Saturday, August 08, 2015

"White People on Twitter:" The First Single from the New Guante & Katrah-Quey Album, "Post-Post-Race"


“White People on Twitter” is the first single from the upcoming album “Post-Post-Race,” the debut collaboration from the Twin Cities’ Guante & Katrah-Quey. Over Katrah-Quey’s disarmingly subtle, contemplative beat, Guante (a two-time National Poetry Slam champion in addition to a critically-acclaimed MC and social justice activist) lays out all of the common complaints and evasions from white people whenever the subject of racism comes up, building from a clever, laugh-to-keep-from-crying deconstruction of #AllLivesMatter tropes to a devastatingly serious look at the consequences of those attitudes.

Music: Katrah-Quey: @kqbeats | Words: Guante: @elguante
Mixing: Evan Bakke and Graham O'Brien

...so that's the official blurb. A few more thoughts:

My biggest worry with releasing this song isn't trolls or that white kids might "un-like" my Facebook page. It's that the song is very much part of the album, and the album has a specific thing that it's trying to do. This is the first track, so even though it has its own self-contained "breezy-half-funny-intro-transitioning-into-a-serious-point," it's also very much the setup to a larger arc.

I actually had no plans to release an album this year. But then I got a folder of beats from Katrah-Quey, spurred by a relatively random Twitter exchange between us and Lydia Liza. While brainstorming song ideas, I found myself only being able to write about race, based on all of my Twitter conversations, real-life conversations, and the work that I do as a touring artist/facilitator. The danger in that, of course, is assuming that "writing about race" is automatically a good thing, especially coming from someone who looks like me. I've written songs about race before (like "The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege" and "Other"), but never an album-length analysis/deconstruction/exploration/whatever.

So I decided to run with the impulse to write songs about race, racism, whiteness, and racial justice activism in the age of #BlackLivesMatter, but did it only under two conditions. First, it had to be a platform for multiple voices, and not just me. So there are a lot of guest artists on the album, each bringing their own perspectives to the project. Second, it couldn't just be "songs about race." It had to have something more specific to say, something deeper to contribute to the conversation.

Which brings us back to this single, which doesn't necessarily illuminate those two important points. What it does, hopefully, is set the stage for them. We don't have a release date yet (just trying to record a couple more guest appearances and finish the mixing/mastering), but this is work that I think is as conceptually grounded, as lyrically focused, and as musically engaging as anything I've done yet. Excited to share it. Lyrics after the jump:

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

"A Pragmatist's Guide to Revolution (Graham O'Brien Remix)" Plus Links About the Effectiveness of Protest


This song is included on my latest release, a free sampler mix pulling together some of the songs I've written that are most important to me. Big Cats produced the original version (here), and Graham O'Brien produced this one, which mashes up two verses from that song, a third verse from another song, and a hook from yet another song. I like the overall effect, and love this beat (especially the outro-- listen to the whole song!)

My "political" writing tends to be pretty specific-- a song about sexual politics, a song about whiteness in indie hip hop, a song about language & bullying, etc. At first glance, this song might seem like a departure from that, more of an all-purpose "conscious MC 'political' song." And there are elements of that in here, but I wrote this song to make another fairly specific point: that change comes from organized struggle, from everyday people working together to build the world that they want. It isn't just about electing the right people, or hoping things will inevitably work out; it's about actively shaping history through intentional activism and solidarity.

"Marching around with signs doesn't really change anything" is such a shallow analysis of what "marching around with signs" represents. Of course, on a literal level, a single protest doesn't change the system. But protest organizers know this. A march is never about magically fixing everything; it's about a range of tactical considerations: plug-in points for new activists, media coverage and narrative-shaping, a public show of force to foreshadow future electoral (or extra-electoral) power, a space for solidarity and emotional release, a jumping off point for even more intentional organizing inside & outside systems, etc.

The same could be said for social media-- a hashtag along doesn't change the world. But it can be an incredibly useful tool for raising awareness, coordinating multi-city efforts, shifting the larger narrative, and building a movement. Movements are, after all, complex machines, with gears of many different sizes turning simultaneously to accomplish different functions. It's personal, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and the real world has reflected this idea quite a bit lately. A few good links:


"The #BlackLivesMatter movement is already making a difference. We're clearly nowhere near where we need to be, but these recent cases played out differently than they would have a year ago, or five years ago, or ten years ago because of all the work and all the noise that young people have been making while we keep saying that they don't have a plan."

Jay Smooth is the best. I think a lot of people know that already. But this video in particular is super important, in that it recognizes how much still needs to done while affirming that the work being done right now is already starting to bear fruit, that "that mountain is moving." More proof:

Lynette Holloway at The Root:
40 New State Laws Sparked by Michael Brown’s Death in Ferguson

"Who said protesting is ineffective? Since Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo., was shot and killed Aug. 9, 2014, by white then-Officer Darren Wilson, lawmakers in nearly every state have proposed changes to the way police deal with the public, according to the Associated Press."

Shaun King at DailyKos:
Just because you don't know what changes protests have produced doesn't mean changes aren't real

"Yet, the refrain I hear far too frequently is, 'Protests don't produce change.' Technically and practically, this just isn't true. First and foremost, offline protests are a way for people of like minds to join together to express their shared pain and frustration. This solidarity is wildly significant but is too often dismissed, mainly by people who don't protest, because they don't haven't experienced it to understand its value. Online, tens of millions of people are now better connected with one another and with the issues around police brutality in ways that are markedly different than anything we saw in 2013 or earlier. While it's despicable that every person killed by police ends up as a hashtag and trending topic, the reality that people killed by police are often the No. 1 trending topic in the world signifies a sea shift in solidarity and awareness of the issue."

Andy Cush at Gawker:
Here's Proof That Black Lives Matter Protests are Working

"Those who argue that forceful demonstrations only serve to entrench people in the positions they’ve already taken are wrong. People are changing their minds. Just like it did for the suffrage movement 100 years ago or civil rights in the ‘60s, public protest is working in 2015. Now all we need is some meaningful policy change."

Julia Craven, Ryan J. Reilly, Mariah Stewart at Huffington Post:
The Ferguson Protests Worked

“What’s sad is it often takes a tragedy,” Oates said. “What happened in Ferguson wasn’t unusual -- which is awful, but true. The response was unusual, and the depth and breadth of the protests was unusual. And you could kind of see it coming from Trayvon Martin ... This rising awareness [about] race and unfairness, and this real question about what was really going on.”

...and if you're looking for a super concrete example, check out this story by Scott Heins at Okayplayer. A lot of people shared this because of the Kendrick Lamar angle, but I think there's a bigger story in this quote:

“Today after the ending of the convening as everyone was walking down the street CPD arrested a 14 yr old,” wrote uploader Blake Piffin. “While everyone was demanding his release an officer pepper sprayed the crowd and further escalated the situation. In unity and solidarity everyone was demanding that he be released, and we stayed and protested until they released him!”

Again, no one is arguing that the struggle is over, or that "marches and rallies" alone are all we need. None of the new laws being passed will end police violence. But this is what movement-building looks like. Here in the Twin Cities, the Black Liberation Project just organized a successful #SayHerName solidarity action, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (one of the most active, effective orgs in the community) are raising money to literally rise from the ashes, and there's more coming from #BlackLivesMatter Minneapolis, Voices for Racial Justice, Communities United Against Police BrutalityTruArtSpeaks, and countless other organizations and individuals are doing good work. As always, it starts with knowing what's going on, then plugging in and getting involved.

Related: 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Maybe Progressives Are Too Critical of Each Other, or Maybe You're Just Not Used to Being Criticized


"The Left is eating itself!"

"We need to focus on our real enemies instead of criticizing each other!"

"Ultra radical social justice warriors are a joke, and their PC-policing will be the end of the progressive movement!"

There was a time when I was a lot more sympathetic to attitudes like this (well, at least the first two). If you're around activists, online and offline, you do start to notice a particular breed of organizer who seems to care more about scoring more-radical-than-thou points than about actually building a movement. They might roll their eyes because you haven't read a particular book, or talk all in academic jargon and then be super condescending when you don't get what they're saying, or swoop in to point out what you did wrong while never actually pitching in.

And yeah, those people are annoying. But they're also relatively rare. The problem is, however, that there seems to be a growing number of progressives who take that basic jackass archetype and apply it to ANYONE who has a critique, or a call for greater inclusiveness, or a challenge to the progressive status quo. So even when people have super legitimate, necessary critiques, they get lumped in with the fringe, characterized as "just as bad" as their radical conservative counterparts.

The reason that I'm no longer sympathetic to those attitudes is that my real-life experience with movement-building has shown me that very rarely is the problem that progressives are too critical; much more often, we are not critical enough.

When Bernie Sanders flubs an opportunity to stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, we can acknowledge that as a flub and push him (and his relentlessly white campaign) to do better, or we can shout down the critiques, on some "he's really great and the best chance we have for real change so everyone shut up!" (further conversation about this on my FB page).

When a panel discussion on a feminist issue features five white women, and then gets called out for being too white, that's not "nitpicking." That's acknowledging the long tradition of the erasure of indigenous women and women of color from mainstream feminist discourse, and pushing for something better. Maybe it's easier to see it as "not a big deal" when you happen to not be affected by it.

When "well-meaning" talk-show hosts and journalists continue to ask ridiculous, offensive, invasive questions to trans people, we shouldn't all just shut up because they're "trying to raise awareness." There are ways to raise awareness without throwing people's dignity under the bus. Again, they can do better.

The whole "we have to stop making good the enemy of perfect" attitude assumes that those adjectives are objective and universal, ignoring the fact that what so many of us see as "good" can actually be harmful and counterproductive to movement-building efforts. Historically, who has been able to frame this debate and decide what "good" is anyway? Even in progressive circles, it's been people who already have some access to power.

So now when the internet gives a platform to counter-narratives and other definitions of "good," old-school mainstream liberals find themselves being challenged. That's why so much of this discourse is couched in condescending, tech-oriented language ("hashtag activist," "tumblr feminist," etc.), and framed as personal attacks when they're actually critiques of power.

The idea that feminism, for example, has been "taken over" by the man-hating trigger warning reverse racist thought police is as ridiculous as it is weirdly common, and a lot of the people making that argument either benefit from the status quo, or have no dog in the fight anyway. My job lets me meet feminists/activists/leftists from all over, and I can tell you: the problem isn't that "we're too self-critical." A lot more damage is done by those with some access to power refusing to be challenged/critiqued than by the critics themselves. 

The thing that I just cannot wrap my head around is this bizarre belief that it's so HARD, that there's an expectation that everyone has to be PERFECT and we just can't-- as individuals or as a movement-- ever get there. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. But there is an enormous difference between those of us who actively try to do better and those of us who whine and want the rest of the movement to accept us unconditionally. I'm certainly not perfect, but somehow, even as a very vocal, very privileged, public personality talking about a lot of serious issues, my life is not an endless series of call-outs.

If your life does seem like an endless series of call-outs, maybe that's on you. If you're a liberal professor and you're scared of your liberal students because they embody "call-out culture," maybe you deserve to get called out because you're saying or doing things that hurt people.

If you're a guy who doesn't feel welcome in feminist circles, maybe you should think about why you want to be in feminist circles as opposed to introducing feminist ideals into the circles you're already part of.

If you're working on a campaign and you know that your candidate's platform will have a positive effect on communities of color, but those communities aren't supporting you, maybe you need to do more to bridge that gap rather than huff and puff that "they" just don't get it.

Of course, passionate people go too far sometimes. But it's really important to think critically about who gets to define "too far." Because for every bogeyman story about someone caught up in a wave of critique for an honest mistake or misunderstanding, there are many, many more stories about erasure, invisibility, and liberal racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. that have been silenced for decades. Slowly, this is changing. This shift is happening right now, and as progressives, we should have the strategic and moral sense to embrace it.

To me, being a progressive/radical//leftist means challenging established systems of power. Doing that within our own movement doesn't make us weaker when it comes to doing that in our society; everything I've ever learned or experienced as an activist tells me that it makes us immeasurably stronger, and that it's the only way we can actually win.


Further Reading:

Joan Walsh at Salon: Bernie Sanders’ big test: Can he learn from his Netroots Nation conflict with Black Lives Matter activists?

Kat Stoeffel at the Cut: Why I Stopped Rolling My Eyes at Trigger Warnings

Amanda Taub at Vox: The truth about "political correctness" is that it doesn't actually exist

Me: "A Visit from the PC Police"

Friday, June 05, 2015

Sifu Hotman T-Shirts, Be Heard MN Team Send Off Show, Other Summertime Updates

A couple of updates:

I posted about this a little while ago, but Sifu Hotman (me, deM atlaS and Rube) was recently featured as "the weather" on the Night Vale Radio podcast, which is apparently one of the biggest podcasts in the world. The response has been bonkers, and it's been beautiful to see that project getting a big second push, because it deserves it.

With the renewed interest, Rube is printing up new t-shirts. He made our beats, and he prints the shirts too-- all in the same studio. Go get one!

In other news, here's a big event to look out for:

TruArtSpeaks has been doing good work all year; this show is a showcase and celebration of the 2015 Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam team before they head off to represent MN at Brave New Voices. The Send Off will be on June 15 at Intermedia Arts. The last few shows we threw there were huge, and this should be the most exciting one yet. Hope to see you there. If you can't make it, support the organization's work here through our #7UpForSocialChange campaign!

Also, I should mention that I wasn't planning on releasing any new music anytime soon-- I'm neck-deep in a ton of different artistic and activist projects, and that just wasn't on the agenda. But as it always goes, a producer sends you a folder full of beats, you start writing, and suddenly you have a new album. More news on that soon.

Finally, I am currently booking for Fall and Spring. The calendar is going to fill up fast this year, but if you want to bring me to your school or wherever, check out my booking info page and get in touch!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Spoken-Word Tips and Tactics Part 4: Diving In and Getting Involved with Spoken-Word as a Culture


As always, these videos are not meant to be "guides" or teach anyone anything. I'm just sharing tools that have benefited me and the stuff that I think about and try to be intentional about. I'm no expert, but hopefully something in here can be useful for you.

This installment focuses on a question that comes up all the time: how does someone get involved with spoken-word, not just as a form of writing and performance, but as a culture, a community, and potentially even a career? That's a big question, but I share a few thoughts here.

Also, a few links to things that I mention in the video:

TruArtSpeaks (Be Heard MN Youth Poetry Slam series, ReVerb open mic, much more)

List of open mics and slams in the Twin Cities

Well-Placed Commas weekly poetry workshop

This is part four in an ongoing series. Catch the the first three installments here. More to come!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

#YesYesYes Consent-Themed Poetry Show, Sifu Hotman on Night Vale Radio, Other Updates

A few big updates:
On Wednesday, May 20, this consent-themed spoken-word show will be happening at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis. Performers include Keno Evol, Thressa Isobel, Kevin Yang, Simone Williams, Kenny Ngo, Sophie & Ally, and See More Perspective, as well as Chava Gabrielle and me. Here's the FB event page.

Chava approached me about collaborating on this event a few months ago, and it's shaping up to be very cool. Sponsors include great organizations like TruArtSpeaks, The Aurora Center, The Sexual Violence Center, Line Break Media, and Intermedia Arts, and we'll be doing some audience-centered interactive stuff too. It's also good timing; if you missed my brand new poem, "Consent at 10,000 Feet," check it out here.


This past Friday, the Sifu Hotman song "Matches" was featured on Welcome to Night Vale. If you don't know, Sifu Hotman is a collaborative hip hop project featuring me, producer Rube, and rising indie-rap star deM atlaS. And Welcome to Night Vale, apparently, is the most popular podcast in the world. A friend suggested we submit some music, and we did, not thinking much of it. But now that they've played it, the response has been overwhelming. It's so great to have this project in particular get a big second push, because I think it's one of the best things I've ever been involved with. If you missed it during the first run, you can get it here.

Update: as of right now, Sifu Hotman's "Embrace the Sun" is also the #1 best-selling hip hop album on Bandcamp. So that's cool.

Lots of other stuff happening, as always. First of all, thanks to Daniel Rangel for the new header photo; more media coming soon. Also, we're still pushing the big #7UpForSocialChange campaign over at TruArtSpeaks, and I'm so excited about that work. Lots of new projects in the works. Lots of shows coming up, especially once we get into autumn. In the meantime, I want to plug my Twitter feed, where I try to share not only updates on my own work, but link to as much cool stuff as I can. That's the best place to keep in touch. Please do.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Watch the Best Spoken-Word Show I've Ever Been Part Of (The Loft's EQ Supershow Full Video)



So this is something really special. In April, for AWP, I got invited by Bao Phi to perform alongside a bunch of my favorite poets at the Equilibrium supershow. Thanks to the Loft Literary Center, you can watch the full show online; the link above is a YouTube playlist of 34 videos.

When I say it's the best show I've ever been a part of, that's not an exaggeration. Watch the whole thing, and if you need some extra motivation, a few highlights:
  • Patricia Smith's headlining set. Again, I'm not trying to be hyperbolic, but Patricia Smith in on a whole other planet poetically. This is the most powerful poetry performance I've ever seen, and is a must-watch for #BlackLivesMatter organizers and advocates.
  • Marcie Rendon with a MN history lesson that got a well-deserved standing ovation.
  • Khary "6 is 9" Jackson with a rare performance of "Limbs," one of my favorite pieces of his.
  • Look at the rest of this lineup: Danez Smith, Ed Bok Lee, Tish Jones, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Marisa Carr, Emmanuel Ortiz, Lorena Duarte, Diego Vázquez Jr, Christy NaMee Eriksen, R. Vincent Moniz, Jr., Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria, Juliana Hu Pegues, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, David Mura, Electric Gemini Bailey, Shá Cage, Danny Solis, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Robert Karimi, Douglas Kearney, Ka Vang, Nimo H. Farah, Moheb Soliman, IBé, Andrea Jenkins, Tou SaiKo Lee, Frank Sentwali, and Louis “Babalu” Alemayehu.
  • A new recording of my poem "Quicksand" too.
I can't stress enough how valuable this playlist is. Channels like Button have done so much when it comes to capturing and documenting 21st century spoken-word, but they can't be everywhere, and a lot of the poets in this playlist don't perform at slams and/or aren't super active on social media. So if you have any interest in spoken-word at all, you owe it to yourself to watch this. Again, endless thanks to Bao and the Loft for making this happen, and to our whole community for being so brilliant and inspiring.
Photo by Anna Min; that's me between David Mura (!) and Patricia Smith (!)