book reviews, human rights, media

Sweat the Small Stuff: Lessons in Reverse Racism from Evaristo’s Blonde Roots

Book Review of Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

Riverhead Books, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59448-863-4

Paperback, 269 pp., $15

When I (first) read this: January-March 2016

My rating: 5/5 stars

My (spoiler-free) review:

In her provocative 2009 satire Blonde Roots, Bernardine Evaristo turns the transatlantic slave trade on its head and creates an imaginary world of reverse racism where “Aphrikans,” or “blaks,” enslave “Europanes,” or “whytes.” Continue reading

human rights, music, psychology

How Not to Talk About “Black Self-Hatred”

I have been studying abroad at the University of Cape Town for five months now, but lectures have been cancelled for over two months due to #FeesMustFall protests. In the past two months, though, I’ve definitely learned more about South Africa and its racist education system than I did in the other three. The situation is very complex and I won’t try to explain it fully here, but I will say one of the things that pisses me off most is the narrative fed to the outside world by South African universities and the ANC government. They paint the protesting students–who are predominantly black–as childish, violent, and inhuman. And people don’t often question it. Even the New York Times regurgitated President Zuma’s propaganda twice before finally posting an opinion piece from a Wits professor who tried to portray the complexity of the situation.

I tell you all this because the racial tensions here in Cape Town informed the following essay. It is my final paper for an English class I’m taking; I chose to write about the black self-hatred theory, racist arguments about “black-on-black crime” in the United States, and flawed critiques of Kendrick Lamar, Ralph Ellison, and Black Lives Matter. But my main points carry over all too easily into South Africa, where the phrase “black-on-black” originated in 1986 and where students of color are still blamed for a racist education system that continuously denigrates them and tries to spit them out.

So here’s what I wrote:

Continue reading

feminism, human rights

The Lesbian Mizrahi: Unlocking the Israeli Identity Crisis

I’d been meaning to write something about activism in Israel-Palestine for a while, mainly because I knew nothing about it and writing is how I learn best. But it wasn’t until the end of 2015 that I finally had the time and motivation to get it done. This was largely because I’m privileged enough to be enrolled at an amazing research institution where I had the opportunity to take a course with Paul Amar, hear a talk from Jasbir Puar, and access the Davidson Library, where there is an impressive number of books on Israel-Palestine and queer feminism.

The following paper is the result of all my research. It is essentially a review of activism in Israel-Palestine from the 1960s to the early 2000s, with particular attention to lesbian Mizrahim and their work, so if you are already familiar with this topic you will likely find nothing new of interest. However, if you (like me last year) don’t know a lot about it, this could be a helpful introduction, and I encourage you to check out the sources I listed at the end of the post.

This piece is by no means perfect, and I should mention that most lesbian Mizrahim are not anti-Zionist activists, so this post does not in any way speak to the whole group. However, I did my best to examine and address the multifaceted identities (and humanity) of this particular segment of the people of Israel-Palestine, where all too often only one side of the story is told.

The Lesbian Mizrahi: Unlocking the Israeli Identity Crisis Continue reading

feminism, human rights

what feminists & anti-feminists have in common

In the past few months, I have become increasingly aware of the two seemingly irreconcilable narratives about feminism online, created by and for self-proclaimed “feminists” and “anti-feminists,” respectively. As a feminist myself I cannot claim impartiality in this conversation, but considering that there isn’t much real “conversation” happening anyway–at least not on Twitter or in the blogosphere–I think it can’t hurt to clear up a few misunderstandings, even if many anti-feminists will not read beyond this point.

Compared to the worldwide epidemic of gender-based violence, the seemingly never-ending battle over reproductive rights, the still very real gender pay gap, and the ever-elusive Equal Rights Amendment (to name just a few examples), arguments on the web are a small facet of the women’s rights movement. Still, I think they could reveal a lot about what “feminism” means in public discourse today, particularly because feminists and anti-feminists often claim to be fighting for the same thing. From their names alone, of course, you’d expect the two groups to be diametrically opposed. The Oxford English Dictionary defines them as such:

feminist: “An advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women.”

anti-feminist: “One opposed to women or to feminism; a person (usually a man) who is hostile to sexual equality [more correctly, gender equality] or to the advocacy of women’s rights.”

And yet many members of both parties claim that they are fighting for gender equality and that the other group is against it. The #antifeminism hashtag on Twitter is full of statements like “Feminism or equality…pick one.” (I’m not talking about anti-feminists who actively hate women, by the way; they are not worth anyone’s time.) So what’s really going on here?

Continue reading

human rights, media

top 15 historical dramas of the 21st century

Thinking back on movies I’ve watched recently, I noticed that my favorites tend to include that all-too-familiar qualifier, “based on a true story.” Because of this, I have watched a lot of those films. You’ve probably seen at least a few; historical dramas span a wide range of topics, including movies like GoodFellas, JFK, Lincoln, and Malcolm X. What they share, though, is what I love most about them (aside from cinematography): that charged feeling of knowing some version of this could’ve actually happened. Those that I count among my absolute favorites tend to chronicle human rights struggles, so you can expect the majority of these movies to be political.

I didn’t like most of the lists I found online. I don’t mean to discount them; many of the rankings were thoughtful and helpful. But they also tended to be very broad, “all-time best” lists, full of old classics that I was expecting to see, like Raging Bull and Schindler’s List. Movies from this century were sparse at best. So this is my version, isolated to 2000 onward and limited to 15 for the sake of my sanity. Continue reading

book reviews, writing

The Signiconic & Negation in The Familiar by Mark Z. Danielewski

Critical Analysis of The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski

Pantheon, 2015

ISBN: 978-0375714948

Paperback, 880 pp., $25


This book is a phenomenal start to an in-progress series that will eventually have 27 parts (Danielewski is currently at work on the third). It will be published on May 12, 2015, and you can preorder it here. (In my opinion it’s worth the money, both for reasons you can read below if you decide to stick with me and for the brilliant colorful artwork, high-quality binding/pages, etcetera.) There are some general thematic spoilers in this essay if you’re concerned about that, but the actual events of the novel are not given away. For a pdf version, which contains better formatting and all of the characters’ fonts, click here.

 The Signiconic & Negation in The Familiar Continue reading

music, psychology

on music: don’t just listen

Today, the majority of the world listens to music, but the making of it has become something of an expert field over the past few centuries. We imply it in our culture constantly, from American Idol to the radio. The music we listen to must be worthy of our selective ears, and this makes the playing of it much more than the casual family event that it used to be. Music production has become an endeavor in itself, something you can make a career out of. There is nothing wrong with this; I’m not trying to bag on the music industry. I could probably write an entire post dedicated to issues with music and copyright today, and this is not it. I’m simply drawing attention to an issue I became aware of recently.

In This Is Your Brain on Music, musician and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin points out that “music listening, performance, and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identified, and involve nearly every neural subsystem.” Music is, in short, a fulfilling experience, something that exercises both the brain and the body, and the sad fact is that only a small fraction of people the world over play a musical instrument. In the United States today, this is probably around 6%. Of course, the number of people within this fraction who actually create music is much smaller.

So why should you play an instrument? I’ll give you a list, just to make things easier on you. (Sources for this information are at the bottom of this post.) Continue reading

book reviews, media, psychology

5 books that changed me & 5 that will

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about influence. I participated in a psych study last week in which I was asked how much I thought simple decisions–what class to take, what movie to watch, etcetera–influenced my future. At first I was certain the answer was hardly at all, but when I really thought about it I realized how wrong I was. The English class I took last quarter, for instance, had a huge impact on me and how I see myself, and if I hadn’t watched Don Jon last week I would be far less enlightened about film’s capacity to reveal double standards. (Watch that movie if you haven’t yet, please.) Books, of course, are some of the most important societal influences we have, so I thought it would be interesting to make a list of books that significantly influenced my life and my decisions. Continue reading

college life, psychology, writing

on success & selfishness

The past few weeks have been incredible, in a less-than-adequate word–I’ll explain the details in this post–but all the great things that have come may way lately have also made me think a lot about the nature of success and intelligence in general. What I mean by this is something I became more aware of after reading (and listening to) a lot of David Foster Wallace: the inherent selfishness of, well, everybody. And yeah, really I’m just talking about myself here, but I’m talking about my selfishness, so there’s some irony for you. Continue reading