From Hester Jones’ “Stop Now” at MaMSIE Art Collection.
Archive for the ‘race/anti-racism’ Category
From Hannah Black’s “Crazy in love” in The New Inquiry.
B was not my first encounter with paranoid thought. In my father’s house, intense young men pontificated at length about white devils and black ancestors. The symbolism and codes of this strand of black radicalism make up an elaborate structure of thought that is partly a mocking parody of academic “paranoid readings,” and partly a serious effort to interpret a world, this world, that appears from the perspective of blackness as formally insane. The everyday beliefs and activities of what we could call white supremacist capitalism, or perhaps less precisely life as we know it, are all, from this perspective, more deeply disturbing than the craziest fantasy you’ll find on a high-security ward. But how is a person supposed to live this knowledge? Unlike me, B was quiet, absorbing everything. Could a white-passing boy even picture the black world that animated his father’s dreams? By the time they all settled down to a quieter middle age, we had spent years steeped in this atmosphere of pain and conspiracy.
In psychosis, no event or thing is small enough to escape the tightly woven net of personal significance. A clock means a bomb, a sunset is a message, and so on. But how do you live in a world in which everything signifies? How do others who live in this shimmering, terrifying world treat you? One time B was found cowering in the restroom at a café, too afraid to leave, and was arrested. Just as much as they are implacably hostile to blackness, for reasons both mysterious and self-evident, the police are also structurally fated to hate the mad. Arrests, harassment, and lucky escapes punctuated the acute phases of B’s illness. Now, every so often, another story of police hurting or killing a mentally ill person surfaces, and I am momentarily gripped by the kind of intense, helpless pain that must be what people mean when they talk about being triggered. Still, it’s important to not overindulge in other people’s trouble, even where it affirms your own. The duty of a crazy person’s friends and family is far more practical: Our duty is to appear, as much as possible, not crazy, so that our loved one will be allowed to live.
We had to act a certain way in the hospitals, to show the doctors that B was not trash. I would put on the smooth neutral suit of sanity, which is smiling politely, listening carefully, and in all ways acting as bourgeois as possible. Those times when my mother forgot her armor, when she begged and cried, I saw how the doctors looked at her, as if she were the really crazy one. But B too knew how to put on the smooth and neutral suit; he knew how to answer the doctors’ questions with enough of an appearance of sanity to escape imprisonment, even when he was in desperate need of help. In an emergency ward, my mother cries and B shouts. We would be a spectacle if anyone cared. I adjust my dress and smooth down my hair, momentarily wishing myself whiter so as to be better able to resist the implications of the doctor’s sneer, which is on the verge of becoming impossible to ignore. I see we are all in danger of falling out of the hole in the skin of the world. Come on let’s go, let’s just leave. I remember my mother crying in the car but I don’t remember what we did next.
Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
Right. It’s ridiculous.
So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?
Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.
From an interview with Chris Rock by Frank Rich in Vulture.
Eminem’s descent into pill addiction is a depressing fulfillment of the Elvis comparison that he’d always played with. While Elvis’s drug problems led to his death at 42, Eminem’s current age, Mathers was able to pull back from the brink of a drug problem that involved consuming between 40 and 60 Valiums a day. A 2007 methadone overdose that almost killed him got him to go to rehab, and an early checkout led to a series of relapses before he got sober for good in 2008. His album cycle about his addiction and relapse allowed him to explore and discuss the darkest period in his life and his fears that he had turned into his addict mother. But what this represented wasn’t really maturation. The levity that had always characterized his work was gone, but in its place was something else: Rather than the toxic ambition of a young man determined to get his, he has the poisoned, defensive entitlement of a man who feels like he has earned his keep and is terrified that someone is going to take it away from him.
Eminem had always been angry, but he had also been funny, and because he was funny, we’d forgiven him time and again for making jokes whose punch lines always involved violence against women and gay people. When Eminem first came onto the scene, he was remarkable for his dexterity and virtuosity and his exceptionalism as the first white solo rap star to be anointed as truly great. As he celebrates 15 years of Shady Records with the release of the compilation Shady XV, which includes the demo version of notable career peak “Lose Yourself,” Eminem is asking us to take stock of his career. And when we do, it feels willfully ignorant to ignore that Eminem is still largely taking on women and gay people as the victims of his fictional crimes. What is offensive is not only the violent, specific lyrics and the revenge fantasies about doling out humiliations; it’s that he attacks people who have done nothing to provoke it. How can someone so intelligent also be so stupid? Or is he just a forever-troll?
Rap is not only still a youth culture, it’s still a predominantly male culture. It feeds off of the need some men have to assert their dominance and masculinity by targeting vulnerable people. The very existence of women is a threat. Anyone who challenges traditional conventions of sexuality is a threat. Poverty is emasculating, and Eminem’s obsession with asserting his masculinity feels like a possible reaction to his upbringing in a run-down section of Detroit. Bullied in school, he honed his verbal put-down skills to a blade. In his early career, it didn’t feel like he was a bully. The pokes at public figures, the jokes about ripping Pamela Lee’s tits off and smacking her around in his debut single, didn’t feel done to death at first, which is why they were written off as irreverent. He didn’t invent the idolization of pimps or the glamorization of violence against women. Like most people do, he was just participating in a system that already existed, without questioning it. As a white rapper in a traditionally black musical culture, he aligned himself against the systemic oppression of black men in America. But he failed to make the parallel connection to the systemic oppression of women of all races. Maybe this was because his deepest fear was that, like horrorcore icon Norman Bates, he would turn into his mother: dependent on drugs, neglected by the state, aging, invisible, and feminized. Oddly, Eminem reserved little of his overflowing ire for Marshall Bruce Mathers Jr., his father, who absconded to California when his son was an infant and never responded to numerous letters that the younger Marshall wrote him as a teen. Eminem chose to mostly project his rage onto those who remained around him, particularly women, including his mother, Debbie, and his on-and-off girlfriend/wife, Kim.
From Molly Lambert’s “Shady XLII: Eminem in 2014″ in Grantland.
It’s hard to continue. I wish it was my kids bedtime. I wish the dishes were done. I wish the house was clean. I wish America wasn’t racist. I wish Mike Brown was in police custody. I wish Darren Wilson admitted guilt. I wish America admitted guilt.
I post on Facebook “How do you parent on a night like this?” People respond with advice about how to talk to kids about race. Well-meaning, but missing the point. I don’t mean what do you say. I mean how do you go on.
How do you go on.
How do you make lunch for tomorrow and sweep and handle bath time?
How do you parent with a permanently broken heart?
I text their mother. “Hi” I say. She responds. But I stop. She is white. I don’t actually want to talk to any white people right now. I love her though. She is an exceedingly kind, strong and loving person. And I make a note to tell her then next time I see her.
My son is being a dick.
He keeps messing with his sister. He keeps not following directions. He keeps jumping around the house like a…well like an 11 year old boy. My patience is wearing thin. I want to yell at him. Will you calm the fuck down?! Do you know what the fuck is happening out there?! But I don’t. Because he will know way sooner than I want.
Mike Brown kept messing with people.
Mike Brown kept jumping around.
Mike Brown kept not following directions.
But when I tell him to brush his teeth and he bullshits for another 10 minutes. I finally lose it.
“Hey!” I yell. The room grows intensely quiet. “Get your shit together.”
I can see behind his eyes as he calculates how to respond. Another joke? An angry backlash? He does neither. He looks hurt. He fixes me with a sad stare, milking it just a bit, and then mopes upstairs. When he is five steps away, I call him back. He makes a joke of not wanting to get closer to me. “Come here” I say. He moves an inch. “No HERE” He moves another. “HERE!” We do our little routine a few times more. We watch a lot of comedy together.
When he is close enough to touch, I reach out and hold him to me like I’ve maybe never held anyone to me in my entire life. I feel his warmth. The narrowness of his bones. The quick beat of his little heart. I bury my face awkwardly in the back of his neck. I choke back tears. I don’t want tears now.
“Dad. Are you alright?” He knows this is the next funny thing to say.
“I love you” is all I can manage.
From Carvell Wallace’s “How to parent on a night like this”.
“Well, if one really wishes to know how justice is administered in a country, one does not question the policemen, the lawyers, the judges, or the protected members of the middle class. One goes to the unprotected — those, precisely, who need the law’s protection most! — and listens to their testimony. Ask any Mexican, any Puerto Rican, any black man, any poor person — ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice, or any concept of it. It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
– James Baldwin’s No Name in the Street (1972).
Just doing the work is the whole battle, we always say: making contact. Sit with the novel, be in it. Turn off the internet so you have nowhere else to go. Only rarely is it satisfying. Rarely is there a great chunk you can point to at the end of a day and say, here is what I did today! More often there’s the vague fear you’ve made no progress at all. Where did those hours go? Where is your work? What is this adding up to? You have paid someone else to be with your child while you did this bullshit? The thing continues and continues to feel like a wreck. But it’s your wreck. And you are working on it, even when it seems like bullshit, eating your time and appearing none the better. No effort is wasted, says the Bhagavad Gita on a post-it I stuck to the bottom of the giant computer monitor. But God, some days are a slog.
From Elisa Albert’s “Where do I write? All over the damn place” in Guernica. Beautiful, circling writing in this whole piece, just beautiful.