When the Stoplight Turns Red

by bwright923 via Flickr

by bwright923 via Flickr

On my way to work there is a stoplight that used to stay green for ten or so seconds after the “stop walking” hand finished blinking. This week something changed, and now the light turns yellow immediately after the hand is done flashing. The first time I went to the intersection after the change I almost walked into the middle of the street on a red light, because I was so used to being on autopilot going through that space.

Since encountering the change I’ve noticed that my quality of attention is quite different at that intersection. I watch. I look more at the cars and the people walking by. I pay attention to the new rhythms of the street. The space feels unfamiliar in a slight, nagging way. I am there in a sense that I most normally am not when encountering that corner.

I say this to point out how we can become so used to the physical and social dimensions of our neighborhoods without even realizing it. What we’re accustomed to goes far beyond the timing of traffic lights. Perhaps we’re used to the homeless men and women hanging out on certain street corners where there’s a liquor shop. Or maybe we’re used to seeing a long row of trees down the sidewalk when we round the corner on our home block. We might be physically passing some of the same people everyday as we move through the dance of our lives.

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Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad FeministRoxane! Why?! I’ll be honest, Bad Feminist was hard to get through. I read it for my book club and when it came time for us to all talk about the book, we looked around the table at each other with a collective “ummm…”

Don’t get me wrong — the Scrabble story was great. Who wouldn’t want to know what it’s like to be in a competitive Scrabble league in the middle of America? Better yet, who wouldn’t want to hear about Gay’s hot pink playing board and the intensity with which competitive Scrabble aficionados adhere to the rules?

But after those fun and games (pun intended), I hit a rut with this one. Gay presents a number of book reviews, movie reviews, and pop culture analysis as a lens through which to comment on race and feminism. But there’s not enough tying the essays together to make the work feel like anything cohesive.

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Baltimore

Freddie-Gray-portraitThe privilege of being white or rich is the privilege to question. To say: but he ran… but he did drugs… but he was guilty…

I don’t know much about the man who died in Baltimore last week. I know my friends’ and allies’ rage. I know their pain. I see it splashed across social media.

Who gets to believe is one of the biggest problems. Who gets to believe in the roots of this epidemic and who gets to turn away or add in skepticism.

Writers are telling us that these deaths are different, reminding us that each black person killed is a unique human being. Let’s always remember that. Let’s never let a black death become just another number.

Shifting Identity and the Public Gaze

Image via Flickr.

Image via Flickr.

As a kid I quickly developed coping mechanisms for the racialized comments I’d hear on the playground or in the classroom — whether it was a friend telling me that my braided-in extensions felt like “Barbie hair” or other students making fun of elements of black culture, like our high school’s step team.

Growing up in a predominately white community I was acutely aware of my race most of the time. I didn’t know how to understand or articulate it at the time, but my experience of being black in in a mostly-white community was also layered with gender — being a black female meant that I was disempowered, objectified, and not “cool” in the sense that some of the black boys in my class were. In reflecting back now I understand some of the ways in which the black boys were stereotyped and feared by the community in a unique way, which is very important also, but different from how we black girls were perceived.

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Book Review: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae

Misadventures of Awkward Black GirlIssa Rae is my best friend.

Okay, so maybe she’s more of a friend of a friend. Well, really, if I’m being completely honest she was friends with my RA in college and I never talked to her… but still I knew of her!

What I’m really trying to say is that reading The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl was even more fun given that I kinda sorta knew who she was before she got famous. For anyone who’s seen her most popular web series (same name as the book) they’ll be equally happy as I was to see the awkward Issa Rae they know and love in print.

The book is a combination of really funny anecdotes and some serious personal stuff explored in a thoughtful way. Issa Rae writes about everything from her early obsession with online chatting and a humorous guide on different types of black people, to her father’s infidelity and her own challenges with body image. At first I was really surprised by the serious stuff, but I actually love that Issa Rae opened herself up so much here — fans of her work will definitely get a chance to know her better through the book.

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Who’s an Employee in the Sharing Economy?

Photo by Adam Fagen via Flickr

Photo by Adam Fagen via Flickr

One of the hottest topics in city news this week is that suits against two of the U.S.’s biggest sharing economy players, Lyft and Uber, will be heard by juries. The question at hand? Whether the people who drive users around in their cars should be considered employees rather than independent contractors with the two giant companies.

Lyft and Uber say that their drivers don’t count as employees because they can work whenever they want and however often they want. Drivers say they are employees because the rates they can charge are set by the companies and they can be fired for not following the rules. The decisions in these cases could potentially affect the many other sharing economy companies out there, such as Airbnb and car sharing services.

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Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith

NW“Happiness is not an absolute value. It’s a state of comparison.”
-From NW by Zadie Smith

I absolutely loved that NW was a book about place, allowing me to tie together the three interests of this website — place, race, and literature. It’s also the first Zadie Smith book I’ve read, and I have to say that I’m left wanting to read more of her work.

NW essentially has three main characters. There’s Leah and Natalie, who are childhood friends. Then, in between their stories is an interlude with Felix, a man who neither of the other two protagonists know, but who navigates the same sector of the city of London as they do.

NW is a novel about identity and defining oneself in relation to others. There’s actually not too much I can say about the plot, as the book is really about the relationships that each of the characters have and the places where the characters go. Each of the characters grew up working class, but each has found him or herself in a different place in life, often one that has to do with race and the opportunities they did or did not have.

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Access to Opportunity-Rich Neighborhoods Requires More Than Just a Good Job

Image: TJ Gehling via Flickr

Victory by TJ Gehling via Flickr

When we look at our metropolitan geographies we see a lot of patterns. One of those patterns is the persistence of pockets of poverty, particularly racialized poverty. Many people know something about America’s history with discriminatory housing policy, like the redlining that kept good loans out of communities of color. But decades after the end of those practices, aren’t most of the poor neighborhoods still left simply accidents? What people really need now are just better jobs to be able to move to opportunity-rich communities… right?

I recently had the privilege to listen to Professor Richard Rothstein of UC Berkeley pose and then debunk this very idea with a case study local to the Bay Area: Richmond, California. Rothstein explained how the existence of continued separation between neighborhoods of opportunity and poorer areas is directly related to wealth generated by white families from the WWII era, and that this segregated wealth generation was deeply supported by the government.

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The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid (Review)

The Autobiography of my MotherI was about halfway through The Autobiography of My Mother when I realized the main character really bugged me. It was several more pages before I realized the value of an unlikeable protagonist.

Xuela — Kincaid’s main character — isn’t nice. She’s not trying to be your best friend. And she’s pretty unapologetic about it. She’s a woman who marches to the beat of her own drum and shuns love in all its forms. Sex to her is just a form of physical pleasure, which she experiences no shame in fulfilling.

I started the book thinking I’d see a lot of myself in the main character’s development and story, but no such luck. Yes, there were some aspects to Xuela I understood – she was considered inferior by white people and she was not seduced by material wealth. But Xuela’s lack of emotional response to other characters – such as her husband of many years – was something I couldn’t relate to:

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Can Photography Help Lead Us to Justice?

Ruddy Roye

As much as good writing enchants me, I also love when I am reminded of the power of photography to capture a person, a moment, an idea. This week I was fortunate to come across Ruddy Roye’s Instagram account, when seeking out professional photographers to follow. A self-described “photographer with a conscience,” Roye’s street photography is fantastic by itself, but he often adds commentary to the photos that makes them even more interesting, talking about why he took a particular shot or giving some facts or a quotation each one. It seems that his work brings an important lens to black America and working class America.

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