Citizen: An American Lyric

“because white men can’t 

police their imagination

black men are dying”

I reread Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric recently. Published in 2014, this poetic, artistic snapshot of Black life in the US is stunning in its impact and intellectual heft. The book is decidedly not written for white men like me, and can, maybe should make white people uncomfortable. The combination of Rankine’s play with subject positions and the language’s poetic density makes me connect with the (narrative) voices. 

Citizen was The Stacks Podcast book of the month (part of the reason I reread it). I really recommend listening to the episode. Darnell Moore’s excellent critique of what is left invisible (queer, trans Black lives) and the strengths of indeterminacy really expanded my understanding of the book.

#IStandwithJamilah and Civil Inattention

Last weekend, Ebony editor Jamilah Lemieux, a Black woman, was severely attacked by (mostly) U.S. republicans after she mistakenly identified a right-wing critic of color as white. (She quickly apologized after realizing her mistake.) Racism ensued. I didn’t follow the mess in close detail, here is a good way to get a sense of it.

These harsh attacks on social media are common, unfortunately. As, Imani Gandy pointed out on TWIB on Thursday, it seems that the attacks and insults hurled at Black women/women of color are especially vile, and public support is rare, even from people who should be close allies to these women (white feminists, black men, the left.) That must be incredibly frustrating and tiring

I wanted to briefly comment on one aspect of the debate: The sense of entitlement by (white) guys to jump into discussions they are not part of, and/or the complaint of women of color (and other subordinate groups) about outsiders intruding into discussions they have among themselves. It is next to impossible to keep unwanted outsiders out of social media discussions due to what danah boyd calls the “affordances of networked publics (persistence, visibility, spreadability, searchability.) However, I think it is perfectly reasonable for women (etc) to express the desire to have certain discussions with each other, without outsiders crashing in with their unsolicited opinions, comments, or hate. We (™) really have enough attention for our opinions, by default.

In addition, I think that people inserting themselves into discussions they haven’t been invited to violate another unwritten rule of civil society: Civil inattention. The concept, defined by sociologist Ervin Goffman, describes the necessity for people within close public proximity to respectfully ignore each other in order to make public order possible and respect personal boundaries.

Social media  platforms (Twitter, tumblr, blogs, facebook pages, ..) are a public forum, websites that can technically accessed by all, which is what makes it so amazing. More often than not, publicly voiced discussions are open to the public, or at least open to followers. In order for the platforms to remain functional, democratic, and amazing, we need to respect other people’s wishes and boundaries.  


When Vanilla Was Brown And How We Came To See It As White : Code Switch : NPR

Kat Chow on NPR’s code switch blog wrote a great article on the history of vanilla. As with so many things originating on the American continent, the history is inextricably connected to colonialism, slavery, and appropriation by whiteness. For instance, the Totonac Indians of Mexico had the knowledge how to efficiently cultivate vanilla beans, a knowledge that was, for obvious reasons, not shared with European colonialists. The method of cultivating the plant was rediscovered by a young slave in 1841:

Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old French-owned black slave from the Bourbon Islands, figured out what other botanists had tried to do for centuries. Albius discovered that the vanilla plant could be pollinated by hand using a blade of grass or a swipe of a thumb. It was effective and labor-intensive, but once folks figured out how to pollinate the plants, vanilla as a flavor became more accessible.

It’s a fascinating story, I can highly recommend it. 

When Vanilla Was Brown And How We Came To See It As White : Code Switch : NPR