Whole Foods Is Expensive. You’re Poor. Stop Going.

Whole Paycheck.

Whole Paycheck.

It’s really and truly that simple – just stop going – but I understand; it’s much easier said than done. Millennials, I’ve said it once before, but it’s really true – you’re all poor. No really. But you must understand beloveds, Whole Foods is partly to blame as to why you have no assets. I get it; it’s easier to buy Maple water for $4 and feel solvent than it is to actually be solvent in this economy. And when your student loan balance is the size of a small country’s GDP, what difference does $10-a-pound buffalo meat make?

There’s a convincing argument to make for that argument. However, today is not that day. What I’m talking about instead are the dreams, unrealistic life expectations that keep you mired in the artistinal feudal system. Buying your way into the upper classes through Whole Foods and other aspirational stores (J.Crew junkies, I’m looking at you) is why you have no car, though you live in cities that claim you don’t need one or that the Metro is cheaper than owning a car. (Okay, New York.) Whole Foods is why you can’t afford a mortgage. Whole Foods is partly why you have three roommates. That’s simplifying things a bit (like overlooking your B.A. in Medieval English), but it’s essentially the truth.

Note: As we’re taking this pixelated tour of the ridiculously priced items in Whole Foods that stand between you and solvency, (or at least, a full grocery bag for less than $100) you’ll also have to excuse the quality of the photos, as when you’re busy taking photos and documenting Millennial poverty not buying food, you have to move quickly, lest you arouse suspicion. It’s one thing to be poor, quite another to act it, but capturing reality, or whatever.

People in New York will say that Whole Foods isn’t that expensive. Some will even say that there are statistics showing this to be the case. These are all facts. To someone. After Fairway, Whole Foods is the second cheapest grocery store in Manhattan. But this is all relative. Relative to the fact that people in New York and San Francisco are paying nearly $3 for five sprigs of kale. This is absurd folks and could be argued as a form of produce terrorism when people in Dallas and Houston are only paying $1.50 for a real, full bushel of kale.

better and cropped kale

the price one pays to eat in the People’s Republic of California

A while ago, I went to a Whole Foods in San Francisco with $10. Just to see. Laughable, I know, but what can I say – I’m a gambling woman. (But, to be fair, I now have a more empathetic view of what it feels like when men attempt to date notches out of their league.)

Whole Foods and I have never had a great relationship, but I still go, because in SoMa, it’s the only grocery store for miles. (As far I’m concerned, Trader Joe’s doesn’t even carry produce when you must pay 75 cents per apple. It’s actually ironic; most poor Americans in this situation are subjected to K-town with bananas as spotted as plantains, but the poor in San Francisco, they’ll just have to make do with their $4.99 a pound hybrid fruit.

hybrid fruit limequats

As John Steinbeck would have said, I’m a temporarily embarrassed millionaire – with a very strong addiction to Siggi’s yoghurt.

siggi's yoghurt

At a $1.69, Millennial holistic crack Siggi’s ain’t cheap. But, it does come in a “basic” flavor, so, that’s a bonus, I suppose.

basic bitch yoghurt

does not come with “Pink” sweatpants.

Ten dollars does not go really much further than this. That said, the coconut, spiced pear, vanilla and acai & mixed berries flavors are BOMB. Try them all, though not all at once unless you can afford it. If you are truly destitute and have to pick one, I’d say go with the coconut and print coupons from the Siggi’s website. Because, again, $10.00 does not go much further than this, especially if you do not bring your own reusable bags. So, I begin backpedalling/doing the running man away and bump into the cracker aisle. Yes, the sustenance of The Poors. The BAF gods (Broke As F*ck) are looking out and this is fortuitous. But of course, crackers aren’t just crackers at Whole Foods. First, I find these dishwashing sponges Green Crackers, which I thought were for dogs at first given the Purina grade of green, but I was wrong. And they were $7.39.

Continuing to back pedal, I bump into alcohol. I’ve never been known to find myself at the bottom of a spirit glass, but I am also approaching an age in my life where I shouldn’t be against it. But what does one do exactly when it’s the prices of libations that makes you want to drink?

Christmas beer

And how is it, nearly a month after Christmas, beer from said holiday is the same price as regular beer? And this “sale” is going on until February 10th? Look. If Beaujolais can lower their standards prices after the season, surely this maison of craft beer can make some adjustments. I have no skin in this game; I hate beer. My grandfather called it “peasant piss” and though I agree, it’s neither here nor there. I just want to know what I could drink if I were destitute and despondent. This is not the drink of the actually poor. I keep the search moving.

This is just getting depressing and as such, the idea of sharing alcohol with people is even more depressing, so I begin to look for cheaper yet elegant ways to privately humiliate and depress oneself. Prosecco. Yes. Introducing American women to fake drunkenness since their spring semester studying abroad in Italy.

Eventually after fine tooth combing the entire wine selection like I’m looking for a last ponytail holder, I find some $5.99 house Chardonnay. It’s probably for the best, because at the point where I’d be willing to drink this, I’m not paying attention to the taste anyway.

Basically, breathing self-destructive behavior at Whole Foods is expensive, so I took it as a sign that perhaps I should look for more constructive ways of dealing with poverty in Whole Foods. Naturally, my mind wandered to that time that I heard Miranda Kerr, truly one of the Baddest Bitches in the Land, drinks noni juice religiously and puts maca powder in her green smoothies and thus, has not aged. (Disclaimer: as a Black woman, I will look 25 for the next 25 years, but still. I’m setting my bar at Thandie Newton/Tina Turner levels.) What can be more constructive than self improvement? I had actually been thinking of switching up my green smoothie routine and maybe this was just the nudge to do it.

Wrong.

prosecco

maca powder

noni juice

How the f*ck is this an everyday deal? Who is buying this sh*t everyday? Can they buy me some? Can Miranda Kerr buy me some? How does one achieve levels of Miranda Kerr bad bitchness when $31.00 juice is a requisite? I begin wondering if there’s a bar that I can go to that just mixes vodka with noni juice, but then remember even if this drink does exist a.) I hate vodka and b.) this drink is probably $15.00. c.) disregarding point “a”, I still will probably need three drinks to feel its numbing effects, cancelling out any therapeutic or budgeting effects.

The system is rigged beyond reproach.

it is what it is.

it is what it is.

$7.39. Yes, seven hundred thirty nine pennies. Plus the five cent California bottle tax. And I left my reuseable tote at home? Add another ten cents for the San Francisco paper bag tax. That’s obscene right? I can’t imagine any artists surviving in San Francisco off pasta sauce that costs $7.54. I mean, that’s like a two day eating budget for a real renegade.

Looking at the actual pasta was not worth the bother. Instead, I thought crackers were a more worthwhile pursuit. Can’t go wrong with crackers right?

this is what we've come to.

this is what we’ve come to.

Nevermind I couldn’t find Saltines and we won’t even talk about how one of the employees didn’t know what I was talking about. What the fuck are you doing in Whole Foods on a budget? At this point, I’ve spent close to $30.00 of my $10.00 budget. Onto the quinoa. No hipster diet is complete without this grain and though I didn’t have the time or money to make a $15 quinoa salad, I couldn’t help but to take a peek.

cropped quinoa

It wasn’t nearly as bad as what I thought it’d be – pasta sauce is more?! – but still. This budget is way over budget. In fact, the free honey and agave at the $4 coffee bar was the only thing that I could *truly* afford.

Are Millennials poor because of Whole Foods? No. Not technically. But, it’s also dumb to pretend that it’s not a status symbol, a consumer good onto itself and a means of projecting class ideals. Most people, let alone Millennials, can’t afford the upper-middle class aspirations that Whole Foods represents. It’s not just the whole foods they’re buying. In a time where higher education is out of reach for many, home ownership seems fantastical and living without roommates and saving for retirement simultaneously seems impossible, Whole Foods kind of represents buying a slice or two of the gluten-free American pie.

Don’t forget the $2 bottle of herbal water to wash it down, of course.

herbal water

From The Vaults: The Bee Gees’ “Fanny Be Tender (With My Love)”

the bee gees

The Bee Gees are some of the most disrespected, under-appreciated geniuses of pop culture and music. The creators of a sound that was so distinctive that even Michael Jackson borrowed it, the Bee Gees wrote close to a 1,000 songs for other acts, including Diana Ross, Barbara Streisand, Otis Redding, so on and so forth. So iconic were they, one of Al Green’s trademark songs, “How Do You Mend (A Broken Heart)” is actually a cover of their 1971 version.

Because this lack of knowledge is really reprehensible, I’m sharing one of my favorite songs, “Fanny Be Tender (With My Love)”. Have a listen, it’s really exquisite. You can read more about the song here.

So complex this song is, Maurice Gibb stated that while they all loved the song, it was hardly performed live, because of its intricacies. Honestly, this is one of the best love R&B songs ever written and performed. It’s one of the rare songs in which you can hear the range and depth of each Gibb’s voice; Maurice stuns with great harmony and Robin, long considered the best singer in the group, also shines with a surprising depth not normally seen in the fragile timber of his voice. It’s one of the few songs that Barry and Robin share lead vocals.

As to where this idea came from, last night on Twitter, where I frequently hold office hours, my timeline was full with love and admiration for the Bee Gees and a lack of understanding as to how deep and rich their catalogue is. And I get it; for those of us that came of age in the 90s and 00s, the disco era has been ridiculed so much that to actually like – forget about appreciate – the era, is almost a backhanded compliment of kitschy irony. I’m of the camp that the aesthetics of the 70s lead people to prematurely disregard the whole decade, which is both a mistake and a topic for another blog post.

But yet.

The Bee Gees’ catalogue is deeply, incredibly amazing. And genius. Their songwriting and harmonizing skills are truly genius – there’s no other word or hyperbole for it –  with no real peers of their peers. After all, Michael Jackson frequently cited them as his favorite band – which, if you listen to Barry’s his falsetto and consider Off The Wall a disco record (as Michael himself did), isn’t hard to see at all.

Check the receipts. And take a closer and more thoughtful look into the Bee Gees’ catalogue.

Why We Left

Hey y’all. I do still write, though at the moment, I’m writing mostly on other outlets and working on a stealth project that I’ll be sharing later in the year. :) In the meantime, I’ll be reposting my work and other dope writers on the blog. This piece, “Why We Left” is republished from one of my most recent in Medium’s Human Parts Collection

why we left

“A powerful way to sidestep America’s reluctance to become post-racial would be for more Black Americans to become post-national.” – Thomas Chatterton Williams

As 2015 already seems exhausting with regards to the frequency of police brutality, I’ve been having parallel conversations with a number of friends, mostly Black, about their holiday travels. Non-ironically, almost all of them went abroad. Between the friend who spent three weeks in Trinidad and Jamaica, the friend who went to Ghana for almost a month, and my own holiday in France, it was clear without having to be stated: the fatigue of American life has sent a number of my friends, particularly my Black friends, abroad.

Going out of the country is hardly newsworthy. Facebook is full of travelers, mostly childless Millennials flexing their international check-in muscles at hole-in-the-wall bistros across Europe and half-ruined Buddhist temples. A few friends are feeling thirsty and bohemian, trapezing across Southeast Asia; another friend is hiking across East Africa; a poet friend is planning her tour across South Africa. But the reasons my friends are travelling doesn’t quite split down a racial line — rather, race and class illuminate the fractured spaces. Ostensibly, my friends, irrespective of race, are travelling to get away from the ties that make life respectable but taxing. Everyone said, “I need a break,” but the subtext from my Black friends was screaming, “I needed to get out of the United States because I can not breathe.”

And then there are those who can neither breathe nor leave. The activists across the country who organize, who fight, who sacrifice, who make decisions like choosing between bus fare to protests and eating dinner — they can’t leave. Most Black Americans, when shit starts hitting the fan, the walls, etc. — they can’t leave. It’s not that they don’t want to. They too dream of lying on beaches of white sand and warm waters with their families. They too want to travel the world. They want to know what it’s like to mention places like the Louvre and the Tate with a casual boredom that happens when money, opportunity, and freedom have bred familiar contempt. Eric Garner was selling cigarette loosies (but not that day) because of a judicial and economic system that denied him more formal alternatives; the probability that he or Mike Brown or Kimani Gray could “just get away” is laughably and insultingly, low.

The end of 2014 was a traumatic period for lived Blackness; the miscarriages of justice for Clinton Allen, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner left me completely drained. Being Black at the end of 2014 left me with an overwhelming mix of anger and despair that can only be described as fighting with an opponent whose arms are so long it feels like air boxing. For many, “Black Lives Matter” reminded them how much their lives actually don’t. The paradoxes of Blackness in late 2014 were reconciling the love of a country that your Blackness has built, but that hates you. We left because of fatigue, because the arc is long and we are still so very young to be this exhausted. Anywhere but here was appealing. “Why are we even staying in a country that hates us?” someone asked me on Twitter. I couldn’t really answer that. I was conflicted. As much as I needed to go, I didn’t want to. I stalled looking for an Airbnb. I waited until the absolute last minute to renew my passport. I was late when contacting friends in Paris. I briefly wondered if I’d regret not booking a one-way ticket. I wasn’t even completely sure what I’d be writing about in Paris. I just knew that I wouldn’t be in the States. But I felt forced out.

I chose Paris because I like problems and paradoxes. I went knowing that Paris was not free; Paris has not been free since the Romans colonized and humiliated the Gauls, who never forgot it and in turn, colonized and brutalized Algeria, Morocco, Vietnam, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, and more. I knew better than most that racism in Paris can be acute, if not for African-Americans, most surely for the North Africans, whom I have been mistaken for on occasion. Paris has always loved African-Americans, even if French history itself has despised and exploited Blackness. As such, while New York was filled with protests through the holidays, I floated through Paris for nearly two weeks mostly unbothered, the assumption being until I opened my mouth that I was from Martinique or Guadalupe. The Martiniquaises and Guadeloupéens more or less, are people from island colonies in which their very racially mixed population are widely cited testaments to the alleged French commitment to racial mixing and thus, racial harmony. Even when my Americaness was revealed, it was not a problem for two reasons: one, I was African-American (the only Americans the French respect) and two, I would be leaving soon — but while I was there I was spending money, not like those other Black immigrants sponging off the French economy.Perhaps this is what White privilege feels like, I remember thinking. You can convince yourself that none of this is really about you.Should you even think that hard about it to begin with.

I failed this practice test of White privilege miserably and immediately. The protests that I left behind in the States had ignited passions in Paris; weeks before I arrived, activists took to the streets to protest the human zoo exhibit. Gross old Frenchmen suggestively raised their eyebrows and when they could, whispered loud enough, “café au lait.” I interviewed people of color in Paris about their experiences, which ranged from wanting to open a Black Panther Party chapter at the Sorbonne to forced indifference. The correct answer, had I passed this test, would have been to assign it all to Frenchness, to the lasciviousness of French men, to the complex colorblindness of French society that I, as a race-obsessed American, would never understand. But it seemed like a trick answer given how deeply French functions as a proxy for “White.”

I thought of another dear friend, who now lives in London with no immediate plans to return to the States. His words before he left always ring clear: “There’s no law that say that you have to make your home in the country you were born in. In fact, America was built on a whole mass of people that did exactly the opposite of that.” But I didn’t want to be French, or British, or even African for that matter. How could I be? I am so thoroughly American. And part of what makes me so deeply American is my Blackness. Blackness, as a concept of not Whiteness and a justification for exploitation, was put on the books in the Americas first, most notably in 1639 and 1705, though the slave trade had begun and been perfected by the Europeans.

If culture has always been America’s most valuable export, the fruits of Black labor are still its biggest and most lucrative. And since Blackness and subsequent racial constructs were first created, used, and exported to the rest of the Americas, Europe, and even Africa in order to justify the economic system of slavery, how, in my Blackness, could I be anything but American?

African-Americans, as it pertains to descendants of American slaves, have every logical reason to permanently leave the United States of America. African-Americans have also ingeniously employed every seemingly illogical reason to stay. Incredibly, many of them are returning to the lands of plantations, sharecropping, and lynching that just a generation or two ago sent their grandparents fleeing north as political refugees. If we were to look at this objectively, it is clear that African-Americans should consider their investment in America as sunk costs. The cultural capital of Black America would presumably travel wherever they go. Try elsewhere. Start over. But yet, African-Americans do not. Why they do not leave, collectively, I can’t answer. But I know why I cannot permanently leave. I have lived elsewhere, but it is here, to me, that the breadth of Black sorrow has become the most radiant form of life affirming brilliance — and it is addictive. Living while Black in America requires an intellectual and mental athleticism and finesse that has few peers. It is the startup of all startups. It is the ultimate marathon. Blackness demands from its cognizant participant a rigor and focus that can only produce majesty and mania. It is both heaven and hell. It is mercilessly reviled and hopelessly imitated. It is in short, a spiritual experience.

The reasons why we left are explicit and endless. The reasons why we returned are more complex, more paradoxical. Black America has consistently provided the moral compass and blueprint for a country in which its White faction has consistently, more or less, asked us to leave. And perhaps we would have left, if we knew that America — one of the brilliant masterpieces that Blackness has created, the thing which our soul, over centuries, has been given to and pillaged for — would be all right without us. Would you abandon your masterpiece? For a people denied property, rights, the opportunity to possess much less bequeath, America is what we own. It is our life’s work, our investment, our birthright, our trust fund. We are past the point of sunk costs, or even investments; it is a matter of ownership, stewardship. Our deeds and receipts are written in blood that still flows out of brutality and exploitation. And while America as a proxy for Whiteness has never thought to wonder this, many of us are more terrified of what America would become without us. Or perhaps it has. And it could be that the inability for Blackness to breathe is what America would feel too, if we left.

Paris is Classier Than Us All

This should have been a long time ago. My apologies.

I’ve been so busy raising hell on the internets and working on articles and most recently, at the very dope Jean-Michel Basquiat retrospective in Toronto and speaking at Williams College, that I have not had an opportunity to tell you exactly what the hell I was doing in Paris, besides working.

And working.

my writing table at Mariage Freres. Not a bad gig, I know.

my writing table at Mariage Freres. Not a bad gig, I know.

But yes, besides testing fabulous teas and beauty products for articles, I did *manage* to have fun. (Imagine how tough THAT was.) Given that I mostly write about such serious things, I think it’s important to show that I have a lighter side as well. From finding what I think are the best macarons in Paris (sorry Ladurée) the best foie gras to the most amazing musée in Paris. And of course, affordable beauty and hair products, but I can’t really write about it JUST yet ;)

But back to macarons. Like, these right here.

the best stuff on Earth

the best stuff on Earth

The bag above is about 10 minutes old and half empty. It’s shameful – and it’s all caught on tape.

 

And of course, if you’re a tea addict like me, there’s only one real place in Paris to go for tea – and that’s Mariage Freres. There are a lot of amazing places to go for tea in Paris and one day, I’d love to do a blog post on the amazing tea services in Paris, but really there’s only one place in Paris to go – and that’s Mariage Freres. (Just in case you didn’t catch that the first time.)

there's tea, then there's Mariage Freres

there’s tea, then there’s Mariage Freres

one of the amazing teas that I sampled

one of the amazing teas that I sampled

And when I was not harassing the impossibly chic staff at Mariage Freres for samples and tea notes (“mais, je vais écrire un article, Monsieur”, I think I said about 10 times), I was more or less importing Monoprix brick by brick, or rather, shower gel by shower gel. And shampoo. And facial scrub. And hair masque. And leave-in conditioner. And toothpaste.

Side note though: Monoprix is the Target of Paris, but because Paris is so classy, imagine if Target sold foie gras and Bordeaux wines and Roger & Gallet perfume. That’s Monoprix and absolutely worth a visit.

beauty products

The other half of the haul is just too embarrassing to post, if only for the sheer amount of sh*t I had to bring back. Honestly, I’ve never really fancied myself as a beauty products writer and I don’t think I’m about to start. It’s actually a hard and time consuming job! And a lot of the products that I found for Black women and other women of color was truly off the beaten path, in the 18th and 20th arrondissements which means it took a lot of time to find them. I mean, it’s a ton of fun trying products, but you have to try each product for at least 3 – 7 days and if you don’t shampoo your hair everyday like me, some can take longer than others. So, um yes – that article is literally still in progress, or rather, in between hair masques.

Meanwhile, when I wasn’t doing my part to rebuild the French economy, I stopped into McDonald’s. Orrrrr, rather, my friend stopped into McDonald’s after tiring of hours spent at Monoprix. (I think I said,”But it’s for an article!” more than “Je voudrais”). I think at this point, it’s a rite of passage for every American in Paris to go into a McDonald’s and order a royale avec fromage as in Pulp Fiction and if you haven’t, please get it together – and watch this clip.

 

Can I just say for one minute, that McDonald’s fascinates me, for cultural and culinary reasons. I love McDonald’s – and I don’t have to be drunk to go. In fact, it’s one of my “last meals on earth” meals. But I’m under no illusions that I’m not eating food that will probably outlive me, which is why I find McDonald’s in Paris so fascinating. But leave it to Paris to give McDonald’s the majesty that its GMO food lacks. My mind was blown when I went inside and saw they had macarons at McDonald’s. YES. You read me right. Macarons in this b*tch.

mcdonalds macarons

And croissants. And pastries.

mcdonald's pastry window

And it was expensive. And there were mad people there shopping with bags all over them and it kind of reminded me of Times Squares, where everyone eats at the McDonald’s there after shopping because they’ve all spent their rent money at Zara. But I don’t think this was the case, per se. With prices like these (a full meal at McDonald’s costs about 13 euro), I think eating at McDonald’s acts as a kind of consumer good and conspicuous consumption act that can only make sense in Paris.

paris mcdonalds

And always being on a hunt for people to bother interview, I met a few subjects that were willing to give me a few quotes about the state of Parisian affairs with regards to race and postcolonialism, my favorite French subject.  The real gem was the man that stood outside of the line to the restrooms and told us all, for 20 minutes, how racist White people were in France and how we were all slaves to consumerism. The man had a point on all accounts, even if he was raving more than a little bit. He was too close for me to take a photo, but trust me, I wanted to.

Another cool thing about Paris? The street art and graffiti. On our bike ride, my friend and I kept seeing the work of Invader, whom I was unfamiliar with until this trip to Paris. This one piece that we saw on our bike ride, which was a nice consolation prize after standing in line for nearly two hours for the Picasso Museum, to no avail. (Spoiler alert: most of the Picassos you want to see anyway are at the MoMa in New York, though my personal favorite, The Old Guitarist, is in Chicago.)

space invaders

That said, bike rides: so much fun. The bike share in Paris: even MORE fun! I’m a big fan of them and often do them when I’m in San Francisco and New York. (C’mon L.A. I know you can do this.) When I lived in Paris, the woman that lived two floors below me (with her ridiculous collection of red leather bound books and the husband that she had been separated from for 14 years that came over for dinner on Wednesdays and sometimes with her boyfriend, BUT THAT’S A STORY FOR ANOTHER DAY) had a wonderful bike that she often let me borrow. So, it was great fun to ride my rented bike through the city and feel like a 21 year old student again. (But I’m much chicer than my 21 year-old self.)

 

My twin nephews just got their first set of wheels this Christmas and being that this will probably be a lifelong love with bikes of some sort, I just want it on the record that I told them NOT to ride their bikes in Paris, because it seems like a responsible disclaimer to put out there. Bike riding in Paris isn’t unsafe per se, if you’re used to riding with bikes in a major city, but pretty daunting if you’re not. And given how narrow the streets are…well, I wouldn’t say it’s for beginners, but then again, nothing is until you get the experience by beginning.  That being said, I absolutely think they’ll break my rule – as they should, which is why I also included this video for their future 20 and 21 year-old selves:

 

children's armour from the 16th century. My nephews need these for Halloween next year!

children’s armour from the 16th century. My nephews need these for Halloween next year!

powder flask

printemps window

And of course, there’s the other side to Paris that never gets written about until the banlieues burn or tragedies like Charlie Hebdo. And that’s the other Paris, the Paris of the 18th and 20th arrondissements, where many immigrants live, particularly Black and North African immigrants. It has a special fondness for me; my senior project in college was on French racism, mixed race communities and postcolonialism in Paris and so, it’s something that I intellectually revisit a lot. I did this project way before Tumblr and blogging became as huge as they are now, so it’s probably worth it to put that work online now. Either way, interviewing people of color, particularly women, was truly the highlight of this trip.

I’ve always thought it was fascinating that Paris became this refuge for so many African-Americans but was a very inhospitable place for so many people of African and North African descent. And given the subject matter that my own writing finds itself at the nexus of, it’s hard to not think and write about French racism when you know how bad it is. And many of the Black people in France are watching what’s happening in the U.S. and are in turn, speaking out about the rampant racism in their own societies. I don’t think that the search for equality in France is all that much different than what many Black people are fighting for, still, in the U.S. And I think it’s particularly important to make sure that Black oppression is put into a global context, because it happens globally and it has ramifications, globally. It’s important to look at what Paris, which functions as an example of civility and elegance throughout the world, especially the Western world, is doing with regards to its communities of color. Basically, what I’m saying is that its ironic that the most elegant city in the Western world treats a great deal of its non-White citizens horribly, in subtle and not so subtle ways. The pressure to conform to the proxy of Whiteness is all around, in subtle and not so subtle ways – like this skin bleaching cream below.

oh dear.

oh dear.

Though Paris is hardly representative of the world, it is very cool to see that the conversations of White supremacy, Blackness, anti-Blackness and inclusion are important conversations that are really on the conversational pulses of societies in Europe and from what I can see and read, elsewhere. Hopefully, this site can do its part to further continue and push that dialogue and those necessary conversations, in the states and beyond.

Something New, Something Blue and Something Not For Many of Us: A Response to Tiffany’s Gay Ad

gay tiffany couple

This was written by Joe von Hutch in a response to last week’s post about Tiffany’s engagement advertisement targeted towards the gay community.

Before diving into my response, I first have to apologize to all of my friends, married and unmarried who may be offended at some of what I say. That’s not my desire, but I enjoy open dialogue on my page so here goes.

First, to quote Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (sampled on Beyonce’s “Flawless”): “Because I am female / I am expected to aspire to marriage / I am expected to make my life choices / Always keeping in mind that / Marriage is the most important / Now marriage can be a source of / Joy and love and mutual support / But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage / And we don’t teach boys the same?”

Throughout what will fairly accurately be described as an anti-marriage rant, please keep in mind that I agree with Ngozi Adichie that marriage *can* be fantastic; at least in its modern form practiced by partners who are more or less equal. But, historically, marriage was state-sanctioned slavery and I think it is a mistake that LGBT activists have applied most of their intellectual and economic weight to this one cause (and usually at the exclusion of all others e.g. employment discrimination, HIV/Aids research, youth homelessness, etc.). But, here we are, and esp. when I think of my friends who have or will be married, the fact that they cannot do so in only 14 states is a tremendous accomplishment and a true testament to the hard work of all the men and women who fought and fight tirelessly for us to get here.

Now please take it back. Seriously, I don’t want it. And while I am happy for my friends who choose monogamy and monogrammed towels, I neither want the pressure to aspire to the same nor disapproval from both within and without my community when I choose to remain a deviant. Because what we forget is that the movement used to be about radical change and accepting people for who they are and how they choose to live. And I know society can only be changed in discrete ways, but images of (a seemingly happy and loving couple, mazel tov) white, well-to-do men being used to hawk bits of rock mined by Africans under, at best, questionable and, at worst, slave-like conditions just to further global capitalism, exclusion, patriarchy and white privilege is simply not my idea of true activism. Pandering, yes. Smart business, yes. But there is nothing radical or inspiring about this, at least not to me. I’m sure others will disagree, as they should.

And I think I’m also particularly rankled by this because I know people who are currently facing housing issues for being “dirty, disgusting faggots”. And people who do not feel comfortable being out at work for fear of what certain partners might think. And a lot of it is because the media (and we as activists) are selling an image of an antiseptic and non-offensive gay man or woman that rarely matches the reality of me and my friends on the pansexual, polyamorous and BDSM margins. And, domestically, while this image might do some good in convincing the few remaining dinosaurs that “I guess gay people are people too”, it will do nothing for the young queers living on the streets or the trans men and women, whose families slot them back into another sex at their deaths. And, internationally, I would love to see more being done to improve the lives of the people who actually dig these things out of the ground than the lives of those who can afford them.

 

Happy Humpday: Frank Ocean’s Cover of “At Your Best (You Are Love)”

If you’re like most of us on the West Coast still struggle through your Wednesday, look no further than this inspiration:

For Baby Girl’s 36th birthday, Frank Ocean released a cover of Aaliyah’s cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love). It’s simply stunning. The beat is rather bare, letting Ocean’s falsetto play across scales and bars.  Ocean’s version is so reminiscent of Baby Girl as well as being his own creative interpretation that it’s one that you’ll have on repeat. Here’s hoping he releases a cover of “Back, Back, Forth and Forth”.

And for fun, listen to Aaliyah’s version and the Isley Brothers':

 

 

Queen Mother Elizabeth, a heavy drinker who lived to see 101 years

The Maroon Colony:

Because on a Sunday, who doesn’t love stories about aristocratic alcoholics?

Originally posted on Lords of the Drinks:

The Queen Mother Elizabeth in a classic pose as she sips on a glass of wine. The Queen Mother Elizabeth in a classic pose as she sips on a glass of wine.

For decades Queen Elizabeth I (1900-2002) was without a doubt the most loved part of the British Royal Family. She simply became a national symbol as she ‘made’ her insecure husband George VI a good king, gave the people hope in World War II and lost her husband half way her life. After the early death of George VI in 1952 she started her role as Queen Mother, the matriarch of the Royal Family, and lead the British monarchy through many serious crises. With a daily intake of at least 8 units of alcohol, according to modern standards she would be labeled as a heavy drinker. Still the Queen Mum lived to see 101.

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A Confederacy of Colorblinds: Charlie Hebdo and French Racism

“You lack context!”

That seems to be the cry of defense for the French, on this blog and across the internet, this week and last as more and more people question the role of Charlie Hebdo‘s satire and the general state of equality in French society and of course, a controversial article on this site, Je ne suis pas Charlie.

There seems to be lots of context that I lack, according to the comments (and rants) of enraged Frenchmen of all hues. Lack of French cultural context, which to certain degrees, is very true. Lack of an understanding of French comedy, which to certain degrees, is also very true. The French are relentless in their assessment of the American political gung-ho cowboy approach, often with fair criticisms. The French make no secret that with a few exceptions, most Americans are considered to be classless and proudly ignorant. And given that most French citizens travel in a way that many Americans do not, they are fair in their right to hold that informed opinion. But America has a pretty long history in dealing with racism and calling it by its name – and probably know it better when they see it, even if it’s in another country. Why is it that the French identity and humor needs mounds of contextualization to explain comics, which by the very nature of not being dependent upon words, needs very little explanation? Why can’t a country which for better or for worse, is renowned for its fight for racial equality, not qualified to remark on a France’s problem with race, even though the French don’t know what their country looks like?

anonymous Creole woman from Martinique, 1880s

anonymous Creole woman from Martinique, 1880s

French identity, with regards to race, has always full of contexts, asterisks and explanations; it is a democracy that one could forcefully argue still has colonies. It is a multi-racial society which has no statistics to tacitly prove this. A haven for African-Americans seeking political asylum in the 20th century, it also put an African-American woman in a phallic, banana skirt, half naked on stage, to dance and amuse French audiences.

The irony of it all.

French identity, tolerance and esteem has always depended upon proximities to White Frenchness; a minister of Louis XIV described the value of the Canadian Indians ripe for “civilization” as, “one must summon the inhabitants of the country to a life in common with the French, instruct them in the tenets of our religion and our customs, as to form with the inhabitants…one people….” It was the beginnings of the privilege of “French extraction”, a colorful mélange that tantalizes the French imagination and aesthetic, satisfying equal fetishes for thorough Frenchness and the thoroughly un-French exotique. The privileges and obsession with mixed race people (and creating them) functions as trophies of French assimilation; it is still a standard and mechanism of progress in French society. For all France’s history of race based slavery, colonization, subjugation, an obsession with all things Asian that is/was so strong that it named a style of furniture, sexual exoticism of women of color ( lest we not forget that Gauguin was a Frenchman and was the first to document a sexual tourist vacation), France is a country that purports to not see race. In it’s “colorblindness”, France has created a system by which cultural colloquialisms and beliefs are de-facto yet unstable statements of Frenchness that serve as proxies as Whiteness, given one’s proximity to Whiteness. Thus, one is French by how close one is to White ideals and embodiments.

“…job applicants with obviously North African or African names are far less likely to get called in for interviews than those with traditionally French names. A study funded by the Open Society Institute showed that black and North African youths were much more likely to be stopped by police in France’s equivalent of stop-and-frisk.”

Race functions as a silent truth in Parisian society because Paris is a part of a country which was a colonial power, a brutal colonial power and subjugated people on the basis of race, religion and origin. Anyone, (especially people of color), that have spent considerable time in France or lives there knows that the French are anything but colorblind. I don’t know many people in France or Paris of color that actually believe this.  Yet, the denial of the lived experiences of Asian, African and North Africans in France as facts and thus, a social reality, only makes the presence of race in French society all the more there. In a democracy, where the individual right to express oneself is one of the most treasured rights and very much the anchor for the supporters of Charlie Hebdo, that right is only extended and protected for those that show that they are sufficiently French. And France has a particular history of infringing upon this right when it infringes upon ideals of (White) Frenchness. The burqa, a full veil that many Muslim women wear as a religious obligation, is banned, as well as headscarves in schools. Violators of this law are subjected to fines and “citizenship instruction”, as to remind them of what being French is and what it looks like. And the particular ire between the Islam and Charlie Hebdo is rooted in a strong anti-Muslim sentiment that is also rooted in the colonial history of North Africa, particularly Algeria. French colonization in Algeria was so brutal and unsuccessful that Tocqueville described the process of colonizing the country as having “made Muslim society more barbaric than before the French arrived.” (below is one of the most famous clips from the very famous film, “The Battle of Algiers”, which neo-realistically told the story of Algerian independence.)

It was in the simplest of terms, a wholesale subjugation of people to make them French via the annihilation and denial of their Berber heritage. It was one of the most violent forms of French assimilation. And when Algeria finally won its freedom in 1962, it marked the third time that the French had lost a colonial war,  a wound made deeper by the fact that Algeria was France’s oldest major colony and the colony which characterized much its colonial identity. The French could barely tolerate the occupation from a fellow European power; they were downright belligerent at being felled by the bon sauvage. (pour mes amis français, un retourné, bon sauvage en français.) The French have never forgotten it, nor as Charlie Hebdo’s most recent article cover says, was all ever fully forgiven.

“In France, the Algerian is the nigger. That’s because of the relationship of France to Algeria for 130 years: A very complex relationship in which Algeria simply belonged to France and when an Algerian came to France, he was treated and is treated as a mule…” -conversations with James Baldwin 

To repeat, the French state(s) keep no official racial or ethnic statistics (or religious demographics), the populace and the government alike reasoning that there is no such reason to do this when all citizens of France are French, irrespective of their histories and colors. Many French people feel that to do so would encourage people to see differences and focus on them. You see, Americans, in their race obsessed society, have so many problems because they are encouraged to see race, the French say. The banlieues in Paris don’t burn like the projects in Detroit. And they don’t burn like Detroit because the French are civilized, they are a fully integrated country which does not see Algerians, the Cameroonians as being the survivors of a brutal colonial regime and agents of their own freedom from this, but as French. A vision of Frenchness imagined in a colorblind image. The Vietnamese are not political refugees from a country that is still recovering from the Indochina War (which led to the Vietnam War) and French colonialism – they are “just French” and should consider themselves such. Muslim and Arab identity in colonial North Africa wasn’t suppressed by the French banning Islamic law and practices – they’re are “just French” now and should act as such. Nevermind all that stuff that happened so long ago. More or less. Comme ci, comme ça.

 banlieues outside of Paris in 2005

banlieues outside of Paris in 2005

But the banlieues do burn and sometimes, quite literally. And they burn because many people of color feel cut out of the French process and French society. Jokes about being welfare queens aren’t funny when you are North African and Black and you can’t get a job, because your name does not sound French enough, because applicants are required to put their photographs on their employment applications, because you live in the outer métro zones and it is more expensive to get into the city and because the métro closes between 12:30AM and 1AM, the menial jobs that you might be hired for, are difficult to transport to and fro. Jokes about the Koran being shit aren’t quite as funny when you fully expressing your religion is illegal. Many supporters of Charlie Hebdo in the comments section of this site claim that the humor of the publication is to “take the piss out of someone”, which is true. But the power dynamics of French society  for those that don’t have agency and the recognition of their lived experiences with racism is such that taking the piss out of them also amounts to having it thrown into their face.

But, the French persist, Charlie Hebdo isn’t racist – it’s equal opportunity slander. The slander is all the same, because they are all French. Everyone is equally taken a part, skewed, given their fair share turn at the gaulois (Gallic) humor which is known for it’s love of humiliation. The comparison for most Americans would work like this: if British humor is known for “taking the piss” out of someone, French humor might make you drink it. And that’s the égalité of French humor and Frenchness – everyone’s made to drink their own piss. And this is what Charlie Hebdo does, the French say; a round of piss for everybody! Here’s an excellent guide, in English, written by a Frenchman, as to why Charlie Hebdo isn’t racist, allegedly.

black person on a leash

In this drawing of a Black person on a leash being walked by two White people, the author of the post says:

“Oh my god, two white people have a black person on a leech pictured as a dog!!!!”

Yep, how much more racist can it be huh?

Context maybe? I mean that could help right? Last year, the strong conservative right wing side of France was on the streets to protest against same-sex mariage [sic]. At the same time, a few modern slavery stories made the front pages as some rich traditionalist families got arrested actually having modern-days slaves, usually immigrants with their passeport[sic] confiscated, that they did not pay and had work 20 hours a day at their home, with no possiblities [sic] to go out.

So Charlie Hebdo drew this, saying that in order to be accepted as “normal” by those traditionalists, gay people had to AT LEAST be like them: a family has to be made of two parents and one slave, like they were doing.”

It is not (French) context that is needed; it is for the French to understand the context of how humor which is defacing can not be divorced from the power dynamics at work in an unequal society. It is a myth to believe that people struggling for the basic dignities in a democracy and those that are not, are equally humiliated by the display of their culture, religion or likeness being defiled. Those that represent and maintain the dominant powers must understand and consider how humiliating people that have historically been held to be inferior and discriminated against, is not actually satire. And when it is perpetuated by people that have been historically responsible for such delineations of inferiority, it’s not funny, because it is cheap and it is cheap because it trades on inhumanity – and a perpetuation of the histories which White French citizens claim to have happened “a long time ago.” When Black youth are rioting because they can not get jobs, it is not funny that a group of White men and women should decide that they will fight racism by more tropes and images of racism. Nor is it equal when the children of said White men and women can get the jobs that the children of Asian, African and North African immigrants or third generation citizens can’t get. Making fun of Jews in a country so hostile to them that many consider leaving for Israel, is irresponsible. As one Frenchwoman of African descent told me, “I am not Charlie and even if I wanted to be, France wouldn’t allow me to be Charlie.” (A personal remark: I felt unsafe bringing a small menorah to France to finish the observation of Chanukah, because of the casual anti-Semitism that I have personally witnessed during my time in Paris. And I am not even Jewish, though part of my family once was.)

A photo of the Charlie Hebdo staff working on the edition.

this is a photo instead of the Charlie Hebdo staff working on the edition

 

I understand that it is offensive to portray the Prophet Muhammad, and do so not in disrespect, but because of the event and the story.

I understand that it is offensive to portray the Prophet Muhammad, and do so not in disrespect, but because of the event and the story.

I don’t agree with the cover and find it in poor taste, still. Those however, are my personal opinions on the matter. What should be a fact in a democracy and a press running in such society is that making fun of, or troping the most vulnerable members of a society by exploiting what makes them vulnerable to the most ignorant and least tolerant members of your society is stupid and it is dangerous. The cover, a persistent “fuck you” to the sensibilities and laws of Muslims worldwide, persists in the (White) French right to, as a lawyer for Charlie Hebdo said, “blaspheme.” The American press, most of whom have decided that they are not Charlie, has been lukewarm to the cover.

As one Facebook commenter put it, “…The North Korean government recently called Obama a monkey. That’s not a good enough reason to draw him like a monkey on a magazine cover and say you are making fun of the North Koreans.”  The French entitlement to believe that this is fair, or even substantive political commentary worth defending is a part of  the colonial French laws of assimilation, which were and still pedal notions of equality based on one’s French language and Frenchness – and leave no space to discourse the real realities of living in a society which has bias, inequalities, disadvantages, misunderstandings and exploitation that race-based.

It is possibly to mourn the deaths of innocent lives and renounce what their work and their institution stood for. It is possible to not identify with “Je Suis Charlie” because it represents a cheap laughs that encourage a society with deeply undiscussed racial issues to continue in blindness, not because you support fundamentalists. The French have every right to continue to print and support Charlie Hebdo. But that comes with a responsibility and a price. And part of that, is that some people might not think drinking piss is actually very funny or an acquired taste. They might just think you’re drinking piss.

 

Dalida Shows You How Mondays Are Done

And Tuesdays. And Wednesdays. Hell, the whole week, etc etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but the weather sucks across the country today (it’s grey in SF, foggy in LA and horrendous on the East Coast according to my Gchats)  there’s a pretty heavy Monday slump going on that only a Vitamin B shot in the ass might be able to fix.

Or Dalida. Yes, the only woman in the world that can sing and make you believe that Mondays are great. The Baddest Bitch of French Disco made a song titled, “Let Me Dance to (Monday and Tuesday and Be Fly Forever Tricks).”  (I added that “tricks” part, full disclosure.) You know how rare your life gotta be for Monday to be day dope enough to make a song to dance to? So, just in case you don’t have your own Dr. Feelgood to come to your office/cubicle/Whole Foods cash register, let Dalida revolutionize your life Mondays.

You should read about her extraordinary life here.