Essays and such.
My Gift Was Memory: On Ta-Nehisi Coates’s The Water Dancer
“As The Water Dancer was a decade in the making, any timely resonance with family separation in the context of the current political landscape speaks less to a conscious authorial reaching and more to the fact that government policy at its most injurious has often targeted the family. But the novel does stand out for training its trenchant eye on that aspect of the peculiar institution rather than bringing into stark relief the beatings and mutilations, the cotton-picking, the sexual violence, the corporeal punishment and physical danger thickening the air breathed in every second by every single Tasked person, all of which are still very much present in the novel. Whether because of the novelty of that aspect being made the focus in a piece of mainstream literature or whether because of Coates’s heartrending depictions of enslaved families in extremis, or perhaps because of both of those things operating in tandem, the horrors depicted never felt rote or part of any genre rulebook. In highlighting families, Coates made his characters individuals. All of the Tasked thirst for freedom. The water from that well is especially sweetened when one can bring one’s beloved with them.”
“The game also lit a more primal light in my body, the same set of neurons fired up by gunning down aliens or enemy soldiers in a first person shooter. Only, instead of the thrill that attends the realization of invincibility, the heart trip-hammers in your chest at the subversion of that realization: you see, there were eight Marauders fanning out to circle the car behind which I hid, as well as a sniper in a house down the hill, my ultimate destination, and I only had three bullets to my name.”
White Bears in Sugar Land: Juneteenth, Cages, and Afrofuturism
“The previous month, Jemisin had won her third consecutive Hugo Award for Best Novel, making history twice over as the first author to threepeat and the first to win for every novel in a series. For a series of novels quite explicitly about injustice and un-freedom, into which can be read with remarkable ease black anger and black pain and so many of those other complex weavings of emotion that stem from having buried somewhere deep in one’s genealogy that primordial wounding. In short, a series of novels that not only stars black people, but that thematically concerns itself with the business of being black in the United States of America. A series of novels about having too little and too much power simultaneously, about loving in the face of loss, about the separation of families, about containing in one calcifying body both God and woman.”
“My first exposure to this rarefied world was through my school’s summer reading assignment. One required book and two of the student’s choosing from a capacious list spanning many subjects. I don’t remember much of what was on the list that summer before I began high school, but I do remember that the required reading was Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. As the oldest son of a widowed Nigerian immigrant, enamored of anime and epic fantasy, I’d long grown accustomed to reading and caring about characters that in no important way resembled me. But, for whatever reason, this time I couldn’t. It is one of the only books I have never finished. I remember there were wolves in the book, or bobcats, or coyotes. And white people. With no superpowers or bloody revenge quests or any other compelling accoutrements. Just regular-degular, boring white people, and a pack of coyotes I seemed more interested in than did Ms. Kingsolver. A harbinger of what lay ahead.”
Pretty Woman: On the Allure of Androids
“Initially, Edison’s android Alicia is only able to repeat information that has been “programmed” into her circuitry, the parrot of other men’s thinking. She is so perfect a copy of Ewald’s Alicia that she replicates the very problem that necessitated her creation. But by the novel’s end, Hadaly generates different patterns of speech and shows evidence of a “spark.” Touch the air for but a second and face a level of complexity sufficient simply to become.”
“What often makes literature meaningful is that the reader can see themselves in the text, whether through a skin tone they share with the characters or a temperament or a locale, whether a particular familial dynamic, or even if they find in the text a simulacrum of their own psyche. To see oneself twinned, depicted, described, articulated, explained. Which is perhaps why few pieces of literature that I’ve ever read depict with more terrifying familiarity the interiority and exteriority of alcoholism than Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”
The art of the drug deal: Kanye West, ‘Daytona,’ and the exploitation of addiction
“Missing from drug rap is the banality of the whole enterprise. Taking its place are the industry of dealers in the kitchen, the lavishness of their celebration, and perhaps the occasional thought given to their victims. But so much of the addiction that fuels the drug economy is built on “hurry up and wait.” A flurry of violence, lies, robbing then quiet, very much like modern warfare. Dealers work and wait for sales. Their customers work and wait for the hit. Time collapses, existing only as the interstitial space between episodes of (self-inflicted) violence. For whom in the ecosystem that Daytona describes is time a luxury?”
Homecoming: How Afrofuturism Bridges the Past and the Present
“Afrofuturism has long concerned itself with counter-histories, the lion speaking in the hunter’s place. And now, we are seeing Afrofuturism contend with that central question again of what do we do when the future happens to us. Hacking. Enhancement and augmentation. Surveillance. Even post-human possibilities. Put those themes in the hands of a discipline one of whose weapons is hyperconsciousness of context, and the universe becomes quantum. A corner has been turned. Where before African-American and African discourse, dialogue, and aesthetic back-and-forth may have seemed like two ships passing in the dark, we are now close enough to touch. The Diaspora and the Continent may stand on opposite ends of the bridge, but they can see each other’s luminous smiles. Beyoncé’s short film, Lemonade, provides just one example of the seismic, paradigm-shifting spectacle that can be made of this union, of the dialogue that occurs when we find ourselves having upgraded finally from the telegram to the Blackberry to the beyond where the Blackberry is mere ornament.”
From Harlem to Wakanda: on Luke Cage and Black Panther
“While watching the first episode of Luke Cage, I noticed something of a minor miracle. Starting from the amazing opening credits sequence, you could actually count the minutes before a single non-black face graced the screen. Every character of consequence, heroic or villainous, was black. Not only that, they were characters well-versed in blackness, however stereotypical. Fittingly, one of the first real set-pieces is a barbershop. And not just any barbershop, but a barbershop in Harlem with the obligatory chess game, populated with older, venerable black men who dole out wisdom and refuse to swear in the presence of young men getting their shape-ups and who have no time for the old guys’ back-in-the-day talk. It was all there, along with Easter eggs peppered throughout a later discussion of crime literature. When the characters name-dropped Walter Mosley, Donald Goines, and Chester Himes, it felt as though the show’s creators had taken a long look at my own bookshelf.”
Where Do Scalia's Come From?
“In law school, you are taught the law. Which isn’t even really true, because you aren’t taught the law as it’s practiced on the streets of Chicago. You aren’t taught the law as it’s been practiced by banks in collusion with housing authorities to deny loans to aspiring homeowners of color. You aren’t taught why we have the carceral state we have. You are taught the law in all its sterility, so when you learn about Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Number 15, you can amend a pleading once if it’s within twenty-one days of originally filing or within twenty-one days of a responsive pleading. You don’t learn about the dude who got jacked up by police who refused to give their names when he asked and got his arm broken for it. You don’t learn about the excessive force suit he tried to file against the police department. You don’t learn about how the suit failed because he didn’t sue the officers by name and didn’t learn their names until after the amendment deadline had passed. And, if you happen to learn about those things, the message is “follow the rules,” not how the color of your skin or the amount of money in your wallet often determines the contours of your experience as an American. What you absolutely don’t learn is how to do anything about it.”
From Scalia and a White Supremacist, a Victory for Prisoners’ Rights
“Samuel Johnson was an avowed white supremacist who was under investigation by the FBI since 2010 and was suspected of preparing to commit acts of terrorism. He revealed to undercover agents his cache of AK-47s, semi-automatic rifles, and ammunition. He told them he had manufactured an explosive device meant for specific “progressive” targets.
And he may have provided a new avenue of relief for thousands of inmates of color nationwide.”