Conversation with Q Da Fool

On June 8, I sat in a parked car in downtown Oakland and watched the clock strike 9 pm. The Washington Capitals had, minutes before, just won the Stanley Cup, ending a title drought for a city that reached back to 1992.

After the initial waves of disbelief, and then disappointment that I was on the wrong coast as this was happening (the actual excitement would come days later), I realized there was something missing about how the city’s jubilation was captured and archived: there was no music.

Apart from contributions from local royalty like E-40, if you were within 20 miles of Oakland, you didn’t just see titletown vestiges everywhere—I have not been to Target and not seen Draymond Green, in full warmups so much as once since I’ve been here—you heard them. There is never an occasion in which Mac Dre shouldn’t be blasted from lowrider subwoofers, but 3 titles in 4 years certainly signals as appropriate a time as any.

All the history of go-go, funk, and hip-hop in the District and we couldn’t swing, at the very least, an equivalent of Lil Wayne’s Green Bay Packers Super Bowl anthem?

What I’m saying is that Q Da Fool is the perfect person to solve this dilemma. Largo, Maryland’s own has been buzzing in the DMV for a couple years. Ahead of 100 Keys, produced exclusively by Atlanta legend Zaytoven slated to drop any day this summer, Q has started to grab national attention. While the rest of the world focused on the DC’s newest, headline-generating residents, the families and communities forced toward and into surrounding suburbs kept building; among their constructions exists one of the more promising rap scenes in the country today.

As a member of that growing culture, I wanted to know from Q himself how he fits within the greater landscape of DMV culture:

“I feel like I’m about to be the next big thing,” he told me over the phone on a Friday afternoon the same week the Caps paraded around DC with Lord Stanley. “I feel like I’m underrated. I feel like I’m underrated because I switch my styles up, I don’t rock the same on every song, I feel like I don’t got that real recognition that I need.”

Whatever the reason—that we are constantly compared to New York (“NoMa” will always be New York Avenue and “CoHi,” Columbia Heights); the fact that the news about politics can often overshadow news about the people who live through them; or maybe it’s just something in the water—feeling underrated no matter the context is a quintessential DC emotion.

On authenticity and his writing process:

“Everything be like off the vibe, I don’t write nothing—I try to write music, but every time I write music it sounds stupid,” he said plainly. “And I just go off the vibe, and it’s never really up. If I’m having a fucked up day or something, it’ll sound fucked up. Sometimes I can’t be in the studio—I don’t feel like rapping. But it’s how I’m feeling every day with my A1s.”

On competition:

“It’s crabs in a bucket out here,” he said. “In DMV when someone blow up, they never come back. They sign, they don’t ever come back and help the city. But that’s why it’s kind of like that out here.”

He then reflected on becoming a father, as well as the message behind the music video for his release, “The Plug.”

“That video was showing like you have to take care of your family and their spirit,” he said. “I just love my sons—it might seem like a corny way to say it, but it has a big impact on your life if you really want to be in your kid’s life and them be in your life. I put that in my music because it’s part of my life, and I speak on my real life when I rap.”

The matter-of-fact sincerity with which he spoke about his friends and family matched the candor of many of his songs. This made stories of sitting with his son resting on his stomach seem as sincere, and as grim and violent, as verses in which he talks about dumping bodies in the Patuxent River. Two allegedly different personas are constructed, tethered only by the fact that one seems to depend on the other, making scenes in The Plug seem simultaneously layered and unvarnished. Two truths hard to reconcile, and at times, harder to separate from the music.

And, of course, we had to talk about the elephant on the field:

“Imma keep it 100: I ain’t even paying attention to them niggas. They been playing so bad, you gotta put the brakes on they ass.”

Ah, yes, maybe the strongest connective tissue linking generations of DC natives around the globe is the understanding that when it comes to owner Dan Snyder’s moribund franchise, even for people who choose to “fight for old DC,” that fight usually ends with the Burgundy & Gold finishing no better than 3rd in the NFC East.

After debuting videos on Worldstar Hip-Hop, vying for an XXL Freshman Class nomination, and linking up with notable artists like Gucci Mane and Wale, I asked Q about what he now was most proud.

“The whole transition. Me and my team, my family, making a whole big transition, that’s what I’m proud of.”

From the rise of the alt-right and its cementation as a leading fixture of Beltway politics to the fact that someone decided Georgia Avenue staple Fish In The Hood needed some explanatory re-branding, things in the DMV are definitely “transitioning.” For native Washingtonians, especially the ones who have been priced out of their homes and neighborhoods, such transition could feel erasing. Here’s where Q Da Fool comes in.

If this period in the city’s cultural history is to be marked by change, it is only fitting that the people who were on Largo Road, right there, before the median property values in Largo spiked and median income remained stagnant, are in charge of that change. DC didn’t always have generational talents in Wall, Harper or Ovechkin, and we certainly are newcomers to celebrating our sports dominance.

But we’re no strangers to the sauce. The DMV was dripping when Langston was writing on 12th Street, or when Marian overshadowed Lincoln at his own damn monument. We had it when they killed Martin and our flames ate everything but what we told them not to. We had it before 2016, and we’ll have it in 2020, and we’ll have it in 2024.

And so the next time that one of our beleaguered (if maybe no longer cursed) teams reaches the proverbial mountaintop, I want all of DC, Maryland, and Virginia to be there too, front and center, with a bigger chip on our shoulder than the one we just won and an understanding that change, no matter how forceful, cannot uproot us.

Six in the Morning

No good texts come before 6 AM, so nigga just don't even think about it, put your phone back down. You haven't won anything, she isn't gonna text you, you didn't get that job that you have now applied to for three straight summers.

Remember that show, with all the happy successful white folk? They told you nothing good happens after 2 AM, but look at all that good that surrounded them, you thought. But then thought half a beat longer and maybe all that's good doesn't matter in the dark, staring at the ceiling with nothing staring back at you. Don't think half a beat more, but okay since you did, think about all that space you give those happy successful white folk, while you type in the dark, staring through the screen, through the ceiling, into the dark, with nothing but black as the black you are, staring back at you. Your muscles tighten, your belly boa constricts.

No, nothing good buzzes before at least 6 AM, but nigga honestly you might want to give it until a good 6:19, just to be safe. You know safe don't you? That thing you're supposed to feel when you do everything right—hit all the right notes, make all the right moves, play the game the way it's supposed to be played, Mommy said. But honestly I'm not even sure we're all playing the same game, and my phone is about to die so why don't we just ride out to some old Erykah before the sun rises?

On and on and on and on.

My mind keeps moving like the jagged little pill the doctor says I gotta pop every morning to stay sane. She probably right too. She is probably right too, excuse me Mommy, it's hard to still care about shit like grammar when they beat you over the head without the common courtesy of even speaking to you first. That silence is deafening because in that moment you cease to exist outside your trauma. What a mean trick, right? Living outside our trauma is what we've been trying to do since you know when. Loving inside our trauma is what we've been trying to do since you know when.

Nothing good buzzes before 5:59 AM. So roll back on over nigga. It'll be waiting for you when you can't stand the darkness anymore.

"It's Not Funny Anymore—Try A Different Joke"

One of the most powerful scenes in James Cameron’s Titanic—and arguably more emotional than the death of protagonist Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio—features the band. As the ship begins to sink and panic consumes the passengers and crew, the string orchestra does the only thing that it can do: play music. There is something laudable in performing your job in the face of certain doom.

On Monday evening, former acting US Attorney General Sally Yates was terminated, and then applauded, for doing just that. Yates, like the sinking violinists, saw the end of the tunnel with no light to be found and plunged ahead anyway. However, the reason that Yates was championed for literally doing her job, is because there was some risk present. She risked public censuring and potentially negative consequences for her political career by openly defying the President and upholding her office and the Constitution. Yates played until the bitter end, until the metaphorical water that is President Trump’s increasingly repressive regime, filled her lungs.

Without that risk, simply proceeding with your daily tasks while chaos ensues is less commendable, and more meme-worthy. The Tonight Show’s host Jimmy Fallon has not only continued to do his job, but he’s continued doing so rather poorly. Fallon is not necessarily a bad comedian. His job is one that can only be judged subjectively. But insofar as he is responsible for using his comedy to yield more than cheap laughs every night, Fallon has failed miserably.

In a recent sketch, “Huge Wheel of Decisions,” Fallon attempts to spoof Trump’s initial executive orders. Fallon made sure to deploy all the predictable punchlines (Trump’s tiny hands, the fact that the First Lady is an immigrant, and so on). Fallon mocks Trump’s procedure (or lack thereof) for issuing executive orders by spinning a wheel or picking ping pong balls from a lottery cage. What’s missing, however, is any real biting critique of the man whose hair he playfully jostled on his show last year. Recycled jokes about Trump’s Twitter account or pointing to the hypocrisy in his anti-immigration stance while being married to one is not just low-hanging fruit, but fruit that has fallen from the tree and is now rotting in the sun.

Fallon’s inability or unwillingness to treat Trump without kid gloves highlights his shortcomings as a white primetime television host, and the general dearth of hosts who aren’t white men. Where a comedian of color or a woman (or both, preferably) would be able to deliver material that comes from a genuine place of concern, Fallon flops about onstage as some sort of rodeo clown. Comedy is essential, perhaps most of all in times of crisis. But if Jimmy Fallon wants to continue to host a late night show in the middle of one of the most diverse cities in the world, backed by a band comprised entirely of black musicians, he has a responsibility to his viewers and crew to treat the current Commander in Chief as the serious threat he is, or cede the time slot to someone who can.

We all deserve periods of laughter and brevity during times of emotional exhaustion. The threat of having one’s rights trampled because of their identity is indeed terrifying, and sometimes it is necessary to laugh to keep from crying. But so too is it true that the decline of American democracy as we know it is simply not as troubling for rich white men like Jimmy Fallon. There is a fundamental difference between poking fun at your own misfortune, and being the butt of someone else’s joke, particularly when that someone else is able to flex his immense social privilege and capital. We should all push Jimmy Fallon to be a true ally, and write some better jokes.

The Audacity of White Men

In the wake of what will be remembered as the most polarizing, vitriolic presidential election since Reconstruction, various journalists published different voter profiles. The collective white working class rationale was thoroughly (perhaps exhaustively) detailed. The Latin@ vote was (conversely perhaps not thoroughly enough) discussed in pieces like “Here’s What Happened With The Latino Vote.” Black non-voters in a specific Milwaukee neighborhood were interviewed about their civic apathy. Even those who look upon qualities like prosperity and tolerance as, and I do quote, “shit” received a slice of the spotlight.

While the 2016 presidential election was truly unprecedented, voter profiles are fairly common. During both the 2008 and 2012 races—elections that were perhaps equally as historic as 2016’s, albeit from a polarly opposite perspective—Black voters, who turned out in droves, were met with a litany of pieces that supposedly explained their rationale. Author Kevin Jackson even went on Fox News to proclaim to conservative anchor Megyn Kelly that Black voters supported President Obama not because of his extensive credentials or qualifications, but because he was Black. Shallow dives into the supposed collective conscious of the Black American voter were so ubiquitous in 2012, comedian Chris Rock addressed it in his HBO special, “Kill The Messenger”:

“This whole election is so weird, just the way they cover it. Everything’s so racial, racial, racial… And the crazy thing is, whenever white people vote for Barack Obama—which is a lot of the time—they go, ‘well you know, they listened to the issues, and they felt Obama spoke to their issues. They went over the issues, they weighed the pros and cons, and they felt that Obama spoke to their issues.’ And whenever black people vote for Barack, they go, ‘Well they black, he black, so I guess that’s why.’ Like we don’t even have names on our ballots, it’s just scratch and sniff!”

I can proudly declare that in 2012, I did vote for President Obama because we share a racial identity. My rationale then, at 19, was that I would not have another chance to vote for a Black presidential candidate. For what it’s worth, I regret nothing.

More importantly, it is critical to properly identify the foundation of both Rock’s joke, and of race-based voter profiles. If we are to assume, erroneously or otherwise, that Black people voted for Barack Obama because of his Blackness, then we also must conclude white voters did the same in electing Donald Trump. While there were no people of color on the official presidential ballot (even including third-party candidates Jill Stein and Gary Johnson), Republican candidate Donald Trump ran, and won, on a platform steeped in identity politics. The very same identity politics that white writers like Mark Lilla accused of causing Hillary Clinton’s stunning defeat ultimately fueled Trump’s ascent. Despite his reluctant condemnation of white nationalists, it is undeniable that Trump’s platform, one that demonized everyone but similarly privileged white men, spoke to their interests specifically as white people.

That last piece is vital to appropriately understand the election, and how we relate to whiteness—and consequently Blackness—in general. Too often, we as a global people, allow whiteness to exist as the uninterrogated status quo. Unlike every other unprotected or semi-unprotected class of people, white, able-bodied, cisgendered, straight men, are allowed room to navigate the world free of ever having their identity politicized. But the sobering reality, as many learned for the first time exactly a month ago, is that white people are motivated by that very whiteness, those very same identity politics.

Even this year, as pundits focused on the “white working class,” the central issue that bound those voters was grounded in class, not race. “Economic anxiety,” not violent racism and xenophobia, ignited the white working class. It is then peculiar that no one could quite explain why economically anxious Black and Brown folk didn’t turn out in droves to vote for the candidate backed by the country’s self-proclaimed largest fraternal order of police and the Ku Klux Klan. So, at the risk of further centering the most privileged class of people in the world: let’s talk about white men.

As a disclaimer, I refer to white men as a social institution grounded in capitalist white supremacy, rather than every white man in the world. Even if it were possible to meet each and every one of you, I have no interest in doing so, and just as we can dissect the minds of people of color with a handful of anecdotal examples, the same can be true here.

Let’s face it: 2016 was not a great year for white men. For the sake of argument, focus on three that made large splashes in the news in just the last six months: Edgar Welch, Ryan Lochte, and of course, Donald Trump.

Edgar Welch, believing DC pizzeria Comet Ping Pong was the headquarters for an underground child sex trafficking ring, drove 350 miles from his home in North Carolina with a car full of guns, and opened fire inside the restaurant. For the sake of clarity, let’s gloss over the fact that a patently false conspiracy theory advanced by propaganda could have caused serious injury. Let’s even ignore the fact that the assault rifle Welch used shouldn’t be as accessible to, say, someone who would be so detached to believe that an underground child sex slavery ring would take place in a pizza shop and that Hillary Clinton was orchestrating the entire thing. Let’s focus on the fact that Welch felt that he alone was capable of investigating what, by his own admission, was a criminal operation spearheaded by one of the most powerful people on the planet. What kind of systems of power are at play that would allow someone like Welch to take the law into his own hands? Even when he arrived in Washington, he could have easily gone to the restaurant and simply called the police. After all, the police exist to help people and deter violence, right?

Only a few months earlier during the Brazil Summer Olympics, gold medalist and swimmer Ryan Lochte made front pages for all the wrong reasons. Lochte and his teammates went out for a night of partying, became incredibly drunk, got into an altercation with security at a gas station, and proceeded to destroy items and urinate on the premises. Rather than simply pay for the fines and apologize like an adult who actually has to face the consequences of his actions, Lochte fabricated a story in which he was robbed at gunpoint. Lochte even described himself as strangely calm, reporting that he uttered a glib “Whatever,” after a loaded revolver was (not) pointed at his head.

Somehow, despite his story’s shaky foundation, we all believed him. Because of course a place like Brazil is violent, of course Lochte and his teammates were only there to compete and have fun, and are incapable of wrongdoing, right? The global anti-blackness that drives the animosity toward Black people in the United States also permeates places like Brazil. Lochte, being the privileged and entitled white man that he is, knew that he could get away with it. And for a while, he did. Again, it is imperative to interrogate the role whiteness played in this situation. Had USA basketball players Draymond Green, Jimmy Butler, and Demarcus Cousins conducted themselves as Lochte and his teammates, would people like Billy Bush be as quick to sweep their behavior under the rug? Or, would the national conversation become a referendum on Black people? Would Breitbart have reported it in their “Black Crime” section? What does it say that the public intoxication of a young athlete is less believable than a hijacking that would have caused an international incident? Why were we so quick to buy into Lochte’s demonizing portrayal of Brazil, and would we have been as quick to believe him had this taken place in 2012 when the games were in London?

Even in an explainer piece by Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos, Lochte is still awarded a plethora of excuses for his behavior:

“The hubbub over Lochte potentially making up a weird story feels a little overblown — a lot out of nothing. If Lochte is lying but he and his friends didn’t get hurt and didn’t hurt anyone else in the process, then no harm, no foul, right?”

Sure, except for the part where he destroyed property, physically confronted the security officers, and lied about it. Other than that, it was “a lot out of nothing.” If we should hold Lochte accountable for his profound arrogance (and we definitely should) then we must also acknowledge that whiteness and masculinity are allowed to thrive and persist without ever being challenged, or interrogated. Ryan Lochte, a white man, merely lived up to the atrocious standards of accountability that white men have enjoyed since time immemorial.

And then, of course, there’s the 45th President-elect of the United States. There is so much to still dissect and digest from Trump’s win. Stories have already been printed about his various conflicts of interest as a businessman and future president, his fanning the flames of the alt-right rise, and his rampant, unapologetic sexism punctuated by a leaked Access Hollywood tape in which he told then-host Billy Bush that he had regularly groped and assaulted various women. But somehow in the wall-to-wall coverage of Trump’s campaign, his identity politics were hardly ever called into question. He was asked to disavow David Duke but was never properly challenged about his relationship with racism and white supremacy. Trump ignored critiques of his cabinet selection Steve Bannon, the former executive chair of Breitbart News and champion of white nationalists. It is not enough to say that Trump simply is ignoring the alarming views of his cabinet staff—including Michael Flynn, who believes, among other conspiracies, in the Comet Ping Pong Pizzagate conspiracy. We must also question what is it about him that allows him to feel comfortable in that willful ignorance? It certainly is not his “economic anxiety,” and considering the confidence he described in his grabbing of random women by their genitals, it would be naive to argue against his male ego playing a large role in how he conducts himself, his businesses, and ultimately, how he will run the country.

To be clear, not all white men are bad. Some, I assume, are good people. But they are not sending their best into the world. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. Most importantly, white men are allowed unfettered access to every institution and are allowed to fail and flounder without ever facing consequences. Any person of color who walked into Comet Ping Pong—located in a very wealthy, white part of northwest DC—would have been blessed to walk away alive, as Welch did. There are few women, white or otherwise, who would ever dream of running for President, despite lacking any qualifications and bringing absolutely no experience to the table. Hillary Clinton was perhaps the most qualified, experienced candidate to ever run for office, and she lost to someone who wasn’t even good at the job he had before. It is not just ignorant to assume that race and gender did not motivate the overwhelming majority of Trump’s supporters, it also perpetuates the cancer that is white male entitlement.

It is not just the work for oppressed people of color to adopt. It is the responsibility of, specifically and especially, other white men to hold themselves accountable for the violence they commit. If people are serious about bringing unity to the country (as Trump has promised he can do) then we must first acknowledge who is being asked to unite. It is not enough to allow whiteness to exist as the norm, it must be treated as a race, just like any other. Until then, the unchecked recklessness of the white man will continue to reign supreme, leaving the rest of us undoing their destruction.


Please Stop Calling the Cops

In an episode of the television show “Martin,” Martin and his friends believe that their plumber had a medical emergency and died in the bathroom. They quickly call 911, only to lament the fact that no one responded. Martin calls back and adopts a white alter-ego, Thurston O’Malley III, and assures the 911 operator that he is white, and thus, deserving of assistance. The operator quizzes him about America’s favorite pie flavor, the names of Barry Manilow songs, and which condiments are appropriate to put on a sandwich. The scene turns into a Family Feud-style game show, that—perhaps unsurprisingly—Martin and his friends cannot win. They are disconnected from the 911 service.

There are two jokes here. The first is how the episode toys with the expectation that black people must always be experts on white culture. The second, and the more important joke, is that black people cannot call 911 and expect assistance to arrive in our neighborhoods. I expect white audiences to understand neither of these jokes, but particularly not the latter. Calling 911 when white brings a prompt and professional response from the police, and far too often, spells doom for any black person within the caller’s general vicinity.

The killings of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, the brutalization of teenage swimmers in McKinney, and now the recorded assault of Andrew Guilford (also by McKinney’s finest) are all examples of extreme police brutality prompted by a 911 call. But it would be a mistake to look at these aggressions against black people as isolated incidents. There is an established pattern of institutional police violence catalyzed by people calling 911 dispatch centers not to truthfully report a witnessed crime or emergency, but merely because they feel uncomfortable.

In March of 2012, Pasadena resident Oscar Carillo had his laptop stolen. Carillo believed a black man stole his computer and called 911 to file a report, at which time he said, on eight separate occasions, that a black man robbed him at gunpoint. When officers arrived on the scene, they apprehended 19-year-old Kendrec McDade, and promptly shot him eight times (one of the officers fired four shots while still seated in his police vehicle), claiming that they saw the muzzle of McDade’s gun flash. Kendrec McDade was unarmed when he was killed. Carillo later admitted that he lied about being robbed at gunpoint to get a faster police response. He was sentenced to 90 days of community service for making a false report and ordered to pay $3,000 to the Pasadena Police Department.

In August of 2014, John Crawford III was shopping at a Wal-Mart in Dayton, Ohio. Crawford picked up a pellet gun sitting on a shelf. The pellet gun is a product that Wal-Mart sells, and was on the shelf, presumably, to be purchased by someone shopping at this Wal-Mart—just not Crawford. Ronald Ritchie passed by Crawford and promptly called 911 to report that Crawford was “a gentleman walking around with a gun in the store,” and that, “he’s like pointing it at people,” a statement he would later recant in an interview with the Guardian. When the police confronted Crawford, he was on the phone, holding the pellet gun at his side. Police then opened fire, killing Crawford in the store

This past February, Sureshbhai Patel traveled from India to Madison, Alabama to help care for his premature grandson who was battling health complications. Patel was walking down the street at 9 a.m. one Friday morning when two officers approached him, asked if he was looking at houses, told him they couldn’t understand what he was saying, and then threatened to “put him on the ground” if he started to walk away from them. An officer then promptly twisted Patel and slammed the 57-year-old man onto the pavement, giving Patel a severe neck injury that left him partially paralyzed. The reason for the police accosting and interrogating Patel—apart from the overwhelming racism and xenophobia—was that they received a call from a neighbor about a “suspicious man” that the caller did not recognize.

Most recently, Andrew Guilford of McKinney, Texas was sitting in his front lawn when two officers on foot arrived with their guns drawn, ordering Guilford and his friends to put their hands up. When Guilford asked if he was being detained, and why he and his friends were being handcuffed, the yet-to-be-identified officer slammed him to the ground, handcuffed him, and barked, “Because we got a call, people saying they were going to shoot the police when they came back! It’s on 9-1-1.” These officers responded to a false 911 call, and later released Guilford and his guests.

For your sake as a reader, I stopped at these examples, but I could go on, and on, and on. And the problem is not simply white people easily frightened by the sight of blackness. The blood of innocent black people is also on the hands of 911 dispatch operators and responding officers. In fact, black people cannot even rely on 911 when we are the ones most in need.

In February of 2014, officers in Bastrop County, Texas responded to a 911 call about two men allegedly fighting over a weapon. People from inside the house where the men were fighting witnessed a woman make the 911 call and said the fight was over money, not a weapon. Officers ordered everyone to exit the house, and promptly shot 47-year-old Yvette Smith twice when she stepped outside — once in her left buttock, and once fatally to her lower abdomen. An initial statement from police claimed Smith had a weapon, but that report was later retracted.

In November of 2014, Tanisha Anderson was killed by Cleveland police officers. According to a complaint filed to a district court in the Northern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division, Anderson was suffering from “a mental health episode.” Her mother called 911 for assistance, and when officers arrived, they attempted to place Anderson in a squad car. Putting someone in a confined area during a mental health episode is not usually the best idea, and in this case, Anderson became even more anxious and panicked. Officers proceeded to slam her to the ground and handcuffed her while putting pressure on her back. Anderson soon lost consciousness and stopped breathing. Her death would eventually be ruled a homicide, caused by “being physically restrained in a prone position by Cleveland police.”

Last December in Decatur, Georgia, Kevin Davis’s girlfriend April was stabbed by a man in their apartment. Davis did what any of us would in that situation, and called 911. When officer Joseph Pitts arrived on the scene, Davis’s three-legged dog ran outside. Pitts then opened fire, killing the disabled canine. Davis, thinking that the man who stabbed April had returned with a gun, grabbed a revolver. Pitts saw Davis with his gun and pulled the trigger on the man who was merely guilty of trusting the police to help in an emergency.

This past January in Kinloch, Missouri, Theda Wilson believed someone was breaking into her apartment complex and called 911 to report a burglary. Wilson approached the police when they arrived and began explaining that a suspicious person was going in and out of a nearby building. The police responded by telling her she was under arrest, and when she resisted their physical contact, three officers wrestled her to the ground and began to assault her, leaving bruises on her face and arms. When Wilson demanded that officers read her the Miranda rights, officers informed her that they were not required to do that. At the time of her assault, Wilson was the interim mayor of Kinloch.

Individual officers are definitely to blame in all of these instances, but it would also be a mistake to exonerate employees at 911 dispatch centers.

In October of 2013, Lalo Delgado called 911 in Arizona to report his girlfriend was on fire after a freak accident caused his car to burst into flames. Bafflingly, the operator responded with laughter. Delgado had to call back a second time to make sure that his girlfriend—who at the time is still on fire—could receive prompt medical attention. Captain Jim Berry of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department was quoted as saying the dispatcher “messed up.”

Last February in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Rick Warrick was the victim of a hit-and-run. Warrick and his fiancé were changing a tire on the side of the road when a car struck them both and fled. Warrick’s two children were in the backseat when the accident happened, and his 13-year-old daughter called 911. During the call, the girl is understandably upset, but the dispatcher (whose name remains unreleased) interrupts her.

“OK, let’s stop whining,” he says. “Let’s stop whining, it’s hard to understand you.”

The dispatcher somehow manages to be the villain in a story about a driver who runs over two people on the side of the road, by chastising a young girl for “whining” as she watched her father die on the street.

And in June of 2013, a 911 operator in Dallas was fired after content on her Facebook page became public. April Sims, the 23-year-old dispatch operator was not fired for lewd photographs, or for slandering her place of employment, but for something much more damning:

“Black people are outrageous!” a post on her Facebook page read. “They are more like animals, they never know how to act … Always causing problems. I can count on 1 hand the black people I know who don’t have [expletive] for brains!!!”

It got worse.

“You want to call 911 cause your boyfriend put his hands on you and you want to press charges when you don’t even know his real name?! Sure lets [sic] make a police report for Dino, that is his street name,” another post read.

If we are to hold the police accountable for violence on black communities—we should—then we must view policing as a system that transcends those who wear badges. Racist, violent policing is bolstered by white neighbors who are easily scared by people who don’t look like them and frantically call the authorities. Anti-black policing is strengthened by 911 dispatch operators who believe that black people are more similar to animals than people. Tragedies like what happened to Theda Wilson or Kevin Davis are made possible by the widespread belief that black people are not capable of being in distress, that we are always the perpetrators, never the victims. None of this should be used as evidence to absolve police officers of the large role they play in state-sanctioned mass killings. Instead, these examples should remind us that many innocent Black and brown people are killed as soon as someone dials 911.  

[originally published for Slant News on 07/02/2015]


Dreamville's Bas On Why Being Woke is Lit

You can't understand Dreamville's Bas without understanding the role that Queens, New York has played in the development of rap music.

The Bronx often enjoys the distinction of hip-hop's birthplace. The apartment complex at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, where DJ Kool Herc—a Jamaican immigrant—would spin records at parties is considered to be the origin for an entire genre of music. The Bronx has, and continues to play an integral part in hip-hop's history. But Queens has arguably been just as instrumental to crafting the culture. It would be a mistake to relegate it to a mere footnote in the history of American rap music.

From Rum DMC in Hollis, to Nicki Minaj in Jamaica, to Nas in Queensbridge, Queens has produced genre-defining hip-hop. This is hardly accidental. While other places in the country—Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta—have contributed greatly to rap's changing tones, there are few places with as many eccentric artists—like Nicki Minaj, Action Bronson, and Heems, of Trinidadian, Albanian, and Punjabi-Indian descent, respectively—pushing the sonic and lyric boundaries of rap music.

Queens, a borough that is over 25% Asian, over 25% Latino, and over 20% black, is one of the most culturally vibrant places on the planet. Diversity wasn't invented in Queens, but it is no accident that such an eclectic borough routinely produces such an eclectic mix of musical talent. Bas is aware of how Queens has impacted his music and credits it as being the most impactful of his many homes.

"Queens is the most diverse county in the world, statistically speaking. I can go to the corner store down the block from me and speak Arabic to the Yemeni dude," he said. "It's such a small area as far as land mass, so you can't help but intermingle and cross with all these cultures, which is going to give you more perspective, more stories, more inspiration."

Some of these stories Bas brings with him to his lyrics. Born in Paris to Sudanese parents, Bas' backstory does not mirror those of many other American rappers. In hip-hop, identity politics often play a large role in determining authenticity, and perhaps for good reason. Hip-hop, like jazz before it, is an American music form created by people whose cultures are often appropriated. Iggy Azalea, for example, is loathed not because she is white, but because she attempted to artificially close the metaphorical distance between herself and rap's cultural beginnings, rather than engaging from the more honest perspective of a white Australian woman. 

Though both were born outside of the United States, the differences between Bas and someone like Iggy Azalea, for obvious reasons, are nearly endless. But, perhaps more importantly, he stressed that hip-hop's most important potential messages are not as region-locked as many would believe, and that rap music can very well be a universal language—a Rosetta Stone with a drum kit.

"My parents are from Sudan in East Africa, and we grew up pretty much all over the world," he said. "I was born in Paris, spent like the first eight years of my life moving back and forth between there and the Middle East, in Qatar. Then I moved to Queens when I was eight, I'm learning that with my music, I can draw from all these parallels and can understand people and build a connection with people. At the basis of making music is relatability."

The beauty of Queens is in its people—those who are able to come from different parts of the world and still draw parallels and still build connections. It is cosmically fitting that hip-hop, born from Black and Brown people taking bits and pieces of their parents' funk and soul records to create a new sound and language, is sustained by comparable tapestries of culture and talent. Queens is as much hip-hop, as hip-hop is Queens. 

One of those people is J. Cole. Bas credits Cole for having a tremendous impact on his music career, and as someone who helped him grow as a songwriter and performer. Their friendship and creative relationship began in Hillcrest, when the two met at St. John's University.

"St. John's is like my backyard, the house I grew up in," he explained. "Same neighborhood, same basketball courts everyone hangs out during the summer, same corner store, same house parties, all of that."

OF course, everything comes back to being able to relate and connect with people. Bas and Cole's relationship is built upon open communication about anything ranging from how to write songs to entertain large crowds, to what responsibility, if any, they have as Black artists to make music with overtly politicized messages.

"Do I think it's a responsibility for every Black rapper to speak on those issues? No. Do I think it's a responsibility of mine and us as a label? Yes," Bas said. "We're just more socially conscious in that regard, and in understanding the power of our voice, and what it means to people. 'Be Free,' Cole just did that in one take. That's just how he felt. It's not a marketing angle, it has to be from the heart, and how you really feel—and some people don't feel that way, it doesn't weigh on them as heavily."

Bas told me his second album Too High To Riot (March 4) is an attempt to forge a connection with listeners while he's still "gaining clarity," but he promised it will be a more personal album than his debut, Last Winter.

This contrast is perhaps most apparent in the videos Bas has released in anticipation of his new album. The raucous, unapologetic revelry in videos for "Lit" or "My Nigga Just Made Bail" is replaced by an equally sincere, but perhaps more introspective tone in "Methylone."

Shots of Bas and label mate J. Cole partying in limousines are replaced by tight, close-angle shots of Bas staring straight into the camera, talking as much to himself as he is to us—all from the setting of his own mind:

"Sonically it's moodier, it's more musical. And content-wise, it's just very, very honest. It has some very honest moments, and it's just more reflective. If "Last Winter" was everything I learned from going on tour, first building that fan energy being like, 'Oh, I'm kind of lit. They really fuck with me,' getting a record deal, starting to make money, starting to make a living off of music, 'Last Winter' is very celebratory in that regard. 'Too High To Riot' is more about things lost than things gained—or not necessarily lost, but ways that you become more aware, and ways the last two years have taught me about myself and the world around me. It's a bit more sobering in that regard."

"Oh, I'm kind of lit," is, in layman's terms, the realization that the connection Bas insists is so important is beginning to take shape. In the last couple of years, Bas' following has grown, and his verses on Dreamville collaborations have only further elevated his personal platform. 

Dreamville is quickly dispelling the notion that J. Cole carries the entire label on his back. Fans are paying attention to Bas—they really do fuck with him—and have responded to music that is not simply personal, but also incredibly introspective and internal. He explained that regardless of a fan's opinion, he writes primarily for himself, but that honesty and openness are traits in music that everyone can appreciate. 

"Me and Cole talk about it all the time, peeling layers back for the fans," he said. "It's all about peeling back layers."

[originally published for Slant News on 03/03/2016]

People Don't Hate Safe Spaces, They Hate The People They Protect

Let’s talk about safe spaces.

“Safe space” has become a loaded term deployed by those who take issue with the formation of spaces in which, typically, only people with marginalized identities are included. Once a term simply for a space in which women, people of color, queer people (or all three) could come together to talk and exist free from the pressures of the people by whom they feel threatened, a safe space is now a buzzword for, roughly, “entitled, sheltered college liberals.” The public discussion around safe spaces has peaked now because of the banning of media from a meeting on the University of Missouri’s quad, at which students and faculty cited the need for the creation of a safe space as a reason. Many people have taken umbrage with the exclusion of the press, citing the trampling of First Amendment rights and the insulation of young people on college campuses across the country, including (perhaps unsurprisingly) members of the press. Protesting the actions of University of Missouri president Timothy Wolfe is one thing, but how dare students direct their frustration and anger about racism on campus toward a disproportionately white media populace?

What is perhaps most interesting about the public conversation around safe spaces is how many people calling for the disruption of safe spaces are precisely the people who are kept from said spaces—privileged white people in positions of power.

Take, for example, “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas” by Judith Shulevitz, a contributing op-ed writer for the New York Times.

Or “The World Isn’t a ‘Safe Space’: Why College Kids Need To Stop Hiding from Views That Upset Them,” by Chez Pazienza of The Daily Banter.

Or “Campus Activists Weaponize ‘Safe Space’,” by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic.

Or “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt of The Atlantic.

It should not come as a surprise that white journalists at prominent media outlets cannot understand why they would ever be excluded from participating in whatever they wanted.

A quick Google search for “safe spaces are bad” yields very few articles, blog posts, thinkpieces, tweets—anything—from marginalized voices. If there are people who are culturally oppressed because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation and also are against safe spaces, they ironically do not have the platform to visibly voice such displeasure. Is it possible, that just maybe, those most upset with safe spaces are the people who would make said spaces unsafe? Is it possible that men who are apologists for domestic violence and sexual assault would be the loudest critics of spaces that sometimes exclude men? Is it possible that white people don’t like being excluded from anything at all, let alone conversations amongst people of color who feel victimized by those very same white people?

Much of the conversation around safe spaces feels very recent. Take this blog post published by Liberty Blitzkrieg from this past Sunday night. The post romanticizes the Vietnam War protests, pining for an allegedly bygone era in which students were tough and rugged, prioritizing unbridled civil disobedience over personal safety—nothing like today’s activism, which author Michael Krieger characterizes as “one of the most dangerous trends facing modern American society.” The Vietnam War protests were really not all that long ago, but that post, like many pieces eulogizing the death of the American college student, carry a tone of disappointment in an allegedly new and different era of university culture.

There is an argument to be made on behalf of the importance of safe spaces in general. There are times at which those who confront institutional discrimination need to retreat and recharge. This is not so much a debate point as it is a fact—like gravity, or the fact that hats exist. If you belong to an entire group of people who are marginalized on a widespread level, it would make sense that you would take solace in the ability to be momentarily vulnerable among those who comfort you. Objecting to a space like this would be akin to raiding hospitals and evicting all but the terminally ill:

“The real world won’t allow you to just sit with your feet up while you’re in that cast!”

“I remember when kids my age would develop lung cancer and go right back to work—it’s sad what’s become of cancer patients these days!”

“By going to the hospital and treating your virus in a safe, contained environment, you’re actually taking for granted how much you can do without all these medical handouts!”

What is infinitely more interesting, however, is how quickly we all forget that safe spaces are nothing new. Safe spaces belong to a tradition with roots extending far beyond the borders of college campuses, and is something that dominant, mainstream society is infamous for routinely imposing.

In May of 1989, the New York Times reported the complete eradication of graffiti in subways. Graffiti had long filled train cars, platforms, and tunnels, but, as a staple of hip-hop culture dominated by young black people, was seen as a public scourge. In fact, in a New York Times piece that would be published seven years later in 1996, graffiti artists are described as “vandals armed with cans of paint.” The removal of graffiti from subways was, quite literally, the creation of a safe space. You could hypothetically entertain an argument about whether graffiti constitutes speech or is simply vandalism, but that would require coming to the insurmountable conversational road block that goes something like, “graffiti is vandalism because we say it is.” The mere act of spraying paint onto a surface is not inherently malicious, but dominant American culture in the 1980s and 90s decided that it was, so it was.

So in 1989, New York managed to completely clean or remove all the tagged train cars and transit property, citing safety concerns as a primary reason for doing so according to news coverage, including this Times piece, at the time.

“’When you’re sitting in a graffiti-covered car, you don’t feel safe,’ said the president of the Transit Auhtority, David L. Gunn,” Times reporter Constance L. Hays wrote. “When the trains were covered with names, codes, and epithets, ‘there was a sense that the system was out of control,’ he added.”

Hays also got comment from then-Mayor Ed Koch, who expressed pleasure at the removal and said, “Graffiti on the walls of trains or subway stations create bad karma.”

Some would argue that using the preservation of the MTA’s karma as reason to spend public money to hire thousands of workers to clean trains is both hilariously ironic, and rather flimsy. Perhaps those sheltered New York subway riders should have just been able to confront a point of view different from their own, rather than cower in fear simply because it was not presented to them in a way they found tasteful. The graffiti was removed from inside trains (a quasi-public space, like the University of Missouri’s quad) to make riders, specifically those who found spray-painted messages to be inherently menacing, feel safe.

And let’s not forget the tumultuous history of hip-hop and its only very recent inclusion into the status quo. The 1990s were infamous for imposing the views and values of white society onto what was deemed appropriate music.

Like in 1990 when Jack Thompson, an attorney for the American Family Association, then-governor of Florida Bob Martinez, and Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro joined forces and, with the help of County Circuit Judge Mel Grossman, deemed 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty as They Wanna Be legally “obscene.” This designation led to the arrests of two members of the rap group, as well as the arrests of record store owners who sold their work.

Or how, in the same year, Mitch Ahlerich who then served as the Assistant Director of the FBI, sent a letter to Ruthless Records, a label that represented the infamous and polarizing rap group, N.W.A.. The letter complained about “Fuck Tha Police,” and was used as a catalyst for a pro-cop movement with those critical of law enforcement as primary targets. The foremost of those targets were the members of N.W.A. themselves, who found their ability to tour around the country undercut because of a lack of security. Sure, those officers have the right to want to refuse to be subjected to an environment in which they feel unsafe because of the speech of four rappers, but is that not the same coddling that allegedly runs rampant on college campuses today?

Or even how, after the state of Arizona rejected a proposal to make Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday a state holiday in 1990, Public Enemy’s “By The Time I Get to Arizona,” released the following year, was played once on MTV before being banned. The censoring of speech orchestrated by MTV was, undoubtedly, to create a safer, more pleasing brand of MTV for its viewers and listeners—but safety for whom? Safety for fans of Public Enemy, or for people who would find the band’s criticism of the state of Arizona distasteful? 

The examples are nearly endless.

Augusta National Golf Club refused to admit black golfers as members before 1990, and prohibited women from becoming members until 2012. What is a golf club that refuses membership to black men or any women but a safe space for white men?

Even this past week, Twitter decided to replace its “favorites” category and star icons with “likes” and hearts, respectively. The rationale, according to the social media website itself, was that “likes” and hearts would make Twitter “easier and more rewarding to use” and less “confusing, especially to newcomers.” Though it seems like a trivial example, it was consequential enough to Twitter—and more importantly, those who invest in Twitter—to overhaul the entire system on its site, app, and third-party clients.

Safe spaces are nothing new. What is, however, is what is considered to be worthy of protection. Very, very slowly, more people are beginning to value and safeguard those who are not considered conventionally worthy by the mainstream. The people who worry about the effects of safe spaces on college campuses would be more intellectually honest in asserting that they are merely fearful of being perceived as threatening.

Unfortunately, doing away with safe spaces would only be coddling those people, or worse, it would only weaponize the concept of “non-safe spaces.”

[published for Slant News on 11/10/2015]


Fuck The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon debuted on Broadway in March of 2011. Four years, $357.2 million, and nine Tony Awards later, it remains one of the most successful plays in recent memory. I still had not seen it, and was given three tickets to a show at The Kennedy Center last Friday. Two close friends and I sat inside the theater and watched The Book of Mormon in its entirety. 

Fuck that play.

The Book of Mormon, in addition to being duller satire than what creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker—of South Park fame—are capable of, is one of the most racist pieces of media I have ever seen. Reactions to this conclusion will undoubtedly be that I am someone who is unfunny and cannot take a joke.

First, fuck you, I'm hilarious.

Secondly, as someone who has binge-watched eight seasons of South Park, I knew what I was getting into, and I'm fond of Parker and Stone's brand of comedy. In fact, South Park features some of the best, most biting satire and criticism we have today—that includes jokes that are made at the expense of black people. The Book of Mormon is different.

I walked into the theater knowing practically nothing about the play. I only knew that it was about Mormonism and that it was supposed to be hysterical. So when protagonists Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two Mormon missionaries, were ordered to travel to Uganda to perform baptisms (yes, there are spoilers, but the whole point is you shouldn't watch this garbage), I anxiously shifted in my seat and glanced at my friends, who also looked wary.

But we kept watching—I imagined the tickets were pretty expensive, we got dressed up, and hey, maybe it would turn around. Sure enough, when the two Elders bode farewell to their families at the Salt Lake City airport, they were surprised with a performance of a black woman in a headdress and body paint. Elder Price's father called it "A real Lion King send-off." The woman revealed that not only was she not African, but she had also never been to the continent. The tongue-in-cheek moment was funny and offered a critique of the white characters' view of African people. This was the type of satire that made South Park golden. This was the last time I would laugh for the rest of the night.

Price and Cunningham land in Uganda to discover that it is not at all like Salt Lake City. The Ugandan people are writhing in poverty, disease, and a general obliviousness about their condition. Sure, there is a musical number in which they all curse God for making their lives so miserable—much to the dismay of the Mormon missionaries there to spread the word of their benevolent god—but the ignorance of the villagers is on full display. One man thinks having sex with frogs will cure his AIDS, one woman thinks that a typewriter is used to send text messages to her friends, and the local doctor complains about maggots in his scrotum so frequently that if he had any other lines, they were forgettable. Every negative stereotype about black people—we are ignorant, dirty, violent, sexually insatiable—manifests itself in the Ugandan characters.

Fuck that play.

Though discouraged by their new surroundings, Price and Cunningham are reassured by their fellow missionaries and set out to convert Ugandan people to the Church of Latter Day Saints the next morning. The entire village is then confronted by the one-eyed warlord, General Butt-Fucking Naked (seriously). The General terrorizes the village, promising to circumcise any and all women he comes across. When a man starts to speak up to defend the women of the village, the General shoots him in the head, splattering Cunningham and Price with blood. This, while visceral and gruesome, did absolutely nothing to propel the plot or character construction. The man who was killed was nameless, and no one even mourned the fact that he was so unceremoniously gunned down. It's not even like we needed proof that the General was violent and malicious—he was literally cruising around looking for women to mutilate. This act of violence against a black body was totally and completely gratuitous. For the price of admission, I was allowed to watch a predominantly white audience as they watched a predominantly white cast watch black people pretend to kill each other. 

Fuck that play.

The Book of Mormon does not just belittle black men, and because there are only two white women briefly featured in the entire play, any and all misogyny is unapologetically directed toward black women. For Nabulungi, a villager and the most prominent black woman in the play, this meant that she was the play's principal love interest, and consequently bore the brunt of being the main subject of the male gaze. It was with Nabulungi who Elder Cunningham allegedly became enamored, though he was not so enamored that he ever remembered her name, referring to her as "Neosporin," and "Jon Bon Jovi." It was Nabulungi who Cunningham promised to baptize and whisk away from the perils of Uganda to the purported sanctuary of Salt Lake City. She was the subject of the play's "white savior" joke that actually paid off ultimately. The missionaries do not rescue the Ugandan people, and they hardly improve the quality of their lives. Had the joke stopped there, it would have been great, and I could say something nice about how the play didn't ruin the one prominent female character. But it didn't. 

Instead, Nabulungi's baptism, performed by Cunningham, was treated as her losing her virginity. Setting aside the very real critiques about the very idea of virginity—namely, that it doesn't actually exist and is simply another patriarchal tool to control women—juxtaposing religion and sex here is inappropriate. There is a long, documented history of white men colonizing black and brown people in places like Uganda, using rape as a tool to spread Christianity. Was Nabulungi raped on stage? Perhaps not, but there are better ways to communicate that she and Cunningham were romantically entangled. Invoking a history of the sexual violation and manipulation of black people at the hands of white people spreading religion is just wholly unnecessary for the construction of a play about Mormonism. 

The hypersexualization doesn't stop with Nabulungi. During a play that the villagers perform for the senior-most Elder visiting the camp, they, as implicitly instructed by Elder Cunningham, simulate Joseph Smith having sex with a frog. To do so, the villagers used dildos that could not have been any shorter than two feet in length. Why is the constant hypersexualization of the black body necessary to tell a story about Mormonism? Why must the old trope that black men are more sexually potent be present in a story about Mormon missionaries? If this was satire what larger societal truth was revealed? What was the punch line?

Worse still, the resolution of the story is practically non-existent. The play's villain was dispatched in a way that was hokey and forgettable, the Ugandan people remained flat, uninteresting characters, and Elders Price and Cunningham were sent back to the U.S. without accomplishing much of anything. This play only barely had a plot. The only payoff at all is that the Mormon Elders learn that the actual word from Joseph Smith is not as crucial as the intentions behind the words, and that they should strive to implement his message in their daily lives. So after watching over two hours of highlighting the stupidity, poverty, uncleanliness, and violence that consumes the Ugandan villagers, we reach the end of the play only to find that a bunch of white boys traveled from Utah to Africa to find themselves.

Fuck that play. 

As my friends and I stood to leave the theater at the start of curtain call, I felt my stomach twist as theater-goers glared. Yes, what we did is typically considered a faux pas, but I was more upset that we seemed to be the only unsettled people in the theater. And as we walked back to the train station in near silence, all I could think was: why didn't anyone say anything? Theater tickets are expensive and that undoubtedly contributes to who is granted access to plays in the first place. But certainly the law of averages would suggest that someone—black, white, or otherwise—would have seen this play and felt even mildly disgusted. I was even willing to assume that I just was totally ignorant of theater culture, and that The Book of Mormon's race problems had been thoroughly noted and discussed.

Here is an excerpt from Ben Brantley's review in the New York Times:

"On my fourth visit to 'The Book of Mormon' on a recent night, the show still had me at 'Hello,' the first word of the first song in this long-running musical. I had anticipated a certain falling off of religious fervor and discipline in this ebullient satire about naive Mormon missionaries in Uganda, written and composed by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone, directed by Mr. Parker and Casey Nicholaw, also its choreographer. Three years is a long time for a peppy musical to stay peppy."

"Peppy" is simply not how I would describe a play that saved all of its subtlety to critique Mormonism, and employed nearly every crude joke imaginable about blackness for Ugandan characters who were barely more than props. Quite frankly, there is nothing about this play that required it to take place in Uganda, and at that point, its choice as a setting seems to be nothing more than convenient cover to legitimize racist jokes. Brantley watched this play and the denigration of black people four times, and then plagiarized "Jerry Maguire." The former is worse than the latter, but both are pretty terrible. 

According to the Washington Post's Peter Marks, "The marvel of 'The Book of Mormon' is that even as it profanes some serious articles of faith, its spirit is anything but mean. The ardently devout and comedically challenged are sure to disagree." I'm assuming that if your criticisms of the play are not about its lampooning of Mormonism that you fall into the "comedically challenged" category. Marks is actually correct. I find it challenging to find anything about this play comedic, precisely because I don't think minstrelsy is funny. But four years of commercial success prove that some, namely wealthy theater aficionados, enjoy minstrel shows. 

You can, if you choose, balk at the categorization of this as minstrelsy, but the fact remains that so many of the jokes in The Book of Mormon come at the expense of poor, sick, ailing black people. These jokes are rarely a means to a comedic end, but an end in and of themselves. We currently exist in a state of emergency. One in which black people are killed by the police at alarming rates; one in which black women and women of color make less money than white and black men, and white women; one in which more black people are in prison than were in enslaved in 1850. At a time in which black pain can be so easily quantified, who are the people who would find black pain on the stage laughable?

Some reviews, like one from Janice C. Simpson for The Root and NPR, criticized The Book of Mormon's treatment of race. However, those were dwarfed by all of the overwhelmingly positive reviews, not to mention all of the Tony Awards. How have we allowed this play to exist and flourish for four years without saying anything about its racism?

To watch The Book of Mormon and not feel a twinge of disgust is to truly lack sympathy for black people. There is no wiggle room, no gray area. If you laughed and gave this play rave reviews (some of which failed to mention race at all), you and I watched the same desecration of black life with vastly different reactions. I watched someone pretend to shoot a black person in the head and cringed, you laughed. I groaned at black people being manipulated in the name of Christianity, you chuckled.

Fuck The Book of Mormon. 

[originally published for Slant News on 7/29/2015]