In the first installment of our Visionaries Project, we interview brilliant writer, activist, and horror buff Sherronda J. Brown.
The Visionaries Project is a new subsection of The Liberty Project dedicated to highlighting the lives, passions, and work of writers and activists currently working towards social justice and liberation from oppression. We aim to uplift the perspectives of powerful, diverse voices working in media and activism today—and not just the faces who make headlines, but the real people on the ground every day, working towards their visions of a better world.
As our first installment of the Visionaries Project, we're beyond honored to feature Sherronda J. Brown, an incredibly eloquent and brilliant journalist and activist currently doing vital work in the media sphere.
Where did you grow up? Was there an activism or writing background in your childhood?
I grew up in a small town called Tarboro in Eastern North Carolina. I don't have an activism background from my youth, but I have always been a writer. My mom still has a stack of little books I wrote as early as Kindergarten and first grade.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you got into writing and journalism?
I don't think writing was much of a choice for me. I think it's something that just lives in my bones and my fingertips. If I wasn't writing about systemic oppression and its multiple arms, I'd almost certainly be writing in some other capacity, probably in entertainment media or true crime. Definitely true crime. Hell, I might still do that one day.
My foray into journalism was more like being pulled into it. I have always shared my views on social media, specifically Facebook, and eventually people started to follow me and root for me. To my surprise, my words touched people. I wrote briefly for a now-shuttered, indie feminist website (for free!) while in college many years ago, but my presence in this world really became solidified when current Managing Editor at Black Youth Project (BYP), Hari Ziyad, gave my writing a home at RaceBaitR and later encouraged me to write for BYP as well. Then, the Deputy Editor position came along, and Hari encouraged me to take another step. The next step was Wear Your Voice (WYV), where I was promoted to Managing Editor by founder Ravneet Vohra before I even knew what hit me. And here I am. Other people recognized my talents and potential before I did. They knew I could do this before I even knew it was an option. Shout out to imposter syndrome, and shout out to the people who helped me get here.
How did you get involved with Wear Your Voice? What work do you do for it, and what's the publication about?
Lara Witt, the current EIC, posted a call for pitches on social media and I submitted a piece about an indie film I had been really impressed by, The Keeping Room. This was just after the release of Sofia Coppola's remake of The Beguiled, and I argued that The Keeping Room—while an imperfect film—succeeds where Coppola's film fails, specifically in her erasure of an enslaved Black woman character from the Civil War era South in order to ensure that the Confederate white women are seen as indisputable victims within the story, rather than cruel enslavers. The essay did very well, so much so that the writer and producer, Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz, reached out to thank me. That was a surprise and, of course, hugely flattering. From that point, I continued to write for WYV as a freelancer, until I got the courage to ask Lara if she needed any editorial support. She advocated for me and helped me become a part of the team, beginning as a part-time Social Media Manager. I will always, always be so grateful to her for that, especially because WYV is such an amazing publication to work for. I now get to say that I serve as the Managing Editor of a bold magazine that wholly embraces me and gives QTBIPOC space to talk about our experiences without tone policing or censorship. It's incredibly rewarding and therapeutic work for me.
The bio for Wear Your Voice cites Kimberlé Crenshaw's definition of "intersectionality." How would you define intersectionality? Has your understanding of it changed over time?
A lot of people misunderstand or wrongly define intersectionality, and I suppose I used to do the same. Once upon a time, I thought of it as a literal intersection, with multiple roads meeting and touching at a particular point, with each road being a different aspect of a marginalized identity. So, one road would be Black, one would be woman, one would be queer, and so on, and they would intersect with each other. In this visual representation, the points where they intersect would be the nucleus, where all the layered oppressions one experiences are most concentrated, for lack of a better phrase.
Now, I understand how wrong I was. Because, for a queer Black woman, Blackness is never separate from woman, is never separate from queer, and so on. More specifically, Kimberlé Crenshaw developed this theory and coined this term thirty years ago for Black women to think and talk about how we experience misogynoir. Intersectionality is specifically for Black women's benefit, and Crenshaw herself has told us not to use it as a blanket term for thinking about oppressions.
What do you mean by "digital activist," as you say in your bio? What potential do you see in digital activism going forward?
It's funny, I didn't realize that I was a digital activist until someone told me I was. I guess, I didn't really understand the true impact that my words were making. One of my favorite anecdotes—or maybe it's a testimony—is from a woman who said that my writing helped her get her teenage daughter to stop bleaching her skin. That made my heart sink and sing at the same time. People reach out to me periodically to share how I've helped them to think about things from a new perspective and better understand how oppressive systems work and even how they have participated in and benefited from them. That's the best reward for me. A lot of people don't consider digital activism to be valid. People like me often get called "armchair activists" as an indictment of our supposed laziness, which is quite an ableist sentiment. There is tremendous value in digital activism, whether or not people are physically or mentally healthy and able enough to contribute to "boots on the ground" work, and I don't just say this because I consider myself one. Think about how much information gets shared across social media by marginalized people that might not otherwise be reported on by the mainstream media. Digital activism can and does enact change in its own way, and there are plenty of examples.
If you see yourself as a resource for awareness or inspiration for activists and radical thinkers, what would you recommend to others looking to get into the type of work you're doing?
I know this is easier said than done, but take the leap. Shoot your shot. Send that pitch email. Read other people's work, digest it, process it, live in it. And then, find the gaps. With any given subject, there's always someone who has already written about it, of course, but there are always things left unsaid, views left unexplored. No one person can tackle every possible angle. Find the gaps that other people inevitably leave in their work and fill them. Address the unaddressed. That is how writers can set themselves apart, in my opinion. That's what I really appreciate as an editor and a reader.
Are there any projects or current topics you want to promote?
We are currently wrapping up our Summer of Sex campaign at WYV, a series that highlights perspectives of QTBIPOC [Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color] on the subject of sex and the things surrounding it. The piece I contributed to this is rather personal, maybe more personal than anything else I've ever written. In it, I do what feels for me like heavy lifting on the subjects of unhealthy sex, asexuality, celibacy, and fawning as a trauma response, as all of these relate to my personal story and life experience. These are topics I rarely see talked about openly and I would like to see others engaging with them as well.
You describe yourself as a "reformed Blackademic." What was your experience in academia and why did you choose to move towards digital media?
I had no idea I would end up here. For a long time, I thought I would be an academic, and I had plans to pursue a doctorate. The bureaucracy and high pressure of the institution turned out to be something I wasn't cut out for, and I'm perfectly fine with that. I call myself a reformed Blackademic because stepping back from academia allowed me to see how elitism and inaccessibility can sometimes be a barrier to connecting with our own communities. If my work isn't accessible to those outside of higher education, then I don't think it's actually doing as much work as we might assume. This isn't to say that there isn't value in academic thought and high theory. Of course there is, and the things I learned while pursuing my degrees absolutely continue to inform my current work. I'm just more intentional about making my work accessible, as much as I can, and I will hopefully continue to make more progress in that arena through digital media.
What are your favorite writing projects or stories you've covered over the years?
My favorite projects are the ones that allow me to blend my passion for entertainment media with my radical, leftist, Black feminist, anti-capitalist philosophies. I'd say I'm currently most fond of my analysis of Thanos and his flawed Malthusian logic system about overpopulation and my laments on the unfortunate pattern of Black horror stories and Black time travel narratives that seem to only contemplate white violence as a constant fixture in our lives.
You've written a lot about your interest in horror and haunting narratives. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
I became interested in hauntings in grad school, in terms of how the ghosts of history continue to haunt our lives everyday and how we see those ghosts manifesting in oppressive systems, and these things often show up as literal ghosts in cinematic haunting narratives, like literally any film that uses a "Native American burial ground" as a way to convey danger and terror for white protagonists only to ultimately subdue the ghosts rather than truly acknowledge and hold accountable the violent white colonialism that created them.
Candyman (1992) is also a prime example with the vengeful ghost created from a lynching, and it is one of my personal favorites, despite it ultimately being yet another story of a frightened white woman being lusted after by a Black man. Choosing favorites is always difficult, because it changes every few years, and I love so many. Train to Busan (2016), Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017), Hereditary (2018), and The Babadook (2014) are some of my contemporary favorites, but Psycho (1960), The Exorcist (1973), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) are longevity faves.
When you say "new voices" in horror, I immediately think of Jordan Peele, of course, who has two amazing horror entries already, which are among my favorites as well, and is sure to bring us more. He's tapped Nia DaCosta to direct his Candyman "spiritual sequel" expected in 2020, and I am ecstatic about a Black woman directing such a huge mainstream horror film. It would be a dream to see more Black women, more queer folks, more trans folks, more disabled folks at the helm of these stories. I want to see people who have historically been largely relegated to monstrosities in horror giving us innovative tales that subvert the status quo and rattle us in new, challenging ways.
You write a lot of content that challenges hegemonic, white supremacist narratives and ways of reporting and understanding current events; for example, the idea that climate change is new/just beginning to show effect, or that BIPOC women's bodies haven't always been byproducts of white supremacist violence. What writers, sources, or strategies have helped you challenge these hegemonic narratives? What kind of anti-oppression work do you see coming to the fore and/or still needing to be done in terms of this?
My first piece of writing that went viral viral was "White Women In Robes" on my personal blog, werdbrew. It was a critique of The Handmaid's Tale's use of harms committed against BIPOC in a story that centers white women and white feminism's historical connections with white supremacy, among other things. Dorothy E. Roberts' "Killing the Black Body" greatly informed that piece of writing, and anything else I've written about the reproductive control of and expectations for Black people. I also carry Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Angela Davis with me daily, and the spirits of Harriet Tubman and Zora Neale Hurston. The voices of Patricia Hill Collins, Nina Simone, and Toni Morrison are always with me when I write about Black womanhood. Some more recent entries that have inspired me include Tressie McMillan Cottom's "Thick" and Sabrina Strings' "Fearing the Black Body," both amazing and important works. I just think Black women are so brilliant and so uniquely able to Illuminate ugly but necessary truths about our world. Black women are already doing crucial anti-oppression work, and always have been. People just need to listen.
You write that white dystopian narratives align with the "destruction of the dominant white society, the disruption of the white heteropatriarchal family unit, and the downfall of post-colonial civilization as a whole" in one of your reviews. What kind of disruption would you like to see, and are there any images of the future that you imagine seeing through and beyond this disruption?
That is the kind of disruption I like to see. In a perfect world, we would finally get to see all the remnants of white colonialism gone, but unfortunately that is not our reality. I don't mind at all that dystopian narratives involve this kind of destruction in the fantasy world, especially because the destruction of a society where white supremacists hold political, economic, and social power only creates possibilities for the rest of us. My issue is that these narratives—with the exception of The Girl With All The Gifts (2017)—never explore those new opportunities or acknowledge the fact that QTBIPOC already live in a dystopia in the real world.
Still from "The Girl With All the Gifts"pressinfo.com
Are there any particular voices or groups you'd like to see highlighted in our current cultural moment?
I absolutely want more QTBIPOC voices. More fat, disabled, neurodivergent folks being heard and respected and humanized. More sex workers, more undocumented immigrants. I want to hear more from the younger generation, too. The people who get silenced the most are the ones who need to be elevated the most.
What's your everyday routine like? Where do you like to do your work or write?
I'm actually working to embrace my nocturnal nature these days, and I'm fortunate enough to have a career that allows me to do so. What are considered "normal" sleeping hours often serve as my writing time. Some of the best things I've written have come pouring out of me between the hours of 3 and 6 am. I'm either writing in bed or on the couch, and I always write on my phone. I sleep as best as I can, if I can, for a few hours and then I'm up and working again by noon. For BYP, I might be publishing in WordPress and/or desperately searching for good stock images of Black people. For WYV, I might be taking care of daily social media management duties, doing secondary edits or final checks on a piece before Lara publishes, creating graphics, and/or designing and sending out our weekly newsletter(s). For both publications, I might be hopping on a staff video or phone call, brainstorming new content, reading and catching up on the day's news so far, answering emails, evaluating pitches, responding to Slack messages, drafting calls for pitches, organizing my editorial calendar, conducting interviews, checking in with writers, and addressing anything else that requires my attention. The late afternoon and evening is when I rest, recharge, meditate, exercise, and eat. Sometimes, I will do some in-depth editing work on writers' drafts during this time, but mostly I don't start doing that kind of work until around midnight. Then, I plan for the next day/night. I admit, sometimes it's hard to keep track of what day it is.
You do a lot of challenging work. What do you do for fun, and to take care of yourself?
I'm proud to say that I'm much better about taking care of myself now than I used to be. For self-care, I watch horror game play on YouTube because I think it's more fun to watch other people do it—plus it's cheaper and less time-consuming. I spend quality time with friends virtually—ironically, all of my closest friends live far away. I SnapChat with my little sister. I take myself to 4 pm matinees in the middle of the week. I laugh with my co-workers. I support and mentor Black kids. I lift weights. I hit my heavy bag. I eat peanut butter fudge sorbet at 3 AM. I write happy things. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks about true crime, folklore, and history. I laugh at nonsensical memes. I block white people with dreadlocks. I drink plenty of water. I take selfies. I spend entire weekends naked, and I don't let myself work on Saturdays anymore.
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We're looking at you, ExxonMobil.
Gucci has announced that it wants to go carbon neutral.
The company's CEO, Marco Bizzarri, just confirmed that the company will be purchasing carbon credits that cancel out the emissions of all the people who attend its upcoming Milan fashion show.
The high fashion brand has been working on their eco-friendliness for a while, launching a ten-year sustainability plan in 2018 and swearing off fur products the year prior.
Next up, the 100 fossil fuel companies that are responsible for 71% of the world's global emissions should go carbon neutral, shutting down or changing their product from fossil fuels to reusable energy.
Particularly, the 25 companies that are responsible for half of global emissions in the past three decades should consider offsetting their toxic effects (from selling a deadly substance that will kill us all, slowly and painfully) by paying a few trillion dollars in carbon credits and reparations to the communities they have destroyed.
It's great that eco-friendliness is fashionable now. It's awesome that high fashion companies are trying to go carbon neutral by buying carbon credits, even though carbon offsets are definitely not going to be enough to stop the climate crisis.
It would be even greater if ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, ConocoPhillips, Suncor, Saudi Aramco—and all the other companies bankrolling politicians that deny climate change, obfuscating decades of scientific research, and making it virtually impossible to stop climate change no matter how many models strut around in faux fur—would do the same.
The 16-year-old will take to Foley Square to spearhead a global strike on September 20.
Teen activist Greta Thunberg touched down on the shores of New York today after a two-week journey at sea, but her real journey has just begun.
The Swedish teenager rose to prominence last year with her "School Strikes for Climate," which have since sparked a worldwide movement. She's since become one of the leading faces in climate activism, representing young people's refusal to tolerate the ignorance of their elders.
Sixteen-year-old Thunberg has spent the past two weeks traveling to New York City via solar-powered yacht, which was chosen in order to avoid a carbon-heavy airplane flight. The journey—which was obsessively followed by activists and European media and much-maligned by critics—culminated with a landing on the shores of Coney Island, Brooklyn, and her final destination was a port off Lower Manhattan. She was welcomed by excited crowds of activists and fans.
Thunberg has a packed itinerary, which includes high-profile meetings with some of the world's most powerful officials. On Friday, September 20, she'll be leading a worldwide Climate Strike, and millions of people will be taking to the streets to call for aggressive global action on climate change. Find your local strike (or start your own) using this website.
Thunberg will be attending New York City's strike, which begins with a march in Foley Square and ends with a rally in Battery Park, where speakers, performers, and Thunberg herself will take the stage. If you want to be more involved in this event, NYC is having an art build on August 30 and 31, and the group Fridays for Future will be organizing other logistical actions in preparation for the strike. Also for NYC folks: Ethical Culture is hosting strike planning meetings every Wednesday from 6-8pm, and Greta herself will be striking each Friday, starting with a strike on Friday, 8/30 at Ralph Bunche Park outside of the United Nations from 11-2pm.
Participants hope that mass action will influence several important upcoming climate meetings, which will be attended by Thunberg. The first will be the Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations in Manhattan on September 23rd. The next is the COP25 summit in Santiago, Chile, which takes place in December.
The young activist recently announced that she's taking a year-long sabbatical from school to focus on her activism. Her actions manifest the emotions and thoughts of many students who are asking, "What's the point in going to school and working towards our future if there is no future?"
As Thunberg put it in 2018, "We cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you're stealing their future in front of their very eyes."
Yet she's also resolutely hopeful. "It is still not too late to act," she reminded the European Parliament in a recent speech. "It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make changes required possible."
Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for her work. She has mobilized millions of strikers around the world, and she's given hope and a sense of urgency to countless others. She also has been heavily criticized, mostly by conservative outlets and European nationalists. One British businessman even went as far as to Tweet, "Freak yachting accidents do happen in August…" She was also described as a "teenage puppet" by a member of Trump's transition team and a "prophetess in shorts" by a conservative French politician.
Many of these criticisms have taken on a misogynistic undertone, resembling those lobbed at another young, powerful female activist—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This may not be incidental, since the kind of global structural overhaul that human survival requires necessitates a revamp of many patriarchal and conservative ideas based in traditional ways of doing things. "For climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity," proposed one study that linked misogynistic comments about Thunberg and Ocasio-Cortez to toxic masculinity.
Thunberg, however, is not advocating for any particular shift in gender dynamics, nor any politician's agenda. Instead, she's all about ensuring human survival by adjusting our actions based on scientific fact.
As the Malitzia II sailed towards the New York City skyline, a banner reading "Unite Behind the Science" waved proudly above it. Unfortunately, the scientific consensus about the dire consequences of climate change hasn't been enough to mobilize humanity into acting. That has required one particularly outspoken teen activist, and New York City is lucky to have her here.
Each day, the Amazon loses over a football field of land to fire.
Right now, the wildfires in the Amazon forests are so massive they can be seen from space.
According to INPE, about a football field and a half of rainforest is being destroyed each day. Since Thursday, over 10,000 acres have been lost.
Since January 2019, the number of forest fires in Brazil have grown by 80%. It's normal for wildfires to clear away the forest to make room for new growth, but these fires are happening at an unprecedented rate that scientists say is caused by human activity and the rising climate.
The destruction has also been exacerbated by the sentiments of Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been nonchalant when told that many of the fires are being caused by humans. Farmers are setting fire to the land in order to clear away indigenous forests, according to reports, and Bolsonaro has encouraged these actions with his anti-environmentalist sentiments.
In the name of development, Bolsonaro is endangering the entire world's future. The Amazon contains 40% of the world's rainforests, which are our best defense against a rising climate. Sometimes described as the planet's lungs, the Amazon rainforest provides around 20% of our world's oxygen and absorbs a quarter of the world's carbon. It also contains 10-15% of animal species, many of which are being incinerated along with ancient trees and rich biodiversity.
Indigenous peoples are on the front lines of these fires, as many of them live in or near the forests, but the loss of such a large portion of the Amazon will be damaging to the whole world.
Image via India Today
Many people have asked about what they can do. Here are some actions you can take in response to the fires:
1. The main thing you can do to help out immediately with these forest fires is give money.
It's particularly important to give to organizations that work directly with indigenous people and those who know and live in the Amazon rainforest. Avoid major, corporatized organizations like the Red Cross.
Here are several organizations to give to:
*Support arts, culture, and research about the Amazon through the Amazon Aid Foundation.
2. Unfortunately, even though donations will help, these wildfires will probably keep happening without massive political overhaul in Brazil. Contact your nation's Brazilian embassy to make your views heard. Here is a list of embassies in the US.
3. Sign this petition, being passed around by opponents of Bolsonaro and his policies.
4. Boycott beef and products made from rainforest trees. Check with the Rainforest Alliance to see whether the products you're buying are safe.
5. Switch your browser to Ecosia, which is run by an organization that plants trees based on searches—roughly one tree per 45 searches, to be exact. So far, it's planted over 65 million trees and has garnered good reviews from across the web.
6. To stop things like this from happening in the future (and to ensure that there is a future at all), you can also get involved in the fight against climate change and disaster capitalism.
Here are four ways to do that right now:
- Get involved with an environmental organization. For example, Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion are two active organizations that are making significant changes to environmental policy around the globe. Start by joining a mailing list, reading up on the organization's history and plans, and making time to attend meetings or actions. They might even give you hope.
- Plan on going to the worldwide climate strike on September 20. Greta Thunberg is currently making her way across the sea, and this strike is an offshoot of the Fridays for Future movement that she started one year ago. This time, both adults and children are being asked to strike.
- Lobby for a candidate who prioritizes climate change and environmental issues (and understands that these things affect every aspect of society). In America, Bernie Sanders just proposed a $16 trillion climate change plan, but many Democratic candidates have developed their own plans, and many will debate them at the CNN climate town hall on September 4.
- Contact your representatives and make it clear that climate change is a vital, non-negotiable issue. Here's a website that will help you do that.
There are no quick fixes with regards to the deep-rooted problems that have caused this tragedy to happen. However, a worldwide shift in political sentiment towards environmentalism could be the start of the changes we need to see to stop this from growing even worse.
We're all getting something wrong when we view political correctness as fundamentally opposed to free speech.
Few issues have divided the nation further than the free speech vs. political correctness debate.
In addition to deepening the gap between conservatives and liberals, the debate tends to fracture the left, leading to dissent from the inside. This stems in part from the fact that many older liberals simply can't wrap their minds around the idea of political correctness.
Political Correctness: Censorship or Part of the Fight for Equality?
Critics of political correctness equate it to censorship, which they see as a threat to the all-American ideal of unbridled freedom. For most liberal millennials and Gen-Z kids, however, political correctness is about freedom, just of a different sort. It's really about shutting down hate speech and supporting marginalized communities.
Nowhere did this divide become clearer than in one of my lectures in college, a postmodernism class with a professor who I'd always seen as uniquely brilliant (and who also happened to teach a lesbian erotica class). She lost a lot of my respect when—as a white woman—she insisted that there was nothing really wrong with a white person saying the "n" word in solitude, prompting one of the few people of color in the class to raise her hand and ask: "Why are white people so desperate to say that one word?" The professor responded with a lecture about free speech and the insubstantiality of language, a response that felt misguided and totally out of touch.
This generational divide appeared again when prominent feminist and author Margaret Atwood published an op-ed critiquing the #MeToo movement. "My fundamental position is that women are human beings, with the full range of saintly and demonic behaviours this entails, including criminal ones," she wrote. "They're not angels, incapable of wrongdoing." In short, Atwood was critiquing the #MeToo movement for the same reason that many people critique political correctness. They feel that restricting one's language, or giving the benefit of the doubt to and prioritizing the voices of certain demographics, is infantilizing or threatening to other demographics' freedoms.
On the other hand, many young liberals understand that political correctness is an important part of the process of giving respect to groups that have been and are still systematically oppressed. This political correctness can take the form of prioritizing people of color's voices, or calling out offensive speech—even, or especially, when it's the product of ignorance, or when it's conducted out of earshot of the people it might hurt.
What Toni Morrison Knew: Political Correctness and Free Speech Can Be the Same Thing
What we all need to understand is that, among other things, the left's internal war over political correctness and free speech actually presents a chance for generations to learn from each other. Defenders of political correctness might realize that sometimes, accidentally offensive language can present a valuable educational opportunity—though this is definitely not always the case, and no one should be required to educate others about why they deserve basic respect.
Older proponents of free speech, for their part, can realize that political correctness, safe spaces, and the like ultimately come from places of compassion. At their core, they are efforts to achieve a more equitable world.
Perhaps it's too starry-eyed to imagine that older allies could learn from younger people who refuse to accept middle-of-the-road policies or veiled racism, but some older people have certainly embraced progressive worldviews. "Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge," said Toni Morrison in a 1993 address about political correctness. Morrison, whose wisdom stretched far beyond the blind spots of her generation, was a supporter of what political correctness stands for, though not of the implications of that specific term. In a later interview, she added, "I believe that powerful, sharp, incisive, critical, bloody, dramatic, theatrical language is not dependent on injurious language, on curses. Or hierarchy."
In short, freedom of speech is not contingent on the ability to use offensive language. We can be free—in fact, we can only be free—when all of us are free, which will only happen when language that demonizes or injures certain groups is purged from acceptable discourse.
Ironically, the book we were discussing that day in my postmodernism class was Morrison's Beloved.
Image via the Washington Post
Jeffrey Epstein's Exorbitant Lifestyle: Private Islands, Conspiracy Theories, and Networks of Corruption
Epstein's lifestyle was unimaginably creepy, but it's indicative of a larger problem.
Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell on Saturday, having been accused of sexual abuse by nearly 80 women.
He leaves behind a legacy of destructive opulence.
Epstein lived a lifestyle of unchecked consumption. The billionaire possessed a number of extravagant homes. His Manhattan townhouse allegedly cost $77 million and contained disturbing oddities—such as a hall full of fake eyes that were initially created for injured soldiers. It also contained a photorealistic mural that featured Epstein in jail, surrounded by prison guards, as well as a life-sized female mannequin that hung from a chandelier.
His private ranch was even more grandiose. At 10,000 acres, Zorro Ranch is a sprawling stretch of land, to which Epstein allegedly flew young girls, and where he abused them with the help of his supposed madam, Ghislaine Maxwell. The ranch was also a place where he attempted to impregnate hundreds of women in an effort to seed the human race with his DNA. This attempt was inspired by his distorted belief in transhumanism, a theory that the human population can be improved through artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.
Image via BBC.com
The townhouse and the ranch paled in comparison to his primary place of residence—his private island. St. James Island is located in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Epstein purchased it in 1998. According to a contractor, Steve Scully, Epstein possessed two private offices on the island, as well as a strange blue-and-white striped temple and a lagoon full of flamingos. The island was, allegedly, the location of a variety of heinous crimes and was casually called the "Island of Sin" and even "Pedophile Island" among some of Epstein's acquaintances.
Epstein had ties to countless businesses and money-making ventures, and he had a particularly fraught relationship with Victoria's Secret, a company that may have funneled models directly to him—and from which he may have embezzled millions. He had a circle of powerful friends that included Donald Trump, Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen, and Bill Clinton. He was also a serial liar, constantly fabricating relationships and insinuating himself into the scientific and political communities, including ingratiating himself with scientists by bankrolling their research. He is an example of the way that money can pave pathways and open doors for people with little to offer other than their purported fortunes and their charisma.
Between the bizarre decor of his homes, his interest in nefarious ideas like eugenics and cryogenics, and the suspicious circumstances of his apparent suicide in a Manhattan jail, Rolling Stone was right when it published the headline, "Conspiracy theories have gone mainstream."
Many of the conspiracy theories currently swirling around the Internet center around Epstein's relationship with Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, with #TrumpBodyCount and #ClintonBodyCount trending on Twitter and Trump himself tweeting about the Clinton conspiracy. Many others believe that Epstein faked the suicide, as the cameras in the jail cell stopped working at the time of his death.
With its tangled web of lies, the Epstein case is "the end of an information ecosystem that at least feints at asking questions before pretending to have the answers," according to Anna Merlan.
Is this the end, or just a step towards chipping away illusions and unearthing the corruption inherent to America's wealthiest class? After all, it's likely that there have been thousands of Epsteins before—billionaires in bed with politicians and scientific communities who abused women without consequence and who've funded false scientific research.
Maybe social media is, in its ugly, distorted way, finally bringing the dark money and covert alliances at the heart of America out into the light. Maybe next, the Internet could come for people like the Koch Brothers, the billionaires who paid millions to shut down climate change research.
Based on the nature of social media, though, it'll be a long time before we arrive at anything like the truth.
Little Saint James Island. Image via The Cut
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency detained 680 migrants yesterday. Here's how you can respond.
This has been an unusually horrific week for American immigrants, and that's saying something.
Yesterday, ICE staged its largest single-state immigration raid in history, sending over 600 agents to seven Mississippi food processing plants. 680 people were arrested and detained. They were ushered onto buses, where they had their hands tied with plastic bands; some tried to flee into parking lots but were captured on foot. The detained immigrants will be tried on a case-by-case basis, with no limit on how long they might be kept in ICE custody. As of now, 300 people have allegedly been released.
Many of the detained have children at home, who have been left without their parents. A local school in Scott County that started their academic year on Tuesday has gone "on standby," and bus drivers have been instructed to check whether the child is met by a parent or guardian before letting them off the bus, in order to ensure that the child is not returning to an empty house.
While the children have waited to hear from their parents, some members of the local community have stepped up, including a gym owner named Jordan Barnes, who's helped house some children until they can be connected with a family member or guardian.
Summer of Deportation
For supporters of the crackdown on illegal immigration, the raids are viewed as triumphs. In July, President Trump told reporters that "[ICE is] gonna take people out and they're going to bring them back to their countries or they're gonna take criminals out, put them in prison, or put them in prison in the countries they came from."
The raids in Mississippi came only five days after a mass shooting that was motivated by racism and anti-immigrant sentiment rocked El Paso, Texas and left 31 dead. They appear to be the climax of a summer of relentless ICE crackdown on migrants across the nation. Currently, the U.S. operates the world's largest immigration detention system, with an estimated 30,000 people in custody on any given day. The raids began in June, with ICE targeting up to 2,000 migrants in 10 U.S. cities.
Image via NBC News
These detention centers have been loci of contention for the past few months in particular. On Tuesday, August 6, over 100 hunger-striking immigrants at a Louisiana facility were sprayed with pepper spray, shot at with rubber bullets, and blocked from contacting their families. Reports of atrocious conditions at the facilities have continued to flood in from many sources.
On Wednesday, just one day before the Mississippi raids, a man named Jimmy Aldaoud—who spent most of his life in the U.S. and had never lived in Iraq, though he was of Iraqi nationality—died in Baghdad, after he'd been left homeless and without access to insulin following his deportation. Aldaoud was detained as part of a massive crackdown on the Detroit Iraqi community. In a video filmed before he died, he appears to be sitting on a street in Iraq. "Immigration agents pulled me over and said I'm going to Iraq," he said in the clip. "I said, 'I've never been there. I've been in this country my whole life, since pretty much birth.' … They refused to listen to me."
What Can You Do?
In the wake of this news, and knowing that the raids will likely only grow worse, you might be wondering what you can do. Here are a few suggestions:
Spread and share information about immigrants' rights.
There are many guides in various formats available to the public that detail immigrants' rights. The ACLU has one, as well as the National Immigration Law Center, and the Immigration Defense Project offers a variety of flyers and pamphlets available for distribution. Essentially, the most important fact to share is that if an ICE agent shows up at your door, you are never obligated to open it unless they have a warrant, and you are never obligated to speak to an officer if they stop you in public. They cannot arrest you without a warrant, and you have permission to tell them that you are exercising your right to remain silent.
As an ally, you can also share stories on social media and among your networks, highlight migrants' voices, do your own research into issues of asylum and immigration and contact your representatives to voice your opposition, especially if you live in a state or community where the raids are taking place. You can find your local ICE community relations officer here and your representative here. You can also use the website 5calls.org to find more people to contact.
Report ICE raids when you see them.
If you see an arrest, take note of the officers' badge numbers and license plates and take videos. You can also report raids to hotlines, like United We Dream. If you're a legal U.S. citizen, use your judgment to decide when to speak up and get involved in a raid. Recently, in Nashville, a group of community members noticed that the ICE was surrounding one of their neighbors' vans, and so they formed a circle around the car until the agents left the scene.
Remember that it's unhelpful to report potentially false information about ICE raids, as they can spread unnecessary panic, so exercise caution when dealing with raids in real time.
Donate to help migrants.
A lawyer can make all the difference in a migrant's case. Many migrants qualify for legal citizenship in the U.S. and simply are unable to compile the necessary documentation. The Cornell Law School has a list of organizations seeking donors or volunteers. Just be sure to do your research and vet the charity using a site like Charity Navigator.
Get involved in advocacy groups.
Allies can participate in a variety of contexts. There are many organizations that allow allies to help migrants prepare their documents for citizenship hearings, or coordinate groups to attend these hearings, such as the New Sanctuary Coalition and Cosecha in NYC.
If you're an attorney or are fluent in translating Spanish to English, your expertise is particularly valuable to these groups. Even if not, just attending a court hearing can put enough pressure on judges to turn the tide in favor of migrants.
You can also push your local church, school, or community organization to act as a short-term sanctuary for migrants. If you want to give even more, you could look into underground networks dedicated to keeping migrants and refugees safe.
Organize for the 2020 elections.
Though protests and active allyship can be powerful, none of these small actions can replace systemic changes coming from the very top.
The rising tides of migration to the U.S. are not occurring in a vacuum. They are products of policy issues stemming from root sources like climate change, the War on Drugs, and other large, structural issues that require equally large, structural changes.
Even if you don't believe that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country, the images of children crying as their parents are dragged away into unsanitary and dangerous prisons should be enough to stir some basic human impulse to react. There is a better way.
Marianne Williamson enrages some, makes others laugh, and inspires still others to form occult task forces. Could she be the only one who could meet Donald Trump on her own terms?
Objectively, Marianne Williamson had a fantastic night at the latest Democratic debate. She gained the largest number of Twitter followers afterwards, after all, and was the most Googled candidate of the night.
Perhaps this is because Williamson may be the most intriguing character of all the progressive Democratic candidates. With her aura of patchouli and residual dust from the astral plane, detectable even through the TV screen, she's the most memeable candidate (Elizabeth Warren and her plans are a strong second). She's also perhaps the most out-there, even compared to Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. If Warren and Sanders are marooned on the far left, Williamson has transcended direction, and she intends to bring America with her.
Regardless of how her campaign pans out, Williamson has undeniably made waves. She's the first political candidate to bring non-mainstream spirituality directly into her platform, and she's done it at the perfect time.
Four years ago and earlier, she would've seemed as absurd a candidate as Donald Trump—but we all know how that worked out. Today, qualifications for the presidential office matter less than one's star power and ability to inspire a movement, and Williamson seems to have the star power (if not the ability to commune directly with the stars).
Image via NewYorker.com
In all seriousness, out of all the candidates, she may be the most similar to Donald Trump, in that she exists in the same realm of humorous implausibility as he does. Like Trump, she could be a reality TV fixture. She posts memes, is popular in fringe online forums, inspires occult task forces, and generates massive quantities of loathing and disbelief. She fits into the glitchy landscape of ironic and disillusioned online discourse and is bizarre enough to capture and hold the public's attention.
Like Trump, she's also bringing race directly into the conversation—though for the opposite reasons. Where Trump used racist ideas to win the presidency, Williamson has brought systemic reparations into the discussion. "We need to realize that when it comes to the economic gap between blacks and whites in America, it does come from a great injustice that has never been dealt with," she said. "That great injustice has to do with the fact there were 250 years of slavery followed by another 100 years of domestic terrorism." She followed this statement with some unusually cogent statistics. "If you did the math of the 40 acres and a mule, given that there were 4 to 5 million slaves at the end of the Civil War—they were all promised 40 acres and a mule for a family of four. If you did the math today it would be trillions of dollars."
Her articulate commentary about reparations was a high point in an otherwise discouraging debate that mostly revolved around the same arguments, with moderators and candidates circling around Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. While the Democratic party ate itself, Williamson—placed as far to the left as could be—stood on the outside.
None of these points are reasons to elect her. She is definitely not an experienced politician—she's a self-help guru, spiritual advisor, and occasional activist. Her platform's main points include a potential Department of Peace "as a first step to dismantling our systemically entrenched perpetuation of violence," movements towards sustainable agriculture in order to reestablish "humanity's spiritual connection to nature," and of course, fighting Donald Trump and his battalion of "dark psychic forces" with love.
Image via USA Today
Her ideologies are absurd, and not based in (our) reality. She may be promoting an individualistic, dangerous brand of New Age spirituality that promotes an unhealthy fixation on the self. Still, she's arriving at a time when many Americans feel they are already living in an absurd, delusional world, and when they're seeking broader, more creative solutions.
Arguably, Williamson and Bernie Sanders are the only presidential candidates who have proposed changes to the sources of America's problems, not quick fixes that remain within its current, shattered structure. Where Sanders is proposing a revamp of the American economic system, Williamson is wisely proposing a different kind of recalibration—one that cuts to the sources of racial tension, the sources of pollution, the sources of neoliberalism, and the roots of the sicknesses that are costing Americans so much in health care costs.
In her distance from the here-and-now, she is undefinable, without order or direction. In her removal from the real world, she is quintessent: untouchable, and difficult to pin down. Depending on how you see it, she's absurd, enlightened, out of touch, awake, a crackpot, or a witch.
She would probably make a very poor president. But by bringing her messages of spirituality and structural healing to the table, she's changing the rules of the game.
Image via The Bulwark
Together, Sanders and Warren promised radical hope—and wound up derailing the Democratic debate.
"Marooned on a desert island."
"Bonnie and Clyde."
"It's Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren against the world."
These kinds of whimsical headlines, loaded with Americana folklore and reality TV surrealism, swirled across the Internet after the first installment of the second Democratic debates. They stemmed from the unlikely but oddly seamless union of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the second and third highest-polling and by far the most radically progressive candidates in the race to win the Democratic primary.
Standing in the dead center of the row of candidates, in between the youthful pillars of Buttegieg and Beto and far away from Marianne Williamson's mystic emanations and John Delaney's bitter combativeness, they seemed to cling to each other. By proxy, they seemed to cling to a similar collection of dreams, dreams that have been pulling a great deal of progressives towards the far reaches of socialism, or at least to the dissolution of income inequality.
Image via WLRN
Watching Sanders vehemently defend the policies that he brought into the public eye—Medicare For All, free college, a refusal to accept superPAC donations—and watching Warren defend him (when she could get more than a few words in), the idea of a Sanders/Warren dream team entered the realm of plausibility.
Though either could lead, Sanders seems like the clear choice for the presidential candidate, with Warren as a strong VP. After all, the Warren/Sanders ethos thrives because it is buoyed by the idealism that Bernie popularized in 2016.
The fact that Sanders is a democratic socialist, while Warren is a self-proclaimed capitalist, is the primary reason why Bernie would be the most feasible leader of the duo. Sanders' campaign caught fire in 2016 because he spoke to a generation caught in the stranglehold of mind-blowing income inequality, a generation that faces the destabilizing knowledge that the world faces certain catastrophe if climate change is not addressed—and that capitalism has continuously favored the fossil fuel companies that prevent necessary environmental changes. Like most youth-led movements, Sanders supporters seek radical, totalizing change of the sort that's only be possible when the old systems are completely deconstructed.
On the whole, Sanders is more anti-establishment and seems more likely to reel in the followers of Trump's "drain the swamp" who could care less about actual policy, and she's more likely to inspire mass mobilization and excitement among those seeking radical change. As The Atlantic succinctly put it, "Sanders is fighting for a political revolution. Warren isn't."
Warren, for her part, maintains a link to solid ground with her vast collection of plans and policies—plans that, in theory, could be the perfect antidote to any accusation that Sanders' policies are implausible.
Still, last night, it seemed like Warren and Sanders were out in dreamland, reeling through a political Coney Island. This isn't necessarily a death knell, though. Together on a single ticket, their shared pull could be enough.
Torn apart, though, their campaigns might result in another 2016. Arguably, Bernie's campaign was a death knell for Hillary Clinton, as it provided the initial framework for Trump's demonization of her. In the same way, progressives are now putting up firewalls against the candidates they see as too middle-of-the-road, like Joe Biden.
In her opening statement, the ever-practical Warren reminded the audience that any candidate would be preferable to Donald Trump. While this is true, many progressives feel that the 2020 election presents an unmissable opportunity to completely change the direction of politics. In a nation that was prepared to elect someone as disruptive as Donald Trump, it seems feasible that we could handle a little more chaos, especially if it comes in tandem with the promise of a better world.
At the debate, with rampant arm-flailing and drawn-out storytelling, Warren and Sanders promised that better world. They stood for the dissolution of private health insurance companies and student debt in spite of endless criticisms from the other candidates. Against the totalizing extremity of their views, the other candidates who supported for-profit colleges and private insurance in any capacity seemed lost in the past—or lodged in reality, depending again on how willing you are to take the leap into their alternate state of mind.
But in last night's debate, the binary they created between themselves and the others didn't always work in their favor. Somehow, by the end of the night, both the Warren/Sanders island and the rest of the Democrats seemed to come out as losers.
This raises the question: Is extremism really the solution? For young progressives, it absolutely is. For this group, fighting against a rigged system that buoys the rich and throws the poor to the wolves, extreme action is the only thing that will work. Peace and love failed in the 1970s, and moderation is code for the status quo. For progressives, it's time to wake up from the dream presented at the start of the American capitalist experiment.
For other non-radical or socialism-phobic Democrats, the Sanders/Warren ticket is the stuff of nightmares, and the progressives are the ones lost in the dream. For those who merely want Trump gone and apparent order reinstated in the Oval Office, it seems that the division between the progressives and the middle-of-the-road Democrats is an unfortunate diversion.
Perhaps middle-of-the-road Democratic candidates could accrue more favor with would progressives if they could convince them (and the nation on the whole) that they actually stand for something (other than defeating Trump). In the technologically saturated mess of a modern era, one thing is certain: Policy is secondary to a candidate's ability to shape a vision of a better future.
For a long time, Sanders has been the best architect of that better future that the Democrats have. Though he and Warren presented an appealing team, seeing them cut down to size at the debate last night did nothing for the party and its motivation. Perhaps, had the debate been framed more as a discussion of specific policies rather than a black-and-white argument that pitted stagnancy against change, it wouldn't have been defined by such a strong feeling of premature defeat.
This was an act of terror, and should be widely condemned.
Emyra Wajãpi was a leader of the Wajãpi indigenous community, a group located in the north of Brazil—until he was murdered this week by a group of armed miners, who stabbed him to death and threw his body into a river.
On Saturday, Wajãpi community leaders issued a cry for help to the Brazilian government, stating that they were being invaded by troops bearing rifles and weapons and requesting the assistance of the army. Though a police force was en route, they did not arrive in time, and the community was forced to flee.
The invasion comes as a shock but not a surprise. In recent months, Brazil's far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has explicitly encouraged loggers, miners, and farmers to invade protected areas and land occupied by indigenous communities, arguing that the Brazilian government has the right to develop and profit off of any and all of its national territories. Under Bolsonaro, deforestation in the Amazon has skyrocketed, though he has repeatedly denied the validity of studies that reveal just how much land has been lost during his reign.
"The president is responsible for this death," said Brazilian lawmaker Rodolfe Rodrigues to the The New York Times. Bolsonaro has a history of making racist comments about indigenous people and is currently telling the public that the murder did not happen.
The Wajãpi people united in protest against invadersImage via survivalinternational.org
In March 2019, Bolsonaro met with U.S. President Donald Trump, and they signed a letter of intent promising the "sustainable development of the Amazon" (read: the ravaging of indigenous lands). Bolsonaro has also drafted plans that would legalize artisanal mining in protected lands, and that—to add insult to injury—would encourage indigenous communities to mine their own lands.
His priorities are crystal clear. "Brazil lives from commodities," Bolsonaro said in a recent speech. "What do we have here in addition to commodities? Do people not remember this? If the [commodities] business fails, it will be a disaster." These comments come at a time when mining and pollution present unparalleled threats to the planet's well-being and when indigenous ways of life present one of the best models of combating climate change and developing sustainable infrastructure.
The killing of Emyra Wajãpi should be viewed as a serious act of domestic terror among international communities. The U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has decried the death, calling it "a disturbing symptom of the growing problem of encroachment on indigenous land – especially forests – by miners, loggers and farmers in Brazil." World leaders should follow suit in denouncing these actions and reaffirming their commitment to conserving protected lands.
Wajãpi Indigenous Tribe Image via Victor Moriyama
If they do not, a genocide could ensue. "This government is massacring our rights and our indigenous peoples," said a Wajãpi leader to NBC News. "They are already starting, killing the indigenous peoples."
Indigenous communities of the Americas have endured relentless persecution since the arrival of Europeans in the 1400s. The Wajãpi did not receive protected land until 1996, after a 21-year period of brutal military rule. In the 1970s, their community was almost completely wiped out by disease—brought by invading gold miners.