Black Stars in a White Galaxy: Philly Starbucks

Starbucks Arrest

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson

 

A Philadelphia Starbucks became a flashpoint for white racial hostility last month when two black men were arrested for allegedly trespassing. The men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, real estate investors in their 20s, were waiting for a business associate when a Starbucks manager called local police and accused them of trespassing. The manager’s complaint hinged on the fact that the men were occupying the space without purchasing one of the various sugar-laden drinks on offer. Video footage shows the men being arrested without incident as white patrons—including their associate, look on and protest that the men are innocent.

After being held for several hours the men were released without charge and received a personal apology from Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson. The viral video of their arrest sparked protests at the location and panic at Starbucks HQ. In a shallow PR move, the coffee chain has announced plans to shutter roughly 8 thousand stores on May 29thto provide “Unconscious Bias training” to employees.

Philadelphia is roughly 43% black. However, Rittenhouse Square, the tony neighborhood where the incident occurred is blindingly white. It’s safe to assume that such a level of segregation serves as a velvet socioeconomic rope. Gently buffering those that don’t qualify for the leisure class. These white Philadelphians are free to move about their community without often experiencing the abrupt atmospheric shift wrought by the presence of a black body. What Starbucks, and thousands of untold encounters illustrate is that when we step into a space, we are not anonymous citizens. We are a curiosity, an energy, a dread.

I can almost imagine the increased heart rate and sharpened vision of the white manager as her mind raced through the reasons, all of them criminal, to explain why two young black men would deign to take Starbucks up on its offer to be neutral third-place. The comfort and relative safety of bland anonymity is rarely afforded black Americans. Our existence must be immediately justified in order to preempt the white fear that can quite literally lead to our deaths. One of the most insidious effects of white supremacy is the feeling that we must continuously carry a compelling affirmation of our humanity like a yellowed business card in our back pocket—worn from use. Our humanity and right to simply exist in this world is not a foregone conclusion. Black lives are always up for debate, and control, and oftentimes extermination.

Exactly 2 minutes after Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson dared to take up space in a Philly Starbucks, the police were on the scene to arrest them, remove them, and return the shop to a scene of upper class, placid repose.

2 Minutes

Such an insignificant amount of time. Yet that was all it took for a racist’s hysteria to force a collision between two innocent black men and the criminal justice system.

A common thread of black life is being the target of harassment and violence at the hands of sociopathic officers dispatched by white people donning the carcinogenic mask of concerned citizens. Local police function as an extension of white supremacist domination. Officers are summoned to attenuate the fear of unbound black bodies in public spaces. The most mundane tableaus of daily life are contorted into scenes of chaos and violence when white Americans are free to make unilateral, wholly arbitrary decisions about what constitutes criminal behavior. That level of control over a stranger’s life must be intoxicating.

 

So it was that a petty, bigoted Starbucks manager called in the cavalry to erase the stain of black energy from her climate controlled petty kingdom.

 

 

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HOLY NICKI, MOTHER OF SEX

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Paper Magazine has broken the Internet yet again with Nicki Minaj as its cover star in a bold display of self-love and sexual liberation. Three Nickis—Harajuku Barbie, Nicki the Ninja, and Nicki the Boss—are captured in the nascent stages of a ménage a trois against a saccharine rose backdrop.

 

The cover is a paean to black self-love and a rejection of the politics of phallocentric sex. It’s of Nicki, by Nicki, and for Nicki. But, it’s also for women. Paper’s concept of a triumvirate of bad bitches reminds readers that Nicki, like all women, contains multitudes. The abiding ideal of a corporatized, interview-ready pop star with only 2 inches of depth feels stale in this cultural moment. Social media has democratized pop culture. The grass roots’ ability to influence, and oftentimes dictate culture, has forced many in the establishment media to reject the obvious.

 

Nicki, a multifaceted artist that continuously subverts gender norms—you can hear the testosterone oozing through her pores when she raps as Roman—is anything but basic. From referring to her female would-be usurpers as her sons, to donning the accouterments of a king, Nicki has thrown a gauntlet. The cover is a tactile extension of her music. From the outset, she rejected the well-trod path of many women in hip-hop. She refuses to play the role of anonymous sexual prop for male rappers. She is subject, not object.

 

Thus, Paper’s art direction is fresh in this age of women gathering in digital spaces to reclaim the cunt from the suffocating male gaze. The selection of Ellen von Unwerth to photograph the spread further promotes the ascendancy of pussy dominated media spaces. For decades von Unwerth has used her photography to fête female eroticism. First, through fashion photography, then music videos, and now through the ubiquitous squares of Instagram. Nicki and von Unwerth are a powerhouse collab. Nevertheless, criticism has bubbled up from certain corners of the industry.

 

Rapper turned talk show host Eve was among the first to throw shade at the cover. She couched her criticism in bland mentions of the responsibilities of a female role model. Her concerns were stale and smacked of hypocrisy. At the apex of her rap career, Eve pimped her sexuality to sell Ruff Rider albums. The overarching implication is that a woman should preserve her sexuality for a man. Her body and desires should be cossetted and denied until a worthy guy comes along to instruct her in unpacking who she is as a sexual creature.

 

It’s a patriarchal throwback that rejects the legitimacy of female sexual agency. Providing young girls and women empowering content that can enrich their sexual imagination is a public service that Paper has deftly provided.

 

The cover also stands apart for offering an unapologetic celebration of the black female body. The black body in the American imagination has always been at once hypnotic and transgressive. Since our nation’s bloody inception, the black woman’s body has been publicly derided as hypersexual, and thus sinful and unfit for public consumption. Full lips, ample asses and round hips were the hallmarks of a Jezebel.

 

Subjectivity, and thus sexuality, was long denied women of color. With the exception of the Black is Beautiful movement of the 60’s and the current #BlackGirlMagic narrative, the American public has been conditioned to reject the notion that blacks have any aesthetic value. Paper’s cover subverts that narrative and forces the reader to acknowledge, and stand in awe of black beauty.

 

 

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The Alt-Right Starter Pack

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Photo/Los Angeles Times

 

The racist, white nationalist alt-right fringe movement has been thrust into the spotlight in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s inflammatory campaign and tainted win. A loose umbrella term that captures 4Chan trolls, academics, militia-types, neo-Nazis, and just general racists, alt-right was definitely the buzz term of the 2016 election. In an effort to understand the movement, I’ve been doing some preliminary research and have compiled an introductory list of fundamental alt-right reads.

 

  1. Party Like it’s 1933-The Washington Post

“For us, as Europeans, it is only normal again when we are great again!” he shouted. “Hail Trump! Hail our people! Hail victory!”

  1. Meet The White Nationalist Trying to Ride The Trump Train to Lasting Power-Mother Jones Magazine

 Spencer believes that Hispanics and African Americans have lower average IQs than whites and are more genetically predisposed to commit crimes, ideas that are not accepted by the vast majority of scientists.

  1. An Alt-Right Makeover Shrouds The Swastikas-The New York Times

“The political establishment has made an entire generation of young white men and women into fascists, and that’s a beautiful thing!”

  1. What The Founders *Really* Thought About Race-Radix Journal

Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery outside the South, but was not an abolitionist. He made war on the Confederacy only to preserve the Union, and would have accepted Southern slavery in perpetuity if that would have kept the South from seceding, as he stated explicitly.

  1. An Establishment Conservative’s Guide To The Alt-Right –Breitbart

The amount of column inches generated by the alt-right is a testament to their cultural punch. But so far, no one has really been able to explain the movement’s appeal and reach without desperate caveats and virtue-signaling to readers.

 

Speaking “Alt-Right”: Terms used in the movement

 

  • Red Pill: General term concerning the dissemination of “truth” about the crisis of white masculinity and dominance in American life. Essentially, women, minorities, and Jews are targeted as attempting to weaken or subvert the natural dominance of white men in America. Getting “red pilled” means to be exposed to this theory.

 

  • Lugenpresse: German for “lying press”. A Nazi-era throwback term for the mainstream media. Now used by extreme right groups in both Europe and America.

 

  • PePe the Frog: Bizarre internet meme of an anthropomorphic frog often seen in alt-right forums and Twitter accounts. Now considered a hate-symbol by the Anti-Defamation League

 

  • Ethno-State: Future vision held by many white nationalists of a country totally dominated by whites, and void of racial minorities and other ethnic groups.

 

  • Fashy: Short for fascist. Refers to a haircut worn originally by the Hitler Youth, and more recently appropriated by alt-right figureheads such as Richard Spencer.

 

  • Cuck: Short for “cuckservative”, a pejorative used to describe conservatives who are not sufficiently committed to alt-right views.

 

 

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We Are All Donald Trump

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Donald Trump is the manifestation of our most ginned up nightmares. His relentless march to the fore of the post-Tea Party GOP should’ve been entirely predictable to anyone paying attention during the age of Obama. White Americans that have been losing economic (although the certainly not social) power through the inexorable destruction of the middle class have formed an increasingly paranoid contingent of voters fueled by anxiety and racism.

Trump’s blinding ginger halo of celebrity, combined with his slimy assertions of his penis size, and grade school attacks on women, has lowered the level of political discourse to that of a rundown Applebee’s bar in Nowhere, Idaho. Nakedly racist commitments to build a wall on the border and ban all Muslims serve to bolster the grievances of a population betrayed by the capitalist system it voted for. A shrinking population that is also entering its demographic sunset. The Bud Light crowd cheers Trump for giving a loud voice to their deepest fears and desires. As factories, mills, and coal mines shutter, legions of men and women have become displaced vagabonds in their own land.

Things just don’t make sense anymore. There’s a black president, Mexicans beset them on all sides, and the Islamists are determined to see them dead. Any way you slice it, good ol’ America has lost her way. But Trump is gonna put her back on course.  He’s a billionaire, after all. Just the type of man needed in the White House.

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Dying of Thirst in Flint: On the State-Sponsored Poisoning of an American Community

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Jake May/ The Flint Journal

 

Fecal chloroform, rust, sediment, and lead flowed from thousands of taps for months before local government issued a boil order. Patients complained of rashes and hair loss. Children with signs of lead poisoning crowded clinics while Legionnaire’s disease reared its ugly head. Dramatic reports of water with a funny smell, a sick yellow hue, and a foul taste hummed in the background of this dying industrial city. Physicians such as Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha sounded the alarm about lead poisoning ruining the potential of Flint’s children, while the Snyder administration studiously denied the grim reality on the ground. While this disaster unfolded, Flint’s residents, largely poor and black, languished under the supervision of a parade of emergency managers solely focused on the bottom line. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right. $5 million was the price to revoke that right in Flint, Michigan.

Flint is a city choking on the decay of post-globalization capital flight. The closure of several GM plants in the 1980s devastated the “Vehicle City”. The resultant disappearance of stable, middle-class manufacturing jobs precipitated a cycle of population flight and deindustrialization that continues to haunt the area today. With a population nearly 60% African-American, and a 42% poverty rate, the city was ripe for governmental schemes aimed at stripping away basic services in order to keep a fingernail’s hold on solvency. Enter the era of emergency management.

The saga of Flint’s water crisis is rooted in the destruction of local democracy in favor of an anti-democratic, top-down approach in which citizens aren’t afforded the right to influence public policy. In 2012, the Michigan state legislature passed Public Act 436, a law designed to rescue financially distressed municipalities from themselves. What the law achieved in fact was the creation of the legal and political space for an unelected official, referred to as an emergency manager, to dictate public policy with zero democratic accountability. The language of PA 436 is quite explicit in neutering the power of local elected officials. Section 141.1549 reads:

Following appointment of an emergency manager and during the pendency of receivership, the governing body and the chief administrative officer of the local government shall not exercise any of the powers of those offices except as may be specifically authorized in writing by the emergency manager…

This passage effectively smothered the democratic institutions of Michigan’s most troubled cities by disenfranchising their most vulnerable population, poor blacks. The denizens of Flint, Detroit, and several other poor municipalities with majority-minority demographics have shouldered the devastating effects of this state-sponsored dislocation from democracy.

In the face of lawsuits and heated criticism of PA 436, officials in Lansing called into question local representatives’ capacity to negotiate the terrain of their most pressing public policy challenges. In an almost dismissive defense of local concern, Terry Stanton, of the Michigan Department of the Treasury, was quoted, “making difficult political decisions can be very trying for local officials.” Stanton’s response betrays a noxiously paternalistic view of local elected officials. Wrestling with tough political decisions is  the mandate for city representatives. Should the aftermath of their decisions prove unproductive, residents can petition the institution, hold a referendum, or simply vote officials out of office. Unfortunately, by focusing on the deficiencies of local governing bodies, Lansing failed to take advantage of the opportunity to attack the structural issues that hinder Michigan’s progress.

In 2013, Snyder-appointed emergency manager Ed Kurtz, in cooperation with the Flint city council, backed a vote to sever ties with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department as a cost-cutting measure. It was decided that the Flint River—a notorious dumping ground—would hydrate city residents until the completion of the Karegnondi water pipeline in 2016. Kurtz’s successor, Darnell Earley, rebuffed offers to extend Flint’s contract with DWSD, instead preferring to collaborate with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to obtain the permits needed to switch the city’s water supply to the local river. April 25th, 2014 marked the beginning of Flint’s dance with environmental racism.

Nearly two years later, the national media has turned their spotlight on Flint. Although local media such as the Detroit Free Press and Michigan Radio reported on the crisis from the outset, national outlets focused their human rights reportage on Syria and the various refugee crises gripping Europe. The pace of national coverage of the poisoning of Flint has moved from a localized trickle to a flood of bleeding-heart outrage on the editorial pages of the big players. The unfolding scandal is a study in how the paucity of political influence opens the door to stunningly racist public policy. The majority-black demographics of Flint (and other black cities in Michigan under emergency management) are an inescapable fact that must remain in the forefront of any serious analysis of this tragedy. It’s incredibly difficult to insist that the white residents of say, Grand Blanc, would be stonewalled in the face of pointed questions about local water quality.

After months of what the Flint Water Advisory Task Force characterized as state agencies’ “…aggressive dismissal, belittlement, and attempts to discredit these efforts [to expose lead contamination] and the individuals involved,” Governor Snyder finally requested a federal declaration of emergency last month. President Obama quickly signed the declaration, which will free up $5 million in federal aid for the next 3 months. In a bid to influence the optics, Snyder also activated the Michigan National Guard to distribute bottled water and filters to desperate residents. He gave a speech apologizing to Flint residents, and then released 274 pages of emails related to the disaster. Snyder’s emails provide a window into the state’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that the Flint River is toxic. In fact, concerned residents and groups were accused of using reports of lead poisoning as a “political football”. One email from a local pastor even warned of the potential for civil unrest.

Governor Snyder has released an estimate of $60 million to replace all of the lead piping in Flint. If the project is fully funded, total replacement would take at least 15 years. The logistics and financing of such a massive undertaking have yet to be ironed out. As of today, Flint has to get by with bold declarations of support that are paper thin. The House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform has heard testimony from Flint officials and one resident on the disaster in their city. Governor Rick Snyder and Darnell Earley were notably absent from the hearing. Snyder was not invited to attend, and disgraced former emergency manager Earley defied a congressional subpoena.

There was the trademark outrage from ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (Md.), who quoted song lyrics and implored the witnesses to reflect on the devastating impact on Flint’s children. Meanwhile, partisan fissures emerged over two issues—first, House Republicans did not invite Snyder to testify at the hearing (nor did he volunteer to show), and second, Senate Democrats blocked an energy bill because it doesn’t earmark funds for disaster relief in Flint.

 

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Courtesy of Mlive.com

Although Flint switched back to the Detroit water system in October, the decaying infrastructure of rusted out piping continues to present a health hazard. Lead continues to leach into the water from local pipes. Recent testing by researchers with Virginia Tech found lead levels that meet the threshold for hazardous waste. In another blow to relief efforts, the EPA has notified the city that the consumer-grade Brita and Pur water filters being distributed are not up to the task of blunting the flow of lead that in some areas exceeds 150 parts per billion. Thus, residents will need to continue to rely on bottled water for cooking and bathing. Because Flint is a food desert, residents are particularly dependent on sustained governmental action to provide clean water. They can’t simply roll into the nearest Wal-Mart to stock up on water. There are quite literally, no other options.

Governor Snyder needs to resign effective immediately. The Michigan State Legislature should immediately repeal that odious law, PA 436. Finally, Senate Republicans should open the purse and fund extended disaster relief for Flint. Anything less is yet another tragedy.

 

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