thanks to solange

I feel weird about admitting that I like the #concept of creative challenges that encourage posting everyday during October: Vlogtober on yt, Inktober on instagram…Okay those might be the only ones I know, but their influence has made me consider posting here regularly this month.  There’s a chance that things might get interesting, I’m sick for the first time in a long time (and hoping that it’s the flu) and my birthday is in a few weeks, of course to be immediately followed by midterms.

But none of that’s as interesting as the reason that I decided to take my hair down, take my phone off its charger to make a video-thing and start daily posting tonight instead of some time in the nebulous, probably never-arriving future.  Because the reason is Solange’s A Seat at the Table.

Listen to it here.

Watch the video for Don’t Touch My Hair.

Watch the video for Cranes in the Sky.

And then this will make sense.

I’m on twitter

Embedding tweets is hard.  That would have been the subtext of this post, but because I feel like uploading screenshots of tweets comes with some ethical murkiness, I’m stating it outright.  Using screenshots also sacrifices a lot of aspects of conversation that twitter exists to enhance.  But technically this was pretty far from a conversation and almost exactly like yelling into a void, so.

Usable links to the tweets, essays etc. are listed after the scroll.


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The welcome letter issued by UChicago.

The great thread by @eveewing

The tweet by @conor64 to which I responded

The piece he wrote on “how free speech restrictions harm marginalized students”  He concluded with the argument that marginalized students should stop letting themselves be marginalized.  Seeing that first thing in the morning is the reason why I wrote this tbh

Why trigger warnings are really so controversial, explained

Stop mocking “safe spaces”: What the Mizzou & Yale backlash is really about

Racism as a Determinant of Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis


A round up of news re: Donald Trump, his white American supporters, empathy, and The Movement

Surprisingly (to me, as I’ve spent years hating on it) twitter has become one of my sites because it’s so easy to use as recommended reading list.

If you’re interested in following the presidential race, I’d recommend following Sopan Deb, who is covering Donald Trump’s campaign for CBS.  Deb tweets incredibly frequently and posts transcripts of Trump’s speeches, including highlighted deviations from the Teleprompter, in almost real time.

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It was through these tweets that I started reading three or four pieces on Donald Trump and his campaign a day.  Some thinkpieces, some op-eds, and tons of theories as to whether or not his campaign will prove to have a lasting impact on American democracy.

Most of those theories are, justly, focused on the relationship between Trump’s statements on race and the views of the country as a whole.  Or at the very least, the views of white Trump supporters.

It’s understandable that there is so much energy and attention being given to determine exactly why white Americans support Donald Trump.  Apart from the alt-right (and I think that the GOP has really played themselves in acknowledging white supremacists as such, they are pretty open about having no ties to policy) we all want to believe that there are reasons why people we know and trust would support a man so openly encouraging of hatred.  (That’s a statement that I think my fingers might have written for me, I’ve heard it said so many times.  Personally, I believe that people are capable of of much worse than hatred.  Hatred’s strange, it can linger in the hearts of millions of NPR listeners and factory workers alike.  Fueled by nothing more than the subtle words of everyone they’ve ever encountered, it can be almost impossible to recognize.  But hatred is an energy, of which we all have finite amounts.  So it’s complacency, the type of thoughtlessness and detachment that doesn’t counter the turmoil which hatred leaves in its wake, that I’m concerned makes progress so difficult to achieve.)

J.D.Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy” argues that Donald Trump supporters are relating to his speeches in multiple ways, none of which include his racist asides.  Listen to him discuss this HERE on The Run-Up, a NYT podcast (which unfortunately can’t be embedded).

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From what I can tell, the book is more memoir than political treatise, which doesn’t come across well due to the nature of the podcast.  And while Vance implies in the podcast that the white population of the Midwest aren’t motivated to vote for Trump by racism, it’s interesting to note that reviews of the book suggest that Vance believes they aren’t motivated by much of anything

For other perspectives on Trump supporters, I’d recommend listening to Politically Re-Active with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu.  The podcast has quickly become my favorite of the summer.  Be warned however, that for a podcast hosted by two comedians, the subject matter is extremely serious, and it’s mostly treated as such.  I know that my sister listened to the episode on gerrymandering and found it to be a major bummer (this might not be the podcast to play whilst doing yoga).

Each episode varies a bit in tone and candor due to nature of the guest and their work. Some  interesting takeaways are: at least two guests have made reference to the existence of multiple America’s as Dr. Martin Luther King discussed in The Other America and other speeches, and no matter the type of social and/or political activism the guests take part in, they all use the phrase “the movement.”

The following descriptions are excerpted from iTunes.

Van Jones is a CNN commentator and activist who has started numerous social and environmental justice initiatives. In this candid conversation, Jones shares what it’s like to be the preferredJones shares what it’s like to be the preferred punching bag of conservative pundits while also being the most compassionate person in the room.

There are two things that Pastor Michael McBride is sure of: Jesus… and white supremacy. The activist and religious leader join W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu in the studio to makesense of last week’s fatal police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, as well as the attack on the Dallas police during a peaceful protest of those killings. For those in search of a little grace and some straight talk about freeing white folks from whiteness (and minorities reaching for that same whiteness), this conversation is for you.

Both Jones and McBride address the question of the motives of Trump supporters with empathy and nuance.  It’s feasible that white Americans might see a vote for Trump as one in their interests moreso than one against those of minority groups.  But even if their motivation is not outright racism, the unquestionable influence of white supremacy and the discussions surrounding it this year will certainly be a part of the legacy of the Donald Trump campaign.

Not a Case for Reparations, Instead Funding Suggestions

In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ long and thorough case for reparations (including reflections on Bernie Sanders and the current state of liberal politics) he said to read How to Build an Economic Model in Your Spare Time.  And I did, but somehow it didn’t help.  Probably because economic models exist to describe existing economic trends and not to theorize about what societies owe to their members and how to ensure that those debts are paid in full.  Who knew?  Well I did; it’s why I’ve never enjoyed an economics class but thought The Wealth of Nations was a surprisingly dynamic read (given that all its best passages have Wikipedia pages).  The strange, narrow space between ethical and political philosophy is one of my favorite places to hang out.

But in lieu of trying to translate my thoughts on social responsibility in light of the violently racist history of the United States and how that should translate to economic redistribution, here are some things from which I’d gladly take a cut of the proceeds:

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This is pretty self explanatory, right?  In short, I think a cut from all new media about O.J. Simpson in the last year would be a great first drop in the reparations bucket.

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Oh wait, I might think these are all self explanatory… To say that one of Beyoncé’s first songs explicitly about black empowerment is boring is ridiculous, but to be expected from a white guy who loves Kendrick Lamar.

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I want a check every time a white person says woke or bae, and I want interest every time they have to gall to use the words to describe other white people.

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Okay, if the proceeds from this actually funded reparations, I’d write in to tell the magazine not to encourage anyone to eat undercooked collard greens.  Seriously.

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I’m sure I’ll come back to this, but young white people being forced to learn about voter suppression (and other ‘failings’ of the representative two party government within an imperialist power) through personal experiences is kinda funny.  It’s when they start calling people lemmings for using the little agency they have that my empathy weakens and I want to be paid for every book, study, and anecdote about the black experience that they didn’t pay attention to.

Serena Williams + Fitness: The Conversation I Can’t Escape

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I have to acknowledge that there might not be a thought to be had about Serena Williams that Claudia Rankine hasn’t already expressed (and on which Serena herself hasn’t offered approval).

At this point, it’s impossible to know whether the work ‘fitness’ actually comes up during the commentary of every match Serena plays or if I’m just sensitive to it.  If it grates just hard enough on skin so sensitive that I notice its every utterance.

Because, honestly, there are plenty of things to dislike about American tennis commentary.  Watch any singles match between men ranked in the top ten and listen for every time someone asks, “Is that the best forehand service return/second serve return/one handed backhand on the tour?”  And when I say someone, of course I’m referring to a small group of white folks who’ve had successful enough careers in tennis or sports commentary or being John McEnroe’s younger brother to qualify them to be on air for forty hours a week.  (I know that James Blake occasionally does commentary for Tennis Channel and that LZ Granderson sat behind an ESPN desk for the duration of this year’s Wimbledon; they’ve been welcome additions but neither of them commentate during WTA matches.)  Endlessly discussing merit in terms of superlatives might be a fault of American sports commentary as a whole, but I can’t see myself watching other sports to come to a definitive conclusion.

Either way, tennis commentary is one of the few things in my life that I love to hate.  I delight in hearing Cliff Drysdale defend ‘Maria’ [Sharapova], as her calls her, in his posh South African accent (or I did before the start of her suspension).  I love it when commentators insist on calling players by nicknames to suggest that they have close personal relationships with players on tour.  John McEnroe, whose commentary style I’d call notably careless with a tangible desire to fill every second of air time, even some of the ones in which the ball is moving, repeatedly refers to Madison Keys as Maddie.  Chris Fowler is so eager to structure a narrative during matches that he regularly speaks over points to suggest hypothetical scenarios of matches’ progression.  Actually, Fowler’s endless talking is something I just hate.

Still, I got to spend two weeks laughing every time an uncomfortable voice interrupted with, “the clothing policy” when mentioning the all-white rule at Wimbledon this year.

During Serena’s three set victory in the second round of this year’s Wimbledon,  Chrissie Evert, while discussing how Serena’s anger often manifests on court in the form of well played points, said “[Serena]’ll ram the ball down your throat.”  I can’t imagine there are many viewers who don’t know about the incident to which she’s referring.  It’s even harder to imagine that Evert could say something so careless on live TV.  But she did, and I had to hear it.  And for better or worse, I don’t believe in the unending ability of well-meaning people to misspeak.  Evert said what she said for a reason, and if her goal was to make me flinch, she succeeded.

Evert has also spearheaded the discussion of fitness in the coverage of Serena’s matches.  When asked about Serena’s odds of winning during a match in the first week of the 2016 French Open, Evert said, “when it comes to Serena I’m always looking at her fitness and her footwork.” Movement on court plays a huge role in most tennis matches.  But trying to assign an arbitrary level of fitness to a professional athlete… I don’t get it (by which I mean, I absolutely get it).

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I can’t find the link between the never-ending discussion of Serena’s fitness and her success.  I don’t think it’s controversial to say that at least two of Serena’s three grand slam victories in 2015 came when she wasn’t playing her best (likely in relation to the mounting pressure of the records she was working to break).  And this year, even after losing two grand slam finals in a row, the significance of fitness that the commentators were seeing in the booth just didn’t translate for me on screen.  Because let’s face it, Serena’s best is better than everyone else on tour, so much so that she’s better than most players even when her stats are below what she’s capable of.

The fitness talking point isn’t even related to the key factors that affect her play (and I’ll put it out there, I think Patrick would agree): her attitude on court, her nerves, the consistency of her ball toss, how much risk she’s taking on second serve returns.  It’s about her body.

And the unavoidable fact that her body is black.  Because not only is she black, she has a body that looks like most professional athlete’s but few professional tennis players’.  I don’t actually want anyone to click through to this worthless NY Times article so in summation: the author calls Serena’s body “a mold-breaking muscular frame” and suggests that thinner female players are capable of but choose not to look more like Serena.  Which, may I say, is a hilarious self drag. To cop to choosing not to have strength and power comparable to the world’s best… Yikes.

In tennis coverage, there are aspects of basic respect that are only earned with success.  Like when Rafael Nadal’s career was at its peak and someone finally stopped ESPN from airing footage of the portion of his service motion that looks like he’s picking a wedgie.   I’m not sure how many consecutive French Opens he had to win before that happened.

So it’s telling that here are some things commentators don’t say about Serena’s body anymore.  When talking about her dresses, instead of sharing their personal opinions they read her public statements about her sources of inspiration.

But it would be too easy if the public discussion of Serena’s body truly ended.  Despite their conscious efforts, I still have to listen to white voices comment on the very personhood of someone whose work and success feels so personally significant.  When she’s playing a woman under 5’4, whose talent lies in their ability to return balls rather than hitting them with power, she’s either not fit enough or she’s “intimidating” and “has an enormous presence” as said during the 2nd round of doubles at Wimbledon this year.

Who knows, maybe if the Kardashians’ fascination with the black body spurns more than just a fad, in a few generations the WTA tour will look more like Serena than Sharapova.  But for now, whenever I watch Serena play, I listen to commentary so incredibly tone deaf that I have to find ways to laugh.

Serena herself has started addressing the racist shit she’s gone through in the last few years, as the significance of her legacy becomes more tangible with each title.  Acknowledging the racism within tennis coverage is about the only thing she hasn’t done.  To think that one of the first to credit Serena as the best ever did so fifteen years after accusing her family of match fixing on live TV is infuriating.  It hurts to know that not only do the voices of tennis have the type of deep seated, casual hatred to fuel a thousand think pieces, but that those voices are so powerful that even the viewers who love her have to hear about it.