Uber Op-Ed

Here is the link to an opinion piece I wrote about Uber for the Digital Journal…
http://m.digitaljournal.com/life/driving/op-ed-toronto-s-love-and-hate-relationship-with-uber/article/445936

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The Long and Painful History of Attacks on Black Churches

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The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Charleston, South Carolina was the scene of a horific attack late Wednesday. The Emanuel AME also known as 'Mother Emanuel' is the oldest AME church in the South and home to a rich history of involvement in the civil rights movement.

Waking up this morning my newsfeeds were inundated with the words ‘Charleston’ ‘hate crime’ ‘mass shooting’ ‘on the loose’.
I didn’t want to know what it all meant. I’m fatigued, I’m enraged, I’m devastatingly sad. Mostly because this isn’t the first time a sacred place of worship has become home to a nightmare.
The Atlantic published a piece outlining the history of attacks on black churches. Read it.

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/thugs-and-terrorists-have-plagued-black-churches-for-generations/396212/

As the POTUS took to the podium looking  beleaguered and worn down early this afternoon, he pointed out the other glaring issue at hand, gun violence.
America, you have a problem. A problem you refuse to address properly. Whether its a kindergarten class or a Wednesday night church group the frequency in which mass shootings happen on your soil is a statistical anomaly of epic proportion. You should be funding think tanks and grass roots activities aimed at getting  guns off the streets and put in place an immediate moratorium on the manufacturing of domestic weapons. Your lives depend on it.

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Dope: Bands, Bangers and Bitcoins

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Tomorrow the Dope Movie will be officially released in select  theatres. I had the pleasure of attending an advanced screening last week and was very impressed by this stylized coming of age story.

Dope is successful because it is a careful amalgam of hip hop, hope, humour and heartache.

Hiphop- Dope‘s soundtrack is one of the best I have heard in a movie since 8 Mile. A blend of classic 90s rap mixed with a little new stuff creates a high energy musical ride. I found myself singing along, nodding my head and tapping my feet through out.

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Hope- The movie follows three high school seniors who live in Inglewood California, an area known for drugs and gangs. Our trio arent typical kids. With a deep love for old skool hiphop. Malcolm, Diggy and Jib have a band that plays punk funk and they spend their extra moments scouring record stores and finding vintage ‘hiphop’ apparel. Malcolm hopes to leave Inglewood and go to Harvard.

Humour- part Boyz in the Hood, part Super Bad, Dope employs humour to break up some of the tension involved with living in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in America. Dope also doesnt miss a chance to use humour to nuance the awkward teen moments we have all experienced.

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Heartache- Dope points out that although a neighbourhood may be bad that doesnt mean its residents are, or that everyone in the ‘hood’ aspires to be a dope boy or gang member. The last lines of the film have Malcolm pose a question. “Why do I want to go to Harvard? If I was white would you even have to ask?” I guess Malcolm is implying that if he were white he would be more entitlted to a Harvard education, or that becuase he is black from Inglewood he must have nefarious intentions to want  to study at the ivy league school. While the rest of  the movie was a feel good coming of age story, the last lines rattle you back to reality. A reality where Malcolm might be shot by a police officer for being black in the wrong area. Or worse the reality that a decade or two ago Malcolm, in his late teen early adult years would be a statistical anomaly in Inglewood.

Dope is a great movie it gives you all the feels but dont forget movies like this aren’t just a 2 hour entertainmement ride. They are a glimpse into cultures and places that people often dont go or cant be bothered to learn about. Dope is a film that needs to celebrated.

**Malcolm has an affinity for Bitcoins and talks about them endlessly in the film. Dope will be the first movie that allows theatre goers the opportunity to purchase tickets with Bitcoins. How dope is that.

Dope is dope.

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Black like me: the problem with Rachel’s identity

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Rachel Dolezal came under fire last week for misrepresenting her race. Dolezal was appointed president of Spokane’s NAACP chapter in January 2015.

It’s been almost a week since Rachel Dolezal first made headlines for her race, or lack thereof. In the aftermath of Dolezal’s massive decade long lie two camps have emerged. Those who are deeply resentful and hurt by Doelzal’s fabrication and those who applaud her for taking on a struggle that isn’t explicitly hers. Dolezal was the president of the NAACP’s Spokane chapter until she resigned from the position on Monday. At first this appeared to be a onetime deception, but as more facts were revealed it grew beyond  the duplicity of one woman and ultimately has immersed the globe with questions of race and identity.
Can someone be transracial?
Early on the internet erupted in debate. Some saying Rachel is ‘transracial’ much like Caitlyn Jenner is transgender. That is absolutely false. Transracial is not and cannot be a thing, simply because unlike gender race is a social construct. Meaning, race means nothing without societal input, it is society that defines race. While gender is something that happens independent of societal inputs.

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Al Jolson a vaudevillian actor from the 1920s gained notoriety for his controversial ‘black face’ routines.

Is this modern day Black Face?
This one is a tad more nuanced. Yes and no. Did Rachel don a spray tan and weave with nefarious intentions, no. Black Face has a history of disenfranchisement and ridicule as it promoted stereotypes and marginalization while simultaneously pigeon holing a race of people. I don’t think Dolezal had these intentions. But by getting an orange spray tan and buying a ‘black girl’ weave she ascribed  to antiquated stereotypes. Race isn’t something you can take on and off.

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John Howard Griffin, author and journalist explored the American South in the 1960s after under going medical procedures to darken his skin tone.

In 1961, author and journalist John Howard Griffin conducted his own racial experiment, he used medical procedures, pills and skin darkening creams and lotions to disguise himself as a black man so he could see what it was like first-hand for black people living in the American South. What resulted is the nonfiction book Black Like Me. While Black Like Me is informative it begs the question, why? Did he believe that what black people expressed was false? Or was his ‘black face’ an attempt to educate those who were so racially divided they disbelieved the black experience?
I think Dolezal’s attempt to racialize herself falls closer to Griffin’s experience than the blatant black faced actors who meant to poke fun at black America.
However, Dolezal knowingly perpetuated a lie for her own benefit. Her activism and advocacy could have been achieved from within her whiteness and now every good thing she has done is accompanied with an asterisk that sullies its credibility and taints its goal. She also may have faked alleged hate crimes, including an incident were a letter filled with derogatory content was found in the Spokane NAACP PO box.

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In 2011 Crayola introduced a line of Multicultural Crayons to help boost self esteem in children.

Like I said earlier, race and especially blackness is not something you can choose to wear when it behoves you. In her first interview since the scandal emerged Dolezal said, she has self identified as black since she was five years old, when she first drew herself with “a brown crayon”. Like the Church Lady used to say, “Well isn’t that special”. That still gives her no right or license to falsely represent herself as black, offer to speak (for a fee) on the black female experience or to be as bold to say you know the struggle and fears of black mothers. A five year old child hardly knows the complexities of the black experience enough to identify with it.
Dolezal found no issue self identifying as white in 2002 when she launched a lawsuit against Howard University for alleged racial discrimination. The irony is almost unbearable. I guess that day she would have self identified with the peach crayon.
Her lies weren’t mere misrepresentations though; she created fantastical tales of living in a teepee in Africa and hunting for food. Claims her Caucasian parents living in Montana assert are all lies.

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Shortly after the story broke Twitter ignited with the hashtag #AskRachel which included tweets and memes utilizing the hashtag to ask Rachel to answer questions associated with popular black culture. As the weekend drew to a close the hashtag #RachelDolezalMemoirTitles started trending. Users cleverly employed puns, word play and satire to create fictional titles for a biography of Dolezal’s life. While it seemed to be all in fun and jest it raised the question of whether Dolezal will now profit financially from her lies. Dolezal’s artwork was being sold for 5000 dollars late Friday afternoon and by Monday a rumored tell all book and  movie were feared to be all within the realm of possibilities.

Over the weekend another angle emerged. The Dolezal story seemed to entrench another real issue, Shadeism. An ‘expert analyst’ on CNN brought up valid points that I had feared would soon surface. Rachel technically passed for mixed or light skinned and as the black woman on my TV pointed out society is often more receptive to ‘fairer skinned’ black people because they are closer to white.   What Rachel’s lies did was cause an even greater suspicion of light skinned women. Women like myself who have lived a black experience because no matter how light I appear I was always black enough to face ridicule and alienation growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood. Women who chose to have children with  black men and whose children’s skin colour range from dark to light. She has done us a great disservice.

In another twist of irony I watched Michaela Angela Davis, an accomplished author, activist and all around phenomenon address Ashley Banfield on CNN, Davis who could pass for  Dolezal’s older sister [perhaps Dolezal’s racial idol] pointed out the extreme privilege Dolezal exerts by moving in and out of ‘blackness’. While the reverse is utterly impossible. Davis described Dolezal’s actions as, “white privilege on a spectacular level.” And isn’t it? What a luxury to be able to change your race at will.

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Left, Michaela Angela Davis, writer and daughter of civil rights activist Angela Davis. (Right) Rachel Dolezal the white woman who portrayed herself as a black woman for a decade.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart also had insight into the scandal. Jessica Williams eloquently said “we don’t need oppression cosplay. We need allies not replacements.” Dolezal’s black performance is a direct insult to the many white allies that have fought for civil rights and social justice issues. Many of the Freedom Riders were young white people passionate about civil rights, who boarded busses alongside African Americans to fight against oppressively obsolete laws the South refused to give up.
Transracial doesn’t exist but cultural appropriation does and that is what Rachel Dolezal has done.  Her Tuesday morning interview was insincere, confused and offered no real explanation , worse of all she offered no apology for the fabricated façade she used to dupe those around her.

You may notice I didn’t mention her four adoptive brothers who are African American. That is because I give no credence to the argument that racial experience is transferable. She may be able to sympathize with black experience on a very personal level but she is unable to empathize because she can never live the experience.
Ultimately she has done more bad than good, period.  Let’s tally it up.

Negative effects: light skin women suspicious, transracial maybe a thing? , discredits her own work, divides black community, disrespects white allies, she may have broken the law by reporting false hate crimes and she make money.
Good she caused: she marched in rallies, she got NAACP enrolment up in Spokane and balanced finances.

In the court of public opinion you be the judge.

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Black is Blue in a rainbow world: How a film changed my perspective

One of my dearest and bestest friends came out to me last fall, that moment has forever changed my life.

I’ll preface this with the fact I am extremely open minded. Im a left leaning, 30-something black woman so understanding the plight of the down trodden, abused, and misunderstood is easy for me.
After he told me he was gay, LGBT rights were no longer an issue I merely supported, it was now an issue I was deeply passionate about. Beacuse he, my dear friend, deserves every happiness, right, and privilege that we are all granted.

As a heterosexual woman I have always felt comfortable within my sexuality. I may not have always felt comfortable in my own (tan) skin, but sexuality was different.
So this past Thursday when our group FB convo swithced from critiquing pop-culture phenomenon, to an invite to view Black Boxes (a collection of black film maker shorts at this years Inside Out LGBT film festival) I immediately accepted. Partly, out of sheer intrigue and mostly because I have a genuine desire to support my friend’s new desire to embrace his sexuality with open arms. Plus film fests are sort of our thing so I was excited to have another fun evening with my favourite journalism school friends.

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caption="Cheryl Dunye (far left) director of Black is Blue, Alysha Seriani (middle) director of Soak answer questions from a festival staff member.

Black Boxes started in typical Bell Tiff Lightbox fashion, a brief directorial introduction, a round of applause and the show began. The first two films, Soak and Vow of Silence are powerful explorations into the impact of silence and solitude. Villanelle, the third film is an impactful historical account of the decimation HIV/AIDS has had on the  black, gay community in New York city.

Better Man depicts one man’s struggle between an intolerant religion and his desires to be himself. And All That Is Left Unsaid is a woman’s homage to her mother.

All of the films were uniquely diverse and poignant, but the fourth film, Black is Blue shook me to my core and left me questioning my sexual identity.

Black is a fine man. With broad shoulders, muscular arms, long dredlocks and a killer smile. He is the man I would fawn over in a nightclub from a distance, he is the guy on the street I would give a double, even triple take and then smile coyly at. Black is a manly, man. Black is a transman.

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And as I stared at the screen at this beautiful specimen of manhood, I was confused. Am I lesbian? Do I want to pursue transmen? Does any of this real matter?
After the film my small group had a discussion. And a friend who self identifies as ‘metrosexual’ said “I was confused, he used to be a woman? I was uncomfortable” And in that moment I realized homophobia, transphobia all the phobias are a manifestation of us being uncomfortable. It doesnt fit in our neatly packaged boxes so its uncomfortable.  So Black cant just be a man, he has to be a man defined by our uncomfortableness. I hate that.

I was no less attracted to him when I found out he was born a woman and I dont know what that says about me and I dont care. The pursuit of love, attraction, desire aren’t black and white, they are a muddied grey area that has moments of crystal clear clarity and at other times is an enveloping cavernous darkness that we fall into with nothing but hope. Black seemed lonely, a deep lonliness that is not understandable to those who haven’t had to navigate their gender like a mapless road in a foreign country. A lonliness, I cant fathom but could easily identify. His melancholy seemed to stretch out of an inability to reconcile his inner-identity with his new body, or rather society’s inability to see him beyond the rigid boundaries  we have entrenched gender with. 

I applaud the film makers and actors in the collection of shorts I watched. Your vulnerability is an inspiration to all.

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A review of the documentary: Live from New York!

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Making its Canadian premiere at Toronto’s 2015 Hot Docs festival, Live from New York!  proves laughter really is the best medicine in the face of fear, angst and even confusion. ‘Live from New York its Saturday night’ is one of the most famous and recognisable phrases in the pop culture lexicon. For 40 years Saturday Night Live has allowed Americans, and the rest of the world to laugh at themselves. Like that old saying, ‘a little laughter goes a long way’ and it can evidently stand the test of time too.

I pride myself as a self proclaimed SNL aficionado, a trait passed down from my mother through a funny bone I think.  Some of my fondest memories of my mom include staying up late on Saturdays eating chips and dip while laughing at Toonces the driving cat, Wayne and Garth or Jack Handy’s Deep Thoughts. I even own the Trivial Pursuit SNL edition, although after my mom passed I have never found anyone well versed enough to play with. Now with over 25 years of SNL experience under my belt I was a little skeptical that the new documentary Live from New York! would offer me any new insight into a show I know so well and watch so devoutly, it is almost sacred.

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From left to right: Hot docs volunteer, Director Bao Nguyen, and producers, JL Pomeroy, Sarah Cowperthwaite discuss the documentary Live from New York! after a viewing. Nguyen’s favourite SNL sketch is Gap Girls, Pomeroy doesn’t have one and Cowperthwaite likes Kristin Wigs Tiny Hands character.

Although there were no great epiphanies in the documentary (that would be difficult for a show that has been running for so long, hence my skepticism) what I was able to glean from my viewing was the deep resonance that SNL evokes in so many. The major theme which is easy to spot -even easier when the director and producers point it out at a Q and A afterward- is one of cultural relevance. How does SNL remain culturally relevant?

Despite that same question being asked in a plethora of ways over the four decades SNL has been on the air, this documentary was able to highlight the importance of the YouTube generation being able to watch SNL on their own terms. Andy Samberg, a SNL veteran said “[the show] is great for YouTube because it is essentially lots of little clips.” The ability to morph with the digital landscape is crucial for any landmark network program and SNL has been able to adapt with that shift and may actually have benefited like never before. How many times have you watched an SNL sketch on Facebook or Twitter well after Saturday night?

 Live from New York! touches on some of the broader issues that SNL has grappled with over the years; like lack of diversity, sparse female characters and political backlash, but seems to shy away from the micro issues of egos and rivalries. As the official 40th anniversary documentary Live from New York! is true to form and focuses more of a celebratory lens on the ground breaking show than an investigative microscope.

It is a year of milestones for SNL, not only is it the 40th anniversary, there are now five black cast members, the most diverse cast the show has ever had. In one of the most poignant moments of the film original cast member Garett Morris recounts the deep loneliness he felt and the difficulties he had in getting writers to write material for him, the lone black man. This heart-wrenching moment is countered by new cast mate Leslie Jones, recalling her greatest SNL achievement to date and the backlash she received from the black community. Jones one of the few black women to ever receive cast member status was quick to point out that despite the controversy around her Weekend Update editorial it was really a celebratory moment for black women who are rarely ever seen seated behind the iconic desk. Live from New York! briefly touches on the delicacy of trying to authentically deal with racial issues, but never seems to pierce more than the superficial skin of the issue.

TMZ reports on the online response Leslie Jones’ editorial comments on SNL’s Weekend Update received.

Like the legendary show it offers a glimpse in to, Live from New York!  is (only) a succinct 90 minutes. However, it beautifully captures the chaotic whirlwind a first time host or new addition must feel becoming a part of this quick moving magic machine. This is most evident when we are whisked around behind the scenes to meet set builders, costume designers, booth operators, and the woman responsible for those distinctively whimsical photographs of the hosts that are displayed going to, and coming from commercial.

Live from New York! is an all encompassing experience that briefly recounts the history of this New York institution. But more successfully evidences the cultural relevance and importance of a satirical comedy show that skillfully pokes fun at those who take themselves too seriously, while simultaneously expressing the absurdity of society.

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Basking in the Basquiat

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Jean Michel Basquiat acclaimed NYC street artist of the 1980’s.

Artist and visionary Jean Michel Basquiat rocketed to fame in the early 1980’s,  after his ‘Samo’ and signature three-pronged crown street tags gained attention from those on the fringes of the bustling New York arts scene. An unconventional artist Basquiat made canvases out of garbage he found in the streets, any and everything was a potential canvas. A discarded door, a soiled piece of fabric embodied a duality that only Basquiat saw as he scampered through downtown Manhattan.

It is hard not to think of Jimi Hendrix when Jean Michel Basquiat is mentioned. The parallels are eerie; both were tortured artists trying to express their world, their truth, in a new revolutionary way. Both were denied acceptance by their immediate black peers and sadly, both died at 27 due to drug overdoses.  However, both have found fame, and acceptance posthumously evidencing that their creative genius and brilliance was before its time.

Now is the Time is the name of Basquiat exhibit on display at Toronto’s AGO, and how timely and prophetic the title is. Many of Basquiat’s most acclaimed works bear an untarnished timelessness and relevance that makes them authentic in the most painful of ways.

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Defacement. 1983, Jean Michel Basquiat

After the death of fellow graffiti artist Michael Stewart at the hands of a New York city police officer  Basquiat created a piece on canvas called Defacement. In it two red faced police officers brandish batons over the head of a faceless black figure, the word ‘Defacemento?’ is scrolled at the top. Basquiat was deeply affected by the murder of Michael Stewart and famously said, “It could have been me.” Much like the Black Lives Matter movement of today Basquiat was enraged that a young black man could be killed in the streets for what amounted to a misdemeanor crime.  As protestors fill the streets for the second week in Baltimore protesting the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police Basquiat’s painting is as relevant today as it was on the late September night in 1983 when Michael Stewart was killed.

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The Irony of the Negro Policeman. 1981, Jean Michel Basquiat

The Irony of the Negro Policeman is another prophetic piece by Basquiat and is especially pertinent in Toronto with the recent appointment of the first black chief of police in the city’s history. The painting depicts a large black figure wearing what appears to be multiple hats, this may be indicative of the many hats/faces the average black man must dawn to navigate the world. The figure wears a yellow smear on its chest, it could be a blurred badge alluding that although he is a police officer he is still an outsider amongst the police or lacks the complete power of an officer.

Another recurring theme in Basquiat’s work is the celebration of black excellence. He often literally tore his heroes off the screen or out of the radio and transfixed them into a classically chaotic Basquiat background. Whether it is Charlie Parker, Jesse Owens or Cassius Clay, Basquiat paid homage to their lasting legacy by immortalizing them in his paintings.  However, he was deeply aware that fame for a black man came with a duality that he seemed to equate with selling his soul or selling out, this recurring trope is evidenced by the repetition of the words ‘black soap’ in many of Basquiat’s paintings. For him fame meant a sort of white washing of one’s self in order to be sanitized enough for white audiences.

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Black Soap. 1981, Jean Michel Basquiat.

In the piece Not For Sale/Obnoxious Liberals, Samson of biblical fame is standing arms  spread above his head, a red faced figure stands between Samson and a figure wearing a farmers hat with dollar signs on his torso. The red-faced centre figure has Not for Sale written on his torso. Samson appears to represent a slave in the midst of a slave auction; the man in the middle is denoted with the words obnoxious liberals above his head.

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Obnoxious Liberals. 1982, Jean Michel Basquiat

My favourite pieces are less political and more celebratory and reflective. I am especially fond of his self portraits. Like Picasso’s self portraits it is fascinating to glimpse the artist’s interpretation of themselves. Basquiat’s self portraits and the untitled images that I perceive as self portraits are intricate paintings that try to convey Basquiat’s unique complexity. Whether it’s a skull full of words and images or a head with a bell jar body there is an unseen depth that his self portraits contain that makes them mesmerizing to stare at and try to decipher.

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Untitled/Self Portrait. 1984, Jean Michel Basquiat.

Over his brief career Basquiat completed over 1000 works of art and worked on a collaborative series with Andy Warhol that helped renew interest and acclaim for Warhol’s work. Basquiat used the streets as a muse and was able to cement a permanent and legitimate place for street art and pave the way for the likes of Banksy and Shepard Fairey.

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Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat pose inside a studio featuring their collaborative work. 1985. Credit: AP

The Now is the Time exhibit at the AGO is a phenomenal exhibition of Basquiat’s work and includes a free downloadable tour that offers great insight into the individual pieces as well as its greater cultural relevance. The show is on display until May 9.

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Outside the AGO after seeing Now is the Time. We found a Basquait crown just where he would have wanted it, in the street.
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