With Mexico’s presidential elections coming up this Sunday – under no shortage of shadiness, mind you – let’s kick off this week’s edition with Molotov’s “Gimme Tha Power,” (nsfw – language) which still resonates a decade after its original release:
Our next track is a find by our own Andrea Plaid: Esperanza Spalding,who we’ve featured before, teams up with jazz great Joe Lovano for a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Can’t Help It,” in a clip that winds its way thru NYC. And if you’re a fan of Wicked or Rent, keep an extra-close eye on her co-star …
One more track with a message to close us out: Jasiri X and Rhymefest went to the source when making the video for “Who’s Illegal?,” traveling to Alabama and Arizona and getting a view from the ground-level at the immigration fight in each respective state. The track is currently available as a free download on Jasiri’s Bandcamp site.
Last Thursday, standing underneath the hot noon day sun, I yelled out to the large crowd waiting in line for the monthly food aid provided by the mayor’s office. The crowd stretched for blocks, and my team and I set out with bottled water, candy, and bags full of surveys. We had hoped to harness the 200+ person food line for the Public Media Corps survey of the digital environment in DC. The crowd was composed of people who are generally overlooked when talking about online innovation – many of the people there were low-income, most speak Spanish as a primary language, and many did not have internet access at home.
Everyone was willing to help with the survey, particularly honing in on key words like “free,” “courses,” “training,” “jobs,” and “media.” But we soon realized we had a much bigger hurdle to jump – between the four of us, there was only one fluent Spanish speaker (as well as one “fluent in Spanglish”), and our survey was not designed for people with low literacy rates. In English, administering the survey was difficult enough – as one of the fellows surveying Ward 8 noted, what took fully literate people about 5 minutes to blow through took about 20 for those with lower rates of reading comprehension. In Spanish, with the difficulties translating technical terms and low levels of Spanish fluency among the team, that task was damn near impossible.
A sweet-faced tween girl volunteered to help translate, freeing up the other fellows to try to piece together the survey. I asked the girl the questions, she shouted back to her parents, and other people on the line chimed in when they could to help translate. In the end, we had about fifteen people all collaborating with bits of English and snatches of Spanish to get the questions answered. But it still wasn’t enough to capture as many people as were moving through the food line. Ultimately, we left frustrated – out of more than 200 people, we only got 30 surveys answered between us. Those surveys were illuminating, and spoke to the needs of having a variety of community access points and more Spanish language programming, but it also spoke to a gnawing fear that had been growing in all of us tasked with working in ward one – can we really capture the essence of the community in Columbia Heights – Shaw – Mount Pleasant – U Street – Adams Morgan from our tiny, language-limited viewpoints?
We have a reason to be concerned. The Washington DC council’s official website states:
Ward One is diversity – From the majestic Victorians of upper Columbia Heights, to Adams Morgan’s renowned entertainment district, to Howard University, historic U Street and LeDroit Park, the ward is home to some extraordinary places—and some extraordinary people. The neighborhoods of Ward One have a familiar ring to many people – LeDroit Park, U Street, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Shaw, Park View, and Pleasant Plains.
Ward One is the smallest, most densely populated ward in the District of Columbia. It’s also the only ward where you’ll find no population group with a majority. Thousands of African Americans, whites, Latinos, Vietnamese, Ethiopians and others make their home here. In just one of our ZIP codes, 20009, 136 countries are represented. The Brookings Institution says that’s the most diverse ZIP code in the entire region. And more than 40% of the public school students in Ward One do not speak English as their primary language. Indeed, according to an Urban Institute study in 2003, DC’s most diverse neighborhoods are within Ward One.
This diversity brings a lot of amazing things to the neighborhood, but poses a particular challenge to inclusion – namely, how can we meet the needs of so many different people, particularly when the needs are so great?
That question weighed heavily on my mind into the weekend, which was enough to push out all the noise about the coming events. Thinking about Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally invading Washington, DC made me feel a bit ill. Luckily, it was easily avoided, especially since I live near the ever-so-dangerous yellow/green line. In the interest of my own sanity, I chose to stay close to home.
Friday night, after another day of survey gathering and site visits, I headed over to the 9:30 club for DJ Dredd’s dance party to celebrate Michael Jackson’s birthday. As we swayed with the crowd rocking along to Michael’s (and Janet’s!) greatest hits, an observation kept pushing to the forefront of my mind, one I had wanted to write about last year when he passed. While much was written about the racial politics of Michael Jackson, particularly in reference to his skin color/plastic surgeries, there was little discussion of the most striking part of Michael’s racial politics: the worlds he created in his music videos. Most folks are familiar with two of his most political hits, “Black or White” and “Man in the Mirror.”
But what always stood out to me was the populations of Michael’s created worlds – which were overwhelmingly multicultural, featuring a lot of different types of people all rolling with the King of Pop. Continue reading →
That performance, of course, dominated the discussion regarding this year’s BET Music Awards, as an unannounced Chris Brown – his introduction by Jermaine Jackson was simply, “Here he is!” – performed a tribute to Michael Jackson. Personally, I was underwhelmed – not so much by Brown tearing up during “Man In The Mirror,” but by the silence that preceded it. As accurate as Brown’s dancing and costuming were, the absence of his voice diminished the moment’s impact. I’m not questioning Brown’s intentions, but put simply, I wasn’t moved.
But, we at The R would like to get your opinions on the performance, and on where Brown and his career could or should go from here. And collected under the cut are various reactions from around the Web.
We, Carolina and I, very much enjoyed reading Carmen Kerckhove’s inspiring comment on Michael Jackson and the contradictions of race. Here in Germany, most people are probably even more at a loss with Jackson’s constant re-making of himself than in the U.S. Comments range from questions such “Why did he turn from a good-looking black man into a weird-looking white woman?” to outright insulting remarks about the supposed monstrosity of his facial features and his pale skin. There has been at the same time though a sincere sadness about Jackson’s death. The special editions of magazines – at least the ones I saw – seemed to be almost lovingly done, and that is rare.
Given the diverse reactions around me I do feel that it was Jackson’s incredible dancing which allowed him to defy physical boundaries in ways that race, gender, and age didn’t. Surely his dancing and his videos, along with his music of course, were able to link a global audience. Upon the news of Jackson’s death German MTV started to play his songs and show his videos for days. And men whom nobody suspected to be Jackson-fans were doing a fancy moonwalk for their wives and family. Kids were trying it on sidewalks. A white woman in her mid-fifties – truly into anything that has to do with beauty: hair, make-up, fashion, the ever-changing tasteful furnishing of her home, good food – came to my place and saw my daughter watching one of Jackson’s videos. When he went into one of his famous moves the woman just shivered and looked away and said: “Now that gives me the goose bumps.” She reacted in her body to the total perfection that at the same time looked like a crazy rejection of rules: gracefully moving forward, backward, and somehow even upward at the same time. I guess she saw something powerful she couldn’t name.
In the course of his life, Jackson went to all kinds of extremes. And his complex ways of dealing with race perhaps represented the most visible extreme. But in his dancing, this rejection of limits showed a magic creativity. I guess in many parts of the world and across the generations people reacted to that crossing of boundaries and admired him for it. During those moments of watching him sing and dance – in his videos or on stage – the other extremes were forgotten or considered less important. Encouraged by Stevie Wonder’s borderless music (it was incredible!), the millions around the globe who watched the memorial service at the Staples Center felt that they could connect.
by Guest Contributor (and regular commenter) Joseph Shahadi, originally published at Vs. The Pomegranate
Michael Jackson is dead.
My reaction is complicated. On Facebook my high school classmates and I are mourning Michael Jackson and sharing memories. Claudia wrote, “I remember when someone brought the Thriller video to school and there was a ‘viewing’ before 1st period in the auditorium….was one of the few times I wanted to get to school early.” And Anissia wrote, “cannot speak right now. I will be up all night watching these new reports. Is it a dream?”And then, “woke up this morning thinking ‘What a horrible nightmare,’ only to turn on the news to see it is real.” My classmates and I are exactly the right age to get this news like a punch in the gut. We were the kids that made Michael Jackson a superstar. Whether we liked him or not (and we liked him) Michael was an integral part of our childhoods. And his passing, especially at a relatively young age, is an unsettling reminder of our own mortality. I can close my eyes and see the auditorium Claudia mentioned, but that morning was decades ago now. It is an odd feeling.
Still, my ambivalence about Michael Jackson was best captured on Facebook by two people I did not know in High School: Mark wrote, “(I am) not sad that michael jackson the pedophile is dead… whatever”. While Stacia wrote, ” (I am not) happy with this two-edged sword media coverage. Can we get a *day* before ya’ll whistleblow the sordidness? 24 hours, yo.” Continue reading →
Jackson’s legacy is at once sublime, sad and at times ridiculous. This was a man who America almost literally saw grow up in the public eye: his rise from being the precocious little brother in the Jackson 5 to the group’s lead songwriter (as The Jacksons) and into his own solo career. And, of course, his descent: the child-molestation accusations; the failed marriages; the skin-lightening treatments; the financial trouble; the drug addiction; and the ignominy of his final compilation album, King of Pop, not even being released in his native U.S.
But – and this is not to forgive or excuse anything he may or may not have done – it’s important to remember that, for a period of time, Jackson was the star in the music industry; Thriller was the album to own, as he became one of, if not the first performer of color to gain and maintain a foothold on MTV. Before “King of Pop” became a marketing slogan, his record sales and subsequent influence upon a generation of musical and dance performers made it a statement of fact. And as much as he might be remembered for the latter years of his life, there can be no doubt that the brightest moments of his early years still shine. Like this performance of “Billie Jean,” taken from the Motown Records 25th Anniversary Special in March 1983. We invite our readers to share their own thoughts in this space.
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World