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Monday, February 24, 2014

On Twitter, ‘Being Black at the University of Michigan’

As my colleague Tanzina Vega reported, there’s a notion in the media and popular culture that millennials are growing up in a colorblind world and “race is a relic of the past.”

But a spate of recent incidents on college campuses challenge that idea. And interviews that Ms. Vega conducted with dozens of students, professors and administrators point out that racial tension continues to play out in both old and new ways.

Since last fall, African-American students and others at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor have been turning to Twitter and other social media tools to help draw attention to their concerns that include declining enrollment of African-American students.

They documented an all-night protest last Tuesday called a “Speak Out” that drew more than 1,000 students. And they expressed their frustration at a regent’s meeting on Thursday because they did not think that Mary Sue Coleman, the departing university president, delivered an adequate response.

The Black Student Union began the social media campaign, “Being Black at the University of Michigan,” with the hashtag #BBUM last November. It was prompted by outrage on campus over a party planned by a fraternity, Theta Xi. The party was described as “World Star Hip Hop Presents: Hood Ratchet Thursday” on the Facebook invitation, which promised a twerking contest, along with “rappers, twerkers, gangsters (no Bloods allowed), thugs, basketball players.”

After complaints were made to administration officials, the party was canceled, as the Michigan Daily reported.

In response, the Black Student Union asked students to share their “unique experiences of being black at Michigan” on Twitter. Students were encouraged to share both positive and negative experiences in 140 characters or less. It did not take long for the hashtag to trend nationally on Twitter and erase the notion that “race is a relic.”

A sample of some of the thousands of posts on Twitter that have been shared with the #BBUM hashtag since November:

University officials responded during the initial flurry of posts on Twitter, and again last week at the regent’s meeting.

But there was concern expressed on Twitter that Ms. Coleman, the departing university president, was not proposing enough change.

Trailer for Ukraine’s Uprising Stars Will Smith and Sylvester Stallone

An ode to the courage of Ukrainian protesters posted on YouTube this month mixed footage of the demonstrations in Kiev with words from Hollywood movies.

Looking for a way to pay tribute to the courage of protesters in Kiev, who refused to be dislodged from Independence Square over the past three months despite violent attacks from the security forces, a Ukrainian video blogger found the words he needed in dubbed versions of two Hollywood action movies.

As Kevin Rothrock reported in a post on the video for Global Voices, the result is a sort of trailer for the uprising â€" mixing footage of the demonstrators with inspirational speeches on the importance of overcoming fear first spoken by Will Smith, in “After Earth,” and Sylvester Stallone, in “Rocky Balboa.” It was shared at the height of last week’s violence by Pavel Durov, the founder of the most prominent Russian social network, VKontakte.

The blogger, Alexander Makedonskiy, first posted his ode to the protesters, “Story of a Great Nation,” on YouTube three weeks ago. As it neared 200,000 views, after the endorsement by Mr. Durov, he released a version with English subtitles.

The video also borrowed from striking footage of martyred protesters and uneasy police officers made by Ukrainian filmmakers who have been documenting the occupation of central Kiev from its first moments. Some of the footage was drawn from the YouTube channel of a group of activist filmmakers working on a project they call Babylon ’13, which is partly supported by an Indiegogo campaign.

That group’s own tribute to the protest movement, “The Testament,” was released on Sunday, after the fleeing of the country’s president and memorial services for protesters killed last week.

A tribute to Ukraine’s protest movement from a group of activist filmmakers.

Follow Robert Mackey on Twitter @robertmackey.

Reaction to Uganda Antigay Law

As my colleague Alan Cowell reported, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, significantly strengthened Africa’s antigay movement, signing into law a bill imposing harsh sentences for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment in some cases.

Rights groups and activists condemned the law, with some pointing to the promotion of antigay sentiment by Western Christian evangelical groups.

In the face of a crackdown, gay rights activists expressed defiance. Frank Mugisha, a gay rights activist in Uganda, wrote on his Twitter account @frankmugisha:

Pepe Onziema, a gay rights activist with Sexual Minorities Uganda, wrote:

Some of the reaction to the news that the bill had been signed included a look back at the public remarks and work of an American evangelist, Scott Lively, who was the subject of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Massachusetts by a gay rights group in 2012. It accused Mr. Lively of violating international law by inciting the persecution of gay men and lesbians in Uganda.

Pamela Spees, a lawyer with the legal advocacy group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, also known as CCR, filed that lawsuit on behalf of the Ugandan group, called Sexual Minorities Uganda.

On Monday the CCR shared a link after the bill was signed that it is using for fund-raising to oppose Mr. Lively. It included recordings of him saying he thought homosexuality should be “criminalized” and opposition would spread like a “nuclear bomb” against the “gay movement” worldwide.

The CCR wrote on Twitter on Monday:

The CCR also released a statement saying its lawsuit in Massachusetts was in the discovery phase. But the main point of the statement was to condemn Mr. Lively’s continued work, saying, in part:

In addition to putting the lives of LGBTI Ugandans at serious risk, in signing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, President Museveni has criminalized the existence and work of our client, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), and other advocacy organizations in violation of the Ugandan constitution and international law. The Center for Constitutional Rights holds right-wing U.S. evangelical Scott Lively directly responsible: he has been working in Uganda since 2002 to outlaw the speech and assembly of LGBTI people and effectively silence and erase the community from political life.

Just last week he claimed to be launching a new international antigay organization based in Illinois, whose first statement was its express support for the repressive Russian laws banning LGBTI advocacy “and to urge other nations of the world to follow the Russian example. “Lively has played a key role in moving forward anti-speech and advocacy laws in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, as well.

On Feb. 21, Mr. Lively announced the Coalition for Family Values, and praised Russian antigay laws, at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington in which a Russian speaker and an activist translating for him were told to leave by security, according to this video.

Video of Mr. Lively’s appearance on Feb. 21 at the National Press Conference.

“I would like to stop the killing that is going on in your name in Uganda and in Russia,” said the woman who had been translating, as she was forced to leave.

Mr. Lively wrote a report from Uganda in 2009 about his work there, which he referred to as a “pro-family mission.” Excerpts from Mr. Lively’s speech in Uganda in 2009 is in this video posted on YouTube by a group that monitors antigay rhetoric, and my colleague Jeffrey Gettleman wrote about that visit in this article.

Mr. Lively often writes about homosexuals on his website, where on Feb. 17 he described the Uganda bill as “overly harsh on its face, but this is typical of African criminal law across the continent.”

On Monday, after the bill was signed into law, The Associated Press quoted Mr. Lively as saying: “I would rather the Ugandans had followed the Russian anti-propaganda model which reflects my philosophy of preventing the mainstreaming of homosexuality with the minimum limitation on personal liberties for those who choose to live discretely outside the mainstream.”

In Uganda, the bill signed on Monday had been approved by the Ugandan Parliament in December, when supporters of the bill in Uganda were heartened by its passage.

On Monday, the Daily Monitor, a private daily newspaper in Uganda, published the speech Mr. Museveni delivered at the signing of the bill. He said the topic of homosexuals was “provoked by the arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism, just as they carelessly handle other issues concerning Africa.”

In his speech, he also said he struggled with four problems, including whether someone can be born homosexual.

I thought there were such people - those who are either genetic or congenital homosexuals. The reason I thought so was because I could not understand why a man could fail to be attracted to the beauties of a woman and, instead, be attracted to a fellow man. It meant, according to me, that there was something wrong with that man - he was born a homosexual - abnormal.

I, therefore, thought that it would be wrong to punish somebody because of how he was created, disgusting though it may be to us. That is why I refused to sign the bill. In order to get to the truth, we involved Uganda scientists as well as consulting scientists from outside Uganda.

My question to them was: Are there people that are homosexual right from birth? After exhaustive studies, it has been found that homosexuality is in two categories: there are those who engage in homosexuality for mercenary reasons on account of the underdeveloped sectors of our economy that cause people to remain in poverty, the great opportunities that abound not withstanding; and then there are those that become homosexual by both nature (genetic) and nurture (up-bringing).

He concluded:

We reject the notion that somebody can be homosexual by choice; that a man can choose to love a fellow man; that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. Since my original thesis that there may be people who are born homosexual has been disproved by science, then the homosexuals have lost the argument in Uganda.

They should rehabilitate themselves and society should assist them to do so.

Bernard Tabaire, a media commentator in Uganda, spoke out against the scientists who apparently backed the studies conducted for the law.