Category Archives: African American News

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The surprising benefits of reading before bed

3986164316_9c49f5310c_oViviana Calderón/flickrReading before bed can reduce stress by 68%.

We’re all commitment-phobes. We scan, we skim, we browse, but rarely do we read.

Our eyes ping-pong back and forth from facebook posts to open chat boxes, unclicked emails to GIFs of dancing cats, scanning for keywords but barely digesting what we see. Average time spent on an online article is 15 seconds.

In 2014, the Pew Research Center revealed that one-quarter of American adults hadn’t read a single book in the previous year.

And that’s a shame because those who read consistently exhibit significantly greater memory and mental abilities at all stages in life. They’re also better public speakers, thinkers and, according to some studies, better people in general.

Cracking open a book before you go to bed could help combat insomnia, too: A 2009 study from researchers at University of Sussex showed that six minutes of reading reduces stress by 68% (more relaxing than either music or a cup of tea), thus clearing the mind and readying the body for sleep.

The reasoning, per psychologist and study author Dr. David Lewis is that a book is “more than merely a distraction, but an active engaging of the imagination,” one that “causes you to enter an altered state of consciousness.”

It doesn’t matter if your book of choice is by James Patterson or James Joyce, fiction or fact, so long as it you find it fully absorbing. Because when the mind is engaged in a world constructed by words, tension evaporates and the body relaxes, paving the way for sleep.



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Microlending Success Starts with a Smile

PAFF_081915_MicrolendingSmile_newsfeatureThe economist Muhammad Yunus was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 in recognition for his pioneering work in microlending – making small loans available to people living in poverty.

Yunus believed that entrepreneurs in rural, impoverished areas needed the same things as any other business—capital to get their small businesses started and growing. These entrepreneurs are frequently unable to get loans through traditional banking institutions. Through microlending, someone in Montana can help finance a small $500 loan so that an aspiring tailoring business in Tajikistan can invest in buying more sewing machines.

Like a typical bank loan, microlenders expect to be repaid with interest, although it’s typically at much lower interest rates than traditional banks. There’s no guarantee that lenders will recoup their investment.

Stanford University psychological scientists Alexander Genevsky and Brian Knutson wanted to investigate the factors that led people to put their money on the line for total strangers.

They designed two experiments to explore the underlying neural mechanisms associated with the decision to lend. Their findings, published in Psychological Science, suggest that positive emotional cues – such as a smiling face in a photograph – may be one of the most effective ways to increase the success of a microlending campaign.

In the first study, Genevsky and Knutson used a massive dataset of 13,500 real microlending campaigns from Kiva, an Internet-based international microfinance organization. Through Kiva, lenders can fund loans in $25 increments, but the borrower only receives the money if the full requested amount is successfully raised within 30 days of the initial loan request.

Online volunteers evaluated the emotional impact of borrowers’ photographs from the Kiva website. Volunteers categorized the emotions displayed by borrowers’ facial expressions (i.e., whether the person was happy, sad, calm, fearful, angry) as well how strong their emotional reaction was when viewing the borrower’s photo.

The text used for each campaign was analyzed separately for the total number of positive and negative emotional words.

Only borrowers who appeared “happy” in their photographs received a bump in funding. On average, borrower requests with “happy” photographs received $5.15 more per hour than requests with “sad” photographs and they achieved their full funding in 7.6% less time.

To find out whether this positive reaction to happy facial expressions was related to activation in specific neural circuits, a different group of 28 participants came into the lab for a neuroimaging study.

These participants were scanned as they chose whether or not to lend to borrowers. During each trial of the microlending task, participants first viewed a photograph of a borrower from an actual Kiva loan page along with the text of their loan request. Participants were only shown photographs of borrowers who had received the highest and lowest emotion ratings from the Internet study.

The neuroimaging results showed that brain activity in an area called the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) was associated with the decision to lend money. The nucleus accumbens is involved in reward processing and motivation, and previous research has also indicated that it is activated when people engage in charitable giving.

This suggests that some of the same neural processes that underlie charitable giving are also involved in microlending. Moreover, this suggests that minor changes to a borrower’s profile — such as smiling in photographs — can elicit the strong, positive emotions that encourage people to give.

“Specifically, the findings imply that small, inexpensive modifications of affective features of loan requests (e.g., using smiling photographs) may have a more pronounced impact on loan-request success than more costly changes related to constructing a compelling narrative or even requesting fewer resources,” the researchers conclude.



Genevsky, A., & Knutson, B. (2015). Neural Affective Mechanisms Predict Market-Level Microlending.Psychological Science. doi: 10.1177/0956797615588467


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5 Countries That Brought In Europeans To Whiten Their Populations



After the trans-Atlantic slave trade was officially abolished toward the end of the 19th century, many whites felt threatened and feared free Blacks would become a menacing element in society. The elites spent a great dealing of time mulling over how best to solve the so-called Negro problem. A popular solution that emerged during this period was the ideology of racial whitening or “whitening.”

Supporters of the “whitening” ideology believed that if a “superior” white population was encouraged to mix with an “inferior” Black population, Blacks would advance culturally, genetically or even disappear totally, within several generations. Some also believed that an influx of immigrants from Europe would be necessary to successfully carry out the process.

Although both ideologies were driven by racism and White supremacy, whitening was  in contrast to some countries that opted for segregation rather than miscegenation, ultimately outlawing the mixing of the races. This, however, was just a different means to the same end as these nations also imported more Europeans while slaughtering and oppressing the Black population.

Here are 5 of the several counties that adopted a whitening policy and what happened as a result.


1. Brazil

Brazil’s whitening ideology gained support from two scientific racist beliefs that were prominent during this time. One being Social Darwinism, which applied Darwin’s theory of natural selection to a society or race, and the other being Aryanism, the belief that the “white” Aryan race was superior to all other cultures. By combining these two ideas, a certain portion of the Brazilian power elite believed, from roughly 1880 on, that the nation could be “whitened” and thus “improved” if whites were encouraged to mate with Black

To further ensure that Brazil became whiter, a series of laws were passed prohibiting the immigration of Black people to the country.  In 1945, the Brazilian government issued a decree favoring the entrance of European immigrants in the country: “In the admission of immigrants, the need to preserve and develop, in the ethnic composition of the population, the more convenient features of their European ancestry shall be considered.”

Because Brazil’s racist miscegenation agenda, lighter skin became valued more among Brazilians of African heritage, and darker-skinned individuals sought lighter-skinned partners, since the surest way to gain upward mobility is to possess whiter skin than your parents.


2. Cuba

At the dawn of the 20th century, Afro-Cubans enthusiastically joined the struggle for independence against Spain in hopes of building a nation based on racial democracy.  However,  the U.S. military presence in Cuba from 1898 to 1902 and again from 1906 to 1908 propped up and defended a racist ruling class, who pursued policies that actively sought the “whitening”  or Blanqueamiento of the nation.

The power elites promoted interracial marriage and the Cuban government created immigration laws that invested more than $1 million into recruiting Europeans, mostly from Spain, into Cuba in order to whiten the state and excluding Blacks from every aspect of national life.  A ban on “non-white” immigration was also implemented.

Despite the massive investment in European DNA, many of the immigrants did not stay in Cuba and came solely for the sugar harvest, returning to their homes during the off seasons. Although some 780,000 Spaniards migrated between 1902-1931, only 250,000 stayed.

By the end of the 1920s, Blanqueamiento as a national policy had effectively failed. It did, however cause lasting damage by shifting the demographics of Cuba and solidifying the social and economic marginalization of Afro-Cubans.

girl with jamaican flag painted on her face

3. Jamaica

After the abolition of slavery in Jamaica (Aug. 1, 1834), many plantation owners feared an impending shortage of labor. Apparently the newly freed  and well experienced Africans on the island were not good candidates for a paid labor force.

Consequently, the former slave owners sought new measures in an effort to solve this problem. One solution was the establishment of a European settlement by Lord Seaford, then-owner of Montpelier Estate and Shettlewood Pen which were located in Westmoreland, in the parish of St. James. More than 1,000 Germans were brought to Jamaica with the promise of being granted housing, land and employment.

The white migration never amounted to much, because mixing with the Black population and migration to the U.S.  depleted much of its population. Moreover a century of in-breeding had a degenerative effect on what’s left of the population. However, many Jamaicans in Seaford Town and German Town in Trelawny carry heavy European features such as blue eyes, blond hair, freckles and white skin, as a result of the German genetic influences.


4. South Africa

The apartheid system was designed to maintain white domination in South Africa, and the assisted immigration laws implemented during White rule, reflected that ideology.  However the ground work was laid well before the apartheid system was officially put in place.

In 1820 the British authorities persuaded about 5,000 middle-class British immigrants  to leave Great Britain and settle on tracts of land that were being violently disputed by the Zulus and the Boers. The idea was they were supposed to provide a buffer zone, but the plan was unsuccessful because within three years, almost half of the settlers had retreated to the towns to pursue the kind of jobs they had in Britain.

From 1870 onward, there was large-scale immigration to South Africa following the discovery of gold and diamonds.  In the Transvaal, the site of the gold discoveries, the white population expanded eightfold.

In 1948, while European South Africa was facing food and housing shortages, rampant inflation an unemployment the government ramped up state-assisted immigration from Europe in what Prime Minister Smut said was an effort to ensure South Africa’s economic and industrial expansion, and to ensure the maintenance of Western civilization.

Following the implementation of the apartheid regimes immigration program, Europeans, primarily from Britain, arrived at three times the rate as they previous did. Meanwhile native Africans were being murdered, forcibly removed from their land, and immigration laws were being used to arrest those who were found in  “white designated” areas for more than 72 hours.

Although the Europeans declared South Africa a white man’s country during apartheid, immigrants from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan were considered honorary whites in the country. They were granted the same privileges as white people for the sake of maintaining diplomatic relations with the respective nations.


5. Australia

Australia’s natives have been victims of oppression in many ways and for various reasons for nearly 200 years. Their land had been taken over by European settlers, and later on they were forced to assimilate into white society.

AO Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines from 1915 to 1940, inspired by the same eugenics propaganda that informed the Blanqueamiento in Latin America, attempted to use miscegenation to breed the blackness out of the Indigenous population. Following the Second World War authorities began a slow shift away from biological assimilation to one of cultural assimilation.

From 1869 until well into the 1970s, thousands of indigenous children under 12 years of age were removed from their families to be absorbed into the white community.

To reinforce attempts to whiten Australia, the Australian government’s first act was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act. Often referred to as the ‘White Australia policy’ this effectively banned non-white migration for 50 years and offered money and jobs to immigrants with European ethnicity.

When the European invasion began in 1788, Australia’s aboriginal population was about 750,000.  In 1933, the population fell to its lowest levels. Today, more than 20 million people live on the continent, but the indigenous people make up less than 2.4%, or 563,000.

Afrikaner Politics in South Africa, 1934-1948 By Newell Maynard Stultz

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Born a slave in the waning months of the Civil War, Anthony Overton became the first African American to own a major conglomerate.  His vast business empire included the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company, The Half-Century Magazine, Douglass National Bank, The Victory Life Insurance Company, The Great Northern Realty Company, and the Chicago Bee.

Overton was born on March 21, 1865 in Monroe, Louisiana to Anthony Overton and Martha Deberry Overton. During Reconstruction, Overton attended public school in Monroe before the family moved to Kansas in the 1870s.  In 1881, Overton graduated from South Side High School in Topeka. Shortly afterwards he opened his first business venture, a fruit and grocery store in Topeka.  Money earned from the business allowed Overton to graduate with a Bachelor of Law degree from Washburn College in Topeka in 1888.  The same year, he married Clara Gregg. The couple had four children: Eva, Mabel, Frances, and Everett.

In 1892 Overton was elected a municipal judge in Topeka. Overton and his family left Topeka and moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1898 where with the family savings of $2,000 he founded the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company in 1898. The company initially sold one product, baking powder, but eventually branched into cosmetics, perfumes, and toiletries appealing to African American woman.

The Kansas River Flood of 1902 almost brought the demise of the company, engulfing the Kansas City manufacturing district and destroying Overton’s business. After recovering from bankruptcy, Overton resumed manufacturing and selling products although now to a nationwide and eventually an international market that included Egypt, Liberia, and Japan.

In 1911, Overton moved his company to Chicago, Illinois to access a larger market.  Within two years the company manufactured 62 products and had a sales staff of 32 full time employees as well as over 400 door-to-door sales people. In 1916, Overton founded a variety magazine, The Half-Century, partly to promote the company’s products. It appealed to educated black women but also promoted the early civil rights efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1925 Overton founded the Chicago Bee and relocated the newspaper to the Chicago Bee Building, a three story structure which also housed the Half-Century Magazine, apartments, and eventually Overton Hygienic.  By 1927, the cosmetic business alone employed 150 people in clerical and manufacturing positions, most of whom were black women.  The cosmetics company was valued at more than one million dollars and Overton by that point was the most successful black businessman in the nation.

Overton’s other businesses included the Victory Life Insurance Company which he ran from 1922 to 1932 and the Douglass National Bank (1923-1932), the second nationally chartered black-owned bank in the United States. With the founding of the bank, Overton became the principal competitor of Jesse Binga whose Binga State Bank in Chicago was the largest black-owned bank in the nation.

Overton was an active participant in the Chicago Urban League, the YMCA, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He died in Chicago on July 2, 1946 at the age of 81.  When Overton Hygienic went out of business in the early 1980s, the city of Chicago took over the building, operating it as a public library.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 30, 1986.

John N. Ingham and Lynne B. Feldman, eds., African-American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994); Victoria Sherrow, ed., Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006); “Anthony Overton,” The Journal of Negro History 32: 3 (July 1947); Jessie Carney Smith, Millicent Lownes Jackson, and Linda T. Wynn, eds., Encyclopedia of African American Business (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006).


University of Washington, Seattle



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Little Known Black History Fact: The History of Barbeque

The word barbecue and the open-fire cooking technique came from the Caribbean amongst the Taino people around the late 17th century. The word barbecue itself means “sacred fire pit.” The unique way to cook meat spread into Spanish, French and American cultures when slaves were brought from the Caribbean.

In the Southern United States, barbecue initially revolved around the cooking of pork. Prior to the American Civil War, Southerners consumed five pounds of pork for every one pound of beef they consumed. Plantation owners regularly held large and festive barbecues, including “pig pickin’s” for slaves. Because of the poverty level in the South during that time, every part of the pig was eaten immediately or saved for later. During the Great Migration, many of the southern slaves moved to northern cities, taking their cooking techniques like barbecue along, which quickly spread across the country.

The true origin of barbecue has been debated in several cultures. Some believe it was born through a tribe in Guyana, while others believe it was a Haitian practice. In western culture, it was said that the word barbecue was a combination of words from an advertisement for a bar, beer, and pool available at a local establishment; hence the word bar-beer-cue.

As the popularity of the barbecue technique spread, the distinction between regional cooking became more about what parts of the pig and cow are barbecued, how it’s present and most important, the flavors of the sauce and how and when the sauce is applied. The main regions identified in the U.S. that determine unique flavors have been broken down into several styles: Memphis, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas City and Texas.

July is National Grilling (or Barbecue) Month and National Hot Dog Month, mainly due to the popularity of summer cookouts and consumption during the 4th of July holiday.




Built to Last: the boomerang is the opposite of throwaway design. Nicholas Shakespeare tries to catch its appeal

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2015

When I was 11, my grandmother gave me a boomerang. In a book about her travels to Australia, she wrote of how, in the Barossa Valley, she had gripped an Aboriginal spear that was intended to pass through the body with one thrust. “I was more sure than ever after handling these weapons that Nicholas should not have one.” In Melbourne, she fingered a boomerang, but after testing its hard edges she worried that I might do “untold damage” to my siblings. The Aboriginal owner held a demonstration, throwing it across the road, but the boomerang dropped short on its return flight and “a car belonging to a local inhabitant purposely swerved to run over it and break it in half.” Not a woman normally motivated by guilt, my grandmother was moved to buy a replacement, which she presented to me.

This bent-arm-shaped piece of dark wood, with strange motifs burned into it, soon became a cherished object—like its twin in a television series, “The Magic Boomerang”, which, when thrown by the 13-year-old hero, made time freeze for the length of its flight. It is why, ever since I was a boy, I have felt the emotion Andrei Sinyavsky captures in “A Voice from the Chorus”: “Whenever one sees Australia on the map one’s heart leaps with pleasure: kangaroo, boomerang!”

Boomerangs are not exclusive to Australia: Howard Carter found a throwing-stick in Tutankhamun’s tomb. But Australia claims the longest unbroken association—from the evidence of a returning boomerang found in South Australia’s Wyrie swamp, at least 9,000 years. Clearly, the original was so unimprovably adapted to its purposes that the design had not altered a smidgeon by the time the first recorded European set eyes on one, several millennia later, in 1802. He was a French-born ensign in the New South Wales corps, Francis Louis Barrallier. This is his description: “It is composed of a piece of wood in the form of a half circle which [the natives] make as sharp as a sabre on both sides, and pointed at each end. They throw it on the ground or in the air, making it revolve on itself, with such a velocity that one cannot see it returning towards the ground; only the whizzing of it is heard.” The sound was possibly caused by a hole in one end, so that the boomerang whistled like a hovering hawk, scaring flocks of ducks or cockatoos to fly low and tangle themselves in nets stretched across a lagoon.

As with birds, so with men. “A bomb-shell thrown amongst a company of soldiers cannot create a greater consternation than the flight of a boomerang towards a group,” wrote the missionary Lancelot Threlkeld in 1859; “…it rips up the individual when it strikes, as though done with a knife.”

Fashioned from a hardwood such as mulga or mangrove, about two inches wide and two feet long, curved on top, flat beneath, and either plain or decorated—the engravings often etched by a wallaby tooth, and filled with ochre and pipeclay: no other object crosses so satisfyingly the boundary between indigenous and Western culture, and yet retains its mystery—that of something which spins out of sight and comes back.

The earliest scientist to analyse its aerodynamic properties, the 19th-century explorer Thomas Mitchell, when he first observed the flight of a boomerang, and examined the weapon, exclaimed, “The savage who invented this, in whatever time, was gifted by the Creator with a knowledge which He has withheld from civilised man.”

The boomerang looks simple, but, as Mitchell saw, it is not. Its significance is wide-ranging, says Gaye Sculthorpe, curator of the British Museum’s forthcoming exhibition on Australian indigenous art—which will travel, boomerang-fashion, to the National Museum in Canberra. “It’s a really effective weapon or tool, perfectly shaped for diverse purposes.”

A weapon to attack enemies, or to hunt birds and wallabies, a boomerang’s hard edges may also be used as a fire-making tool to rub over a soft beantree and cause a spark. It can function as a ceremonial object, employed to beat out time in secret initiation ceremonies, or as a toy for Aboriginal children to light and hurl, flaming, through the night sky. It has appeared in advertising slogans to encourage returning customers—like the 1960s Boomerang Trips promoted by Qantas/BOAC between Australia and England. It has lent its name to a butter, a brandy, a cigarette paper, a football club. It can be an object of kitsch, a porcelain plate for nibbles—but also an enduring patriotic symbol. The parliament in Canberra is modelled on two boomerangs, suggestive of the intermingling of pre- and post-colonial cultures (for an equivalent, picture Britain’s Houses of Parliament shaped like an oak leaf). More than anything, the boomerang is an example of the constant interaction between the sacred and secular aspects of Aboriginal life.

Even today, more than two centuries after its introduction to Europeans, not all of its ritual meanings and purposes can be explained. But a couple of things may be said with confidence. First, no two boomerangs perform in an identical way. Second, a good one returns to its owner. Regrettably, I never was able to emulate Frank Donnellan, an expert thrower from Sydney who caught his boomerangs blindfolded. I caught mine only once or twice. The last time I hurled my boomerang, above a thicket on Wimbledon Common, it did not come back, and I never found it.

Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation British Museum, London, April 23rd to Aug 2nd

Nicholas Shakespeare is the author of “Priscilla” and a literary critic for theDaily Telegraph. He spends part of the year in Tasmania


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11 Classy Insults With Classical Greek and Latin Roots



Do you ever go on such an epic internet rant you just feel you’ve run out of words with which to hammer your enemies? Do you want to up your game without resorting to the tired tropes of excretion and sexual metaphors? Next time pull out these fancy insults and really class up the joint while you twist the dagger.


Lice-infested. From Latin pediculus (louse).


Yellow-toothed. From Greek xanthos (yellow) and odont- (a combining form for tooth).


Gasbag. From Latin ructus (belch) and abundus (abundant).


Thoroughly wicked, villainous. From Latin flagitium (shameful act).


Worthless, consisting of trash. From Latin quisquiliae (waste matter, rubbish).


Fork-tongued. From Latin fissus (split) and lingua (tongue).


Busybody, gossip-monger. From Latin quid nunc? (what now?).


Brainless. From Latin ex (out, without) and cerebrum (brain).


Flaky, dandruff-covered. From Latin furfur (bran, chaff).


Bug-eyed. From Greek ex (out) and ophthalmos (eye).


A learned fool. From Greek moros (stupid) and sophos (wise).

Now go class up some comment sections, you pediculous, xanthodontous ructabundes. And you better not say anything bad about me, you flagitious, quisquilian, fissilingual quidnuncs. I’ve had enough of you excerebrose, furfuraceous, exophthalmic morosophs. Bye, poopy heads.




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