Cultural Appropriation: You Don’t Want To Go Down That Road

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This got my goat the other day.

Maybe it was because my sister sported dreads for a time. For the record, I was against this style choice (the ex’s opposition was based on opposition to cultural appropriation, mine from a sense of aesthetic and biology as her hair wasn’t wired for it).  But if anyone gave her crap for it, I’d give them what for.

The meme above doesn’t make sense at a number of levels, and frankly, the creator undermines him or herself. Continue reading

New York Sublet: Cut and Run

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January of last year I found myself living on the Upper West Side with a 40 year old Indian mother and her two year old kid. It was an odd arrangement born of tragedy and the light at the end of the tunnel was only a pinprick.

I was there because my wife had kicked me out. She was there because hurricane Sandy had destroyed her home and she had just divorced her husband. Like a pair of shipwreck survivors we clung to this driftwood of an apartment in the projects.

My room was only sort of my own as she needed the space for her son during the day. The apartment was full of the detritus of her previous home. The bathroom in particular was problematic as she used it for storage, which meant that I occasionally couldn’t take a shower because it was periodically full of stuff. One particularly memorable episode required me to crawl over boxes and then balance precariously to take a pee at the toilet.

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The Right Side of History? Where Are We Going?

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Contrary to those who claim to know the arc of history or declare themselves on the right side of history, it is more wise than foolish to acknowledge the ambiguities of the present in these troubled times. If the study of the past teaches us anything, it’s that ideas and movements wax and wane, twist and turn. Predicting the future is as dubious as it is interesting. While certain trends seem set, the future, simply put, is wide-open and progress is as common as regression (leaving aside the lofty standards by which we judge such things).

Two poems highlight this dual reality of trends and surprises.

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The Crossing: MLK and Malcolm X

 

I have taught AP English Language and Composition for three years now. I always run a comparison between Malcolm X’s “Ballot and the Bullet” and MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” They are both remarkable pieces and highlight the assimilationist v. separatist approaches to America’s cultural and racial problems.

Malcolm X’s piece is a treat to read. It is full of invective (those damn “crackers!”) and defiance. The anger is palpable. Rhetorically he pulls no punches. The black man has gotten a raw deal for too long. The whites have given him window dressing rights. Fuck the police. The relationship is irreconcilable—probably. The choice (bullets or the ballot?) haunts the speech. There is much that resonates with the current atmosphere especially in light of events in Dallas.

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Egged: Harlem Riffraff

Good times in Harlem

The other night I was drinking a beer. I hadn’t enough sense to finish what was left in my tall boy. So I poured it out my window. An impolite act, but I’m four stories up and there was barely a finger of liquid left in the can. Plus it was raining.

Five minutes later I climbed out my window for a smoke while I spoke with a friend on the phone. I got yelled at. “White boy, pouring beer on us!  Quit it! Fucking cracker!” I was confused. The beer I poured out wasn’t enough to even reach street level. But apparently it had. So I got hollered at. No matter, I sat there silent till the howling crowd below settled down. Moments later missiles began to explode around my head. It took me a second or two to understand what was going on. But as egg dripped off my hand I knew. Glancing down I saw fellows winding up and letting fly. The white specks growing larger as they approached my head. I quietly slipped back inside my window. Nothing came of it after that night, although I must admit worrying a bit about a confrontation the next couple of days (my plan: buy them a case of beer and apologize).  Street justice. Don’t pour beer out your window in Harlem. It’s a reasonable rule. Eggs are a good enforcement mechanism. Continue reading

A Jew, An Arab, And A White Guy Walk Into A Bar

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I have three rules for my classes: 1) Come to class. 2) Come to class on time. 3) Come to class prepared (do the work and bring a notebook and writing utensil). Most of the time my students comply.

The other day two Russians raised their hands and in unison asked for pencil and paper. I’m usually an easygoing teacher, but when given the opportunity (i.e. breaking one of my three rules), I ream my students out, and that’s what I did: “I wake up every morning at 6:20 so I can be here on time to teach you! And when I show up, I’m prepared! Show some respect, and show up prepared yourself! Bring your own stinking pencils to class! And, no, I’m not giving you a pencil! Find one yourself!” I never yell, and I’m not mean, but students get the point. In this instance, the Russian students begin inquiring around while I fired up the powerpoint.

I said “Russian” but really what I meant was an ethnic Korean raised in Kazakhstan, and a Tatar, who were both native Russian speakers. (Its easy to forget that Russian influence and culture is bigger than Russia proper.) After a minute of searching, the Korean, Kazakhstani Russian speaker raised his hand, and upon acknowledgment asked, “Mr. Bellewether, are you Jewish.” Confused, I answered in the negative. “Why?” I asked in clarification. A come-on-you’re-not-stupid look spread across his face and he responded: “Paper, pencil…so cheap.”

Speechless I covered my mouth with the papers and stifled a laugh.

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Planet of the Black Ranchers

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First off, I do not agree with Ammon Bundy’s methods or his approach in this Oregon wildlife refuge occupation, but this situation has shown how absolutely shameless the media can distort these situations. I am not going to address whether they should be called terrorists or if they are militia members or protesters. I do not care about any of that, and we have no way of knowing how much of that is accurate, because big media has already reached a conclusion before they begin their reporting.

What I would like to address is the strange attempt to make this about race. So rabid for clicks and views are the for-profit yarn-spinners that they will shoehorn in any hot-button buzzwords and issues they possibly can. Commentators and pundits have been making the claim that if the men holed up in a remote and closed wildlife refuge were black or middle-eastern, then they would have already been gunned down because cops thirst for the blood of minorities.

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An Infinitely Indescernible Quality of Mind

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 An Urgent Revolution

I cannot tell if this revolution sweeping through our country’s colleges is a legitimate revolution or merely a strange version of a limbo contest. The limbo contest was my first and immediate choice, but all things deserve more than a cursory glance. What I mean by ‘limbo contest’ is the definition of racism seems to be changing even more rapidly with cultural shifts in our country. Racism used to be a withholding of rights under the constitution, but then laws changed and the bar was lowered to the more nebulous but legitimate “denial of access”, and now we have lowered the bar to awkward social situations in which nobody has been directly verbally attacked. If you want to take a step up from that, then we can include poop swastikas that had no accompanying letter to explain who exactly the fecal feature was attacking. My first guess would have been that the Jews should be the most offended people at Mizzou, but hey what do I know?

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