All posts by Kendra James

WNYC Presents: Funny Or Racist?

by Kendra James

There was a lot of good discussion on racial comedy at last night’s panel featuring Arun Venugopal, Desus NiceCrissle West, Jeff Yang and Guy Branum and we’ve summed a good deal of that up in our Livetweet Storify below. The panel was broken up into sections with each new topic introduced by a different video or comedic soundbite, and everything was going along swimmingly with very thought provoking (and hilarious) banter tossed back and forth between the participants.

It was during the Q&A that things got, as one might say, quite real after a discussion about Sarah Silverman’s use of blackface on her Comedy Central show.  A realness which made for the highlight of the evening as West was forced to keep it all the way 100 with an audience member who really did try it. The exchange can be found around 1hr 19min in in the livestream link, but also transcribed in part below:

Audience Member: My name is Alan Rich, I’m a discrimination lawyer … Crissle, one thing that you said about Sarah Silverman– I get the impression that you take her work at face value.  And I think that so many comedians who are really funny — I don’t think that she’s making fun of black people in any way shape or form about black people when she does blackface. Because those of us who know the history of blackface is that not only white people did blackface, black entertainers had to do black face to get jobs.

Crissle: Wow, so you have to be really white to make that statement. That is just the whitest thing–

Audience Member: It’s a comment about how ridiculous we as a society can be.

Crissle: Can we not? I’m really not about to do this.

Audience Member: I’ve never walked out on Paul Mooney, so you have to give me a pass.

Crissle: And you’re a discrimination lawyer? Holy God. Sooo… I’m  gonna go ahead and address that by saying first of all that I can absolutely say that you’re racist for being a white woman in 2014 or whenever it was that she did this to put in blackface and go on television. Yes I can absolutely call you racist for that. you know the history behind it and you did it anyway. That is racist. I can say that. I’m a black woman, I’m gonna just go ahead and take my word over yours on that. That’s racist. And I don’t like her for it.

Audience Member: [Sic] Tell her! But you don’t know her. You don’t know what’s in her mind.

Crissle: Where is my access to Sarah Silverman? I don’t have to know her– I don’t have to know what’s inside Sarah Silverman’s head. I’m looking at her actions because her actions are what she’s presented to me. She didn’t put put a book called Sarah Silverman’s Diary here read my innermost thoughts and see how I came to these fuck ass conclusions that I have here today. She got on TV in blackface and decided that that was funny and it was not. And you as a white man trying to tell me that my feelings are invalid because I don’t know her is a crock of shit … and that’s why I get on my show every week and say what I need to say because white people like you feel like you have a goddamn point.

Panel Q&A sessions can be difficult for anyone with Acute Second Hand Embarrassment Syndrome (ASHES, in my opinion the worst kind of ashiness a Black person can get), so I really appreciated how the situation was handled. Plus, having only just started listening to West’s podcast The Read (which she records alongside Kid Fury) about a week ago, I felt particularly privileged to be able to hear her give a Read live and in public.

It is a nonnegotiable fact in  my life that white people in blackface constitutes a racist act.  Context, intent, the word ‘subversive’, and the names Tina Fey and Sarah Silverman do nothing to change my mind in that regard. Context and intent don’t change the fact that there comes a time in every Black parent’s life where, for instance, they have to do something like sit down and explain to their children why there are radically different pictures of Black celebrities such as this,why one image is better and more appropriate to imitate and aspire to, and why such a beautiful woman was forced to allow herself to be treated as such.

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Hi.Lar.I.Ous. (Images of Josephine Baker)

I suppose things are funnier when you have the luxury of skipping conversations like that altogether.

Colour commentary aside, WNYC and The Greene Space hosted a great night for us and all in attendance for their continuing Micropolis series. Readers of The R can look forward to another livetweet from the space next week when we head back to cover a live recording of Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu’s podcast “Another Round,” which will also feature The Butter editor Roxane Gay.

Quoted: Race + Waco, Texas’ Real Life FX Drama

One of the most distinct characteristics of white privilege is the privilege to be unique. When white people commit violent acts, they are treated as aberrations, slips described with adjectives that show they are unusual and in no way representative of the broader racial group to which they belong.

In fact, in much of the coverage of the Waco shootings, the race of the gang members isn’t even mentioned, although pictures of the aftermath show groups of white bikers being held by police. By comparison, the day after Freddie Gray died in the custody of police officers in Baltimore, not only did most coverage mention that Gray was black, but also included a quote from the deputy police commissioner noting Gray was arrested in “a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,” implicitly smearing Gray and the entire community.

How did press reports quote the police in Waco? “We’ve been made aware in the past few months of rival biker gangs … being here and causing issues,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. Causing issues? Cops were reportedly so worried about the bikers gathering in the Waco strip mall that they had 12 officers as well as officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety stationed outside the restaurant.

Now there’s word that the biker gangs have issued repeated threats against the police in the aftermath of the Waco “melee” as The New York Times headline called it. During the uprisings in Baltimore, I saw a flurry of tweets about black people disrespecting property and throwing rocks at police. Now that these biker gangs have issued actual death threats, why am I not now seeing tons of Twitter posts about white people disrespecting the lives of police?

Waco Coverage Shows Double Standard on Race, by Sally Kohn; via CNN.com, May 19, 2015

 

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R-oundtable: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Much like one of its action set-pieces, the discussion around the latest Avengers film has blown up in multiple directions: In the week since its US release, the discussion surrounding Age of Ultron has veered from its massive box-office haul to cast members slut-shaming Black Widow off-screen to Black Widow’s portrayal on it to, finally, writer/director Joss Whedon leaving Twitter because of comments that have been attributed to overzealous “feminists.” (SPOILERS: No, it wasn’t because of that.)

Thinkpieces abound on each of these topics, no doubt, and our own trio of Kendra, Tope and Arturo will touch on some of these issues, while also looking at how the movie’s few — and seemingly far-between — POC fared in Marvel’s latest mega-ensemble story.

SPOILERS under the cut Continue reading

Nerd Roundup: Brief Dispatches From C2E2

C2E2 earns the honour of being the only con I have ever attended where I’ve not felt that personal space and air to breathe were an inevitable sacrifice in a battle to the top of Nerd Mordor. Arriving late on Saturday, about two hours after the convention had already begun, I marveled at the amount of space between aisles and booths. Most of the big cons are ADA accessible at this point, but this is the only con I’ve attended where someone with, say, a wheelchair looked to be able to navigate somewhat freely throughout a show floor also accommodating a fair amount of service animals, helicarrier sized strollers, and the drunkenly zig-zagging paths of  the toddlers who had escaped them.

Despite Chicago being a massive and sprawling city, C2E2 seemed smaller than its sister-con in New York (both produced by ReedPop Entertainment). So in addition to the extra breathing room in aisles for multiple tentacled Doc Ock cosplays, the con had had something of a personal touch. Casual conversation with creators was much more readily available than at NYCC or SDCC (for instance, multiple people were lucky enough to simply bump into Sex Criminals artist Chip Zdarsky who was wandering around the Image booth), and I personally found that responses to issues like harassment, offensive costumes, and abuse were nearly instantaneous compared to NYCC.

So while C2E2 is the only con where I’ve seen someone cosplaying as not a Death Eater, a member of Hydra, or some other fictional Nazi allegory, but an actual Nazi (a cross-dressing Nazi, but a Nazi never the less), I can at least say that representatives from C2E2 responded to my tweets seconds after I made the complaint public. There was a concerted effort to try and locate the man and remove him from the convention. That was bolstering as safety is always an issue at these events whether one is in cosplay or not.

It’s unfortunate that incidents like that can completely mar a con experience, and equally unfortunate that panels like The Fangirl’s Guide To: Surviving Online have to exist. With the era of Gamergate and Doxxing upon us, panelists Sam Maggs, Amy Chu, Jen Aprahamian, Stephanie Cook, Cara McGee, and Gita Jackson gathered together to discuss how something as simple as having your email posted for professional inquiries can lead to a downward spiral of online harassment that can spill into the real world.

Racialicious did not attend as press this year and since I was there ‘on business’ I didn’t get to attend as many panels as I would have liked,  thus there is less the wrap! But even though I was only in attendance for Saturday and Sunday, I still managed to grab a few pics of the best (and youngest) cosplayers at the con.  After all, it’s always best to end on a cute note.

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Racialicious In Chicago: A C2E2 Preview

I’ve never been to C2E2 before and know very little about what to expect– beyond the fact that there is a Brony fan meetup that I will be doing my utmost to avoid. Luckily, C2E2 also features a decently sized list of other panels and screenings that deal with race, gender, sexuality, fandom, and all the intersectionalities between them. I’ll only be attending the con Saturday and Sunday, so I won’t have time to see everything (and I’m incredibly sad to be missing Friday’s Racebending.com panel!), but I’ll be livetweeting as many panels as one person can reasonably make.

Last year in San Diego Arturo managed to profile quite a few artists and writers of colour during our time at the con. Reaching out to me @wriglied or via the team@racialicious.com email could yeild the same results, if  you’re a creator of colour who’d like to meet and chat about your work on Saturday or Sunday. Drop me a line, I’ll find your booth. And if you’re just a reader who just wants to say hi, don’t be shy! I won’t be in costume, but there’s a good chance you’ll see me at any of the Saturday or Sunday panels listed below. Continue reading

Event + Podcast Spotlight: The Soul Glo Project

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By Emily Schorr Lesnick

Walk into a comedy club or watch a Comedy Central  special and you might drown in a sea of Whiteness; a sea of White maleness. With Larry Wilmore and Trevor Noah hosting late night shows, the tide is turning, but those two shows stick out as anomalies because of the overwhelming presence of White faces. While there is certainly diversity within White men, there can also be a lot of similarity.

Six years ago, Keisha Zollar, a New York comedian and actor, set out to create other pools of comedy. She created The Soul Glo Project, a diversity variety show whose title is a nod to the jeri curl product in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America. “Soul Glo was a show built on diversity that started in the East Village of New York,” says Zollar. “It was often a complaint of many performers who didn’t fit the strict, improv or sketch aesthetic that they wouldn’t get stage time.  The Soul Glo Project was born out of myself, Rob King and Horse Trade Theater wanting to make a more diverse performing community.”

Soul Glo is an inclusive comedy variety show, featuring diversity in the type of acts and the background of performers. “As an immigrant whose first culture is not American, I found some comedy shows and their themes to be alienating,” said NYC-based comedy performer and Soul Glo co-host, Anna Suzuki. “But when I joined the Soul Glo team as a producer, I was immediately embraced as a vital part of the mission; my voice mattered. It’s been a very gratifying experience.”

Soul Glo started in the East Village at Under St. Marks in 2009, moved to the Upright Citizens Brigade in 2011, and is now moving to Silvana in Harlem for a renaissance. “We hope to create an positive, low cost comedy experience to build a sense of community in Harlem,” shares Zollar.

Soul Glo prides itself on its range of performers, from folks getting on stage for the first time to more well-known performers, like Roc Nation’s Cipha Sounds, SNL’s Natasha Rothwell, Mulaney’s Seaton Smith and performers you don’t know (yet) who got on our stage and said “this is my first time doing stand up.” Audience member Johnnie Jackow reflected on the show: “Each performer shared his/her comedic talents that was not only incredibly funny but also so relatable. Its truly amazing to see how a packed house can roar with laughter from each performance. Yes the show highlights diversity in comedy but how our experiences cross color lines I think shows how more alike we are than different.”

The Soul Glo Project also launched a podcast as a forum for longer conversations about diversity and identity in comedy. The podcast, available on iTunes and Soundcloud, has featured comic Hari Kondabolu, Racialicious’ Kendra James, reality TV star Sabrina Vance, creator and actor Jen Bartels from TruTV’s Friends of the People, and The Experiment Comedy’s Mo Fathelbab.

The Soul Glo Project has a free live show coming up on Monday, April 20 at 7PM at Silvana in Harlem, NY. The show, celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, will feature stand-up comic Sheng Wang, spoken word artist Kelly Tsai, J-pop group Azn Pop and have improv led by Catherine Wing and Nicole Lee.

Photo Credit: Miyan Levenson

In Conversation: Fresh Off The Boat

by Kendra James

WNYC was kind enough to invite us here at the R to their screening and talkback of ABC’s new sitcom Fresh Off The Boat, based on Eddie Huang’s memoir of the same name. After screening episodes 3 and 4, Jeff Yang (Wall Street Journal Columnist and father of the show’s star, Hudson Yang) led a discussion of the show, its themes, and its importance featuring vlogger Jay Smooth,  rapper Awkwafina, and author Amy Chua.

While I captured snippets of the conversation in our livetweet from The Greene Space last night, it’s worth watching the entire video of the discussion embedded below. With  some of the points made focusing  on the series’ third episode, it may even be beneficial to wait until both episodes air tonight on ABC.  I particularly appreciated the debate centered around (the character) Eddie’s relationship with hip-hop and whether or not it’s yet been fleshed out to make it seem more than shallow. The show’s use of Hip-hop as a seemingly permanent status as a punchline rather than a cultural and social movement to be taken seriously has been for me, in an age of Iggy Azalea, harder to see as humorous instead of appropriative.

The Q&A session prompted great questions (“not diatribes!” Jeff Yang requested) including one about the accents and presence of Mandarin in the show, and a question about the use of slurs during the first episode. For a brief recap before tonight’s episodes air, check out our Storify of the event below.

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Cultural Petiton: Help Save The Renny

Gentrification continues to seem inevitable in city like New York were real estate . At only four years of residency, I’m still a recent transplant to Harlem and, with the numerous Oberlin grads I’ve talked into following me to the area, technically part of the gentrification problem.  I struggle with what that means, knowing that change can be good, but that in Harlem it’s often coming at a cost.

This time change wants to destroy one of my favourite buildings. The dilapidated Harlem Renaissance Ballroom, also known as ‘The Renny’, should have been preserved years ago. Completed in 1922, the building hosted everyone from Duke Ellington to Zora Neal Hurston to Cab Calloway. The Times gives further details:

Owned by William H. Roach, the Renaissance was a leading hot spot in Harlem and the city. Known as the Renny, it hosted Joe Louis fights. Big bands led by Cab Calloway, Count Basie and Duke Ellington performed on its stage. The Renaissance was also the home court, at a time when blacks were barred from the National Basketball Association, for the Black Fivesbasketball team known as the Harlem Rens, regarded as one of the best of its time. The adjacent 900-seat theater featured movies by Oscar Micheaux, the first African-American to produce a feature-length film. The casino was used for a 1923 anti-lynching meeting held by the N.A.A.C.P.  In 1953, David N. Dinkins, who went on to become the city’s first black mayor, and his bride held their wedding reception there. 

A rendering of the replacement complex via Curbed

Like the former Savoy Ballroom (just over and up a few blocks),  the ballroom is scheduled to be razed and replaced by an apartment complex that, as far as the renderings show, retain nothing of the original structure, historical or cultural value.

A campaign to save the ballroom has been started with a petition here that I’m encouraging anyone who gives a damn about cultural preservation to go ahead and sign. Pictures below will show that the building needs a lot of work, but it’s also so easy to imagine what it once was and what it could be again with even half the care I’m sure they’d put into the apartment complex that’s currently meant to replace it. Such an important building should never have been allowed to get to this condition in the first place.

The ballroom from behind, where it’s often used as a parking lot for church on Sundays

What’s left of one of two chandeliers hanging on the second floor

The full ballroom

The main stage with a scale comparison for size.

The Renny needs a lot of work put into preservation, but you can definitely see what it once was.