Sunday, July 28, 2013

Guante: A Visit From the PC Police (VIDEO)

New video! It's a new poem/PSA/collaboration with Linebreak Media about reframing the idea of "political correctness" to be less about censorship and more about choosing to not use needlessly hurtful language. Please share, re-post, blog, etc. if you like it.

Especially since this issue comes up every few months in the media, and pretty much every second of every day for people who pay attention, I'm hoping this piece can be a resource for people who are tired of saying/typing this kind of stuff over and over again.

Language matters.


The Oscars, Bad Jokes and Bully Culture

3 Points About Rape Jokes that People Seem to Be Ignoring

Responding to Common Arguments About Offensiveness

On Boycotting the B-Word a few extended thoughts on this piece over at Opine Season.

TRANSCRIPT (may not be perfect, but it's pretty close):

Monday, July 22, 2013

How to Completely Miss the Point in a Conversation About Racism

Originally published at Opine Season

“Telling [people of color] they’re obsessed with racism is like telling a drowning person they’re obsessed with swimming.” —Hari Kondabolu (hat tip to Donte Collins)

After a week of comments and conversations, I wanted to address the recurring points that some white people have brought up in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict. Because it’s not just about Trayvon Martin; every time there’s a national conversation about race and racism, white people (yes, I’m generalizing; no, I’m not sorry) tend to have the same kinds of reactions.

Getting wildly, irrationally defensive even though it’s not about you:
My column from last week basically just says “if you’re white and upset about the verdict, here are some things you can do to confront racism in your own life.” That’s it.

But then come the comments: “It’s racist to say that white people are racist!” “Why do we have to make such a big deal out of this?” “I’m white and I paid to go to college so there’s no such thing as white privilege!” “Why do we have to be singled out?“ The people talking about racism are the real racists!” “We’re not all like that!” “I’m so offended!”

White people: “talking about racism” does not equal “attacking you personally.” We desperately need to stop being so insecure every time anyone brings up anything remotely related to race and racism. You don’t have to agree, but to immediately jump into “eyes-closed-and-screaming” mode speaks volumes about you and the kind of world in which you’d prefer to live.

Refusing to acknowledge the role that race plays in our lives
“It wasn’t about race.” That was the most consistent theme in the responses. Time and time again, when there is a racial incident in this country, people of color point to the giant racist elephant rampaging through the room and white people say “oh that’s probably just the wind.”

Is it possible that Zimmerman would have approached a white kid the same way he approached Trayvon Martin? Sure… it’s possible. But the lived experience of millions upon millions of people says that it’s also extremely na├»ve to believe that.

When people of color talk about racism, they’re not just making things up. There’s no Black Santa who delivers big bags of money to anyone who claims to have been discriminated against. Racial profiling, harassment and discrimination are daily realities for millions of people. To just dismiss that as “whining” or “playing the race card” is unbelievably arrogant.

“Refusing to talk about racism” doesn’t end racism. “Ending racism” ends racism. If your house is on fire, you don’t just ignore the flames away. Maybe a better metaphor is if your neighbors’ house is on fire, you don’t tell them to “stop making such a big deal out of it.” You don’t look the other direction and say “but are you sure it’s on fire?” You help, or you get the hell out of the way.

Focusing on the details and ignoring the big picture:
“Zimmerman was half-Peruvian!” “911 dispatchers don’t have the authority to give orders!” “Trayvon was big and really strong and got in trouble at school!” “Zimmerman had an African-American girlfriend once!” “Since Travyon was right-handed, and standing at x angle, and the moon was at y point in the sky, there’s no way he could have…”


I think the biggest misconception about the outrage around the Zimmerman trial is that people are mad about the verdict. To be fair, many are. But many more are mad because Travyon Martin happens every day in this country. It may not always end with a dramatic gun death, but young black and brown men are demonized, profiled, harassed, imprisoned and killed every day for being young black and brown men (and women too, let’s be honest).

The marches and rallies that have been happening recently aren’t just about Trayvon Martin. They’re about the culture that demonizes black and brown youth, assuming that they’re dangerous, threatening, and up-to-no-good. They’re about the lack of accountability and consequences in police brutality cases. They’re about disproportionate minority confinement. They’re about the selective application of the “Stand Your Ground” law. They’re about the gross over-representation of people of color in the criminal justice system. They’re about who is given the benefit of the doubt and who isn’t, time and time again. They’re about the continued de-valuing of black and brown life in this country.

Argue about the specific details of this specific case all you want, but nothing in the above paragraph is up for debate. That’s the big picture that we—especially those of us who identify as white—have to see, if we ever hope to transition from “having a conversation about racism” to “doing something about racism.”

I posted these as a comment on the previous column, but I can’t recommend them enough; absolutely must-read material:

Questlove at NY Magazine

Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic

Aura Bogado at Colorlines

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Pre-Order the SIFU HOTMAN vinyl through Fifth Element, get the digital version instantly

I've had a wildly busy summer so far-- my article on white people and racial justice went viral, I wrote a series of articles on feminism and sexism that I'm really proud of, I got to be on live national TV, I'm coaching the MN Brave New Voices team, and a million other things... it's easy to forget that I'm an MC too. My new project, a collaboration with MC Dem Atlas and producer Rube (who also did the cover art above), will be available on vinyl and free digital download on August 13.

Pre-order the record, get the digital version instantly!
Yup. Everyone can download the digital version for free on August 13, but if you pre-order the vinyl, you can get all three tracks right away. This is a limited edition vinyl, and may very well be the only record I ever release, so scoop it up. Order now at Fifth Element!

SIFU HOTMAN is a hip hop collaboration between MCs Guante & Dem Atlas and producer Rube. Featuring funky, up-tempo beats perfect for the b-boys and b-girls paired with razor-sharp lyrics from two of the most singular voices in the Twin Cities hip hop scene, this three-song suite will be released on vinyl and digital download on August 13, 2013.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

An Open Letter to White People About Trayvon Martin

Originally published at Opine Season, the night after the Zimmerman verdict, where it maxed out our comment system... though the timestamp here is still July 2013, I'm actually re-posting this here a year later. Be sure to check out the addendum to this piece here.

In the next few days, there are going to be a lot of essays and op-eds attempting to make sense of, or grapple with, or process the Zimmerman verdict, from writers who are better than me. So I want to talk about this from a very specific angle.

This is an open letter to white people, especially to those white people who understand that something terrible has happened, and has been happening, and will continue to happen, but don’t know what to do.

Clearly, something needs to change. But not every problem has a clear-cut, run-out-the-door-and-do-something solution. If you’re angry, or sad, take a second to process. Think about where you fit into this injustice, how you benefit from it, how you’re hurt by it. If that involves prayers, or posting links on Twitter, or having hard conversations, or writing poems, do that. Process.

But it can’t end with “processing.”

If you’re someone who has avoided thinking about white privilege—the unearned advantages that white people benefit from because of how institutions are set up and how history has unfolded—now is a great time to unstick your head from the sand. If Trayvon Martin had been white, he’d still be alive. What better real-world example of white privilege is there? Grappling with how privilege plays out in our own lives is a vital first step to being able to understand what racism is.

But it can’t end with “thinking about our privilege.”

We also need to act on those thoughts, to cultivate an awareness that can permeate our lives and relationships. When people of color share personal stories about racism, our immediate response has to stop being “but I’m not like that.” Just listen. Don’t make someone else’s oppression about you and your feelings. When people of color are angry, we need to stop worrying about the “tone” of their arguments, or trying to derail the conversation with phrases like “it’s not just about race,” or contribute meaningless abstractions like “let’s start a revolution.” When we see unjust or discriminatory practices or attitudes in our workplaces, schools, families or neighborhoods, we need to step up and challenge them. We need to take risks. We need to do better.

But it can’t end with “striving to be a better individual.”

Times like this can feel so hopeless, but it’s important to remember that people are fighting back, and have been fighting back. Racism doesn’t end when you decide to not be racist. It ends when people come together to organize, to work to reshape how our society is put together.

Check out organizations who are doing racial justice work, community organizing trainings, work with youth, and more: the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Hope Community Center, TruArtSpeaks, Juxtaposition Arts, Justice for Terrance Franklin, Justice for Fong Lee, Communities United Against Police Brutality. There are certainly others (feel free to add more in the comments). Google stuff. Talk to people. Figure out where and how you can plug in.

As a white person, that can be hard. The leaders of any racial justice movement will be, and should be, the people who are most affected by the problem. But that doesn’t mean that white folks should just sit by and watch. Some of the organizations listed above may have ways for you to get involved; some might not. But there’s always something you can do. Organize a discussion group. Learn about good ally behavior. Challenge your Facebook friends. Challenge yourself. Join an organization. Infuse social justice principles into your workplace, or place of worship, or school, or neighborhood. Listen. Understand that Trayvon Martin’s murder was not an isolated incident; start seeing the racism all around you, and start doing something about it.

Above all, stay engaged. As white people, we have the option of not caring. Many don’t.

Monday, July 08, 2013

"This is the Opposite of a Suicide Note" Remix (Official Video)

One year ago, me and producer Graham O'Brien (No Bird Sing, Junkyard Empire, a million other bands) released this remix as a free download. Last month, I was given the opportunity to make a video for it, via Adam J. Dunn's "Lights and a Backdrop" web series. Adam is one of the most talented, hardest-working people in the Twin Cities hip hop scene, and everything he's done has been gold. This series is a beautiful idea, and you can find the whole thing here.

You can still download this song for FREE via my SoundCloud page here:

This is a song I wrote a while back. It's a pretty personal song, and touches on some familiar subject matter for me-- the idea that you don't have to be happy all the time to be a good person; it's okay to be angry. We can use these negative emotions as tools to build something positive.

Aside from the subject matter, though, the real trick here was structure. I wanted to create a song that was all verse, no hook, but that didn't get boring. So some of that is in the beat, obviously-- the way it builds and breaks down and builds again-- and some of it is in the delivery and in the writing itself. I have other tracks like that-- "Winter is Coming" and "Lightning," and it's an approach that I like because it kind of bridges the gap between rap and spoken-word-- it's definitely rapping (AABB and all that), but it uses the slam poem's three-minute narrative arch instead of the standard rap song's 16/8/16/8 verse/chorus structure.

This is one of my favorite songs that I've written, and I'm very grateful to Graham for making such a banger, and Adam for shooting such a cool video. If you like it, please share, re-post, all that. Thanks!

Sunday, July 07, 2013

When You Hate that You Love a Piece of Art or Pop Culture

Originally published at Opine Season

The first rap group I really fell in love with was Goodie Mob. If you only know Cee-lo as a reality TV star, or as the singer in Gnarls Barkley, it’s important to understand that Cee-lo, as a member of Goodie Mob, was one of the best MCs ever. I learned how to rap by listening to Cee-lo (not to mention the very underrated Big Gipp), and the group’s first two albums are southern hip hop classics.

It was not until I was years out of high school that I noticed a couple of Goodie Mob lines (not from Cee-lo, but from group member Khujo) that were explicitly, inarguably, violently homophobic. Maybe I was just too young and ignorant to understand them before, but I suddenly had to see the group in a very different light.

I know I’m not alone in this. Maybe you grew up watching Buffy, and then suddenly noticed how few fleshed-out characters of color there are in Joss Whedon’s work. Maybe you really like Game of Thrones, but feel uncomfortable with some of the weird gender and race stuff in the series. Maybe you think Robin Thicke’s new song is the song of the year, but also think that the video is incredibly problematic. How do we reconcile all this stuff?

First things first: I don’t claim to have any answers. If you do, please share them in the comments. But here are a few points I try to keep in mind when grappling with these issues:

We can and should be critical of the things that we love
Being a fan of something isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s not “I like this, so I’m going to turn my brain off,” or “this is offensive so it’s automatically terrible.” Culture is more complex than that. We like what we like. As individuals, however, we should be able to develop a critical eye and understand how even some of the art that we love has problematic elements. We should be able to have conversations about it without getting defensive. We should be able to make connections between the pop culture we consume and the society in which we live.

…at the same time, there has to be a line
It’s easy to take that last point and use it as a rationalization to never be truly critical of anything, like “yeah this neo-Nazi folk music is terrible, but it has such pretty melodies!” It’s okay– and healthy– to draw lines, to choose not to be a part of something. The common argument of “if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it” is usually a cop-out response meant to shut down debate, but it can also be a survival mechanism. Drawing “the line” is going to be an ongoing struggle for everyone, but it’s good to remember that if something is rubbing you the wrong way, there are millions upon millions of other (songs/books/shows/movies) out there to be experiencing.

There’s a difference between what we enjoy and what we promote/support
For example, you can listen to Eminem without buying any of his music, posting about him on social media or telling anyone about how much you like him. You don’t have to put money in his– or his label’s– pockets. We all probably have a DVD or an album in our collection that doesn’t exactly line up with the social justice values and principles we believe in. That doesn’t make you a hypocrite. That doesn’t make you a bad person. The important thing is strive to understand your feelings, continue navigating the aforementioned “line,” and keep fighting for those values and principles in your everyday life. Again, don’t shut your brain off; keep trying to cultivate awareness and action.

…at the same time, everything we ingest has an impact
Just something to keep in mind: whether it affects us at a conscious, rational level or a deeper level, art is like food. If you ingest too much crap, it’s going to have negative consequences, one way or another.

Cultivating awareness and a critical eye/ear doesn’t ruin art; it makes it better
I can’t go to movies on a whim any more. The sexism, the racism, the homophobia, not to mention the general wackness of 90% of everything Hollywood releases just doesn’t appeal to me. But it also makes the good movies, when they come along, that much more enjoyable. When you finally find a piece of art that speaks to you as art, but also isn’t brought down by stereotypical characters, or offensive ideas, or lack of representation– that’s a beautiful feeling. The same is true for TV, books, poetry, music and other forms of culture and communication.

Do I still listen to Goodie Mob sometimes? Sure. But it’s a complex experience. It’s not just “this song is good,” it’s an ongoing internal conversation about the roots of oppression, about the responsibilities of an artist, about my own life, privileges and experiences and how they line up with the ideas being expressed in the songs. It’s not as simple as just sitting back and vibing out to some music, but that’s okay. Pop culture isn’t just escapism; it’s our mythology, our hive mind’s currents and undercurrents. A little active listening is healthy. It can even be fun.

But it’s definitely an ongoing struggle. What goes through your head when you engage with art or culture that has problematic elements?

Monday, July 01, 2013

SIFU HOTMAN (album announcement and debut video)

Yo. New project. This is the first video, courtesy of PCP, Elliot Malcolm and Krinsky at Bellows STP. Rube and Dem Atlas are both geniuses. You're going to love this stuff when we release it. Pre-order info, release date and more videos coming soon. Official announcement:

SIFU HOTMAN is a hip hop collaboration between Minnesota MCs Guante & Dem Atlas and producer Rube. Featuring funky, up-tempo beats and razor-sharp lyrics, this three-song suite will be released on vinyl and digital download in summer 2013. STAY TUNED FOR DETAILS!