What’s Wrong with Kanye?

Just days before his new album drops. Kanye West has been trolling the world with a series of provocative tweets, comments, and hat choices. Whyyyy? First, in case he hasn’t been able to reach you with his blankets of bullshit, here are some highlights.  He started off professing love and shared dragon energy with Donald Trump. This sounds like something Stormy Daniels’ lawyer should be in on, but Kanye promises us the love is real. Looking back, this really is some expert-level clickbait
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His comments about Trump were enough to prompt Questlove of the Roots to wear a shirt that says “Kanye West Doesn’t Care About Black People,” a take off  Kanye’s own comments about George Bush during the Hurricane Katrina crisis. Questlove sported the shirt this weekend in Montgomery, Alabama at the Concert for Peace and Justice celebrating the opening of the Equal Justice Initiative’s Memorial to Peace and Justice commemorating lynching in America–peak black excellence. Kanye’s cookout privileges have been revoked.
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Not to be denied the right to scream from the sunken place, Kanye told a TMZ reporter that slavery was a choice.

Wooooooooooooow. At this point, it seems like his Brittany Spears level meltdown is too crazy to be anything but an act, right? I mean he went to TMZ. He’s breaking the internet without even taking his pants off. Can it be that the person who called out George Bush and Taylor Swift has become race traitor numero uno?
There is another explanation, maybe less interesting but also more insidious. Kanye has been drinking the elite Kool-Aid and it has scrambled his brain. A lot of the hoopla is about these crazy words coming out of the mouth of Kanye West who, in case he forgot, is a black man in America. When so much of the black community is trying to get their passport stamped for Wakanda, Kanye West seems to have bought a one-way bus ticket to the heart of white supremacy.
Here’s the thing, being woke isn’t automatic. When someone *cough Kanye cough* is disconnected from their community and buys into the hegemonic ideas that the elite chomp on all day, they start to believe some crazy shit. Like a lot of other people in the 1% Kanye is driven to amass wealth knowing their business directly contributes to rising income inequality, especially among their target consumers. Kanye has no problem exploiting cheap labor to manufacture his overpriced clothes. Kanye has no problem marketing said clothes to young people who can ill afford it but are enamored of the lifestyle marketing he employs. The mindset that feeds on exploitation and degradation is the same mindset that ignored the brutality of slavery as profits piled up. It’s the same mindset today that ignores the demands of the resistance as the rich and powerful continue to reshape our democracy into an oligarchy for their own profit. Its the mindset that says sure Trump is a nightmare but hey, my taxes are great!
There were black slave owners. There are black people today who continue to believe in the ideology of white supremacy even though their skin is black. This small but real group remind us of the power of the lies the elite tell to maintain their ability to manipulate others for profit. You don’t have to be white to believe in white supremacy. Hmmm, maybe that’s what Kanye meant when he declared his right to free thought.  He’s right–he has the right to believe in white supremacy and the lies it tells about black people and their history.  He won’t be the first black person to believe it, and maybe not the last so check your cousins and them.
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When I say stay woke, I recognize that staying woke is an intentional act, a place not of race but choice. A place anyone can decide to stand when they stop believing the lie that some people deserve more than others. So stay woke, no matter who you are. We’ll be here when you’re ready, Kanye

#MeTooButNotYou for Grammys

This year’s Grammy’s promised to be the most diverse Grammys ever!  There was lots of great music this year from a wide slate of artists, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to break the Grammy’s long tradition of marginalizing people of color, particularly in the Hip Hop community.  The night was looking good when Kendrick Lamar, current throne holder, kicked off the night with this en-fuego performance.

Not only was it dope, making raptastic mincemeat of Eminem’s much-heralded performance, but it was woker than Chris at the end of Get Out.  Dave Chappelle even had to check in to let people know they were witnessing peak black excellence.

Hi, I’m Dave Chappelle and I just wanted to remind the audience, the only thing more frightening than watching a black being honest in America is being an honest black man in America.

And he would know–watch the Bird Revelation for Dave’s own brush with honesty.

And that was just the opening.  The night closed with a planetary-sized sweep of top awards by Cardi B dance partner Bruno Mars.  Top song, album, and record awards went to Mars along with a few others, netting him 6 total wins for the night.

Blacks. Check.  Latinos. Check.  Woman. Check.  Bet the Recording Academy is feeling pretty good about itself right now.  It checked all of the awards show boxes, right?  Grammys are now officially Not Racist or Sexist!

Hold on, not so fast.  We Saw Bey slaying with hubby Jay z.  We saw SZA heating up the red carpet with her five nominations after a red hot year.  We saw Cardi B and Rhianna backing up the boys that won.  But no major Grammys were won by black women.

None.

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But hey, maybe that’s their fault for not being creative enough.  Bey you slacker.  Rhi you lackluster sad sack! recording Academy President Neil Portnow has this advice to you:

It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.

That’s right, if only Rhianna and SZA and  Beyonce and Cardi and Remy worked from the heart, were more creative, really leaned in to the industry, then they could get awards like the boys do.

In the era of #MeToo, the Grammys continue to look as modern as the Macarena.  Black women were shut out in all but the Gospel category (thanks, Tay), and women were largely absent from the winner’s circle.  Portnow’s comments are out of step with what’s happening in our country, and amongst the music buying audience.  It’s time for the music industry to catch up with the times.

While Hollywood applies itself to the task of moving beyond lip service to legal and cultural shifts towards equality, the music industry is lagging behind, stuck in patterns of pumping out patriarchy and normativity.  Music audiences already have more choices than ever before to access artist both in and out of the mainstream. If the music industry hopes to hold on to Millenials and their younger siblings, they will need to open up to be more inclusive.  I’m sure they will have their own tidal wave of sexual assault allegations, and the industry is still a long way from being racially conscious, but beginning to recognize and promote the amazing talent of black women is a good first step.  After all, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step–and a great playlist

Evil in Real Time

On the West Coast of Africa sits a gleaming white castle where over 300,000 Africans were tortured, raped and broken before being shipped to the Americas to work until they died. I anticipated I would be moved when I visited there, and even so was unprepared for the pulsating energy of this place, the feeling of a wound that would never heal.  The outside was so bright it hurt your eyes, but the dark dungeons where slaves waited months to be shipped overseas still smelled of blood and death and human fear.  The tiny window that afforded Africans their last view of home before enslavement–called the door of no return–was a heartbreakingly small sliver of Ghana’s riotous beauty beyond the iron bars.

What I remember most is a staircase.  It was a steep wooden staircase that was just outside of the door to the women’s dungeon.  At the top of the stairs a door through which you could directly access the Governer’s bedroom.  The Governor of the castle would call down to have women sent up the stairs to be raped, and then returned to the dungeon below.  The dungeon was cavern-like, windowless and low ceilinged where women were sometimes stacked like wood so the slavers could fit more in.  The sweat and piss and shit and fear of women leaked into the soil floor, and prisoners suffered in the squalor.  From this hell, a woman would have to climb the stairs.  To be raped. To be raped and returned to a dungeon.

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Standing at the bottom of the stairs I could see clearly how simple the evil at the heart of slavery was.  All the narratives I had been taught in school that framed slavery as a complicated economic transaction, born of naive ignorance of the humanity of Africans, or better still a Christian desire to help the less fortunate Africans live right in Christ was bullshit.  It simply was not possible for the people who held slaves to not know the brutal violence they were perpetrating–they lived in intimate quarters with the results of their evil actions.  They could see and hear and smell the suffering of their victims. They chose to redefine it instead of recognizing it. Every day they chose to watch death blossom around them–they were the gardeners after all.  It was not possible for the governor to open that door without hearing and smelling the suffering in the dungeon below.  It was not possible for him to rape captive Africans without feeling the humanity of his victims as he crushed them beneath his body, then sent them broken and battered back down to be stacked awaiting death. This evil is pure and palpable.

The great travesties of history seem unbelievable in their sheer monstrosity.  How could people of good conscious watch for hundreds of years as 400,000,000 Africans were enslaved and brutalized?  How could 6,000,000 Jews be shipped to concentration camps while villagers watched trains just roll by? How could 400,000 Syrians be slaughtered by their own government while the world stood down to a dictator?  We could add a handful, a dozen, a hundred events to this list where people watch brutal regimes destroy their own human brethren. There is no excusing these atrocities, no reason to wonder if slavery or genocide was anything other than just evil.  It is difficult looking back to accept bystanders who bore witness were innocents, free from guilt for not intervening. This seems so clear when we look at the past, but markedly less clear in our own time.

For months now Ameria has been a swirling cauldron of chaos, racism and rape allegations, North Korea nuclear brinksmanship and Trump tweets; the tweets, the tweets.  Hate crimes, gun sales, and taxes on the poor are all rising.  Each day brings a new attack: news media, protestors and every minority group in a never-ending rotating succession.  Each day there is a new topic worthy of debate at best, outrage at worst.  You could set your news cycle to fresh controversy like setting a watch.

While Trump feeds the chaos machine, the GOP has been busy trying to dismantle what we commonly think of as our democratic country: trying to repeal health care with no replacement, stacking government agencies with people on record for wanting to abolish said agencies, looming tax reform sure to line the pockets of the rich while the poor and middle class suffer and a deep recession is all but inevitable, and of course, Russia.

Remember when people thought Trump might pivot?  Do you recall people saying he needed time to learn, that Trump just didn’t know what he was doing because he was, after all, a businessman?  Have you listened to the mind-bending juggernaut of deception Sarah Huckabee Sanders redefine reality every day, telling us that what we have seen and heard in the observable physical world did not happen? It time to call a thing a thing.

This administration is evil.  Trump and the Senate and the House are willfully and intentionally dismantling our democracy.  They know what they are doing.  They know how bad it is,  Watch them twitch and swallow as they speak lies into the camera.  Watch them bend like contortionists twisting logic to support a child predator. See how they vote, quickly, without so much as a round of town halls in their districts for the constituents that this tax bill will affect most.

We are spending our time trying to figure out why. We put them on cable news panels to hear their point of view. We have magazine profiles to learn to sympathize with the Nazi next door, and the torch-wielding all-Americans willing to blame Mexicans rather that modernization for their unemployment.  We are hearing them out while they are burning our country to the ground.

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The blitz of bullshit is nearly impossible to ignore–how can the President of the United States use a racial slur in front of Native American vets without us responding?  We have to talk about it, there has to be a response.  At the same time, we are exhausted from responding to the barrage of crises.  Instead, I recommend you pick your battles.  You don’t have to respond to everything. Go hard on the issues, you care about most–dig deep to research, organize activities or events and write, share and speak about what you learn. Do the easy things you can do to support people when they need a signature, an attendee, a quick phone call or a share on an issue they’re staying up on.  In this way, we can build a community that can collectively address a broad array of issues and leave ourselves enough room for serious self-care and recovery time.

Be mindful of speaking the truth and calling out lies and attempts to redefine what is real.  The White House’s mania for deception seems bizarre in an era with so much fact-checking, but you may not be the target of their tall tales. Their dogged lies and their undermining of legitimate reporting leave Trump supporters in the Fox bubble completely misinformed and dangerous–both in the streets and at the polls.  Thirty percent of the Republican voting electorate is basically immune to reason or information, ready to rock with even the craziest and cruelest policies.  You may not be able to convince your drunk uncle at Christmas, but make sure you keep yourself convinced.  These days the path to truth is sometimes hard to find; better leave a breadcrumb trail so you don’t get turned around.

But most difficult of all, do not negotiate with their terror.  Resist the urge to make sense of any of it. Do not accept the narrative that this evil aimed at women and minorities and immigrants is merely a position that is equal, just different, from your own. This is not normal.  The destruction brought on by regulation rollbacks, tax breaks for the rich, and possible military intervention in North Korea will be real.  Real people will be hurt.  People have already died as a result of this administration’s policies. Lasting damage will happen to our nation. Someday someone will stand in the broken castle we leave behind and will see so clearly that it was simply evil that that plunged our nation into chaos, nothing more or less.  They will wonder about you and me, wonder how we felt watching this attack on our nation. They will wonder what we did.

I hope they will wonder, too, at the courage of our voice, at the thousand ways we resisted, we fought back, until we built a shining city on the hill of what could have been our darkest hour.

Eminiem VS Trump (and Stan Too!)

BET Hip Hop awards last night featured a who’s who of the years hottest Hip Hop–but all anyone cares about is Eminem.  The real Slim Shady stole the internet with his cypher devoted to a full-body takedown of Donald Trump.  ICYMI, you’re welcome:

The interwebs and cable news outlets buzzed with all sorts of love and accolades for Marshall Mathers, from Diddy and Kaepernick himself to LeBron James, another star who recently roasted Trump with a simple “U bum”.

So by midday, everybody is really feeling Em, and Trump’s tinny Twitter triggers haven’t banged out a response (though Trump did take the time just days ago to tweet at ESPN, calling for Jemele Hill to be fired).  Shortly thereafter, Eminem is declared President of the United States according to the rules of rap battles.

Except that Eminem is not the president.  Once the high wears off, the fact remains Eminem is about the 306,547,999th person in America to yell ‘Fuck Trump’.  I swear even my mother has said it.  He’s not even the first celebrity, or rapper to say it.   There is no shortage of rappers that have spit that fire at the Orange House–Kendrick, Qtip, Kweli, Jay. Where were you this spring when Joey Bada$$ stole my heart with those three little words: fuck white supremacy?

But there is one thing Eminem did that is worth noting–he attacked his own fans. Most of his cypher was directed at Donald Trump but a few bars of the freestyle were directed at his own Stans.  As one of the most popular white rappers, Em has–spoiler!–a huge white fan base.  And like the rest of white America, it’s safe to assume a portion of them are Trump supports, maybe even a few alt right thrown in, if they made it past White America. With an album scheduled to drop November 17, Eminem refuses to tread lightly with his more hate-inclined fans to make that paper.  Instead, he went in on his own bread and butter, telling fans:

And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his
I’m drawing in the sand a line, you’re either for or against
And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split
On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this:
Fuck you!

Like confronting your drunk racist uncle at Thanksgiving, Em models the way that we each have to confront the people we care about.  We’ve all done it, lost friends, sometimes even family over the racist and sexist beliefs they refuse to stop embracing.  With these last few lines in a video bound to go viral, Eminem shows famous white people how famous white people can and should talk to their potentially racist fans: forget the money–cut them off. This is worth clapping it up.

The fight for racial justice requires all people of good conscience to do what is hard, to confront those closest to us, and to put ourselves in harm’s way to get to justice.  It’s not about finding the best way, or the most important way, but just the way that is open to you, right now.  Writers, write.  Painters, paint. Organizers, organize, and Eminem raps. We each must pick up the tool we are most skilled with to dismantle racism.  We have to take real risks to say what is true to people we love, to people who love us. Shedding friends, fans, and fakers is the only way we’ll get to justice.

How to Stop The NFL Protests

Are you sick of protests interrupting your God-given right to watch men sustain traumatic brain injuries while you consume alcohol? Are you tired of listening to super-rich athletes using their power to ask for dumb shit like justice or equal rights for people of color?  Then I have some tips for you to put an end to these national anthem protests once and for all.

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Demand a separation between politics and football–As an American, you have the right to remain completely ignorant of even the most basic functioning of the government of the country you love so much.  If you wanted to know anything about politics you’d be watching Meet the Press instead of NFL Sunday.  So demand a total separation between politics and sports. Now that might make it hard to build stadiums, or coordinate to make sure that the big business of football gets the support it needs from local and state government to function.  And the NFL would have to stop its lobbying activities.  That’s right, the NFL spends over a million dollars a year lobbying government officials, providing the kind of access that Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have. I’m sure the NFL would be happy to give up their lobbying activities and the power it gives them just so you can keep acting like you live in a world free of politics.

End extrajudicial police killing–I mean the protests aren’t about you, they’re about protesting the police killings of black people and inequality in our country.  Maybe if the government did something about the reasons that people protests instead of complaining about the protestors then there would be nothing to protest about and wa-la nothing standing between you and your much-anticipated hand on your heart moment!  The opposite of “no justice, no peace” is “justice, peace.” Make it happen!

Join the football boycott–If you can’t stand to witness NFL players exercise their right to free speech, if you’re unwilling to support a fair justice system to end protests, if you just want to act like Muhammed Ali and Jackie Robinson don’t prove that politics and sports always go together then just stop watching football.  That’s right, boycott the NFL until free speech is outlawed and athletes muzzled.  You won’t be alone, either.  Months ago Black Lives Matter activists and community leaders called for a boycott. An unknown number of people answered the call to participate in the boycott over the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. Early reports say attendance is down for both pre and regular season games even before Trump galvanized previously divided players and owners this week.

170924095514-shahid-khan-0924-exlarge-169A final caution: while you’re trying to end the protests using these tips, you might just find yourself advocating for justice and an end to systemic racism.  You might find yourself creating a more peaceful world where we could all relax and enjoy a game instead of worrying about imminent nuclear war. You might just start to realize that fighting with the protestors is going to give you the real win, champ.

 

 

Familiar Fruit: Nooses’ Return

Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, Russian spies and soldiers, terrorists and freedom fighters:  the play of children mirrors the conflicts of their times.  Play fighting takes on the shape and character of the very real fights the adults are engaged in when they think the kids aren’t watching.

A young Biracial boy was lynched in Claremont, NH while his little sister watched.  The boy survived the attack and his mother posted pictures of his injury to social media in hopes of getting justice, which had been slow in coming from the small town’s police chief. Three teens were identified by the victims, but the police chief refused to release any information to the press in order to “protect the boys”, though I’m sure he did not mean he wished to protect a boy whose neck was sawed bloody with a rope that almost killed him.

Cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, Russian spies and soldiers, terrorists and freedom fighters:  the play of children mirrors the conflicts of their times.  Play is practice, takes on the shape and character of the very real fights the adults are engaged in when they think the kids aren’t watching.    With the year(s) America is having around race, it should be no surprise that kids might play at practice America’s oldest game: racism.  The noose has long been a symbol of terror for black people.  Lynching is not just history, it is American present.  Nooses are everywhere--playgrounds and schools, videos and news reports.  So what better way to practice playing power than to knot a noose?noose_1503672085342_3968413_ver1.0_640_360

That the incident was referred to as an accident is unbelievable. Like cocking a finger into a gun, these kids knew that a noose was a weapon, playtime or not.  That they’re being protected by the Cheif Chase seems unfair when we regularly see like-aged young black boys splayed on the street dead, cops hands washed clean by our justice system. But the concern that outing these boys could ruin their lives is also real in a world where infamy is instant and infinite, ruining lives in the blink of a black twitter dragging.  He’s not wrong that that one act could be enough to ruin the perpetrators’ lives forever. So should we just shut up about it?

Hell no. But let’s not go after the boys, let’s focus on the ideas that supercharged their behavior. Cheif Chase is protecting something else besides some boys old enough to know better.  He is protecting racist ideology, rendering it invisible in his “just some kids playing” approach. Far from just giving the kids cover, the police chief is covering for white supremacy itself.  This is where the real danger lies. As an actor of the state, the police chief has a responsibility to name a hate crime what it is and not try to pretty up the racism in his town. Instead, he chose to swerve and reject any calls of racism…until the state AG decided to open a case to investigate what was happening in the tiny town.

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Monuments and symbols of racism–nooses and ni**er, white hoods, Confederate flags–trickle down to all parts of the culture, including child’s play.  This is how the old racism that we always think is owned by the old racists alone is reproduced in the next generation, a virus fighting to stay alive by infecting young healthy hosts to carry racism for their long life.  In the fight for justice, no matter how many bad apples we cull, the bunch will be forever tainted until we remove the ideas that shape and govern racism.  Racists come and go but the American ideology of racism is as old as America itself.

North or south, kids or adults,  we say our towns are no place for hate but the fact of the matter is that racism is rampant in our country, and I’m quite sure Claremont, New Hampshire is no exception.  That’s not to say we aren’t in the fight, but make no mistake there are real racists, people weaponizing the old symbols of power and privilege for a new generation.  And those symbols of hate are everywhere these days.  To see such powerful symbols and reduce them to an accident is to render the very real, very modern ideology of white supremacy as just normal, a game children can play, ensuring that it will remain untreated in the body politic–and therefore live on to keep poisoning who we are and what we could become.

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We have to be clear in naming the symbols of terrorism that permeate our culture.  Think about the images of torches in Charlottesville. The Confederate flag, still flying all around the country even as activists try to excavate the monuments to racist rebels; the nooses hung in schoolyards (remember Jena?); the white hoods on the evening news:  these are not just throwback symbols, they are contemporary messages to black people to stay in their lane–or else.

Imagine then, HBO’s new show Confederate–a drama with a budget large enough to guarantee slick and powerful visuals.  The shows’ creators–the pair that brought you Game Of Thrones–announced that the show will present a world where slavery is still legal in the Confederacy.  Creating updated images of what slavery would look like is only likely to load the gun of ideology, remaking what we thought we had left in the past in our own present.  The images from the yet-to-be-made show may be shocking, or even transformative in the best case scenario, but what will they mean to boys like those in New Hampshire, out playing Confederate in a backyard?  What happens when we greenlight images central to perpetuating the legend of white supremacy?

The easy availability of racist images in our culture ensures another generation will continue our tradition of demonizing and demeaning people of color in this country.  The incident in Claremont reminds us that these images are not without consequence. Citizens of that small town came together for a vigil when the boy’s story came to light, but the work to eradicate racism and its symbols won’t be won in an evening of solidarity. And the work won’t get done with the outing of three boys.  Instead, the ideology of white supremacy must be plainly named and properly shamed, every time it appears.

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James M. Patterson/The Valley News, via Associated Press
When we pursue justice are we required to extend it to those who would not extend it to us? We must, or else any justice that we achieve will be seeded with the same inequality we are trying to eradicate. If we believe that racists are redeemable, especially if caught early, then we have to support the idea that these boys can learn from their actions and that healing and reconciliation can keep them from being lifelong racists who go one to hurt others.  But we can extend no mercy, give no quarter to the ideology of white supremacy in our towns or in our hearts.  This virus of a vision has been poisoning America from the beginning, blocking us from truly become the dream we dreamed ourselves to be.

Dedicated to my sister-in-law Barbara McDonald, who is from Claremont, NH and who is raising four badass woke kids

 

 

 

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.

4:44

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 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.

 

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.