Category Archives: community

Notes on Brick City: Part 1 and 2

by Guest Contributor Kiana, originally posted at ProperTalks and Postourgie


Sundance’s Brick City is the only reality TV show worth watching this week. The street soldiers, sheroes and heroes of Newark New Jersey along with Mayor Cory Booker are all attempting to renew Newark’s urban landscape but they are up against the city’s infamous reputation, earned mostly with blood and corruption.

The spirit of Newark is rough but Brick City wins because it doesn’t romanticize or demonize Newark and its people. Comparisons to The Wire are inevitable but I think Brick City will appeal to the people who thought The Wire was too raw. The irony of that is laughable since The Wire was a drama and Brick City isn’t scripted, but the miniseries is a tamed version of David Simon’s masterpiece.

There is violence (a 10 year old is shot and killed in his neighborhood in part one), there is incredible pain, which leads to frustration, but there is also a sense of optimism that I rarely saw in The Wire.

The two clear standouts of Brick City are Mayor Booker and ex-Blood, Jayda, who is in love with an ex-Crip and pregnant with her second child.

Mayor Booker hammers over and over again his message that Newark leads the nation in crime reduction. We see him navigating two worlds, the ghettos and city hall, but he seems out of place in both settings even as he’s embraced almost everywhere he goes.

He usually dresses down, in gym clothes, when he rides around the more dilapidated sections of Newark, talking to teenagers and offering corner boys jobs. These street images of Booker are juxtaposed with scenes of him draped in suit and tie, delivering fiery speeches to a room full of police officers or local politicians and potential donors.
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Fong Lee, and Violence

by Guest Contributor Bao Phi, originally published at Your Voices/The Star Tribune


UP IN ARMS: A Night of Hip Hop and Spoken Word to Honor Fong Lee and End Police Brutality

Saturday, October 3rd, 8 p.m. (doors at 7:30)
Kagin Commons at Macalester College
1600 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55105

Featuring performances by Magnetic North (NY), Nomi of Power Struggle (Bay Area), Michelle Myers of Yellow Rage (Philadelphia), Maria Isa, Blackbird Elements, Guante, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, e.g. bailey, Tou SaiKo Lee with PosNoSys, True Mutiny, Shá Cage, Kevin Xiong with Pada Lor, Tish Jones, Maipacher, Logan Moua, Bobby Wilson, Poetic Assassins, Hilltribe, and special guests. Tou Ger Xiong and Amy Hang will emcee and DJ Nak will be on the one’s and two’s.

$5-$10 suggested donation.  All proceeds go towards legal costs for the Family of Fong Lee.

As an artist and community member, I was asked to be a part of the organizing committee for this benefit concert for Fong Lee’s family.  And it made me consider how violence has always been a part of my life.  I was three months old when the Communists shelled the airport all night to hinder our escape from Vietnam.  My family came to Phillips in South Minneapolis, where we encountered different types of violence.  There were war vets who blamed us for the war, who would yell at us and threaten us in parking lots, on the street, who screamed that they fought for our people and that we owed them.  There were gangbangers and crack dealers – every neighborhood in the world has bullies, and they were ours, mercurial, lively with friendship and smack talk one second and livid with menace the next.  There were straight up racists who hated us for the color of our skin, who believed it was our fault that there were no jobs and no homes, or maybe they just hated anyone who didn’t look like them, eat like them, talk like them.  And then there was the police, whom I was taught to wave at as a child when they drove by, their cars slow in the tight streets, stand up straight, smile.

As I got older, I stopped waving to police cars and firemen.  No, I never rolled with a crew, but in the 90s during my very early teen years I did rock the Raiders clothes and caps, mostly because that’s what we did back then, and partly, I admit, because I wanted to be feared.  I never went looking to beat up anyone, bully anyone.  But too often, as a young man I found myself fighting or fleeing from all manners of people who wanted to do me harm for all different reasons.  You tire of it.  Some young men join gangs, some take up martial arts and boxing.  Me, I tried to perfect my swagger, practiced my stoic look, blew my paycheck from my minimum wage job on overpriced sports gear, walked like I belonged.  And if something did happen to me or my family or friends, we hesitated to call the police, because too often they threatened us rather than served and protected us.  Threatened us with violence, with false accusations, with deportation.  For us, if we were victimized by violence from a civilian, calling the police felt like an invitation for round two.  And they’d walk away to do it another day.  By most standards I was an easy child who didn’t get into much trouble despite the circumstances.  And still I feared the police – because they had an almost mythical power, especially if you were a person of color, to make you feel guilty even if you weren’t doing anything wrong.  Chris Rock once joked, “police officers scared me so bad, they made me think I stole my own car.”

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When Stereotypes Collide: the Persian Jews of Beverly Hills

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

At the airport bookstore, I immediately overlooked Bruce Willis’ and Emma Hemings’ smoldering stares on the cover of this month’s W. My attention went directly to the top left: “Meet the Neighbors: the Persian Conquest of Beverly Hills.”

Knowing the history of glossies and their historic portrayal of racial ethnicities more as props than as cover stories, I was simultaneously worried and intrigued—how would W fare as documenters rather than voyeurs?

A patio party introduces us to the Persians of Beverly Hills: with lounging guests, designer duds in the pool, and lavish tents, the spread is vaguely reminiscent of a harem bath scene combined with a Sultan’s caravan theme. The font for “The Persian Conquest” is done in an Arabesque font, with sinewy flourishes and random dots evocative of the Aladdin soundtrack. “Here we go,” I say to myself.

But reading the introduction, I learn that these aren’t just any Persians W is profiling—they’re Persian Jews, who are a large part of Los Angeles’ huge Iranian diaspora.

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Canada’s swine flu shame

by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee, originally published at Comment is Free


For Canada’s First Nations communities, being denied our basic and fundamental human rights is, sadly, not at all a surprise. So after last week’s report that the Canadian government had postponed the delivery of much-needed alcohol-based hand sanitisers to reserve communities with massive outbreaks of the swine flu virus out of apparent “fear” of theft driven by alcoholism in the community, I stopped to think about it for a second. “Same old stupid government perpetuating the colonisation of our people,” I thought. But there’s more going on here that needs to be addressed.

Let’s review the facts. In the two and a half weeks that the government deliberated over whether to send hand sanitiser to reserve communities, this is what happened:

    • More swine flu cases developed

    • Chiefs, community leaders, nurses and community health representatives scrambled to deal with the escalating outbreak without help from a non-responsive government

    • Families, children, elders and community members in these areas had no choice but to wait and see if they were going to get any type of diagnosis or care as conditions worsened

    • The wider Canadian population heard occasional reports of the virus developing more in First Nations communities but not enough to warrant a national outpouring of support.

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The Intersection of Race and Steampunk: Colonialism’s After-Effects & Other Stories, from a Steampunk of Colour’s Perspective [Essay]

by Guest Contributor (and regular commenter) Jha

Steampunk! Variously described as an aesthetic, a genre within scifi/fantasy that sprouted from cyberpunk, and a subculture vaguely related to the goth counter-culture. Like many other things with vague origins and a tenuous identity that overlaps with others, it is hard to pin down what steampunk is.

The only that we can all seem to agree on is the aesthetic involved. In a way, it’s a lot like the SCA’s medieval roleplaying, trying to recreate the past with all the good stuff and none of the bad. For other steampunks, it’s a lifestyle movement, in which they transform practical items into works of art and live their lives with exquisite manners.

Here’s a good summary of the literary genre stemming from the 1980s, written by Lavie Tidhar. Cory Gross of Voyages Extraordinaire has a very comprehensive history, delving deep into not just the literary but also the film aspect of the aesthetic before the actual term was used and the evolution of the movement afterwards in literature, RPGs, graphic novels, anime and the general subculture afterward. In Steampunk Magazine’s first issue, the essay “What Then, Is Steampunk? Colonizing the Past so we can Dream the Future”, stridently declares, “First and foremost, steampunk is a non-luddite critique of technology. It rejects the ultra-hip dystopia of the cyberpunks—black rain and nihilistic posturing—while simultaneously forfeiting the ‘noble savage’ fantasy of the pre-technological era. It revels in the concrete reality of technology instead of the over-analytical abstractness of cybernetics” (4).

Steampunks express themselves with Victorian-inspired clothing (or costumes). Goggles, chains and pocketwatches are typical gear for a steampunk. Steampunk styles range from fastidiously neat (streamlined, heavy clothes typical of Victorian aristocracy/middle-class, e.g. anarchronaut) to greasemonkey bricolage (dreadlocks, the ‘airship pirate’ look, merging with more ‘mainstream’ punk fare, e.g. Abney Park). For a sense of the visual aesthetic, one should look to the 1999 movie Wild Wild West (although it’s a terrible movie) and the graphic novel League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. Cory Gross discusses the two ends of the Steampunk spectrum in his essay “Varieties of Steampunk Experience”: Nostalgic Steampunk, which idealizes the Victorian era as it should have been, and the Melancholic Steampunk, which focuses on the gritty reality of the Victorian era, bringing to the fore the dirt and soot and grime (60 – 63). Japan has its own steampunk movement, the most cited example of its technology-focused aesthetic can be seen in the anime Steamboy. (I’m not going to touch Japanese steampunk in this article.)

Steampunk is still an emergent subculture, gaining ground fast with its DIY creativity and elegant nostalgia. Stephen H. Segal has a cute article on why steampunk is considered friendly, even optimistic despite drawing inspiration from what was a very oppressive era. As a genre that’s in its adolescence, the rules (if indeed any counter-culture has rules) haven’t been set in stone. But it’s getting attention anyway: the New York Times did an article on steampunk fashion last year.

This is where being a Steampunk of Colour comes in. Continue reading

Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race [Conference Notes]

by Latoya Peterson

These are the notes for “ Desi Webs: South Asian America, Online Cultures, and the Politics of Race.” The notes are from a paper by Madhavi Mallapragada, presented at the Texas A & M University Race and Ethnic Studies Institute’s Symposium exploring Race, Ethnicity and (New) Media.

  • Resist identifying South Asians as a knowable identity
  • Media produced by SA as well as media cultures that speak to them are major influences in web 2.0
  • Categorizes are informed by transnational sensibilities
  • What is the “Indian” being imagined in the construction of Indian American?
    • How is the web mobilized around categorizes and what are the politics around these identities.
  • Focusing on the term “Desi”
    • Derived from “desh” which means homeland
    • Term of self and community identification
    • 2nd and 3rd gen youth often collectively identify as desi
    • While desi is a pan-South asian term, it often means Indian
  • She points to the popular website desihits.com
    • Bicultural remixes uniquely reflect the reality of people
    • Overwhelmingly focused on bollywood
    • Centrality of Indian pop culture and politics
  • Mallapragada plays the video “You Are Not an Indian
    • In this video titled, “You are not an Indian,” a young male addresses viewers who like him are neither just American nor Indian but desi. Wearing a t-shirt with the word “desi” written prominently in Hindi across it, the young man points out that desis are not South Asians but of South Asia. People of South Asian origin in the United States commonly refer to each other as Desi. The term means “from the homeland” and simultaneously invokes one’s identity as South Asian but also as being “outside South Asia”. As the young man reminds his viewers, the difference is key. Being desi implies being critically engaged with the “realities” of India rather than uncritically celebrating the hype surrounding its contemporary global image as high-tech nation.
    • Video is important as it displays the process of reasserting identity against a current narrative – of reclaimation, of identification
    • The idea of desi is undergoing a renovation in South Asian community spaces
  • Desi is being articulated as brown racialized identity asserted against the American nation state
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    Akwesasne under siege

    by Special Correspondent Jessica Yee, originally published at Rabble

    Ed. Note: Jessica wrote this in response to Canadian border patrol agents being armed in Akwesasne. This article gives a summary of the situation:

    A respected security and anti-terrorism expert says Canada’s federal government should stand by its guns and ignore threats from Mohawk militants in Cornwall, Ont., who have vowed to storm the Canadian border post if Ottawa gives sidearms to border agents there.

    John Thompson, president of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think-tank, said Monday that Mohawk militants are “blowing smoke,” and would never attempt an armed, illegal occupation of the offices of the Canadian Border Services Agency.

    Native leaders and activists at Akwesasne have been warning for months they would take action to prevent Canada from giving 9-mm pistols to its border agents, because they say the presence of armed government agents on their reserve is an affront to their aboriginal sovereignty.

    “Things are escalating in Akwesasne. The Indians aren’t being peaceful anymore,” the news reporters are saying.

    500 years of colonization and the continuous refusal to acknowledge our fundamental human rights do not produce peaceful results. I’ll tell you that right now.

    But I’m not currently in Akwesasne — my home community which has been under siege by the Border Patrol Services for quite some time now. Yes, the existence of a transnational border that tears a community apart is a sign of putting us under siege. Only this time, since June 1, 2009 to be exact, they want to legitimize and regulate their firearms against us.

    So if you want to get a first hand account of what’s going on there right now — I implore you to ask someone who belongs to and is in the community as we speak. But I do have some things to say about this situation which has been a long time coming.

    The media have repeatedly asked me about which “side” do I think is right, do I agree with the border being closed, do I side with the “warriors” who refused to back down to the rule of the governments, or am I simply indifferent to it all since I live in Toronto now?

    I actually know precisely where I stand – as a Kanionke:haka woman, a Mohawk woman, who belongs to the Haudenosaunee people, and as young person who is part of the next seven generations, I am on the side of my community who is on the side of the land – of Mother Earth. As women we are titleholders and caretakers of the land. And I know very well that the border should not be there.

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    The Brazil Files: Busy Being Foreign

    by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

    Since I’ve been living in Brazil, I have suffered from memory loss. On occasion, I simply forget that I am black.

    Let me explain . . .

    I was born in the United States, in the South to be exact, during the early 1980s, to a mother with very fair skin who, along with her seven sisters and brothers, had witnessed and undergone Jim Crow segregation. My great grandmother and grandfather, a teacher and farmer, respectively, who both had dark skin, had given birth to a light-skinned child, my grandmother, who would then go on to marry a man of equally light skin who was raised to distrust black people who looked like his in-laws. My father, on the other hand, came from a family where the emphasis on high cheekbones and dark wavy hair was made more frequently than that of slightly flattened noses. We have Native blood, they’d say.

    You see, colorism was alive and well in my family.

    And yet years later, when I still feel compelled to remind my mother that her coarse, nappy hair is beautiful or that there is no need to insert the words “but” or “despite” as my family refers to model Alek Wek’s ebony-skinned beauty, I know that the remnants remain. At the end of the day, we are all of African descent, and in our slavemasters’, old legislators’, and white domestic terrorists’ eyes, we were all black. Yet within that category, we found various ways of re-categorizing ourselves to fit our own neat little model of racism. We created a home-kit, if you will, of silly divisions of what was acceptable and what was not in terms of appearance and behavior.

    My maternal grandfather warned his daughters of the dangers of the villainous, malicious dark blacks. Of course, there were exceptions, my dark-skinned aunt and uncle being visible reminders of our inescapable heritage, and the only dark people my grandfather ever truly accepted beyond a superficial level (his race track buddies do not count). But for the most part, darker blacks were to be avoided, despite my family’s shared plight with them in a segregated south.

    My mother, though quite young during the segregation period, still bears irrevocable memories. She has recounted stories of slapping a young white girl who had stared at her in a hospital bathroom because she had “never seen a Negro girl up-close before,” of thinking that “colored only” fountains would one day magically transform into a spring of rainbow-infused water, and of remembering her confusion as to why her older sister spent so much time “marching” in the street when she was not wearing her majorette uniform. And presently, in her work as a geriatric social worker, she is reminded of the divisions the period and the long-lasting subsequent effects they have had on the black community when her older, darker-skinned black patients assume she is “stuck up” or cannot be trusted because of her light skin.

    Having grown up in a family like this, race inevitably became a daily topic of discussion.

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