The Block Where All the White People Live

Context:

The South Bronx is notorious for its high rates of asthma among racial minorities as a result of their proximity to sources of air pollution. The combination of the poverty-stricken area and historical displacement exposes people of color to health hazards that are rooted in discrimination and negligence. (more…)

A Woke in Progress

“Josué grew up in Oaxaca and East Los Angeles and is currently a senior at Dartmouth College, majoring in Neuroscience and minoring in Latin American, Latinx, and Caribbean Studies and Womyn’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. He is passionate about deconstructing toxic masculinity through revolutionary love and fighting for transformative justice for all marginalized people.”

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An Unfamiliar Place

My foot’s through the door and there’s green all around me. The shops and fast food restaurants morphed into trees and more trees. No longer do the buildings graze the polluted skies. I can see stars now. I can see the stars because I can see the night. No longer is it a black restricted square in my room window. I can walk home at night without a shiver thrown down my spine

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SORAYA SEBGHATI + NIGHT TALKS

Night Talks is an alternative rock band based in Los Angeles, California. With vocals that are equal parts angelic and razor-tipped, bass and drums that drive, and powerful, shimmering guitars, they’ll remind you of the first time you stayed in your room all night listening to a record.

 

Bianka Bell: Soraya, what does it mean to “Play like a girl?”
Soraya Sebghati: To me it means to play with at least twice as much passion and drive. My reliance on emotion is more of an extra superpower than a hindrance, and I use it in conjunction with what people would call a more “logical” sense of intellect.

BB: What’s it like being the only female (but lead singer) in a male-dominated group?
SS: While it does honestly have its hard points, it’s mostly great. I have an awesome group of dudes who I do feel truly take the time to listen to me.

BB: How does your racial identity shape the content of your music? Does it at all?
SS: I wish it did more! I think on the first album it figured itself in subconsciously. I think it really contributed to a sense of isolation that I felt, and at the time I definitely couldn’t put my finger on it. Now that I’m more aware of my racial identity, I’m excited to see how it will show itself in my music.

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BB: We see most bands today still being represented by white musicians. Night Talks is predominantly PoC. What’s that like?
NT: It’s still really surreal for us! We’ve started to realize more and more how white and male the music industry has been. We’re excited to break ground and inspire other non-white non-male people to do what we do.

BB: Do you think it affects your success or the way fans perceive you?
NT: So far it hasn’t really had an effect on any of that. Guess we’ll see what’s in store for the future.

BB: What genre would you place your sound in? Do you feel more embraced by certain communities than others?
NT: In terms of genre, we definitely fall under the alt-rock umbrella. It’s always hard to describe your own music beyond that. BUT we definitely have seen people from all sorts of genres embracing us, which makes us really happy.

BB: Which of your songs encompass the relationship of your band the most? Why?
NT: If we had to pick one, we would pick Drift. It’s a song that we haven’t released yet that’s on our upcoming album. It has nothing to do with the lyrical content, but it’s a song where we all shine at specific points and that it really showcases all of our strengths.

BB: What’s next for Night Talks?
NT: We have another single and video coming out, to be followed by an album release. We’re hoping to get out on the road soon and play shows outside of Los Angeles!

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Check out Night Talks at http://nighttalkstheband.com/, and at https://www.facebook.com/NightTalksTheBand/.

 

Image by Alexis Sones

By Bianka Bell

Teaching During The Election

Sol Borja

“The campaign is ruining a lot of classes,” Mr. Wathke said. “You have kids saying, ‘We need to have a wall to keep Mexicans out.’ Well, what do you do if you have kids who are Mexican in the class?”

As an educator training to become a guide in a child’s academic discovery, you spend a lot of the time thinking about what can be misleading your students’ understandings. As a history teacher, my overall objective is to help students achieve a general grasp of history, and be able to framework that history as the reason for why we live the way we live. This can be difficult when the vast majority of our country’s political discourses are completely un-educational. I’m reprimanded if I try to teach a student the meaning of inequality by allowing them to engage in “adult” political debates.  Why is this?

Frankly, this election has become a mockery of (even) America’s corrupt white supremacist democracy. To my students, I have to rationalize the value of all life as a tangential argument as to why the economy would fail under Trump. I hear my colleagues expounding the idea that immigrants are important to our country because they fulfill jobs that white American’s don’t want to do; that the floors of the very building U.S.-born children have the privilege of learning in wouldn’t be clean without the permitting of immigrant labor. While I listen in on these justifications for the amnesty of Latin Americans into the United States, I am internalizing an expectation that I myself never wanted to fulfill — and hope my fellow immigrant students don’t, either.

I am an immigrant working under a white woman.

I am taking (or hope to take) a job that historically belongs to white Americans.

And I am proud of it.

Immigrants are here and we’ve been here. It is over-simplifying to state that we are exclusively the working class that this country needs.

We are a country of (supposed) diversity. When faces of color start fulfilling positions as public servants, it only means our country is doing something right. Yes, immigrants should be taking the jobs of white Americans. And no, not because we are better, but because it means we are bridging a racial, social, and economic gap by broadening our skewed and implicitly racist expectations.

This is where I am at a standstill­­.

I refuse to oversimplify politics and social inequality to make privilege more digestible for a twelve-year-old who believes in Trump’s harmful rhetoric (or what his parents teach him). Yet, from my understanding of the craft of teaching, I can’t say what I need to say unless I want to tailor a year’s worth of curriculum to understanding the inaccuracy of our current election. It leaves me in a position where I cannot educationally guide a conversation around the election, because it sports a façade of professionality, when in reality, it is a completely false representation of our country’s economy, history and politics. I can’t guide a sensible and respectable Socratic discussion around hasty exaggerations, over simplifications (lies), racist/sexist stereotypes, misinterpretations, and distortions of current or past events. The only way — as an educator of history — I feel this current election should be spoken of, is as a concrete example of how modern politics have become empty.

How language (as a medium of politics) is meaningless without accurate or meaningful uses or discourses. How all that is political is meaningless without talking about the politics; Who it appeals to, why they use this language, what sentiments this language is meant to incite in the audience, and who the system is meant to benefit.

It is a lot more complicated, even, than I have made it seem. The point is, as an educator in 2016, talking about the election is a disservice because of the amount of misunderstandings it gives our children. Trump does not create safe spaces, and the recent unearthing of his “locker room” talk certainly proves this. The point of emphasis in this national conversation has to be re-directed from the candidates’ rhetoric, to the actual understanding of the problems within our current example of a democracy.

 

Image by Bianka Bell

Diversity Talk

Rishi Mutalik is a junior at Bard College, majoring in political studies and theatre. On campus, he hosts a podcast called Compelling Conversations and he has interned for journalist Soledad O’Brien at her company Starfish Media Group, which aims to tell the stories of marginalized communities. Outside of Bard, he has been performing and auditioning professionally throughout his life. Recently, Mutalik gave this speech on his experience in the acting world at the Bard Leads Conference in August 2016. Here is his story:

 

“I’d like to start by painting a picture for you all. Imagine a 5-year-old me, sitting in a theatre for the first time. There is chatter everywhere, kind of like the chatter we heard in here before we began. The orchestra can be heard tuning. The lights go down, the room hushes. The sound of tuning turns into a symphonic melody. The curtain goes up, and people emerge from the stage. Not people—characters. As they take the stage, they begin telling a story. Through songs, dances, and monologues with the help of scenery, costumes, and lighting, they take the audience on a journey. I am enthralled.

15 years and hundreds of shows later, I still feel the same way.

This first experience propelled me to begin my life journey in performance. I wanted to be one of those characters that could take your breath away with just a note, a gesture, a line.  From a young age, I started learning everything I could about the craft of performing. I took every opportunity I could to sing, act, and dance in various venues like community theatre, concerts, and talent shows. From these first performances, I had already found my passion. At the age of 9, I auditioned for an agent in NYC.

Now picture this scene – an excited me at 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 years old – receiving auditions from my agent. I excitedly click open the emails with the audition information and what do I see – one character breakdown after the other flashing the same descriptors: Nerd. Nerd. Terrorist. Nerd. Antisocial, Asexual, Scared. Think of the character tropes in ‘Big Bang Theory’. All of this is despite my agent’s insistence on recommending me for every interesting and complex role available to a person my age in film, television, and theatre. It was as if writers and other creative people in the industry looked at people like me and saw only their own ill conceived, over simplified, and blatantly offensive Indian stereotypes. As a young child it was destabilizing. I had never characterized or viewed myself as what I was seeing and had never felt such limits placed on my identity.

Was I being too sensitive? I don’t think so. When your culture or any aspect of you isn’t fairly represented or are always the butt of jokes, it erases your humanity in the eyes of others and even in yourself. Such stereotypes are pervasive in the industry for all minorities and marginalized communities.

Fortunately for me, I have encountered a few progressive individuals in the industry who offered me roles that were not defined by stereotypes or limited by strictly white casting. Roles like Tom of Warwick in the classic Broadway musical Camelot, Bruno in the Tennessee Williams play The Rose Tattoo, and an immensely complex role for a South Asian actor in a new play called ‘ In Bloom’. To say that I felt liberated and exhilarated does not even begin to describe the feelings I experienced on being defined not by stereotypes of my ethnicity and my race, but rather by my talent and my humanity. These roles opened me up as an artist and gave me the same visceral feeling that I first experienced as a young child seeing my first performance.

Motivated by the majority of my experiences, I researched diversity in the entertainment industry and the facts I found were damning. There has only been one musical, Bombay Dreams, that featured South Asians prominently in the almost 100 year history of Broadway, and it ran less than three months. Only one Indian artist has ever been nominated for the prestigious Tony Award. There are countless other statistics and facts spanning all entertainment that reflect the same hopelessness and setbacks in the industry’s progress towards racial diversity.

So how do artists of color grapple with working in an industry that is not inclusive or representative of them?

Here’s how I feel. Through all of this, I am more passionate about my craft, more determined to succeed, and more optimistic about the future than ever before. Why is that? First of all, in recent years, I have noticed kernels of change. I see Aziz Ansari creating a story centered on the son of immigrants. I see the faces of Dev Patel and Suraj Sharma in films. I see Mindy Kaling and Priyanka Chopra leading television shows. I see people of color charting paths in theatre, film, and television.  It is hard to explain how visceral and emotional representation actually is. To see someone who looks like you in their full complexity, vitality, and excellence, is cathartic.

Second of all, my goals have also changed. My journey to this moment, now serves as a fuel. It has inspired me to pick up the pen and write the narratives and characters and stories that are not represented. It has inspired me to advocate for myself through articles and talks like this in which I say, “Yes we have a problem and here is what I am doing to solve it.” It also inspires me to use whatever creative freedom and choice I am given when I do get roles, to push the conversation, advocate for nuance, and combat racism, prejudice, or stereotypes in any form.

This goes beyond the arts and all that I originally dreamed of. It has inspired me to be a leader and champion for my community and to open doors that have not been opened. It has pushed me to be an inspiring image that young Indian children can look up to and feel that their dreams are valid.

As I continue to rise, I will use my power to raise hell and pull people up. And this is what I say to all of those working towards impossible dreams while trying to shatter glass ceilings. You might have started out just wanting to achieve a personal goal and you might be frustrated with the barriers you have faced, and you every right to be. But you now have the chance to be an activist, an advocate, and a representative for your community. Don’t feel a burden. Embrace it. Because as you work towards your dream, you can change the conversation, change your field, and change the images we see.”

 

Image by Bianka Bell