LeBron James went from being one of sports' most celebrated figures to one of its most hated after he announced his departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers on an overhyped live television program that proved embarrassing for almost everyone involved. Cleveland fans now hate James, who joined the Miami Heat, and James himself has said that he would leave differently if he had it to do over. Nevertheless, some African Americans couldn't help seeing a problem with a young black man taking so much flak for simply guiding his own destiny.
Captions by Cord Jefferson
After getting caught cheating on his wife, Elin Nordegren, in late 2009 with dozens of women, Tiger Woods went to rehab for sex addiction and dropped out of the PGA Tour indefinitely. He lost $22 million in endorsement deals almost immediately, and Nordegren moved back to Sweden. The divorce became official in August of this year. Woods announced his return to golf in March, of course, but he's since found it difficult to win any tournaments with the deftness of prior years.
Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out to rave reviews in November, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. As usual, however, West found a way to mar his successes with increasingly erratic behavior. In a confusing interview with Today prior to its release, West apologized for saying that President Bush didn't care about black people, but then he lashed out at host Matt Lauer. He subsequently canceled a performance on the program, claiming that he'd been tricked into looking foolish.
For the first time in its 80-year history, soccer's World Cup championship happened in an African nation. This summer, South Africa hosted the tournament, and six African teams made the finals: Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Though the world loved watching the games, the jury is still out on whether South Africa liked hosting them. According to new figures, the nation has recouped just a tenth of what it cost to host the tournament.
Tyler Perry isn't known for his subtlety. It holds, then, that the writer and star of runaway hits like Madea's Family Reunion — in which Perry cross-dresses in a busty latex suit — was not the obvious choice to adapt and direct the screen version of Ntozake Shange's beloved play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Rumor even had it that Oprah called Perry personally and questioned his ability to do the play justice. Still, Perry went through with it, and the result got mixed reviews.
A smart, fashionable social doyenne from Chicago, Desiree Rogers seemed to be the perfect White House social secretary. A longtime friend of the Obamas, she aimed to add more ethnic art to the White House's official collection and spice up administration events. But all of that came to a crashing halt when, one year into Rogers' tenure, Real Housewives of DC's Michaele and Tareq Salahi were able to crash a White House state dinner and cozy up to President Obama himself. Rogers resigned three months later, in February. She is now the CEO of Johnson Publishing.
On June 8, 33-year-old novice politician Alvin Greene defeated veteran South Carolina legislator Vic Rawl in the Democratic Senate primary, despite the fact that Greene literally hadn't campaigned at all. How did he do it? After a series of rambling interviews, it was clear that Greene himself barely knew. Later, it came out that Greene faced a sexual harassment charge, and he was handily defeated by Republican Sen. Jim DeMint in the general election — though he did walk away with nearly 30 percent of the vote.
Eddie Long is the much esteemed head of the New Birth Missionary Baptist mega-church in Lithonia, Ga., where he presides over 25,000 worshippers weekly. An advocate of "curing" homosexuality, Long surprised his congregation when, in September, news broke that he faced accusations of sexual coercion from four young men, who claim Long used his power to intimidate them into sexual relationships. Long denied all the charges, but he recently opted for a private mediation, meaning that the public won't hear his defense or any additional details.
After being found guilty of 11 infractions by the House ethics committee — including not paying taxes and not disclosing hundreds of thousands in assets — 21-term Rep. Charles Rangel was censured in December by a vote of 333 to 79. A censure is the most serious punishment, short of expulsion, that a congressperson can face. Rangel admitted to violating House rules but pleaded for leniency and said that he never maliciously tried to "enrich" himself. The scandal forced him from his post atop the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
With the election for California attorney general too close to call for weeks, Republican Steve Cooley finally conceded to Kamala Harris on Nov. 24, making Harris the first African-American attorney general (and first female attorney general) in the state's history. Cooley had initially declared victory, but when the numbers showed that he was trailing by more than 50,000 votes, he bowed out. Harris, who had been San Francisco's district attorney, is biracial, which also makes her America's first Indian-American attorney general.
In August of this year, President Obama signed a bill that was a long time coming for many black nonviolent drug offenders. Introduced in late 2009, the Fair Sentencing Act narrowed, but didn't eliminate, the sentencing disparity for possession of crack and powder cocaine. Since 1986 the disparity had been 100 to 1 in an effort to curtail the crack epidemic of the late '80s. Now the disparity is 18 to 1. Republican Senate Judiciary committee members refused to agree to eliminate the disparity completely.
He drastically (and controversially) revamped District schools and revitalized blighted areas, but Adrian Fenty was unable to coax a second term out of Washington, D.C., voters. The capital's youngest mayor ever, Fenty lost the Democratic primary to D.C. City Council Chairman Vince Gray. The embarrassing defeat solidified what many had surmised: Black voters were turning away from Fenty, who some perceived as arrogant — this in a city that re-elected Marion Barry after he was caught smoking crack with prostitutes.
At a convention in Kansas City, Mo., in July, the NAACP passed a resolution condemning "extremist elements within the Tea Party." Though largely ceremonial, the resolution sparked outrage by Tea Party leaders, some of whom accused the NAACP of being racist. Tea Party Express leader Mark Williams had to step down after saying that the NAACP should go to "the trash heap of history" and writing a racist "satirical" open letter. Though highly publicized, the resolution couldn't stop the Tea Party's momentum with voters.
Though the economic slowdown has caused devastation across the globe, no group in America has been hit harder than the black community. Overall, the national unemployment rate has hovered around 10 percent for months now, but black unemployment is significantly higher, at 16 percent. And for black men, that number jumps to more than 20 percent. With jobs numbers looking grim, 2011 is looking to be another bad year for African Americans seeking work.
When 32 black Republicans threw their hats into the ring for the congressional midterm elections, media outlets everywhere went hog wild with the "year of the black Republican" theme. Eventually all but two were defeated — Tim Scott in South Carolina and Allen West in Florida — but their victories weren't insignificant. Both men are the first black Republicans representing their states in Congress since Reconstruction, and Scott actually beat political heavyweight Strom Thurmond's son, Paul, to win the GOP nomination in his state.
On the other hand, Roland Burris, who replaced Barack Obama as Illinois senator, lost to Republican Mark Kirk this year. This left no African-American lawmakers in the nation's most powerful legislative house. In his farewell speech, Burris said, "[W]hen the 112th Congress is sworn in this coming January, there will not be a single black American who takes the oath of office in this chamber. This is simply unacceptable." Since Reconstruction, the Senate has housed only four black senators.
On July 19, USDA executive Shirley Sherrod was forced to resign after a video of her surfaced on far-right activist Andrew Breitbart's BigGovernment.com, in which she appeared to be making racist comments. The NAACP denounced her, and she was hastily canned. Sherrod was exonerated when the original video emerged, showing that Breitbart had manipulated footage to smear her. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack offered her a new position, but she rejected it. The NAACP apologized, too. Sherrod now travels the country speaking about diversity.
Nearly 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt made health care reform a major thrust of his campaign for president on the Progressive Party ticket. Though Roosevelt and subsequent presidents were unsuccessful, Obama picked up where his forward-thinking predecessors left off, and in March, the Affordable Care Act became law. The law includes several programs that will be especially beneficial to African Americans. The government estimates that more than 30 million more people will get medical insurance because of health care reform.
Just two years after putting Barack Obama into office, American voters took to the polls on Nov. 2 and voted roundly against his party, spurred on by months of fringe fearmongering and concerns about the economy. In the end, the Democrats lost just six Senate seats, keeping their majority, but gave up 63 House seats, tipping the balance of power in Congress back to the GOP. For the next two years, expect a monolithic Republican voting bloc to promote gridlock and thwart the president's ambitions.
Beginning with an explosion that killed 11 people in April, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill gushed for three months before it was capped. By that time, almost 200 million gallons of oil had been dumped into the fauna-rich Gulf of Mexico. The region's fishermen found their catches mostly inedible, with some fisheries and oyster houses actually forced to shutter, making our nation's greatest environmental tragedy a financial catastrophe as well. The cleanup created jobs, but few of those went to minorities.
The magnitude-7.0 earthquake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12 was a grim way to ring in 2010. Almost a quarter million perished, with hundreds of thousands more sustaining brutal injuries. Of those lucky enough not to lose their lives, 1 million lost their homes, flooding Haiti's countryside with the displaced. In the aftermath, the costs of confronting a cholera epidemic and rebuilding still-leveled city centers are quickly outstripping foreign aid. Sadly, the Haiti-quake aftermath is bound to be a 2011 story as well.
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