All posts by Latoya Peterson

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On Not Breathing Due to Failures of Democracy

Media is a grind.

I’ve been out of the game for a little while, working mostly, so it’s been 18 months of learning how to make the news and how to make TV, and less of actually being on air, on camera, providing commentary.

While in New York, on unrelated business, I get a call from a producer friend – can I provide a voice on a Google Hangout with Katie Couric about the ongoing violence against black men? Later that day, the request changes. The Eric Garner decision rolls in, protestors are rolling out, New Yorkers are in the streets asking why. The segment has been upgraded to an actual panel – would I mind coming to the studio?

I prep, like usual. I look at outfits to see what I have that might translate well on television. I slide on BB cream in case there’s no makeup artist available. I rehearse talking points in my head, major points I want to make in the conversation. I ask my breakfast companion if she wants a ride into the city since they are sending a car.

The producer pushes back – I can’t share the car. Why not? I’m not asking for another stop, I’m still having a conversation.

The terse answer comes back: No one is supposed to know, and it just got confirmed, but my driver needs to pick up Eric Garner’s daughter as well. All the carefully crafted sound bytes exited my mind – what was I supposed to say to her? Continue reading

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Weekend Reads

Can Whole Foods Change the Way Poor People Eat? [Slate]

Where Robb went to Detroit to bridge the gap in food access between rich and poor, Detroit’s city planners saw Whole Foods as a way to not only serve its longstanding middle class, but to expand it. In short, they wanted the store to serve as a catalyst for gentrification. Whole Foods was more than a potential employer for the 15 percent of Detroiters who were unemployed (and the 46 percent who’d stopped looking for work entirely);⁠ and it was more than a new option for the Detroiters spending $200 million a year on groceries outside the city. It was, in the words of the city’s economic development head, a potential “game-changer” for the city.

“Gentrification brings in revenue. That’s the tax base that we need to pay for city services,” George Jackson, the president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, told me in the summer of 2013. (After a new mayor assumed office in January 2014, Jackson resigned.) For DEGC, a quasi-public agency in charge of overseeing economic strategy for the city, Whole Foods’ allure was less about groceries and more about development. A successful premium grocer would make Detroit more appealing to middle-class and upper-class professionals—and to executives looking for a viable place to do business—helping the city as a whole.

Telling My Son About Ferguson by Michelle Alexander [New York Times]

My son wants an answer. He is 10 years old, and he wants me to tell him that he doesn’t need to worry. He is a black boy, rather sheltered, and knows little of the world beyond our safe, quiet neighborhood. His eyes are wide and holding my gaze, silently begging me to say: No, sweetheart, you have no need to worry. Most officers are nothing like Officer Wilson. They would not shoot you — or anyone — while you’re unarmed, running away or even toward them.

I am stammering.

Teaching our sons to be afraid is not the answer to cops who shoot children by Latoya Peterson [Guardian]

But the amount of love we feel right now is tempered by fear that I might lose Gavin too soon – and not to an accident, or even to local violence, but rather to the bullets of law enforcement. Continue reading

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#WeAreAllNatives Parody Ad Skewers Cultural Appropriation

Comedy troupe Stupid Time Machine just released a great parody ad in time for Thanksgiving. In their words:

A Thanksgiving ad for Urban Outfiter’s new We Are All Natives collection – “Indian wear for the rest of us.” Filmed on spec by sketch comedy group Stupid Time Machine, the parody urges Urban – already famous for their controversial Kent State Massacre and The Holocaust Themed Apparel – to tap into something hipsters can’t get enough of: white people in headdresses.

(Thanks to CJ for the tip!)

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Event: The Afrofuturist Affair in Philadelphia, PA

This looks so, so cool:

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This year, The AfroFuturist Affair Annual Charity & Costume Ball has expanded space-time from one evening to a month-long celebration of Afrofuturism. In addition to the 4th Annual Costume Ball on Saturday, November 8 2014, we will have events throughout November, including workshops, dance party, readings, book club, film screenings, art exhibit, and more. We are seeking self-identified AfroFuturists to perform or display their Black sci-fi, spec-fic, and Afrofuturistic themed work at the Ball. We are also seeking submissions for workshops and presentations.

More here.

Jeff Chang/Who We Be. Image from

Who We Be Examines the War on Multiculuralism

“Color is not a human or a personal reality, it is a political reality.” – James Baldwin

This is not a book review, because Who We Be isn’t really a book. It’s more of a thoughtful examination of how the United States arrived at this point in racial history.

Long time friend of the blog Jeff Chang is the author of the American Book award winning Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation and editor of the anthology Total Chaos: The Art and Aesthetics of Hip Hop. To say we’ve been waiting for Who We Be is an understatement.

But in the introduction, Chang frames the core of the most recent case of racial backlash. Explaining the outsized reaction by some whites to President Obama, Chang notes:

In the 1830s white minstrels had put on blackface, creating space for the white working class to challenge the elite, while keeping Blacks locked into their racial place. Obama now appeared as a dual symbol of oppression. Because of his Blackness, he was even more of an outsider—and in that sense, even more American—than them. But he was also the president. His Blackness did not just confer moral and existential claims, it was backed by the power of the state.

And there went everything.

As much as we like to talk about the inevitability of America being majority-minority in 2042, the events playing out across the nation show that most places are outright hostile to the idea that people of color are equal Americans, with the same rights, privileges, representation, and agenda setting power bestowed to whites. Chang turns his critical eye to shifts in culture which becomes documentation of rise (and fall?) of multiculturalism. Continue reading

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#GIA14: Racial Conversation as Performance Art

Originally published at Grantmakers in the Arts

The rules of the Long Table.

The rules of the Long Table.

Can a conversation about race be a performance? What does that simple framework shift do to the conversation? The answer: everything.

The long table conversation is a fascinating thing to watch unfold. Participants come in and out as they please. There is snacking and scribbling, mostly on topic. Some people were determined watchers, setting up camp on the chairs on the far edge of the perimeter. And others eagerly queued up in the seats closest to the table, waiting for the moment they could tap someone on the shoulder, sending that performer out and putting themselves into the conversation. Continue reading

Gotham Show Files

Blackface by Another Name? “Painting Down” on Gotham

The issues for people of color in Hollywood run deep – so much so that we occasionally forget how invested the industry can be in denying opportunities to enter this business.

Jada Pinkett Smith landed a coveted role on the show as Fish Mooney, a female mob leader:

GOTHAM: Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney in the "Selina Kyle" episode of GOTHAM airing Monday, Sept. 29 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2014 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Jessica Miglio/FOX

So we have a black woman on screen in a major role. But what is happening behind the scenes? Are people of color being represented in other parts of the industry, like doing stunt work? Not so, according to Deadline Hollywood:

After receiving inquiries from Deadline, Warner Bros. has canceled plans to “paint down” a white stunt woman to double for a black actress on its hit Fox show Gotham. On Monday, dark makeup was applied to the face of a white stunt woman in a hair and makeup test in advance of two days of filming next week in New York. After receiving calls from Deadline, WB initially downplayed the significance of the story, but after looking into it said that it had made a “mistake” and would hire a black stunt woman instead.

Really? Continue reading

My slides.

#GIA14: Journalism as Public + Art

I’m on the road still – currently in Houston at the Grantmakers in the Arts 2014 Conference in Houston, Texas. This year’s conference will focus on grantmaking, race, and social justice, so I will be blogging from the conference for the next few days about issues pertinent to artists of color.

I’m speaking at the Monday morning plenary, on how the future of journalism is looking more and more like public art. Here’s a cleaned up version of my talk. – LDP

What is the future of journalism? The increasingly terrifying answer is that no one truly knows – in a time of budget cuts and a shifting media environment, it would be all too simple to despair. But in times of great turmoil we see some of the greatest forms of inspiration. In the media world, we are beginning to redefine what journalism is and what journalism can be. What is journalism, but a way of informing the public? What is art, but the expression of ideas made public? And what happens when the walls between the two start to fall?

Early experiments show a need for journalism to leap off the page, phone, and tablet and into other types of spaces. The “Reveal” project from the New York Times R & D lab, placed news, weather, and biometric data like a users weight and heart rate into a tricked out mirror.

The team started this project to “to explore how the relationship between information and the self is evolving.” So information moved from pages to personalized surfaces. But where else? Continue reading