Friday, July 31, 2015

Band Review: Jesse Valenzuela

Technically I should have reviewed Jesse Valenzuela a long time ago, as a musician who follows me (even though I followed him first). It never occurred to me to do so because I had not thought of him as a solo artist, only being familiar with his work in the Gin Blossoms and Northey Valenzuela. Then he released a new album.

Hotel Defeated came out in June. There is also another album from 2003, Tunes Young People Will Enjoy. I had some catching up to do.

There are other instruments, including some honky-tonk style piano on "Company", but the focus is on guitar, and gives Valenzuela a chance to show his skill. There are delicate intricacies on the title track, and country twangs on songs like "Tragic Hero" and "Keep Falling". He also gets pretty funky, especially on "That's How It Works".

The songs mentioned are heavily slanted toward the newer album. I do like Songs, but Hotel is that much more impressive, being more mature. It shows you that he hasn't been stagnant for the past twelve years.

It may still be somewhat reasonable to not think of Valenzuela as a solo artist. His Twitter profile links to the main Gin Blossoms page, so really all I have is that and a few places where you can buy the music.

That's all right - I love the Gin Blossoms. However, I'm also glad that this is out, and I can see where Jesse Valenzuela solo could be an excellent show.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Band Review: Midnight Soundtrack

Midnight Soundtrack is a new electronic rock band featuring Marcio Novelli, who was reviewed as a solo artist in March.

The electronic aspects seem to bring out a more mature and darker side. I'm not even sure that the content is so different, but with track titles like "Walk of Shame", "I Want To Have Your Abortion" and one more that I'm not comfortable typing, there is a harsher feel to this album. There is a theme of relationships not working out, and the resulting disappointment and resentment. This can be most felt on "Why I Never".

The songs are still danceable. There is a good sense of melody, and not only is there still tender aching but there is still emotional soaring, no matter what goes wrong.

Midnight Soundtrack is only available for preorder until September 1st (Novelli directed me to a preview), but some tracks are up on Bandcamp and Youtube. "Eleven Fifty Nine" is available on both, and is a good starting point. There has also been a chance to win a free album via the band's Twitter, so there are some opportunities available now.

For pre-release there is already a strong web presence. Relevant links are below.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Reading diverse characters and authors

This is one of my favorite ways of helping, because it involves more reading, which is great! It also operates on multiple levels. It is also surprisingly controversial.

Perhaps the controversy isn't that surprising. I had read one article where K. T. Bradford read no white, straight, cis male authors for one year. I thought it was a good article and made good points, but there were many articles taking offense. I won't link to those, but here is the original:

In the offended response I read most recently, I noticed two complaints that made it hard to take him seriously. He acted like she had said to never read a white male author again, when "for one year" is even specified in the title, and he asked why she didn't recommend diverse authors instead of just condemning the straight white males. She made several recommendations.

The other thing that I think is worth pointing out is that it appears that her primary genre is speculative fiction (because sometimes there just isn't enough science to call it science fiction). You would think that in a genre where anything can happen there should be a lot of variety, but there are some common prevailing attitudes written by a lot of authors with the same viewpoints. Seeking out different authors makes a lot of sense for that, and it reinvigorated her. That is a great result.

It doesn't necessarily have to go that way. You might see that you already read a lot of male and female authors, but they are all white, and so make an effort to alternate with authors of color. Honestly, when I started thinking of this I wasn't initially thinking about adults.

I was thinking primarily of children's books. It has been common knowledge for books and movies that girls will accept male protagonists but boys will not accept female protagonists. That makes it safer to make male protagonists, except that also reinforces that boys have no reason to be interested in the personalities or problems of girls. Is it possible that might have something to do with adult men not seeing why women should get equal pay or be able to refuse unwanted attention?

If reading becomes a way of building empathy (and it is), then it becomes very important to fill the formative years with lots of different kinds of people. Books are a way of making others accessible. White boys are already very well represented. I'm not saying that's a reason to exclude books about white boys, but if you did there would probably be enough representation through television, movies, and personal experience that no children are going to forget that white boys and men are people.

If there are no books about black boys and girls, and other races, and handicapped children, and other religions, it seems to send a subliminal message that they aren't fully realized. There is the norm, and they fall outside that so are just a little bite less.

We talk sometimes about representation and being able to see someone like yourself, and that's important, but being able to see people unlike yourself is huge.

I wrote recently about comics, and how men writing women often get it wrong. That's not saying that men can never write women, but there should be women writing. There should be writers of color. Publishing should be recruiting writers out of all walks of life.

They need to be doing that because breaking into publishing is hard. Most of the people who have the kinds of contacts that can help them out will be more of the same. But each new face that you bring in can have a cumulative effect, breaking down barriers.

They will then write more interesting and enjoyable things than before, because the variety of viewpoints will keep things from getting stale. They can open up new markets which seems like it should be tempting. There is often this idea that "oh that won't sell", but there are often hard numbers that prove the naysayers wrong.

I wrote recently about looking for black female musicians, and finding far more than I had dreamed of; it is like that with authors too. Even though there need to be more diverse writers, there are some out there now. If their books start getting more attention, it can pave the way for others to join their ranks.

In the meanwhile, you will have learned so much more about the world, and will be seeing a constantly bigger picture. There is lots of help already out there. The links below are just a starting point.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Case for Reparations

This is a good place to start for fixing things.

One would be everyone reading the "The Case for Reparations", by Ta-Nehisi Coates, from the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic. It is conveniently available online:

That is not actually the main goal, which would be the passing of HR 40, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. Congressman John Conyers Jr. has been trying to make this happen for twenty-five years.

As the title says, this is just a resolution to study the issue. It will not immediately lead to any money being paid out, which is often what people assume and get touchy about. Paying out money might not do enough. There is so much that has gone into the current situation, and it did not end in 1865. HR 40 would commit to dissecting those issues and finding the best way to resolve them.

That still faces a lot of resistance, but that's what makes reading the article such a good first step. It is an introduction to the many things that happened.

It is lengthy, and it is often uncomfortable to read. It should be. It is also thorough, well-researched, and beautifully written.

One thing that Coates does well is put a human face on the issue, in this case Clyde Ross. Born in 1923, Ross' story starts in the South, involves theft of property, moving his family into sharecropping with the inherent abuses there. Ross enlists for World War II and later moves to Chicago where his life is affected by corrupt real estate and finance practices.

Other people are featured as well, and events that Ross did not personally experience, like Black Wall Street and Roseland, but as you focus on this one person you can see him constantly having to fight a persistent oppression. The game is rigged, and it is rigged so badly that you know that it is not that Ross is unusual. If you talk to enough people of a sufficient age you will find many similar stories.

Yes, a lot of pundits like to blame it on laziness or criminality. There probably were people who were lazy and there were certainly people who were criminal, but they tended to get rich on it.

That may be part of a disturbing trend, but for now here are two simple steps. As individuals we can educate ourselves by facing our nation's original sin of slavery. The article is a good start. If you want to go deeper, there is a lot of information out there.

Then as a nation we examine it together so we can atone for it.

If you want to go deeper into how the abuses against African Americans continued after slavery, two good books out of many are Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon (there is also a documentary) and The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.

If you want to know more about how similar abuses happened in Africa via colonialism, try How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney and King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild.

It's not about white people being evil. Greed lets people to do some pretty horrible things, and not being willing to face that perpetuates it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Knowing how to help

Some time ago I expressed frustration with people who will argue about whether something like structural racism or economic inequality is really a problem, and after refuting various proofs they offer, they suddenly go, "Well then what do YOU suggest doing about it?"

On the most basic level it's a dick move to avoid admitting they were wrong, but there are two things that make it more aggravating. First of all, it takes more effort to bring up verifiable facts then repeat stupid things from Fox News that were never thought about that deeply. Thus they have quickly dumped the burden of solving the problem on the person who has already been working harder and frankly is probably more stressed out about it anyway because caring about big problems and wanting to fix them carries some stress with it.

That means it should be perfectly fair to respond to the perpetrator of the dick move with something like, "Well the first step is to get people like you to quit denying the issue." Unfortunately, I have a flaw where I automatically take questions seriously. I may know that a question is rhetorical or a joke, but I will still be thinking about the answer, sometimes in very absurd ways. So the second reason the move aggravates me so much is that I feel compelled to provide an answer. I want the issue solved, I think about it all the time, I have ideas on it, but for something so big there tends to not be one simple answer but many steps and options for getting closer. Having that discussion would take a lot of work, which would probably be wasted on the recent perpetrator of a dick move.

But maybe not. I read an article that I can't find now, but here is the gist: when confronted with bad situations humans will have a tendency to play it down or deny it unless they see a way to fix it. With a redemption storyline, they can accept that there was suffering because they are able to aid it.

There could be something horrible in trying to turn off empathy by denial, though it would explain a lot, but if we focus on the need to help, and that wanting to fix things is a normal part of humanity, then we don't sound so horrible, do we? We just need to have a way to know that we are helping.

The next few Monday through Wednesday posts are going to be going over things that I believe would help. That's a big topic.

My primary issue based on the links I post on Facebook probably looks like it is racism, or maybe police brutality. Well, those two aren't completely unconnected, but going back to that recent post on structure, a lot of bad comes from the need to believe that others are below you. Some people focus on economic inequality, and that's big, but it's not everything, and can't be while "some animals are more equal than others".

Things can also work on different levels. Things you might do to cause children to grow up with less prejudice might be relatively simple actions but take years to pay off. Some ideas might require government programs, but not all. You can make good arguments that no government programs would be that effective because maintaining the status quo is in the government's favor. I do not completely despair of the government playing a helpful role, but yes, I do realize some of the hindrances.

Seeing some of the obstacles, I can acknowledge reasons to be pessimistic, but I'm usually not. The efforts matter because they make differences for individuals. I always want to do more good, but good still happens, and it still matters when it does. Don't lose sight of that.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Band Review: The Homeless Gospel Choir

I'm not calling this a concert review because I was only there for two songs, possibly three. A personal anecdote explaining that will occur at the end of the post.

The Homeless Gospel Choir is a one man band from Pittsburgh, consisting of Derek Zanetti.

When introducing himself he at one point referred to punk, with this being a place where everyone was welcome. That is fair. In many ways the sound is more reminiscent of folk. That is partially a result of having a singer accompanying himself on guitar, but it is also there in the spirit of the music, which is politically and socially aware. Also, he said "This is a protest song," before each song ("With God On Our Side" and "Musical Preference" if I recall correctly), which is not present in all folk but there is a tradition there.

I would say that the music is mellower than punk, but the tempo often gets quite fast, and the emotions are actually pretty punk.

He comes up with interesting rhythms. "Live News Feed" is pretty funky and "Sometimes I Feel Like A Stranger" almost feels Hawaiian.

With only the self-accompaniment, instruments never drown Zanetti out. This means that the profanity is really noticeable. It stands out, and I don't think it particularly underscores the songs either - it seems habitual more than effective. So that's something to know going in if that is something that bothers you. That being said, it does not allow for how completely likable he is.

There were pretty long lines to get in, which ended up not being an issue due to the show starting a bit late. Before we knew that, I heard various fans expressing concern about missing "Derek". He was not the headliner, but you could hear that they felt connection and affection for him.

That makes sense. He comes through completely in the songs, where you are not likely to get lost so much in the music as becoming awake to the music, which is good for the messages that he shares.

(And that air of welcome and goodness makes The Homeless Gospel Choir a good touring match with the Cellabration.)

I'm glad for what I was able to hear, and was sorry not to see more, but the music remains.

I do believe that it is more powerful to see him live than merely listening, so if you get an opportunity you should take it.

*Why I missed the show.

I have written earlier about my mother starting to have some memory issues. She dropped me off at the train, which she has done many times, but then she didn't make it home. I was starting to worry when I was in line, and becoming frantic by the time I got in, especially because this was all my fault. I was in contact with my sisters, and I pretty much knew that she would be located and home before I could get there, especially since that would take over an hour on public transportation.

Because of that it made no sense for me to leave, and I knew that, but a wrong number on my phone sent me over the edge, and I couldn't do it. She was in fact located and home before I even got over the West Hills, but I was not at that time capable of being logical. I could only have been a buzzkill for anyone around me anyway. Fortunately, this is normal on Tri-Met.

The irony is that having gone to Frank Iero shows twice, this is the second time I have been an emotional wreck and had to leave early. I may need to quit seeing him, but I really like him.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Musical Black Girls

When I write a negative band review, I feel horrible about it. I still feel like I need to publish it, but I cringe inside and I may not send a link to the band.

That happened a few weeks ago, but the musician found it anyway, and he thanked me. We had a nice exchange. I have been thanked for some other reviews that aren't great, and usually the reason is because I gave them a chance. I listened (at least three times), I paid attention, and I took their efforts seriously. That is something musicians want.

During this last project I was also reminded me of when I finished going through the "Greatest Guitar Songs" and started "Women Rock". There didn't seem to be many women who would go onto the Greatest Guitar Songs list, but then we you step back, there were a lot of women who were important to rock, and good at it. It just took making an effort to see.

Looking at black women in music, I found a lot.

They were not all singers. Melba Liston was a trumpet virtuoso. There are amazing piano players, some of whom sing as well. I didn't know A Taste Of Honey featured women playing guitar and bass.

I found a better understanding of rock and it's development. It's important to know about Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I found a whole documentary about her. Once I knew the name Mavis Staples, she seemed to be turning up all over the place.

It reminded me of how much we don't know. Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas were innovative players, but we don't have a lot of information on them. There could be many influential blues artists who have disappeared. There could have been more women than we realized.

There are songs that were made famous by men or white women, but they started with black women. That's not surprising, but I'm glad to know. Those things shouldn't be forgotten. I am glad to have heard Erma Franklin's "Piece Of My Heart" and Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog".

I'm sure the list could have been curated better. I tried go in roughly chronological order, but things get messy. Some of these women have had really long careers, and don't fit into any one time period.

Often they don't fit into any one genre. The first thing I heard about Cissy Houston was that she was a Gospel singer. That's not exactly untrue, but she was in a girl group, and if the Sweet Inspirations were more spiritual than the Shirelles, that's not all they were. I have her with them and I have her singing a disco song. No one mentioned that she did disco.

It brought up a lot of good memories - I'd forgotten Brenda Russell - and showed me a lot of music I'd missed.

I tried to do Gospel songs on Sunday. Everyone seems to have a Gospel song, even if that's not what they do for the most part.

Mainly it opened up new things to me. If you can't change anyone else, you can still change yourself.

The thing that will stay with me the most is just the sheer volume. I was looking at one month, and it's been nearly six. I could keep going. Even today, I was checking to see if I really loved Abbey Lincoln or just "Throw It Away". That lead me to Esperanza Spalding.

I loved Ledisi so much I did a regular review of her. I may also do that with Sharon Jones,  Joan Armatrading, Fefe Dobson, and Leona Lewis. I know I want to listen to them more.

 I owe great thanks to Sydette Harry and Aundrea Matthews.

Here is the full list.

2/1 "Wade in the Water" by Sweet Honey In The Rock
2/2 "Piece of My Heart" by Erma Franklin
2/3 "Last Kind Words" by Geeshie Wiley
2/4 "Motherless Child Blues" by Elvie Thomas
2/5 "Wild Women Don't Have The Blues" by Ida Cox
2/6 "Prove It On Me Blues" by Gertrude "Ma" Rainey
2/7 "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" by Bessie Smith
2/8 "Move On Up A Little Higher" by Mahalia Jackson
2/9 "C'est Lui" by Josephine Baker
2/10 "Hound Dog" by Big Mama Thornton
2/11 "What A Difference A Day Makes" by Dinah Washington
2/12 "The Very Thought of You" by Billie Holiday
2/13 "At Last" by Etta James
2/14 "My Funny Valentine" by Ella Fitzgerald
2/15 "My Lord What A Morning" by Marian Anderson
2/16 "O patria mia" by Leontyne Price
2/17 "Misty" by Sarah Vaughn
2/18 "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Irma Thomas
2/19 "Stranger To My Happiness" by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
2/20 "Georgia On My Mind" by Ethel Waters
2/21 "So Long" by Ruth Brown
2/22 "Somebody Bigger Than You and I" by Marion Williams
2/23 "Throw It Away" by Abbey Lincoln
2/24 "But Beautiful" by Betty Carter
2/25 "No More Blues" by Carmen McRae
2/26 "Pow" by Melba Liston
2/27 "Taking A Chance On Love" by Dorothy Dandridge
2/28 Forgot
3/1 "Stormy Weather" by Lena Horne
3/2 "Mr. Lee" by the Bobbettes
3/3 "Maybe" The Chantels
3/4 "Baby It's You" by The Shirelles
3/5 "Darling Forever" by The Marvellettes
3/6 "That's When The Tears Start" The Blossoms
3/7 "Nowhere To Run" by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
3/8 "Sweet Inspiration" by the Sweet Inspirations
3/9 "Needle In A Haystack" by The Velvelettes
3/10 "He's Got The Power" by The Exciters
3/11 "I Never Dreamed" by The Cookies
3/12 "(Like A) Nightmare" by The Andantes
3/13 "One Fine Day" by The Chiffons
3/14 "Chapel of Love" by The Dixie Cups
3/15 "Up Above My Head" by Sister Rosetta Tharpe
3/16 "Can't Let You Go" by The Geminis
3/17 "Attack" by The Toys
3/18 "Then He Kissed Me" by The Crystals
3/19 "Baby I Love You" by The Ronettes
3/20 "All Or Nothing" by Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles
3/21 "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes
3/22 "Take Me" by Mable John
3/23 "My Guy" by Mary Wells
3/24 "After All" by Claudette Rogers
3/25 "Down To Zero" by Joan Armatrading
3/26 "Don't Make Me Over" by Dionne Warwick
3/27 "No Tears (In The End) by Roberta Flack
3/28 "Four Women" by Nina Simone
3/29 "Down In Mississippi" by Mavis Staples
3/30 "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show" by Honey Cone
3/31 "Skate To The Rhythm" by High Inergy
4/1 "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston
4/2 "Half and Half" by Vicki Sue Robinson
4/3 "Boogie Oogie Oogie" by A Taste Of Honey
4/4 "Saturday" by Norma Jean Wright
4/5 "Jesus Love Is Like A River" by Gladys Knight
4/6 "Encore" by Cheryl Lynn
4/7 "Sweet Splendor" by Anita Ward
4/8 "Think It Over" by Cissy Houston
4/9 "I Am What I Am" by Gloria Gaynor
4/10 "I Feel Love" by Donna Summer
4/11 "Do You Know Where You're Going To (Theme from Mahogany)" by Diana Ross
4/12 "I'm His Child" by Zella Jackson Price
4/13 "Slave To The Rhythm" by Grace Jones
4/14 "What A Little Moonlight Can Do" by Cassandra Wilson
4/15 "Soft Place To Fall" by Deborah Coleman
4/16 "Lost In Music" by Sister Sledge
4/17 "Back Down Memory Lane" by Minnie Riperton
4/18 "I'm So Excited" by The Pointer Sisters
4/19 "Where There Is Love" by Patrice Rushen
4/20 "Born To Swing" by Lil Hardin
4/21 "Hazel's Boogie Woogie" by Hazel Scott
4/22 "Hallelujah Boogie Woogie" by Dorothy Donegan
4/23 "I Apologize" by Anita Baker
4/24 "Cherish The Day" by Sade
4/25 "Chain of Fools" by Aretha Franklin
4/26 "Plant My Feet On Higher Ground" by The Davis Sisters
4/27 "What's Love Got To Do With It" by Tina Turner
4/28 "Buffalo Stance" by Nenah Cherry
4/29 "This Will Be" by Natalie Cole
4/30 "I'm Every Woman" by Chaka Khan
5/1 "Party Up In Here" by The Brides of Funkenstein
5/2 "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston
5/3 "I'll Tell It Wherever I Go" by Sallie Martin
5/4 "Paper Thin" by MC Lyte
5/5 "U.N.I.T.Y." by Queen Latifah
5/6 "Shoop" by Salt-N-Pepa
5/7 "Sock It 2 Me" by Missy Elliott & Da Brat
5/8 "Satisfaction" by Eve
5/9 "Baby-Baby-Baby" by TLC
5/10 "Lord, Look Down On Me" by Bessie Griffin
5/11 "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman
5/12 "Rhythm Nation" by Janet Jackson
5/13 "I Know" by Dionne Farris
5/14 "Piano In The Dark" by Brenda Russell
5/15 "Say...If You Feel All Right" by Crystal Waters
5/16 "Be Without You" by Mary J. Blige
5/17 "How I Got Over" by the Clara Ward Singers
5/18 "Fa All Y'All" by Da Brat
5/19 “Lighters Up” by Lil Kim
5/20 “My Story” by Jean Grae
5/21 “A Girl Named You” by Psalm One
5/22 “Afro Puffs” by The Lady Of Rage
5/23 “Heaven Sent” by Keyshia Cole
5/24 "Lord Don't Leave Me By Myself" by The Famous Davis Sisters
5/25 "Breathe Again" by Toni Braxton
5/26 "Don't Let Go" by En Vogue
5/27 "Doo-Wop (That Thing) by Lauryn Hill
5/28 "I Try" by Macy Gray
5/29 "Have You Ever" by Brandy
5/30 "Don't Ask My Neighbor" by Tisha Campbell and Tichina Arnold
5/31 "I Thank You Jesus" by Marie Knight
6/1 "Didn't Cha Know" by Erykah Badu
6/2 "400" by Genesis Blu
6/3 "You Could Fall In Love With Me" by Countess Vaughn
6/4 "Faithfulness" by Skin
6/5 "Betty Shabazz" by Rapsody
6/6 "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Koko Taylor
6/7 "My God Is A Powerful God" by Sister Souljah
6/8 "You Can't Play With My Yo-Yo" by Yo-Yo
6/9 "Echelon" by Honeychild Coleman
6/10 "Miss Moon" by Cree Summer
6/11 "Warrior Bones" by Tamar-kali
6/12 "Legacy" by Fefe Dobson
6/13 "Running Song" by Ambersunshower
6/14 "Psalm 8" by LeJuene Thompson
6/15 "Missing You" by Joi
6/16 "The World Is A Beat" by N'Dambi
6/17 "Turn The Heat Up" by Shemekia Copeland
6/18 "Conversion" by Straight Line Stitch
6/19 "'86" by Dawn Richard
6/20 "I Blame You" by Ledisi
6/21 "I Have A Father Who Can" by CeCe Winans
6/22 "I'm A Tree" by Imani Coppola
6/23 "I Am American" by Shelley Nicole's blaKbüshe
6/24 "Let It Burn" by Jazmine Sullivan
6/25 "You Can't Be Told" by Valerie June
6/26 "Deep Sea Diver" by Angel Haze
6/27 "Get Along With You" by Kelis
6/28 "Who Feels It Knows It" by Rita Marley
6/29 "Transformation" by Nona Hendryx
6/30 "Dizzy" by NoName Gypsy
7/1 "Emotion" by Destiny's Child
7/2 "Yoga" by Janelle Monáe ft. Jidenna
7/3 "My Baby" by Zendaya
7/4 "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Beyoncé
7/5 "Somewhere In My Lifetime" by Phyllis Hyman
7/6 "Whip My Hair" by Willow Smith
7/7 "Take A Bow" by Rihanna
7/8 "1991" by Azealia Banks
7/9 "The Night Is Still Young" by Nicki Minaj
7/10 "Rock The Boat" by Aaliyah
7/11 "Guess Who I Saw Today" by Nancy Wilson
7/12 "I'm On Your Side" by Jennifer Holliday
7/13 "What A Feeling" by Irene Cara
7/14 "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart" by Alicia Keys
7/15 "Dreamin'" by Vanessa Williams
7/16 "I Decided" by Solange
7/17 "I Am" by Leona Lewis
7/18 "Complain" by Tweet
7/19 "I Believe" by Fantasia Barrino
7/20 "Believe In Me" by Michelle Williams
7/21 "Stole" by Kelly Rowland
7/22 "I Am Changing" by Jennifer Hudson
7/23 "Opportunity" by Quvenzhané Wallis

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Black Girls Rock

Gentle reminder: If your response to this title is to be offended because what about white girls? Please see yesterday's post.

My songs of the day have featured black women artists since February 1st. Originally it was just going to be all of February. I would commemorate Black History month by giving the songs over to black women.

One reason is that I kept hearing of new artists. I had been keeping a list of names so I could check them out, but it was also because of how I heard of one of them. Really, it was kind of all for Azealia Banks.

The first time I heard of her was related to a feud with Iggy Azalea, who was also new to me. It was not the first time I had heard of cultural appropriation, but something in Banks' words stuck with me - I felt the pain in what she was saying, as well as the logic.

Black Twitter was a big part of that, for the new artists, and the articles, and showing the hypocrisy in some of the attacks, and pointing out how the pictures in the articles used flattering shots of Azalea, but bad ones of Banks. I did a Google image search out of curiosity, and there are lots of good images of Banks out there. There might be copyright issues for some of them, but certainly not all of them.

I mention that to give some context, but also because history repeats. The other black women who seemed to get the most blow back are Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. (Beyoncé gets some too, but it's different.)

Well, recently Rihanna released a new song, "BBHMM", and some "feminist" writers decried the violence against a women but have also recently defended the violence against women in Grand Theft Auto. It may be worth noting that the video features Mads Mikkelsen, who plays a serial killer in "Hannibal" and I haven't heard anyone complaining about that violence.

Then just yesterday Nicki Minaj tweeted a comment (an accurate one) about the VMA's that was not about Taylor Swift. Because Swift nonetheless took it personally (just used to assuming everything is about her I suppose), then Minaj is "taking jabs" at Swift, and look at that! Flattering picture of Swift and unflattering picture of Minaj.

One guy tweeted that the attacks on Nicki don't matter in light of Sandra Bland, but it matters a lot, because it's that constant diminishment and erasure of black women that makes it so easy to kill them. They need to be celebrated instead.

So when I started it was to give some credit to Azealia, and to others. I didn't realize how many black women I would find, but I also didn't know how much more important it would seem.

One other incident that resonated was the jab taken by "Fashion Police" at Zendaya:

I'd never heard of Zendaya before either, but looking at the articles and the pictures, she looked beautiful, and well-put together, for both dress and hair. And again, they just couldn't let her have her moment, they needed to drag her down.

Zendaya responded with dignity and class. She could have been a lot nastier about it, chances are she would have been demonized for doing so. There are still people who feel she made too much of a fuss, when she did not fuss.

I was impressed with her, but also impressed with Amandla Stenberg.

She is so educated and poised and thoughtful for her age, and I was amazed by that, but then I remembered that her first entry into the public attention consisted of people angry that Rue was black, and feeling better about her death. I guess she had to learn fast.

The sad thing is that I don't think that being so well-spoken means that Amandla or Zendaya get less pushback than Nicki or Azealia, who sometimes choose to be more aggressive. Actually, that's only one sad thing. There are lots of things that are sad about all of this.

What I am trying to switch into next week is different things that people can do, and so this was one for me. I could incorporate - into something I do anyway - a focus on black women. I can proclaim that black girls rock.

There are so many good examples.

Mo'ne Davis rocks.

Misty Copeland rocks.

Serena Williams rocks. Venus Williams rocks too.

Bree Newsome rocks.

Ava DuVernay rocks.

There's a lot more. Keep an eye out for them. Protect them. Support them. Let them lean on you. Two movements have leaned on black women for a long time, and they are getting tired. Make this a better world for them. Maybe buy the T-shirt:

Tomorrow: about 175 songs.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Black Girls Are Magic

From yesterday's post, there are a lot of factors that can move you down in the hierarchy. Not being male is a big one of course, and not being white. There is also a specific force of anti-blackness, which puts other non-white colors over black, and favors lighter hues over darker.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on that. There is a lot of information readily available out there. I have referred to different books and articles in the past, and I will do that again. The point that I really want to get to now is that being a black woman is the bottom rung.

That can be an oversimplification, and we'll hit on that a little more soon. For now, it means that white women can abuse black women and black men can abuse black women, and both can feel free to shush complaints because it's in the service of the greater good. Black women must deal with the combined forces of misogyny and anti-blackness. Moya Bailey coined the term "Misogynoir" for this, so researching that would be a good starting point.

Speaking of oversimplification, if you are not an abuser, then it obviously doesn't mean you. However, if you're first response is to argue whether the abuse even happens, or to assert that you are not personally responsible, that does enable the abuse. It's like correcting Black Lives Matter to All Lives Matter. Of course all lives matter, but there are enough people who find that black lives matter less that it needs to be addressed.

If the title "Black Girls Are Magic" offends you, well, tomorrow's title will also, but it is missing the point. They need their chance to shine, and there are so many obstacles against them.

Look, I have my girls that I watch out for, and most of them are white. I don't care more about Jazmine and Grace than the others; I can't imagine ranking any of them. I do know that if we get a world where they are not constantly being pushed down, then we also will have stopped pushing down all of the others. I would be really grateful for that.

Or maybe it won't be the end. Maybe we'll find that we still have a ways to go on how we treat the handicapped, or that we have gotten really good in the US but that England still needs work (a lot of my girls are English). I still believe that if we actively take on two such destructive forces - misogyny and anti-blackness - that affect so many people, we will be doing great good. The fastest route to that will be loving and appreciating black women.

So here's some stats:

From 2014, the homicide rate for black women was 4.54 per 100,000, compared to 1.81 for women overall.

In 2010, black women were incarcerated at nearly three times the rate of white women.

The prison pipeline starts in school when they are disciplined more severely than white girls for similar offenses.

Despite that, black women lead all groups in college enrollment. They keep earning more advanced degrees.

Despite that, black women still have a hard time getting hired. They get paid less when they get the jobs. The get harassed over their hair, and being too friendly, and being too unapproachable. So black women are also the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in America, creating their own path.

They do this despite being told that they are ugly, and unfeminine, and being shamed for not hating their bodies enough. If they express emotions they are derided for being "angry black women". If they criticize anything, no matter how deserved, they are "mean". No matter how much information there is about food deserts, stress, and the difficulty of weight loss, they are told they want to be fat.

How much more time have sports writers spent focusing on Serena Williams' physical appearance rather than on what an amazing athlete she is?

A lot was made of the casual racism in Daniel Handler's watermelon joke, and it was ignorant, but there is another trend there. If he is such a good friend of Jacqueline Woodson, why couldn't he just celebrate her award and praise her? Why did he have to knock her down in her moment?

It happens all the time, and so many of them do amazing things anyway, but what would they be able to do if they weren't hampered? And for some of the ones who are just hanging on now, what would they be able to do?

And if we had the kind of society where we didn't impede them, or each other, what would that be like?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Cosby and patriarchy

I have a hard time explaining my feelings regarding Bill Cosby being a rapist.

I actually didn't watch "The Cosby Show" regularly, and while I did watch "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids", I don't have really strong memories of it. Where the memories come from are his comedy records: Why Is There Air, Bill Cosby Himself, and To My Brother Russell, Whom I Slept With.

We listened to his records all the time growing up. We are a quoting family too, and we would quote sections of his routines. There are still phrases that bring them back to mind, and in the past I would have said it aloud, and now I can't. It's completely ruined. I mainly feel disgust, and it feels like there is something else there. Mourning the loss would make sense, but it doesn't really seem to be that.

It might be because I had some preparation. I had heard the rumors a few years ago, when there weren't as many women coming forward. I was pretty sure it was true, but it just didn't come up that often. I know a lot of people had a "shock" stage, and I didn't. Maybe I was ready for it even before that, because my disillusionment had already started with the cranky old man.

You probably remember that Cosby, the one who was always telling black people to pull their pants up and speak proper English, regardless of how many there were who were already well dressed and educated and still not catching a break. That happened ages before I was even familiar with the phrase "respectability politics" but then when I did learn about it, it all made sense.

I have been thinking about this for two reasons. One is a Facebook exchange with a friend, where again I find that I can't fully explain my feelings, so there is this concern that I am missing something, but not a lot of desire to dwell on him.

In addition, looking over the deposition where the drug procurement is acknowledged, someone commented that it reads exactly like someone who never considered that women are human. So much of patriarchy boils down to who gets to be completely human.

I don't love that term, because "patriarch" has some positive connotations for me. I generally use "hierarchy" when I can, but the one we have is patriarchal in nature, and you can't have a serious discussion without acknowledging that.

The reason "hierarchy" resonates more for me is because it connotes more of the multi-level structure. In a patriarchy it could just be that men led, and it could be familial, but the structure that we have has multiple tiers where sexuality, race, wealth, health, and age, matter in addition to gender. That puts a lot more people not on top, but then they can still believe they are not on the absolute bottom, and some people really get off on that.

I don't know that it has to be inherently abusive, but that's how it comes out. It is interesting today that there is a big story about a site that is used for cheating being hacked, as well as two Gawker editors resigning because a story outing an adulterer was pulled.

I hate adultery, but the people involved in this are not heroes, if for no other reason than because it is so common to use sex as a means of social control. That is how you get slut-shaming and rape threats and catcallers who tell you it's a compliment but ignore the times incidents result in physical assaults.

It is interesting to me how quickly rape fantasies come to conservatives. The first time I noticed it was with Bill Napoli, back in 2006, but then Phil Robertson had one just a few months ago regarding an atheist family. Of course, the emphasis there was on the father's anguish, just like Stephen A Smith couldn't de-center himself from the thought of a relative of his being sexually harassed. When women are accessories to men, then women can be used as a means of punishment, as well as functioning as a status symbol. Remember, Dylan Roof said "You rape our women", even though he did not have a woman, and the woman who supposedly sent him on his dark path did so by choosing a black man of her own volition.

I know that seems all mixed together, but it becomes part of the same thing. If it comes out at some point that Josh Duggar was molested, I will not be surprised. I could even feel sympathy for him, though not as much as for his victims.

But I wouldn't be surprised, because the system that is in place, and which some people fight so hard to keep in place, is one that encourages people to deny the humanity of anyone "below" them. That fosters abuse.

If people in the middle tiers can decide that stepping on others is not only vile but also not worth getting stepped on, maybe we can get somewhere.

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