What Happened Today

"ALL SMILES" -- @joemande

On some level, yeah, I expected this verdict because the system is broken. Because the technicality of this dumb fucking law allows you to stalk and kill somebody so long as there are no witnesses. I can imagine someone who is a strict letter-of-the-law adherent, with no room for finesse or spirit of the law. I disagree vehemently with it, but I can imagine how someone could arrive to that conclusion. I can imagine a fearful, narrow-minded jury defaulting to innocence because it's one guys word versus literal dead silence.

What I cannot understand, under any fucking circumstance, is how this is somehow a verdict worth cheering for. Like, I don't understand you, I hope I never understand you, I hope your lack of empathy and basic humanity is your downfall some day. Even if you think the verdict should be not guilty, I don't know how you can see this as a victory. At best, it would be just a grim reality of the world we live in. Something to exhale over and move on. Not put on a smile and pump your first. Nah. Fuck you.

The only way that mentality can exist is if you see yourself on a "team" -- basically team Anti-black-teens. If you feel like your right to judge, hate, fear and despise young black men is under attack, then that's the only way you could feel a sense of victory. Hooray! You can continue being disgusting!

The lesson here is that in Florida, you can get away with murder so long as there are no witnesses, because then you control the narrative and can say whatever you want. Even when you created the situation. Even when you were wrong. Even when you admit to it.

These specific assholes like to say, "Well Trayvon shouldn't have swung back," or "Well here's a picture of Trayvon flipping off a camera." As if he's the one that's on trial, as if most 17 year olds aren't angry and flipping people off. They hold him -- the victim -- to a different standard than Zimmerman, the admitted murderer. They say Trayvon shouldn't have fought back, but they never say Zimmerman shouldn't have stalked him. They're willing to forgive Zimmerman's shortsighted decision, but they'll say Trayvon's led to his own death. 

I can understand a person who disagrees. I can imagine that being an opinion. I don't imagine how you can pretend anyone "won" here. George Zimmerman is a free man, he gets his gun back, he gets as many guns as he wants and he's out on the street as a one-man vigilante. And our legal system says it's okay to be just like him.

"Accidental Racist" Is A Lovely Song About Clothes & Nothing Else

Right? Because there's literally no deeper it can go. This is, at its absolute best, a song about clothing confusion between a confederate flag t-shirt and a du-rag. And that's wonderful, in a "aren't they quaint" kind of way.

Racial politics is often an exhausting conversation. So many of us are invested in its direction, so many of us are convinced that we've got it figured out, and that imagined insight is often titilating to debate. The result is that it attracts a lot of novices, and sometimes these novices get so into their own ideas that they make a country-rap song about it.

In the stressful and infuriating world of race relations, there are so few moments of hilarity like this. It's wonderful. It's like a supermodel's daydream of joining the Peace Corps, or a middle schooler paying attention to politics for the first time. We rarely get to laugh like this, together.

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A Brief Thought About Django

So, I haven't seen DJANGO UNCHAINED yet. I feel like I should, I just don't know if it's urgent, or if this is something I want to see in theaters. It's completely possible that I won't like it, but that 50/50 chance is what makes it exciting to me.

Culturally, we've gotten kinda stupid about how we define controversy and edginess. These terms have become the territory of shock jocks and stand-up trolls, and their checklist for provocative work consists of a single item that says, "say something you shouldn't." We've lost edgy art to one-trick racism, sexism and homophobia yet we all still pretend like this is a bold new commentary.

On the other hand, the wide-ranging reaction to DJANGO UNCHAINED feels like real, legitimate controversy. The useful kind that results in a net positive communication, not just backlash and backlash to the backlash. I recently watched Louis CK reiterate a common belief that provoking a reaction is an important goal of any art, but he doesn't take into account the push-a-button, one dimensional ease with which it can be accomplished. The debate around this film reminds me what actual provocation is supposed to be like. It's an actual conversation, and that's never a waste of time or detrimental to the culture at large.

The thinkpieces that have sprung out of the event that is this film have been valuable to our conversation on race and media. I can completely understand liking it as a celebration of Blaxploitation style or disliking it as a retread of Blaxploitation's problems. It can be a cathartic middle finger to the romanticized south, or "as troubling as it is affirming." I can see liking it, except for how the audiences (and you) react to it.

That's the best part: you don't have to like it. A bunch of intelligent commenters have trended in opposite directions, and that's exciting. It makes the film kind of a Rorschach ink blot for race, although maybe not as open-ended and fluid. It's a legitimate provocation, a piece that sticks something in you, and it's understandable if that isn't everyone's idea of a good time.

Why This Stupid Last Airbender Shit Matters

Let me give you some background information so we're all on the same page: Avatar: The Last Airbender was a hugely successful, wildly popular, animated Nickelodeon martial arts fantasy. The show took place in a mythical land, however, much of the architecture, writing, and character designs were based on many cultures, with emphasis on ancient China and Inuit cultures. There's a little Hinduism, a little Buddhism, a little Japan. Hollywood decided to make a live action film about it, and M. Night Shyamalan of The Happening fame was tapped to run the show.

And then they cast all the main characters as white kids.

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Essay | Wretched

As a child, when I found out that the Philippines was a former colony of the United States, my first thought was, "Cool." They don't teach you what colony means or what colonialism is in school. Your frame of reference is the American Revolution - you think it means a distant governorship, maybe some taxes charged, but otherwise, everything remains unmolested. Colonialism doesn't mean violence, it doesn't mean the manipulation and systematic molding of people. In school, "colony" is just an empty term meaning, "part of."

So it was "cool." Cool, because it meant I wasn't really an Other anymore. It meant that I didn't have to represent this strange, foreign outside image and that I fit in to the mainstream like everyone else. That I should be accepted as one of them. I was glad. I felt normal.

This was the outcome of a one hundred year plan. The stage is set like this: There was a random smattering of islands in Southeast Asia. Seven thousand, give or take, populated with different peoples, different ethnic groups, different languages and tribes and religions. Spanish explorer Magellan tries to sail across the world, but crashes into one of the islands and gets a dagger the liver for his trouble. Trade goes through with the Chinese, with Muslims, with their neighbors, and various parts of the island show the influence.

Fast forward. A guy (well, a king) named Philip sees thousands of islands and over 70 different languages and decides to draw a border around all of them and call them his own. With no regard for their own ethnic borders and unique culture, the Spanish forced the creation of a single nation out of many. King Philip decides to name the nation, and thus the people, after himself. Their message was Catholicism. The fever caught on everywhere except in the very north and the very south.

Fast forward, again, this time roughly 500 years. The people have taken the name Pilipino, or Filipino, derived from Philip, or Felipe. They finally fight off the colonizers. A revolutionary and polymath named Jose Rizal uses the term Pilipino as a personal identity, to much controversy. In some ways, it's an inspiring call to unity, a call for one people with the singular purpose of fighting off their oppressors. In other ways, it's an acceptance of the colonialist structure forced upon them.

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Essay | Something I Heard About Changing The World

When I went to the Student of Color Conference in Santa Cruz last year, a gathering of young activists mobilizing around issues that affect minority and low-income communities, one of their great speakers told us, "be prepared to never enjoy the fruits of your labor."

It was like someone told us a secret we weren't supposed to know. It was something that was painfully true, yet familiar, something we must have known on some level but never acknowledged. I thought about the causes I had a hand in, and even more, the causes that I didn't have a hand in. I thought about the petitions I signed and didn't sign, the people holding them, the people knocking on doors and holding rallies and making movements. There's so much of it out there in the community and yet there's that universal element of it. All of us who care about something more than we are expected to, will likely never get to see the fruits of our labor.

Activism is hard. Activism is draining, tiresome, frustrating, and consuming. It is also the only way we are ever going to get out of this mess.

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Essay | Let Us Not Pat Our Backs So Hard

Previously, on the greatest spectator sport in the world: Barack Obama, as we have all expected for at least a month, has become the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of the United States. When it finally, finally, finally became official, the media could finally let loose all the stories about it being a historic first and world changing event that they've been holding in. Tim Russert exclaimed that he'd like to be a teacher in an inner-city school on that day. People were marveling at being part of history, about the possibility of electing the first black leader in a predominantly white country. Not just a first for the US, but for the entire western world.

That's great. It really is. But it strikes me that the rhetoric going around is starting to get awfully self-congratulatory. People, like Frank Schaeffer at the Huffington Post, are saying things such as, "All over the world our country ... looks immeasurably better because we have grown up enough to embrace a black candidate, our fraught and sordid racial history notwithstanding."

Worse yet, angry lawn protectors like Pat Buchanan have proclaimed that black people should be grateful because all that slavery & oppression has ultimately led to the most prominent black people in the world, as opposed to all that violence going on in the homeland (And white colonialism had nothing to do with that no siree)

There is a general air of, "Damn we're really progressive and great" that is going to be dangerous in the long run to even more progress. Look at the arguments today. When people try and argue that racism is not a problem in America, they point to ridiculous trivia like Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. While good signs, they are nothing more than that. Signs of getting better, not evidence that we are cured. They are exceptions and not the rule. Mouthpieces like Buchanan are effectively telling people, "You're not a slave anymore so what is left to complain about?"

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