The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 11/29

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The internet was a mixed bag this week. Highlights: Reflections on loss and hope by the Duchess of Sussex and Kiese Makeba Laymon, American poverty, Maya Angelou and James Baldwin, how we torture geniuses, the myth of superpredators, Erykah Badu and Summer Walker, Megan Thee Stallion performs at the AMAs, chaotic Grammy nominations, and eating your vegetables. 

1. New York Times: The Losses We Share

As the holiday season is in full swing and the year comes to an end, a new slew of reflection essays—almost all centered around the pandemic—are being published. This essay on loss—the loss of an unborn child, of Black lives, of loved ones to the pandemic, of facts and the belief in science—by Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, wonders if “perhaps the path to healing begins with three simple words: Are you OK?”


2. Vanity Fair: Now Here We Go Again, We See the Crystal Visions

I’ve been reading a lot more of Kiese Makeba Laymon’s work recently. I enjoy what he writes about—being southern, being Black, being big, being someone who wrestles with mental health. But I also love how he writes: his prose, how he structures narratives to move readers through a story or idea. I loved reading this and learning about Laymon’s mailman, the Baltimore high school students he held a workshop with who “wondered why school didn’t teach them how to gracefully lose and graciously win,” Fleetwood Mac, reflecting on how “beauty is absolutely sacrificed” and Adrienne Rich, and how he finds hope for the future. 


3. The New Yorker: The Heavy Toll of the Black Belt’s Wastewater Crisis

I got into an argument with a friend from Mexico a few years ago about poverty in America. She was arguing that America didn’t have poverty—“real poverty”—like Mexico had. I wasn’t interested in playing oppression olympics with her, especially on an international level, but I strongly communicated to her that America did have “real poverty,” citing the south, Appalachia, Flint, and other places in the country that have been neglected and left in pervasive poverty. 

In Alabama’s Black Belt, “named for its rich, dark topsoil, which in the years before the Civil War made cotton the state’s main source of wealth,” 8 percent of residents are not on a municipal sewer line and must “invest in a private waste-management system,” according to state law. These waste-management systems can cost upwards of $20,000, which is cost-prohibitive to many residents. Instead, many people use “a pipe to empty waste into the grass outside—a practice, called straight-piping, that is not uncommon in much of rural America… Floods carry sewage across people’s lawns and into their living areas, bringing with it the risk of viruses, bacteria, and parasites that thrive in feces. Studies have found E. coli and fecal coliform throughout the Black Belt, in wells and in public waters. A United Nations rapporteur on extreme poverty, visiting in 2017, said that the sewage problem was unlike anything else he had encountered in the developed world.” Unsurprisingly, these residents experience higher rates of various health issues including higher COVID-19 infection rates. 

Of course, all of this is also linked to racism as “The best land in Lowndes County,” part of the Black Belt, “has always been owned by white folks, from slavery through the present,” said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a professor at Ohio State University. Poverty in America is very real. 



4. YouTube: Conversation with a Native Son: Maya Angelou and James Baldwin

I’ve been seeing clips from this conversation between Maya Angelou and James Baldwin floating around the internet for the past week or so. It is not hard to understand why: The love and intellectual intimacy between these two titans is palpable. Much of the conversation centers around Americanness, Black Americanness, and Baldwin’s relationship to home as he was living in France at the time. 


5. The Point: Torturing Geniuses 

I loved Netflix’s new show The Queen’s Gambit, which follows the ascension of chess prodigy Beth Harmon, and binged the mini-series in less than a day. I also enjoy reading Agnes Callard and her column on public philosophy—although I don’t agree with all of her analyses. 

Here Callard uses Harmon to discuss genius—that “it is telling that “genius” is virtually synonymous with ‘tortured genius.’” 

I was drawn to Harmon as a protagonist because of her sheer confidence in herself (even if it momentarily waivered), but Callard points out how “genius calls for more than being very good at something. It is characteristic of genius to warrant the hyper-tolerance—and utter isolation—of being put on a pedestal and surrounded with a supportive entourage of yes-men. It is characteristic of genius to lack real friends, as Beth does. Viewers don’t even notice that their attraction to Beth sidesteps the question of the kind of friend she’d be. What they admire is precisely her ability to stand alone, at the top, as though friendlessness were a kind of superpower.” Pointing to a fallacy of genius, Callard describes how our willingness to tolerate the idiocracies of genius, we do a disservice to them and to our ethical communities. 

It may be a trope that to be a genius one must also be tortured, but “the real torture is the one we enact by classifying people as geniuses, to serve our own fantasies of independence. Geniuses are the monsters we make.”


6. The Marshall Project: Superpredator: The Media Myth That Demonized a Generation of Black Youth

The myth of the superpredator is very real, and it is dangerous. The term was first coined in 1995 by John J. DiIulio Jr. for a “cover story in The Weekly Standard, a brand-new magazine of conservative political opinion that hit pay dirt with the provocative coverline, ‘The Coming of the Super-Predators.’” In the story, “DiIulio was extrapolating from a study of Philadelphia boys that calculated that 6 percent of them accounted for more than half the serious crimes committed by the whole cohort. He blamed these chronic offenders on ‘moral poverty … the poverty of being without loving, capable, responsible adults who teach you right from wrong.’” Dilulio predicted that in the following five years, “an additional 30,000 young ‘murderers, rapists, and muggers’ would be roaming America’s streets, sowing mayhem.” He added that these new “superpredators … place zero value on the lives of their victims, whom they reflexively dehumanize as just so much worthless ‘white trash.’” Much of this was also based on systemic and implicit racism.

It turned out that Dilulio’s prediction was wrong, but his term, and the way it pervaded the national consciousness, changed the way crimes are reported on in this country. Dilulio has since admitted his theory had been mistaken, saying ‘I’m sorry for any unintended consequences,’” but the claim of “superpredators” still affected a generation of young Black and brown boys, continues to be a contentious political topic, and is something that many politicians and media outlets have still not apologized for perpetuating. 


7. Rolling Stone: Erykah Badu & Summer Walker

This interview between R&B singers Erykah Badu and Summer Walker is just about as wild as you might think it would be. The conversation quickly turns to a discussion of alien abduction, with Badu wondering, “Why am I not good enough to be abducted by or visited by extraterrestrials? What do I have to do?” The conversation then moves to driving, as Badu is in her car during their interview, and Walker mentions how she crashed her first car while “watching a Drake video. He went to visit this little girl in the hospital and I thought it was so sweet, and then I smacked into a wall.” They talk about music, how to deal with success, and what they are grateful for too, but it’s the anecdotes for me. 


8. YouTube: Megan Thee Stallion - Body [AMA Performance 2020]

The American Music Awards took place this week. I didn’t watch, but Megan Thee Stallion’s performance of “Body” is all over the internet! The choreography for “Body” has also sparked a viral dance challenge (mostly via TikTok) that I literally see every time I am online (and I don’t even have TikTok!). 

While it has not sparked its own dance challenge, another performance from the awards show making the rounds was Jennifer Lopez and Maluma’s performance of “Pa’ Ti” and “Lonely.”


9. Grammy: 2021 GRAMMYs: Complete Nominees List

The Grammy nominations came out this week and people are not happy. Most of the discontent I’ve seen comes from the General Field, R&B, and Pop categories, where Justin Beiber’s “Yummy” was nominated for Best Pop Solo Performance and The Weekend was completely snubbed. Kehlani and Summer Walker were also not nominated for anything. People are happy that Beyoncé is the most nominated artist this year, and all the nominees for Best Rock Performance are women or women-fronted bands. I’ve also seen generally positive responses to the nominations from some classical musicians I follow on Instagram. So while the Grammys did get some things right, people are pissed about the televised categories. 


10. The Baffler: Eat Your Vegetables

I have a lot of friends who are vegetarian or vegan. In fact, in some of my circles, most people do not consume meat. The reason for vegetarianism or veganism fluctuates greatly amongst my friends: Some do it for environmental or health reasons, and some for cultural, religious, and spiritual reasons. I’m not vegetarian or vegan, although my mom always thought I would be growing up. My diet usually fluctuates—sometimes by months, sometimes by years—from being “vegetable-forward” to carnivorous (right now it is pretty balanced, but slightly skews more vegetarian). 

Deborah Madison’s 1997 Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which “included fourteen hundred recipes for everything from soups and appetizers to salads, big entrees, and desserts… has since taught many a vegetable-inclined eater how to cook, and it changed the way people conceived of a meal without meat by proving that it could be satisfying—that it didn’t have to be ‘rigid.’” Madison’s new memoir, An Onion in My Pocket, however, “still seems to view vegetarianism itself as a limiting mode of eating,” Alicia Kennedy writes. But it’s Madison’s recognition of the various forms of labor that go into the cultivation of all food production that “has translated to the masses in her cookbooks.” In this way, “what Madison resents most of all is not our ecologically unsustainable focus and dependence upon meat, but the vaunted perception of professed omnivores, who can ‘have vegetable-driven menus at their restaurants, but claim that they are most definitely not vegetarians, and they can speak about and cook all the vegetable dishes they wish to free from the taint of vegetarianism.’”


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