race

Having ‘Juice’ and Being ‘Hard’

In Code of the Streets, Elijah Anderson discusses how poverty, racism, fallout from drugs, and a lack of faith in the criminal justice system in inner cities have resulted in alienation.  The code of the street is a set of informal rules governing interpersonal behavior that act as a framework for obtaining and maintaining respect or “juice.”  The code creates an alternative status system whereby respect is hard won and easily lost.  The presentation of self, such as facial expressions, body language, manner of dress, and word use can signal intentions.  Ignorance of the rules are no excuse; everyone is expected to know the code and behave in the prescribed manner.  

In Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, Byron Hurt talks to academics and rappers about representations of masculinity and violence in rap music.  Though the documentary is a bit older (2006), the content is still relevant.  In an interview, rapper Fat Joe talks about how even at music industry events and in night clubs, everyone feels the need to present themselves as “hard.”  Later, rapper Mos Def talks about growing up as a black man you “don’t want nobody taking you for short…but when shit got critical, you can’t be no punk…and you will get tested.”  Hurt also includes discussion of the need for poor men who lack financial power to have control over their bodies and be able to present themselves as deserving of respect.

The Risk podcast, episode 510 “Impulsive,” featured a story called “Judgment Day” by J.J. about his experience coming from inner city poverty, going to college, and returning home to visit.  The storyteller gets in an altercation with a man from the neighborhood and comes very close to killing the man as retaliation for hurting his pride.

Assata, White Nationalists, and Twitter

Last week there has been a twitter argument centered around Assata Shakur, a black feminist who was convicted of the murder of a state trooper, escaped prison, and now has political asylum in Cuba.  The Women’s March tweeted a happy birthday message to Assata on July 16th.

assata

Jake Tapper, generally liked by the moderate left, responded to the tweet.

jake

Assata Shakur is a bit of a flash point for the “alt-right.”  This tweet was seen as legitimizing arguments of white supremacists.  The Women’s March responded with a series of 20 tweets explaining who Assata is and why they support her.  COINTELPRO, or the counter intelligence program of the FBI, became a talking point and some other journalists entered the discussion.

Shaun King

The Politically Reactive podcast with W. Kamau Bell and Hari Kondabolu was in an interesting situation.  On July 13th they aired an interview with Linda Sarsour, the most well known of the Women’s March organizers, and the following week were scheduled to air an interview with Jake Tapper.  The podcasters reached out to both after the twitter argument but did not hear back.  They thought it would be inappropriate to simply air the second interview and instead made an episode “Hold Up, Wait a Minute: Twitter Feuds & Threat Models” featuring Prof. Jessie Daniels of Hunter College and CUNY College and cyber security expert Nicholas Weaver.

pol reactive.jpeg

Walk on the Wild Side

Lou Reed’s song “Walk on the Wild Side” was recently put under the microscope after being called “transphobic” by a student group.  The original song was released on Lou Reed’s Transformer in 1972.

Lyrics from Genus.com:

Holly came from Miami F L A
Hitchhiked her way across the U S A
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side,”
Said “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side.”
Candy came from out on the Island
In the backroom she was just everybody’s darling
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, “Hey baby, take a walk on the wild side”
Said, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls go
Doo doo doo…
Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City is the place where they said
“Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side”
I said “Hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side”
Sugar Plum Fairy came and hit the streets
Looking for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo
You should have seen him go go go
They said “Hey sugar, take a walk on the wild side”
I said “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side” alright, huh
Jackie, she is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then you know that she had to crash on
Valium would have helped that dash
She said “Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side”
I said, “Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side”
And the colored girls say
Doo doo doo…

Students at University of Guelph, Ontario issued an apology on their website for playing the song at a function, stating “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgment.”  What is considered objectionable was the “problematic” suggestion that transgender people are “wild” and the phrasing “he was a she.”  Note, no mention was made of the use of the word “colored.”

While today the song would probably be phrased differently, contextualized it was very socially advanced for its time.  The Stonewall riots were in 1969, homosexuality wasn’t removed by the American Psychiatric Association from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual until 1973.  Just mentioning transgender people, oral sex, and drugs in a song was controversial.  Lou Reed himself dated a transgender woman for years and was subject to electroshock treatment as a teenager to “cure” his homosexuality.

Most seem to think that the students were overreacting and projecting modern sensibilities. The song still has a lot of power for many young people.  I had one student do a class project about the song just last semester.  Though they might not be representative, most queer and trans people I know thought the censorship was ridiculous and potentially harmful for trans and queer communities.  Friends in bands have pointed out that when they cover the song they just change the lyrics to “she was a she” and “the girls sing.”

Most importantly, Holly Woodlawn, the subject of the first stanza, was interviewed about the song.  When saying the lyrics out loud she says “… was a she” skipping over the “he” in the original, but otherwise enjoying the lyrics.  She said she loves the song because it has given her immortality.

 

Summerhill (Hipster Racism & Gentrification)

Summerhill, a bar / sandwich shop in Crown Heights Brooklyn, has been making waves for the last few days.  The restaurant has been open for roughly one month, but recently sent out a press release stating the bar was “Instagramable” because of a “bullet hole-ridden wall” and serving forty ounce rosé in paper bags.

bullet image from Summerhill Instagram

First, it is important to point out that Crown Heights has been undergoing gentrification for the last 15 years.  According to the Census Bureau, from 2000 to 2012 the white population of the neighborhood increased from 3.5% to 12.4% while the black/African American population decreased from 83.6% to 76.8% (based on NTA “North Crown Heights).  In the last five years the trend has continued.

The owner of Summerhill is a white woman named Becca Brennan, which means she is literally a ‘Becky,’ from Toronto.  She has only lived in the neighborhood for two years and identifies as a “reformed corporate tax attorney.”  In an interview with Gothamist she stated “As someone who lives on Nostrand, I was getting tired of walking to Franklin,” Brennan said. “It’s three blocks, but it’s three long blocks. You just deserve something close, and a hang out, especially if you live on New York [Avenue] or Schenectady or something like that.”  Comments like these have lead to signs being placed around Crown Heights quoting the Brennan.

eater ny summerhillimage from Eater NY

The bar’s bullet holes and “rumored backroom illegal gun shop” authenticity has come into question and the use of violence in communities of color as a marketing tool has been roundly condemned.  Serving forty ounce rosé in paper bags is an obvious use of a stereotype of black people.  The juxtaposition of the forty in a bag and rosé is a great example of hipster racism, where supposedly it is not racist because it is supposed to be ironic or funny.

rose.jpg      image from Summerhill Instagram

Brennan’s early response to the backlash was pretty terrible.  As a Facebook comment she made “a joke about her tan in response to being called white in the Eater article.”  In a later interview with Gothamist she also backed out of her plan for serving rosé, stating “I also want to clarify about our bottles of rosé,” Brennan added. “We serve them in ice buckets and we have them on our menu because rosé is delicious, and it’s a great deal for what amounts to more than a standard bottle of wine. We have no intention of serving them in any other way.”

Whatever the argument, a white woman is attempting to capitalize off of aestheticizing the violence and poverty people of color have experienced in Crown Heights. Neighborhood residents are planning a protest and yelp has been inundated with negative reviews.