Kylie’s Kornrows

Just as Amandla Sternberg’s video comes out and gets high circulation (at least in my social media feeds) as not just an amazing piece of digital writing by a black teenage actress but also as some damn correct reporting…

…we get Kyle at Coachella…

  

…a festival for rich Angelenos (in a poverty-stricken rural valley) who often come bedecked in boho, native-appropriating fashion. 

from Buzzfeed, “16 things you definitely shouldnt wear to coachella”

It’s important to note the not only visual, but linguistic character of Kylie’s appropriation of blackness here. From her caption, “bad bitch” and “bad bitch alert” are both phrases from hiphop and black youth discourse, with their practices of semantic inversion.  And Khloe’s previous Instagram post is a Dubsmash dubbing of herself and kylie lip synching as black men say “I love you, bitch/ I ain’t never gonna stop lovin you, bitch.” I’ve noticed this site quickly gain popularity over the last week, and jokes already often seem to be based around lip synching to heavy ethnic or regional dialect. This kind of linguistic sampling is not so different from what in iggy azaleas case has been called “verbal blackface.” 

  

Anyway, have a great weekend!! 

Qualitative Methods and the Creative Writing Process: An Unlikely Analogue (My 4C’s Paper)

[This paper was delivered on the panel “Embracing the Anxiety of Influence in Writing Studies Research” with Jo Mackiewicz, Jenn Fishman, and Karen Lunsford at last week’s Conference on College Composition and Communication. Enjoy!]

Hi everyone. As the only grad student on this panel, I was brought on to make the subject of qualitative data analysis more palatable and more accessible. I hope this talk will be especially useful to anyone who is beginning or considering qualitative data analysis, or educators beginning to train their graduate students in qualitative methods. In this talk I’m going to discuss how I came to embrace qualitative methods, and how my background in creative writing has helped me make sense of them. I hope my analogy between qualitative methods and creative writing might be a useful way of conceptualizing the hard work and the rewards of what researchers do.

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Continue reading

TV, Politics, Race: What I’ve Been Reading, and Planning to Write

As usual, I’ve had the same 15 tabs open for 3 weeks, waiting…for what? For this blog post. I have trouble closing the links I’ve already read that seem so important I want to share them. Of course, you all have plenty to read already, so I think I’m just a digital hoarder.

I also have a nice long list on my phone of all the blog posts I want to write. I want to write about Jane the Virgin and Fresh Off the Boat and how amazing it is to see TV shows featuring immigrant families who don’t speak monolingually in their homes or on the shows: both shows feature multilingual families from Venezuela and Taiwan, respectively, where a grandmother always speaks in the home country’s language (Spanish and Mandarin) while their children and grandchildren respond in English, and everyone can understand each other. On Fresh Off the Boat, the middle generation–children of grandma and parents of grandkids–also switch into Mandarin when they don’t want people around them to understand. (For my rhet/compers out there, Cue: Canagarajah.) Large swaths of the hiphop musical melodrama Empire is also written in AAVE; I would love to see one of their scripts. How are they formatting and editing their dialogue?

Meanwhile, Fresh Off the Boat and Broad City are also showcasing the appropriation of black language by Asian-American kids and white women, respectively; recent episodes of both featured leads in t-shirts of rappers. Acutally, FOTB has its lead, Eddie, wearing a t-shirt with a rapper’s face almost constantly. There is so much richness on television for language scholars to talk about right now. And FOTB is explicitly decentering whiteness in a way I’ve never seen before – usually the white characters on the show sound like delusional crazy people – and Jane the Virgin treated migrants’ undocumented status in a way that was humane and a part of a storyline just like it’s a part of people’s lives.

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I also wanted to write a post about how I wish Spotify would stop spending all its engineers’ energy trying to predict what music I like, and instead do a 1000% better job saving, categorizing, and making accessible to me all the music I’ve already been listening to, so I can find my favorite albums and artist as easily as if this was my music library.

I have also been thinking about how much time I spend as a teacher in the classroom doing managerial work vs. actual teaching –things like giving and reviewing assignments, talking about how things will be graded, coordinating who is giving a presentation on what day, giving students instructions for in-class activities, and so forth. This question was spurned by my reading of Donna Strickland’s The Managerial Unconscious in the History of Composition Studies, which had me thinking, how much of the managerialism of the contemporary writing program seeps into the classroom? How much of teaching is actually managing?

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading…

Jeff Chang’s “From Basquiat to Jay-Z: How the Art World Came to Fully Embrace Hip-Hop,” in The Guardian

francine j. harris’s “Civilly Unseen” in the Blue Shift Journal

Julianne Hing’s “Fresh Off the Boat’s Rocky Relationship with Hip-Hop” on Colorlines

Michael S. Schmidt’s “F.B.I. Director Speaks Out on Race and Police Bias” in the New York Times

Isabel Shepherd’s “Examining the Lasting Effects of Wilmington’s 1898 Coup D’etat” on HQR News

“Security Researcher Christopher Soghoian on How to Use a Cellphone Without Being Spied On” on Democracy Now!

Kirby Wilson’s “Lack of Diversity Leads to Burden on Professors of Color” in The Chronicle

Richard Florida’s “A Painstaking New Study Reveals the Persistence of U.S. Racial Segregation” on The Atlantic’s Citylab

Ben Sisario’s “Industry Issues Intrude in ‘Blurred Lines’ Case” in the New York Times

I’m Here So I Won’t Get Fined (A Beast Mode Bibliography)

Boss.

[UPDATED]: here are some more cultural commentaries on Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman from women writers of color:

On Crunk Feminist Collective, “What Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman Teach Us About Respectability and Black Masculinity”

Jenn M. Jackson’s “We Done Told Y’all What’s Up: Black Folks Are Not Here for the White Gaze” on For Harriet

Jenee Desmond Jackson’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Selective Silence is a Power Move for Black Athletes” on Vox

Sarah Jaffe’s “The Subversive Brilliance of Marshawn Lynch” in The Week

Read more (listed in order of how much I value them):

Jerry Brewer’s “Marshawn Lynch: The Beast Who Says the Least” in the Seattle Times

Michael Silver’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Quiet Power Behind Seahawks’ Super Bowl Run” on NFL.com

Barry Petchesky’s “Marshawn Lynch Already Explained Why He Hates Talking To The Media” in Deadspin, which directed me to the first two sources above

Richard Sherman’s “It’s About More Than Me” with Peter King in Sports Illustrated

Jemilah King’s “Marshawn Lynch’s Quiet Riot” in Colorlines

The Onion‘s “Marshawn Lynch Delivers Eloquent 45-Minute Address on Privacy in the Modern Age.” 

Nate Scott’s “Marshawn Lynch Calls out Media in Defiant Press Conference” in For The Win

#Beastmode

What I’ve been reading: Holiday Giggles Edition

Azealea Banks on Hot 97 ( must watch, and then listen to her great new album, Broke With Expensive Taste. I’ve also been bumpin Big K.R.I.T.’s Cadillactica.)

Amanda Chicago Lewis’s “Pam and Tommy: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Infamous Sex Tape,” in Rolling Stone.

The couple already had a reputation for carnal and pharmaceutical indulgence, but peeping on their love play offered an entirely new level of dirty, thrilling violation, as we leap-frogged PR flacks, centerfold photographers and even the paparazzi to land squarely in the most private of worlds.

The cover of a Pam and Tommy sex tape VHS, via RollingStone.com

The cover of a Pam and Tommy sex tape VHS, via RollingStone.com

Jia Tolentino’s “The Promise in Elena Ferrante” in Jezebel (and then–DUH–go read EVERYTHING by Ferrante herself.)

Anyway, women’s writing will be the business of inwardness as long as it’s still risky for women to walk around alone.

Emily Nussbaum’s “Great TV 2014: Not a List, Not in Order,” in The New Yorker–aka, my to-do list for the past week.

“Jane the Virgin” is thirty times better than ninety per cent of all network shows. Fiona Apple’s theme song to “The Affair” is way better than “The Affair.”

David Uberti’s “The Worst Journalism of 2014″ in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Live television is exceedingly difficult to produce, of course, but [Don] Lemon’s gaffes this year offer a case study in how to choose words wisely — or not.

“New Evidence Sony Hack was ‘Inside Job,’ Not North Korea,” in the New York Post.

Errata Security’s Robert Graham also noted to Politico that the hacker underground shares plenty of code, calling the FBI’s evidence “nonsense.”

via NYPost.com

via NYPost.com

Michael Schulman’s “Why ‘Into The Woods’ Matters,” in The New Yorker.

When the musical opened on Broadway, in 1987, parents would occasionally yank their young children out of the theatre in shock during the second act, thinking, They killed Rapunzel?

Revolva’s “An Open Letter to Oprah, Whose ‘The Life You Want’ Tour Asked Me To Work For Free,” in Digital Music News.

Criticizing the Oprah Winfrey tour is scary, Oprah Winfrey!  I can already see the impending comments about how artists should be grateful to appear at your event (which, by the way, is certainly paying the going rate to the lighting people, the sound people, the caterers, the janitors, the people who erected the outdoor side stage, basically everyone except the local artists appearing on said stage).

Matt Agorist’s “The NYPD Is Essentially Refusing to Do Its Job and Yet New York Hasn’t Collapsed into Chaos,” on the Free Thought Project.

This sharp drop in the enforcement of certain offenses has not created the Mad Max scenario that so many people predict would happen if police loosen their grip.

And, just for serious,

Paul Grohndahl’s “Heroin Addiction’s Stranglehold on Adolescents” in the Albany Times Union.

“I have low self-esteem and I’ve got a lot of emotional issues,” she said. “I’ve struggled with my relationship with my father and my own addictive personality. I been depressed for a long time.”

and

Sam Mitrani’s “Stop Kidding Yourself: The Police Were Created to Control Working-Class and Poor People,” on the Labor and Working Class History Association blog.

There was a never a time when the big city police neutrally enforced “the law,” or came anywhere close to that ideal (for that matter, the law itself has never been neutral).

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What I’ve been reading…so I can finally close all these gotdamn tabs!

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Brett Samuels and Justin Mattingly’s “Chancellor’s Workgroup on Sexual Violence Prevention, Education and Advocacy delivers final report to Syverud,” in the Daily Orange.

The workgroup found that without the Advocacy Center, “there is no longer a single office designated to provide information about services, advocacy, education, and prevention, as well as physical space for victims and survivors to informally congregate and support each other.”

Karen Narevsky’s “Remember Me as a Revolutionary Communist,” in Jacobin.

Leslie was so gifted at identifying working-class issues that even though Leslie had a Buffalo accent, Leslie came and infiltrated with me.

Natalie T. Chang’s “Who WIll Survive in America?” in the Harvard Crimson.

Most of the time I’m glaring so hard at everyone who walks by me that I probably should be stopped by the police, but it’s only because I learned a long time ago that if I don’t, eventually some white boy in a baseball cap is gonna look me up and down and ask if I can love him long time.

But forty years ago my parents were yelled at, spat on, beat up. Violence is tricky like that.

Chris Mooney’s “The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men,” in Mother Jones.

And then suddenly, you have a horrible realization. When black faces and “bad” words are paired together, you feel yourself becoming faster in your categorizing—an indication that the two are more easily linked in your mind.

Irene Routte’s “What the Bodies Are Telling You,” on the Harvard Divinity School’s blog.

When systems, rituals, and rules dictate how our bodies can be or how much value our bodies hold, how do we not only envision but embody an affect of hope?

Tanzina Vega’s “Schools’ Discipline for Girls Differs by Race and Hue,” in the New York Times.

Black girls with the darkest skin tones were three times more likely to be suspended than black girls with the lightest skin.

Trish Kahle’s “Echoes of Mockingjay” on Red Wedge.

And if we step back for a moment, we see that even though Katniss Everdeen is the trilogy’s protagonist, Black rebellion is the driving force of revolution in Panem.

An anonymous reader’s “My Cousin was Shot Dead By Police in Albuquerque,” on Talking Points Memo Daily.

I’ll confess that I didn’t totally understand, either emotionally (duh: I grew up in white affluence) or frankly intellectually (they don’t just shoot kids, do they?).

But now I understand

Linda Chavers’s “An Elegy for Michael Brown” in Dame Magazine.

In other words, I am not just an English teacher, I’m among the keepers of the gates. And they need to see me here for the White boys.

“White Folks: Act Up Accountably,” on the SURJ Action Team blog.

Do:  Organize white people to participate in actions led by People of Color (POC).

Don’t:  Expect to lead those actions.

Sam Biddle’s “Leaked: The Nightmare E-mail Drama Behind Sony’s Steve Jobs Disaster” on Gawker.

You better shut it down

That is what you said

That sounded like a threat to me

Alicia Florrick Tho

still from season 6, "The Good Wife"

still from season 6, “The Good Wife”

The Good Wife is a show about a woman learning to wield her white privilege for her own ends. It is about her—this woman, Alicia Florrick (Juliana Marguiles), the “good wife” of a disgraced Chicago (of course) Attorney General (Chris Noth) learning what powers are available to her as a white upper-middle class woman, if she can accept the limits and insults that come with the role. In its interrogation of white female privilege, identity, and limitations the show is aptly named, because even as Florrick is the title character that moniker is itself defined by its relationship to a man, and by its value judgment around how well the woman, Florrick, plays the role she was cast in. The Good Wife.

Now we have watched Alisha for six seasons, from her start as a mild-mannered suburban housewife-turned-returnee to the workforce, through her years as an increasingly powerful lawyer at Lockhart Garndern, in her role as first lady when her disgraced husband pulled off a return to the governor’s mansion of Illinois (another great spot for a corrupt politician), to her new role in the current season, as a candidate for Attorney General of Chicago, to succeed her husband’s smug successor.

I started watching The Good Wife because my mom, my sister, and Emily Nussbaum told me to. My mom and my sister recommended The Good Wife even more highly than Scandal—in a television lull, I’d asked them which show to start—but it was the New Yorker’s Nussbaum whose glowing column sent me clicking to Amazon Prime. But what Nussbaum or her colleauge Josh Rothman never key into—and what may have tipped the scales for my mom and sister, though they never said so explicitly—was the way that The Good Wife interrogates the role of the white woman in professional-class society—a role the women in my family have tried to master—just as Olivia Pope toys with the limitations of being a black woman with power and prestige. I love watching Kerry Washington tease out the socio-cultural possibilities of Olivia Pope, but I don’t identify with them in the same way I do with Alicia Florrick, whose Bobbi Brown makeup pallette (amirite??) and deep brown hair stain are surely the same as my mother’s, a woman also married to a Chicago lawyer with enough friends and cousins in Highland Park to fill a big country club bat mitzvah.

shady people of color scheming on "The Good Wife" - still from season 6

shady people of color scheming on “The Good Wife” – still from season 6

In their sixth-season coverage for the New Yorker of The Good Wife, both Nussbaum and Rothman attend to Florrick’s increasing comfort with and facility in using her power, but neither see the way that it is specifically gendered and raced: Florrick’s power, I contend, is specifically the power (in our society, at least) of white women. It is the power of being a white lady. Let’s take a closer look at their two reviews. Rothman writes:

The longest plot arc in “The Good Wife” shows Alicia becoming more like Peter—that is, becoming more comfortable with the exercise of power, more elegantly invulnerable when she is being magnanimous. Part of that transformation entails coming to terms with her own privilege. Alicia starts out the show as an underdog, but, at the end of the first season, she draws on one of her husband’s connections to win a coveted position at work. When, a few years after he’s released from jail, Peter becomes the governor of Illinois, Alicia leverages that connection to secure clients.

She’s also privileged in subtler ways that she is less willing to admit. From her husband’s sex scandal, Alicia retains an air of innocence and vulnerability; women root for her, and men are attracted to her. For much of the show, she drifts in and out of a romantic relationship with Will Gardner, one of the partners at her law firm. When, as the governor-elect’s wife, Alicia starts her own firm, taking some of Will’s most valuable clients with her, he calls her out on her own mythos of innocence and victimhood: “You’re awful, and you don’t even know how awful you are,” he says. Everyone, including Alicia, thinks that she’s a victim—but, in fact, she’s a predator, all the more dangerous for being stealthy.

In this accounting of Alicia’s coming to power, Rothman figures Alicia’s “stealth” as an aberration to her use of power, a quirk in comparison with her husband’s brash use of the throne. But I contend that her stealth is gendered—her “stealthy” danger, that wolf in sheep’s clothing, is her feminine use of power, power through flirting, through favors, through being nice. This is power in a “ban bossy” universe, where bossy women are bitches so Alicia has to be the bossy by flirting and cajoling to get her way, not demanding it.

All Hail Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)

All Hail Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski)

Now here’s Nussbaum:

Alicia didn’t get the job [at Lockhart Gardner] because she was exceptional: an old law-school friend, Will Gardner (Josh Charles), promoted her over stronger candidates after she strategically flirted with him—a shady origin story that emerged slowly, over years. On “The Good Wife,” there is no success without corruption. The higher Alicia climbs—winning the second-year slot, making partner, leaving to start a new firm—the more compromised she becomes, and the more at ease with compromise. This applies to her marriage, also: it’s too valuable an asset for either spouse to abandon, even when they separate, when he is elected governor, and when she has an affair with Will. “You’re a brand! You’re St. Alicia,” Eli Gold, her husband’s chief of staff, tells her, begging her to run for office. Yet, despite everything, Alicia clings to her self-image as a heroine, a moral person in a godless universe. (Alicia Florrick is one of the rare explicitly atheist heroines on TV.)

Here again we see how the specifically feminine way Alicia starts her law career is folded into a larger narrative about corruption, collapsing Alicia’s crucial wielding of feminine power into a larger story about power. Similarly, the compromises Alicia has to make to retain that St. Alicia brand—namely, to stay in a sham marriage with a compulsive cheater—is the same compromise women have been making for millenia, just without the rewards.

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By the sixth season, in fact, Alicia Florrick has given up the delusion of her earlier years that she can or cares to help anyone—the delusion of white women living in the suburbs, which she doesn’t anymore. Instead, when asked point blank by her new campaign manager (who I am still waiting for her to sleep with) why she wants to run, she answers, “Because I can win.” The only trick to winning is to keep pretending she doesn’t care to. After an interview, Alicia comments to her new foil and “body woman,” Eli Gold’s brash Jewish daughter Marissa, “I don’t like being someone I”m not when I’m being interviewed.”

“Really?” Marissa says. “You’re good at it.”

Good at it in a way that a brash Jewish girl could never be, because to own white femininity is to be invisible, to make one’s power and pain invisible, to win just to win without anyone thinking you want anything at all.

People commend this show for its deft handling of race themes, because a series of minor issues which characters of color adds up to a discrimination lawsuit for Peter Florrick. What no critic seems to have noticed is how Florrick’s continued demotion of lawyers of color equals the show’s continued demotion of actors of color. There’s no neat way to handle that. The discrimination line is like saying “no offense.” Sorry, but it’s still offensive. But very deftly handled.

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[all the stills in this post are from season 6 episode 6, “Old Spice,” the most awesome and most feminist episode of the season, which features the show’s female stars almost exclusively. Alicia Florrick tho, but also Diane Lockhardt tho, Elsbeth Tasscione tho, and Kalinda Sharma tho. Fuck yah lady lawyers.]

Love, Hiphop, and Genre: Syracuse

In the last two years, as I’ve revised my pedagogy to center writing studies content in my composition classrooms, there have repeatedly been words–terms, concepts, really–that I joke with students they’ll be sick of by the end of a unit or semester. Last fall, in my freshman 105 class, they were: literacy, discourse, and composition.

This term it was all genre. Genre, genre, genre, genre, genre.

Yes, I took my department’s challenge to use genre as the lens through which we approached all assignments and concepts, using genre to access the same concepts of students’ literacies (what genres do they write in?), discourse (what are the discursive demands of different genres?) and even, yes of course, hiphop. (Who knew sampling was a discursive practice with its roots in African-American rhetorical practice? Oh, ok. We did. But my frosh didn’t. But now they do!)

I want to take this opportunity to reflect about how this went.

First of all, my successes. And there’s one I’m really proud of: this is the best I’ve ever done at convincing my non-humanities students–and in today’s preprofessional university, this is most of them–that writing will matter for them in their major and their career. The engine of this recognition was their third unit assignment, which asked them to research a genre they expect to write in in their major or career and interview at least one person who writes in it regularly. My students researched press releases, sports play-by-plays, children’s books, spoken word poetry, medical textbook chapters, biomedical research articles, engineering field reports, event planning proposals, movie reviews, lab reports, health and safety plans, and more. And beyond recognizing about the real audiences, exigencies, and discourses engaged by these genres, they also repeatedly noted and reflected upon the fact that writing was going to follow them into their futures, a reality many had not accepted when they first entered my class.

Without a doubt, this is my greatest success this semester and the biggest boost I got from the genre-centered approach, because I have been trying for my five years as a composition instructor to communicate to my students that there is no person in the 21st century who does not have to write on the job, and who is not more successful when they can do so with a clear sense of message and proof.  I was finally able to achieve this pedagogical goal by deputizing my students to go out on their own and seek out the genres they would need in their own lives.

Now my failings. To be fair to myself, I’ll note that most of them were curricular snafus borne from this being my first time teaching this version of the course. I note them here mostly for my future self, for when I teach this class again.

First of all, and it’s a biggie, I need to teach visual and multimodal rhetoric more explicitly, more smartly, and with better readings. I gestured at it in class but in my putting off the reading assignments to find something good to assign, I ended up forgetting to assign a reading and that let to my students giving really boring, ugly powerpoints.

Second: if I assign presentations again, no powerpoints allowed.

Third: if I require students to bring in a 3D object again, we need to have some make art time in class together. A lot of students brought in, like, a handout or a cookie. No shade to cookies, but, ya know.

Four: always build in drafting. I didn’t for the first unit blog post, and there wasn’t much time for student discussion after presentations, and that was bad. More feedback from the class always. Also, this reminds me that I really want to do full-class workshops in the future and center student writing as course texts more. The challenge for me here is that it is always so hard to cut down the assigned readings to make space for this. But I just have to do it.

FIve: I had students tweet and take images of each other in media groups so they could respect each other’s privacy wishes about sharing content on the web, but then other students could also share as well. I should have just had everyone live tweet everyone and have each student start their presentation with a statement of how they wanted their content shared or not and their privacy protected.

Six: I had a students make a Storify but I didn’t have them comment on each other’s Storifys using the little built-in comment thing. So I should do that!

Ok enough with those quibbles. I want to close by brainstorming about next semester, when I teach 205, the required critical research course for second-semester sophomores.

The version I taught last spring and summer moves through three units: an opening critical reading unit, where I give the students a bunch of articles about hiphop, discourse, literacy and education; a research unit, where they identify a research question and pursue it independently; and a paper-writing unit, where they write the paper. Also usually I make them reflect at the end, because I <3 reflective writing.

Mostly I need an excuse to teach this article, a lawyer’s inquiry into the traffic stop scene in “99 Problems.”

I wonder what would happen if I made them research method, genres, and research questions in their fields, design a project for that field, and then execute it? I like that idea. I also like the idea of them keeping a blog all semester and I ALSO like the idea of having a class blog where one student is responsible for writing a course recap every week and then we workshop it in class the next week. What do y’all think of that? TB, out.

Paean to the South Bay

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The South Bay doesn’t get a lot of love. People call the Peninsula Silicon Valley—and culturally, these days, it is—but Silicon Valley proper, the geographical valley that led to the naming of the tech boom’s place-space—is really the Santa Clara Valley, the low-lying land at the southern base of the San Francisco Bay, a dry, flat expanse crisscrossed by expressways where fruit orchards used to be, now studded with shining buildings crowned in the recognizable neon logos of Intel, Dell, Tivo, Linkedin, Motorola, Samsung, Symantec, Norton, and more.

This is where I live, during the few months a year when I leave my graduate school semester in Syracuse and stay with my boyfriend, who works in tech. We live in Sunnyvale, a municipality bounded by Mountain View to the northwest, the Bay to the northeast, Santa Clara to the southeast, and Cupertino to the southwest. We’re in a tenuous position as far as Bay Area sectionalities go, constantly having to click through listings in “The Peninsula” and “South Bay”—even sometimes “Santa Cruz”—anytime we look for restaurant listings, through Craigslist ads, and the like.

As I said, we don’t get a lot of love down here. Everyone knows San Francisco and Sausalito, Oakland and Berkeley, and these days even Palo Alto and Mountain View are tech-white-hot. I think of the Valley as the overachieving kid who never gets much attention because they always seem to succeed, they don’t need the help. The South Bay has powered the Bay Area’s explosion in real, cultural, and political capital, but I don’t see that acknowledged so much. Everyone talks about the Google buses but no one thinks about where they’re going to, these arbitrary town suburb things delimited from one another by signs and zoning, the ephemera of cartographers with no real geographical correlates here on the flat, open ground.

The houses are Eichlers or Eichler-style, flat square single-family homes built in the 50s over razed orchards with a handful of trees left for fun. Closed to the front, wide open in the back, private which also means isolating, no front-porch banter between neighbors, not even a stoop to squat on.

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last summer’s tomato plants in our backyard

No culture to speak of, if by culture you mean theater, dancing, public art or museums worth a visit. In Sunnyvale our downtown is the one-block “Historic Murphy Street,” an Epcot facsimile of urban life with large parking lots behind the two rows of restaurants on either side of the street, and an enormous Target and Macy’s just beyond.

The real life down here lives in the strip malls, a strange reality that I’ve begrudgingly come to love. Our favorite Japanese restaurant, Hoshi, an izakaya joint in Santa Clara, is in a large strip mall, next to a liquor store and a Safeway. In Sunnyvale, the best imported foods are all to be found at Felipe’s and there’s free pool and darts at Beefy’s Cabin, in a tiny strip just across the street—just don’t go on Thursdays unless you want to join the darts tournament.

For great Vietnamese food we slide over to Milpitas, on the eastern side of San Jose. If you want to buy clothing or books, you have to go to the mall.

In Cupertino and all around us there are huge Asian malls with Ranch 99 supermarkets, Chinese restaurants, filled with Asian nationals speaking in foreign tongues. I love it there. On Yelp we found a Hunanese place called Chef Ma’s, in the back of a mall where even the waiter didn’t speak English.

Hoshi!

Hoshi!

In every strip mall there is a Kumon and a martial art’s place, for the kids, and along historic El Camino Real, the big box stores repeat themselves: CVS, Safeway, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Verizon, Rite-Aid, rinse, repeat.

We want to leave this place, this desolate suburbia where I speak to no one all day and have to get in my car to go anywhere, and yet the thought of leaving gives me pause. I’ve come to love this weird, quiet place, the smell of the salty marshes at the base of the bay, the ghostlike boathouse in Alviso, the quiet determination of Alum Rock. I feel protective of this place, like I want to warn it of the gentrification sweeping down the Peninsula like a wave, even as I know that my white boyfriend and I are the gentrifiers, the people brought here to work in tech, displacing the working class Latinos who are our neighbors, who speak in our local taqueria and laundromat in Spanish, then switch into English for me.

my man at Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton

my man at Lick Observatory, on Mt. Hamilton

At dusk the South Bay turns colors, the sky glows iridescent like gold, and on the other side of the mountains are the ocean and in those mountains are deep ravines filled with redwoods and swimming holes. My boyfriend is a biker and it takes half an our to slide out of the valley and onto Mt. Hamilton sat staunchly behind Alum Rock. The Junction, a dusty biker bar with Sierra Nevadas and pulled pork sandwiches, and above it, domed and white, Lick Observatory, what I call the Sacre Coeur of San Jose. Sunnyvale is an hour to SF, an hour to Oakland, fifty minutes to the coast on the Peninsula or down in Santa Cruz. The center of the wheel never gets the glory. No one talks about reinventing the hub.

Y’all down with the Dao De Jing? I’ll leave you with sutra 11:

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space that makes it liveable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Anthony Bourdain, Shmageggy

still from "Parts Unknown"

still from “Parts Unknown”

Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown could really be something special if Bourdain wasn’t such a schmuck. I know, I know, his shtick is shmuck—and yet I still hoped beyond hope, as I watched the second season of his show which begins in Israel/Palestine and ends in Detroit, that the brave progressivism he shows in his first episode would extend through the end.

It doesn’t.

Over the course of the season it becomes clear that while it’s in vogue to support Palestinian liberation and tresspass to the other side of the wall—so cool, I guess, that CNN is ok with it—it’s still acceptable in the same moral and televised universe to visit South Africa without having researched it first, to romanticize the diversity of not just South Africa but also New Mexico, erasing the history of colonialism, to visit Japan and only talk about sex work, and to spend an entire hour-long episode on Detroit not only framing it in the way that the characters in the episode directly ask him not to, but also resist showing a single stable business in the entire city.

Ok, dude.

What kills me is that the episode on Jerusalem was really, really great. He gives the history of the place, uses dynamic maps to show the history of the land, who owned and conquered what, where, and when. I wished he had repeated this use of maps in each episode, especially in New Mexico, where the complex history of colonialism in that state—the Spanish conquering native Pueblos, the Spanish-Mexicans being taken over by the Anglo-Americans coming from the north and east—gets totally romanticized in this multiculti American fantasyland.

And in South Africa, Bourdain actually turns to his table of hosts and asks, “To what extent—is it really a rainbow nation? are things getting mixed?” Then the camera cuts away from the horrified diners to a swarthy white guy who looks like all those almost-white men who populate Motorola commercials now.

cut to....Motorola commercial guy. from "Parts Unknown"

cut to….Motorola commercial guy. from “Parts Unknown”

The episode about Japan is just violently irresponsible, like CNN deserves a censure from Edward Said himself and I recommend it to anyone teaching the concept of Orientalism, ever. Bourdain spends the entire episode—in Japan! Japan!—talking about sex work and porn, going to far as to eschew actually speaking with chefs and foodies and instead going out to eat with a Shibari artist and the woman he ties up. They don’t have much to say about the food, but that’s ok, because Bourdain doesn’t want to talk about it! Speaking with an artist who draws fantastical pornographic anime, Bourdain comments, “Chefs I know all want to die here. Because we don’t understand anything…I don’t understand the porn here. How is it, you can’t fuck someone with a penis, but you can fuck him with an octopus tentacle?” His host just looks uncomfortable, like he was hoping they could finally just talk about the food.

Shibari, from "Parts Unknown"

Shibari, from “Parts Unknown”

Bourdain’s refusal to listen, to be educated, to hear the people he is speaking to, is most spectacularly evident in the season’s final episode, about Detroit. The phrase “ruin porn” was invented for this episode, with its long, lingering shots of tall grass foregrounding bombed out buildings, and tracking shots down graffitied factory walls. no sign of the kids who bombed the place.

I’ll grant Anthony Bourdain this: his cinematographers, and possibly himself, understand that graffiti is free artwork that is magnificent for everyone to see. This may be the most progressive element of his show, this acknowledgment of graffiti’s terrific and unarguable artistry.

But Bourdain refuses to listen.

“You wanna take pictures here,” he says of an emptied old auto factory he’s touring. “The place, like so much of Detroit, invites it.” But “the locals hate it: wallowing, like we are, in ruin porn.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 5.37.20 PM

said ruin porn. From “Parts Unknown”

I was struck by Bourdain’s apparent lack of cognitive dissonance, as he describes himself doing the thing a whole city of people has asked him not to do. That is the definition of chauvinism, right? Looking people straight in the face as you talk over them, defining them as they cry out for you not to?

Bourdain calls the people who live in Detroit “survivors” and “refugees” and at one point compares it to Chernobyl.

Finally near the end of the episode a young white chef yells at Bourdain for fetishizing him, for his utter inability to understand why, as he puts it, a hot young chef would leave New York to go to this wasteland, Detroit. “No! Not going to Detroit!” the chef screams, slapping his chest. “Coming home to Detroit!”

But acknowledging Detroit as anyone’s home would entail affirming that people actually live there, and that is too much for Bourdain to do.

Dontgetit

On Saturday night I was groped in a club in Chicago. When I whipped my head around to see who had done it, I thought I could identify my assailant by the way he was furiously speeding away, not looking back. A run-by grabbing. By the time I turned around he was well away from me but I thought that was him, anyway, speedwalking through a crowd of people chatting and standing mostly still.

I brought the water I was ordering to my boyfriend on a nearby couch, told him what happened, and then watched as the man emerged from around the corner and stood by the ping pong tables, taking pictures. I told my beau I was going to go yell at him.

We walked over and I said something like hey you just grabbed my ass and what the hell, not even sure it was him, expecting him to deny. But instead he gave us this blank stare, touched his chest, shrugged, said sorry, said, What do you want me to do? It was fucking creepy. I guess in the end he said he’d leave.

We went back to the dance floor and I felt this wave of guilt because what I should have wanted was to take his picture, to drag him to the bouncers and say, This man assaulted me—don’t let him in here ever again. Fuck, call the police! That’s illegal, right? Assault?

***

As a rape survivor I hate when we call rape sexual assault. Calling rape sexual assault makes both invisible. Sexual assault is this man purposefully molesting me. Sexual assault is my classmate in graduate school following me into my apartment after getting me drunk and unzipping my sweater while I cried hysterically, frozen and in shock. Sexual assault is grabbed breasts, dicks, and asses, a feel-up during a pat-down, any forced or unwanted touching, kissing, or contact. Rape is assault with penetration. Of a vagina, of an anus, of a mouth. We make all the assaults invisible when we forget the word rape, which is another, worser, thing, a thing often done also by the men and women who commit assault.

***

The whole night my friend kept saying that Soho House, where we were, was “the eating club of Chicago”–and now, after this dude visibly groped me in open well-lit space and no one noticed or seemed to care, I find myself remembering when I was being raped my freshman year of college in an actual eating club and one of my friends stood at the front door of the club begging the bouncers to let her in and get her friend, because someone called her and said I was in trouble. We’ve talked about it since, she and I, the useless irony of security guarding the doors but not protecting the people inside.

And I think also of the seven Syracuse University campus security guards manning the doors at occupied Crouse-Hinds Hall, getting paid the overtime the Administration has complained loudly about to eat potato chips and turn away lawyers and food deliveries at the door. Maybe, maybe, for our safety, we could have used one guard, to walk around the space regularly and make sure everyone inside was actually medically safe.

***

Now I have been a rape survivor for ten years and I have educated myself on sexual predators and I know, for example, that among men who rape, their average number of victims is 6. I know that not a lot of men are sexual predators but that the ones who are do it repeatedly. And I see the smug sociopathic mug of this dude who grabbed me offering with blank stare to leave and I’m kicking myself for not taking his fucking picture and showing it to the bouncers or the cops or the whole internet because he knew what he was doing well enough to leave quickly so he could do it again, and who knows what else, too. And in the rape culture we live in, the onus is on me, the victim, to make sure sex offenders don’t further offend. But I never heard of the victims of poor people’s drug use being forced to be aggressive and press charges if they wanted those poor drug addicts of color to end up in jail.

***

What is security? Whom does security make secure?

I have never heard of a security detail in which off-duty policemen are specifically hired and trained to walk around a space making sure sexual predators are not assaulting or raping people. Have you? If the man who groped me had thrown a punch he would’ve been out on the street immediately, but no one is looking for assault and I don’t know who would’ve cared if I’d asked them to. That’s just the price of admission, for being a woman in a bar, these days.

***

I want a world where security makes women more secure. Where there’s one security force to keep the bar exclusive and cool, sure, but then there are trained people inside the premises looking for vulnerable passed out women and men and going to them and finding their friends and getting them out of there safely and stopping strangers from fucking with them and arresting the people who do. I want a security guard who is scanning the bar scene and noticing when a man purposefully speeds past a woman to molest her unconsenting body as he passes by, who calls the fucking cops on him because that is sexual assault and assault is illegal and, in this imaginary world, it is recognized that sex offenders are repeat offenders and it is a legal priority to get them off the streets, because unlike nonviolent drug users, for example, they actively and inherently are a threat to those around them.

And in this imaginary world women and men who say they are assaulted are believed and not demeaned and not blamed because in this world the fact that 2% of rape accusations are false is as taken for granted as the broken window theory that sends black teenage potheads to jail and gets a man murdered for selling loosies on the street. As Lil Wayne says in “Dontgetit,” the outro to his Carter III, “we don’t have room in the jail for the real motherfuckers, the real criminals,” He describes a sex offender moving into his neighborhood. “They givin me a paper—is that a misunderstanding? ‘Cause I really don’t understand it.” But I really don’t want to know that answer.

Nothing Was the Same – part I

“So, you ask, when does the Hip-Hop Generation begin? After DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaata. Whom does it include? Anyone who is down. When does it end? When the next generation tells us it’s over….It’s but one version, this dub history–a gift from those who have illuminated and inspired…”

– Jeff Chang, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

I have been listening to Drake’s latest studio album, Nothing Was the Same, a LOT. I’ll be honest, right now NWTS is constituting a large majority of my weekly and even daily music consumption. After the first few listens, I started noticing the album’s samples of classic Golden Era hiphop songs and I began formulating my little hiphop-hypothesis (aka
hip-hop-eth-is) that Drake was tipping his hat towards the hiphop greats while simultaneously composing himself into their company, into the hiphop canon.

In fact, he doesn’t really do this. Or rather, he is largely saluting the Wu-Tang Clan. All three samples of rap songs from the mid-90s are from Wu-Tang’s first two albums, and two of the three are actually samples of the same song, Wu-Tang’s 1997 “It’s Yourz,” which appears in Drake’s “Wu-Tang Forever” and then again in the immediately following “Own It” as tracks 4 and 5. Turns out my hypothesis was based on a faulty aural ID of the sample–probably from both songs–as the sample of T la Rock and Jazzy J’s “It’s Yours” (1984) that turns up on Nas’s 1994 “The World Is Yours.” (Put simply, I thought Drake’s producers were sampling Nas, not Wu-Tang. Guess I wasn’t looking at the track listing.)

Here is where my research falters. I didn’t research deeply into these songs’ producers to see where they were or whether they worked together or what they were thinking. I use “Drake” as a synechdoche for all of the people who collectively create the music called Drake’s. But neither Wikipedia nor WhoSampled had any indication that Wu-Tang’s use of the shouted phrase “it’s yours!” which constitutes the chorus on “It’s Yourz,” released in 1997 in New York City, referenced or had any legal relationship to the shouted “it’s yours!” on Nas’s track from three years prior, which came out on his debut Illmatic in 1994, also in New York. I find this strange.

On NWST I also recognized the sample of Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M. in “Pound Cake/Paris Morton Music 2,” and that makes 3 samples of Wu-Tang, among the album’s other assorted samples of pop, soul, and hiphop tracks. Not the broad Golden Era homage I had in mind.

And yet, it’s still noteworthy that Drake et al is sampling rap from the ’90s, including Nas or not. As Tricia Rose writes in Black Noise, “sampling in rap is a process of cultural literacy and intertextual reference” (89). Of course sampling “is about paying homage” (79), but it also “locates these ‘past’ sounds in the ‘present’” (89), allowing an artist like Drake to position himself in music history and highlight how earlier music circulates in the lives and musics of contemporary artists. In this way rap artists arrange for themselves their own portraits of musical history, the history of themselves. Drake arrays himself alongside contemporaries and predecessors, a group that has included Whitney Houston, Aaliyah, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Wu-Tang Clan, Curtis Mayfield, 2-Chainz, and Timbaland.

Rappers sampling rappers is noteworthy because early rap couldn’t sample rap–there wasn’t any yet. Bambaata sampled Kraftwerk; “The Message” boasts a funk bass line under a disco beat. Sampling has always been one method by which hiphop artists intertextually situate themselves within living traditions of American, African-American, and world musics.

Three-and-a-half decades on, contemporary rappers have a rich repository of hiphop musics, including rap and R&B, to sample from, besides earlier and other contemporary forms. So Drake’s opener on NWTS, “Tuscan Leather,” can sample Whitney Houston alongside Curtis Mayfield–nodding both to the music that was on the radio when Drake and in fact I were kids, as well as the music our parents’ generation heard. Mayfield joins other soul and funk greats like James Brown and Otis Redding, along with so many other artists from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, in forming the backbone of hiphop beats.

In more recent rap, hiphop’s traditional sample base has expanded to include more contemporary references. Mayfield is sampled heavily on Kanye West’s debut The College Dropout, released in 2004, an album which also references Lauryn HIll, and that was already 10 years ago. Now, in 2014, we’re into the generation where J. Cole samples a track from West’s debut, West’s “The New Workout Plan,” on Cole’s “Work Out” from 2011. My 18-year-old students from a few years ago knew who Aaliyah from Drake’s 2010 “Unforgettable,” which samples Aaliyah off of her 1994 R. Kelly-produced Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number, whose title track is sampled in Outkast’s “May-December,” off of their 2004 Speakerboxxx/The Love Below–or maybe my students never noticed the sample but recognized Aaliyah’s name from Kendrick’s line on Drake’s “Buried Alive Interlude” that, “Only that nigga was missing was Aaliyah,”  or Drake’s quick eulogy–“Since I saw Aaliyah’s precious life go too soon”–on “We’ll Be Fine,” both off Drake’s 2011 Take Care.

The point is, time flies. 2004 was 10 years ago and 1994 was 20. In 1994, I was 8. So was Drake. Aaliyah was 16 (ergo the statutory-rape-ness of her relationship with producer R. Kelly). Kendrick Lamar was 7. Nas’s Illmatic, Biggie’s Ready to Die, Outkast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, and Common’s Resurrection all came out that year–that’s why Nas and Outkast had twentieth reunion tours this year: nostalgia. Nostalgia sells. These cycles put us in rap’s third or fourth generation, if such distinctions aren’t the fictions Jeff Chang warns us they are. Christopher Wallace would’ve been 42 this year and Aaliyah would be 36. Nas is 41 and Andre 3000 is 39, even if he plays a 24-year old Jimi Hendrix in the new biopic All Is By My Side. History is more like a circle than a line, or a rhythm that you hear in the corner of your mind, still echoing from the tape deck long shut off in the dash of the quiet, waiting car. “[T]he thing (the ritual, the dance, the beat) is there for you to pick up when you come back to get it,” that is, when it “‘cuts’ back to the start” (Snead qtd. in Rose 69). Hiphop history lives in the cut.

Nothing_Was_the_Same_cover_1

via Wikipedia

References

Wikipedia: “Nothing Was The Same,” “Tuscan Leather,” “Wu-Tang Forever [Drake album],” “Own It,” “Connect,” “Poundcake/Paris Morton Music 2,” “Wu-Tang Forever [Wu-Tang Clan album],” and more.

WhoSampled.com: “Drake ft. PARTYNEXTDOOR Own It samples Wu-Tang Clan Its Yours,” “Nas The World Is Yours samples T La Rock and Jazzy Jay It’s Yours,” “Drake feat. Young Jeezy Unforgettable samples Aaliyah feat R. Kelly At Your Best (You Are Love),” “Wu Tang Clan Its Yourz,” and more.

WhoSampled.com Blog. “Drake–Nothing Was The Same: The Samples.”

Andrew Martin, “A History of Drake’s Obsession with Aaliyah.” Complex.com.

Print

Chang, Jeff. Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. Picador (2005): New York.

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Middletown (1994): Wesleyan University Press.

Homely Genres and the Michael Brown Autopsy Report

first page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

first page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On Tuesday night, as I was checking my Twitter feed just before sleep, the autopsy report on Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown was released. How strange, to see this boy’s death described in the vague and also explicit detail of a bureaucratic, quasi-medical discourse. Someone had sat down and written this. I wondered who.

Now that I look at it again I see it was written by Wendell Payne, Medicological Investigator. Oddly, it does not seem to be dated, even though the first words of the prose narrative are “At 1330 hours.”

My immediate response was to screenshot each page, because, as Kanye once said, “They gonna take this off the internet real quick.”

The document contains a lot of information that we already knew, that Michael Brown lay in the street for hours while the crowds gathered, the panic rising—but here they are conveyed in the clear, firm language of the government:

There I was met by numerous officers of the St. Louis County Police Department and they directed my attention to the deceased who was located in the middle of the roadway with his head pointed west and his feet east….The deceased was lying in the prone position.

The deceased was cool to the touch. Rigor mortis was slightly felt in his extremities.

In the freshman composition class I teach we are researching “homely” genres, those genres people write in every day without even thinking about it as writing: e-mails, text messages, facebook posts, but also professional genres like case files, medical reports, and broadcast scripts, not to mention application forms and essays, tax forms, letters to contest parking tickets, and so forth.

What homely genres have you written in lately?

The term “homely” comes from Carolyn Miller’s seminal 1984 article “Genre as Social Action,” in which Miller consolidates previous rhetorical and discursive study of genre and lays the foundation for a given genre to be analyzed, beyond its language, format, or situation, “on the action it is used to accomplish.”

To consider as potential genres such homely discourse as the letter of recommendation, the user manual, the progress report, the ransom note, the lecture, and the white paper, as well as the euology the apologia, the inaugural, the public proceeding, and the sermon, is not to trivialize the study of genres; it is to take seriously the rhetoric in which we are immersed and the situations in which we find ourselves. (Miller)

After the release of the autopsy report that night, the tweets came out fast and furious. Was the report fabricated? Lying? Was the medical examiner biased?

These questions matter, but they won’t be answered by this report. But this report is important: very, very important. Miller writes that “as a recurrent, significant action, a genre embodies an aspect of cultural rationality.”

That is: this autopsy report tells us about the logics and movements of our culture. It gives a text, an example of a genre–that is, the medical autopsy report produced by a police force–what is natively labeled “Narrative Report of Investigation”–an artifact about which we can ask, “Who wrote you, and for what audience? How were you circulated? Who typed you, printed you, held you, e-mailed you, handed you off? Who leaked you? And, in your original function, what were you supposed to accomplish?”

When I read the report last night, I gasped. I covered my mouth. I was horrified. But that is not the report’s intention, because I am not its audience. This genre wants everything to seem normal–or at least, accounted for. And it is, accounted for, for the most part. The report describes how Michael Brown was arrayed in the street according to the compass rose, it describes what he was wearing and what he objects were near him, like his flip-flops, and it describes his nine (9) gunshot wounds, and his “abrasions.”

detail from Michael Brown autopsy report, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

detail from Michael Brown autopsy report, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Stamped below this description, in the bottom margin of the page, in red ink: NOT FOR SECONDARY RELEASE.

What is not known is how exactly Officer Wilson’s weapon discharged nine times into the dead man’s body, only that “during the struggle the Officers weapon was un-holstered. The weapon discharged during the struggle.” The report continues:

The deceased the ran down the roadway. Officer WILSON then began to chase the deceased. As he was giving chase to the deceased, the deceased turned around and ran towards Officer WILSON. Officer WILSON had his service weapon drawn, as the deceased began to run towards him, he discharged his service weapon several times.

As this is preliminary information it was not known in which order or how many time the officer fired his weapon during the confrontation.

Let’s pause with the language. Officer WILSON has a name, but Michael Brown does not. In this report, Michael Brown is a zombie, a “deceased” who can run away from a skirmish and then run back towards the officer who has already discharged his weapon at least once. He must be a zombie, this deceased, because what kind of person charges a police officer whose weapon is drawn and which weapon has already fired at least once, when they were tussling while the officer was still inside his squad car?

This is genre functioning, that tiny, crucial decision to call the dead person not by their name but by “the deceased.” A question for further research might be whether medical examiner reports of people who were not shot by police officers are also called “the deceased.”

last page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

last page of the Michael Brown autopsy report, via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The last line of the report notes, “Any additional information will follow in the usual supplemental manner.”

The usual manner. This is the power of this genre: to usher its subject matter, that is the state-sanctioned murder of an unarmed teenage boy, into a file in a filing cabinet to which other documents can be added and consulted and called forth and held secret from the press and marked “Not for Secondary Release,” this stream of documentation and memo and language and mostly correct spelling and grammar and headers and signatures and case numbers that say everything is accounted for and is being handled and nothing is wrong in the universe where the correct papers have been filed.

Of course, everything is wrong. Everything is wrong! I can use all caps and expletives and images and links and embedded tweets all day long, but nothing in this blog post can make that report seem as abnormal as it makes itself, its own existence and the “preliminary information” it contains normal, filed, stamped, sealed, delivered, accounted for.

Last class I asked my students to read a blog post and then copied them my own homework by mistake, and none of them e-mailed me to say the link seemed weird. Only when I went into our discussion board and saw student after student comment how confusing it was, did I check the link and see I’d had them read about ancient greek rhetorician Aspasia of Miletus by accident, that the title was not the title on the syllabus or even on the link, let alone that the content was nonsensical in the context of our class. But words pass by our eyes and we are so used to them being there we don’t even ask what they are or why they’re there or who wrote them or what they are supposed to do, we just accept that this is the language that fills the homework and these are the papers in the Brown, Michael file.

These papers, this stream of memos, this is the stuff of colonial land treaties and apartheid laws and illegal wars and vast coverups of abuse: a series of memos pushed by paper pushers, filed by paper filers, read but not really read, injustice furthered again in that “genteel bureaucratic way” that injustice has of reinstantiating itself.

There is more to say, there always is, but this is a blog post, and blog posts are supposed to be short. Til soon.

Put Tupac on the SAT Exam

Tupac's handwritten poem "The Rose that Grew From Concrete," via cleeclothing.com

Tupac’s handwritten poem “The Rose that Grew From Concrete,” via cleeclothing.com

Imagine what would happen if Tupac’s “Changes” appeared on the SAT Reading exam:

  • Every high school in the country would scramble to start teaching its students to close-read rap songs
  • Rappers would suddenly be acknowledged as writers of poetry, whose lyrics contain the same poetic, narrative, and rhetorical devices–metaphor, irony, anaphora, character, apostrophe, setting, motifs, anecdote, allusion–as other canonized literary texts
  • The SAT would have to acknowledge dialect diversity, preface its “Complete these sentences correctly” section with “Using Standard English…,” and critical language awareness would suddenly appear in high school English curricula
  • Curriculum planners and students would see contemporary writing as worthy of study 

Continue reading

Shame and Shamelessness: What I’ve Been Reading This Week

In National Journal, NPR’s Michel Martin brings race to the gendered discussion of “having it all” in her nuanced “What I’ve Left Unsaid.”

On her tumblr Rebgold, my day school classmate Rebecca’s beautiful images and words about the current crisis in Gaza, centering on the universal image of “Mayim-Agua-Water-Wasser.”

In the New York Times Magazine, Nicola Twilley’s fun and thoughtful “What do Chinese Dumplings Have to Do with Global Warming?”

On Open Democracy, an interview with philosopher Judith Butler about her controversial, anti-violence position on Israel-Palestine.

Shuhada Street, via theAtlantic.com (Nayef Hashlamoun/Reuters)

Shuhada Street, via theAtlantic.com (Nayef Hashlamoun/Reuters)

On BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen’s “Down and Dirty History of TMZ” and its founder Harvey Levin.

In the Atlantic, Megan Garber talks the capitalistic genius of Kimmy K in “Kapitalism and Kim Kardashian”–and I’ll have more to say on this one soon, I think.

On HNN, U of M history professor Juan Cole’s post on the geopolitical history of Israel-Palestine, in response to a skirmish on theAtlantic.com between Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg spurred by an earlier blog post by Cole.

Also in The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky interviews @FeministaJones on her anti-harrassment campaign #YouOkSis, which centers black women’s experiences in this conversation.

Finally, in HaAretz, Amira Hass’s “Israel’s Moral Defeat Will Haunt Us for Many Years,” and in the Atlantic, Ayelet Waldman’s “The Shame of Shuhada Street.”

These Ears Ain’t Loyal

Kanye Kendrick lookalike wannabe GGgggrrrrrrr, via theroot.com

Kanye Kendrick lookalike wannabe GGgggrrrrrrr, via theroot.com

I need to make a confession: I love the song “Loyal.” I’m thrilled every time it comes on the radio, and I don’t have to pay Chris Brown to hear it. It tastes like candy in my ear holes. I just want to listen to it on repeat, its ringtone rhythms pouring sugar down my spine.  Continue reading

YOU ARE HAIR: Pixie Cut Mania

I am SO excited to share this.

In March, I presented in the film podcast Bonnie and Maude‘s live show, YOU ARE HAIR. Yes, it was all about hair. Now you can watch the clip, interspersed with my visuals, below. (You *should* watch the whole thing. But to watch mine, select “Playlist” in the upper-left-hand corner and choose video #3.)

In my talk, I discuss the winter wave of celebrity pixie cuts, focusing specifically on Beyonce and Miley Cyrus–how they debuted their cuts, and how they were constructed in their music videos. Enjoy–and he sure to check out the rest of the night’s program here! Special thanks to Kseniya and Eleanor for hosting and producing these clips!!

Katching Up With The Kardashians…Season 1

Last night I told myself I would post every day for 10 work days, so I’ll start my POWER 10 with a confession…

I watched the first season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians last week. (They’re 21 minute episodes, in my defense!) I have become a total stan for Kimye in the last two years and thought watching Kimmy K’s show would be a fun way to indulge my new obsession even further.

via celebuzz.com

via celebuzz.com

I also imagined that the 9 seasons of KUWTK would keep me company for much of my second year of my PhD program, which starts in August–but given that I’m well into the second season now, I’ll be lucky if this lasts me through the end of 2014.

The first season was shot and debuted in 2007, right after Kim’s sex tape came out, and seems to depict a family at a crossroads: do we leverage our daughter’s smutty 15-minutes of fame into something bigger, or do we keep our heads down and try to stay “classy,” a word that hilariously and apparently earnestly recurs during the first season.

Apparent in that effort are some early fissures in Kris and Bruce Jenner’s marriage, which now seem prophetic. But who knows if they were always there or if the terms of Kardashian fame were itself the problem. In the first season, Kris lies repeatedly to Bruce, and always because of the girls’ sexualized business arrangements: once to cover their trip to Puerto Vallarta to pose for Girls Gone Wild’s swimwear line, and another time to hide that Kim may be posing for Playboy. But it’s easy to see from Kris’s goading that she knows that selling her sexuality is Kim’s only open path to fame. Kris seems like Kim’s fluffer as she encourages her to strip down for Hef.

One thing’s for sure about the first season: Kim seemed different back then. She had a sense of humor, and potentially a slightly lumpier nose.

This is the first time I’ve ever really watched a non-competition reality show, and so I find myself wracked with the question of scriptedness: did Kris and her daughters really lie to Bruce? did he really just hop on a jet and fly down to them in Mexico? Did these events happen in this order? How much did the producers say? Did they edit out the weird stuff that Khloe and Kourtney must have said to the cameramen?

I guess I”ll never know. But I can’t wait until the girls start wearing skinny jeans.

“All of us were promised a speaking part”: weeks and weeks of what I’ve been reading

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In Alternet, Soraya Chemaly’s “The Words Every Woman Should Know,” on gendered speech privilege and disparity.

In Vox, Jeff Chang speaks with Kelsey McKinney on the Beats-Apple deal

Continue reading

“Hip-Hop’s New New York”: What I’ve been reading this week

photo by Jessica Lehrman, via NYTimes.com – see below

In the New York Times, Jessica Lehrman’s photo essay “Hip-Hop’s New New York” 

In the Zinn Education Project blog, Sudie Hoffman’s “Rethinking Cinco de Mayo”

In io9, Annalee Newitz’s “How Iran Became One of the World’s Most Futuristic Countries,” on reproductive health freedom and education in Iran

In Buzzfeed, Anne Helen Peterson’s “Zac Efron Bros Down to Grow Up”

In Grantland, Molly Lambert’s “The Visor and the Beret”

In Elle, “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” – Tavi Gevinson interviews Miley Cyrus

In The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “This Town Needs a Better Class of Racist

And some listening for ya: tracks from Music Band’s “Can I Live”

Literacy in “Awkward Black Girl”

[this is an excerpt from a final-paper-in-progress called “’Write the story yourself': Literacy as Social Practice in Hiphop Feminist Art, Scholarship, and Activism”]

In her “Hip Hop and the Black Ratchet Imagination,” L. H. Stallings points to the way that Issa Rae, the creator and star of the web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, has her protagonist J “strap on hip hop” as an outlet for her righteous anger (136). Stallings is referring to those moments when, in fits of frustration, J sits down on her bed and writes furious, explicit, gangsta-inflected rhymes. In her text, Stallings focuses on J’s male-oriented gender performance to explore the queerness of what she calls the “Black Ratchet Imagination.” But we might also see J’s scenes writing raps, one of which appears in the series’s first episode, as a complex literacy event* that not only queers J’s gender identity (a theme brought up in other parts of the episode) but also queers, or questions, her middle-class status, her participation in the information economy, and professional rappers’ processes when writing ridiculous, shallow, expletive-laced lyrics. Continue reading

“Not exactly hollow, but a little haunted”: what I’m reading this week

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In Noisey, Questlove’s “When The People Cheer: How Hip-Hop Failed Black America”

In The Nation, Alexandra Hootnick’s “Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, But Teach for America is Expanding. What’s Wrong With That?”

OnBuzzfeed, Syreeta McFadden’s “Teaching the Camera to See My Skin” and Jarett Wieselman’s “How Judy Grier Became Americas Most In-Demand Best Friend”

In Citypages, Jessica Lussenhop’s “Inside the multi-million dollar essay-scoring business

In The Jerusalem Post, Jacob Magid’s “Occupation – That word makes me uncomfortable, too”

On Sounding Out!, Regina Bradley’s “‘Take Em to Chuch': OutKast and the Sounds of the Southern Black Church”

In The Chronicle, John Fraire’s “Why Your College Should Dump the SAT”

…and everything about Donald Sterling

iDialogues: on racism, the Clippers, and what to do now

[like you, I’ve been obsessively following this story for the last two days. what follows is a text message conversation I just had with a friend and major sports fan, supplemented with some of the texts we reference. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments. -TB]

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via @BuzzFeedNews: “Clippers Turn Warmups Inside Out Before Playoff Game After Owner’s Racism Controversy”

https://twitter.com/tessalaprofessa/status/460492328541511680 https://twitter.com/tessalaprofessa/status/460492482136924162 photo1

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What I’m reading this week

 

From Salon, “Gentrification’s Insidious Violence: the Truth About American Cities,” by Daniel Jose Older, and Brittney Cooper’s “It’s not about you, white liberals: Why attacks on radical people of color are so misguided”

From Colorlines, “Gentrification Report: Black and Latino Displacement is remaking the Bay Area” by Julianne Hing, and

From The Chronicle of Higher Ed, “The Moral Panic in Literary Studies,” by Marc Bousquet, about how growing numbers of English department jobs are in comp/rhet and media studies, verses literature.

From The New York Times, “10 Courses With a Twist,” by Laura Pappano, a list of popular college classes each with a long enough explanation to enlighten.

From GQ: “Ryan McGinley: Naked and Famous,” by Alice Gregory

From Dissent, “The University and the Company Man,” by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Veronica Mars and the Bummer Patriarchy

Last night I watched the first episode of Veronica Mars and it blew my mind. I have never felt a need to write an episode recap so badly as I did watching that pilot last night. I mean, holy shit, one of the first shots of the episode is of Veronica cutting a black classmate down from a flagpole to which he’s been duct-taped, naked, her face at about waist-height.

Granted I’ve been studying lynching, but these are loaded opening shots for a girls’ after-school special. Continue reading

On Ethos (or, White Woman Writing Kanye West)

I recently published an essay in The American Reader, “Yeezy Rising,” which related mainstream media’s persistent mockery of Kanye West to historical discourses around lynching, a public media spectacle which celebrated the dehumanization and murder of outspoken, upwardly mobile black men. The piece was generally well-received, especially, I noticed, by other white academics. Despite my promotion of the piece and my social media connections with scholars of color, however, I also noted that writers and thinkers of color generally didn’t seem interested in my article. I found myself wondering if I had mishandled my subject or if it was somehow offensive or distasteful to a more sensitive and discerning crowd.
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One comment at the end of the piece offered some insight. Continue reading