all that money

What are you going to do with all that money?

There’s been a lot of chatter about billionaires lately. Which itself is very funny to me because when I was a kid I couldn’t conceptualize what a billion dollars even is, and if I thought someone had that much money his face was on a Monopoly box. Now they’re this sketchy group of nerds that half the country is trying to take down a notch while the other half tears their clothes and gnashes their teeth at the thought. I’m not going to get too political here, but I have one question—what are you going to do with all that money?

It’s the question they ask lottery winners or Jeopardy champions on TV, and if you’re like me you probably have an idea of how you’d answer. That’s because if I were to be presented with a large sum of money, currently I would be saying “Well X amount will be going to my student loan servicers. Y amount will be going to my good friends at the credit card company, and with the $20 I have left I’ll probably get dinner.” That’s where I’m at, and that’s where millions of Americans are at.

But that’s just for a dollar amount that I can clearly allocate. $50,000 would be a life-changing amount of money to me today, but I can deduct line items from it and in a couple of days have completely depleted it. A billion dollars? I can imagine where I would get started, but after a week of house shopping and vacation planning I’d kind of be like okay now what? So when I see people like Bezos and Gates and all the others in the billionaires club with tens of billions of dollars to their name, I get itchy.

The point of money is to spend it, right? Because we designed our global society on this transfer of paper money for goods and services vital to life itself. Everything beyond what you need to survive is excess. And a little excess isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of excess would not be that bad of a thing in my opinion, except when there are people who have nothing. It’s because of the state of wealth inequality and the sheer amount of poverty in the world that I really am wondering okay what are you going to do with all the money?

Bill Gates said in an interview last week, 

“Maybe I’m just too biased to think that if you create a company that’s super valuable, that at least some part of that you should be able to have — a little bit for consumption, and the balance to do philanthropic things.”

I think that’s one of the major points of contention over billionaires—people think “Bill Gates changed all of our lives with Microsoft, so he deserves all that money.” To that I say sure, credit where credit is due—but at what point is historical recognition, the eternal gratitude of humanity, and the sheer power of knowing you’re one of the brains behind modern technology not enough to compensate for your work? At a certain point the money that people like Gates accumulate becomes more than they could even spend on their own interests so why do they want to keep so much of it? They don’t carry their money around like a trophy. They’re not putting their literal cash on display for all to see. What is it for?

Money is not impressive. What do you get for being the richest person in the world? A pat on the back. Your name at the top of a list on a website or in a book? You will still be subject to the human condition. You can afford to have a better life than most people, and to these ultra-rich, I say go for it. You may have earned that at least! But the thing is—after you do all that, you still have so much left over.

I can understand one of these people saying “Well I don’t trust the government to appropriately use my billions,” as a reason to not want the tax. Because it’s a fact that governments can be corrupt and misuse tax dollars. But I also haven’t heard any of these guys offer up a better suggestion. Sure, Bill Gates does a lot of philanthropy. He even started a major initiative to encourage more wealthy folks to do the same, but it’s not enough. If you can change the world once with a computer, I don’t see why you can’t do it again with your money. 

There was this little period one time when I was a teenager where in the course of maybe two weeks my mom gave me $20 on two separate occasions, and both times I lost it. While I’ve rarely been in the position to be able to just “throw away” $20, much less $40, but losing this money was not detrimental. And to ration with my misfortune (or irresponsibility) I just reason that someone who needed it will find it. I was blessed to have the $20 in the first place, now hopefully someone will find it and maybe that will allow them to eat for the first time in a day. When you have enough for yourself, why can’t you take the gamble to see what someone else can do with your excess? Spread the wealth.

I’m Not Going to Stop Talking About The Civil War Until I See Another One

One of the greatest things my college education gave me was an obsession with the American Civil War. Prior to taking college-level American history (and specifically, classes focused on detangling the myths of American history at large), my knowledge and understanding of the war that shaped the country was laughable. I knew the North fought the South sort of about slavery (at the time I wasn’t sure if slavery was the real cause) and won, freeing enslaved people and solidifying the unity of all the states. Now I’m basically to the point where I’d say Civil War history should be prioritized over most other subjects within US history education. And I’ve decided that I’m not going to stop talking about the Civil War until I see another one.

The war itself was a mess. Not speaking to strategy or specific battles, but overall it was a messy ordeal. Historians talk about the war as being all-encompassing because of the massive number of casualties. Entire male populations from some areas were essentially wiped out in the war effort—on both sides. To this day, it remains the deadliest war in our history and yet, almost immediately after the fact, people started to forget why this happened.

You would think if a country paid such a hefty price for something that it would then do everything in its power to prevent such a thing from happening again. America did not.

A Miseducation

From what I can tell, there are a few key factors people seem to misunderstand when it comes to the Civil War. They can mostly be chalked up to the education people are getting about the war, which from my point of view is at best irregular across the country, and at worst, false.

The Cause

First, the war was about slavery. The Civil War was about slavery. Period. Not state’s rights. Not economic reasons. Just American slavery.

Yes, up until the war the legality of slavery was a state’s right to decide. However, as new states were being admitted into the union without the right to allow slavery, those that would become Confederate states began to secede. Why do people think the war was about anything else? I think that’s broadly the fault of education. I remember learning in middle school that the war was moreso about the economic differences between the regions, with slavery as a factor, but not really coming to the conclusion that slavery was the cause until high school and college.

And that was in New Jersey. In some places in the South, I’ve heard from peers that their textbooks referred to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression” which is plainly false as the Confederacy ultimately fired the first shots. Regardless of what you’ve been taught, this debate prevails, and it undermines the rest of what is important about the war. It makes it difficult to actually grapple with the lessons we desperately needed to take away from the war.

The Characterization

The war was simultaneously divisive and unifying.

This is a bit of a personal thesis I’ve come to through my studies. Obviously, the war was the division of the so-called United States. And the end of the war, as many scholars acknowledge, marked the true beginning of the United States. You may have heard the adage that before the war, people referred to the states in the plural form—“The United States are…”—where after the war it was referred to in the singular—“The United States is…”

My view would say that this change was less a before and after, and more a brackish throughout. While the war drew a clear line between us and them, it also brought us all together in a gruesome fashion. Because of the sheer deadliness of the war, it’s understandable that an immense hunger for peace and reconciliation followed. 

Without even thinking about the aftermath of war in today’s terms of PTSD and such, you can imagine how hollow it must have felt to live in this nation and see so much of the population wiped out in bloody battles in your own backyard. We still have buildings scarred with bullet holes from the war. Imagine living up the street from where there’s thousands of men buried in shallow graves. 

Yet, this grief period should not have overshadowed the fact that we needed to make critical repairs to a broken system. Generally speaking, it’s a little weird to think we crafted this beautiful Constitution and after half the country threw it in the trash, we thought they’d take it out and respect it again with a couple of amendments. While we were unified in our grief we remained divided by our ideologies. Yes many slaveowners were no longer practicing slavery, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t wishing they could. 

Surely the tension between these overwhelming feelings of unity and division was not easily navigated. So in response, the Union focused more or less on the unity, which was a critical mistake.

The Reckoning

The value of the Union victory was more or less lost as early as the Reconstruction era.

If I had fought in the war as a Union soldier, I would have marched through the South for years afterward chastising them for their atrocities. True, probably not a better alternative, but the Union effort for Reconstruction was a joke. The technicalities were by no means had easy answers—especially when Lincoln gets taken out of the equation—but the answers the Union came up with were tragic.

Broadly speaking, the Confederacy got off easy. Yes, the crime of slavery was totally American—not limited to the South, and not the fault of one person or region. And as people of the time felt, the Civil War was a punishment that the entire nation received for that crime. But it wasn’t enough because it failed to address the crime of dehumanization which was the real crime of slavery. 

The practice of slavery itself, I think is one we have not collectively been able to understand. We think about it in a kind of practical sense, understanding it was a commonly accepted practice globally since the beginning of time that we eventually ended.

But we fail to recognize what it means to keep another human as property for any purpose. We fail to recognize that the institution of slavery relies on the idea that some humans are not equal. And because in ending slavery we only did that—end slavery—we failed to teach basic humanity when it was most critical. A person can go from slaveowner to not slaveowner overnight. A person will not go from thinking an entire race is inferior, or even just different overnight—especially when they are not told to do so.

It’s because of this missing understanding that Reconstruction ultimately failed. Reconstruction focused on moving forward and rectifying the physical losses—cities, populations, economies—when it desperately needed to focus on the moral losses that allowed the war to happen—equality, compassion, humanity. Because of this oversight, the South was able to rebuild itself in its own image maintaining racial subjugation.

From this period we get a lot of the memory we have about the Civil War painted in the beautifully tragic colors. It’s the reason we have all those now-contested Confederate monuments—the South was peddling stories about sacrifice and bravery to paint the war as this great honorable fight not about anything but Americanness. A number of the ways we celebrate American patriotism today comes from the Civil War period as Southerners fought to commemorate the war not as a time when they lost, but a time when we all won.

Seeing the war as a collective movement not only undermines the whole slavery problem but also falsely characterizes the South as graceful losers. Not to say they fought tooth and nail to the end—they didn’t. Confederate soldiers were literally deserting the war long before Appomattox, and obviously, the war ended with Lee’s surrender. But beyond that, viewing the war as this disagreement that ended in agreement is false. The South, defeated, went home and started planning for how to find other ways to keep their (white) power. And the North patted themselves on the back for winning and just went home. 

A Reeducation

To unlearn these narratives, you have to understand the truth that invalidates them. Of course, that means more than just getting the facts straight—you also need to understand why the facts matter.

Defining Inequality

The mischaracterization of the cause of the war undermines the entire history of race relations in the United States. It is fair to see the Civil War as a turning point and thus to see history in two parts: pre-war and post-war. But if you take out the slavery cause you throw those parts into disarray because it leaves you asking what did the war change?

As mentioned, we collectively still struggle to understand exactly what the practice of slavery meant. I think it’s one of those things that gets taught to you almost every year (probably in February) you are in school to the point that it has lost its meaning. Maybe I’m projecting too much of my own experience, but my feelings about slavery until college were very basic—it was a bad thing that happened. What I now urge others to understand is that it was a bad system that existed and still has huge ramifications today.

It’s a common debate now as lawmakers discuss reparations to bring up the fact that slavery existed not too long ago. And while, yes that it meaningful, that fact pales in comparison to the fact that we’re still using the same ideas to create new systems that are more or less other forms of slavery. 

The entire basis of slavery rests on the idea that there is a human on the planet who is unequal to any other human. And while we said in our Declaration of Independence—that foundation for the nation—that all men are equal, we still collectively refuse to believe it. And because of that, we failed to establish comprehensive civil rights immediately after the Civil War, and thus had to do it all over again a hundred years later. 

Hindsight

When I think about the unity that was supposed to come following the Civil War, I often compare it to the Black Lives Matter movement. Almost immediately after organizers and protesters started shouting “Black Lives Matter,” people came out of the woodworks to assert that in fact, “All Lives Matter.” This did not and still does not go over well, as many of you know.

Reconstruction worked similarly in that if we pretend that the Union was in fact fighting to end slavery, they were the ones saying “Black Lives Matter.” The Confederacy started the war with “Black lives matter to my plantation,” and ended with “All Lives Matter” in the sense that they wanted everyone to forget about that little slip-up of slavery, and recognize the fact that we’re all here now and we should just move on. 

They, along with the current “all lives matter” troupe would be correct if they themselves took that view from the beginning. Black Lives Matter needed to be said in 2015 and henceforth because black Americans understood that their lives were not being seen as something that mattered in the eyes of police and many other institutions. Had the colonizers, the slave owners, and everyone who continues to uphold institutions founded on inequality said all lives matter BEFORE they were putting people in cages, chains, and whipping posts, then yes it would still be fine to say all lives matter in 2019.

The fact of the matter is, some person at some point in history decided that another person was not the same as them. Thus all of civilization has been able to get away with that idea and use at their discretion. Racism, sexism, nationalism, homophobia, xenophobia, religious intolerance—every form of discrimination is based on the idea that there are two humans on the planet that are somehow unequal, and thus one of them is deserving of less.

The Civil War was an opportunity to see this problem and its effects and actually do something about it. We failed.

Shoulda Coulda Woulda

Do I think the Union could have eradicated racism in America in the aftermath of the Civil War? Not necessarily. There will always be bad apples. There will always be outliers. But it’s the cycle of “progress” that we keep repeating that makes me wish they at least gave it a shot.

I feel very helpless at working towards national moral agreement now because we’re too big. We may have been too big then, but especially now: how would you go about trying to teach every person in this country that everybody is equal? How do you unteach generations of ingrained ideology when it’s so widespread? I don’t know.

But I do know that we had a much better shot in 1865 than we do in 2019. There were around 3 generations where we could have at least tried to prevent the passing on of this disease that is inequality, but the North decided to go the amicable route and let the South continue to undermine black Americans. 

We are here in Trump’s America at this time of tangible tension because we failed to nip the Confederacy in the bud. By failing to set up actual protections for formerly enslaved citizens and black citizens broadly, the South was able to continue subjugating black Americans through bureaucratic institutions which at best looked like sharecropping and at worst looked like lynch laws. 

What Do I Want

I don’t want to see another literal civil war. Practically speaking, they managed to kill and wound over a million Americans with the time-intensive and shoddy weapons they had back then, it would just be total and instant obliteration with today’s cache.

In reality, though the last few years have felt eerily war-like. The phrase “in today’s political climate” instantly triggers feelings of tension, divisiveness, and disagreement for many along with feelings of fear, helplessness, and anger all similar to those of the Civil War era. If we just referenced certain events of the past few years differently you could almost imagine them sequenced in a future textbook: The Battle of Ferguson, The March on Charlottesville, The Charleston and El Paso Massacres, to name a few. We may not all be wearing matching uniforms, but there are conflicts happening all around us trying to prove a point.

My point is the arguments have all been made. Every moment that we spend still debating the significance of the Civil War is another moment that proves we have not learned from it at all. We assert broadly that history repeats itself but we ignore the caveat that this only happens if we fail to learn from it. The first step is getting on the same page about what that history actually is and what it means.

If You Always Do What You Always Did…

My mom will be pleased to read that some of the things she has said to—or in some cases drilled into—me have stuck with me into adulthood. This she has said both to me and to her own mother on countless occasions: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” 

A quick google search found that quote attributed to author Tony Robbins, along with Albert Einstein and Henry Ford. I’m not sure where my mom first heard it (and no, I didn’t bother to ask), but it clearly stuck with her as she passed it on to me. I would be inclined to believe it came from an innovator like Einstein or Ford because it expresses the idea that if you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep seeing the same result. 

Sure there are more details involved, but you can imagine Henry Ford standing in the factory saying, “Ah murderation (or some other old-timey exclamation)! If we keep building one car at a time, we’ll just keep making one car at a time and it will take lifetimes to see all of America driving automobiles!” or something to that effect. And thus, the assembly line was born. 

My mom has so far not heeded this advice when I’ve come to her in shambles because I haven’t been able to revolutionize an industry. But she does present it when I come to her and say, “I have x problem and it’s not getting fixed because y.” The y is usually some person with routine patterns that need to change or some job that needs to change or some habit I’ve created that I need to change. In essence, she cuts right to the point. No nonsense, no frills. If you can change it, you have to—if you want the result to be different.

Why in the world could I possibly be writing this when we’ve just had two mass shootings in 24 hours? I can’t possibly put two and two together.

But it’s bigger than that. I know we are not the same country we were when Columbine happened. Or Virginia Tech. Or Sandy Hook. Things have changed, albeit on a microscopic level, but things have changed and I won’t pretend people aren’t doing anything to change the routine of gun-related tragedies. But we have to understand that on a macro scale, the effort to end gun violence has remained mostly the same. You don’t need to be a policy expert to see that. Why? Because we’re getting the same result. Either we’re not changing the right things or maybe we just aren’t changing anything.

Take it outside of gun violence, and I keep begging the question: why are we as a country doing the same thing year after year, election after election and expecting different results?

When I was in my last semester of college, I had a painting professor give us a prompt to think about and eventually paint about. He gave us with no context this quote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I didn’t google it at the time—I’m not sure if we were explicitly prohibited or if I was just lazy—but I now know where it comes from and that alone will give a lot of folks all the context they need. But the class discussion illuminated for me the meaning that whoever is in charge is not going to be taken down by the same means that they were put in power. The actual reference is a book by civil rights activist, Audre Lorde.

If defeating Trumpism™—or however you choose to define the chaos everyone is seeing in this country—is the goal, then the strategy we tried to use to beat it in 2016 is obviously not going to work. Yet here we are trying it again. Maybe if we just vote harder this time…

I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic about the future and the work that some leaders are doing to combat hatred as well as the other issues like climate change, healthcare, and immigration. But I find it truly mind-blowing that we have really just gotten so comfortable with the idea that the America where people aren’t in constant anger if not fear and sadness will reappear (or, for many many people, appear for the very first time) if we just keep doing the same routines. 

I will put it in writing: I would love to see a revolution in this country. As a historian, yes I think it was something of a remarkable bureaucratic feat to create this nation at the time of its foundation. To be able to fight against the strongest military in the world and with no legal right and a noose on the line to say “We want this freedom and we’re not going to stop until we get it,” is really bold. 

There is no difference between what the founders did 243 years ago and what a group of determined individuals who band together, go against the grain, and refuse to quit can do today. We take the American Revolution for granted because we think that should have been the only one. 

Yes, that common phrase people say Jefferson said about every generation needing a revolution, is mostly fake. But he did say, “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” He’s actually talking about Shay’s Rebellion—a relatively small uprising over, go figure, taxes—which turned out to be a major catalyst for the writing of a small document known today as the Constitution.

I’m going to try not to go down a historical rabbit hole here, but this example kind of nuances the thesis of “always doing what you always did.” The rebellion mirrored the Revolution in that these farmers felt they were being taxed unfairly, and they took physical action to get a say. The major change here was that they were farmers and not wealthy men leading the charge, and they were thus swiftly defeated. So to that end, it proves the point that doing the same thing won’t work. But they did see a changed result in that their protest made the people in charge realize the Articles of Confederation weren’t going to work.

From this example, we understand that a revolution in the traditional sense that Americans understand it probably won’t work. But we need to understand that the revolutions that work focus on the technical definition of a revolution: a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it. 

There is no revolution so long as we’re using the same systems that built whatever it is that needs to be changed. There will be no real revolution until we change the entire way we think about how our government works.

By The Way, I Forgive You

While I emotionally gear up for this year’s Grammy Awards, I can’t stop thinking about how proud I am of one of my favorite artists, Brandi Carlile. Her album By The Way, I Forgive You shattered me in the best ways a person can be shattered. I don’t like country music at all. Brandi navigates a couple of different genres, one of them being country, but her brassy roots put a soul so impassioned into her music and her lyrics that she transcends. I wanted to write about what this album means to me one because it’s full of important human lessons and notes on existence and two because I hope it will inspire you to listen to it if you haven’t already.

Every Time I Hear That Song

The opening track on this record might pack the strongest punch. Brandi croons the album title into this bittersweet tune. It’s thank u, next if thank u, next had a soul. Brandi says to her transgressor, By the way, I forgive you / after all, maybe I should thank you / for giving me what I’ve found / ’cause without you around I’ve been doing just fine. She’s learned a lesson here, and she’s grateful for that despite the pain she has suffered.  You feel the exact emotion she’s singing about—you love this person but they have hurt you so bad that it’s still hard to leave them. And she knows this person isn’t even really apologizing—I gave you all I had and got the worst of you—READ ME.

The Joke

I have to admit, this one took a few listens. It was the first single Brandi released ahead of the album’s debut. I loved it when I first heard because it showcases Brandi’s unbelievable vocal chops. But beyond that on my first listen, I wasn’t hooked. Then Obama put it on his 2017 list of favorites, and I had to listen again. And I was struck by the lyrics. It encompasses feelings of insecurity, oppression, all the nasty things the world can throw at you but then she embraces you and says the joke’s on them. And she took it further while promoting the song, explaining it’s not just a typical anti-bullying message, it’s political, too. Brandi said in one interview she was thinking about refugees in Syria when she wrote The Joke, and that becomes vividly clear when you listen back to the line, They come to kick dirt in your face / Call you weak and then displace you / After carrying your baby on your back across the desert. It’s an anthem.

Hold Out Your Hand

This one gets ya. Upon first listen, it’s the first super upbeat track on the record, but its lighter sound doesn’t mean it packs any lighter of a punch. Like The Joke, it rings as incredibly anthemic to me because of the way Brandi chants in the bridge: Deliver your brother from violence and greed / For the mountains, lay down for your faith like a seed / A morning is coming of silver and light / There will be color and language and nobody wanting to fight / What a glorious sight! / What a glorious sight! The song despite its cheerful sound is a prophecy of the days coming after these days of reckoning. When we’re all done with the violence and the hatred tainting our world and we find in our hearts to forgive those who’ve wronged us—what a glorious sight. That’s the biggest lesson, and it’s on the album cover: forgive. Ahead of the album’s release, Brandi wrote an open letter to a pastor from her youth who refused to baptize her as a teen because she’s gay. She wrote about the impact that moment had on her identity, and what it has taken to forgive this man. I had never thought of forgiveness as such a radical action, but in this world where someone can do something like that—say you’re not welcome because of x—it really is.

The Mother

I don’t have kids. I don’t want kids. But wow. Brandi paints the most beautiful picture of motherhood while managing to be honest about it. The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep. She acknowledges that having her first daughter, Evangeline transformed her life in the most inconvenient ways that doing such can. You lose sleep, things you loved, order and organization, but it’s all worth it. All the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time / From inside of the ages through your eyesIt stings because Brandi also acknowledges the hardships she has been through herself and that she knows her daughter will face. But she complements that fear with the hope and confidence that Evangeline will grow up to fight against the evils in the world as well—When we chose your name we knew that you’d fight the power too. Chills.

Whatever You Do

If I don’t owe you a favor, you don’t know me. This song ~attacked~ me from the first line but in a good way. What makes this song special to me is the way it kind of nuances that theme of forgiveness. Brandi waxes poetic on a few different struggles and how that kind of makes it hard to have a relationship. There are days when I change with the weather / To hold you in place would be wrong. The prose is nice because she doesn’t try to apologize for this. She acknowledges it as a fact of life, with love being the only thing that can mitigate that—I love you, whatever you do / But I’ve got a life to live tooMaybe that’s not the best interpretation of what she’s trying to say, but I think it is a fact that sometimes you love someone even though everything about your lives makes it difficult. You can walk away from it or you can kind of forgive the situations and embrace your loved one.

Fulton County Jane Doe

A wacky one. It’s not quite upbeat, but it’s not as much of a ballad as the other tracks. Jane Doe gets it bite from that feeling of being known, being accepted. Brandi’s message is very clear on this one—You’re more than Fulton County Jane—the imaginary “you” is this person who has been reduced to a noname. The idea of identity loss interests me because Brandi’s not saying this person has come to this place of lostness on her own accord, she arrived there by outside factors. Brandi in interviews talked about how the song like others on the album alludes to things like the opioid crisis and the global migrant crisis. She’s holding out a hand here, saying you’re more than a Jane Doe.

Sugartooth

I almost wish Brandi called this one “The Ballad of Sugartooth” because that’s what it sounds like—an old western kind of ballad that tells this story of a hero’s journey. This hero, however, is a tragic one. This is the other song I was just talking about that’s about the opioid crisis. That makes the song kind of hurt a little more because it doesn’t sound as sad and horrific as opioid addictions are. She offers an incredibly compassionate view of it though by kind of comparing addiction to someone with a sweet tooth. So many people dismiss those addicted to drugs because “they made that decision,” when that’s such a false narrative. Yes everyone can make the choice to try drugs, but whether or not you get addicted after one try is something far beyond your control. Nothing could tame him and nothing could hold him / He only took the pills when the doctor told him—we’ve seen the stories over and over of people who break their ankle and a month later they’re addicted to oxy, but the problem persists.

Most of All

One of the more personal tracks off the album, Brandi talks about her parents in Most of All. She reflects on what they’ve taught her, how they shaped her, and to remember what comes back when you give away your love. With the chorus here Brandi takes forgetting out of the proverbial instructions to forgive and forget. She understands that you shouldn’t forget when someone has wronged you, but remember what they give back to you when you show them love. If you show someone love and they stab you in the back, maybe you will come to be able to forgive them, but don’t forget what they did to you. But on the flip side…

Harder to Forgive

Brandi thought of everything on this album. With the penultimate track, she says yeah everything I’ve said here is a lot easier said than done. We want to say we forgive everyone, period. But she acknowledges that sometimes it’s remarkably difficult to do so. She offers, Sometimes I pretend we never met / Because it’s hard to forgive than to forget. We’ve all had that experience of just walking away from a situation because forgiveness kind of feels like a fix. If you forgive someone, that means things can be okay again, or so we’re often taught. So Brandi offers that solution of forgetting because sometimes people wrong you so bad you don’t want to have any hint that things can get better. But I think ultimately she’s saying you don’t have to reconcile when you forgive. When it all boils down, forgiveness is personal, and a choice that only you can make for yourself.

Party of One

This piano ballad closes out the album on a somber note. It’s deeply reflective and painful, even. I’m still kind of processing it a year after I first heard it. The song itself has such an insane body, that’s the best way I can describe it. The way Brandi’s voice kind of cracks when she belts, I am tiiiiiired. She’s talking about loneliness if you didn’t get that from the title. In doing a bit of research for this post, I learned she was reflecting on the loneliness she kind of experienced after the birth of her first daughter—something that came from what she called “internalized homophobia.” Brandi’s wife carried both of their children, and while Brandi is genetically related to her daughter Evangeline, she talked about how navigating motherhood in a same sex couple was an experience she had to kind of struggle through. To me it speaks volumes to the problem of loneliness in general that it really can change you as a person if you don’t work through it. And she does as we see at the end of the song she finds her belonging again and it ends on a bit of a lighter note.

 

I didn’t mean for this to get so so long, but there really aren’t enough words to talk about how much I love Brandi and how much her music has helped me to do introspection through so many different scenarios in my life. Thank you, Brandi and all of your team for your art. Thanks for reading. If you made it through this whole post, you really should just listen to the album it’ll be quicker I promise.

little

The world is a big bad place. It always has been, and unfortunately it probably always will be. I want to say that all I think about is how to change it. How to make it better, how to make a more peaceful future for myself and maybe my children. It’s exhausting, though. Thinking about change is a tireless, and often fruitless effort. It’s a pipe dream we may never achieve. So I think about the little things. I shrink myself down out of the big bad world and I think about why I keep getting out of bed every morning. I think about my little two-year-old niece. I think about the way she calls out “Abba!” when she searches for my mother. I think about the way her eyes light up and she repeats in chant, “I-cream! I-cream!” if you dare utter the words. I think about the tight curls of her soft brown hair. I think about the way she scrunches up her face into a tiny scowl when you tell her it’s MY blanket. I think about how she puts her mini fists on her diapered hips and yells at me in complete gibberish should I challenge her authority. I think about my own perplexity on the day of her birth—of course, I know where babies come from and how they grow in utero and I try not to think about my sister’s involvement in all of that, but I think about the day a new human being entered the earth and the population went up by one and my heart grew in size by one hundred. I think about her excitement at the sight of bubbles floating around her. I think about how she throws herself on the floor in laughter like she just heard the funniest joke on the planet. I think about how unfazed she is by the world she inhabits. I think about the way she runs to her daddy and shakes her whole body in fear when I put a napkin over my face and proclaim, “I’m a napkin head!” I think about the way she sticks out a miniscule thumb in response to the question, “How was your nap?” I think about her wild bedhead. I think about the way she runs out of the bathroom announcing to the big bad world, “I poopied!!” as if the act had solved all of our problems. I think about the tantrums she throws, destroying everything in her path when she knows it’s time for bed. I think about how little and how fragile this tiny human is, and yet I think about how special and important she is and how the future may not look bright and it may look like it’s going to be big and bad forever, but sometimes it’s nice if we don’t think about that.

What to 2018 is the Fourth of July?

Like baseball and American pie, there’s nothing more American than loving America. You don’t even need a reason at this point, just subscribe to the Trump Doctrine™, “We’re America, bitch.” Okay, you don’t have to go that far. But This July, like every July, we’ll set aside our differences for a day to watch fireworks and eat hotdogs and settle in to worship our lord and savior, George Washington.

But in 1852, Frederick Douglass challenged this holiday in delivering what would become one of his most notable speeches, What to a Slave is the Fourth of July? In this oration, Douglass outlines the whole—at that point brief—history of the United States and applauds the courage and fortitude of the founding fathers. But in doing so he calls out the hypocrisy of this foundation that promoted ideas of freedom and independence while upholding the institution of slavery. He proclaimed,  “Fellow citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.”

Nearly two centuries later, I’m thinking the same thing. We have come a long way from the slave trade days, but we continue to live in a country that prides itself in moral superiority and unfettered Freedom without a whole lot of supporting evidence. We have Freedom*

*Unless you’re black and run into the wrong cop, or a child migrating illegally, or a refugee seeking asylum or a woman looking for a job with fair wages and protection from harassment, or trans and trying to use whatever bathroom you want, or a kid trying to go to school without being gunned down, or, or…

So I beg the question—what to 2018 is the Fourth of July?

It’s okay to be proud of where you’re from—America or anywhere. But it’s also okay to be critical of where you’re from at the same time. It seems as though somewhere between Douglass’ oratory and now we lost that multitasking ability. Now when someone critiques America it has to fall on one side—liberal or conservative—and it often ends with the critic being called anti-American. Lest we forget that the Fourth of July celebrates a time when a bunch of guys got together and decided to critique their government (with guns!).

Liberals critique the government all the time—now and when they had the White House. Sure if we could quantify the critiques it would likely be more now, but I digress.

When liberals critique things like gun laws, police brutality, hate crimes, they get called any number of the classic slurs—snowflakes, libtards, PC police, sons of bitches, etc.

Often we’ve seen liberals get called socialist, communists, and other labels that insinuate that they are un-American because of their politics and their critiques of the government. Those persecuting liberals—or anyone who opposes the government for that matter—forget so quickly that this nation was founded on protest. We had no right to declare independence (we had no right to even live on this land, but that’s another essay). The colonists frankly got very lucky that they won the war because as we know, they all would have been hanged or exiled had they failed.

When individuals do something like kneel for the national anthem or plan a die-in at a grocery store, regardless of their true intention, none of these people have said it’s because they’re against America. Because that’s crazy. If anyone was so against America that they’d put their careers on the line, I’m fairly certain they would leave. Maybe that’s extreme, but have you ever had a disagreement with someone above you? Did it mean that you hated that person? Most of the time, no.

This goes both ways. Conservatives have an idea of what their America is to look like. Some of them think they’re on track to make this America “great” “again.” Their America is similar to the America of American Dream fame—a place where anyone can make it with the right amount of pluck and determination.

To conservatives who celebrate America every day, but especially on July 4, I ask what are you celebrating? There is a long list of incredible Americans who do globally inspiring things. And there is a long history of America doing great things and being a great nation. But it’s not all good, and it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge that.

If your favorite football team doesn’t win the Superbowl every year, do you still cheer for them? Of course. But you as a fan and supporter of that team might want to question why the team isn’t winning the Superbowl every year. Maybe the coach doesn’t know enough about football. Or maybe the players need to work better together as a team. Regardless, you shouldn’t keep cheering them on and pretend that winning the Superbowl every year isn’t the goal. If that’s not the goal, why are they playing?

To that point, I compare the idea that America is an exceptional nation and a leader in the world. We were founded on this principle that we will be a city upon a hill with all the eyes of the people upon us. There are a number of issues with that ideology, but for the sake of example, we’ll say this is the goal of the United States—to be the best and serve as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The fact is, the US is not winning the Superbowl right now, so what are we doing here?

If you are proud to be an American, you better be ready to back that up. Are you proud of the way we are ripping apart immigrant families? Are you proud of the way we lead the world in gun-related deaths per year by an exponential margin? Are you proud of ignorance? Are you proud of intolerance?

I’m not encouraging the other extreme, though. Walking around in shame for our nation is not exactly productive either. Like most things, American pride is best served in moderation. That doesn’t mean it should only be reserved for holidays, but I mean there’s a lot more to be proud of when you’re critical of yourself and your government. We have to be able to admit when we’re wrong, and we must be able to offer an explanation when we still think we’re right.

Freedom is the perfect example of this. We have a lot of freedoms to celebrate, I will never deny that. On the global scale, there continue to be too many nations where the freedoms we take for granted are not guaranteed. But that doesn’t make us perfect. It’s a privilege we should recognize especially when critiquing our government, but it doesn’t justify other oppressions. Just because Jim Crow ended doesn’t mean black Americans are in the clear, as we all should know by now. Just because we’re supposed to have Freedom of Speech doesn’t mean we should stand by while individuals use that to promote bigotry and hate. And just because we are a capital ‘F’ Free country does not mean we should be complacent in the crimes being committed by our government.

The 2012 opening of my favorite show, The Newsroom rings true to this day. Jeff Daniels delivers an eviscerating commentary on why America is not the greatest country in the world, and he doesn’t do it by calling for ‘civility’ or attacking either political party. He calls on us to wake up and go back to our roots of being brave, informed, and vigilant. I negate the argument that there is a period of time in the past that we need to aspire to emulate, but there are aspects of past periods we should look to. There are aspects of this country that do make it great. But we cannot and should not keep pretending that this nation is or ever was perfect. The goal is a ‘more perfect union.’ We have to try harder.

Eminem Takeover: Festival Season Has Never Looked So Shady

Music festival season is nearly upon us, and I like many other fans have been following lineup announcements like opening gifts on Christmas morning. But this year, Santa, or in this case the producers of festivals, seemed to all have the same idea: Marshall Mathers.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Eminem as much as the next guy. His bars occupy a lot of space on my workout and motivation playlists. I have appreciated every “return” Eminem has made to the charts, and welcomed his growth as an artist, despite being fonder of the original Slim Shady. But when it came to the announcements of these music festival lineups—Coachella, Governors Ball, Firefly, Bonnaroo, Boston Calling—seeing Eminem’s name appear in the largest letters on all the posters frankly bored me. Now certainly, I was not planning on attending all of these music festivals, if I could even afford to, but seeing the repetitive headliner bewildered me.

If I were to compile a list of the greatest artists of my generation, Eminem would likely be on there. But if I were to only pick one artist to play at every music festival, it wouldn’t be him. I don’t know that I could do that if given the chance, especially not if I was to be attending all of these festivals. Eminem’s latest album, Revival, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, but only spent a week there. The album dropped in December of 2017, which likely contributed to its absence on notable year-end “Best Albums” lists, but I, for one, am still not seeing the merit of giving Slim headline spots at 5 major music festivals across the nation. Are the festival powers that be shoving Eminem down our throats? It kind of feels like it. Every year there is some overlap and in some years, an act has been the headliner at two festivals or so. But as far as I can tell, nothing like this has happened since Outkast reunited in 2014 and headlined Coachella, Governors Ball, and Firefly.

I asked my friend why she thought this happened with Eminem. She offered, “Because of what he did at the BET Awards.” Ahhhh. My friend was referencing the now notorious moment from October’s BET Hip Hop Awards when Eminem freestyled a roast of Donald Trump. It was a viral moment that coming from anyone else may have incited a tweetstorm from the President. But it didn’t. Eminem did something spectacular and unlike a lot of white artists by telling his fans outright, “If you’re for Trump, you can be against me.” The president did not respond. There are a number of speculations on why, but I think we all know the real reason—Eminem is a white man. That’s really all there is to it.

So while I think Eminem’s move was commendable, it still leaves me wondering if this is what earned him a spot headlining all these festivals. Does Coachella pick its artists based on activism? It’s unlikely. And if that is the case, if these festivals decided on Eminem because they think it’s a slap in the face of the presidency, I would advise them to think again. Yes, Eminem has picked his side and does not align himself with Trump, but if organizations are also trying to align themselves with the Trump resistance, it seems there are better options. Artists of color, artists who have been anti-bigotry since before the 2016 election, women, LGBT artists, Muslim artists, artists from “shithole countries,” the list of those better suited to stick it to the man is endless, and I appreciate the effort, but Eminem is not at the top of my list.

There are a number of different criteria for festivals to pick their artists, but the choice to have Eminem at all these venues baffles me. I’m underwhelmed musically and politically. If music festivals were really trying to take a stand, Slim Shady should probably sit down.

Women, America, and Selective Revolution

As a student passionate about American history, I read about all of the movements that have pushed this country to become better and better. I keep running into this issue, though, of the reaction to the American Revolution vs. nearly all movements that followed. I continue to be amazed by the amount of stubbornness in this nation. Why was the War for Independence the only revolution that was okay?

Simple— we got lucky.

We all know the story. The colonists, fed up with British taxes and ready to be a sovereign nation, overthrew their government and won the war to earn that right. Of course, it was not that simple, and the men that started the movement knew by doing so, they were accepting a noose if they were to fail. But they didn’t. Lucky for us, they were successful and thus we spell color without the u.

But the nation as we know her today was not born in 1776. In fact, she wasn’t really close to how we know her for another ten years. Yet, I am afraid the way the new Americans treated rebellions after their own was a red herring for the next two and half centuries.

First of all, the way Colonists treated their rebellion was not exactly justifiable in my book. While I am thankful for their efforts because of the outcome, I’m not sure it needs to be glorified the way it is. They quite literally held guns to the heads of men who did not want to participate in their acts of treason. They exiled them out of a country that was not yet theirs. No one pretends like this was a peaceful protest, but we forget when celebrating our Independence that it started as a protest.

Fast forward a century, and we are in the midst of the Civil War. Of course, I am thankful that the rebels this time were not successful, however, I have to question the legitimacy of Lincoln’s actions and the war that ensued. Weren’t the Confederates just replicating the Colonists? If they wanted to be on their own (granted, for horrific reasons), who was to say that they couldn’t? I suppose this is why war breaks out instead of peace talks, but it is so interesting to me that in a nation that celebrates the rebellion that founded it, why did we suppress any rebellion that followed?

The people in power get to decide if rebellions will work and when. Every movement that changed legislature or systems of government had to be accepted by whoever was in power. The first Women’s Movement did not turn into a war, but it changed some of the systems that oppressed women. The Civil Rights movement was closer to a war in the streets, but still did not go nuclear, and changed some of the systems that oppressed black citizens. The Women’s March was in no way a war, and hopefully will not turn into one, but the people in power have to make a change, but I am afraid they are too stubborn.

I’ve been processing the Women’s March for the last 24 hours and trying to make sense of everything that is happening in this country. I could not march because of travel, but I felt so empowered to see so many people standing together for equality above all else. Yet as soon as I go online, all I see is unrest. Not that I expected the march to defeat sexism and save the country, but I wish the opposition would see the issue here.

In general, the opposing side of events like the Women’s March are from people who continue to pledge their allegiance and patriotism to this nation. I do not understand how they see a difference between the women marching and the Boston Tea Party. In my history class, we talked about how the taxes on the colonists that allegedly pushed them to revolt were on objectively not that extraordinary. The thing we ignore, though, is that a colony of people felt oppressed. Were they themselves guilty of oppressing much larger numbers of people? Yes, of course, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole. Regardless, the colonists felt oppressed and they decided to do something about it.

We, the women and men who march, feel oppressed. We are not whining, we are not throwing a hissy fit. We feel oppressed, and we want to do something about it. You who oppress us do not get to decide whether or not we feel oppressed. That’s not how feelings work. Also, it’s not just a “feeling,” it’s a system. If the opposition had facts or evidence to support the idea that we are not oppressed, perhaps we would not be marching. The British could have pretended that the colonists had nothing to feel oppressed about, but they knew they were wrong so they fought back. Our oppressors know they are wrong, which is why they are fighting back with nonsensical tweets and “alternative facts” or whatever other circus acts they put out.

Maybe this won’t turn into a revolution, but I hope it does. It’s not about being conservative or liberal or green. It’s about being a human and acknowledging that we are all humans. And though the signers themselves did not believe it, this nation was allegedly founded on the idea that we are all created equal. The colonists felt unequal, and the British felt attacked, but they did not stop fighting.

Neither will we.

Noise

I have this weird form of claustrophobia where it only affects my well being in super specific conditions. The fear that makes my heart race and breath irregular appears whenever either the use of my feet or my ears is compromised. The feet is just one of those comfort things I think is somewhat normal. I can’t sleep with my feet under the covers or in socks, and footie pajamas give me angina. I just like to know when the boogeyman reaches out from under the bed I’ll be able to kick back and maybe poke his eyes out with my toes.

The hearing issue is different, though. It is affected in even more specific situations, but also in the metaphoric sense. For example, I can be driving by myself and blasting music with no problem. But if I’m in a car with other people and music is blasting and someone tries to have a conversation, it feels like the walls are closing in. Or if I’m in a group and we’re trying to decide something and everyone is shouting ideas in a competition to see who can be the loudest, a part of my soul starts screaming. I just have this real sense of panic whenever there’s too much noise I can’t control.

I bet you thought this was going to be a political rant. Surprise, it’s not, and you’re welcome. I know we’re all tired of hearing about it. I am going to speak to that, though. I am excruciatingly tired of it. All I wanted was for the election to be over so we could carry on our everyday lives, but something unprecedented has happened, and everything has changed and no one really knows where to go. Or so it feels. It feels this way, at least to me, because there’s so much noise. It’s not even two-sided anymore. Everyone wants everyone to do something differently and we’re all just screaming at each other trying to be the loudest. We can’t even claim we’re the most correct because who knows what correct even looks like. I just want it all to be quiet again.

And even that, I’m told is wrong. I know it’s wrong in the sense that we should not continue to be complacent with the systematic issues like racism and sexism, but I can’t help but wish we could be complacent because at least it was the devil we knew. It’s funny because we know that with Hillary the world was not going to get better overnight. It may not have even improved much in four years. We know under Obama things got better but surely a black president did not do much for racism, and a woman president would likely do the same amount to fix sexism. But at least we knew they were trying. Trump isn’t even officially president yet and it seems someone picked up America and started shaking it like a snow globe. I want the snow to settle so we can see what’s going to happen. I know he’s the bad guy. I loathe that man, but it’s so loud in this country right now that I don’t even know what’s going to happen.