Knowledge through Music

Going through old emails and found this exchange with a friend.  I asked him first if I could post it here and he agreed.  For a bit of background, my friend is a pretty well known underground (isn’t that an oxymoron?) hip hop artist and dedicated father.  He helped me put together a nice compilation of music for Olga after her accident, and via that still claims Nina Simone as one of her favorite artists.  Also, as an aside,  to the exchange below I let the students in the after school program curse.    I explained to them that my goal was to help them be as eloquent as possible and that sometimes curse words are necessary and powerful but we have to know why we use them.  I showed them the following Saul Williams clip where he explains what he means by “mother fuckers” and I told them, that if they were to curse, I wanted them to defend their word choice as eloquently as Saul Williams, if not, there was no point in using that word (skip to 1:14).

im running an after school program.  all the kids live in the same apartment complex (subsidized housing)  all are on food stamps and only two families have dads.   some of my kids also, don’t go to school because they have been suspended (yes i know it is called an afterschool program).  Not one of my students is white.

anyway been trying to get them to learn about the history of hip hop.  tired to watch “Fresh” with them, tried to assign each of them a hip hop artist like KRS-One and K’Naan.  Aksed them to research how spoken word is related to hip hop, same with graffiti and break dancing.  Tried to get them to listen to some Saul Williams.  Today I am going to do MURS with them and his song “The Science”.

I just don’t know how to get them interested. I am really struggeling.  They’ve talked through the documentaries.  Called Saul Williams a fag and blew him off.  Don’t understand why we can’t do mainstream “artists”.

any suggestions?
elena mary


and his response:

if the names you picked where what I was exposed to I wouldn’t have fallen in love with hip hop the way I did. Now I’m from a different time and its hard to get a young kid today to get into some shit that came out before they were born because they are programmed to like what they hear all day.

Judging by there responses here are some concious but not soft suggestions.

Eric b and rakim – start with juice (know the ledge) and then give them the paid in full album.
Public enemy – it takes a nation of millions
Kool g rap – the streets of new york
What krs did you give em? Try by all means necessary. My philosophy specifically.
Dead prez – its bigger than hiphop and I’m an african
Nas is a good bridge. Genius. Conscious. Positive but street level at the same time.

Its tough because I listened to a lot of ignorant shit but I was balanced by positive and educating parents so I knew the ignorant shit was just entertainment. These kids don’t.

Without any interest fresh would bore them. Have them watch “the show” but screen it first alone since I haven’t seen it in a while and might not be appropriate.

Start there and let me know how it goes


I’ve been thinking a lot about this email exchange and that program.  I didn’t realize how fulfilling it was, and how good I was at it.  It has taken years.  You know, my attendance quadrupled (yeah quadrupled) compared to all previous teachers and I took back students that had been suspended (the administrators made it my call).  I had a soft spot in my heart for those kids that had been suspended, although I am not sure they ever fully trusted me.  All of my students increased their grades and attendance not just for my program but for their schools too.  It was awesome.  I wonder if this is what people like Gustavo, and Cesar EMC, and Cindylu feel all the time.


Ladies and Mountain Bikes

I participated in a mountain bike race in Tunchang, Hainan, China, I believe February before last.

Elenamary in Tunchang, Hainan International Mountain Bike Race

Elenamary in Tunchang, Hainan              International Mountain Bike Race

There were to be prizes for the top finishers in the men and women’s categories. At some point during the day, it was decided that the prize money that was originally to be awarded to the 3 first placing women would be given instead to the men.    They then added on the amount of money and the number of places that would be given prizes in the men’s categories thus completely eliminating any prize for the women.  As annoying, as it was, it was not my country nor culture, and I was pleased enough to have been invited to compete.

I received an invite earlier this week to be a spectator in Taxco, Mexico (my hometown) for the Down Hill Taxco 2012 mountain bike race at the beginning of November.  It looked so awesome that I messaged the organizers and asked if there was still room to compete and if not could I at least volunteer.  I received a response back that competition was by invitation only and nothing to my question about volunteering.   It seemed odd to me, and so I messaged back and asked how many women had been invited to participate.  In fact I have now messaged them a total of 6 times asking how many women have been invited to participate without a single response.  I’m guessing the answer is that zero women were invited, and zero will compete.  Here is a promotional youtube video of the race a few years ago, when it was then sponsored by Red Bull beverage.  The only pictures or videos I have ever seen of women participating were of women scantly dressed as Red Bull cheerleaders or as beauty queens for the competition.  What are the men afraid of that they won’t even invite a woman to compete?

I am going to re write this in Spanish and send this to the organizers in Mexico, letting them know that yes mountain bike racing in China was sexiest but at least they never stopped us ladies from participating.

The Black Nerd

The black nerd.  Not sure if  people are saying the phrase “black nerd” more or if I’ve just been reading so much on Donald Glover (swoon) lately that I’m reading the phrase more.  I’ve always had a place in my heart for the social awkward, for the nerds, for those who become fanatical over obscure and typically inherently anti-social pastimes.  Like my old friend Miles Curtiss who is obsessed with open source software, community gardens, and playing really bad music, and throws susagefests where he and the boys pay dungeons and dragons.  My long time friend Derek M, who was the lone black kid in our high school, on the chess team ( I was the lone Latina), and super into Magic the Gathering (GIANT NERD alert).  There are the black visual artist nerds like my friend Derek Stewart and my ex El-Amin Asadi.  Ashley the classically trained performance artist, Jahi the cycling enthusiast (another word for nerd), and KyJah who once said, and it has stuck with me forever, “solving a difficult math problem can be as beautiful as finishing a great novel”.  All the black people in my life are some kind of nerds, or more accurately, all the people I let in my life are nerds, in some way or another.  What I am also getting at, is that black nerds aren’t as a rare of a breed as some would have us believe.  (Did you know there are more black cardiologists than NBA players?)

A friend of mine was ranting about how someone had told him, he thought he was better than others and I interrupted and said “You are better than others” he disagreed with me and I argued that the world is full of a lot of people and limited time.   The people I choose to let in my life better be awesome or why waste my precious moments?  My friends are better than the average person, and I enjoy their company way better than I do the average person, that is why they are my friends.  Who wouldn’t want to embrace the black nerd?  Who wouldn’t want to embrace nerds in general?   Why is it brilliance and creativity is supposed to be foreign or new for black folk?  Or why does the idea exist that as the non-dominant group we reject nerds?  I sure as hell don’t.  Like it is a bad thing to be around, smart, creative, individuals who wrap themselves in the vivid colors of life.

I encourage you to seek out creative, brilliant, loving, inspiring people, and I promise to do the same.  Here are a few good places to start I think:

Read It:

We Are Respectable Negroes“He is also a resplendent purveyor of negro wisdom and collector of Black wit. Holder of the sacred chalice of the Ghetto Nerds. A believer in Black Pragmatism and the glories of the Black Freedom Struggle.”

Listen to it:
Roosevelt Franklin Something’s Gotta Give:  “The sing-a-long chorus of “S N M” sums up Roosevelt Franklin’s/conundrum: ‘Smart nigger music/that’s how they label it/like we should be ashamed for saying it/cuz the radio stations they ain’t playin it but I don’t care man, I’m a stay makin’ it.’ “

Watch it:

Comics Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele  Comedy sketch about being black nerds


SIDE NOTE:    yes i recognize only one black female nerd getting mentioned here…but that is a whole other post… please remember the black man got the right to vote long before women did in this country…so yeah i am keeping today’s post very heavily male dominated.

Cinco de Mayo in the Gateway

I live in a neighborhood commercially known as “The Gateway” (read government supported gentrification) although I prefer calling it by the more historical name Weinland Park.

While walking home from the gym last night I saw this advertisement:

Cinco de Mayo at Gateway

I did check out the website and the “events and specials” seem to be discounts on alcohol at two bars, the “Irish” one and the “Mexican” one (Kildare’s and Made Mex).  Which to me is personally interesting because an Irish friend visiting the US called me a couple days ago and asked what this Cinco de Mayo thing was all about.  I told her it was an annoying holiday only celebrated in the US.  I compared it to St. Paddy’s but the difference being in Ireland people have actually heard of St Patrick’s day.

My Mexican aunt who first witnessed cinco de mayo a few years ago, asked me why all the college students were sitting in their yards drinking beers while wearing sombreros.  How would you answer that one?   Anyway, back to the advertisement,  I am offended by it but am having difficulty articulating why, and was hoping my readers could help me out.  On a positive note, it is less offensive than the “spicy” one the North Market had a few years ago:
Cinco D' Ohio

dots, feathers, and oh my

I received an invite to a  “Whiskey Drinking” party. Who doesn’t love whiskey? I said yes, to the invite, as I do to just about every Facebook invite I get, and didn’t pay to much attention to the rest of the invitation.

My friend later told me that she too had been invited but that she didn’t want to attend the party because “They are inviting people to dress up as Pilgrims and Indians. I don’t want to go to a party where people are dressed-up as Indians and putting their hands to their mouths and making ‘woo’ ‘woo’ sounds.  It is racist.    I told my friend hosting it that I was uncomfortable with it and she told me that I could dress as a turkey.  I tried explaining this didn’t address the issue of racism.”

I could see how my friend thought the party was racist but it didn’t quite hit me until I saw the pictures.

It was when I saw the pictures that I realized “Holy shit! My friends threw a whiskey drinking party, during thanksgiving weekend, handed out face paint as well as construction paper for paper feather headbands. When did it ever become okay to put paint on your face for enjoyment at the expense of an oppressed group?”   When I expressed my concern to some of those in attendance I got different responses; “Well, some people were making fun of thanksgiving so they also added small pox face paint” or that face painting to be like another ethnicity was about as similar to my rainbow party costume, “It’s about as cool as dressing as a rainbow“, or that “Nobody actually *dressed* as indians, they put on construction-paper headbands and facepaint, kindergarten-style.”

Adding small pox does not take away the pain of painting yourself to represent an ethnicity or race. Comparing a rainbow during a political demonstration bringing awareness to bikes,  to a hipster in a gentrified neighborhood dressed as a “Indian” during Thanksgiving lacks understanding  of  the oppression, genocide and overt and covert racism.   One of the party hosts tried to explain to me why she party’s this way: “I celebrate Thanksgiving because it reminds me to be thankful for my wonderful friends, and whiskey, and a sense of humor, and facepaint, danceparties, music, old warehouses, and good times. Enough said.”

I am not chastising my friends for having fun, or dancing, or drinking, I love all these things (who doesn’t?!) I want people to have a good time, to acknowledge our childhood memories.  However, some of the things we did as children were hurtful, we weren’t wrong as children, we were children, we didn’t know better.  We know better now.
I guess my friends just don’t get it. I don’t know how to help my friends understand that their partying, like this, hurts me and offends me.  Not only are they not trying to understand the pain caused, they are looking forward to the next event:

“Private party hosted by my girlfriend and some other friends. The original wild turkey pilgrims and Indians party was 3 years ago in Italian Village. It took place in Franklinton this weekend but not associated with any group or organization. I had a blast and look forward to 2011’s.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends, if you asked them if racism was something we should tolerate they would all disagree.   I just don’t know how to get them to see how their own actions are hurtful and racist.  Maybe in June, we can hold a Juneteenth party, and put on black face, and drink forties, or if people are uncomfortable with that we can offer that  they dress as watermelons?