It’s Like We Never Left Compton…

Lately, there have been a large amount of movies in theaters preaching to the people to stand up for social justice. Movies that depict a historic a pivotal moment in social change that still rings true today, like Selma and Stonewall; movies that pioneer diversity in lead roles, like Home; and movies that open eyes to an issue that affects everyone in someway, Inside Out. These are some of the good ones from 2015 so far. One of the most influential films of the year was Straight Outta Compton, the biopic of the N.W.A rap group from Los Angeles. Even though this film is set in 1990’s Southern California, it challenged social norms, and exposed injustice and inequality that we, as Americans, are facing either first hand or in the media. The most important issue that Straight Outta Compton spoke out about was institutional racism and police brutality in underdeveloped neighborhoods.

There is a scene where Eeazy-E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella took a break from recording their debut album outside of the studio when cop cars roar up, sirens blaring and lights flashing. The officers exited their cars and immediately ordered the group to the ground, smacking their drinks out of their hands. The young men followed orders like they’ve gone through it all before.

Laying face down, fingers laced at the smalls of their backs, their manager came, Jerry Heller out of the studio and demands that the police officers release the group. “Sir, can you stay right there please? We’re trying to check these bangers to make sure they’re clean,” the Black cop said. Jerry retorted, saying the men were artists and not “gang bangers.”

“These clients of yours, these rappers?” the cop said, “they look like gang bangers.” And then Jerry says the most important line in the whole picture. “You can’t come down here and arrest people just because of what they look like. What are you crazy? That’s police harassment”. Watch it here

This isn’t new. Black Americans for at least the past century have been subject to police and institutional racism. Police harassment and brutality is the epidemic that is killing Black Americans everywhere. Between 1968 and 2011, Black people were two to eight times more likely to be killed by white law enforcement. Just think: so far this year, cops were the cause of death of 161 unarmed citizens 161 unarmed citizens. Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Sam DuBose, Freddy Gray, Ralkina Jones and Eric Garner are just some of the deaths that were publicized this year. The list of names is far more extensive for the deaths that weren’t.

Releasing Straight Outta Compton at the height of this issue made the movie’s message even stronger and far more relevant. Now more than ever, people need to stand up against police brutality and institutional racism. Race is not and should not be regarded as a way to determine social treatment. Like Jerry said, these men aren’t ‘bangers’ or ‘thugs’; they are people who should not be treated any differently based on the color of their skin.

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Black Actresses and the 2015 Emmys

Three days ago, Viola Davis won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. When her name was called, tears immediately sprang to her eyes. She threw her hands up in shock, stood up and hugged her plus ones. Several members of the audience stood to clap and congratulate her. On her way to the stage, Taraji P. Henson grabbed her and squeezed. Finally, she made her way up the stairs and took her award, stopping in front of the microphone. She sighed before beginning her speech.

“‘In my mind I see a line. And over that line I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms’s stretched out to me over that line, but I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something: the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

Viola Davis is the first woman of color to win the Outstanding Lead Actress award. Why? “You cannot win an Emmy for role that are simply not there.” What Davis is saying is the sad truth of diversity in television.

The majority of television series star a white man as the lead character. According to the 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report, 6.5% of the lead characters in television shows 2012-2013 were actors of color, even though minorities represent 37.4% of the US population. And women made up 48.6% of the lead roles in 2012-2013. And that’s just in front of the camera…

Women of color are missing from our TV channels. And the ones that are on the channels have to fight for their right to be there. Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project was rejected by NBC because the lead was a curvy brown woman.

Like Viola Davis, Mindy Kaling is breaking ground for actresses of color everywhere. Today, there are more shows than ever with lead women of color. Aside from How to Get Away with Murder and The Mindy Project, Scandal, Empire and Orange is the New Black are also a few of the popular series that feature fantastic leading women of color.

Now, they’re finally starting to be recognized for their #blackgirlexcellence. Viola was not the only black actress who was a nominee that night. Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington, Regina King, and Uzo Aduba were all recognized for their outstanding performances in their respective shows, and two of them left as winners.

Viola ended her speech like this: “And to the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Baharies, the Meagan Goods, to Gabrielle Union, thank you for taking us over that line. Thank you for the television academy.”

Like Viola said, the sight of more women of color in academy award shows is the first few bounds for diversifying television. Shows like Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are some of the highest rated shows on television right now. Black women are finally being seen and appreciated for their tremendous talent.

It’s not you, Europe. It’s America.

I came to Syracuse because the European higher education system wasn’t doing it for me.

As an American growing up in Europe, one question loomed over me the closer I got to the end of secondary school: would I stay in Europe, or return to the United States for university? My friends, family and teachers would constantly probe: what are you going to do, Jaye Michelle?

In the end, I chose to come back to America. It was more of what US universities had to offer, rather than what European ones didn’t. There were elements of college culture that I knew I wanted in a higher education.

The first was fluidity and flexibility. One thing that I really appreciate about the American university system is the liberty that students have to study whatever piques their fancy, by choosing from the long, long list of majors offered, combining programs, or even constructing their own. I needed to have the ability to keep my options open. My heart wasn’t totally set on one area of study, and I wanted to do as much exploring as I could with no strings attached.

Second was community. European university campuses are solely academic. There is nothing that unifies the students; there is nothing that makes the campus feel smaller. In the US, campus culture is what graduating high school students dream of. The only campus culture I saw, growing up in Europe, were American movies and TV shows that glorified college life: dorm living, sports teams and school spirit, frat parties, and all around young, wild fun. I wanted to rep a school color, and join ten organizations, and dress up for themed parties on the weekends. Most importantly, I wanted to live with other young scholars and experience things that would create great discussions and debates, sharing our knowledge about our specific areas of study. 

What drew me to Syracuse University specifically was less methodical, and more emotional. When I first visited the campus, it just felt right. It was October, Syracuse’s prettiest season. Ivy covered the buildings, and brown leaves were scattered all over Campus Hill. The sky was far less attractive; dark blotchy clouds threatened rain above. But I was mesmerized by what this orange university had to offer. Its beauty, its pride, its pursuit of knowledge are all things that I am grateful to have during my college career.

It’s been two years since I move back stateside to start at SU. It’s been very different, but great. I think that I made the right choice in terms of deciding to return to the United States after high school.

One last thing that drew me back to my birth country was the opportunity to truly discover and explore it. I have now immersed myself in real American culture rather than skimming the surface during my summer and winter break visits.

Now that I’ve had the chance to experience America, I am more than ready to go back to Europe, or wherever my future will take me. I may not settle in the US, but I am glad that I can say that an important part of my life happened here.

Nuance and Scruple

Today we learned what it means to be a public intellectual, according to our guest lecturer, professor, author, blogger, and most importantly, public intellectual, Steve Kuusisto.

What makes a public intellectual?

Scruple: doubting and challenging ideas; and nuance: examining those ideas from all perspective to come up with a well-thought-out opinion.

Steve showed us a video of a well-known public intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, evaluating and then debunking the Bible’s Ten Commandments. He ends his commentary with this:

Christopher Hitchens "Ten Commandments" cartoon sketch
Christopher Hitchens “Ten Commandments” cartoon sketch

“Did God make man, or did men make many gods?” he asks. He answers, “There are enough discrepancies just in the well-known version for us to be certain that we’re looking at a god who improvises, who’s jealous, who’s short of temper, who’s inconsistent, or if by any chance, God didn’t make Moses and the Hebrews, that the people who made God were jealous, short-tempered, inconsistent, and capricious in their turn. I don’t know about you, but as between the consideration that man was made by God, or that many gods were made by men, I’ve never thought there was much doubt as to which was the correct version.”

He then decides to update the Ten Commandments to apply to present day, operating on the thought that a set of rules written centuries ago by the same people who approve of slavery and the total control of the female body, cannot and should not possibly be applied to today’s society.

“Number five: do not condemn people for their inborn nature. Why would God create so many homosexuals only to torture and destroy them?”

His last commandment is in the true nature of a public intellectual: “Number ten: be willing to denounce any God, or any faith if any holy commandments should contradict any of the above. In short, don’t swallow your moral code in tablet form.”

So where are public intellectuals?

Agora: a place where people meet and debate ideas. In that case, everywhere. The classroom, the media, THE INTERNET. The agora is anywhere a public intellect goes to be heard.

Steve turned his lecture into an agora, using YouTube videos about Donald Trump, excerpts from his blog posts about Candide, and his own disability as our conversation prompts.“Now our public square is just one big stoner fest. The public square is all boo hoo and snarling,” Steve wrote in his post. “Candide? He dead.”

I realized that our classroom, Facebook page, and our own blogs would be our agora for the semester.

I left Steve’s lecture with this: Anybody can be a public intellectual. You just need nuance and scruple, and know how to use them. You have to insert yourself into public discourse and voice your well-thought-out opinion. It takes a public intellectual to challenge universal belief and popular opinion. Keep pushing until the truth is revealed. “Be the sand in someone’s shoe,” Steve said. Okay, Steve. I’ll try.

Travel + Writing= ???

As a young journalism student exploring her field for the first time, it is intimidating not knowing exactly what I was passionate about. I did not have huge affinities for fashion, health, sports, or music. I wasn’t into tech or science enough to report on it for the rest of my life. All I knew was that I have travelled my entire life, and I loved to write. It never clicked that I could do both. Not until I took MAG 300, or Travel Writing at Syracuse University’s Madrid program summer 2015.

I decided that this past summer, I was going to take classes in Madrid. I love to learn. No seriously, I do. There’s not a subject that I don’t like—well, besides geography… and biology. I decided to fill what would have been my empty summer months with adventure and knowledge! YAY LEARNING! I was especially excited to take the travel writing class that the program offers. This would be my first chance to discover what my *journalistic passions* were.

I fell in love with travel writing immediately. It was our very first reading that made me realize how passionate about travel writing I was. It was an article called The Seven Myths of Being a Travel Writer by Tim Leffel. In his article, Leffel debunks some of the biggest myths about being a travel writer. After my professor read out each myth, he would ask, “now, does this sound like something you’re still interested in?” And as the list went on, the less people raised their hands. Except for me; with every myth, I grew more and more eager about the idea of doing this for a living. I didn’t care if I wouldn’t be rich (myth #1), or my stories wouldn’t always get picked (myth #6). It’s the personal growth from experiencing something new that is the most valuable.

Over six weeks, I developed my writing skills to include travel writing as a style in my repertoire. I produced four pieces that I am very proud of, and use as writing samples. I got to report on places that I had the chance to discover. I now feel completely comfortable as a Madrileña.

The most important thing that I drew away from the class was about the scope of travel—something that I had not realized before. Travel is as expansive and luxe, or as rough and tumble as you want it to be. You can go to both Seoul and down the street to your neighborhood’s popular juice bar, and have there be a gripping travel story in both. Both are exotic and one-of-a-kind, and most importantly, worth sharing. Travel is not one size, and I should go, discover and then tell everybody about it.