training, education and mental health and substance abuse treatments for incarcerated individuals, and making our criminal justice system both smarter and tougher, we have taken a positive step forward.”

The bill is considered a First Step, as it is named, toward addressing inequities in the system that disproportionately affect African-Americans and the poor, in everything from arrests to sentencing, and have contributed to a mass incarceration crisis. Criminal justice advocates will also point out that the changes are modest and apply only to the federal system, which truly makes this a first step. Yet it’s something.

After This Election, the NRA Is No Longer Calling All the Shots

OPINION — The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It’s the mantra of the National Rifle Association, and a certainty for those who would brook no incursion into Second Amendment rights and definitely no gun control measures, no matter how small or “sensible,” as they are often described by those who propose them.

When children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and federal legislation that would strengthen background checkswent nowhere, gun control advocates despaired. If the murder of children failed to crack the gun lobby, what would?

But real-life events and political surprises indicate that the landscape might be changing. And the work of groups such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceMoms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and other large and small organizations has made a difference.

Where once politicians were loath to cross the NRA because of the organization’s hefty purse and powerful get-out-the-vote success, candidates in unlikely places are showing that a nuanced position is not a deal breaker. Earlier this month, Democrat Lucy McBath, a onetime spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, won a House seat in Georgia that Newt Gingrich once held, no doubt surprising some leaders in her own party. Though the district has been trending away from its once deep-red hue for a while, a well-financed race by Democrat Jon Ossoff last year that engendered enthusiasm could not achieve what McBath did with far less attention.

NO SURPRISE, BLACK WOMEN HAVE ALWAYS TAKEN THE LEAD

You can see the strength and resolve, as well as the beauty, in those historical portraits of Ida B. Wells, the journalist, activist and researcher whose work in the late 19th and early 20th century shed a light on the horror of lynching and so much else. Her actions, undeterred by racism and threats of violence, continued, even when support from those who should have been on her side disappeared. In that, she is connected to African-American women, who have turned to other black women, and ultimately, themselves for guidance and assistance they could depend on.

Midterms Show We’re Not Any Closer to a Post-Racial America

OPINION — Remember the time when Trent Lott got in a heap of trouble for remembering the time?

It was 2002, and the Senate Republican leader representing Mississippi was waxing nostalgic for what he considered the good old days at a 100th birthday celebration for South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond. Carried away by the moment — and in remarks that recalled similar words from 1980 — Lott said: “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

No surprise that those for whom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential run represented the bad old days objected. Segregation was the heart of the platform for Thurmond’s States’ Rights Democratic Party (a.k.a. the Dixiecrats).

Serena Williams cartoon controversy

Beverly O’Connor talks to journalist Mary Curtis about a now infamous cartoon of tennis star Serena Williams.

When Spike Lee’s Art Is More Real Than a White House Reality Show

OPINION — It was deliberate and fitting that “BlacKkKlansman” opened a year after the deadly march of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is not too much of a spoiler to say that director Spike Lee goes there in the telling of the improbable true story of an African-American police officer who, in the late 1970s, infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado.

The film brings the lessons of the not-so-tall tale up to the present, to this 2018 moment. That includes an appearance from a youthful David Duke, who still appears whenever and wherever racial hate rises up.

In a parallel universe that purports to be real life but more closely resembles a twisted fantasy, Donald Trump managed one weak tea of a tweet marking the anniversary of the march, with a message that condemned “all types of racism,” pushing false equivalency and failing yet again to acknowledge the seriousness of neo-Nazi and Klan sentiment and action that caused the death of Heather Heyer.

Omarosa vs. Trump: Reality-Show Drama Meets Politics

CHARLOTTE, NC — In a move that seems like a plot twist in a reality show, Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former and fired top aide to Donald Trump is not going quietly. She has a new book, “Unhinged,” which asserts that the president is unfit. And she has tapes. The president has gone on the attack, with tweets and insults. And now there is a lawsuit over a non-disclosure agreement she signed when she worked for the campaign.

Trump’s Culture War Is Entering Its Scorched-Earth Phase

OPINION — President Donald Trump is crediting his raucous Ohio rally for propelling Troy Balderson over Democratic challenger Danny O’Connor in a U.S. congressional special election that is officially still too close to call. But what if his fiery rhetoric and the image of a sea of angry faces, attacks on the media and signs supporting the murky QAnon conspiracy actually derailed what should have been an easy Republican victory?

What Is the Line Between Politics and Culture? Ask Roseanne.

CHARLOTTE, NC– After Roseanne tweeted a racist insult, her hit TV show was canceled. Entertainment, as well as sports, supposed escapes, are political in 2018.

Mary C. Curtis weighs in.