Category Archives: smntks Says

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.

 

 

 

 

T(rump) Minus 6

We landed in Washington D.C. yesterday, a gaggle of activist students, their queer polis-sci professor and me, afro flying my flag of blackness above my airplane seat.  The airports, the streets are awash with pink pussy hats and red white and blue patriotic chic.  The air contains just a hint of pep rally. The grim reality gives off a scent more like that Aztec ballgame where the losers are decapitated.

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In just six hours, a few miles from here Donald J Trump and his creep squad cabinet will take over the country that I have lived in and loved my whole life.  He has promised to enact policies that will hurt the people I love and care about, including each of the students with us on this trip.  The pink hats are so cute (thanks, Aunt Kathie!) but make no mistake this is a fight.

Scene: Interior, day before the inauguration, hotel lobby. Beneath the altar of CNN on the big screen a bunch of liberals from Boston–identifiable by our Boston swag and the girls’ Olivia Pope outfits, and in that corner three women painted in stars and stripes.  The hotel staff watch the action like tourists on safari.

Hotel manager:  Ha ha, hope there’s not going to be a rumble!

Trumpette: grumbling loud enough for all to hear. I wouldn’t mind seeing that.

Me: Ha, ha…You don’t want to catch these hands.

Trumpette: Let’s be peaceful….(to her cronies.)  I hope they remember to be peaceful on Saturday [for the anticipated Women’s March]

Me: (to students) Saturday you’ll get to see the amazing tradition of nonviolent protest that is such an important part of our country.

End scene.

Would I have rumbled with an older lady in the hotel lobby?  In the rarefied air of the inauguration, the hate and division are real and palpable as my anger hurt and fear over this election and the 4 years to come. yesterday evening I replayed the scene in my mind–how easy it was for me and a stranger to escalate to threats lightly veiled in laughter in just seconds. These past few years have required me to swallow more than a little anger and hurt. I had to admit that it is too easy to slide into the playground taunting.  But in a quiet moment, I remembered that I’m not about that, no matter how much they spoil for a fight. In the land of the walking dead, its is key to remember that you are not them.

So, old lady, you may not catch these hands, but I am coming for you with the full force of resistance and that really packs a punch.  And the fight is just about to start.

The Divided States of Play

Man, we love our guns–and why shouldn’t we?  We have a right to love our guns up like new puppies.  Guns are everywhere in our culture, and since we want our kids to grow up with the full American experience, we love guns for kids.  We even love kids with guns!  Unless they’re black…then, no gun for you.

This week, 13-year-old Tyre King was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio after police chased him following a report of an armed robbery.  Cornered in an alley, police report King leveled a pistol at them, prompting them to shoot him dead [though another boy arrested in the case contradicts the police story].  Turns out, the pistol was a replica BB gun, no more dangerous to the cops than an easy bake oven.

But toy guns have proven to be dangerous to toy-gun-toting black boys.  Tamir Rice was committing no crime when Chicago police rolled up on him and killed him in a matter of seconds, even though dispatch had passed on that the gun Rice head may not be real.  John Crawford didn’t even have a chance to pay for the toy gun that got him killed: police shot him in Dayton Ohio while he was still shopping in Wal-mart with the toy after a fellow shopper called 911.  The pattern was so disturbing that California Governor Jerry Brown pushed legislation to address such fatalities following the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.  The law aimed at manufacturers to halt the sale of toy guns unless the entire exterior was white of a color–but in a world of pink pistols(yes that’s a real Hello Kitty gun) and 3D printed guns this measure is likely to face future problems.

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If a toy could be just cause for police to kill your child, then why have these toys at all? Outside city streets where cops are engaged in urban warfare is a whole world where kids with guns are good clean fun. According to an article in the Injury Prevention Journal, 3.2 million BB and pellet guns are sold in the US each year. BB guns are available for purchase without a licence or age restriction in most states. They may well show up at a Christmas party or wrapped in birthday finery in a home you care about.  In this parallel place of play, children pine for tons of guns.  Adults concern over supplying these toys revolves primarily around the danger of putting someone’s eye out, as famously captured by the movie A Christmas Story.

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I had the great pleasure of spending some family time up in the lovely White Mountains of New Hampshire.  We had campfires and barbeques, went to the lake and of course the local attractions–Zeb’s Candy store and the army navy store.  As long as I can remember, from the mountains to the Cape, a trip the Army Navy store was always on my brother’s agenda.  Now with three kids of his own, they too can’t wait to get there.   This year they wanted their favorite Aunt to come too.

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So off we went to the war store.  Now, I love me a good post-apocalyptic smack down series, but in real life, I’m a lover, not a fighter. I’m not naive to the ways of the world, but I also believe that nearly all problems can be solved nonviolently.  I was struck first that this is America–we glorify war, death, and violence even as we play cop to those worldwide who would use violence for their own ends.  Here at home, we have stores full of fake guns, then use those same fake guns to justify the death of young black and brown boys. Our heroes are all drenched in blood and stores like this are their preschools.  Let’s shop!

Does your baby coo for law and order?  How about this fabulous onesie, complete with a fake truncheon.  Don’t worry about outgrowing those  blues–you can just size up to the full toy kit so they can keep toddling at their local protests.  PS Get Parent of the Year for wearing the matching full body riot suit!

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Game of Thrones play more your style?  Strap on these knuckle knives for a fun time.  I’m sure these sharpened brass knifeckles are super safe and not for violence of any kind.  The same goes for this wall of swords and battle axes.  Strictly decorative.  For people who want to decorate their home with lethal weapons.  It’s a look.

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Ahh, the heart of the fun–the Airsoft BB gun wall.  Here is a shot of the long guns of fun–just a part of the 30-foot wall covered with toy guns, all looking completely real except for a small (removable for the resourceful) orange tip.   Not only do they look real, they are also real expensive$150 to $250+.  These are no five dollar cap gun–they look like the real deal and they shoot little plastic balls that don’t worry are no problem for the environment.

Truncheons and knifeckles and guns, oh my, what a toy store!  In case you have trouble reading the room, you can read a few books to help you have even more fun doing things like surviving a societal meltdown or building bombs with butane lighters.

So if the Army Navy store, which that day was doing brisk business full of sunburned vacationers out looking for a souvenir of summer family time, is considered a family friendly activity, full of games and toys to bring your family together, then why do young boys keep getting shot by the police for playing with these toys?

Why are guns and weapons good clean fun for my white nieces and nephews, but deadly play for my students of color? What could possibly be the difference between the patrons of the gun aisle and Tamir Rice, or John Crawford?

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Play is the work of children, Piaget said.  Play is how they learn about the way the world works, what the limits are and what their place within it is.  Some children in our country are privileged to play with weapons and wield violence with no consequences.  Parents stand by proudly as children learn to shoot with no sense of the fear parents of color face preparing their boys to face a culture too often cocked and loaded. Some children get killed for playing the same games their white counterparts play with impunity. Some children think a toy gun will look like a toy to cops, thinking it will keep them safe from lethal trouble at least. They don’t realize that in their small black hand cops will see only a deadly weapon with a criminal attached.

If a child is a child, and a toy is a toy, then we are left with race-again-as the factor determining who lives and plays versus who dies at the hands of the state.  It’s time for common-sense gun legislation to extend to the guns we buy for kids:  it’s common sense to keep all our kids safe.

 

 

 

 

Hold Tight, Let Go

You probably never thought about what happens to teenagers after they get in trouble but before they go to jail:  some end up in residential treatment facilities, kind of like a jail with therapy.  I used to work at a residential for boys on a unit that treated boys with trauma histories and adhd. Boys would spend up to a year living there:  going to school, spending downtime in the dorm units and participating in group therapy.  Though the school was a place for them to heal get help with their issues, the truth was it was often a rough place to be, from bad facilities and roaches to violence between students and sometimes with staff.  The facility was called “staff secure”, which meant that if anything popped off, staff handled it: breaking up fights, restraining out of control students and chasing runaways.  We didn’t use drugs, pepper spray or handcuffs–just bodies.

Boys on my unit came in with a whole host of issues and behaviors.  It was not unusual on any given day to find yourself in a restraint, struggling with coworkers to subdue a student acting out–smashing things, fighting and the like.  Restraints were intense, sometimes indistinguishable from a wrestling match, other times more like a group hug for a kid out of control.

I remember one kid in particular, Jacks.  He was a little guy, barely four feet tall with pants that were too long and would drag on the floor behind him like octopus tentacles.  His parents were on drugs and would often physically and emotionally abuse poor Jacks.  He learned early to turn this violence around on others, getting into fights and lashing out at staff.  Despite his small stature, he was out of control most of the time, a little Tasmanian devil with a mean left hook.  Few days went by that didn’t involve a restraint with Jacks.

One day, predictably, lying on the floor holding onto Jacks’ ankles to keep him from kicking my coworker Cy in the back, we listened to a vile stream of cussing Jacks directed at us.  He was telling me about myself, my mamma and my whole life.  The closer we listened a story started to emerge–and one that didn’t include anything going on in that room. While we held him on that floor he kicked and spat,  screamed at his mother, at his father at a world that left his little body to beat on.  We let go and sat back only to see him continue to twist as if still in the fight. It dawned on me that he wasn’t fighting us, it was us that stood between him and his demons.  He loved the restraints because it was the closest he had to some protection, a hug. He was so haunted by his past that he fought those of us trying to offer him a future.

Are we not also like this?  Like Jacks, haunted by our past, unable to make peace with what has happened, lashing out violently against what is yet to come? Like me, trying to hold on, trying to love my brother back to reality even as he kicks and spits at me. Like a system, locking away hurt young boys rather than help then, warehousing them until they become a number jails can earn from?

That afternoon on the floor, Jacks writhed in pain for a while. Only slowly he realized that we didn’t hold him, he held himself.  He laid there, tear streaked face, taking deep breaths looking across the floor at me not touching him, not holding him, not the one hurting him.  I hadn’t caused this problem but I was still there, still bearing witness for him.

I’d like to tell you everything got better, but that’s never the case.  Jacks got better.  He began to fight the demons in his mind instead of fighting me and Cy.  Responsibility was the only way through, owning his issues and dealing with them instead of bubbling with hurt and hate.  The system got more broke, turning teen placements into cash cows, feeding the prison pipeline with a steady drip of little Jacks.

I don’t work in juvenile justice anymore–I couldn’t find enough justice to justify the treatment of teens tied to profit.  Afterward, I worked with youth in youth organizing, and now I teach young people who will go do work like that.  But still, I feel too often like I I did on that floor, holding onto to my brothers’ ankles trying to love him back to life.  It is a feeling of both helplessness and hope.  This work is hard and sweaty and I’m sick of the hatred and I want to let go of the haters and I can’t heal anyone but myself anyways but I’m stuck, still believing that we can get better, that we can do and be better. But I’m still here. I’m still here. I’m learning to hold on tighter. I’m learning to let go better.

 

 

 

Roots: Still Relevant, Kwiku Dog

Snoop Dog.  Snoop Doggy Dog. Snoop Lion.  DJ Snoopadelic.  Snoopzilla.  Big Snoop Dog. Snoop Scorcese. Over the course of his career, Calvin Broadous has worked under 7 different names. At the age of 45, he has been a rapper, actor, kids coach and rasta lion.

On the other hand, Kunta Kinte has always been and shall remain Kunta.  Please DO NOT ask him to call himself Toby.

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This week four channels under the A & E network will run the 2016 remake of the miniseries based on Alex Haley ‘s family history. The remake is well made, and as moving a story as before with an all-star team: Forrest Whitaker as Fiddler, and is executive produced by Lavar Burton.  The remake is one of a handful of recent productions focusing on America’s darkest chapter of history including Underground, 12 years a Slave and Nate Parkers much anticipated Birth of a Nation.

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But Snoop Whatever says these stories are no longer relevant.  Is Snoop right about all these slave shows?  Is America ignoring today’s racial tension in favor of whiteness’  walk down memory lane? Do these shows about the past keep us from moving forward?

Past present and future and bound together in an eternal equation. Toggling one part of the equation helps you solve for the rest.  Snoop’s right when he says black people are still suffering today.  Why not then see how those who rebalanced the equation before you did what they could?  A lesson history teaches us is that your wokeness is not enough.  Fighting, protests and even the changing will of many people has not resulted in equity for blacks–or any other group for that matter.

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Watching Kunta take that whipping reminded me of the absolute power and strength that comes from being grounded in home and ancestry.  But, at the end, he whispers Toby.  This tiny whisper I used to think of as a sigh of defeat.   When I was a child I wanted him to never give in. Now I know giving in is not giving up.  That you can take a beating and live to fight another day with integrity intact.

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As an adult traveling Americas treacherous waters of race, I was moved to see that he was willing to do whatever it takes to live and to keep fighting.  That to whisper your slave name is not to be a slave.  That Kunta–like me–could always carry his real name on the inside, no matter how the battle beats us down from day to day. Maybe that is what Snoop is missing.

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Roots is not a slave story–it is the story of Africans enslaved who never laid down, who never gave up even when they wouldn’t see the fight finished in their lifetime.  Roots shows black people in revolt, measuring their subversion for the greatest success, and building a life where there is none. They are not slaves, they are survivors.  We are right be reminded that we are the children born of such power.

For young millennials who are hellbent on changing the world, watching Roots may seem like an old folks’ history lesson, but it is their history too.  You’re wearing your hair natural, rocking dashikis and wax prints–why not a little throwback history too? When things get intense, its good to know your bloodline fought harder than a hashtag.

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That is why Roots is still relevant.  Snoop, your African name is still on the inside, too.  You’ve referenced Italian directors, Japanese monsters, and Jamaican prophets in your name; maybe it’s time you found your Roots.  You’re a child born on Wednesday:  we’ll call you Kwiku Dog.

 

 

Five Sips of Lemonade

Two weeks ago Beyonce released her visual album Lemonade like a Kraken, instantly flooding the interwebs with thinkpieces dissecting everything from the symbolism of Nigerian facepaint to the marriage of her parents.  She was even able to crowd Trump out of the headlines for a few hours, and make MSNBC question if they ousted Melissa Harris-Perry too soon.

By the following Monday Lemonade was spiking downloads at Jay-Z flagging music service Tidal.  A day later, traditional release of the album propelled it to the top of the charts.  After sipping this instant classic for a few weeks, it seems unimaginable that we ever lived without it.

The visual album is an hour-long piece that is more visual poem than music video.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the time–beautiful, lyrical and rich in every way.  It is a full meal, not meant to be captured in a few screen shots, that walks us through the stages of a relationship in crisis from intuition through anger, apathy to hope.

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What has made the video such a breakout piece is the powerful pro-black woman story.  Rarely are black women represented in complex ways that allow their full humanity to show through.

Following the monster release comes a wave of products, tours and gossip magazine covers. Now we’re left with the fallout, the dregs of the hype, the parodies.  This is the perfect time to look at Lemonade not for the hype of what it was to be, but to see what it really was.  Pop culture is a dish best served cold.

Beyonce has been a star since she was a child,and her discography as a solo artist has helped her achieve megastardom.  She is a talented singer and dancer.  Her albums celebrated independent women, then she  became Sasha fierce, fell drunk in love, sipped watermelon, and  turned into Mrs. Carter in that order.  Until recently she was not particularly woke, so even though Lemonade is powerful, and recent times have changed many of us, it’s worth a careful critique of Lemonade before we make Beyonce the head of the black feminist movement.

  1. Lemonade is for Black women

Mainstream media is made for mainstream audiences–and in America, that means white audiences.  When we see diverse faces in media, that doesn’t mean that the story comes from diverse voices.  Even ABC’s multicultural programming is inclusive of white audiences–think the president in Scandal or the whitewashing of Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat.

Lemonade creates a space for black women that is about, for and starring black women with tons of diversity throughout the extensive credits for the album.  The representation in the video celebrates black women in all their diversity, from the mothers of slain boys to the new breed of pop culture superheroes like Amandla Stenberg.  Seeing a range of women like this beautifully and powerfully represented definitely gives me life.

That doesn’t mean that it is ONLY for black women.  It may be created for black women but anyone can consume it. Like Vogue, or America for white people.  If you want to comment on it, just make sure you check our own privilege (this may be time-consuming if you haven’t thought of it before, Piers Morgan), do your research (I’m looking at you, Fox), prepare for clapback and absolutely avoid telling black women what they should or should not do and stick just to your point of view on the video.

2. It takes a village to make lemonade

The visual album to Lemonade is a powerful and beautiful piece of work crafted by a team of young artist and creatives.  remember, even Michelangelo didn’t paint that whole ceiling alone.  While Queen Bey reigns as the artist, like lots of famous artists, she farms out the massive work here.   On the visual album, Kahlil Joseph is listed as co-director with a classroom’s worth of amazing directors and cinematographers taking on parts of the visual album.

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In addition to the music of lemonade, poet Warsan Shire is heavily featured in the visual album.  I must admit the most moving words of Lemonade for me belonged to the poet. Her language is powerful and spare, leaving no words to hide behind.  Here’s hoping we hear much more from this young lion.

Let’s not forget the fashion that made the video a feast for the eyes.

From the streets to the spirits to the days of the old south Lemonade proves the power of Bey and associates to slay…..as long as you don’t want to wear pants, not a lot of pants..just a few, but not really about pants.

Lemonade’s look is a world of black girl magic with nary a press and curl in sight.  While many of Bey signature looks are from high-end designers like the Roberto Cavalli Dress, the whole is interspersed with street wear and plenty of African wax prints to render the style  her own.  Be careful of spreads that promise you the look for less–

Not sure any of these will really give you the look of a $4000 gown.  While Bey’s original look is beautiful, like all things associated with Lemonade, this look takes long cash.

3. Lemonade isn’t cheap

As amazing as Lemonade is as art, when we I to check the price tag, I notice committing to Lemonade fully is going to cost you.  Lemonade premiered on HBO with solid ratings–though notably behind Dragonball Z.  Initially, the album could only be downloaded via Tidal.  Guess she wasn’t too mad at Jay to throw a bone to the company the couple took a hit on last year.   The album sold nearly 654,000 copies the first week and all 12 tracks made the charts, breaking Taylor Swift’s record.  Seems like breaking up is good business for Bey.

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The Queen is also launching a 40 city tour with tickets priced like used cars that’s selling out and adding shows.  Before the tour gets hot she’s already grossed 100 mil. Can’t make the show?  She had updated merch on her website that is sure to sell out just like her athleisure line.  All in all, this stands to be one of her most lucrative year in years.  Maybe she should be thanking Becky with the good hair. Hmm, is there a Lemonade weave line potentially?

Bey assured us in Formation that the best revenge is getting your paper and she sure seems hell bent on massive revenge.  Seems like her fans are willing to pay to make it right. Even Jay-Z  will get a cut with his credits and a boost to Tidal.  Who said cheaters never win?

4. Lemonade is problematic (great, but problematic; chill please, Beyhive)

I watched the video, and I listened to the album and surprise : they are not the same.  The visual album is rich with the words and work of a whole host of people and seems to tell a big story about being a black woman in this world.  The musical album, by contrast, seems a more intimate and personal story.  Stripped of Warsan Shire’s poetry, and the powerful visuals that call  up our ancestors from West Africa and the south, the album is the personal story of a woman scorned.   Fox News criticized Beyonce for being angry and militant in her new work but [with the exception of Formation which stands as its own piece separate from the narrative and I think is not part of the visual album. It seems much newer than other work, just tacked on at the end] the album is apolitical. Nowhere in the album are any words that directly address the storms being weathered by Black America nor the women shepherding us through it.

Instead, Lemonade is full of emotions, the pain of love lost, and the fight to get it back. These emotions are deeply relatable for anyone cheated on, not just black women. That’s important because a large part of the buying Beyhive is not young black women fighting for justice. The album speaks to her wider fan base. If you have a broken heart, this will help you for sure. If you are down for fighting patriachal oppression and systemic racism…umm…the vibe is there but the ablum lacks any substative take on today, unlike to Pimp a Butterfly or Talib Kweli’s collective Indy 500. What has been roundly hailed as an ode to black female empowerment seems to contain very little liberation.

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In Lemonade, Beyonce tells a story where she discovers him cheating (Pray You Catch Me), tells him he done her wrong (Hold Up and Don’t Hurt Yourself), and goes out without him (Sorry).  But then the storm has passed and the rest of the album is devoted to the work of getting back with Jay.  All of the righteous anger turns into acquiescence, and acceptance.  If even Beyonce puts up with doggish behavior, then what chance do any of us have to be women free from disrespect? Here is the first time in the piece that we see Jay Z, just a hand to cover her mouth, much it seems to her pleasure.

For sure relationships are complicated, and marriages even more so, but young women intent on overturning harmful structures could use a roadmap that includes some truth with the reconciliation.  They are looking for new options, not a romantic return to gender roles.  Detrmined to have their cake and eat it too, why not use the fantasy of music to show how liberated women get themselvs–and their men, if they choose –free.  Romance? Cool, but could you put some respeck on it?

5. Lemonade is supposed to have a bite

Beyonce opens up a can of whoop-ass fueled with the pain of black women only to sweeten it with love songs and finish with sweet love all night long.  How is this supposed to gel with the powerful women fighting for freedom that she shows in the film?  Should Zendaya look to forgive people that said she smelled like a dirty hippie?  Should Mike Brown’s mother’s “torturer become her remedy”?  That certainly wouldn’t look like the freedom Beyonce sings about.

Like most stories about revolution these days, the revolution always seems to have a simple happy ending.  Nice as that may be to end an album, it does little to help us envision a world where we’re truly free.  If we tear down the culture, we have to build something else in its place.  If the new something is the same as the old something, then the revolution failed.  As exciting as it is to see black women represented in different and complex ways unless we have new endings, its all bullshit.

Black female empowerment isn’t a music video or a gap ad, but a real shift that is going to take a baseball bat to existing structures without a neat end to the love drought just two songs away.

The power of the best artists lay not only in their ability to show you the now but their skill and imagination to show us what’s next. There can be no doubt that Lemonade shows us a more sophisticated and woke Beyonce.  Her careful read of her audience and the culture give us an exciting companion to other protest works like To Pimp a Butterfly or Indie 500.  Here’s hoping that she keeps developing as an artist and blazes us a trail to better endings full of Freedom instead of swag.

 

Self Care in 5 Easy Steps

These times are hard: if you’re woke and paying attention, each day brings its own two-day sized dose of pain and heartache.  The good news is that that feeling that you’re feeling is a side effect of revolution.  But while you wait for the revolution to not be televised, how do you keep from dissolving into a puddle of woke up tears and anger?  Smntks has a few tips to keep you in the struggle, no matter how real it gets.

Breathe: the first go to for some chill is surrounding that big heart of yours.  Use those lungs to expel the poisonous energy we drink when we engage in spiritual battle with injustice.  There’s a  reason that yogis, sufi and puppies all expel breathe to reach maximum zen.

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The conscious regulation of your breath calms your mind and floods your body with what it needs to make it to the next breath.  String those breaths together and wha-la you’re meditating.  Meditation is shown to increase all kinds of good things without the side effects of oh say Xanax and wine.  Most importantly, give us a big dose of connection and empathy that can help us love our way through this crazy world. So take a breath–one that fills your lungs until you feel your own potential, and then push it out with all the fight I know you have in spades.  Take five minutes of breaths. Take 500.  They’re free.

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Disconnect: You’re conscious.  Me too.  We’re not alone in this fight.  It’s okay for you to take a break from the battlefield.  There are a million of us here, so when you feel like you can’t take it anymore you have permission to exit, stage left, until you’re ready to reload. Sometimes the pressure–and the injustice itself makes us feel like we can never rest, but that is a sure recipe for failure.  Shut off your media for a few days–studies say a three-day media detox can help you feel more balanced.  Time away from the struggle can also help us remember what it is we are fighting for.

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Find something nice to look at:  What is your favorite thing to see?  Kitties? Beaches? laughing children holding balloons?  Go seek those things out and fill your eyes as deeply as you’ve filled your lungs.  Research show that just looking at a large body of water can reset your inner workings. Besides, if eyes are the window to the soul, then our windows have surely been tainted by all we have been witnessing these last years.  Clean your window with beautiful visions.  Somewhere in your soul must reside the template of the utopic world you want to make.  Every once in while, recharge that vision.

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Make something:  Fighting chaos and destruction can make us lose our way from the creator inside of us.  Making something beautiful–whether it is a sock or a meal or an arrangement of flowers–can remind us of the power we have to complete copacetic constructions.  Craft projects, unlike race and class, are constructions that you can control on your own.  Making something–sock or society–is a process: slaying at the micro process of crafting will have you ready to slay the bigger beast of social process.  You also might make something awesome for the battlefield!

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Reconnect:  Family and friends are not just for Facebook.  Go see people that you love and who love you.  Touch them (appropriately, please, unless they’re into it!), talk to them. look at how awesome the people that you know are.  Ask the kids in your life about the future–and believe them.  Talk about springtime, and spaceships and the time you laughed so hard milk came out of your nose. Give them something you made, and let them give you some love so you can top off for the next time the struggle gets too real.

These times, these times.  We will look back and know that these were the times that changed everything.  The moment is now, but don’t let that stop you from taking a moment to reconnect with the now inside of you.  We need you–yes, you– to be a healthy conscious happy warrior for justice.  So take a break.  The fight will be here when you get back.

P.S. If you make something post a pic in the comments and I’ll share it out!

Smells Like Teen Spirit

I was in line at T.J. Maxx in the gauntlet–you know the line that’s lined with socks and kitchen gadgets and stuff you don’t need but are likely to buy if you’re stuck looking at it long enough–and I saw this little gem:

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I saw this candle with no frame of reference for how “ivy league” would smell  but like cops and presidential politics, the old Ivory towers have faced their own waves of upheaval over the last two years.   So maybe it smells like old money and racists S.A.E. frat boys? Perhaps it smells like a mattress worn by the girl next to you to bring attention to the lack of administrative response to sexual assault.  Or is it the heady fragrance of pepper spray and banner paint.  It certainly doesn’t smell like sunshine and roses.

Higher ed is a microcosm of the wider society–and if done right, should be first to incubate, test and perfect new ideas and ways of being.  Campuses roiling with tension need real solutions that–when developed thoughtfully–can help the rest of society follow into post-apocalyptic paradise.   And they’re full of young people fired up and ready to go.

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This grey candle of college sure didn’t smell like like America’s shiny future, but it’s not too late to cook up some new scents–humility and transcendent humanity? superstrings and singularity? Let’s just start with the simple scent of justice and love.   Anyone have a match?

New Walls, New Ways

2015, by any measure, was pretty shitty.  Unless you don’t watch the news, you know the past month season year has been intense–full of bad news, real tragedies and a world wide wrestling match with the most difficult issues humanity faces. I teach about media and race so this is my wheelhouse–writing about it all the time should be a given with so much to address.

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But this year has tested even those of us who are comfortable in the challenging arena of isms.  How many times can you explain that yes, racism exists, and no calling out racism does not make you a racist.  How many words can you hurl at the behemoth of hate before your arm falls off, or worse yet, you come to despise the futility of your own meager weapons?

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Tucked in between 1,134 black men killed by police, racism also made a come back in higher ed:  remember the threats at University of Missouri, racism at fraternity SAE in March and at a different chapter in November and, in case you missed it, a heated debate in higher ed around professors’ using the n– word in class.  Between writing, teaching about race and media, and fighting the local battle in my own tower, I ended the year despising more than just the futility of my weapons.

As an nontenured faculty of color at a predominately white college that focuses in part on social justice I believe I have a duty to prepare students who will combat structural inequality with a solid understanding of systems of oppression.  Not surprisingly, our little community is not unlike many of the other higher ed institutions “dealing” with diversity issues.

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I have been reminded that to speak out against racism, to name that racism exists in our community is a brave thing to do.  The unspoken flip side to this compliment is that to name racism at the institution is  dangerous business. I work on a contract, and can be released from my job of 10 years at the end of the year with no reason given.  A decade of good teaching evaluations or hard work will not protect me.  Each time I open my mouth and call out the racism I see, I am at risk.  And I have felt at risk.  Every time. Break came just in time to retreat and lick my wounds.

But every day is a new day, and a new year?  Well, that’s a time for magic.  I needed to clear the deck to get writing.  Since the year has been so heavy, this isn’t any average clear the deck–I’m in my writing room stripping shit down to the bare walls.

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Something about working on a household project unlocks a way of working on yourself.  Stripping wallpaper is a junior high level metaphor for cleansing for a new year, so no surprise  as I do I’m thinking about letting go, razing the ground to grow something, anything untainted by this years infestations.

But I’m also learning about how to pull down wallpaper that has been stuck to the wall since the 1950s.  While hacking away with water and an ice scraper, I learned something surprising.  the best way to pull it down is gently, softly and with love.  Sure the wallpaper was coming up with the scrapper in resistant tight crumpled rows, begrudgingly, and an inch at a time.  but if I spray it lightly, wait patiently and pull gently at the decay it comes off in long lacy strands that fall apart at the slightest touch.

While having drinks with my parents, my father said he always wished he could be forgiving.  I was surprised: I reminded him that he had indoctrinated me with a pathological ability to let go. So many days coming home from being bullied at school, he would simply tell me, “Not everyone’s going to like you.  Let it go.”  When I gnashed my teeth and plotted revenge he would rustle his paper, fanning away the evil deeds of the world with a terse, “Get over it.”

He laughed when I reminded him.  “I may have told you that, but that doesn’t mean I did it.  I’ve never been able to forgive.”  Quick to reinforce the old lesson, he added, “It’s good to forgive.  Then you’re free and you don’t carry it your whole life.” I’ve spent years forgiving and this year more than any, trying to be free of the pain of racism big and small.

The promise of forgiveness is freedom.  But when people refuse to acknowledge your humanity, much less take responsibility for trying to diminish you, forgiveness starts to feel too much like granting permission.  I have been pained to learn that sometimes forgiveness means you carry the memory for those who forget they victimize you, and it is them that goes free, unburdened by having to confront their own small mindedness and bad acts.

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Google wallpaper removal and their are lots of choices: chemicals to burn it off, machines to blast steam to disintegrate it off, paper tigers to shred it off.  I thought that ripping off the wallpaper would give me a chance to rip something up, to release the burden of all I have forgiven, but instead I find just another reminder that this slow gentle relentless attack, for me, is the only way.   Two days later I am still in there, peeling it off, rubbing it gently with water and then easing it off, sliding it to the floor and patting the wall clean.

Why?  I want a clean room but I care about the wall underneath–I don’t want to be left with holes to fill and scratches to heal.  My soft strategy rewards me. At the cost of checking my desire to destroy, the wallpaper comes off in long strands still holding the memory of all it saw. The war that I thought I wanted turned out to be a long moving mediation–both on the walls and in the work.

So I’ll scrape the walls slowly, and when they and my mind are clean I can return to the larger battle.  With each strand in the pile I remind myself of the reasons to keep scraping away at racism. Fuck forgiveness and the risk of raising your fist. I speak out anyway.  Because that’s who I have chosen to be.  Because the students deserve teachers willing to advocate for their dignity.  Because that is the job of a teacher–to provide a space for students to learn and grow.  Because I have a responsibility to model what I teach. Because I will not be silent when something must be said. Because with no justice then can never be peace.  Because racism hurts white people and they deserve to know the truth. Because hate will not eradicate itself. Because I believe that we can be better. Because I am black. Because I am human.  Because we the people are still trying to form a more perfect union.

Because the moment is now. Happy new year.

 

Your First Holiday Gift is Here!

With the end of Halloween starts that most intimate of season–the shopping season.  Ahh, a time to curl up with a warm credit card, surround yourself with brand name goods, and share with your loved ones that most important of human emotions–the joy of opening a gift from the Apple store.

Let the onslaught of advertising begin!  Deck the halls with piles of flyers selling disposable goods made unethically! Don you now an extra fifteen pounds from the constant push of candy and comfort foods! And rest you merry gentleman on the bench at the mall!

Lest you forget the real meaning of the season, I remind you that the period of time from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the most important time for retailers to turn slow summer sales into bottom line black ink magic.  While people from both left and right fight for a less commercial Christmas season, the battle is not with bah-humbug atheists, but with bless-us-every-one businesses whose profit is tied up inextricably with your desire to give and receive love through the proxy of consumer goods.  Do you really think they are going to abdicate profit to your childhood nostalgia?  Not likely.

This graph shows retail sales by month from 2003-2011, showing the majority of retail sales come between October and December.

If you think those decrying to direct connection between family, feelings, and black Friday are forcing it, take a look at this ad from Best Buy, the first Christmas ad to air nationwide.

The ad, entitled “Win the Holidays”  starts the season like the opening of a competition.  we are thinking or feeling, but competing to kill it this Christmas.  Don’t forget, its not just a gift, it is the key to love, as the ad explicitly reminds us.

So I give to you your first gift of the holiday season: freedom from the big lie of a consumer driven holiday season.  iPads and bags from Macy’s and the right flaky biscuits and a beautiful sparkly rock are not love.  Buying gifts for the holidays will not make your family happier beyond the morning of when they rip open gifts like wolves.

Believing that your love and relationships are paid for in black Friday lines or wrapped in Amazon boxes is a lie we choose to buy into when we are crushed beneath a tsunami of ads full of hugging families.  I free you from believing this.  I assure you that nagging feeling that you have that none of this shopping will deliver the promised intimacy is right;  That suspicion that you will be equally happy hanging out and saving your money for snacks and warm blankies for cuddling in is confirmed.  I gift you this reminder that the magic of the season comes from inside you, not inside a plastic shopping bag.