All posts by Susan X Jane

Susan Jane thinks a lot about media and race…a lot. She teaches Communications at Wheelock College, writes and speaks about media…and race... and generally encourages everyone she meets to think about the way media shapes their sense of self and their ideas and beliefs about the world. If you're reading this, she wants you to think about it too. Want to talk about it? Let's go.

Call It War

I see a line of armed militia invade an American street; khaki clad men with pith helmets and pepper spray;  I see Klan members and skins heads–young men, a new generation marching with torches–with torches; a car runs into a crowd. I watch. I watch it again. I watch it over and over and over–new angles, overhead shots, bloody money-shots. I don’t cry.  I don’t feel surprised.  I barely feel sad.  I am outraged. I am weary of outrage. This is how war strips you of your humanity.  Atrocities surround you, good times become tense, tense times become terrorizing: is this it?  will this be the shot that starts a race war?

tcp_virginia-protests__tcp_large We are already at war. The hammer claps of racist cops’ nines punctuate the tension, gun sales are up, lynching’s making a comeback. Over and over we see violence motivated by ideology, a battle determined to take and hold territory on both the earth and in the heart of America.

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Before you say this doesn’t look like any war you know, consider the face of war in our time.  Gone are the days of massive mobilizations–instead, our wars are made of terror, skirmishes to seize and hold territory, battles for political power, and most of all bombs of narrative, payloads of ideology exploding in breaking news blasts and streamed live. The violence goes nuclear as stories rain down on you weekly, daily, hourly.  Your phone is the front line, your television battle-weary from images of black and brown death.

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Charlottesville was an organized attack, powered by 4chan and Info Wars and the dark corners of Twitter. Armed militias lined the streets, the air full of tension.  Cops held back even as things started to get violent right in front of them. They had a permit for this.  This was a legal gathering.  These were people wearing U. S. marine uniforms, armed with pistols and long guns, chanting heil trump yelling at blacks and Jews.  This is not a gathering of bigoted individuals, this is a battle of ideologies. There is nothing new about a battle in a centuries long string of battles that defines the worst of who we are and hides the promise of the best we may become. America has been waging this race war since enslaved Africans first arrived in 1619.

Official silence in the face of this fight does not mean it is not already happening.  We are at war in Afghanistan.  When was the last time you thought about it?  When did it last force you to make a different choice, to sacrifice or suffer to support the war effort?  When was the last time you checked on combatants and citizens who are collateral damage in America’s longest war?

The fact is it is not difficult to hide a war in plain sight, buried beneath a flurry of headlines, and clouds of chaos unleashed in twitter storm after twitter storm.  This “skirmish” is not new or mysterious or worthy of a second of questioning.  The events in Charlottesville are nothing less than acts of war on our streets, being fought by servers from Top Dog and college boys in polo shirts, grinding up your daughters and sons.  There is blood on the streets from a Nice style attack.  A terror attack. There is no question here.

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In war, we don’t debate if there are simply two sides equally wrong or equally valid–no one on the allied side was saying Nazism was merely a difference of opinion.  In war you take an ideological stance; we as a nation-state pick a side and organize our systems and institutions in the service of that ideology, mobilizing all parts of our society under its principles.  Will those principles be hate and division, white supremacy–the sickness that has plagued our country for years–or will we finally heal ourselves and embrace the healthy diverse nation we are striving to become?

Call it a race war, not a war between races but a war against racism, where we all take the side of America, the land of we the people, and take aim squarely at the rot that eats at the foundation of our country.  The casualties of this war are not just minorities–this weekend they were white, and they bled blue. Heather Heyer. Lt. H. Jay Cullen. Trooper Berke M. M. Bates.

The truth is that the racism negatively affects everyone in this country.  The same systems that disadvantage minorities also met out class and gender oppression, as well as a kick-ass sleeping potion of culture that keeps many people fighting against their own interests.  Racism hurts everyone…no not in an anti-white-racism-is-real way, but in the way that three victims are dead and they had white faces.  The fight does not neatly divide along racial lines.  This fight, in the end, is about power. To be clear this is not a war against white people, but against systems of racial oppression and inequality. There is nothing anti-white about wanting our country to deliver the equity promised in our founding.013-large

Don’t be alarmed to call it a war.  America knows how to wage war.  Wars mobilize resources. War requires coordinated and cohesive narratives to win hearts and minds. They engage our government in taking sides for the people it is sworn to represent. A declaration of war makes sure our military and homeland security are vigilant, prioritizing white hate groups as the deadly threat that they are.  This administration already knows how to do this: they rolled out a blueprint in the war it declared on MS-13 just two weeks ago. Copy, paste–wage war on the criminals and thugs that spatter our streets with blood: white nationalists. No challenge has so plagued America as race. No foe is no more worthy of eradication than racism.ZZ0D9BDB29Too late for it to have any real meaning, Trump calls white nationalist thugs and criminals–not the same language used for terrorists like Isis.  Be clear though, these hate groups are terrorist organizations.  They are not motivated by drug money or bad parenting: they are motivated by ideology, an ideology of hate and evil that has had too much of a hand on the wheel of America for years.  A century ago members of the Klan wore hoods in the evening and suits, badges and campaign buttons in the day.  In 2017 they still do.  People who espouse this ideology are not just outliers, they are people with White House badges like Stephen Miller and Steve Banon, founder of ultra-racist Breitbart News.  It is past time for this administration to oust these hatemongers from the government payroll.

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Don’t be fooled by a foot dragging weak response.  Like any addiction, acknowledging you have a problem is only the first step. That 45 could force the words from his mouth is meaningless as his policies and inner circle cheer on white supremacy.   The administration is far from declaring war on racism. But that doesn’t stop you–yes you–from speaking up, speaking out and getting involved wherever you are and however you can.

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I’m done with outrage. I am outraged again.   I’m not done fighting–I’m a soldier in this fight and you are too.  I conscript you.  I need you to destroy this mad brute of White supremacy. You cried for London, you prayed for Nice; now, fight for America.

 

 

 

4 Reasons to Love 4:44

These have been hard years for black people.  Every woke person I know is spiritually exhausted from the sheer effort of bearing not the burdens of our ancestors but the current load of racism that confronts us every. day. in America.  Trump and his Whisis army of lone shooters perpetrating a race war, killer cops who walk and the pain of daily witnessing our fellow citizens, friends, or even lovers wonder why we’re so upset.  I really wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to lay down and eat ice cream forever but fuck it if even lactose is out to get black people.  Instead, black artists like a black ocean, leaping and wide are rising to the times and making art that matters.

Jay-Z.  If you thought I was on some ballet when I said art, let me back up.  Hip Hop is arguably the most critiqued genre of music, reviled for its misogyny, hyperconsumerism, and violence.  Even the album I am about to praise will be torn down in the coming days beat by problematic beat to convict Jay-Z and his dirty, dirty hip hop of all the bad things.  Is he threatening me/ all white people/cops? What will the children think? What are they selling us? What the hell is Tidal? I get it.  It’s probably problematic.  But in a world where Trump is the President, problematic is standard.  Too often the critique of hip hop stops there without critics actually listening to the album.  If you are this kind of critic, I have news for you: beyond the lean-bop candy-pop mumble rap, art is being produced to challenge old ideas of misogyny, consumerism, internalized racism and homophobia that were mainstream hip hop’s bread and butter. Let’s look at Jay-Z’s 4:44 for proof.

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The title track of the album is an apologia to Queen Bey, Blue and the twins, Solange, women and basically the earth for all Jay-Z’s shitty behavior.  Don’t expect hearts and violins, promises of walks on the beach or plaintive wailing.  The track sounds like what it is: the haunted 4 a.m. thoughts of a man who has deeply hurt those he loves, honest and raw. Now I’m not advocating that men get a cookie for correctly identifying an emotion, but it matters that Jay-Z provides a blueprint for taking responsibility.  Just as rap has been roundly critiqued for saying terrible things about women, and rightly so, there is increasingly a trend of rap’s biggest stars talking frankly about the hard work of relationships.  Jay Z’s apology in 4:44, Kendrick’s These Walls or J Cole’s Folding Clothes all put words to the complex experience of navigating real life relationships.  I don’t know another place in our pop culture where men are engaging frankly in real talk about the mechanics of making egalitarian relationships work.  As rappers themselves age and engage in family life, they could choose to still play gangster to the world.  But Jay-Z’s vulnerability signals to other men that there is life beyond hypermasculinity: that being open and vulnerable is necessary for personal transformation and growth, that successful men do desire and choose women who will require them to be accountable and respectful, that when wrong, one can and should take full responsibility.  Songs give voice to things that are hard to say. Need to say sorry?  Let Jay help.

Story of OJ

My favorite on the album at this early date: the Story of OJ tackles racism and its roots in capitalism and slavery.    On the chorus Jay-Z Breaks down the parsing of the black experience: Even super-rich Jay is stuck in the loony tunes land of racism which he reconstructs for the video from scenes recreating racist cartoons like Scrub Me Mama and What Up Doc.  Set to a beat sampling Nina Simone’s mournful Four Women Jay-Z describes a pathway to liberation through generational wealth and cooperative economics.

In the absence of the dismantling of the system of capitalism, power without wealth remains a myth. Black people can’t be satisfied with the trappings of wealth like bottle service and cars.  “You know what’s more important than buying bottles in the strip club? Credit.” Jay-Z advocates real wealth–real estate, and art.  It may seem incongruous to tell blacks no matter how rich they are they’re still marginalized and to tell blacks to get money–but in fact connecting these ideas is important.  Jay-Z reminds us that individual wealth, especially when poured into consumer goods is death while, investing in generational wealth and purchasing property is about power.  He reminds us that immigrant groups before us used this same pathway–think the Kennedy’s who rum running money soon enough had them running the country.  In a few bars Jay -Z flips our understanding of race and money to focus on neither money nor race but power–the key to ending oppression.  And the video deserves its own frame by frame analysis–soon come.

Smile

As I mentioned in the opening, these years are full of pain for black people.  One of the most powerful skills black people are demonstrating in the face of unrelenting oppression is the ability to still find joy.  Resilience. Strength that comes from the soul.  The kind of happiness called #blackgirlmagic or #blackboyjoy which is created in response to cultural trauma. The rose that grows from concrete.  Hip Hop in the gangster rap days was smile free: every issue of XXL was full of angry faces, sadness and pain was the mask the world put on black men, and they embraced that mask.  Jay-Z reminds us to smile at the transformation wrought by our challenges.  He’s not alone: other artists are also reminding us to embrace joy in these dark time: Lil Yachty’s I Spy, Buddy’s Shine and Pharell’s Happy are odes to joy.  Far from being disposable pop, these songs are reminders that black people deserve joy.  They are songs that help us summon joy from this painful chaotic world.

Not insignificantly, the song talks about Jay-Z’s mother struggle living in the closet for most of her life.  One of the strongest criticisms of rap is the rampant homophobia.  Like sports, it was considered taboo for rappers to embrace people of different sexual orientations.  You may say that rap is late to the game recognizing the importance of gay rights, but remember that Michael Sam only played one season before they Colin Kapernicked him.  Male discourse in our culture around gay people still remains highly problematic but Jay-Z embrace of his mother signals a long overdue change. Jay-Z’s mother Gloria gets to tell us herself the pain of living in the shadows.  “Love who you love because life isn’t guaranteed”.  Her story reminds us that smiles hide a multitude of pain, but they are more than masks, they are aspirations.

Legacy

The final song of the album starts with the voice of little Blue Carter: “Daddy, what’s a will?”  Bookending the album with songs that focus on generational wealth provide an important reminder to listeners of the role that cooperative family economics play in supporting the culture.  Yeah, I get it, Jay-Z is so rich he can afford to invest and most people in America are broke, but decades of rap songs have young boys buying Bugatti’s and bottle service so are bonds really out of the question?   Jay-Z’s Legacy gives listeners something else to work hard for–foundations and inheritance.  He muses that the stacks of cash he has acquired be used for things to uplift the race

TIDAL, the champagne, D’USSÉ, I’d like to see
A nice peace-fund ideas from people who look like we
We gon’ start a society within a society

The idea of using economics to combat marginalization is not new–in fact, MLK’s war on poverty was so threatening to established power that he was killed (cough, cough, by the government).  What Jay-Z does on Legacy is use his power both as an artist and as a philanthropist to create an aspirational pathway.  While we’re fighting for the rights of black people in the voting booth, or the cultural sovereignty of black people in debates over cultural appropriation, Jay Z reminds us of the power of generational wealth as a path to liberation from centuries of oppression.  You may not be able to buy a place in Dumbo, but even you can have a will, buy some bonds, and think about what you are leaving behind for your family and your people.  That’s radical.

Nobody ever told Picasso stop painting nudes because the kids might see.  No one stopped Pollack because his work was too aggressive.  Van Gough cut off his own fucking ear and his paintings are worth millions. So forget your critique of Hip Hop and appreciate Jay’s latest for what it is:  4:44 is art.  Art provokes, it makes us question, it reflects both our darkness and our shallowness. Like Picasso or Van Gough, Jay- is a grown man, not an empty headed thug or a disposable fuck boy addicted to lean.  His experience, his poetry, and his flow combine to create a piece of art that we can unpack, reflect and meditate on, art that will provoke us to keep on in the face of America’s unrelenting hate of black people.  He reminds us that raw vulnerability is worth something more that the mask of hypermasculinity. He reminds us to build and to grind, to love and to let others love, to smile.  He reminds us to rise.

 

 

When Not To Tweet

Social media–we love it, we live on it, we can’t do without it. With tweets clocking in under 140 characters, Twitter is the quickest high out there, with regular users sending dozens of tweets daily.  But like all fun things, you really have to have some limits.  Too much ice cream? Diarrhea.  Too much tweeting? Same result.  So even the most “expert” tweeter in chief should remember when not to tweet. Here are four tips for anybody, really, but especially anybody ruining this country with his tweets:

In the Midst of Tragedy

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When crisis strikes in our too fragile world, Twitter can be an important tool to get out information quickly, check in to find people in harm’s way and to offer prayer and solidarity to bolster hearts and minds in the moments after a catastrophe.  Tweeting in these times requires all the gravitas and sensitivity you can muster–to tweet otherwise can be disastrous for careers and reputations (of nations, even). This is not the moment to drop a flaming tweet to stir people up.  That is irresponsible and uncaring, showing your weakness as a leader.

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Protip: be like Obama–he knew how to send a tweet that calmed and uplifted in dark times.  Bonus protip: that’s what leaders are supposed to do.

Late at night

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Bae acting up and you can’t sleep, all in your feelings? Do not tweet about them.  You are vulnerable.  It’s dark out.  Maybe you’re listening to Lil Uzi Vert walking around the White House in your bathrobe alone with only your wounds and some ice cream.  Do not pour out your pain on Twitter.  Some pain is supposed to be private, some anger is not righteous and only reveals the small minded self-pity that humans tend to in these late nights weeping sessions.

Protip: Put the phone–and the ice cream–away and go the fuck to bed.  Better yet, leave your phone at the office and switch up your playlist until you can be trusted after hours.

When you don’t know what you’re talking about

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Look, if you tweet some ignorant shit, you most definitely will be in good company–a solid portion of tweets are ignorant, tweeted by people who are beyond ignorant. Some make a living at it.  There are even robotweeters programmed to tweet out ignorant shit all day long. But, as your mom used to always say, just because all your friends are destroying the internet with a bunch of fuckery and false facts that doesn’t mean you have to, too. In fact, if you are a professional of any kind—any kind, Don–you recognize your Twitter feed as an extension of your professional reputation.   Tweet stupid, look stupid.

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Protip: If you’re about to tweet, run a quick fact check, just a little google action.  Level up–Breitbart, Info Wars and Fox Commentary are not independent fact checkers.  Please do better.

When your friends and family (and country) are concerned

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We have friends and family so someone will tell us the truth when we get out of line. Unlike vodka bottles under the couch or pill bottles hidden in a purse, your Twitter habit is out there for all to see.  I mean everyone can see you up saying crazy talk late at night (and can totally picture aforementioned bathrobe and ice cream). We noticed that you have to tweet foolishness just to get out of bed in the morning.  Even when you’re away on a great trip you can’t help tweeting bullshit. Everyone knows your tweeting is out of control.  You doubling down and saying tweeting is cool because all your friends like it when you tweet just sounds like the last defense before they load you onto a plane for rehab.  When Kellyanne Conway, whose tie to reality is tenuous at best, tells you to chill, chill.  But when her husband has to get in on it along with all your advisors and a few friends?  Time to put the phone down.  Don’t listen to Don Jr.  He’s enabling.

Protip: Listen to the people that care about.  The love you like crazy and they feel like they’re losing you.  The rest of us hear your cry for help and a good 65% percent support you packing up today and going away till you–and this country–recover.

There you have it: four good times not to tweet, whether you’re a Twitter newbie, or whether you are the leader of the free world President of the United States and should be running the country and fighting your impending impeachment instead of tweeting like a petulant teenager. Now go tweet responsibly, or, maybe, 45, not at all!

 

When White People Should Say N–

Once and for all I want to settle the controversy of White people using the n-word.  There actually is a rule and it’s very, very simple:

Never.

NEVER.

Say it with me….white people should never say N*gga, n*gger, or any permutation of the word.

No, Bill, I mean you too:

This woman running for local office who called police about “N– outside drinking Hennessy?  Heeeeelllllllllllllllllllll no, no matter what Eddie Murphy said.

How about stars who act like they’re cool with Black people? Nope.

But, wait, what about if you’re a teacher and you’re just trying to teach the youth about the N word with your old ass ideas saying the word over and over until you get checked? That’s on you, teach.

What if you have really good intentions, and you’re woke as fuck and you care about black people like you really love them and deeply care about black empowerment and you are committed to supporting black people in the struggle for justice?  Like you dedicate your life to ending racism and you work hard every day to make the world more just and every once in a while in love and solidarity you want to refer to your black friends as my n–?

Trick question–if you’re really woke af, you know white people shouldn’t say the n-word.

So no matter what you’ve heard, no matter how extensive you think your hood pass is, no matter how noble your intentions or how great your cultural knowledge, if you are white the rule stands.

Never.

 

How Covfefe Hurts

I love to laugh so you may be surprised that the whole covfefe kerfuffle isn’t making me chuckle.  For sure, when President Trump (that still makes me shudder to type) sent out this nonsensical tweet Tuesday night…

la-na-pol-trump-tweet-20170531…the internet had a field day filled with funny memes and every reporter took a crack at making their own covfefe jokes.  The silly tweet dominated the news cycle and it felt great to have a light day where we could all laugh.

Here I come to ruin your fun: Covfefegate is a perfect example of the danger of the Trump administration.   We laugh our way to the gallows while Trump again redefines reality.

1.The obvious: This man is an idiot and he runs the country

We all misspell stuff.  Dear reader, you know that I am the queen of the typo.  But I don’t have staff who would be more than happy to moderate one’s tweeting in order to keep the POTUS from sending out something crazy.  Sidenote, we may assume he was tweeting about press coverage.  How are you going to critique writers if you can’t handle 140 characters? This is not his first or last crazy tweet. This is how your elected President communicates with you, the same way your drunken ex did in college, misspelled nonsensical night tweets.

2. The Underhanded: While we were laughing, the Paris Accord

Trump has a showman’s sense of timing–while we were all laughing the world laughed at us as our country prepared to pull out of the Paris Accord.  China is in and talking about the importance of taking responsibility to address climate change.  Only Syria, Nicaragua and now the US stand alone in refusing to acknowledge and address the single biggest challenge facing humanity.  How could we let this happen in a country with so much freedom? We’re busy laughing at covfefe, lulled into a surreal world where our voices, so loud at the women’s march, must battle a daily war against the nonsense Trump creates that dominates the news cycle.  Yes, you can pay attention to more than one thing at a time, but scroll yesterday’s news feed–which story dominated memes, tweets, and attention? How many posts did you see mobilizing our political protest machine to address other issues? The craziness is just too crazy to pass up.

3. The Insidious–These Fools Really Doubled Down

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While we were meming it up with covfefe , some joked that Spicer would be out to defend the word.  It was a joke until Spicer made a cryptic response at the daily press briefing.

“Do you think people should be concerned that the president posted a somewhat incoherent tweet last night, and then it stayed up for hours?” the reporter asked.

“Uh, no,” Spicer replied.

“Why did it stay up so long after? Is no one watching this?” the reporter wondered.

“No, I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer said

Your man Spicer was dead serious when he responded and refused to come back to it to answer any more questions. Why play it so seriously with something as benign as a typo? The White House has a habit of redefining reality instead of taking responsibility for mistakes.  We can’t forget the flap over inauguration attendance because Trump keeps reminding us.  Rather than admit mistakes that are in plain sight, Trump and his lackeys deny what we all witness.  Funny when it’s covfefe, but what about when it really matters?  To Quote Paulie from Law and Order, “Tell a little lie, tell a big lie.” We have seen them tell little lies. We have learned, if nothing else, that this administration will lie boldly and unrepentantly.

There it is, a wet pile of covfefe that I have rained all over.  Sorry about your covfefe parade. My bad for ruining your fun. I just haven’t had my covfefe this morning.

More than Miley: Disney Stars Ride Black Bodies to Adulthood

Miley Cyrus, trap queen, and twerk team champ released a new album this week along with a new persona: country Miley is back! Gone are the gold chains, grills and booty shorts.  Instead, Miley is rocking country ruffles, cornsilk skin and white supremacy–guess White is in for summer!

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To be clear, Miley has made several statements about this radical brand realignment, saying that she doesn’t listen to hip-hop because, basically, of people like her.

Wait, this is Miley, right?

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Cue the outrage and the twitter dragging–well deserved.  After copulating with hip hop to birth herself a new career, Miley was public-shaming her fling and claiming her roots didn’t include them-over-there black people.  The think pieces started to look more closely at Miley, who she is and why she as an individual decided to ditch hip Hop for the white right.  But like Dead Prez sang, it’s bigger than Hip Hop–or just Miley.

Young white pop stars have been using black culture and black bodies as a PR rite of passage into an adult career for years.  It goes like this–say you’re a producer looking for the next big pop star.  You want someone as palatable as possible so you can reach the widest audience.  You want that squeaky clean all-American look, like a Mouseketeer look.  You audition hundreds and hundreds of kids to find those magic ones that fit the image of American teen idol.  They sing and dance their little feet off for you.  For years. But they’re getting older, and their fans are getting older too.  Hanah Montana’s fans now are wearing makeup,  now dating.  How can Miley be their idol if they are growing faster than her?  How can Justin still be sexy if he’s just so wholesome? If you want that star you invested all that time and money in to keep paying dividends you have to shake them clear of their childhood image, sever them from their innocence and make them seem edgy enough to appeal to twenty-somethings who often love risk and seek danger.  So you black them up, even the ones that are already brown or black–change their friends, change their look, change their sound, sometimes even darken their skin.

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Now look at your favorite pop star, fans. They smoke weed, they sag their look, they hang out with those boys your racist dad told you not to hang out with.  They’re getting wild. They’re growing up faster than you. They’re doing all the dangerous shit parents warn you about. You, fan, pay attention to ads or articles they appear in again. Their songs go back in your rotation.

But you, fan are maturing too.  After a few years, that pop star making bad decisions is like a lot of your friends who aren’t doing too great–getting too high, acting stupid in public.  You start to lose interest, again.  Luckily the PR machine is here to remind you that that pop star is just like you. Ethnically cleansed and fresh from rehab with a mea culpa in hand, they’ready to be a mature star now, earning again for investors, and paying dividends to companies that have been banking on them since their Mouseketeer days.

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It wasn’t that Miley, or Justin or Brittany or Christina were brilliant brand strategists–they were just the star shining on stage.  The puppet master lurks above, pulling strings in a shadowy world driven by profit, data, and research as much as ideology.  What many of theses stars have in common is their parent company: Disney.  This PR path over black and brown bodies to the bank is part of the Magic Kingdom.  Think about that–the company that so many parents trust their children’s hearts too has repeatedly used a calculated racist process to drive profit into their pockets and ideology into the hearts and minds of their customers.

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Disney has long had a reputation for being racist.  Walt Disney himself was a racist and many early Disney movies and cartoons were also racist.  Song of the South and Dumbo have never been rereleased unlike many other titles in Disney’s catalog because they are so racist.  Even Disney’s greatest hits are packed with stereotypical characters, and reinforce dominant ideology about race.

Look, I know you love Disney and here I come to shit all over your mouse parade.  But the fact is that this is important.  Disney has a mainline into American children, pumping not just Frozen song lyrics, but ideas about what–and who–is right and wrong.  Disney shows, movies, and stars are vehicles for communicating ideas about how to be a good friend, good person, how to be a good girl or boy (how binary). Disney media shows us how to fall in love, how to fight for what’s right, and who the bad guys are.

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It’s more than Miley.  It’s that Walt Disney Company, one of America’s largest purveyor of ideology, has a long-standing widespread practice of using black bodies as the stand in for wildness, incivility, hypersexuality and violence.  With America’s–and some of the world’s–children fed at the tit of Disney since birth, this equates to a silent symbolic war where one side has all the weapons.  How can black people, already underrepresented in front of and behind the camera, battle a Kingdom complete with land, legal protection as a corporation and a legion of children ready to scream “Acuna Matata”?

The Miley Cyrus story has raised cries of cultural appropriation.  Miley’s use of blackness, now discarded and demonized is a clear case for how cultural appropriation winds up hurting black people.  But I believe when we move up the food chain, there is no personal fetishization of blackness, as much of the analysis suggests with Cyrus. Instead, blackness functions as a code to indicate a pop star experiencing a wild awakening.  Blackness is there merely to represent the dark, seedy, undesirable side of America that is valuable only as a rumspringa for white American youth.  They aren’t stealing your beauty or your swag–they grant you neither.  Instead, they are stealing only their vision of you: raw animal aggression and untethered sexuality that they project onto black bodies so they can touch it, sell it, without taking any ownership of their own dark side.

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For decades, from Annette and Frankie to Miley and Justin, Disney has used black bodies to flip child stars into adults.  If you think they couldn’t have meant to–the old argument that their intentions were not racist–that still means that Disney has perpetrated years of cultural war on blackness without any concern for those represented or hurt.  If you like your theory with a healthy dose of paranoia reality, maybe you believe Disney is intentionally vilifying blackness in the representational binary with their innocent white stars, then we agree on nothing less than symbolic genocide and ideologically armed racism delivered in brightly colored costumes.

Either way, Miley is just the tip of the cultural appropriation iceberg.  Disney’s pattern of using blackness as a code shows that the ultimate result of cultural appropriation isn’t the inappropriate use of cornrows or coochie shorts but symbolic annihilation. Remember that the next time someone tells you to let cultural appropriation go.

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Shea Moisture: They’re Not Tone Deaf, They’re Assholes, Pt 2

Shea Moisture put out an ad this week called Hair Hate and then sat back and enjoyed their own Pepsi moment.  Here’s the ad below:

For a company that is built by, for and literally on black women, expanding their customer base by equating the hair challenges of naturals with the bad hair days of gingers and blondes wasn’t an overreach, it was a betrayal.   Shortly after Shea Moisture’s dragging began, so did the comparisons to the Pepsi ad.  Both seemed tone deaf, trivializing important aspect of black culture to sell product.  But I said it about Pepsi and now I’ll say it about Shea Moisture–they’re not tone deaf, they’re assholes; they’re not silly, they’re sell outs.

Shea Moisture’s built its brand on black women and their hard earned cash.  Even the label tells the homey story of the brand’s founder’s grandmother Sofi Tucker selling product in Sierra Leon.  Last year the brand shouted its allegiance to ethnic hair by proudly proclaiming it was going to desegregate the beauty isle–the implication being that Shea Moisture’s move to shelf space in the non-ethinc hair care section (called the regular hair section by most people) was about making hair care inclusive of black beauty, not leaving it behind. This ad clearly positions Shea Moisture as here for black women. Turns outs they were just getting ready to sell out in the rush to gentrify haircare and expand their own customer base and bottom line.

This is not a tone deaf company.  This is a company that has carefully–and with great success–made it big by catering to black women.  Looking back, it seems the brand, like an NBA player, wasn’t trying to rock with the sisters once it started making it big time (please don’t write me letters, my woke NBA brothers).  The move to the regular hair isle is now followed up with an ad that is shifting the brand to one that serves “regular hair”  The new ad is the shampoo equivalent of all hair matters, compete with Becky with the good hair. (Did they not listen to Lemonade?!)

Hair is an important marker of identity, especially for women, and especially for black women.  The natural hair movement has grown along with the movement for black lives.  Like the rallying cry, ‘Black is Beautiful’ in the 70’s, the natural hair movement cannot be separated from the politics and social change of our time.

Shea Moisture seeks to equate the hate of different kinds of hair without acknowledging that some hair hate comes with real consequences.  The hate towards natural hair in schools, business, and social situations is about more than hair, it is reinforcing white supremacy.  To act like hair hate is about hair and not hate means that Shea Moisture just doesn’t understand us anymore.  Maybe they never really loved us, they just loved our hair style.  Something tells me they’re about to find out if Becky with the good hair can love them like we did.

The Truth Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

It’s true that the Oxford dictionary added the word post fact his year, and of course, our current administration acts like that is a goal rather than a problem, but that doesn’t mean that facts and evidence cease to exist.  Post-truthers are more than liars–they are propagandists that carefully craft narratives, leaving out facts in evidence for their own gain.  This is dangerous behavior whether you are the president or a professor.  Maybe even more so for a professor–aren’t we supposed to be professing the truth as best we know it?

So it goes with two colleagues of mine who are again peddling a concerning tale of antisemitism at Wheelock College, an institution I love–and work at.  These celebrated Professors craft a narrative so egregious it’s almost unbelievable–a single email asking for a seat at the table unleashed a storm of antisemitism that destroyed their careers and reputations.  As a lover of justice, this should alarm you, right?

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But like Donald Trump and his post fact inauguration, there is some information that throws this narrative into question.   Their story claims their email about Jewish life is what triggered retaliation from the administration, not the complaints from black students about racism in the classroom.  Oh, shit, there isn’t even the mention of the accusations of anti-black racism in my colleague’s post–strange. The pair maintains that student complaints were manufactured by an antisemitic (black) president and that black students, faculty, and administrators somehow colluded to use fake complaints in an antisemitic plot to ouster just these two Jewish professors (and not other Jewish faculty).

This tale ignores a funny part of this story–I have met real students who have complained repeatedly about the professors’ approach to teaching race and gender studies–and not just one or two. More than a handful.  Over years.  Students have posted a screen shot where one professor wrote the “word he does not utter”.

So you don’t say it but you write it.  You ask students to explore if it’s okay to say the word–so it is part of writing assignments, but like Voldemort, it’s cool as long as you don’t say it out loud.  Okay, cool, so how did you create a classroom environment where this activity allowed students to engage and learn, where students felt heard and could themselves express oppositional views? This activity is not unheard of, but in the era of black lives matter, concurrent with days where these same students laid on the hard grass in the snow in a die in to bring attention to “racial divides many refuse to acknowledge exist”, it’s time to update your pedagogy. We’re way beyond the N word. Students need real tools for the very-real-and-not-at-all-theoretical revolution.

I want to be clear–this is not a defense of snowflakes.  I believe strongly in academic freedom and the importance of tenure to protect this freedom.  I push students to think and grapple with difficult ideas and these same colleagues of mine also have.  These are not easy times for good liberal professors, and so I do not lightly enter this conversation. Exploring complex, controversial and unpopular ideas is a key part of a good education. This isn’t about over-sensitivity to hearing the N-word, or a single incident.  It is that these students had a right to have a functioning relationship with the professors they pay thousands of dollars to teach them.  It is that when there are complaints they can and should be handled with conversation that helps learning happen, not lawsuits that shut down discussion and make everybody–even me, right now–afraid to speak publicly. It is that for hard ideas to take hold they need to be fertilized by faculty inside classrooms crafted from respect, current pedagogy, and historical context.  Structural analysis is key, and as structures and the communities they structure change, we need to update what we say and how we say it.

While student complaints will need to be adjudicated as part of the pairs’ upcoming multimillion dollar lawsuit, I can tell you I have heard multiple complaints from multiple students, multiple semesters in public forums.  I have to ask, are they all lying?  I witnessed students bring forth these complaints in many town halls and open discussions with clear voices and weeping eyes.  Were they all faking it?  Students were not trying to burn down the school.  They were asking for professors to update and adapt their pedagogy in a rapidly changing world.  They were asking to be prepared to work in the social justice field with the most current understanding of critical race and gender theory. These last few years have seen a seismic shift in race and gender studies, something that shouldn’t be ignored by the top race and gender scholars.  Dickering about nigga vs nigger when police brutality was the top story in the news is not just tone-deaf, it’s irresponsible for good liberal professors.

Students spoke out in class, a class where they were allegedly reminded–theoretically of course–that tenure would protect a professor who graded all the students of color unfairly. Undeterred, students elevated their complaints through available formal channels. As scholars of race, both professors are well aware of the importance of conversation and reconciliation, but instead of participating in dialog directly with students protesting their actions they used their position to avoid engaging, and then their power as successful academics to sue the school and amplify their narrative in blog posts like this latest one and in public lectures at other institutions, flaming the school and harming the school’s good reputation. All this without a legal judgment to support their narrative and free from the voices of the students involved.

Over the past year and a half, I have witnessed students of color and allies try bravely to hold these individuals to account, asking for dialogue, and when that failed, holding town halls that the two professors didn’t attend, except for one after the lawsuit was filed where they took notes on students statements(for the lawsuit?). Students protested. They wrote demands.  For some, their studies suffered as they grappled to succeed in an institution whose commitment to racial justice was shaken.  Many staff and faculty of color faced the same emotional pain as students, and a number left at the end of last academic year. The incident had the potential to be the worst kind of oppression Olympics, lining up complaints of antisemitism against complaints of racism–dividing the very groups who were working together to create a culturally adept community. All of us worked hard to try to keep the incident and its fallout from pulling our beloved community apart.

For those of us that remained, we have worked hard to be a part of a healing institution. The two professors so wrongly aggrieved have had a full year off of work with full pay– a move made by a new President to help settle the waters while the lawsuit was filed. And it’s working.  The new administration and faculty and student groups have supported and created events, activities, committees and community days to help us grow as an institution.  This is the way forward.  It feels good to go to work again, and I trust the people I work with to prepare our future social justice warriors.  Students, faculty, staff and the new administration know it’s not easy because we’re doing the hard work to walk our talk.  We’re in a better place.  The courts will have the final say, deciding once and for all who was right and who was wronged. In the meantime, I’m more afraid of injustice than shade–I’m going to focus on strengthening students and an institution trying to make the world better.  We’re not post fact–but you can act like it if you want to.

 

 

 

 

Pepsi’s Not Tone Deaf, They’re Assholes

Last week in the can opening heard round the world, Kendell Jenner solved racism in Pepsi’s crap ad posted below–please watch at your own discretion and preferably not while you are eating.

The ad takes the markers of recent civil resistance and boils it down to some musical hipster millennials that conveniently come in a one-of-each variety pack.  As you can imagine, the internet, led by the beacon of black twitter, lost its mind and Pepsi pulled the ad off the air within 24 hours.  A flurry of news coverage and talk show segments roundly condemned the ad as tone deaf, as brilliantly portrayed in this skit on SNL (below).  The week ends with a bunch of high fives as we congratulate ourselves on a moment of shared outrage across racial lines.  We can all agree here–tone deaf.

But you know your girl here has a different opinion.  I disagree that Pepsi was tone deaf. And SNL’s skewering of the ad? It seems to portray the ad’s producers as hapless creatives who didn’t listen to their black friends–of course, they couldn’t be expected to see the problem on their own, and of course, there was no ill intention.  That’s not a skewering, that’s an excuse.

Pepsi has a long history off co-opting outsider youth culture and dragging it into the mainstream, redefining it for the masses in the process.  More than mere celebrity endorsements, Pepsi’s slogan of Pepsi Generation, and later Generation Next specifically seeks to align itself with and define youth culture. Ads like those starring Brittany Spears or Michael Jackson intentionally seeks to mirror a more mainstream, palatable and- profitable–version of whatever that year’s young people like.

Whether it is the hippies of the 70’s, the magic of Michael Jackson in the 80’s or even the girl power of the Spice Girls in the 2000’s Pepsi’s brand is all about creating a reductionist version of youth culture to sell to sugar water to the masses. Decade after decade, Pepsi has traded on what young people think is cool, targeting products at various youth subcultures–like Mountain Dew for motor-bikers.

What’s more, Pepsi also has a long history of targeting black consumers.  In the 1940’s Pepsi even had a negro marketing department, according to this fascinating article about how soda is racist af.   So no, Pepsi is not tone deaf, they are crafty, capitalizing on the very cultures they misrepresent and have been for decades.

And that brings us back to this latest disaster of social-justice-y porn.  In the Kendall Jenner ad, Pepsi hits every corner of a very diverse youth demographic–every race, a good mash up of random instruments and dance steps, a Muslim woman–enamored of course with Kendell’s stunning display of white feminism–hipsters with and without beards, gentrifiers with and without signs, and activism decidedly without any ideology. Pepsi sucked the life, passion and meaning out of the very real revolution happening in this moment of time and turned it into a moving stock photography image.  But taking the depth, meaning, and messiness out of life to sell product isn’t going to stop with this one ad getting taken down.  Look around you.  Everywhere advertisers are cashing in on our deepest feelings and most fervent hopes.  As altruism, connection, activism, and awareness have become trending ways of being, advertisers are increasingly using these most meaningful qualities to sell shit.

This State Farm ad is touching and heartwarming, and like the Pepsi ad features a diverse cast of characters starring a white savior with the power to transform the life of the poor, downtrodden, and brown.  While this ad is moving and inspiring as opposed to Pepsi’s abomination, both ads seek to use your positive feelings towards creating a better world to sell you product.  Both ads ignore any structural analysis of what social movements are seeking to disrupt.  Both ads put the power of individual white people as the simple answer that can eradicate widespread social injustice. Pepsi’s ad went too far and was condemned, but the State Farm ad was embraced

Ads selling us back the very essence of who we are are everywhere. When ads with social themes are done poorly, it’s good to see that consumer pushback can force advertiser accountability.  When they are done carefully, they make us smile, feel nice–and buy more.  In order to have broad appeal, the complex and controversial edges of life are sanded off in favor of a lighter, happier look at our world–one where products can often solve the worst problems in 30-60 seconds. Staying woke means making sure that you don’t allow capitalism to sell you back your fight against capitalism and other unfair systems.  Now that Pepsi has your twitter fingers warmed up, stay on the look out for capitalists in activists’ clothing.