Weekly Dance Break: Noname’s Tiny Desk Concert

Hi everyone! It’s been a minute but I wanted to drop in and leave this dance break for you all. A dear friend of mine recently introduced me to Noname, a fresh and brilliant rapper from Chicago. Here, in her NPR Tiny Desk concert, she performs a medley of her songs—which feature a blend of the sweet and the achingly painful.

From the NPR description of this performance: “These intriguing juxtapositions are what propelled Telefone to our top 50 albums of 2016. She prefaced her performance of “Reality Check” by saying: “I kind of talk in like, scramble-think, so hopefully you guys follow it.” “Scramble-think” refers to the clever metaphors she weaves in detailing the many ways she’s dodged destiny.”

But mostly, Noname speaks for herself. Take a listen:

Review: Get Out

*minimal spoilers*


 

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Horror is so often in the mundane—the turn, in an instant, from a walk in a pleasant suburban neighborhood to violence that can end a life. Horror movies have been built on this trope since the beginning, but it is also a potential daily reality for black America. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut underlines this point immediately, layering both classic horror cues and a situation that immediately recalls the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Having established this metaphor—which is less a metaphor than a brutal, direct statement—we meet Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), who are headed to her parents’ estate for a weekend. “Do your parents know I’m black?” Chris asks, thinking ahead to a potentially uncomfortable first meeting. It’s a question that most interracial couples have encountered, if not always out loud. “They’re not racist,” Rose replies. “I would have told you.” The idea that Rose can see her own privilege through the veil of her place within the family made me scoff, sitting there in the theater. Chris let it go. It laid the perfect groundwork for the questions the movie would raise: about refusing to see what is in front of us, and about blinding ourselves with more comfortable or more convenient truths.

At every turn, the film explores how the sinister can be folded into the seemingly ordinary, through the specific lens of racialized interactions. As the weekend progresses, Chris attends a party thrown by the Armitages for their friends—wealthy older white people who wear Chris down with a barrage of uncomfortable comments that feel all too realistic. From an older woman who goes straight for Chris’ arm muscles, to a comment by Rose’s brother containing the phrase “genetic makeup,” there’s a growing burden on Chris to smile through it all. The premise lends itself brilliantly to horror—after all, aren’t moviegoers already primed to feel a slightly sickening sense of unease and dread when it comes to the sight of a young black man alone in a crowd of older white people? We don’t even need the context of a horror movie to know that historically, and in the present moment as well, there is potential for racialized violence there. Is the awkwardness caused by “benign” racism fueled by mere ignorance? Does it mask, like a KKK hood, the real racist beneath? Like all good horror films, Get Out heightens a particular social anxiety to the point of frenzy. In this case, it’s about accurately judging the depths of a person’s discrimination. Being able to tell the difference between an awkward social encounter and a more sinister racist depth is everything.

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It also delivers a pointed send-up of the microaggressive well-meaning white liberal, since racism is not, in fact, the sole domain of southern evangelicals. The film makes a point of emphasizing Rose’s sympathy for Chris’ situation and her father’s insistent ally-ism (including an absurdist moment where he discusses an ancestor happily losing to Jesse Owens under Hitler’s watchful eyes). Well-intentioned civility can, and does, coexist with the kind of casual cruelty and uncaring evil that will put the good of the tribe first—even among the educated and self-proclaiming liberal.

These are signs that Chris chooses to ignore, or to subsume, time and time again. In his character, we get not only a stand-in for the threatened black male body (among a white cocktail party, or on the side of the highway facing a white cop), but also a figure for the kind of accommodation that white supremacy exacts. We can get along well, the movie says in the beginning, as long as you’re willing to bend a little. Overlook moments of discomfort so that everything will go smoothly. Eventually, this is a road that leads him straight down a nightmare, as the stakes of his attrition rise higher and higher. Chris spends so much of the movie accepting his own discomfort, in situations that seem plausibly microaggressive, that he can no longer see the true nature of the threat in front of him. The other black characters at the Armitages’ house are so accommodating, genial, and blank that the audience is supposed to know something is wrong—but they’re not the only ones bending over backwards just a little too much.

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It’s difficult to discuss the movie further without giving away its biggest plot twists—but rest assured that, though the actual plot isn’t exactly subtle in the end, it is immensely satisfying. There is, as a friend noted when we left the theater, absolutely no redemption for white characters in this movie. And that’s ok. This is one movie, out of hundreds and thousands of movies, where the discussion begins and ends on the side of the black characters. The discomfort is insistent, vivid—a perfect counterbalance to the kind of palliative conversations that revolve around white supremacy and “the alt-right.”



Verdict? Five stars. Watch immediately.

 

 

 

Weekly Dance Break: Dozing Off Again

So this is less a dance break and more of a…give-yourself-a-moment-to-breathe-maybe-unplug-maybe-catnap break. But I think we could all do with a little bit of it.

#28DaysofBlackCosplay: Nerds, Black History Month, and Pure Joy Collide

Alanna Mode, Sean’s PhotographyWhen some people think of cosplayers—the enthusiastic fans of comics, movies, and TV shows who show up at conventions decked out in incredibly detailed recreations of their favorite characters’ looks—they tend to think of nerdy white guys in haphazardly put together ensembles. As anyone who’s ever spent any time at a large…

via #28DaysOfBlackCosplay is the intersection of Black History Month, nerdiness, and high fashion — Fusion

Trump’s Conflicts of Interest: What Are They, and Why Do They Matter?

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The fact that President Donald Trump has taken office with an unprecedented number of conflicts of interest, which he has failed not only to resolve but even to properly address, is a matter on which prominent critics from both parties can agree. His ascension to office has been a particularly fraught one—according to an analysis by USA Today, Trump has been party to over 4000 lawsuits in the past 30 years, and is currently embroiled in about 75 ongoing suits. All of this is a distraction from the many other issues plaguing this administration, and the issues that threaten the wellbeing of the American people.

Why aren’t more people talking about his conflicts of interest? Trump was elected because people perceived him as both a savvy businessman, and as someone who (against his previous record) would fight for the rights and livelihood of blue-collar voters. But surely his refusal to separate himself from his many money-making ventures is an indication that he still has his own financial interests very much at heart, at the expense of his constituency. Even without the ethical entanglements of his many conflicts of interest, the fact that he is still going to, for example, be an executive producer on The Apprentice is a clear sign that he is not exactly prioritizing the duties of the highest office in the land.

Below, a layperson’s summary of his conflicts, and why they pose a problem not only to his administration, but to the interests of the American people Trump is supposed to serve:

The Emoluments Clause
It’s in the Constitution, folks. (Remember the Constitution? We still care about that, right?) Article I, Section 9: prohibits an elected official of the United States from accepting any gift, office, title, or present from a King, Prince, or foreign State. This clause was written into the Constitution by our founding fathers (Republicans! Remember how much you claim to revere the founding fathers?) as a response to the threat of foreign influence on the United States, then a young and fledgling nation. It was intended to prevent private financial interests from holding sway over the decision-making of elected officials. On this we should all be able to agree: opening the door to foreign influence through monetary channels will lead to vast potential for corruption, weakness, and bias. With Trump and the Trump Foundation, there’s a finger in pies all over the world, many of which we don’t even understand clearly because Trump has maintained a shroud of secrecy over much of his finances. What we do know is that his personal financial interests both create a dependency on foreign states and their economic interests, while also allowing for foreign states to buy influence or access to him. President Trump stands to benefit personally from financial decisions made by foreign governments and their economic agents. Given that he has refused to divest himself from these personal stakes, he will almost certainly use his political office to benefit himself—a temptation that would sway a far more ethical man than Trump. He will also open himself up to influence from foreign state agents who can sway decisions that will affect his personal finances. Below, a few examples of potential violations of the emoluments clause, from a report by the Brookings Institute:

  1. “Mr. Trump’s businesses owe hundreds of millions to Deutsche Bank, which is currently negotiating a multi-billion-dollar settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, a settlement that will now be overseen by an Attorney General and many other appointees selected by and serving at the pleasure of Mr. Trump.”
  2. “The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China—owned by the People’s Republic of China—is the single largest tenant in Trump Tower. Its valuable lease will expire, and thus come up for re-negotiation, during Mr. Trump’s presidency.”
  3. Foreign diplomats who stay at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC perceive it as a direct line to presidential influence, and can spend millions of dollars booking its suites and ballrooms. Even if Trump donates these profits to the US Treasury as he has promised, the fact that foreign dignitaries spent the money creates an opening for them, and a sense of obligation on the part of the Trump Foundation. Ultimately the issue at stake is influence and access, not just fair-market-value.
  4. President Trump will be a producer on NBC’s The Apprentice. While this is far from his largest conflict of interest problem, it is perhaps his most undignified. One would assume that the President of the United States and proclaimed leader of the free world has better things to do with his time than run a reality TV show, but even his cozy association with the network and the multinational brands sponsoring the show raise questions (and eyebrows).

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The bottom line?
Well, political decisions will now affect Trump’s bottom line, and his bottom line may very well affect his political decisions—especially since his transfer of management to his children is an inadequate response to his violations of the clause. Ultimately, ownership of these financial ventures still rests with President Trump. Handing things over to his sons is hardly distancing himself. If he, his sons, or the company that bears their name could personally benefit down the line from a small (or large) adjustment to national policy, he might well think: why not? Indeed, this has already been the case: in a rather absurd turn of events, it’s been reported that “Mr. Trump opposes wind farms because he has decided that they ruin the view from his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland. Recently, Mr. Trump openly lobbied Nigel Farage—a British political ally of his—to oppose wind farms in the United Kingdom, an issue that does not otherwise appear to be of relevance to American foreign policy.” You might think wind farms are not, in the end, the biggest deal to the American public. But Trump has used his position to influence even a matter that seems to come down to mere aesthetics. This indicates that he will not hesitate if the stakes are more real for him.

It is impossible that his decisions as President will not be affected, in ways both large and small, by the stakes that he personally holds in a tangled web of multinational financial interests governed by foreign states. Has a particular foreign government dealt fairly with one of his businesses? Does he stand to benefit from a particular policy, if it is enacted? These and other considerations blur the boundaries, to say the least, between his sworn duty to act in the best interest of the American people and his own personal gain. And as we know, President Trump has never been shy about how proud he is of those gains, and how much he prizes them. His refusal to disclose his personal finances is a clear sign that he doesn’t plan to stop prioritizing them anytime soon.



Note: This article was jump-started when I heard an episode of Fresh Air featuring Norm Eisen (special counsel on ethics and government reform under President Obama) and his friend Richard Painter (former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush). You can see more sources, and more of that conversation, below:

Ethics Lawyers on NPR

http://www.npr.org/2017/01/20/510616166/as-trump-takes-office-he-still-faces-questions-about-conflicts-of-interest

http://fortune.com/2016/11/15/donald-trump-conflicts-interest-ethics/

https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/gs_121616_emoluments-clause1.pdf

Acro Collective’s Holiday Gift Guide: 2016

I think we can all agree that 2016 was kind of a shit year. Trump being elected was just the cherry on top. Zika, Brexit, losing David Bowie….the list goes on and on and on. So I don’t think we should be blamed for seeking a little self-care as the calendar winds down—whether that’s through spending time with loved ones or some well-deserved retail therapy. (Yes, capitalism is a fraught system. Let’s just roll with it for today and get back to fighting the revolution tomorrow, cool?)

Below, some gifts for yourself, friends, and loved ones….reward the intersectional feminists in your life, and spread a little holiday cheer.

Acro Collective Holiday Gift Guide 2016 by acro-collective

Got more suggestions? Let us know in the comments!

How to Deal with Trump-Supporting Relatives at the Holidays

Spoiler alert: I don’t know exactly how you should deal with your racist relatives this holiday season. Every family situation is obviously markedly different, and will call for different strategies. But it will probably be helpful for us to think through this together before you go—don’t you think? With the election behind us and #trumpocalypse looming large, this is more important than ever.

Spoiler alert: I don’t know exactly how you should deal with your racist relatives this holiday season. Every family situation is obviously markedly different, and will call for different strategies. But it will probably be helpful for us to think through this together before you go—don’t you think? With the election behind us and #trumpocalypse looming large, this is more important than ever.  Continue reading “How to Deal with Trump-Supporting Relatives at the Holidays”

Next Steps and a Brief Note

Hi, everyone. I thought I would quietly ghost this site, letting it diminish down into the corner of the internet it basically always was—a place to preserve a certain voice and feeling of a certain moment in our lives, and no more. But then this happened. #Trumpocalypse. The reckoning. Not just with that man-cheeto, but with the very serious question of why half of America decided to vote for him. I was ready to let a new job, a new city, and a new career path distract me from the simple act of writing community into existence, but no longer. I will make time. We will write. And I’ll be honest, we no longer have the funding structure that bound my team together in concrete monetary ways, but please know that the values which knit us together are stronger than ever.

Below are some preliminary ways to get involved and help bolster the social justice movements and ideals that Trump and his coming administration have threatened. This is a storm we can weather, but only if we tell ourselves we can—even if we don’t believe it right now. I am simultaneously numb with shock and horror at the America we woke up to yesterday, and galvanized to action. I feel a fire in my blood. Do you? Continue reading “Next Steps and a Brief Note”

A Note from the Editor

I went to sleep before the final election results came in last night, too anxious to keep refreshing pages and too horrified to keep looking at a map awash in red. But I’m jolted awake now, at 4 in the morning, with the very visceral and real fear that comes with waking up in Trump’s America. 

I think many of my friends are realizing the extent to which we lived in a blue bubble, an echo chamber where we could reassure each other that the American electorate as a whole valued the same things we do: the equal rights and protection of women, of people of color, of immigrants, the LGBTQ community, the disabled—of every person who is or has been vulnerable in our society. We willfully forgot how many of our culture war victories were won for us by the Supreme Court, where the margin of support has always hung by a thread. Now I understand the fear of conservatives when faced with a lifelong liberal appointee, because I look at the future and see a united Republican government that has either pledged to undo our work, or is too cowardly to stand up to the demagogues who will. 

No matter who won this election, a huge percentage of the population was poised to be unhappy. Deeply so. I am disappointed with, and deeply disgusted by, the portion of the electorate willing to stand behind a vicious con man with no qualifications to speak of, a proto-fascist who has made clear his disdain of those who make up more than half of the nation he will now govern. Still, it happened. Deep down, I think I always knew it could and would happen, though I was afraid to look this fear in the eye. Knowing what we know about the violent, virulent history of our nation, why are we surprised that this history has risen up again? Why are we surprised that, when Trump offered his supporters the promise of a whitewashed future built on the glorious past, they took it? 

I’m tempted to turn away from Trump supporters completely. I’m tempted to say I’ll never, never understand the choices they made that led us to this. It would be easy to retreat further and say, this is an aberration that makes no sense. But to move forward in this new and terrifying world we have to acknowledge how much we underestimated the strength of racism and of blood-and-soil nationalism, to say the least. Even if Clinton had won, Trump’s supporters were not going to go away. As they have shown us tonight, they are a bedrock of American politics, and must be reckoned with. 

I see a lot about moving forward no matter what, and putting faith in American democracy, and galvanizing ourselves for the next fight. Although I am too heartbroken to really feel that fully, I believe it too. I am blessed to be looking at the beginning of my law career next year, and hopeful that I will be able to wade into the fray for those I love, for those who don’t have a voice, for those who deserve more champions than this sorry election has given them.

A Brief History of the Cat Lady

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From the tenth to the eighteenth centuries, countless thousands of cats across Europe were tortured and burned to death alongside the women whose “familiars” in witchcraft those cats were presumed to be.  Sometimes the cats themselves were believed to be witches.  The women were usually single and often elderly.  Medieval and Early Modern society’s mistrust of single women, cats, and any bond between the two lingers in today’s conception of the “cat lady.”  Like her persecuted “witch” predecessors, the cat lady is our culture’s envisioning of the woman who has failed to remain within the social order, who lies precariously outside it.  Continue reading “A Brief History of the Cat Lady”