All posts by Latoya Peterson

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Whiteness, Hip Hop Culture, and Invisible Backpacks

We wanted to save this video for Friday, but in light of Macklemore winning Best Rap Album and then tweeting his apologies to Kendrick Lamar, this video exploring white privilege in the hip hop community is worth a listen. Longtime community member El Guante is joined by The Big Cats, Rapper Hooks, and Chantz Erolin break down why Macklemore’s race isn’t the problem, but how defenses designed to ignore racism continue to harm the community. Lyrics after the jump.

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“Leaning Out” Proves Feminism is in the Eye of the Beholder

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Politico’s magazine has a cover piece on Michelle Obama called “>”Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama Became a Feminist Nightmare.” Or, it could have been titled “random feminists are disappointed.” As per usual, the piece is long on other people’s opinions about how Michelle Obama is single handedly failing the cause and short on actual analysis and historical context.

The piece opens by sharing a story about a new political initiative that Michelle Obama is involved with, with writer Michelle Cottle implying that Obama’s focus on people and not policy is not enough:

Speaking last week at Bell Multicultural High School, a couple of miles north of the White House, the first lady touted the importance of a college degree, citing her own journey from a one-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s South Side to Princeton as evidence of how far hard work and good schooling can take you. “I’m here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story,” she told the predominantly low-income, heavily minority student body.

Cottle goes on to explain that Obama’s visit to Bell Multicultural is part of a push for a campaign to encourage college completion. Cottle then complains that Obamas efforts with youth outreach are distressingly focused on actually talking to the youth, instead of digging deep and hitting hard at policy from the White House Garden.

This example is an interesting one to criticize, to say the least. Nothing is mentioned about DC’s unique space in public education debates, now forgotten after the heyday of high profile reformers. Not much is said about why there may be a focus on minority graduation rates from college, or why Bell Multicultural might be the perfect kind of place to launch an initiative focusing on low income students and college enrollment. No, no, Cottle would like us to understand that Michelle Obama is failing feminism because she insists on being motherly.

In Cottle’s own words:

Turns out, she was serious about that whole “mom-in-chief” business—it wasn’t merely a political strategy but also a personal choice.

Oh, the horror. Continue reading

Is Economic Mobility Destined to be a Zero Sum Game?

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury

Harvard Gate Photo by Flickr User Patricia Drury


In the New York Times, Richard V. Reeves is smacking sacred cows, positing that there is no way for everyone to win in our society. Writing on “The Glass-Floor Problem,” Reeves looks at mobility and “sticky floors,” noting:

It is a stubborn mathematical fact that the top fifth of the income distribution can accommodate only 20 percent of the population. If we want more poor kids climbing the ladder of relative mobility, we need more rich kids sliding down the chutes.

Even the most liberal parents are unlikely to be comfortable with the idea that their own children should fall down the scale in the name of making room for a smarter kid from a poorer home. They invest large amounts of economic, social and cultural capital to keep their own children high up the social scale. As they should: there is nothing wrong with parents doing the best by their children.

The problem comes if institutional frameworks in, say, the higher education system or the labor market are distorted in favor of the powerful — a process the sociologist Charles Tilly labeled “opportunity hoarding.” The less talented children of the affluent are able to defy social gravity and remain at the top of the ladder, reducing the number of places open to those from less fortunate backgrounds.

Many New York Times commenters rejected this framework entirely – the idea that someone else has to lose for another to win was too unsettling to consider. And yet, when we compete in an economy of “elites” and there are limited spots available for the most desired schools, jobs, and neighborhoods, that is exactly what has to happen. However, what interested me more than Reeves’s initial argument was a large piece of his solution: access to more elite colleges.

College matters a lot for social mobility. For someone from a poor background, getting a four-year degree virtually guarantees upward mobility. Elite colleges act as gateways to the best career paths. Getting more poor kids into colleges, and getting the brightest into the best colleges, ought to be a national mission.

In essence, Reeves wants to solve a problem by reinforcing the foundation of the problem. Continue reading

Event Announcement: The Page Turner Literary Festival, October 5, Brooklyn, NY

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Our friends at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop are going all out for the Page Turner Literary Festival, a *free* event in Brooklyn.

While I would love to attend the panel with Marjorie M. Liu on how to write a graphic novel (she pens The Astonishing X-Men, among other things), Ken Chen provided 15 reasons to go:

1. MORE THAN 30 WRITERS, ARTISTS, ACTIVISTS AND PERFORMERS READING ACROSS FIVE SPACES. THEMES INCLUDE HIDDEN IMMIGRATION STORIES, THE SPECULATIVE CITY, LIFE DURING WARTIME, NEW IRANIAN AMERICAN WRITING, AND THE DAY JOB.

2. FOOD VENDORS LIKE BOMBAY SANDWICH CO., BROOKLYN SODA WORKS, BROOKLYN WOK SHOP, GRANOLA LAB, AND PARANTHA ALLEY. WE’LL HAVE PEARL MILK TEA.

3. DUMPLING-MAKING SESSIONS.

4. MAKE-A-POEM BOOTH: YOU TOO CAN WRITE A POEM.

5. DIY SCREEN-PRINTING & BUTTERFLY-MAKING WORKSHOPS.

6. AUDIO RECORDING BY NPR’S LATINO USA.

7. A POP-UP GALLERY OF IMMIGRANT POSTER ART.

8. THE 15TH ASIAN AMERICAN LITERARY AWARDS

9. AN AFTER-PARTY FEATURING TAROT CARD READINGS BY NOVELIST ALEXANDER CHEE, DIY SCREEN-PRINTING, AND HIMANSHU SURI OF DAS RACIST.

10. SOUND INSTALLATION BY AUDIENCE

11. VIDEO ART OF WALKING TOURS OF IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES.

12. A GRAPHIC NOVEL WORKSHOP BY X-MEN WRITER MARJORIE LIU.

13. ORIGAMI FOLDING WORKSHOPS FOR THE KIDS WITH IRVING YEW.

14. TRAINED DANCERS ON STAGE AT THE ROULETTE BALLROOM.

15. AND DID WE MENTION IT’S FREE?

For details and registration, click here.

Racialicious Reads: Identity Edition

774276_73489432As we ease into fall, strong pieces are brewing to take us into the colder months.

The Art Of Not Belonging [Guernica]

Dwyer Murphy interviews Edwidge Danticat on her new work, being an immigrant writer, and categorization.

Guernica: Would these be very different stories if you didn’t translate? If you took them down in Creole?

Edwidge Danticat: Oh, definitely. I had that experience with Krik? Krak! I made some of the stories into radio plays in Creole and they become totally different. More alive in some way. More immediate. In the epigraph to Drown, Junot Diaz uses a quote from a Cuban poet, Gustavo Pérez Firmat—“The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies what I wanted to tell you.” This is the dilemma of the immigrant writer. If I’d lived in Haiti my whole life, I’d be writing these things in Creole. But these stories I am writing now are coming through me as a person who, though I travel to Haiti often, has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades now.

Often when you’re an immigrant writing in English, people think it’s primarily a commercial choice. But for many of us, it’s a choice that rises out of the circumstances of our lives. These are the tools I have at my disposal, based on my experiences. It’s a constant debate, not just in my community but in other communities as well. Where do you belong? You’re kind of one of us, but you now write in a different language. You’re told you don’t belong to American literature or you’re told you don’t belong to Haitian literature. Maybe there’s a place on the hyphen, as Julia Alvarez so brilliantly wrote in one of her essays. That middle generation, the people whose parents brought them to other countries as small children, or even people who were born to immigrant parents, maybe they can have their own literature too.

Are We Trayvon Martin? [The Margins]

I.Y. Lee at the Asian American Writers’Workshop examines racial space and conversation for the Asian American commmunity in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Some Asian Americans have been Trayvon Martin in the past: in 1975, when Peter Yew was brutally beaten by police and it took the largest rallies in New York Chinatown’s history (some 10-20,000) to secure promises of no further police harassment; in 1982, when Vincent Chin was beaten to death with a baseball bat because his killers, who never served jail time, confused him with the Japanese auto industry; in 2001, when Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Punjabi Sikh, was shot and killed by a man who mistook him for Muslim and conflated Islam with 9/11; in 2011, when Private Danny Chen was driven to suicide by the racial tormenting of his peers and superiors in the army.

But today, the much-publicized “model minority” myth will tell you about the ‘success’ and assimilation of Asian Americans—so much that elite colleges may be quietly capping the numbers of Asians they admit. This is not a compliment. Indeed, it divides Asians from other people of color, obscures the real needs of Asian communities—e.g., between 2007 and 2010, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders had the highest long-term unemployment rate of any group—and marginalizes the experiences of working class Asian immigrants.

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Open Thread: The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Recreates Trayvon Martin Shooting

Is this PSA timely or too soon?

The Coalition to Stop Gun violence released a PSA against Stand Your Ground – by recreating pieces of the Trayvon Martin shooting, using pieces from the 911 calls, and finally panning to shots of dead young dead teens from other states. (The video may be emotionally disturbing, but safe for work.) Exhorting viewers to “Stand Up Against Stand Your Ground,” the PSA notes there are 26 states that have the controversial law on the books.

The treatment for this PSA is puzzling. You don’t hear much from unnamed teen/Trayvon-doppleganger – while his cellphone is clear in the shot, it is Zimmerman’s side of the conversation that is playing. And while the images of the dead teens is chilling, the imagery only works if you don’t see these kids as potential criminals – and post Zimmerman trial, it is clear we cannot assume that the public perceives all teens as equal. The imagery in the commercial is powerful – but is it effective?

(H/T Mark Copyranter for Buzzfeed)

Mistakes, Huh?: Watching Orange is the New Black

Orange is the New Black, Netflix Promo.

Orange is the New Black, Netflix Promo.

Perusing my usual monthly reading, I found myself amazed at how many stories were about the Netflix original show Orange is the New Black – and the similarities in language used to describe the plot. I had seen a few reviews here and there, and knew the show was about a privileged white woman who spent a year in a woman’s prison.

But what stood out was how often the word “mistake” came up. I saw the term so many times, it seemed like Piper Kerman ended up in prison due to bad breaks. Mistaken identity? Wrong place at the wrong time? Get dumped via post it note and almost get arrested smoking outside of a bar? (Hey, it happened to Carrie Bradshaw.)

In a Fast Company review – where the word “mistake” appears in the opening line, and is used twice more in the next two paragraphs – I finally found out why Kerman was locked up:

Kerman fell in with people whose lifestyles seemed exciting–as much because one of them ran money and smuggled narcotics for a West African drug lord as in spite of that fact. And when she agreed to help the woman who’d brought her in to that circle usher a suitcase full of undeclared cash from Chicago to Brussels, she made what she describes now as her “biggest mistake.”

So she was banging a drug smuggler and agreed to run some money for them – yeah, could have happened to any of us really. Just minding your own business, taking a suitcase of cash on an international trip…

Anyway, despite my skepticism, I tuned into watch the show. While I’ve been intrigued and interested by the developments in episodes the first five episodes, there’s been this strange undercurrent dulling my enjoyment of the show. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, until I read an excerpt of an interview with the showrunner, Jenji Kohan:

You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories. But it’s a hard sell to just go in and try to sell those stories initially. The girl next door, the cool blonde, is a very easy access point, and it’s relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. It’s useful.”

Fascinating – particularly since the most compelling stories to me are about the side characters. I’m not watching for Piper, though it’s been interesting to see her (and her family) coping with her new reality. I am watching to hopefully see how Sophia works out her relationships and medical needs, and to figure out why Daya and her mother have such an acrimonious relationship. But I suppose I’m not in the network’s idea of ideal demographic, and I just have to hope Piper’s development leaves a little space to revisit some of the supporting characters.

I’ll keep watching before I do a longer analysis, but readers, what are your thoughts?