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The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 6/21

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Juneteenth and MAWU

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Important Supreme Court decisions were made, some racist branding was changed, and white people discovered Juneteenth, all of which were all over the internet this week. Highlights: Juneteenth’s freedom, an archive of stories from people formerly enslaved, Black Lives Matter, Oluwatoyin Salau, the history of lynching, Rayshard Brooks, grieving through John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” what to do with racist films, Little Dragon’s Tiny Desk Concert, and pandemic time.

1. New York Times: How We Juneteenth: Freedom Is in the Claiming

A lot of (white) people, (white) corporations, and (white) governments are celebrating Juneteenth for the first time this year, many of whom don’t have a real grasp on the holiday or its importance. This interactive piece from the New York Times is filled with articles, essays, poems, and more that encapsulate the history and significance of Juneteenth. “Recently, I heard Angela Davis talk about the radical imagination… And a fundamental requirement is believing that the world you want to come into existence can happen,” Saidiya Hartman, MacArthur fellow and author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, is quoted saying about the importance of the holiday. “I think that that is how black folks have engaged with and invested in and articulated freedom, as an ideal and as an everyday practice.” Writer Veronica Chambers agrees, and “as someone who has celebrated Juneteenth for a long time, I think we need it now — not in lieu of the freedom, justice and equality we are still fighting for — but in addition, because we have been fighting for so very long.”

I have not yet read everything included in this project by Chambers, Tracy Ma, Joanna Nikas, Choire Sicha, and others but I have enjoyed what I’ve gotten the chance to look through so far. 

 

2. Library of Congress: Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938

Over the past few days, I have seen more about Juneteenth on the internet than all of the time I spent on the internet preceding this week. This collection isn’t from this week, but it is extremely important. Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1938 is comprised of “more than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of former slaves.” Collected as part of the Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA, these accounts by some of the last living people to have endured slavery are organized alphabetically by state and then by surname. It is well worth browsing through. 

 

3. Rolling Stone: The Power of Black Lives Matter

#BlackLivesMatter, the now ubiquitous hashtag, is seven years old. When Alicia Garza found out about George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder of Trayvon Martin, she wrote, “Black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter. Black Lives Matter” in what would become a viral post and the beginning of a massive movement. Activist Patrisse Cullors, close to Garza, added the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. The third member of the trio, Opal Tometi, “who knew Garza through the Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity Network, contacted her fellow organizer. She hadn’t yet met Cullors, but in short order, the three joined forces and launched the Black Lives Matter Global Network.” For Tometi, the post “resonated with me, for a number of reasons. I think it being explicitly black, it being a message rooted in love, and it just felt very hopeful” in a time of rage and pain. 

As an organization, Black Lives Matters centers “a queer, feminist framework that grasped the importance of intersectionality” which “was especially important at a time when the media focused on black death centered on straight black men and boys. Since people are oppressed because of race, gender, and all of the various ways they are identified, if black lives are to truly matter, they all had to matter.” BLM has grown tremendously over the years, and as it has grown it has made radical demands more popular “because black lives don’t truly matter just because people simply say so.” And so “the struggle continues to build an America where black people can breathe, one where we do not need white people to validate our demand to do so. Until we hold this nation accountable for failing to meet its own potential, our black lives won’t truly matter here.”

 

4. HuffPost: Oluwatoyin Salau Deserved So Much Better

Oluwatoyin Salau, a 19-year-old activist from Florida, was found murdered on the side of the road on Monday with Victoria Sims, 75. Just days earlier, Salau “shared a thread of heartbreaking tweets revealing that she had been sexually assaulted. Salau had sought refuge at a church to ‘escape unjust living conditions’ at home. A man, whom she described as a Black man in his 40s, offered to help her. Despite her telling him about her past as a victim of sexual abuse, the man took advantage of her trust.”

For many Black women, Salau’s death hurts differently, as it “is so symbolic of how universally disregarded, disrespected and unprotected Black women are, even in our most vulnerable moments,” that “when it comes to the fight for liberation, even basic human rights, this country continuously fails Black women.” “I debated even writing this, hoping for it not to be taken as an attack on Black men,” writes Taryn Finley. “But after seeing a video circulate of a group literally throwing a Black woman in a dumpster and laughing at her while they recorded, I can’t stay silent on this one. This pain cuts too deep.”

 

5. Vox: “The oppression doesn’t end, it adapts”: America’s history of lynching and its resonance today

In the past few weeks, the bodies of two Black men, Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch, were found hanging from trees within days of each other in Southern California. It was initially reported that Fuller had died by suicide but “family members of the 24-year-old, and others in the community, were deeply skeptical. As one woman put it at a recent press conference, ‘No black man would hang himself in public like that.’” Many called for a deeper investigation. Another man, 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch was found hanging on May 31 in nearby Victorville, California. Initially it was contested that Harsch died by suicide, but a surveillance video confirmed this on Friday. 

There have been other suspicious hangings over the past two weeks, including “a black teenager in Texas and a 27-year-old black man in Manhattan,” which shed light on “a centuries-long history of lynching — one that may have changed in recent years but hasn’t gone away.” In this interview between Anne North and Nicholas Creary, the associate director of the Center for Diversity and Enrichment at the University of Iowa, Creary defines lynching as having three primary aspects: “Number one, somebody had to have been killed. Number two, it had to have been committed by a group, to distinguish lynching from just straight-up murder. That recognizes that lynching is fundamentally a community action… That sort of gets us to the third criterion: it has to have been done ‘in the name of the race’ or ‘for justice’ or for something.” While lynchings declined in the early 20th century, “a correlating and corresponding increase in the number of legally state-sanctioned executions of black men” also took place. As Creary puts it: “Oppression doesn’t end, it adapts. It changes.”

 

6. New York Times: Police Decisions Are Scrutinized After Rayshard Brooks’s Fatal Encounter

Rayshard Brooks was killed by police last Friday night. The police were called after Brooks, who claimed to have had two drinks that night, was found sleeping behind the wheel of his car in an Atlanta Wendy’s parking lot. The encounter lasted longer than 40 minutes and was captured by multiple body and dash cameras. Brooks, who failed several sobriety tests, was calm and cooperative for most of the encounter, even offering to leave his car and walk home, but resisted when the police tried to handcuff him without informing him that he was under arrest. Seemingly startled and scared, Brooks “bolted from their grasp, hit an officer, grabbed the other’s Taser, fired it, and took off running.”

“Officer Garrett Rolfe discharged his own Taser and reached for his 9-millimeter Glock handgun as Mr. Brooks turned and discharged the stolen Taser again. Officer Rolfe fired, striking Mr. Brooks twice in the back.”

The videos are being scrutinized by experts and “there is vigorous debate over a host of decisions, big and small, that the two officers made.” Regardless of Brooks’ resistance, the cop shouldn’t have killed him, and as Stacey Abrams is quoted saying, “At no point did he present a danger that warranted his death… And that’s what we’re talking about. A murder because a man made a mistake, not a mistake that would have cost the police officer his life but a mistake that was caused out of some form of dehumanization of Rayshard Brooks.”

 

7. Paris Review: On John Coltrane’s “Alabama”

Much of my favorite writing is about music. I find describing music incredibly challenging, and the way Ismail Muhammad describes John Coltrane’s “Alabama” in this piece is as awe-inspiring as the song. Muhammad describes how “Coltrane’s saxophone writhes on top” of McCoy Tyner’s “tremulous minor chord, hovering at the lower end of the piano’s register.” He writes that Coltrane is “mournful, melismatic, menacing. Serpentine.” Coltrane’s saxophone “winds its way toward a theme but always stops just short, repeatedly approaching something like coherence only to turn away at the last moment. It’s a maddening pattern.”

Muhammad “started listening to and thinking about ‘Alabama’ a lot in the aftermath of Philando Castile’s murder in the summer of 2016, which was reminiscent of the murders of Samuel DuBose, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Walter Scott, Jamar Clark, Sandra Bland, and countless others,” he writes. “I’d lay down and loop the song through my bedroom speakers because the sonic landscape that Coltrane conjures on the track suggests something about the temporality in which black grief lives, the way that black people are forced to grieve our dead so often that the work of grieving never ends. You don’t even have time to grieve one new absence before the next one arrives.”

I haven’t been listening to any one song on repeat this summer. I haven’t been listening to much music at all. But the pattern Muhammad describes, where “you don’t even have time to grieve one new absence before the next one arrives,” is exactly how I’ve felt the past month. Sometimes I question if I still know how to grieve. 

 

8. Chicago Tribune: Should WarnerMedia give up the copyright to ‘Gone with the Wind’ and put the film into the public domain? What about Disney and ‘Song of the South’?

There is a lot of culture out there that contains extremely racist depictions and stereotypes, but what should happen with these pieces of culture? The film Gone with the Wind seems to eternally be at the center of this conversation. The 1939 film, which consistently receives criticism for “racist depictions of Black people and the glamorization of the white plantation owners who enslaved them,” was recently pulled from HBOMax, but “WarnerMedia plans to make the 1939 film available once again in the coming weeks.” Rather than keep Gone with the Wind, or Disney’s equally racist Song of the South (which does not appear on the “company’s streaming platform and it has never been released on DVD”), under lock and key, “Wouldn’t it be more meaningful — materially meaningful — if Warner and Disney relinquished their copyright on these films and put them into the public domain?” If both companies “are acknowledging that damaging anti-Black portrayals are embedded in these films — and make no mistake, that’s exactly what they’re doing — why aren’t we asking these companies to divest themselves of any potential future profits associated with them? Why should anyone make a dime off these movies ever again?” 

Not everyone thinks this should happen, as these movies’ depictions of racism are harmful to Black people and because “it’s a slippery slope,” according to historian Kellie Carter Jackson. “Where do you stop? Because there are so many movies you could single out. And let’s say they do give up their copyrights to these older films — if Hollywood continues to make movies like ‘Green Book,’ what’s the difference?”

This is a nuanced and difficult conversation. It does not stop at Hollywood, and many industries need to ask themselves the same or similar questions. 

 

9. YouTube: Little Dragon: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert

Because I have an inexplicable aversion to Spotify, I went on YouTube to find some music to listen to and write this week’s list and was so pleasantly surprised by this concert. Little Dragon has been one of my favorite groups for study music, and this was no exception. NPR’s Bobby Carter is understandably sad that he can’t see Little Dragon live (they were supposed to tour the US right now), but “these stripped-down iterations from the band’s home studio in Sweden move me but in a different way,” he writes. “I find myself focusing on the songwriting and how all the instruments come together for these numbers, proving just how strong the tracks from New Me… are.”

 

10. Noema: Pandemic Time: A Distributed Doomsday Clock

I’d spent my whole week, as I have the past few weeks, reading about protests against anti-Blackness and white supremacy that are sweeping the country and the world. Reading this piece, which oscillates between the celestial time of supernovas, the “radically decentralized, accelerated and atomized nature” of time during the pandemic, and how “we are learning that time as a shared global experience is only as useful as the coordination of local experiences it enables,” was so refreshing. 

I’d spent last weekend in rural northern Michigan at my family’s cabin and spent time gazing at the stars. Life is slower up there, and the stars are so plentiful that sometimes you can see the Milky Way. I’m used to isolation up there, and for a few days, I felt normal gazing at the clear skies in the slow time of northern Michigan. 

 

Images taken from referenced articles. Have a suggestion for next week? Email afoehmke@bmoreart.com with the subject line “The Internet is Exploding.”

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