The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 4.26.20

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The internet was wild this week. Highlights: #blackAF, Zsela’s Ache of Victory, Kali Uchis’ quarantine EP, The Last Dance, Harlem’s Tiger King, grieving with Brahms, fact checking the Michigan Protester’s insane roots, Purdue University’s fall plan, and Anderson Cooper vs. The Mayor of Las Vegas. 



1. YouTube: THE GRAPEVINE | Does #BlackAF Deserve the Backlash? | GV Quarantine Edition

#blackAF, a new show by Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, was released April 17th on Netflix, and it has been one of the main talking points of the Black internet since. As with many of Barris’ shows, #blackAF is being critiqued for colorism and using a predominantly light-skinned and mixed cast. 

I found this video to be an extremely interesting conversation on colorism (skip to 13:30 for that segment to begin—the first is an account of having COVID-19 in NY), however I don’t think a large part of the conversation was framed within the context of #blackAF as it purports to do.

In relation to the show, this conversation is a bit one-dimensional and doesn’t fully engage in some of the moments where #blackAF points out some of the criticism levied here, such as when Barris’ character (a fictionalized version of himself with the same name) is accused of being a one-trick pony riding the wave of Black entertainment in Hollywood for money (this happens multiple times in the series including in a conversation where Ava DuVernay, Will Packer, Issa Rae, Tim Story, Lena Waithe all play themselves), and in a conversation with Tyler Perry (who also plays himself) on how you can never please everyone.

Further, when the conversation in this video addresses mixedness (which is a large part of Barris’ work) and colorism I found many nuances of that conversation and what it means to be mixed were lost—and the two mixed panelists looked comfortably ambiguous when not all mixed people (me) look that way. Now, I don’t in any way think or expect a conversation that is just over an hour and 20 minutes can fully flesh out all of the nuances of colorism and mixedness, but those were just some of the things I noticed lacking and I would like to discuss. 



2. HuffPost: What The Conversation About Rashida Jones’ Blackness Is Missing

This article on Rashida Jones, who plays Kenya Barris’ wife in the previously mentioned #blackAF, does what the Grapevine video fails to do and explores what it means to claim Blackness or play a Black character when being mixed or passing, while still being critical of the show.

Throughout the article Zeba Blay questions quantifying and qualifying Blackness, and considers “why Jones chose this moment and this particular show to play her ‘blackest’ character so far, a character whose mixed-race identity so closely resembles her own” when many characters she has played in the past have been racially ambiguous or white characters.

Blay asks, “Is it down to [Jones] actively trying not to take Black roles from darker-skinned actors for the sake of representation? Is it down to a Hollywood machine that doesn’t know how to write for and what to do with Black or mixed women who don’t look obviously Black? Is it a combination of all that? Does playing this role reveal her desire to actually explore her mixed identity on screen?

These are the questions worth exploring beyond the question of whether a woman who looks like Jones should be on a show called ‘#blackAF.’” Blay acknowledges that “whatever hardships [Jones has] faced over the way she looks pale in comparison to the hardships darker-skinned actresses face… But it does highlight a reality about Hollywood’s need to categorize Black women. This need to categorize blackness is, ironically, echoed by #blackAF itself and some of the debate surrounding it.” 

Critical of the show and its lack of self awareness, and the surrounding debate, Blay writes “if #blackAF were a better conceived show, it would have more deftly explored that tension, futility and complexity in categorization. It would have acknowledged not only how wealth and proximity to whiteness affect the way some Black people move through the world, but also how colorism and light-skinned privilege play a role. The show and Jones’ character are largely written without acknowledging the nuances of how rich, light-skinned Black people face oppression, ultimately doing a disservice to the material as a whole. If Jones’ character on #blackAF were played by a dark-skinned actor, #blackAF would not be the same show.”



3. Spotify: Zsela: Ache of Victory

I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS EP FOR OVER A YEAR!!!!! Zsela finally released her first EP, Ache of Victory, and it is everything I wanted and more. The songs are beautiful: “emotive yet elusive, slow but infused with undulating motion, at once earthy and otherworldly. Her voice clings to her melodies like liquefied amber, in a low, striking contralto range,” as Jon Pareles wrote in a short profile of the singer in the New York Times. I could listen to this and Zsela’s first single, “Noise,” all day. 



4. Spotify: Kali Uchis: TO FEEL ALIVE EP

One of my favorite things about quarantine thus far is that musicians are getting bored and releasing some really interesting music. Kali Uchis released this EP, which she recorded alone, on Friday, and it is the perfect bit of escapism in this time of isolation. 




5. Vulture: The Last Dance Is a Perfect Remedy for Sports Withdrawal

I’m not a professional sports fan, but I was bored and looking for something to watch and stumbled upon The Last Dance. I had seen news of the ESPN docuseries on Michael Jordan on Twitter and didn’t have much intention to watch it until at least a few more episodes premiered (the show airs Sunday nights on ESPN and ESPN2). But I’m glad I didn’t wait. Jordan is one of those mythical figures I grew up hearing about but didn’t fully understand because I was too young to know him at his height (I was born in 1995), and, as I said, I don’t follow professional sports. 

The show was meant to premiere in June, but was released early due to the pandemic. It is obvious that “The Last Dance would have been a great, widely consumed sports-umentary under any circumstances. But in the odd, trying times Americans and people around the globe are experiencing, it will be revered as a dunk- and drama-filled oasis in a time of drought.” The timeline of the show shifts from when Jordan was an undergraduate player, and builds to the Chicago Bulls’ sixth NBA championship win in the 1997-98 season. 

Even if you don’t like sports, this documentary is deeply engaging and “by taking us back to that period when the Chicago Bulls were practically untouchable and Michael Jordan was considered a god among humans, it also reminds us how it felt the first time we saw greatness, in the form of a man, his tongue sticking out like a little boy’s, taking flight over and over, right before our eyes.”



6. MEL Magazine: The Forgotten Tiger King of Harlem

In 2003, Antoine Yates was attacked by his roommate: “a 450-pound Siberian tiger named Ming” whom he lived with in Drew-Hamilton public housing complex in Harlem. Yates had lived with the tiger for three years (and a pet alligator, and briefly some lions) without incident.

Ming was removed from the apartment three days later and lived out his life at Noah’s Lost Ark animal sanctuary in Ohio. But what is more interesting than the facts of Yates’ story, is how it contrasts that of all the characters in Netflix’s Tiger King. Yates didn’t keep his animals in cages, and spent 23 hours a day with the cat.

Describing his life during that time, Yates recalls that “we’d just have a natural day. It’s like you having a dog. It’s no different. If I’m laying down, he’s laying down right next to me. If I’m getting up to go to the bathroom, he’s getting up to follow me to the bathroom. If I said, ‘Hey-yo, Ming, sit down and chill out,’ he’d sit down and chill out. If I said, ‘Ming, go lay down and go to sleep,’ he’d go lay down and go to sleep.”

Further, Yates challenges the stereotypes presented in Tiger King of who owns wild big cats: white people in rural places. Explaining why Yates got Ming in the first place, Zaron Burnett writes “he felt like it was safer for him to lock himself inside of his apartment in a housing project in Harlem with a full-grown Siberian tiger than it was for him to continue walking around in America as a Black man. ‘I was sick and tired of it… So I literally locked myself in the house, and I went and bought the tiger. Animals are only going to do what they set out to do as they were designed by God. But with a human, you never know what to expect. Never ever, ever, ever.”’ 



7. The New Yorker: Grieving With Brahms

Whenever I think of Brahms, or whenever I listen to him, it is because of mourning. The first time I started looking into the composer’s life I was doing research on Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift (in English, “A German Requiem, to Words of the Holy Scriptures”) which begins with blessed are they that mourn / for they shall be comforted.” I don’t listen to Brahms that often, but when I do it is either that requiem or Sonatas Op. 120 for clarinet and piano Trio Op. 114 for clarinet, cello and piano, sometimes his works of piano.  

Brahms, as Alex Ross writes, “is the great poet of the ambiguous, in-between, nameless emotions: ambient unease, pervasive wistfulness, bemused resignation, contained rage, ironic merriment, smiling through tears, the almost pleasurable fatigue of deep depression.” For Ross, Brahms is where he found refuge after the passing of his mother in February.

In many ways Brahms is deeply nostalgic and forces reflection. “Nicole Grimes, in her finely perceptive book ‘Brahms’s Elegies’” contextualizes the composer using “the concept of reflective nostalgia, as defined by the late literary scholar Svetlana Boym. Unlike restorative nostalgia, which envisions a return to home, reflective nostalgia ‘delays the homecoming—wistfully, ironically, desperately,’ in Boym’s words. ‘Reflective nostalgia dwells on the ambivalences of human longing and belonging and does not shy away from the contradictions of modernity.’ Restorative nostalgia tends toward the reactionary; reflective nostalgia can be fully modern.”

When listening to music, particularly classical, I always remember something Shulamit Ran said about her work at a lecture I attended in high school: she tries to compose music to be the activity itself. Music so captivating that it pulls your attention away from anything else to focus on what she has written. 



8. TikTok: Michigan Protester’s Insane Roots 

After footage of a woman in Michigan protesting the state’s stay-at-home orders because she couldn’t get her hair done went viral last week, TikTok user @rebabeba decided to do some investigative journalism. Through Google searches and a bit of math it was discovered that, more likely, the protester had not gotten her hair done since October as, according to the average rate of hair growth and average index finger length, she started the lockdown with 2.7 inches of visible roots. 



9. Purdue University: A message from President Daniels regarding fall semester

Higher education is being hit hard by the pandemic, just like basically everything else, and as someone who is currently in graduate school it is very stressful. While I, like many students across the country, want clarity from our schools’ administrations on what will happen next, I hope I do not receive a letter like this. 

In addressing Purdue University’s plans for the fall, president Mitchell E. Daniels stated that the school will open with on-campus classes in the fall because “at least 80% of our population is made up of young people, say, 35 and under. All data to date tell us that the COVID-19 virus, while it transmits rapidly in this age group, poses close to zero lethal threat to them,” and later continuing “literally, our students pose a far greater danger to others than the virus poses to them. We all have a role, and a responsibility, in ensuring the health of the Purdue community.” Daniels does outline some very basic and preliminary steps the University would take to ensure the safety of students later, but after his willingness to put students at risk—especially non-traditional and differently abled students—it is hard to believe. 

For perspective on what other universities are doing, check writer Andy Thomason’s thread on Twitter with links to other schools’ updates on how they are moving forward. 



10. CNN: Anderson Cooper presses Las Vegas mayor over wish to reopen

The number of wild-ass interviews with politicians seems to be increasing at an accelerating rate. But DAMN does this interview have them all beat (except for maybe Trump telling people to consume household cleaners to combat COVID-19—DO NOT do that). 

In this interview Carolyn Goodman, the mayor of Las Vegas, offered the city as a “control group” to reopen and see if social distancing measures actually help to mitigate the virus. This whole interview basically consists of her saying crazy and DANGEROUS things and Anderson Cooper repeating them (or quotes from other interviews) back to her for confirmation, where she responds that she didn’t say THE THING SHE JUST SAID and that he is putting words in her mouth. 

The interview is, in many ways, hard to watch because of all of the mind-boggling things Goodman says. But for all of that, Cooper is just as impressive in combating and contesting Goodman’s claims with facts from medical experts, and at times calling her out on her ignorance and racism. 



All images taken from reference articles. Have a suggestion for next week? Email with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”

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