Straight Outta Prejudice: Media & Hip Hop Meet Again

As a hip hop fan, I am sad to admit that I have learned to lower my expectations when it comes to the big screen. I am unfortunately used to low-budget music biopics or dance movies designed for a teen audience with cheesy lines and mediocre acting.

So when I decided to check out Straight Outta Compton – the film recounting the rise of legendary rap band N.W.A and its prominent members Eazy E, Dr Dre and Ice Cube – I only expected a good soundtrack and a polished story about the geniuses who gifted the world with “Fuck Tha Police.”

I guess I underestimated the refreshing talent of the cast portraying the rappers we all know, and the director’s bold decision to let LAPD’s infamous early 90s practices resonate with the police brutality crisis that America is currently facing.

Ironically, CNN was more prepared for the intense content of the movie than me. So prepared that the network not only expected violent scenes in theaters across the nation, but seemed truly disappointed by the riots that failed to erupt.

This segment leaves me with so many questions. Because the movie contains violent scenes that hit a nerve, we should expect violent behaviors from viewers? In that case, let’s consider deploying security for the next Tarantino! But even if we followed this bizarre logic, why would people affected by racial tensions express their frustration while watching a movie that actually backs their opinion? And while we are on the subject, do I really need to remind the ethnicity of the last two shooters who brought chaos in movie theaters? I didn’t think so.

In the end, I am not shocked that CNN assumed the movie would cause violence. It’s just a reflection of the constant misrepresentation of certain communities and cultures in the media. Scorsese’s depiction of savagery in Gangs Of New York is an artistic interpretation of History, but Straight Outta Compton is an invitation to rebellion, right? Again, not surprised.

But for the media to be astonished by the million of dollars that Straight Outta Compton is generating just shows how disconnected journalists are from reality. If only their job was to report the news! Why, in 2015, does it still feel like the mainstream media is just being introduced to hip hop? Have they not done their research about N.W.A and the 10 Million copies sold in the country? Maybe they suffer amnesia. But where were they last week, when Drake became the only artist with a platinum album this year? Have they not heard of the overwhelming success of TV shows like Empire?

It’s sad to see that hip hop is never good enough for the media to recognize its global influence and power. I just hope to see the day when this culture no longer suffers the negative treatment from those I’m going to start calling journalists with attitude.

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The Rachel Dolezal Issue: Is Transracial The New Transgender?

Another day, another race scandal.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, a woman named Rachel Dolezal who is a NAACP local leader and an African Studies professor, has been caught in her own lie of living life as an African-American woman for the past decade. Even after being “outed” by her white parents and becoming the target of the web’s furor within 24 hours, Rachel Dolezal still claims she considers herself black.

I’ve warned you on how common controversies involving ethnicity are in America, but this one deserves its own post. So much has been said in so little time about Rachel that it’s hard to keep track. But the question that sparked the most intense debate was related to another person who recently broke the Internet for revealing her true identity to the world: Caitlyn Jenner. Beyond people calling Dolezal crazy, many media outlets and celebrities are wondering why America is embracing Bruce Jenner as a female and not a white woman as black.

While this seemed like a simplistic reaction at first, radio personality Charlemagne Tha God made me consider this as a relevant argument:

“If you’re mad at her just because she’s having an identity issue, but you’re one of the people accepting what Caitlyn Jenner or any other transgender person does—which I don’t have a problem with, I just like to note people’s hypocrisy—you should be more understanding of what this young lady Rachel is going through. (…) This young lady was born a white woman. She now says she’s a black woman. (…) I don’t understand how the rules of acceptance change on a case-by-case basis. They shouldn’t.”

The reason why Rachel Dolezal is causing such a controversy is because her story raises one of America’s most feared questions of the moment: how far can the freedom of self-identification go? If Transgender people become the “new normal,” then what is next? Even before Rachel’s scandal, CNN hosts expressed similar concerns while covering Caitlyn Jenner’s news. 

While these are crucial and interesting society issues that deserve to be studied and debated over, I think the narrative of Dolezal as a “transracial” individual is not valid. Are the cultural exchanges and social dynamics of the modern era leading to cultural appropriation and even assimilation? Yes. Are we going to see more and more people identifying as other races? Maybe…but only History will tell.

If “Transracial” is ever to become a thing, it won’t be because or thanks to Rachel Dolezal. Comparing her story to Jenner’s might be tempting, but is actually offending to the Transgender and Black community because of one missing key factor: honesty. Rachel might have suffered from living life as someone who didn’t feel like her true self, but she didn’t come out. She fabricated a character and put on a costume instead. The “lie” for Transgender people is the one they live since birth and revealing the truth is what sets them free and makes them a community. Dolezal responded to her own existential lie of life as a White woman with more lies, and may I say, not the classiest ones. Let’s not give her the satisfaction of believing that she started a movement. I’ll be ready to blog about Transracial people if such individuals ever come forward, but right now they aren’t real. I personally hope that they will, just so that Dave Chappelle can come up with a Racial Draft 2.0.

Beyond the racial stereotypes that Rachel perpetuated to make up her black identity or claims that she was discriminated against, the fact that she felt the need to switch identity to make a positive impact as an activist should be the real focus. As Rachel resigned from the President of the Spokane Chapter, the NAACP released a statement that serves as a powerful reminder: “One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.” Had Dolezal given some thoughts to that policy ten years ago, she might have made the headlines for positive reasons today.

In the end, Rachel Dolezal is the living proof that post-racial America is a fantasy. It’s the story of a woman so passionate about racial justice that she lost sight of her own prejudice: assuming that racism is a Black matter. In a way, her extreme actions are nothing but the product of the society that brought her up, where race issues are usually given the “white silent treatment.” So why don’t we talk about that instead?

 

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New York Trend Alerts – Spring 2015

Movie Theaters: OUT/ Museums: IN

Oscar season has passed, winter is officially over, and “HBO Now” is finally available, so why would New Yorkers want to pay 15 dollars to pile up in the dark? If you’re not convinced, just google “NYC movie theater bed bugs” and that should do it. Between the new cultural attractions and upcoming exhibits, ain’t nobody got time for movies, unless they are playing in outdoor parks of course. The new Chelsea location of the Whitney Museum just opened, and we can’t wait for the Hudson Yard Culture Shed to arrive in 2018. The High Line will be connecting the two centers for the perfect cultural stroll. In the meantime, The Met is hosting a Van Gogh exhibit this May and the Moma is currently showing Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, an artistic look at the mass movement of African-Americans from South to North that marked the 20th century. Y’all gonna learn today!

Apple Watch: OUT / Ringly: IN

I personally don’t think the Apple Watch was ever “in” but it’s now officially dead – sorry Karl and Queen Bee, maybe it wouldn’t be if we could all get the same custom-made (and free) gold Apple Watch. The New York-based jewelry brand Ringly came up with a much better concept: a tech accessory that will allow you to live in the moment instead of being a slave to your messages and emails. Ringly is the perfect combo for people who do suffer from FOMO but choose to enjoy life. The smart ring is connected to an app allowing you to filter all your notifications. The cute device will change color or vibrate only for things you want to know about. That way, you won’t reach for your phone unless it’s for something important. Hopefully they come up with a design for men soon!

Ringly is available on ShopBop & Bloomingdale’s

Soul Cycle: OUT / Walking: IN

Don’t get me wrong, New Yorkers are still addicted to Soul Cycling. But the fascinating practice of biking in a candle-lit room to a Beyonce/Lady Gaga/90s playlist has already made it to France, which tells me it will soon make it everywhere else, which also tells me that New Yorkers will soon be over it. While waiting for the next crazy work out to take over, walking is making a huge come back. This is mostly thanks to technology: the newest smartphones or wristbands allowing to convert steps into burnt calories motivate people to walk more. Many New York offices started hosting “Walking Challenges” and reward the most active employees on a weekly or monthly basis. Plus, recent studies have shown that “sitting is the new smoking.” We are basically wasting years of our lives and ruining our bodies because…shocking…we weren’t made to stay at a desk all day! So this Spring, ditch the Soul Cycle studio and save $40 for a free walk in Central Park.

Fancy Restaurants: OUT / Fun food districts: IN

If there is one trend in New York that will never go away, it’s food. We will always be foodies and do ridiculous things to try the newest places like waiting in line for two hours or hopping a ferry, a bus and a train to taste the latest treat. But it feels like New Yorkers are no longer down with paying the price of a plane ticket for a fancy yet non-filling meal. Upscale “food districts” seem to be the new hype and a good alternative to boogie restaurants. In the past few months, Gotham Market, City Kitchen and Le District opened in Manhattan, following the foot steps of the successful Eataly and Brookfield Place. Smorgasburg remains a Spring & Summer all time favorite, with an open-air flea market and beautiful view on top of an amazing selection of food vendors. Bon appetit !

Michael Kors: OUT / Backpacks: IN

Has New York’s favorite handbag brand gone out of style? Michael Kors’ shares are down 37%, and it looks like the designer is victim of its own success; now that everyone wears the famous purses, watches and accessories, why would people be willing to pay a premium price? For shopaholics and early adopters, it’s time for a new brand. Until fashion gurus announce the “new Michael Kors,” another trend has made its way to the accessories department: welcome back…to the backpack! The 90s have been invading our closets for a quite a while now, and it wouldn’t be a true revival without the iconic backpack. I knew that the Brooklyn’s hipsters had never really forgotten about it, but it’s now spreading everywhere, from corporate offices to Manhattan nightclubs. So don’t be afraid to embrace the nerd in you!

 

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Islam vs. Terrorism: Why Obama Gets It

This past week, Obama has been receiving major backlash for not referring to the military intervention against ISIS as a war on radical Islam. First of, when does Obama not get called out by fellow politicians and the media? He would probably stir controversy if he was doing the exact opposite…just saying!

All Buzzfeed jokes aside, the President’s stand isn’t another careful choice of words. It’s a remarkable humanist move but also a well-thought political strategy. Nothing sums up Obama’s position better than a meme that has been circulating for a while now: the Ku Klux Klan members were never labeled as religious extremists.

Yet, the organization – among many other White supremacy groups – used Christianity as an instrument to implement the most archaic theories. America never perceived the KKK through the lens of religion because the threat was internal. Not a single sane soul needed to hear how far the Ku Klux Klan’s ideology stood from Christianity because America was already familiar with the religion’s founding principles. In the eyes of History, the Klan will always be known for what it truly is: barbaric, inhuman and as Tarantino loved to remind us…moronic.

ISIS is orchestrating the same exact domination plan, but because it’s in the name of a religion little known to Americans, the threat should be considered differently? As Obama said, the fight against ISIS cannot be treated as a religious war unless we want to “Grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek. They are not religious leaders. They are terrorists.” Just like fighting the KKK, this is a fight for human rights.

By not giving into fear and stereotypes, the President is not only lending American Muslims a much needed helping hand, he is attacking ISIS at its core. Obama’s enemies might be too short-sighted to recognize the necessity of his words in times of tension, or maybe anti-discrimination is not on their mood board. But they should at least grasp their political meaning and strength.

ISIS needs to perpetuate the idea that the world is against Muslims in order to turn Muslims against the world. The group feeds directly on Anti-Muslim sentiment and prays at night that Western politicians and journalists entertain that vicious circle. ISIS wouldn’t be such a growing threat without Islamophobia, which is the leitmotif of the group’s recruiting campaign. Unfortunately, the United-States and European countries seem to easily fall into the trap. The President’s choice of words is simply aimed at reversing that dynamic which will eventually help destabilize the organization. That’s if American dares to listen.

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Charlie Hebdo Explained By A French Expat

Starting 2015 with a post on terrorism was definitely not on my list, but I figured it would be hypocritical not to. Although the recent attacks on the staff of Charlie Hebdo happened miles away from New York, they touched America deeply. As a French person exposed to American people and media’s perception of the event, I feel a responsibility to tell my side of the story.

The first and most frequent reaction that I noticed among Americans while discussing this tragedy is to question the legitimacy of Charlie Hebdo as a publication. No matter how much discrimination Muslims suffer in the US, the respect of religion ironically remains a golden principle in America. “Between you and me, what’s the deal with Charlie Hebdo?” “Some of its content seems questionable,” “Is it even a real newspaper?” Behind those typical ice-breaking questions, I could hear the real and simpler one loud and clear: “Is Charlie Hebdo anti-Islam?”

My answer would be just as simple: absolutely not.

Let me get this straight, islamophobia is a major problem in Europe and particularly in France, a country that accounts for the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. In 2013, 226 anti-Muslims acts were registered in France. Since the 2015 attacks, islamophobic incidents increased by 110% compared to January 2014. Marine Le Pen’s “Front National” – a far-right party that paints Islam as incompatible with France’s values, demonizes immigration and the place of diversity in society – represents 25% of the French electorate. So yes, France has 99 problems and Islam is (sadly) one.

Now back to Charlie Hebdo, the left-wing satirical magazine that lost much of his editorial staff in the recent terrorist attacks. This historical newspaper is known for its commitment against not just Islamic radicalism, not just Christian and Jewish fundamentalism, but against all forms of obscurantism. Charlie Hebdo expresses this stand through investigative journalism and humor, particularly satirical cartoons. It’s the latter mean of expression – used to caricature the Prophet Muhammad among many other religious, political and social subjects – that sparked off a series of attacks against the publication, which eventually led to the murder of ten of its employees on January 7, 2015.

Islam clearly forbids the depiction of the Prophet, which is why Muhammad cartoons in Western media have always provoked mixed reactions in the worldwide Muslim community and violent protests in fundamentalists circles. It has never been about the actual meaning or intention of the cartoons. There is a big difference between doing something non-Muslim – such as drawing a religious figure – and committing islamophobic acts, like vandalizing a Mosque or discriminating a Muslim job applicant. If Charlie Hebdo’s staff is islamophobic for not following the proscriptions of a religion that isn’t theirs, then wouldn’t that make anyone who drinks alcohol guilty of the same crime?

Many Americans assume that France has very little limits when it comes to criticizing religion because it’s an “atheist” country. To those, I will simply suggest to look up the definitions of Atheism and Secularism…Spoiler alert: they are not the same. Terrorists attacked the people who fought for humanism and defended the very value that allows Muslims, Jewish, Christians and Atheists living in France to be one people: secularism.  It’s the death of this ideal that eventually allows Marine Le Pen and friends to infiltrate ignorance and fear of Islam into the society.

But Al Qaida chose not to attack their direct target – islamophobic groups – first. The organization’s ultimate goal is to conquer, but no one can conquer without a war, and any conflict needs two opposite sides, two extremes. Eliminating the voices of moderation can then fairly be interpreted as a Al Qaida’s strategy to facilitate its overall mission. With the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, terrorists didn’t kill the enemies of Islam, they shook the European heritage of the Age of Enlightenment while delivering the most brutal message: even tolerance won’t be tolerated.

 

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How Little Does America Know About Islam?

Pledge of allegiance, dollar bills, national anthem, politics, court, army… In a country where God is literally everywhere, it’s hard to believe that people could be intolerant towards any religion.  So I found it disturbing when I heard that a NFL player was penalized for praying on the field in celebration of a touchdown. I thought America usually celebrated the expression of faith…but guess what religion Husain Abdullah was practicing?

If Islam is at the heart of many controversies in America, it has to do with the fact that Islamist organizations have been the number one enemies of the country for over a decade, but also because there are very few Muslim people living in the USA. Islam is a subject often surrounded by not only fear, but ignorance – aka the perfect combo for discrimination. Although the NFL quickly responded that the penalization for praying was an error, this tells a lot about where America stands not only with the Muslim world, but its own Muslim citizens. Beyond the obvious double-standard experienced by Muslims when it comes to public religious demonstrations, this incident raises another crucial question: how little does America know about Islam?

Judging by Bill Maher’s recent debate on the subject, I would say very little. One of his guests, self-claimed “very well educated on Islam” author Sam Harris started the conversation with the delightful: “Islam is the Mother lode of bad ideas.” No wonder why Ben Affleck called his words “gross and racist.” While I am not a religious person myself and agree with Bill Maher on the importance of challenging all beliefs, I think there is something deeply discriminatory in arguing that the “vast majority” of Muslims adheres to fundamentalist views.

If you were born and raised in America, chances are you didn’t grow up around many Muslim people as they only represent 0.8% of the population. You probably mostly heard about their religion via the news coverage of what has been called the “war on terror,”and that’s OK – as long as you don’t let that shape your thought process and refer to an imaginary “average Muslim” based on biased information.

Did the referee even know what the athlete was doing when he penalized him? Had he ever seen a Muslim pray? Was his decision based on hate or ignorance? I guess both possibilities make me equally sad, although ignorance can always be cured. Like my optimistic friend Wissam Hamou, a French-Algerian PHD student in regenerative biology and proud Mipster (Muslim Hipster,) pointed out: “There are different ways of being ignorant. In America, I feel like people ignore what Islam truly is because they haven’t been exposed to it in their daily lives. So when given the opportunity, they will try to educate themselves, and I think that’s a good thing.” So everything isn’t lost, but the challenge lies in creating opportunities to learn.

From the British students who started the anti-ISIS campaign #Notinmyname to Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, I could name many Muslims who are fighting against prejudice towards their religion, but also extremism within it. It’s just frustrating that the very people flagged as progressive in America fail to give them a voice.

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How Nicki Minaj’s Booty Started A Juicy Debate

If there is one thing that America loves, it’s a good ol’ scandal. Put race and a butt in the middle, and you get the buzz of the month!

Nicki Minaj is currently under fire for releasing the very racy art cover of her latest single “Anaconda.” From social media to online publications and even national news, everyone seemed outraged by the rapper for posing in a pink thong, leaving close to nothing to the imagination.

nicki anaconda

How was this exactly shocking news, when the show business industry has clearly made it a rule for entertainers to go naked or go home? This is the very question that Nicki took to her Instagram. For the first lady of rap, the nature of the controversy was strictly racial and she posted recent magazine covers to make her point.

Sports Illustrated

When white supermodels bare their booties for the world to see, it’s acceptable. When Nicki flaunts hers, it’s a massive attack. The rapper thinks society’s tendancy to hypersexualize black women is to blame. To her point, black women have been misrepresented in the media for centuries, and rarely portrayed as anything other than sexual objects. While she is bringing a crucial and usually silenced issue to light, is Nicki’s argument really relevant here?

Compared to the daily dose of female body images I am exposed to as a Millennial, the Anaconda art cover isn’t too different. But it does bother me more. Why? Because I do hold music – and especially hip-hop – to a higher standard than fashion. I don’t expect to be intellectually stimulated when I grab a magazine, but I do when it comes to music. That’s what the “Bootygate” scandal should be about. If the chorus of a song is “Oh my Gosh, look at her butt!” then what do you expect the visual to be?

The source of the problem is the content of the music, which is what Nicki Minaj, sadly, won’t take responsibility for. Like pioneer female rapper MC Lyte recently pointed out when asked how could hip hop be more substantial: “It would sound a little bit more realistic. It would be more reflective of the struggle that’s actually happening. It would be the reporting of truth. And right now, it’s a big party.”

If Nicki is going to compare the uproar her Ananconda cover caused to anything, why not mentioning Lady Gaga’s latest single cover instead of women that have nothing to do with the music industry?

gaga single

In that case, Minaj’s argument would be more powerful: it does seem like we are given free ratchet passes to white female artists. Her peer Iggy Azalea, who interestingly just dropped the teaser of the J-Lo remix “Booty,” is the perfect example.

But whether the raciness is served by a black or a white female rapper, the truth is hip hop lovers like myself are over it. We want to be lyrically challenged. Nicki Minaj may be the queen of punch lines, but the day of a punch song about something other than her booty (implants) is long overdue.

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