Greatest Hits

Je ne suis pas Charlie/ I am not Charlie.

And before I get into this, I want to be first extremely and explicitly clear: I don’t condone the massacre. I don’t think the cartoonists and writers deserved to lose their lives. There’s just no way to logically defend their deaths without ignorance and/or hate.

But I’m not Charlie though. And I’m not Charlie for several reasons: Charlie Hebdo for many people of color in France, particularly in Paris, that don’t benefit from mixed or proximity-to-White French- privilege is extremely racist. It’s a particular brand of French racism and xenophobia sheltered under the grey tent of “satire”. It’s belittingly. It’s demeaning. And it’s a larger, published example of the explicit forms of aggression that many people of color in Paris live with, daily. The irony is that I haven’t been returned to the States for even a week from Paris when this happened, after spending more than a week meeting and interviewing people of color in Paris about their experiences with racism, exociticsm, discrimation and the aggressions of living in Paris while colored. Because to put those experiences and Charlie Hebdo into context, these are some of the images and “freedom of speech” that’s being defended.

racist charlie hebdo

un peu raciste, non?

mind you, the woman depicted is an elected official.

mind you, the woman depicted is an elected official.

"The Koran is shit; it doesn't stop bullets."

“The Koran is shit; it doesn’t stop bullets.”

This is the “freedom of speech” that #JeSuisCharlie represents for so many people of color in Paris. These aren’t isolated editions. This is the humor that many White Frenchmen and Frenchwomen find funny and even consider to be political commentary. And at what point, will we draw the lines between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech”? At what point do mainstream media outlets, which are largely controlled and written by White people, stop racializing Islam and stop creating humor based on the humiliation of people of color and their culture and faiths? At what point do White people have that moment of self-reflection, without the threat of terrorism to do so?

“Don’t be afraid, calm down, I won’t kill you,” the gunman told her in a steady voice, with a calm look in his eyes, she recalled. “You are a woman. But think about what you’re doing. It’s not right.” 

je susi charlie paris

Solidarity in Paris

The “Je Suis Charlie” hashtag and the cries across the world of the infringements on freedom of speech have shades of grey in common with the demands to release the “The Interview”, which for many represented the entitlement of “bros” to laugh and disrespect anyone in the name of humor and free speech. And again, it’s interesting and telling to see informally and (unscientifically) who feels that #JeSuisCharlie is about defending the right to say anything, at whomever’s expense. As with “The Interview”, I see mostly White people that feel this is an attack on freedom of speech, specifically, their freedom of speech.  From the commentary I’ve seen from people of color, the attacks are not about freedom of speech but extreme measures taken in the face of continued humiliation and White privilege and White supremacy in the degradation of people of color.As Asghar Bukari wrote about Charlie Hebdo, “White people don’t like to admit it, but those cartoons upheld their prejudice, their racism, their political supremacy, and cut it how you will — images like that upheld a political order built on discrimination.” What’s funny about two privileged White American bros trolling North Korea and the human rights violations there? What’s funny about the White writers of Charlie Hebdo depicting sex slaves as welfare queens? It’s not a “controversy.” It’s racist. It’s hateful. And history has taught us that more often times than not, hate is met not with tolerant compassion and civil discourse, but hate that ups the ante. Hate almost always ensues that more hate will follow.

"The sex slaves of Boko Haram are angry: "Don't touch my allocations!"

“The sex slaves of Boko Haram are angry: “Don’t touch our benefits!”

A Charlie Hebdo journalist, Laurent Léger said in a 2012 interview, “And if some people are not happy with this, they can sue us and we can defend ourselves. That’s democracy. You don’t throw bombs, you discuss, you debate.” But how do you debate hate that is protected as civil discourse and freedom of speech? How does a person of color debate in court their rights and the violations of such when France doesn’t even keep racial demographic statistics? How do you address these fanatical issues of racism and White supremacy (i.e., that 200 girls stolen from school are welfare queens) which are considered to be “discourse”, “debates” or even intelligently assembled? To elaborate on Ta-Nehisi Coates, it’s the privilege and weakness of Whiteness: to live in a world of myth(s) built upon unchallenged and uniformed thought, often of one’s own creation and be confident in the assumption and expectation that you should – and will – be taken seriously. It’s the privilege of French Whiteness to mourn the loss or perceived loss of the privilege to demean French minorities, lest they have to be considerate and rigorous in their assertions. It’s the privilege of Whiteness around the world to fear this fear for French Whiteness, lest they suffer the same fate in their own racially stratified countries.

I spoke with a woman yesterday that I interviewed for an upcoming article that I’m writing, ironically, on racism in Paris. It was a tense day for her. Surrounded by grieving, mostly White people at her job, Céline* stepped outside to whisper into her cellphone. “The White people are all mourning and I am too, but I look at this differently. Charlie Hebdo has done nothing but make fun of Black people, Islam, Algerians,” she said, rushing through her words. “This needs a nuanced look because my humanity is under assault everyday, in the French system and this press which thinks that they have to make political statements by humiliating Black people and North Africans.”

And I can’t help but to think of the people that I interviewed, in 2006 and 2014, that feel so completely shut out of French society and how this only speaks to their invisibility. In an effort to combat this pervasive feeling, a the hashtag, #JeSuisAhmed is gaining ground, named after Ahmed Merabet, the North African police officer that was killed point-blank by one of the gunmen during the rampage.

Je ne suis pas Charlie

je ne suis pas charlie copy

Some hope that it will to help stem the tide of anti-Muslim violence that people are expecting in the wake of this attack and also recognize that a Muslim man was a victim as well, killed for protecting the right of the writers of Charlie Hebdo to diminish, devalue and mock him. Those fears are not unfounded, as several mosques in France have been attacked in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack. And continuing the trend of ignorance, in the video below, Don Lemon asks a Muslim human rights lawyer if he supported ISIS after his repeated denouncements of all forms of religious extremism, including Christianity’s: (at the 4:50 mark)

Muslims around the world, on social media and in news outlets are being burdened with the responsibility of denouncing the attacks of Brown Muslims in Paris. Newsweek declares, “Moderate Muslims must speak out.” Why should a minority of people be burdened with speaking for over one billion people that are at this moment, making sandwiches, praying or doing whatever else mundane things make up life, lived daily? Yet, White Christians are not expected to speak to the atrocities and ideologies of the KKK, the Crusades, the “discovery of the Americas”, the American Tea Party and other entities that speak and commit violence in the name of God?

Because.

Because no matter how insipid or egregious the offense, White privilege can and often is invoked to disassociate one’s White self from the White collective. The individual is invoked and dispatched like an airlift out of the messy reflection on the ramifications of Whiteness. Thus it’s possible to have the world rallying to protect Charlie Hebdo and stand in solidarity with the magazine and not have a conversation about how to change it for the better, so that it can actually represent free speech and spirited discourse that does not rely on humiliating religious, racial and sexual minorities. Charlie Hebdo, with the help of Google, French newspapers and a few other unnamed media companies, will run next week. Of course the edition will sell out. Of course it will be characterized as defiance in the face of tyranny, which it is in some ways and I respect them for that, refusing to be silenced by extremism. But unless a real conversation takes place about the rampant racism and hate in French society and Charlie Hebdo‘s role in perpetuating such, Charlie Hebdo continues to live in a world of myth, of unchallenged racial, religious and cultural assumptions and tyranny which asks French minorities to sacrifice their dignity and equality for a good rire. Because freedom of (widely distributed hate) speech.

*obviously not homegirl’s name

Correction: An earlier draft had “suis” misspelled as “sais”, which is equally clever, but an accident made in haste. My apologies for the confusion. My response to the comments can be found in the follow up article, “A Confederacy of Colorblinds: Charlie Hebdo and French Racism“.

Best Solange/Jay-Z Commentary from Black Twitter

In case you missed it, Solange made more than an attempt to kick Jay Z’s ass in an elevator after the Met Gala. One might even say she was, “coming for scalps.”

Needless to say, given the fact that the Beyhive headquarters in the ebony towers of Twitter, Black Twitter had Christmas morning and reparations all in one day. And that’s where the real elevator action began. Here’s some of the best commentary seen since this all rolled out:

Image

robust resumé though.

Screenshot 2014-05-12 12.33.40

3 sides to every story: he said, she said and the security audio.

shejuststoodthere

Partition, please.

FIGHT!

tears.

Song Cry.

Song Cry.

Solange_nothere

Fuckwrongwithyou

Pretty Hurts.”

Screenshot 2014-05-12 12.33.32

well then.

Screenshot 2014-05-12 12.33.10

everybody got deal with the bullshit of in-laws. Errrrrrrybody.

Supervised visitations.

supervised visitations.

Black Twitter diplomacy and philosophy

Black Twitter philosophy and diplomacy

soO2u0GEgLwY9Xf-0swgfTMC522YddqBSrbFOZ7gr8g

#byeFelecia

i see you bruh

shook ones

security dude reaction

And because you can’t forget Kanye at a time like this….Screenshot 2014-05-12 12.34.55

UPDATED:

fatality.

fatality.

Beyonce already told y'all she drinks "watermelon"

“I be drankin…watermelon”.

no chill. Whatsoever.

no chill. whatsoever.

Old man Jay

"no thanks, I'll fast instead."

“no thanks, I’ll fast instead.”

#staywoke

#staywoke

The Men Who Left Were White

 We’re re-publishing this brilliant essay, The Men Who Left Were White, with the permission of the writer, Josie H. Duffy. Disclaimer: I’ve never met Josie, but have a lot of friends in common with her and I’ve heard she’s great. And funny. And thoughtful.  And so is her writing – which you should check out on her blog, The True Fight. She works as a voting rights and economics lawyer in New York and I’ve been consistently impressed with her observations about race and class in this country, which is exactly what we’re talking about here. Read, share and discuss. This is great reading.

 There are three things you should know.

First: I’m not biracial.

“What are you?” people ask, and they expect me to say something thrilling and tribal. I answer, but still they press. “Where are your ancestors from?” people ask, and they want answers that aren’t San Antonio and Wheeling, West Virginia. But that’s all I got. My story is both simple and untold. The bones of it, of me: I’m black, despite the skin that goes virtually translucent in the winter. Despite the thin unpredictable curls. My mom and dad are black, as are my grandparents. That’s all she wrote. That’s all there is, even as I write this sentence. My parents, usually liberal employers of nuance, have always been militant-clear about drawing that line. We aren’t biracial. When I tell people I’m black, they find it unsatisfying. “That’s no fun,” one girl joked to me recently. “I thought you were going to have a story.”

Image

The parts that make a whole.

 Second: I’m 44% European, 49% African. Not exactly an equal split, but pretty damn close.

I hear the same sentence twice.

The first time from my mother. It’s Christmas in Georgia. Outside the clouds are unloading cold sleet, icy and malicious and familiar. “It’s gonna read my genes,” I tell her. She’s rifling through our miscellaneous drawer, filled with nails and old pictures and pens long dried-up. She’s skeptical.

“Why?”

“Why what?” I ask.

“Why are you doing this test?”

I shrug. “Why not?” I’m eating freezer burned ice cream out of the container; no one has touched it since I was last home. “Because. It’s irrelevant.” She closes the drawer and looks in her purse again. “They break you down into slices, you know.” She looks up. “Do you have my keys?” “No.” I pat my pockets, find them. “Yes. See? Maybe I’ll find out I have the losing things gene.”She laughs. “I could tell you that right now.” “You spent all that time researching our family tree,” I point out. She thinks for a second. “That’s different.”

Black America's best and brightest.

Black America’s best and brightest.

I know what she means. My parents – faithful worshippers of the AUC, who went to black colleges, worked for black companies, took us to black doctors, sent us to black schools. There were no blond Barbies in our house; Rapunzel had long braids in our fairytales. You could point a shotgun barrel to my mother’s head and she still would not utter the phrase good hair. My father wouldn’t refer to us as light-skinned, not for love nor money. To them, the technical was irrelevant. The technical had no context. It was the history that mattered. Still, I ask her. “Don’t you just want to know?”

“Not really. What do I need to know that for? Some people want to know all that stuff.” She’s headed out the door.
“Some don’t.”

Second time it’s February in Brooklyn and it’s night and through the window you can just make out a sliver of the water. He and I are eating tacos, each on our laptops murmuring half-formed ideas. I show him the e-mail. “Hooray! Your sample is at our lab!”

“The sheer potential of information is overwhelming,” I say. “Who would choose the word hooray?” he asks.
“One test that can tell me what I have brewing and what I might be passing onto my kids. Like, it could say I have schizophrenia.”

“You’d probably know by now,” he says.

“Or brittle-bone syndrome.”

“You’d know that too.” He looks at me. “I don’t think you know how genes work.”

“Or if my sons will have male-pattern baldness.”

“What if you find out you’re white during Black History Month?” He grins, but I don’t.

“Maybe I don’t want to know,” I say and he shrugs.

“Cancel it, then,” he says. “You don’t have to find out. Some people want to know about themselves and some don’t.”

But I do want to know. That’s how I am. I always want to know. And when the email comes it’s in the middle of the night, and I scramble to wake up and open it. There’s a map. Western Africa is shaded dark, but Ireland and England are shaded too, with a hint of highlight over South Asia, and another tiny note indicating Native American blood. I stare at it, trace the outline of my history with my finger.

 Third: In my family, the men who left were white.

his property and his family?

His property and his family? or both?

Let’s go back.

They had land the size of which a city brain like mine can’t fathom. Southern men with pale skin, the kind of men whose job it was to oversee the overseer.

These women – my ancestors – were the opposite. Not boss of a solitary fly. Exhausted from all the work they’d done and the years of work that laid ahead. Cleaned and cooked and picked, squinted and bent over and limping, working, working so hard for so long that they must have been sore in places they didn’t know they could be sore— their bone marrow, their blood. Nothing to show for it but the injuries. Not a hint of a thing resembling victory.

The women must have known rape was coming. Dread has a taste, you know. It must have crawled up their throats. But by all accounts there was no fight. What would be the point? The sharp cut of a whip across your back? What a man like that wanted, he got. No one could save the women. If he wanted it, then eventually his pale hands would be forcing open her thighs. Eventually he’d force himself inside.

And afterwards just empty air space, him pulling up his pants, clinical. Before he retreated to his bed with his wife, did he instruct the slave to go back outside to where she slept? And where she slept – was that a thin layer of straw or grass? Or was she one of the unlucky ones, stuck with just a plank of wood?

“How much longer until I can die?” these women, my ancestors, must have wondered. “How many ways can one person own me?”

Even after Emancipation, slow as molasses in January, finished crawling across the finish line– even then it didn’t end. Shit, maybe then it was worse.  I bet once the man doesn’t own you, he might have to scare you. He might have to beat you up a little more. I don’t know. I can only guess, because the only knowledge we have is in the missing spaces. Men who are missing from birth certificates, who never laid eyes on their child. There’s no love there, no romance, no babies made with care and devotion. My history tells the story of white men who raped, white men who coerced, white men who had black children, and then white men who disappeared.

slave children during Reconstruction.

I’m thinking about these men the night I watch Obama introduce My Brother’s Keeper. It’s the last day of Black History Month. Obama speaking about black men always gets me squirming in my chair, bloated with admiration and also disappointment. He’s balancing on the same flimsy tightrope he’s been walking forever. I’m grateful for a president that considers the plight of black men in America. But the condescension still tastes sour.

“We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds,” he says.

“Who’s our?” I say to no one.

He talks about the initiative, about ensuring that black men become “better husbands and fathers and well-educated hard-working good citizens.” He says that we have got to “encourage responsible fatherhood.”

I get tired of hearing about the epidemic of missing black fathers. It’s always the same story, that old, tired, persistent-as-hell narrative, a troupe of vagabonds and thugs. It exists without context, without history.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to dismiss the very real pain of children raised without fathers, including black fathers. It is undeniable that too many kids have been left behind by the men that created them. I see the aftermath in many of the men I’ve loved, black men who never knew their fathers.

But I want to remind America of how criminally short its memory can be. In theory, the good thing about this country is that we all have our own story to tell, and there exist a whole host of stories, both parallel and perpendicular to mine. Countless fragile intricacies that are sometimes unimaginable to me, other times too familiar. But in practice, some of these stories go missing. And I wonder – where’s my story?

White supremacy remains the most powerful force in America’s history, the trump card of socialization. The narrative of abandonment has been hijacked to only include black men. If you google “white men abandon children” you get this:

Googling pathologies.

Googling pathologies.

But there’s a history of abandonment in America, a history of leaving black women and black children, and it did not start with black men. I want to tell America: you can’t escape my story. After all, mine is a storyline threaded through all of humanity, the price women have been overpaying since the beginning of time and sex. As long as men have been fucking, they’ve been disappearing. Because women carry life we are also forced to harbor fear; history is saturated with the stories of babies born of coercion, of aggression, of deceit, of abandonment, and the stories of those babies turned full-grown. When we talk about what slavery we talk about the ephemeral – what was and what ended. The details: plantation hierarchy, middle passage. We think that’s it. But what it meant – what it means – is worse than all of the details. What it means is a legacy of genetic material that courses through my own veins.

This is not a story about skin color. This is not a story about how race is a social construction. I’d reckon such a story would be boring for you. If it’s not, let me tell you – it would be boring to me. I’m not interested in narrating the tribulations of being, surefire bet, the lightest black person in the room. Nor am I informed enough to tell you of the triumphs. In America, skin color is the x in virtually every social equation. It is predictive. I am quite positive that being lighter has meant privileges that were not afforded to people with browner skin, many privileges that I have not even identified.

mixed race in the 1800s.

mixed race in the 1800s.

This is a story about history, about identity.

The way we’ve come to fetishize white features on black bodies is not only dangerous because of the way it reinforces the idea of white as better. For someone like me, it’s complicated for an additional reason. The part of me that created those white features came from men who would deny me if given the chance. Indiscreet men who took advantage of women and left. Men who not only abandoned their children but, in some cases, sold them. Had their own children bent over in fields for no pay.

I’m a living remnant of that sexual assault. I’m a living remnant of that pain. I can see it in my thinner hair, my lighter skin, my freckles. I think of those children, also my blood, and what it means to grow up marred by that abandonment and shame. I think of those children the same way I think of children with no fathers today. Surely we are all both prey and predator, snake and mouse. Surely our genetic material runs rife with strands of the conquered and the conqueror.

And maybe there’s a fourth thing you should know: part of identity is choice. My identity is defined in part by rejection, including my own. I am black. The people who made me are the ones who never left.

What We’re Missing About Crimea, Putin and The Russian Soul

The secret to good politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.” – Otto von Bismark

I think it’s safe to say that, at this point, Putin and his people don’t really have any additional fucks to give about what the West, or at least, what the United States, thinks about his occupation/annexation of Crimea or the prescribed sanctions.

fuck you, the horse your rode in on and the calvary behind you brah.

fuck bitches, get countries.

If Putin won’t speak candidly in such terms, at least we have the sentiments of those in his inner circle. Putin’s top aide, Vladislav Surkov scoffed, “I see the decision by the administration in Washington as an acknowledgment of my service to Russia. It’s a big honor for me… The only thing [sic] that interest[s] me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur… I don’t need a visa to access [his] work. I lose nothing.” Some might say that his sentiments are exceedingly difficult to argue, but for the sake of this article, that’s neither here nor there.

But what is here and there is the point is that it’s not working – the attempts to shame Russia into doing the right thing and soft strong-arming. As the  first attempts to economically and diplomatically corner Russia roll out, could it be that the West, particularly America, is missing very crucial pieces of the Russian enigma by assuming that Russia’s on the same page about democracy, sovereign rights and a host of other moral and legal statures?  Did we in the West overestimate how much Putin thinks of the us and our opinions of him?  Does Putin even want acceptance and respect in tandem? This is an important distinction and though not mutually exclusive, things are different in Russia -Putin’s Russia, where scenes of heroism are staged B-movie versions of hunting bears, riding shirtless throughout Siberia on a horse  and Formula One racing. For Americans, it’s terribly bizarre and archaic; we haven’t seen that level of machismo and testosterone-laden vanity since Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider’d his way into the White House over 100 years ago.  Putin supporters see it differently. Evgeny Fadeev, writes on Quora, “He sets [a] good example about the importance of exercise for the people out there.” Perhaps Americans might be better to look at it as a Byzantine take on the White House’s Let’s Move campaign.

Perhaps there’s something about the Russian soul which has a high threshold for pain and embarrassment. The limits perplex and confound on an international level. Putin flying with cranes seems to not illicit much blushing. Yet, violating the territorial sovereignty of another nation and the reactions from the rest of the world has us all walking down the corridor of yet another Cold War. Though Putin has been ridiculed for years for his antiquated interpretation of masculinity and nationalism, it has for a great deal of Russians, evermore endeared him, the global peanut gallery be damned. In fact, Putin is enjoying a national approval rate of 75.4% – a 5 year high. And more than 90% of Russians approve of the Crimean invasion, feeling that it is a culturally, politically and ethnically a part of Rossiya. The annexation of Crimea, which has so often in Russian history been the canary in the cage for Russia’s political sense of self on the home front, has been called a “reclaiming” by many Russians and for many, stands as a sign that Russia’s dominance and might on the world stage are reemerging. “We have the revival of the national spirit now, and we began to relearn our own history,” answers Maxim Kurakulov to a question about Putin’s leadership. “I think very soon we will know that Stalin was unduly slandered…Putin has become a true national leader.”

Алты́нного во́ра ве́шают, а полти́нного че́ствуют.
(Little thieves are hanged, but great ones escape.)

Greatest Hits: Manifest Destiny and Mother Russia, Vol. !

The Greatest Hits: Manifest Destiny & Mother Russia, Vol. I

In a 2005 State of the Union Address, Putin called the break-up of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” and has never been very shy about his intention to correct that deep source of shame within the Russian soul and psyche. In fact, Putin devoted a whole manifesto to it in 2012, detailing in not so un-certain terms just how he planned to address the unattached former Soviet states. It’s a fascinating read and rather candid insight into the mind and methodology of an aspiring founding father. Considering that the the real point and thesis of his argument is cleverly hidden in the fifth point, Putin maudlinly meanders through the touch points of Western social and national identity by paying lip service to the “stalling and smoking” stop-and-gos of the developed world to absorb their immigrants and minority citizens. It’s a noble quest, Putin posits, but has resulted in what he calls “the failure of the multicultural project” in which the “right of minorities to be different” has been recognized and considered to an extremely unhealthy level and the only thing that can save any nation – especially one composed of Asians, Eurasians, Tatars, Muslims and such –  is a cohesive national identity that is strong, central and on one monolithic accord. Let the Americans rearrange their identity with every immigrant wave, let them hang themselves with the ropes of ethnic discord and cultural ambiguity but Putin has a different destiny for his Russia – Putin’s Russia.

what’s different about this map?

“My …suggestion is to curb chaotic migration from  post-Soviet states by means of regional integration,” he quietly suggests.  Especially the regional integration of Russia’s “historical territories”, which is an all but explicit shout out to Georgia, Chechnya and of course, Crimea. “When we start talking about infringement of the rights of Russians in Russia, and especially on Russia’s historic territories, this indicates that the government structures are failing to perform their direct obligations – to protect the rights, life and safety of citizens,” Putin says, very deftly failing to clarify whose citizens he was referring to.  In other words, let’s reassemble the Soviet Union, bloc by block. Which is to say, Putin has been planning the annexation of Crimea for years and like any good dictator, he used Sochi the element of distraction to his advantage. It would make sense that Crimea is first check on the list. It is small, easily accessible and in the grand scheme of things of priorities, like fighting for Ukraine’s E.U. soul or Russian natural resources, the West will stomp off like someone stole their favorite bike. And Putin knows this. Putin knows that the West will meet him with the silent treatment, expulsion from their cool kids’s table and arguments about morality, but he and his Russia can live with that. Me Against The World, remember? In a Western world that has been overextended with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and spiraling economies, Crimea is a bitter but small battle to swallow.

The future is assured. It’s the past that keeps changing.” – Russian proverb

But for Russia, this is war. The Crimean War 2.0 to be exact and what we’re forgetting in the West is just how much this means to Russia, for the West is forgetting how much Russians are defined by their history. If in America, we obsessively define ourselves by our future and promising selves, as befitting of the descendants of Europe’s displaced but hopeful second and third sons, Russia is just as characterized by  the ruin, glory and the gall of the Mongols, serfs and the czars. Moscow is how the world sees Russia; Crimea is how Russia sees Russia. Crimea is beyond mad important; it’s been the stage of countless pivotal moments in Russian and world history. Yalta. Russia’s link to antiquity. Khrushchev’s shame. Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The expulsion of the Tatars. The Cradle of Russian Christianity. Crimea has borne the brunt and shouldered some of Russia’s greatest triumphs and disasters and is part dacha and if not the heart of the Russian soul, a very strong candidate for the aorta.

If Putin manages to annex Crimea and the southeast of Ukraine peacefully I personally forgive him [for] everything: wild corruption, the lawlessness of officials, lack of any prospects in the economy, disorder in education and journalism and even the common stupefaction of the people….”- Facebook page of Artem Nekrasov, Moscow yuppie

The Crimean War of 1854 showed Russia – and the world – that for all of Russia’s Francophila and czarist decadence, she was painfully backwards and not au currant with the rest of the Western world that, at the time, it desperately wanted to belong to. Mark Twain, fresh from one of his tours of Russia wrote in 1872’s Flies and Russians: “We have the flies and the Russians, we cannot help it, let us not bemoan about it, but manfully accept the dispensation and do the best we can with it.” Russia, until Stalin, was little more than the drunk uncle, who so long as he didn’t fight anyone at the dinner table, was allowed to ruin himself into oblivion in the outhouse. The Crimean War was a defeat that set the stage for Russia’s resigned role on the world stage and in Rocky movies – the “Godless” country that fit neither in the West nor the Far East, a country of astounding beauty and profound ruthlessness. The psychological scars of the sidelines, Russia has never been able to forget, or more correctly, allowed to move on, depending on which end of the index finger you’re standing.

And, if history gives a context for the self -sacrifice and poetic brutality of Siberian winters, the crippling legacy of serfdom, centuries of Mongol rule and excessive Francophilia, then one might say history gives meaning to the Russian Soul.  And in the same flippancy that Americans categorically refused to be shamed by the history and legacy of our own peculiar institution, we forget or are blissfully unaware of how humiliating the defeat of the last Crimean war was for Russia, who has never been allowed to forget. Perhaps this is why the Crimean Situation of 2014 is so crucial. Russia’s tired of the humiliations, the disdain and disregard and like Freddo in The Godfather, wants some respect goddamn it – and will do just about anything to get it too. Even remind you that she can kill you.

To many Russians, the annexation of Crimea can be seen as the beginning of a return to Russia’s rightful role as a superpower. To the rest of the watching world, it’s another disturbing anschluss that has the world watching and asking – will Russia try to invade Ukraine too? The popularity of Artem Nekrasov’s Facebook post certainly seems it would have overwhelming support in Russia. The the embolden disrespect of Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty has more than shades of 1938 than what anyone would like to revisit. Like the citizens of Hitler’s Germany, the illegal annexation of Austria enjoyed an insanely high approval rating  – both the Russians and the Germans approved of their respectively added territories by over 95%. Professional, academic and arm-chair historians alike have noted it was almost 76 years to the day of Crimea’s annexation to Russia that Hitler annexed Austria. Germany too was stumbling along the Walk of Shame of humiliating defeats and a weakened economy until a deeply charismatic leader from humble origins came to tie it all together. Time will reveal if that history will repeat itself or sing a new chorus, though it seems to have discovered the art of the remix.

The Ultimate Hack: Kanye West and the Politics of Code Switching

Twitter, Facebook and blogs across America have been after Kanye’s life after his appearance on Kris Jenner’s almost mother- in-law’s show. Not just this article, but a few have dedicated considerable HTML to figuring out just what exactly is up with ‘Ye’s voice. But let’s be honest: what everyone is really trying to say is that in comparison to how he used to sound:

Earlier Kanye

And how he sounds now, Kanye sounds nasally, softer and more tense – in other words, he sounds White.

To be clear: the term is offense and baseless, but yet, we continue to use it, or rather, the ideology of the term when we as a culture question the validity of a man’s inflection points. Everyone is speaking in code about Kanye speaking in code, yet no one has just come out and said it in those terms.  While no intelligent person would actually use that phrase, much less accuse someone of that for all of the loaded and deserved criticism that would come their way for it, people are saying it. They’re saying it by asking, “why is Kanye talking like that?”

But what is like that? Well, it surely isn’t this:

And it’s not this:

And despite paying courtly homage to kiss the pinky ring of the Kardashian padrona, it’s clearly not this either:

What isn’t clear – to the uninitiated – is what Kanye is doing on a more subliminal level. The posture, the effects, the tone – Kanye is playing down his (Black) masculinity in hopes of playing up his (universal) relatability.

It’s an ironic switch for a man whose latest album has been considered by some to be a love letter to mysigony. And this isn’t a case of “dumbing down my audience to double my dollars.” Most of the people in Jenner’s actual and intended audience are not and won’t ever be checking for a Kanye record. Kanye, an eager, if not masterful self promoter knows this. He’s not trying to get them to buy his records; he’s trying to show them – the people who will never listen to the complexities of his story in his lyrics, but will brand him by his Black masculinity and jackassness – that he can be not just human, but normal – their kind of normal. The kind of mundane normal that fills Facebook timelines for people who don’t genuinely have concerns about privacy beyond an obsession with Big Government. Sharing photos of his baby, publicly proclaiming his love of the mother of his child, wearing chambray; Kanye is doing his best to relate to this life. Meanwhile, these fascinated White women – in the studio and in the larger audience -make his way of life and subsequent disconnect possible; it is mostly their suburban children whom their parents’ increasingly-harder-to-come-by middle class wages to simultaneously mimic and fund Kanye’s larger-than-life – that of a Black man who supercedes race and yet, can’t escape it. These White women know it, Kanye knows it – and he knows that these women and their aforementioned children can’t relate or understand at all the last part of the previous sentence.

Hence, the code. Hence the necessity of the code. Hence the prevelance and urgency of code. It is a shorthand for all that can’t be said completely and safely in an unfamiliar setting;  the most and least Kanye can do is try to not get attacked by mimicking the kind of normalcy that they can relate to.  By sitting uncomfortably on Kris Jenner’s couch and with the tonal pitch of the college student he once was, Kanye reminds whoever is watching that he is after all, a college drop out and the son of a professor. He reminds us that he spent part of his childhood in China. He reminds us he gave a talk at Harvard (which could be a whole other conversation about Kanye’s code switching). He reminds us that he came onto the scene wearing Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren Oxfords. I’m let y’all finish, but Kanye was the first to chop it up with Daft Punk. Had things been different, ‘Ye just might’ve been a yuppie.

So in the same thousands-of-years old traditions of oral history, folklore and songs, invisible ink, graffiti and other means that marginalized and silenced people have used to communicate when they refused to go quietly into the night, Kanye continues to reinvent, circumvent, endure and hell, get something out of it. Or at least try to.

And the people who pick up on this instinctively understand this complex cakewalk of code, for he is doing what most people of color do when caught in a room of white walls and a White public: he is trying to make his audience feel safe. Kanye is saying what his Black body can not; that he understands that in this moment, at this time, the ultimate performance is not even the seemingly effortless way his voice floats up class distinctive registers, but how well he recognizes – or even better,  extinguishes – White fear and White suspicion.  This is the underlying and fundamentally, most important philosophy of code switching, which informs and guides all other actions and postures of code switching.