Places to go for some good Black History Month Reading

For Harriet has a lot of material written about black women and their contributions.

InMotion is a documentary of African Americans and their migration experience.

A timeline of African American inventors and inventions!

Become a member of the wonderful California African American Museum.

Not just for Black History Month, read Te-Nihesi Coates blog and Post-Bourgie and particularly this piece that agrees with me on the empty critiques of sayings about “do what you love” and work. Also, the Crunk Feminist Collective, which allows you to both read and financially support the page, which is an excellent idea if you want people to keep creating content unsubsidized by the University of Southern California the way I am.

Finally, The Root has wonderful online reporting; please see this very nice piece on Stokely Carmichael.

50 books to add to Brent Toderian & Planetizen’s standard, white city-making books

The risk of critiquing book lists is that a) it’s easy to kvetch about others’ lists, and b) you risk insulting the many wonderful writers who do appear on the original list, including the person who took the time to put together the list in the first place. But at the risk of doing both a and b, I have to say I am disappointed in Brent Toderian’s list of 100 best books on city-making for Planetizen. We can go around and around about this: I guess it depends on what he means by city-making. And a lot depends on what a person reads. But if you are going to go around labeling something “the best”, you’d better be well-read, and this list just doesn’t strike me as being that broad or that open to different perspectives on cities. Then, in his addendum, he adds some fiction, including the rapey The Fountainhead, which he does include as a ‘negative’ example, I guess. But does that tiresome book really need more press? At least he included Calvino and China Meiville in the addenda. But this list and his addenda are standard white urbanist fare, with a lot of echoing of the same ideas from one white urbanist to another. It make me sad that our “best of” lists are still doing this. That said, Jan Gehl’s book is very fine, and you could spend a long time reading the wonderful books on this list.

And he does have some women on the list, but the ones chosen are not exactly writing from non-dominant perspectives, and there are some terrific books by Asian authors on the list, including work from my wonderful colleague, Tridib Banerjee. It’s not that I want to erase the people from the list. It’s that I really wish urban planners would read more widely and take seriously their job to understand and promote more than one perspective on cities, not just focussing on a perspective that simply creates an echo chamber of the wonderfulness of white urbanism and planning with its bike lanes and its downtown retail. The latter is like an endless diet of FoxNews or MSNBC.

You are not educated until you get off your butt and start learning to see the world from a perspective other than your own.

City-making is not the exclusive purview of planners or self-declared urbanists.

So here are some to add to the list, in no order because I’m bad at order. I don’t claim these are ‘the best’–just books I have read that reflect cities and how they are made, that were worth reading, and that represent an effort to read what people from different perspectives have to say:

1. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Much of what you need to know about how ineffectual city government is in governing black neighborhoods appears here in the first few pages as Morrison riffs on “Not Doctor Street.”

2. There Goes the ‘Hood by Lance Freeman. Contemporary gentrification debates.

3. The Truly Disadvantaged by William Julius Wilson. This book should be required reading.

4. The First Suburban Chinatown by Timothy Fong

5. Homeless: Poverty and Place in Urban America by Ella Howard. The first book from a very promising scholar.

6. Off the Books by Sudhir Venkatesh I don’t like his other, much higher profile books as much: this one tells the stories about how people make a living despite city regulation.

7. Promises I Can Keep by Kathryn Edin. Read anything by Kathryn Edin. Just do it. This book focuses mostly on impoverished women in Philadelphia.

8. Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City by Antero Pietila There are some great books on Baltimore, but this one is a good recent one.

9. Gay New York by George Chauncey I wish I could assign this book more often; it’s long, and it’s not easy to chop up. But it is worth your time.

10. Barrio Urbanism by David R. Diaz I like David Diaz’s work a great deal anyway, but this is my favorite.

11. Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak by Bettina L. Love Young black women talking about the role of art and expression in their coming of age in Atlanta.

12. Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism by Rebecca Solnit

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta

13. Jesuit Garden in Beijing and Early Modern Chinese Culture by Hui Zou So interesting.

14. Snow Drops by A.D. Miller A novel set in post-Socialist real estate in Moscow. Harrowing.

15. Kinesthetic City: Dance and Movement in Chinese Urban Spaces by SanSan Kwan

16. Harlem Nocturne by Farah Jasmine Griffin

17. Sento at Sixth and Main by Gail Dubrow and Donna Graves This book made me cry.

18. 18. The Hiawatha by David Treuer Urban Indians in Minneapolis. A haunting, haunting novel.

19. Cities of God and Nationalism: Rome, Mecca, and Jerusalem as Contested Sacred World Cities by Khaldoun Samman

20. Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora by Martin F. Manalansan IV

21. Tunnel People by Tuen Voeten

22. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, who did dystopian Los Angeles like nobody else.

23. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, by Samuel Delany. Oh, and read some of his novels, too.

24. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor M. Rios

25. Graceland by Chris Abani a wonderful novel about post-colonial Lagos

26. Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 By Heda Kovaly

27. Factory Girls by Leslie Chang Follows the story of young women who move from village to metropolitan China.

28. Black, Brown, Yellow, & Left by Laura Pulido

29. Young and Defiant in Tehran by Shahram Khosravi (Author)

30. Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde by Doryun Chong, editor. (Yes, I’m including edited volumes)

31. Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans By Emily Landau

32. Daily Life in Victorian London (an anthology) London of Dickens and Sherlock Holmes was a terrible place if you weren’t rich.

33. The Messiah of Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick Good fiction, with a strong sense of place.

34 In The Land of Isreal by Amos Oz A wonderful book about people, politics, and territory.

35. Aztec of the City–these Comic books are cool, about an urban superhero in San Jose

36. Season of Migration to the North By Tayleb Salih a terrific novel about the influences of east and west and city and village in a globalizing context.

37. The Havanna Quartet by Leonardo Padura. A police procedural set in Havanna.

38. Smeltertown by Monica Perales–the story of the Mexican residents who live in El Paso’s company town.

39. The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York by Suleiman Osman

40. Anything written by Walter Mosley . Anything.

41. L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi

42. Paul R. Williams, Classic Hollywood Style by Karen Hudson

43. City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa by Adam LeBor (wonderful prose style and an intimate look at individuals and the contestation over urban space.

44. All Souls: A Family Story from A Southie
by Michael Patrick MacDonald

45. Allah Made Us: Sexual Outlaws in an Islamic City by Rudolf Gaudio

46. Black Manhattan by James Weldon Johnson

47. The Rise of Abraham Cahan by Seth Lipsky If you have an interest in migrants and the global reach of NYC media, here you go.

48. Chavez Ravine: 1949 by Don Nomark

49. Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows edited by June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf
Another terrific edited volume.

50. The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996 by John Robb

Beyonce and feminism(s)

I’ve been watching the various and sundry discussion of Beyonce’s feminism, and I have two things

a) it’s entirely possible that she, herself, is a feminist, given that she describes herself in that way; and
b) her art or life may not embody the various possible ideals of feminism, but

(b) does not, by itself, prove or disprove (a); nor does the desire among the rest of us to evaluate (b) through a feminist lens disprove (a); nor do questions raised by the rest of us about (b) mean we are women-hater hater pants; nor does the assertion of (a) mean that all of us have to accept (b) as essentially feminist work simply because of (a), either.

For the record, I’ve always thought she was wonderful, even way back in Destiny’s Child, and I am elated that she has taken up the label of feminism despite the extreme scrutiny it places her under. I cheered for her to her response to an idiot who slapped her on the fanny during a performance (she had security make him leave; there’s no reason why she should put up with that.) I’m less in love with other parts of her recent efforts, particularly the gratuitous dropping in of Ike Turner. I don’t know what Jay-Z and Beyonce think it means, but I, too, am allowed to think about what means as somebody who watching them make art. If they don’t want us to think about it….well, J.D. Salinger had an answer to that.

Sustainable racism, grocery edition

So I live in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Los Angeles.  I live here because it is close to where I work, which is at my beloved USC. Yes, I still love USC though it drives me nuts sometimes.

As I recently pointed out, there are million dollar homes in my neighborhood because our little neck of the woods was home to the black entertainers of the 1920s onward who had money but were redlined out farther ‘up the hill’ (toward the Hollywood Hills).  My house has 12 rooms in it, and it’s on an 8,000 square foot lot. In the middle of a very expensive regional housing market.   And we own the smallest house on the block, and probably one of the smaller ones in Wellington Square.  These are not people without money to spend. Yes, when the 10 freeway got planted on the neighborhood, the nabe suffered, as things do when you plant 9 to 12 lanes of constant traffic on them.  But there’s suffering, and  then there’s suffering, and there are black professionals in my neighborhood who are dual income earners, both with much better jobs than mine.

Regular readers will also know I am a frequent consumer of South Central Gardener’s CSA Box.  This box of good-for-me stuff (think lots of kale and other yucky vegetables) has been delivered to USC’s campus in various locations, but it has been moved to a location on campus that is just straight up horrible for us to get to. Usually on CSA (aka commie-pinko) box day, Andy just drives the POS Rescue-Mobile to USC’s campus and picks up me and the CSA box at the same time. A better woman than me would take it on the train, but we usually get the big box of kale, and that’s just more than I can lift.

ANYWAY,  I was very excited to see that a locavore organization called Good Eggs was going to begin delivering the South Central Farmer’s CSA for $3 over the base CSA share cost. Hey,  great. Oh, and look! Lots of other wonderful, lovely edibles!  I love edibles!  Granted, not everybody really wants to buy $16 gallons of almond milk, but hey, I’m in. Sustainability requires extra effort, and  yum! Almond milk.  The company has a great concept, and I love it.  Vegan cashew cheese.  What’s not to love?

$170 worth of tangerines, artisanal chocolate, fresh bouquets and other sundries, including my CSA box in my shopping cart, and I go to check out.  Pick out my delivery area. Ok, fine! Great. They say they deliver to Central Los Angeles, which is where my beloved nabe is…..oh wait.  Here is a map of their delivery areas for Central Los Angeles, slightly modified by me:


Early on during our acquaintance, my good friend Richard Green and I were on a panel together, where I was talking about how great it would be to get a Trader Joe’s south of the 10 freeway. He made light of it: “Oh, everybody wants a Trader Joe’s.” I was on my good manners that day, and Richard is a very nice man,  and being almost brand-new to LA  and not being  justice person, Richard didn’t understand: saying that everybody wants a TJ’s belies the fact that some people can ALWAYS FREAKING GET the TJ’s when other people NEVER get the TJs.   Saying a TJs should try to move south of the 10  as a matter of business ethics is, IOW, more controversial than many affluent people really get because, natch, they know that everybody wants what they already have.  Yeah, but for some people, it’s not about the excellent wine selection and the charming holiday plants.  Some  would like fresh oranges they don’t have to drive 6 miles to get and a pretty good job in retail. And is that asking too much of life in a region of over 10 million people?  I don’t think so.   A grocery store south of the 10 and north of the 91 is a revolution of sorts.  It shouldn’t be. But it is.

But more annoyingly, this is a company selling the South Central Gardener’s CSA! The people in south LA are good enough to farm the food, pick it, and package it,  but not able to buy the box through Good Eggs through their own distributor?  THIS is the sustainable, community-oriented alternative to corporate capitalism? Um, yeah, except that it mirrors the same locational racism of  every other corporate grocery chain, except for Walmart and Target.   I mean Ralphs would go south of Pico.

Yeah, I get it, Good Eggs can’t serve every market.  But yet, they can serve Culver City no problem, but not Leimert Park, though both are right next to each other, and Leimert Park is right on the way, just off the 10,  to South DTLA on the east, which also gets delivery, but not the Round Loop of Blackness carved out in betwixt those neighborhoods in the service area.

Ten things to celebrate the heritage of the American South that aren’t the confederate flag

I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with the “confederate flag isn’t racist, it’s celebrating our history” arguments. The south seceded over chattel slavery; you can try to gussy it up by claiming it was about state’s rights, but nobody buys that argument. There are so many things to celebrate about the American South that don’t come down to a divisive reminder of worst war ever fought in a nation’s history over the desire to maintain a vicious, bloody institution like slavery. If there’s one thing I hear in white America, it’s that people should ‘move on.” Well, that applies here.

Here’s some things to love about the south if we need help:

1. Some of the most beautiful forests in North America throughout Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas

2. the mountains in Tennessee

3. Bourbon (I mean, come on)

4. Writers

6. Patriotism and military service

7. NASCAR (is pretty damn cool)

8. Some of the most amazing HBCUs in the county (Spelman, Morehouse, etc)

9. Hospitality

10. Gorgeous cities like New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, San Antonio, and many more.

There are dozens more. Why are we still arguing about flag?

On me being racist and learning about meme markets, Reddit, and Gene Demby’s

Attention Conservation Notice: Memes are a thing (!) and we have to understand them and their market to understand the NPR commenter’s comments about racism and classism that I snarked about yesterday, and that my comments are a distraction from the focus on racism, and thus, contribute to racism. After trying to understand memes and the meme market, I find out that the NPR writer runs a site that explains this stuff in full sentences, which is the only way I am going to be able to understand any of it.

So my rant yesterday about the focus on Charles Ramsey’s alien-ness in an NPR blog post prompted my brilliant students and fellow educators to point out, mostly via Fboo, that I am full of crap, missing the point and distracting us from the more important issue about the racism embodied into what happens to the images of Charles Ramsey via meme-ification (this is a word!) and the memed Charles Ramsey will be used as entertainment, and that how in this market, images of black men and women trade on demands of racist and classist majority culture–like other parts of the entertainment market.

It’s this last part–the media and entertainment market surrounding memes–that I have completely missed. Sure, I’ve seen memes on Facebook, but I didn’t know that people pay attention to them because I don’t. Really? This is a thing? I have always understood the marketability of Onion Joe Biden or Onion Ray LaHood…but people actually listen to AutoTunes of stuff? On purpose? (To which everybody who isn’t me says, “YAH DUH”. To which I say: hey. I barely know who Justin Bieber is. I only recently learned what My Humps is, and who Honey Boo Boo is. And I was not happy learning any of it and vowed to avoid learning any more if I could. I don’t follow links on the Internet willy nilly because otherwise how do you ever finish reading anything ever?)

Then my students referred me to Reddit and told me I needed to go there to learn what the Things are and so I did and….


I can’t do this. Can not.

But when smart people tell me I am being stupid and racist, I believe them, and I try to go out and learn stuff to help me get less stupid and racist, short of becoming more entangled with the Interwebs. I’m getting up there, kids, and I’ve only got so many years of reading ahead of me.

Less terrifying than the looming time suck of Reddit, I was referred material from UCLA’s Frank Gilliam, Dean of my beloved Luskin School (and a political scientist) problematizing the Antoine Dodson meme (which I missed entirely when it went around), and to about Antoine Dodson.

I unfortunately could not find Frank Gilliam’s material archived (please send if you have it), and I read through knowyourmemes….but I still don’t really understand them, other than to note the only really high-profile ones that appear to have gotten my attention are GrumpyCat and TextsFromHillary (this latter of which shut down right at the point where it would seem that they could have cashed in.) The rest, I have to admit, I don’t remotely understand–I went through entries on College Republicans and College Liberals, Catholic memes, atheist memes, memes about atheists, Socially Awkward Penguins memes, memes about various policy positions (which I do see on Fbook, to my utter confusion; not having a gun makes you a victim?) Overly Attached Girlfriends, Frogs, Sad Bears, Sudden Clarity Clarence, Confession Kid, a mallard duck that dispenses advice of dubious worth, Scumbag CEOs with inexplicable hats–and! Successful Black Man.

I have to admit, I don’t understand most of them. What could POSSIBLY be entertaining about what Antoine Dodson and his sister went through?

But the routinization of violence towards African Americans in general and black women, in particular, that’s there.

I gave up on memes once I (finally) figured out that the money that gets made here comes through advertising (I know, duh), and that the Meme-stars themselves can trade on their celebrity as well, but that it is not necessarily the case until these folks start managing their celebrity strategically, a lot like reality tv. (I think).

But I did finally went out to find more writing by the original NPR blogger, Gene Demby. Jackpot–I should have started there. He has some good analysis on Huffington about politics more generally, but his own website specializes in image culture and entertainment. A look at, the website that I believe Demby founded, rather indicates one reason why I so missed his point in my rant yesterday: Demby is starting waaaaaaaaaaay ahead of me with understanding these media markets and images of black people that are produced and consumed in them.

And this site uses FULL SENTENCES AND PARAGRAPHS. Thank the lord.

The website is an ensemble set of writers, all of whom appear to be excellent. Some posts that I learned from:

What’s In A Name: Kind of A Lot

Not saying Quvenzhané’s name is an attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to step around and contain her blackness. Yes, sometimes black people have names that are difficult to pronounce. There aren’t many people of European descent named Shaniqua or Jamal. Names are as big a cultural marker as brown skin and kinky hair, and there’s long been backlash against both of those things (see: perms, skin bleaching creams, etc.). The insistence on not using Quvenzhané’s name is an extension of that “why aren’t you white?” backlash.

Good kids, Bad Cities

There’s a large contingent of folks who think that Negroes in our nation’s many hoods don’t take violence seriously, that it’s something that folks shrug off or ignore. I can’t believe this even bears saying aloud, but no one considers the possibility of violence more than the people for whom violence is a quotidian reality; they think about that shit all the time. This is not some abstraction to them. The decision not to talk to the cops isn’t cosigning grisliness, it’s about simple self-preservation. There are all those teenagers who wear t-shirts emblazoned with the faces of their slain friends, all those makeshift shrines at streetlight posts with stuffed animals that read “Gone But Not Forgotten.”

Martin Luther King Was Not Santa Claus

More than that, I wonder what those sponsors would think if they were transported back to Grosse Pointe, on March 12, 1968, to hear King deliver his “Other America” speech, including the line, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” I suspect they wouldn’t recognize that Dr. King. I wonder how many of us would.

Charles Ramsey’s tee shirt, my fat pants, and NPR’s classist condescensions

ATTENTION CONSERVATION NOTICE: Yes, people are racists, but NPR reeks of classism as it scolds racism. Maybe NPR people only eat the wee tips of organically raised kale while wearing their immaculate pink chiffon at home, but the rest of do have an occasional McD’s run while wearing coffee-stained t-shirts and fat pants before performing acts of heroism. Imagine!

Representations in the media matter. Recently, challenges to how black men are represented have come across my path. The first from Clarence Thomas in comments about how Barack Obama is approved by the liberal elite and managed to win the presidency this way-, and this, from NPR, about the “wacky black neighbor” with regard to Charles Ramsey and (and many other wacky neighbors from news stories that I’ve never heard of). From NPR:

On the face of it, the memes, the Auto-Tune remixes and the laughing seem purely celebratory. But what feels like celebration can also carry with it the undertone of condescension. Amid the hood backdrop — the gnarled teeth, the dirty white tee, the slang, the shout-out to McDonald’s — we miss the fact that Charles Ramsey is perfectly lucid and intelligent.

The original video of Mr. Ramsey is, IMO, awesome. Honestly, how often is it in life that something truly interesting happens to one and you get to tell a great story? Doesn’t he get to be a little excited and proud of the story? Can’t we be genuinely excited for him? Is it really so evil of us to enjoy the fact that three young women that we thought were dead are actually alive, and the gentlemen who helped them isn’t a prissy bore on camera?

I’m sure there is a puerile element to expecting Mr. Ramsey to “perform”, but there is a great deal in this particular paragraph from NPR (and the rest of the story) about what “we miss” (what do you mean “we”?) that straight up pisses me off with its OWN tone of condescension about class and reminders about, golly, how “well-spoken” Mr. Ramsey is despite all the grave, grave flaws about Mr. Ramsey just enumerated. Here goes:

The gnarled teeth. Yeah, my teeth are bad, too. It’s called crap health care and getting old. Dentists in most states aren’t required to accept to state programs and so most don’t because, unlike slapping caps on rich kids, taking care of poor people’s teeth doesn’t buy your boat or greens fees.

Except that a lot of us in America, even white people, have crap teeth, too–but I’m betting your average NPR reporter doesn’t hang with those types very often. Maybe some people are gawking at the teeth (NPR writer, I’m looking at you)….but there are a lot of us out here who don’t see Ramsey’s teeth as anything other than a middle-aged man’s teeth–because that’s what middle-aged men’s teeth look like in some families and communities. You should have SEEN my dad’s teeth before dentures.

Simply because he doesn’t have the approved-for-television pre-fab coastal smile does not make him a freak of nature to us, or a “wacky uncle.” To us, he’s just a guy, and we didn’t notice the teeth until you pointed to them and noted that those teeth are a mark of his status.

I’m 40 years old, I have a PhD, and I’ve been well enough off for 15 years that I have dental, and I’m STILL trying to fix the mess of my teeth that comes from growing up poor.

the dirty white tee. Ok, this one I find befuddling. Do NPR commentators NOT wear t-shirts? If they do wear t-shirts, do they only wear colored ones because nothing says “hood” like a white tee? Frankly I never noticed the tee shirt was dirty, and when I read this, I went back and watched the video twice and I STILL don’t think it’s particularly dirty. I actually think the NPR writer just assumes the tee is dirty because, well, you know.

But even if it is dirty, are you kidding me?

I dunno, maybe NPR listeners and reporters all swan around at home wearing immaculate pink chiffon, but at home I mostly wear t-shirts, a large variety of them, some of them white, and many sporting holes in the armpits and coffee stains on the front. Why? BECAUSE I’M AT HOME FOR GOD’S SAKES, and I don’t wear nice clothes to pick up dog poop in the yard, paint my shutters, or anything else one does at home. What? You’re supposed to change out of your grubbies when you are dealing with a panic-stricken woman who has been kept prisoner for A DECADE?

Hold on, I know you want your freedom from the sadistic fk who has held you captive all these years, but can you wait until I put on my skinny jeans, ironically nerdy tee and hair prodo?

I’m going on record right now: any acts of heroism in my neighborhood that require my participation had BETTER be able to cope with me having bedhead and wearing fat pants while I perform them.

the shout-out to McDonald’s. You know what, coastal denizens? IT’S JUST McDONALD’S FER CHRISSAKES. There are parts of the world where people don’t act like eating at McDonald’s is tantamount to consuming weapons-grade plutonium with a poop chaser. I MISS BEING AROUND PEOPLE WHO CAN JUST SAY THEY EAT McD’s without turning it into some big THING. I mean, McD’s has not gone out of business, so it’s safe to say that some people still go there. Maybe NPR people only eat the tips of organically raised kale while wearing their immaculate pink chiffon, but the rest of do have an occasional McD’s run. OK?

Just like the teeth deal, many of us grew up and live in places where they talk about things other than our bodies-as-temples and yoga and pilates and blah blah blah–like having an occasional McDonald’s meal just when a person long assumed dead asked you to help her in her escape attempt. Some of us (read Midwesterners and Southerners) do not blather on about our gluten-free, celiac this, vegan that, special that, allergy locavore freaking blah-de-blah-blah. Yes, McD’s is not good for you. It’s not good for the planet.

And while I am pleased that people wish to be healthy, yay you, it would be nice if we supposedly educated elites could have a conversation about something other than food and how we’re all far too, too precious little snowflakes to besmirch our precious selves with McDs or the like. Fine, don’t besmirch, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD the dude got a be a hero! Can we just focus on that instead of his g-d lunch?! Just for a minute?

The hair. The man’s hair was fine, people. FINE. See above: me, coffee stains, bedhead, and fat pants.

Edited to add: Commenters via Facebook have noted that I am missing that the NPR writer is problematizing the racism and classism of people who are going to appropriate Ramsey’s image into memes and other things for internet circulation, and that I am missing that critique because I have missed that world of internet production. That’s right. But if that’s the critique, then the critique needs to focus on the problematic details of the reductive meme subculture and those who populate it instead of the details of the man who become their object. The NPR story goes on and on about the “weird” people selected for these memes, and the problem isn’t their inherent weirdness or marginality. It is the elite status of image-makers and these manufactured images make money–something I admit I don’t actually know anything about. That would be a useful critique.

Brandon Easton, comic book creater, breaks down racism and sexism better than anybody else, ever

In his discussion about racism in the comic book industry, particular at Marvel, Brandon Easton riffs better than anybody else I have ever seen on how White privilege and male privilege keeps people from seeing:

Before I go further, we must understand that American race relations are very complicated and cannot be fully explained or understood through the microcosm of superhero comics. Any anonymous internet discussion of racism (in comics and in general) usually morphs into a virtual pissing match of accusation, denial, debasement, personal anecdotes and a lack of common decency. Everything becomes personalized, people make speeches and few walk away with increased clarity on the issues of race and prejudice. In the U.S., it becomes a situation where some White people feel personally indicted as a racist and the burden rests on Black people to 1) prove racism still exists and impacts all of us, 2) explain the difference between a White person living their daily lives vs. the institutionalized system of racism, and 3) defend yourself against claims of “reverse” racism as the very mention of the issue means that you hate White people. Almost every online discussion of race boils down to these three arguments before it’s all said and done. And ultimately, nothing changes because some folks refuse to separate the system from their personal identity.

Let me give you an example, during my undergraduate years, I took a few classes dealing with feminism and gender studies. I never once considered myself, a Black male, as a participant in sexism and patriarchy. I always thought of myself as being “more” enlightened than my male brethren on issues of equal rights for women. The revelation that I had sexist ideas drilled into my psyche was unsettling. I hated feeling like a bad guy. First, I blamed my professors, labeling them as “feminazis.” Then I gave endless examples from my personal life about how fairly I treated women compared to most men. For months, I carried a deep, burning hatred of feminism and those who preached the tenets of gender politics because I believed that the problem wasn’t “that bad” and it would go away if they would just shut up. Eventually, after many long years of self-reflection, I realized that it was not me – Brandon Easton – they were criticizing; it was the system of sexism itself and showing me how I was an unwilling participant in patriarchy didn’t mean I was an evil person. It just meant I needed to grow as a human being.

It’s super-fun being the female professors who are the object of all that anger, trust me. But that sounds pretty close to the processs. I have to admit it’s great reading this because you are never clear, as a professor, on whether anybody ever gets to the point that Easton does–getting over his resentment and self-centered dudgeon, and moving to an understanding of how race works or gender works as an institution.

Teju Cole on Kony; Ta-Nehisi Coates on Trayvon Martin

Well, I just read 40 essays that basically concluded that Black people should get over racism, as that slavery thing happened a long time ago. Alternatively, one might advance another theory: white people could also take the opportunity to remove their heads from their butts every now and again. Just a thought.

Teju Cole wrote one of the most-buzzed-about books of the year, Open City, which has been sitting here waiting for me to read it for a couple months. Based on this beautifully reasoned and written piece in the The Atlantic on Kony, I’d say it’s time to crack that book open.

Also on the Atlantic is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Two Thoughts on Trayvon Martin.

I have nothing profound or deep or contrary to add, really. I’m pretty jazzed at how much more interesting The Atlantic has become in the last six months.

My only quibble with Teju Cole’s point is that whenever the self-determination argument comes up, it gives Americans an excuse to indulge their predilection towards isolationism. So, you didn’t treat we great white saviors with the love we deserved for caring, then fine. Manage on your own then. That’s not, most emphatically, what Cole is saying; he’s saying you have to spend more than 5 minutes trying to understand a place before you get to decide how to fix it. He’s not saying that we’re under no obligation. He’s saying the obligations are much, much greater than spending five minutes on something and moving on to the next news cycle, where Uganda will not be mentioned for another 20 years.

Get off your fanny and learn, really learn, about foreign policy, and try to influence it for the good of mankind, and not just your own national interest. Cosmopolitanism, indeed.