Widening her reach: Justice in the face of terrible odds has always been a way of life for Navi Pillay, just chosen U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights:

The daughter of a Tamil bus driver in Durban, she experienced human
rights violations firsthand. Pillay earned a law degree at Harvard, but
for 28 years during apartheid, she was not allowed to set foot in a
judge’s chambers as a lawyer because of her South Asian origins. In
1995 she became the first woman of color to become a judge on the High

Pillay, born in 1941, also served as a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
prosecuting crimes related to that nation’s genocide. She presided over
landmark cases in international law that established rape as a war
crime, convicted a former head of state for atrocities committed during
his rule and prosecuted media for inciting genocide. She has served for
five years on the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Pillay’s low-key determination will be tested, observers say, by upcoming disputes over Zimbabwe. But at least she knows that one country, which has tried as much as possible to ignore the ICC, is at least demonstrating  consistency in their behavior toward the U.N.

“One challenge for Judge Pillay will be to find a public voice that
as a judge she was never called upon to have. “If both the
secretary general and the high commissioner are using only private
diplomacy, it’s as if they’re defending human rights with one arm tied
behind their back.”

One of the earliest tests for Judge
Pillay will be in Zimbabwe, where South Africa spearheaded
opposition to block an American-led effort to impose Security Council
sanctions on Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe.

United States has privately raised concerns about Judge Pillay,
including her strong support for reproductive rights, according to an
official briefed by the Secretary General’s office…

Jessica Neuwirth, president of Equality Now, an international
women’s rights organization that Judge Pillay co-founded, noted that
Judge Pillay was a leading defense lawyer for apartheid-era political
prisoners before she became a judge. “In the last 12 years or
so she’s been a judge, and a judge can’t speak out,” Ms. Neuwirth said.
“I first knew her as an activist and a lawyer defending political

“The significance of this appointment is, I think,
that we have a human rights commissioner, maybe for the first time, who
really comes from the front lines of the human rights movement,” she

A lot of ground to cover:
Attorney, columnist Republican Party activist Sophia Nelson writes in this week’s  Washington
Post that the infamous New Yorker cover with its caricatures of the
Obamas was an especial sucker-punch for black women:

And among black professional women like me and many of my sisters in the Alpha Kappa Alpha
sorority, who happened to be gathered last week in Washington for our
100th anniversary celebration, the mischaracterization of Michelle hit
the rawest of nerves.

Welcome to our world……

Even in the 21st century, black women are still bombarded with media
and Internet images that portray us as loud, aggressive, violent and
often grossly obese and unattractive. Think of the movies "Norbit" or
"Big Momma’s House," or of the only two black female characters in
"Enchanted," an overweight, aggressive traffic cop and an angry
divorcée amid all the white princesses.

On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a smart,
accomplished black professional woman portrayed on mainstream
television or in the movies? If Claire Huxtable on "The Cosby Show"
comes to mind, remember that she left the scene 16 years ago.

The reality is that in just a generation, many black women — who
were mostly domestics, schoolteachers or nurses in the post-slavery Jim
Crow era — have become astronauts, corporate executives, doctors,
lawyers, engineers and PhDs. You name it, and black women have achieved
it. The most popular woman on daytime television is Oprah Winfrey. Condoleezza Rice is secretary of state.

And yet my generation of African American women — we’re called, in
fact, the Claire Huxtable generation — hasn’t managed to become
successfully integrated into American popular culture. We’re still
looking for respect in the workplace, where, more than anything else,
black women feel invisible.

then reflects on some tough numbers, which she hopes will shift if that
invisiblity lessens: "The fact is that the more money and education a
black woman has, the less likely she is to marry and have a family."

As of 2007, according to the New York Times,
70 percent of professional black women were unmarried. Black women are
five times more likely than white women to be single at age 40. In
2003, Newsweek reported that there are more black women than black men (24 percent to 17 percent) in the professional-managerial class. According to Department of Education
statistics cited by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, black
women earn 67 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to blacks, as
well as 71 percent of all master’s degrees and 65 percent of all
doctoral degrees.

With all the challenges facing professional black women today, we
hope that Michelle Obama will defy the negative stereotypes about us.
And that, now that a strong professional black woman is center stage,
she’ll bring to light what we already know: that an accomplished black
woman can be a loyal and supportive wife and a good mother and still
fulfill her own dreams. The fact that her husband clearly adores
Michelle is both refreshing and reassuring to many of us who long to
find a good man who will love and appreciate us.

Copyright prevents us offering video clips of the "real" Ms. Huxtable, so here’s Ms. Obama talking about her strong presence:

By Chris Lombardi

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