Taking Her for Granted

I never ever thought she would go.  I always thought, “Oh, it’s Aretha.  She ain’t going anywhere.  I’ll listen to her stuff more another time.  She’ll always be around.”  And guess what?  She’s gone.  Gone.  After all the history she’s made, Respect and Natural Woman may be the ONLY songs I know from her.  I’m sorry Aretha.  You deserved a ton more from me.  Maybe from a whole lotta others too.  You were a pioneer, an activist, the lady that helped usher in the Obama years and so much more.  Rest well in that throne of yours Aretha.  From what I gather, you will be hard to eclipse…

R.I.P. Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018)

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There are no words to describe how big of a loss this is to people all over the world.  To think that Anthony Bourdain, of all people, would contemplate suicide is a reminder to us all just how prevalent mental health issues are, regardless of age, race and status.  Like Kate Spade earlier this week, hearing about Anthony’s death was a total shock given that both were just so influential in their respective fields.  In Tony’s case, he was, for me, the face of culinary exploration.  He saw good in the world, and allowed food to be that bridge for all of us.  From No Reservations to Parts Unknown, Tony Bourdain’s shows gave us the chance to savor the world while shedding light on cultures that seldom get the respect they deserve.  He gave culinary credit where credit was due.  He showed us the power of International Street Food.  He “overhauled the Celebrity-Chef-Industrial Complex.”  He actually gave a damn about the marginalized.  He gave a damn about women.  And lastly, he never, EVER made excuses for his past.  Thank you Anthony, and Rest in Peace.

Naika Reviews “Dear White People (Season 2)”

dear-white-peopleThe first season of Justin Simien’s amazing Netflix show, “Dear White People,” was one of my personal favorites from Netflix last year, and after binge-watching Season 2 eariler this month, I can safely say that it not only continues the conversations that the first season started, but it expands on them with sadness, mirth, courage and even mystery.  My expectations weren’t only met, but they were, frankly, blown away.  In a lot of ways, Season 1 was kind of like an introduction to each of the key characters of the show, along with their major issues, trials, flaws and motivations.  There’s the brave Samantha White, the creator and host of the Winchester University Radio program, “Dear White People,” the shy school journalist Lionel, the tough-guy comp-sci geek Reggie, Samantha’s smart-yet-second-fiddle pal Joelle, the savvy and ambitious Coco, Sam’s on-and-off white grad student filmmaker BF Gabe and lastly, uber-polished school president Troy Fairbanks.  This is ensemble TV at its finest, and if you thought Season 1 did wonders with these characters, wait until you see Season 2.

However, the cast’s evolution couldn’t have happened without challenging circumstances, and that’s really the heart of what makes this season so special.  Season 2 begins with the aftermath of the Hancock protests where Samantha is forced to confront both a relentless troll named AltIvyRight, and a new conservative student radio show sarcastically named “Dear Right People.”  Little by little, our band of heroes are challenged left and right by trolls straight outta 2016, but the shadow that looms largest for this season is the legacy of Winchester.  While the main episodes focus on each character like last season, each is tied with a lengthy introduction featuring how this Ivy League school  historically supported the institution of slavery in America, with our narrator ending each intro with the two most important words in the show, “Watch Closely.”  This not only gives the show a connective thread to each episode’s separate narratives, but makes our characters’ quest for truth against the burgeoning alt-right forces on campus much more global, with greater mystery and higher stakes.  If anything, the show not only provides sharp social commentary, but a nuanced look at interracial family dynamics, loads of soul-searching, a mysterious hunt for an online racist and even the unraveling of a secret society on campus.  Yes, this is ALL in Season 2.

dear-white-people-season-2-02But that’s not all.  Justin Simien and his list of directors provide each episode with a surreal yet probing cinematic flair that slams us into the lives of everyone at Winchester.  These touches range from the long, winding shots of Sam’s studio, to the lonely shots of Lionel trying to fit into a very white Pride Day mixer (loved his defense of Asian peoples BTW), along with Sam’s talk with Gabe in black and red lights and the gothic spookiness of the bell tower.  And let’s not forget Troy’s Fear and Loathing in Winchester as he truly goes out-of-body all over campus, where the camera just creeps and swerves along his ‘shroom-induced joyride….complete with a talking dog!  With all this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that Season 2 is not only food for thought, but it’s an absolute feast for the eyes.  While we were watching, my wife said that each episode was like watching a movie, and you know what?  She’s right.  Every episode is LITERALLY a love letter to the cinematic tradition.  Furthermore, these lovely visuals are punctuated by an amazing jazz score that’s very hard to miss, where each piece provides a quaint but purposeful drive to the events of each episode.  With sounds and sights like this, who the hell needs network TV?  Especially when it’s too afraid to cover subjects relevant to our generation?

In a world where being Black in America means being kicked out of a coffee shop, a shared dorm space or even your own fucking BBQ, shows like Dear White People couldn’t have come sooner.  With astounding visuals, an amazing score, and a cast of characters who are all seeking to find their place in a world that has harmed, shackled and silenced their existence before they were even born, Season 2 of Dear White People is a triumph of what T.V. could be when diverse individuals are allowed to speak their truths both in front and behind the lens.  The conversation has finally begun folks.  Listen well, and watch closely.

Goodbye 2017: Naika Looks Back on A Year of Hatred, and a Year of Resistance

Hi folks.  Yes, it’s been a loooong while since I wrote anything, but to be fair, things have been uber busy for me.  I’m taking on a lot more responsibilities at work which more or less keep me there longer throughout the day.  The best thing about it however is that I am learning a ton of stuff related to research and will no doubt learn a lot more through trial and error.  It’s a lot of stress and anxiety, but I’m glad to be helping the team at a time when we’re short of staff (I’m sure you’ve ALL heard of that story before).  Bottom line is that it leaves me less time to write and study.

However, when I do get home, I basically shut off and hang out with my wife, and that’s the most important thing.  If there’s anything super duper good that I can say about myself in 2017 on a more personal level, then it’s about the two of us getting hitched.  Yeah, I know.  That’s a big deal, but yeah…I didn’t wanna write about it because that’s private.  Furthermore, we opted out of the big ceremony because in this economy, who could afford one?  We just got affordable rings and went to a courthouse.  We did the deed and boom, we were married.  That was my 2017.

Now I generally go super detailed in these end of year write-ups, but not this time.  As I mentioned, work has really enveloped my creative time, so I’ll just spout out some stuff that really hit me this year and you can take it or leave it.  Sounds like a plan, right?

So first off, me and the missus participated on our first protest, and that was the Women’s March in D.C.  after we witnessed the worst inauguration in modern history.  It was a lovely yet crowded event, but I can’t complain.  It was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history, and it was awesome to be a part of that (thanks Rachael!).

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I participated in another protest in September called the March for Racial Justice.  It was more or less a big fat rebuke of Trump and White Nationalism where there were die-ins in front of the Department of Justice, taking knees, Native American drumming, solidarity and lots of lots of cussing in front of Trump Tower.  That to me was the single greatest march that I’ve participated in thusfar, and it was my third protest of that year.  There was so much energy, anger and togetherness as we took over the streets of D.C. to have our voices heard, especially after something as harrowing and awful as Charlottesville.

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Who’s that asshole in the background there?

While we’re at it in regards to Charlottesville, this year for me, in a lot of ways, will no doubt be synonymous with violence and hate.  From what so many people experienced in the Las Vegas Shooting, to the utterly horrific attack in a Mosque in Egypt to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar, this to me was a year where those in power who demanded that we all turn inward, away from out better selves, got the upper hand and used it to eliminate others with hatred. With violence.   If there was any year of my life thusfar that painted a sad and grim reminder of how horrible humanity can be when it succumbs to darkness, look no further than to 2017.

Violence alone doesn’t always destroy us.  Sometimes, it’s also disaster.  Puerto Rico, Texas, the Dominican Republic and other regions in and around the U.S. experienced widespread chaos with Hurricanes Maria and Harvey.  While Donald Trump was busy insulting the plight of fellow Americans (oh, I’m sorry, they’re Puerto Ricans), tossing paper towels and victim-blaming survivors, folks experienced the loss of electricity, flooding, re-flooding and sickness.  Oh, and if we didn’t have enough to contend with from storms, we have wildfires out west as well that haven’t stopped burning.  Climate change, bad infrastructure and nonsensical housing in flood prone land can all play a part in exacerbating these issues, and without sound policy to resolve them, shit like this will continue to happen and leave tons of people out in the cold.

And speaking of being left out in the cold, another big story that caught my attention unfortunately involved the forced eviction of hundreds of migrant workers from Beijing, China (really recommend y’all to read more about it because there’s so many details regarding hukou and other things that I won’t have the fortitude to flesh out or explain).  It all started as a ‘safety evacuation’ after a fire broke out in an area filled with migrant workers.  Since these folks have lots of obstacles to attain affordable housing within Beijing (and mind you, these folks ARE CHINESE TOO), they’re forced to live in lots of derelict buildings that haven’t been properly maintained in order to make ends meet.  So if something like a fire does happen (like it did around Thanksgiving time), people get hurt BAD (19 died that day).  Thus, the CCP came on by to save the day by forcing EVERYONE to evacuate for their own safety…..without providing ANY sort of alternative housing for them, even though IT’S WINTERTIME.  Couple that with the disgusting, derogatory term calling said migrant workers ‘the low-end population’ from official documentation, and you get yourself a potent cocktail of outrage and disappointment from all walks of life in China.  And by the way, these derelict homes are now DEMOLISHED, so these folks more or less have NO WHERE TO GO except back to their homes IN THE MIDDLE OF FUCKING WINTER!

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Hua Yong, a painter from Beijing, soon became another focus during the ‘low’end’ controversy by filming the devastation from these evacuations, interviewing migrant workers and uploading his stuff on YouTube, with one video being his impending arrest by authorities in Tianjin (he’s since been released on bail in December and is now in Sichuan).  If there was ANY story that really made it’s mark on me from China, especially on a personal level, it would have to be this.

And let’s not forget the #MeToo movement as well.  Dear God has it wrecked the reputations of men who seemed untouchable.  Assholes like Mario Batalli, Kevin Spacey and yes, the asshole-in-chief Harvey Weinstein, are all out of jobs, while respected folks like Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Louis C.K. and Matt Lauer (he was always a jerk) have shocked the country as they’ve been outed as abusers, cheaters and filthy perverts.  Furthermore, this movement underscores just how widespread workplace sexual abuse is, and how much fear women (especially women of color) experience once it happens to them.

And yes, despite how perverted and deplorable people in power can be in the workplace (and beyond), the #MeToo movement was, and is, a positive movement meant to unshackle and empower those who are preyed upon.  These reactions, these movements, and this fierce resistance has been, for me, the most moving thing for me to ever experience on a social level here in America.  We marched against an elected pussy-grabber in January after he was sworn in.  We kneeled when the NFL season began because Football is a business that doesn’t give a shit about anyone.  Signs and voices were held up when the White House banned people from coming into America simply because they’re MuslimDisabled voters invaded a Senate hearing when Rethuglicans wanted to gut Obamacare.  Migrant workers from China protested CCP Police as they were forced out of their homes even though they were, and are, instrumental to the lifeblood of Beijing.  Kids stood up to torch-wielding American Nazis in fucking Virginia while our President basically said, on live fucking television, that they were MORALLY EQUIVALENT.  Young children and adults, who have only known the U.S. as their home, risked arrest and deportation in order to fight for DACA.  So yeah, I’ll remember 2017 for death, disaster, famine, hatred and rape, and yet, I’ll also remember it for resistance.  I’ll remember it for sign waving.  I’ll remember it for how sad I felt when I would see a child in Yemen on YouTube as I ask myself “Why am I not doing more?”  I’ll remember it for taking a knee.  I’ll remember it for Hua Yong.  I’ll remember it so that we can all think twice about how American hubris affects other nations.  I’ll remember it for for my healthy, democratically guaranteed contempt for an elected leader.  And most of all, I’ll remember it for finally committing to someone I love.  For finally doing the one thing I never thought would ever happen to me.

And you know what?  She’s now a Ph.D. too motherfuckers (#WomeninScience).  Goodbye 2017.  I’ll never forget you.