by Guest Contributor Annita Lucchesi, originally published on Tumblr
**Video Slightly NSFW***
Perhaps distracted by the picturesque scenery or the flash and glamor of Carnival, music critics have yet to say anything substantial on Nicki Minaj’s new music video, “Pound the Alarm.” Indeed, the overwhelming response has been to dismiss both the song and video as “virtually indistinguishable” from her previous single, “Starships,” and nearly all reviews have nothing to say other than run-of-the-mill comments on the beauty of the setting and Minaj’s physical attributes (see: MTV, Billboard). Fuse even went so far as to describe Minaj as a “bikini wearer extraordinaire” who “made sure her goods were front and center,” and Perez Hilton’s first comment was to tell Minaj, “pound that alarm with your bombastic bosom!”
While Nicki Minaj is obviously exceptionally beautiful, these reviews are as vapid as they are repetitive. Minaj is routinely overlooked as a ‘conscious artist,’ despite the fact that many of her songs, as well as her carefully curated appearance, are politically charged. The vast majority of the narrative on her fame is centered on her body and relationships with male rappers, as if she isn’t an intelligent artist who is very intentional about her image and her work (much less one who attended performing arts school!). Anyone who has heard her more directly “conscious” tracks like “Autobiography” or her remix of “Sweetest Girl” knows that she can be a passionate performer and talented poet. Despite this, Minaj constantly gets criticized and dismissed as lacking substance, which I believe has more to do with the combined forces of racism and sexism in popular media and consumer consciousness than anything else. No matter how gorgeous you are, it can’t be easy to be a young Black West Indian woman in the US media, much less one who is so confident in her ownership of her body and sexuality as Nicki Minaj.
There is also a not-so-subtle unwillingness on behalf of many of her critics to dialogue with Minaj’s work on her own terms, which the “Pound the Alarm” reviews each fall prey to. Though most of them acknowledge that Minaj was born in Trinidad, the video’s location, none of them attempt to place the video within its context—Trinidadian party culture and national politics.
L.A. teenagers survive the treacherous world of peer pressure, drug dealers, juvenile hall and dysfunctional families. Kayla, an underprivileged Japanese American 16-year-old, endangers her promising future as an aspiring artist when she becomes involved with a drug dealer. It’s a new take on growing up bicultural in multicultural LA.
Nicki Minaj got media circuits buzzing after performing alongside Madonna at the Super Bowl 2012 halftime show and then commanding the stage a week later at the Grammy Awards in a Catholic themed extravaganza. As usual, Minaj got people talking about sex(uality). After the halftime show, viewers jokingly wondered why a sensual kiss between Madonna and Minaj never transpired.
Meanwhile, Minaj’s Grammy performance included a mini-film depicting a priest making a house call to exorcise the demon possessing a child named Roman. Roman was referred to many times as “he” but when the child was revealed, rather than a boy we saw a tormented and psychotic Minaj with long blonde hair applying pink lipstick singing “I Feel Pretty.” Does the possessed boy become Nicki Minajwhen dressed in drag? Is Minaj possessed by Roman, a boy who likes pink lipstick and Broadway songs, or is she just trying to be as quirky as possible? Regardless of where Minaj was leading her audience, it was clear she was toying with gender presentation and interpretation, a hallmark of her persona that has an impact on her community of listeners.
I most recently noticed the impact that the openness of artists like Nicki Minaj to sexual ambiguity is having when I returned to my neighborhood in the Bronx after a two year stint living in Costa Rica. In that brief period away I realized much had changed: men in the hood were wearing tight jeans, 80s style had come back in full effect, and there was a growing visibility of what I dubbed “neo-soul Black hipsters.” I also noticed an abundance of pretty teenage girls on the 4, 6, and D trains to the Bronx with their equally handsome boyfriends who on second glance, and sometimes fourth and fifth, I realized were actually two beautiful girls unabashedly holding hands, in the midst of quiet embraces, or giving voyeuristic displays passionate kissing.
A friend recently asked me: “Remember back in the day when there were no gay youth?” And I had to agree that I shared that memory. Of course it wasn’t that there were no gay youth, rather it was that they weren’t as visible, especially in our predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods. It was clear to me that a shift had occurred while I was away. Gay openness was becoming not only a thing of adult men and women in the West Village but also of urban Black and Latina youth in inner-city New York. Continue reading →
Reader Keisha tipped us to a new joint initiative between Michael Bloomberg and George Soros. The New York Timesreports:
The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a blunt acknowledgment that thousands of young black and Latino men are cut off from New York’s civic, educational and economic life, plans to spend nearly $130 million on far-reaching measures to improve their circumstances.
The program, the most ambitious policy push of Mr. Bloomberg’s third term, would overhaul how the government interacts with a population of about 315,000 New Yorkers who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed.
To pay for the endeavor in a time of fiscal austerity, the city is relying on an unusual source: Mr. Bloomberg himself, who intends to use his personal fortune to cover about a quarter of the cost, city officials said. A $30 million contribution from Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation would be matched by that of a fellow billionaire, George Soros, a hedge fund manager, with the remainder being paid for by the city.
Starting this fall, the administration said it would place job-recruitment centers in public-housing complexes where many young black and Latino men live, retrain probation officers in an effort to reduce recidivism, establish new fatherhood classes and assess schools on the academic progress of male black and Latino students.
Talk about a jump start. While many of the experts quoted remain overwhelmed and slightly pessimistic at the turn of events, there are some really great ideas in the initiative: a focus on practical needs, like payment for participation in programs, retraining parole officers, and creating school based initiatives around the achievement gap. I hope Bloomberg and Soros can make a dent with this plan – however, they are throwing millions and millions of dollars at what is a billion dollar problem. The racial wealth gap and the opportunity gaps take an outsized toll on children of color, and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development has published dozens of studies on how everything from access to child care to the nature of low wage work contribute to many of these issues. And even if this program succeeds in NYC, is there enough political will to replicate it in needed areas?
Still, it’s easy to get overly worried about the future. Bloomberg’s other initiatives have done exceedingly well and translated to other, nationwide projects and legislation – here’s to hoping the program is successful and it reignites a national conversation on the resource gaps in our communities.
A first grade teacher in Paterson, New Jersey was recently put on administrative leave after she took to the internet to vent her frustrations about work. According to NBC New York, the teacher was suspended for “allegedly making Facebook comments that her six-year-old students are “future criminals” and referring to herself as a “warden,” according to school officials.”
Much of the handwringing over at Jezebel concerned the fate of the poor, poor teacher who probably just had a bad day. At Jezebel, Margaret Hartmann concludes her piece by saying:
It’s horrible to hear about an adult disrespecting the children in her care, but it also casts a bad light on teachers, who for the most part, got into the profession because they want to help children succeed. But that’s not news — that’s their job, and they do it every single day.
Are teachers definitely our undersung heroes? Yes. Do they often work long hours at thankless tasks in order to make their children’s lives better? Oh yes.
But do all teachers treat all children the same? No, no, no.
My radar pinged when I heard the term criminals employed, so I checked the demographics of Paterson. And my suspicions were borne out. According to Neighborhood Scout:
Paterson is a blue-collar town, with 35.4% of people working in blue-collar occupations, while the average in America is just 24.7%. Overall, Paterson is a city of sales and office workers, service providers, and production and manufacturing workers. There are especially a lot of people living in Paterson who work in office and administrative support jobs (18.20%), sales jobs (9.45%), and building maintenance and grounds keeping (6.25%).
The population of Paterson has a very low overall level of education: only 8.19% of people over 25 hold a 4-year college degree or higher.
The per capita income in Paterson in 2000 was $13,257, which is low income relative to New Jersey and the nation. This equates to an annual income of $53,028 for a family of four.
Paterson is an extremely ethnically-diverse city. The people who call Paterson home come from a variety of different races and ancestries. People of Hispanic or Latino origin are the most prevalent group in Paterson, accounting for 50.17% of the city’s residents (people of Hispanic or Latino origin can be of any race). The most prevalent race in Paterson is White, followed by Asian. Important ancestries of people in Paterson include Italian and Jamaican.
Paterson also has a high percentage of its population that was born in another country: 32.79%.
The most common language spoken in Paterson is Spanish. Some people also speak English.
“But in the terms of the power discussion, what if, in fact, you are power? What if in fact you are powerful, in that you feel like you make the decisions about the man that you’re going to sleep with, and whether you’re going to use a condom with him or not? What if you’ve got the power in deciding? But we know this is not the case for so many of our young women, and yet we’ve grown up with prevention that presumes and assumes, and that incorporates the idea of giving women power. We’re asking — we’re needing — power over primarily an organ that we don’t even have attached to our body.
“The other piece of the discussion, of course, that’s always been missing, long been missing, is: AIDS, Inc., does not know what to do with heterosexually identified men….AIDS, Inc., does not know what to do with sexually active men who are not exclusively gay — let me put it like that. Unless you are exclusively gay, out, or even a little bit kind of halfway what society labels as “down low,” AIDS, Inc. doesn’t know what to do with black men’s sexuality. It just doesn’t. We don’t have the right studies for it. We don’t have the right access for it. We don’t have any idea, except prison — which is my whole other issue — of where you can have an opportunity to engage men around health literacy, right? Sexuality addiction that plays into factors; sex that happens with men that does not mean, or does not reflect, an orientation. We don’t have the places to have those discussions. The good thing about what we’re doing with the girls is that we’re able to have those venues to have that discussion.
“But as long as we’re able to access health care, mostly around our reproductive organs, and men don’t have a similar place where they even ever have to come into care, unless they’re coming into care for prostate cancer — and that’s a sure sign that they’ve come too late — we’ve been doing one-hand clapping for a long time. So it’s not even about what works, or what doesn’t work; we’re still trying to figure it out.”
~~Tracie Gardner, Founder and Coordinator of the Women’s Initiative to Stop HIV/AIDS NY at the Legal Action Center
Normally, there are many different things brewing – a political climate, social unrest, gross inequality that all contribute to turn a nation inside out. Yet many reports want to trace a revolution back to a single, definitive event. Crispus Attucks is considered the first martyr of the American Revolution, Rosa Parks is widely considered the catalyst of the US civil rights movement, her actions sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Mohamed Bouaziz is the name behind the sudden surge in interest in self-immolation.
Bouaziz’s last protest made its way to cameras, which then spread the news that Tunisia was on the cusp of a revolt. Al Jazeera frames the story:
In a country where officials have little concern for the rights of citizens, there was nothing extraordinary about humiliating a young man trying to sell fruit and vegetables to support his family.
Yet when Mohamed Bouazizi poured inflammable liquid over his body and set himself alight outside the local municipal office, his act of protest cemented a revolt that would ultimately end President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year-rule.
Local police officers had been picking on Bouazizi for years, ever since he was a child. For his family, there is some comfort that their personal loss has had such stunning political consequences.
“I don’t want Mohamed’s death to be wasted,” Menobia Bouazizi, his mother, said. “Mohamed was the key to this revolt.”
And yet later, it is revealed that Bouazizi was one of many who had started to sound the alarm – an alarm suppressed by government officials and widely ignored by media under governmental control:
Mohamed Bouazizi was not the first Tunisian to set himself alight in an act of public protest.
Abdesslem Trimech, to name one of many cases occurred without any significant media attention, set himself ablaze in the town of Monastir on March 3 after facing bureaucratic hindrance in his own work as a street vendor.
Neither was it evident that the protests that begin in Sidi Bouzid would spread to other towns. There had been similar clashes between police and protesters in the town of Ben Guerdane, near the border with Libya, in August.
The key difference in Sidi Bouzid was that locals fought to get news of what was happening out, and succeeded.
“We could protest for two years here, but without videos no one would take any notice of us,” Horchani said.
I often wonder what ignites a protest and what does not. I specifically think of Lee Kyoung Hae, who stabbed himself in protest of the World Trade Organization’s policies toward South Korean farmers and their agricultural policy at large. I was in high school when the Battle in Seattle occurred – I’ve been fascinated by the World Trade Organization ever since. But while Lee did not die in vain, his protest did not lead to the type of uprising that could topple the WTO. Why? Why do some protests galvanize into movements, and others fade into time?
There are no clear answers to these questions, and yet the world keeps moving. Egypt, hot on the heels of Tunisia, also underwent a revolution, one that garnered a bit more attention from media outlets here.
As much as Egyptians may have surprised themselves and their neighbours, no one seems more caught off guard by this recent turn of events than members of western mainstream media and political officials. The western media appear bewildered, their commentary halting and unsure. Perhaps this is because, for so long, news agencies have stacked their rolodexes with analysts on the Middle East whose area of expertise lay primarily in terrorism and religious fundamentalism. They now seem ill prepared to comprehend this past week’s events, which have been so free of religious rhetoric, much less offer any insight on what the world may expect to come next. More than one commentator has remarked on the possibility of an Islamist take-over in Egypt and elsewhere, as though for lack of anything else worthwhile to say. Some appeared at a loss as they reported that protesters were not shouting “Death to America.”
The response to civil unrest in Egypt has been strangely unlike the response to the Iranian would-be “Green Revolution” of 2009. Because Iranians were standing up to a long-hated Islamist regime, their struggle was immediately embraced in the west across the political spectrum.
By contrast, western observers in the cultural mainstream have been hesitant about the Days of Anger, as they lack a clear and ready-made approach for identifying and understanding Arab discontent. This is probably due in part to the ostensible “secularism” of these regimes, and because instability in the Middle East is seen as a breeding ground for terrorism. Ironically, most terrorists out of Egypt are largely a product of the Mubarak school of stability — imprisonment, repression, and torture. But apparently the alternative is more horrifying: a scenario in which Egyptians may choose their own government. One can picture the Egyptians who populate the imagination of policymakers and journalists: a pious and incorrigible bunch, impelled in the direction of fanaticism as though by gravity. (Read the rest…)
Regimes in countries like Tunisia and Algeria have been arming and training security apparatuses to fight Osama bin Laden. But they were caught unawares by the ‘bin Laden within’: the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region’s population.
The winds of uncertainty blowing in the Arab west – the Maghreb – threaten to blow eastwards towards the Levant as the marginalised issue the fatalistic scream of despair to be given freedom and bread or death. […]
From Tunisia and Algeria in the Maghreb to Jordan and Egypt in the Arab east, the real terror that eats at self-worth, sabotages community and communal rites of passage, including marriage, is the terror of socio-economic marginalisation.
The armies of ‘khobzistes’ (the unemployed of the Maghreb) – now marching for bread in the streets and slums of Algiers and Kasserine and who tomorrow may be in Amman, Rabat, San’aa, Ramallah, Cairo and southern Beirut – are not fighting the terror of unemployment with ideology. They do not need one. Unemployment is their ideology. The periphery is their geography. And for now, spontaneous peaceful protest and self-harm is their weaponry. They are ‘les misérables’ of the modern world.
Already, discussion of a domino effect looms large – and while some pundits are wondering which country is next, the larger question is what will these changes symbolize in the world within the next decade?
Hi. You may not know me – at least, not very well. You probably are not familiar with my experience, qualifications, or accomplishments. Which is ironic, to say the least, because I have worked for your organization for many years. What’s more ironic is that – at this point – a large portion of our policies, systems, and even curriculum have been created by me, and all the kids we work for know me by name; and yet – we have likely never even exchanged names or a handshake.
So you wouldn’t know that I’ve been working with youth professionally since I was a youth (over 15 years, to be more precise). That I have over six years of formal classroom teaching experience. That I train and mentor other teachers and youth workers (most importantly – your organization’s staff). That I have coordinated programs and workshops for groups ranging from 10 to 500 youth, covering topics from Identity, Culture, and Diversity to Conflict Resolution. That I have taught art, music, math, psychology, public speaking, English and many other subjects (with curriculum of my own design) to middle school and high school students. That I have been a case manager and family contact and support specialist. That I was managing a middle-school arts after-school program in my early twenties. That mentoring youth is just what I do.
Oh – and that I have dedicated myself to your organization for almost seven years.
All that said, though – you still don’t know me. And so it will be hard for you to know where I’m coming from with what I’m about to say. You don’t know how seriously I take my work, and how I’ve dedicated my life to doing it better. That I am willing to get over myself on any number of levels if it means better serving the youth I work for. And that I speak to you now out of full respect for who you are and the good intentions I believe we all share.
But you don’t know these things, because you’re not involved at my level (nor I at yours). We do not interact. Your role on the board is not your main priority, as you hold other full-time positions. You just make some decisions from time to time about where the money goes, what programs we should be running, things like that. I get it. You’re not in the thick of it – you’ve got a lot of other things going on – so you just haven’t had the time to meet me, officially. That actually all makes sense to me. It does.
But this is where my problem lies – you have veto power over me and my peers. When it comes to the big decisions, you have final say. And that makes so little sense, it kind of blows my mind. Continue reading →
Race, Culture, and Identity in a Colorstruck World