Our Mutual Experience Gap b/w Feeling Bad About Feeling Mad

December 16th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

There’s a Village Voice piece on R Kelly going around. Voice writer Jessica Hopper interviews Jim DeRogatis, a journalist who helped break the story of R Kelly being a sexual predator years ago. It’s a good read, very thorough and timely, and it looks like it’s getting the reaction the writer (presumably) hoped for: people are reading and talking about it. Which is good.

I’ve been watching it spread over Twitter since I first saw a link this morning. My black friends have met it with a “yep :/” or whatever whatever, acknowledgement that it’s real, true, and that they’ve been known that fact. My non-black friends and followers, though, are coming with surprise, shock, “I can’t believe it,” that kind of thing.

The reactions from non-blacks tend toward the sympathetic and horrified almost universally, which is entirely appropriate and (for lack of a better word,) welcome, but—and you’ll have to pardon me if this is too flowery, but I’m trying to choose my words very carefully—the reactions feel like what happens when someone is initially dragged from ignorance toward knowledge. That combo of shock and acceptance, horror and belief…

I remember when the George Zimmerman thing happened, and myself and several other black people spoke out like, “Hey, this is real life, this happens all the time, our mothers constantly live in fear.” The reaction from black folks, men and women, then was “Right on, I’ve been there, keep your head up, stay safe.” A lot of us had shared stories or tips, too, like driving to a well-lit area when you’re being pulled over because you should never be alone with a cop. From non-blacks? “Holy crap are you for real? You have to live with this? I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” and so on.

I can’t fault somebody for not knowing, and I try to avoid treating people who don’t know the things I know differently. There’s a lot I don’t know, and there are some things I definitely should know that I don’t. Learning is part of being alive, possibly the best part of being alive. I think it’s important to educate, to put people up on game, before you condemn them for not having had the privilege—no matter how painful or ugly—of knowing what you do.

And part of me knows this is unfair, but the other part of me just watched a group of black women take part in a wide-ranging Twitter conversation on R Kelly with first-person accounts not two weeks ago. The other part of me knew about him messing with girls in the ’90s, despite living in Virginia and Georgia, away from the girls he preyed on. The other part of me has a mom who told him how to stay safe when dealing with the police before he was a teenager. The other part of me knows men who got beaten up, stabbed, and kidnapped for garbage reasons. The other part of me spent forever pulling teeth to write about race and comics and watched white people eat while I got stuck with the beef. That part of me says “Fuck fair.”

There is a gap, a gulf, between us. Between me and you, between black and white, between Latino and Japanese, between everyone. Every time one of those “This is what racism is” things roll down tumblr, and it’s somebody getting dragged behind a truck or beaten up on account of their skin or left in poverty because it’s economically convenient, I want to roll my eyes, which is a terrible reaction to sympathy. But I have that reaction because sure, this over-the-top and horrible example is racism, and that’s bad! But so is you calling your butt a “ghetto booty,” so is what motivates that dude at parties (literally every party I’ve been to with strangers as an adult) asking me stupid questions about my hair, like if I can store things in my afro. Racism is the Klan, but racism is in us, too. Racism is a lot of things. It’s the death of a thousand minor humiliations.

There is a difference between my experience and yours, is what I’m getting at. I don’t know the fullness of your experience, and you don’t know mine. I figure if you aren’t in it, you aren’t in it, so it’s unfair of me to expect you to know. I know that intellectually, as someone who makes a little bit of money spitting words for profit on occasion. But it still sucks to see your reality treated as a source of surprise. “It’s like that?” hurts when it’s been like that, when it’s never not been like that.

The gap in our experiences is real and the reasons for the gap are complicated. Sometimes it’s down to happenstance. Sometimes it’s thanks to the white supremacist standards that this country was founded on and which still infests a significant part of it today. “Black” news is special interest news. “White” news is the punchline to a joke. There’s a reason for that. And for situations like this, where R Kelly raped a lot of girls or a lot of boys live in fear of the police, that’s painfully relevant. The girls and boys are black, which makes it a “black problem.”

Knowledge is key and spreading that knowledge is vital. But at the same time, it’s draining to see people demonstrating their ignorance of something that is very plain to you, something you took for granted as being a capital T Truth, something you’ve lived with so long you can’t imagine life without that weight on your back. So you feel triple-bad. You’re frustrated at the situation and the country that let it happen due to malicious negligence, you’re frustrated at your friends for not realizing how much it matters to you, and you’re frustrated at yourself for being frustrated at your fam for matters beyond their control.

Y’all really shoulda known about him and Aaliyah, though. That’s on wikipedia.

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Faith Erin Hicks on Finding A Balance

November 1st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Faith Erin Hicks continues her streak of being one of the most interesting people in comics by talking about finding a balance in your career. She’s talking specifically about comics, but it’s really good advice regardless. You can’t do everything, and if you want to do anything well, you’re going to have to sit down and dedicate time to that thing. THat requires removing time from another thing, because time management is a zero-sum game. You’ve got twenty-four hours, so there’s a limit to what you can do.

Her solution was giving up videogames. I don’t really have that option, on account of my day job, but I can relate. I’m real picky about games these days, pretty much only playing AAA titles or weird downloadable stuff that I heard good things about (Tokyo Jungle, whattup). I buy maybe four or five disc-based games a year, and then I play them over a period of six months or more. I like PSN titles, the downloadable joints, if only because they’re cheap and they’re usually built for bite-size playing sessions. NBA 2k13 is about the only game I binge on these days. I even do a mission or two of Sleeping Dogs and call it a day most times.

I had to sit down and hammer out a schedule earlier this year, because of Issues. I alternated between not sleeping well and sleeping too much, and I wasn’t as productive as I wanted to be. I came up with two rules. First, evenings and nights are sacred. Once I get home from work, I’m free from work. Evenings are for relaxing, decompressing, resting, video games, and what little tv I actually watch. Second, I needed to do something about my mornings. I’d wake up tired, go to work tired, and come home tired. So I needed to sort that out.

What I ended up deciding to do was pretty easy to pull off. I used to wake up early to go to high school and watch Sportscenter with my granddad and uncle. They were out of the house by 0530. I told myself that I would wake up at 6, and use the three hours before work to handle writing and other stuff. I exercise in the mornings anyway, so I’m just waking up a little earlier, so I still have time to run, lift, stretch, or whatever’s on deck for that day (abs, ugh). I don’t play games in the morning, though I will download games or demos for playing later in the background. No TV either, outside of streaming youtube videos off my Watch Later playlist, which is almost exclusively music videos, at this point. I try to avoid tweeting in the evenings, but sometimes the allure of dumb jokes is just too much and I relapse. I don’t IM at home, though, or do that email-tumblr-twitter-email loop.

Write in the mornings, work during the day, and relax in the evenings, only writing after the sun goes down if it’s absolutely necessary.

It worked, mostly. I feel much more alert when I work out or run before going into work, and it’s nice to have a demarcation of what I do and when. Previously, I’d write whenever, willy-nilly. Come home, play some games, and then write ’til midnight, or come home, write, and then stay up past midnight. Now, I go to bed earlier and wake up more rested and better equipped to handle a hard day.

I’m still tired sometimes, and getting up to do anything in the middle of the night is usually a pretty bad idea, but I’m pretty happy with this schedule. I’d always thought of schedules, of rationing your time, as a thing that stinky grown-ups did. Schedules are boring, yeah? I knew that schedules provide a structure to make sure things get done, but I didn’t realize that it could have an overall positive effect on your life. If I know what I’m doing, then I can be flexible and change plans and know exactly what I need to do to make up for it. I can look forward to getting home and doing a thing, instead of look forward to getting home, at which point I will write, and then, if it isn’t too late, maybe have a chance to have some fun.

I don’t cook dinner at midnight any more. I have more free time. I’m super excited about watching a bunch of basketball games as they air (and one or two in person!) this year. I feel good about getting off work. The schedule works. I’m that much closer to finding a balance.

Hicks’s post is pretty great. Check it out, absorb it, learn from it. Read this bit from Hicks, too, and check out her new comic with Prudence Shen, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong.

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Tumblr Mailbag: On Faith and Writing

October 18th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been doing questions on Tumblr here and there. I had it turned off for a while, after it turned from “here and there” to “more often than I blogged music videos and pictures of Anna Karina and girls in hoodies.” But it’s back on now and at a much more reasonable pace. I’ve answered a few that I think are relevant here, too, so I’m going to ~crosspost~ a bit. Maybe it’ll spark some convo or something? No sé qué, but I’m doing it anyway. Original post. I don’t think I edited this one much at all, though. Fixed a typo here and there, tightened up a sentence or two, cut the weird bit about the comic-con sex parties…

When questions are turned on, you can ask me things here.

David, I’ve been following you ever since Spurgeon or MacDonald linked to your piece about Frank Miller’s ability to render acrobatics. I’ve noticed you’ve got a pattern of writing with conviction. I’m even noticing as I type this– your tumblr theme is “brutal simplicity.” I’m personally real interested in how faith systems affect folks’ art– do you have some sort of faith background that informs your writing and worldview?


I’ve been thinking about this question since you sent it in, mulling it over and feeling out the edges of it. I think the answer is yes, I do. I’m Christian, and protestant is as close as I’ll get to claiming a denomination beyond “Christian.” I went to a baptist church growing up, and a mission off and on, but I don’t know that I’m particularly baptist. I don’t go to church much at all any more, but I still believe, pray, give thanks, etc, and I figure I could go bar for bar with anyone in a casual religion conversation. I used to know the Bible really well, but it’s probably down to mildly well at this point.

Anyway, yeah, the things I prize most come from or are a reaction to my background in the church. Let me run down a couple:

Clarity: say what you have to say as clearly as possible, but don’t be afraid to throw some swing off in there to keep people paying attention. I hate it when preachers vamp, because I feel like that’s performance getting in the way of teaching, but when you find a speaker who’s charismatic and interesting, there’s a 90% chance that speaker isn’t just some schmuck who read a book. There’ll be some type of swing, a joke, a smile, a way of speaking that keeps you in.

Directness of speech: the church, the black church at least, can be pretty passive-aggressive and guarded. “Situation” was the one word I always picked up on. “I’m going through a situation, I’ve got a situation,” everybody’s got a situation. Nobody ever says that they’re so depressed that getting out of bed takes twenty minutes every day. Nobody ever says that they’re feeling the weight of the entire world on their shoulders and needs somebody to talk to. It goes in the other direction, too. If somebody thinks you got something going on, “I’ll pray for you.” And naw, I hate that. I understand not letting people know your business — I’m including myself in this for sure, I hate asking for help — but be specific! We can help each other if we know the deal. That thing you’re having trouble with, someone else has had that same problem and might be able to talk you through it. Be direct and be clear.

Well-reasoned arguments: A side effect of knowing the Bible reasonably well is wanting to fight people who know the Bible less well than you but still manage to talk louder. Last time I was back home, this guy was preaching from the Old Testament. I don’t remember the exact verse, maybe 1 Chronicles 12:8 but possibly not. (It probably was.) It was about how certain soldiers were like lions, at any rate. And when this false prophet was like, “Yes, back in the day, there were lion-men and–” I got up and walked out.

I dunno if dude wrote his lecture the night before or what, but how do you get to be like 45 years old and not understand how metaphors work? Or do any type of research? Why would a shepherd lie to his flock out of ignorance and arrogance? because the verse was CLEARLY referring to strength and fearsomeness, not dudes with lion heads tromping around. That’s moronic. But it’s a sermon, and you don’t interrupt those. (My favorite church format is essentially a college class, with back & forth and all. Sunday School > 11 o’clock sermons.)

But I could’ve eaten that guy alive any day of the week because he didn’t think his thing through. So one thing I try and make sure to do is to work the angles on whatever I end up writing about. I think about this stuff a lot more than you might expect, and even dumb posts like the thing about Miller drawing acrobatic moves was the result of like three weeks of thought and jokes/threats to friends about doing that exact post. And it’s such a nothing post, “Frank Miller draws jumps good,” but I still researched, read a lot of books… I knew most of it already, but I wanted to confirm that what I knew/believed was accurate/true. “I work the angles, sharp and precise.”

(I think this is also why I hate seeing underinformed people open their mouth about race & comics or creators’ rights & comics. They have the opportunity to do so much damage due to their own ignorance, and that’s not what people in a position to exert influence others should be doing.)

Honesty is another big one, and it ties into directness. I’ve amped up an opinion for dramatic effect (“The Winter Men is better than Watchmen”), but I’ve never expressed an opinion I didn’t hold for hits or whatever. I don’t argue things I don’t believe, and I only argue things I really believe in. I try to make sure that the person I am online is an accurate picture of who I am in real life. The only real difference is that I’m way smarter online (everyone sounds smarter in text) but way funnier in person (glib tumblr answers aren’t just a gimmick, they’re a lifestyle). I curse more offline, too, and generally don’t online.

But like, past that? I think if you meet me in real life, I would be the exact person you expect if you were familiar with my work. I’ve got a black power tattoo on my arm, I’ve done a pretty detailed job of documenting why I like certain types of music, and I’ve even written about fashion. That stuff derives from my life and feeds back into my life. Writing about black history & comics is like pulling teeth, but it enhances my knowledge of black history and myself, which in turn alters (altered, at this point, I think I’m done with BHM) the approach I take next year.

I try to be honest with my readers and with myself. What you see is what you get, you know? If I’m being a turbodick for no reason, I’ll apologize. I’ve written a few awkward apology emails in my time, and I’ve definitely apologized on the site. I never like when people demand an apology because screw you, I’ll apologize when I actually feel sorry. It’s worth more if you mean it, and I try to make sure that I mean it if I have to apologize. If I don’t mean it… ah well, them’s the breaks. Which sounds like something a turbodick would say, but as a dude who has given and received insincere apologies… I’d rather you hate me for me than fake like I like you. That’s just another type of lie.

That’s also why my name is on everything I do, too. I shed pseudonyms entirely a few years back (I think Twitter’s the last holdout, but my name’s on that, too) because I think it’s important that I be held accountable for what I do and do not do. I’ve never said anything online I wouldn’t say in real life if you gave me half a chance, and I feel good about that. I might say it better or more eloquently online — it’s sorta hard to get obscure rap quotes right when dissing someone on the fly I guess — but I keep it as real as I possibly can.

(Eloquence = rap quotes??? what is wrong with me)

There are a few other things, too. At its best, Christianity isn’t so much a religion as a blueprint for self-improvement. Constant self-interrogation, carving out the parts of you that aren’t Christ-like, pushing for a better you by any means necessary. I apply that to my writing, looking for new ways to do old tricks, better ways to deliver points, and just getting better. I attack my work to find out what doesn’t work and turf whatever doesn’t fit.

So yeah, I hadn’t realized it until recently, but faith, and the structures we’ve built up around faith, have definitely affected how I work. I think I chalk a lot of this stuff up to a Malcolm X influence, especially the directness and swagger, but I guess I’ve got a lot of fathers.

Really good question.

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Foxconn Riots: “Tell-Lie-Vision distorts your vision”

September 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Unconfirmed photographs and video circulated on social networking sites, purporting to be from the factory, showed smashed windows, riot police officers and large groups of workers milling around. The Foxconn plant, in the Chinese city of Taiyuan, employs about 79,000 workers.

The Chinese state-run news media said 5,000 police officers had been called in to quell the riot.

A Foxconn spokesman declined to specify whether the Taiyuan plant made products for the Apple iPhone 5, which went on sale last week, but he said it supplied goods to many consumer electronics brands.

An employee at the Taiyuan plant, however, said iPhone components were made there. Most Apple-related production, though, takes place in other parts of China, particularly in the provinces of Sichuan and Henan. Apple could not be reached for comment.

Foxconn Plant Closed After Riot, Company Says, 9/24/2012

I feel strange about how every article about Foxconn focuses on the Apple connection. “Were iPhones built there? Is the iPad worth the cost of being poisoned or maimed? Does Apple know how abhorrent the conditions are at Foxconn plants? No blood for MP3s!”

Questions like that are good, necessary even, but by focusing so strongly on the Apple connection is a mistake, particularly when you consider how comparatively little attention is given to the other companies who employ Foxconn to manufacture their products. That focus seems like it makes the problem easier to minimize and dismiss, in addition to demonizing Apple. The impression is that Apple is the biggest offender here, and those other guys are small time in comparison.

Here’s a list of Foxconn clients I pulled off Wikipedia: Acer Inc., Amazon.com, Apple Inc., Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola Mobility, Nintendo, Nokia, Sony, Toshiba, and Vizio

They’re ALL compromised and we’re all compromised by extension. Not just Apple. A significant number of personal electronics are made at Foxconn. That Kindle you bought your mom, your old Nokia flip, that blu-ray player you watch your HD porno on… the poison has deep roots. I’m writing this post on a MacBook. I just went for a run using an iPod Nano. I was watching youtubes earlier on my Sony Google TV box-thing. I was reading comics on my iPad last night.

I benefit from the exploitation of others, we all do. And I think this style of journalism actually hurts awareness of that. The laser-tight focus on Apple means that people who don’t use Apple products, or who only have one or two, might not realize that the rest of their technology is compromised, too. PlayStation 2s used to use coltan, and there was a long-lasting violent conflict over the rights to mine and control that metal in the Congo. While I was traipsing around a virtual world, somebody my age on the other side of the world was working his fingers to the bone.

But Apple, as a company and a concept, moves units and generates controversy. They’re extremely popular; people are more likely to click through if they see Apple’s name. They attract virulent haters and strident defenders who battle it out every single time.

This type of thing shows that even factual reporting is a game, whether it’s the news gleefully playing along and encouraging the Obama birth certificate controversy or… do you remember the shooting at the Empire State Building a few weeks back? It was immediately termed a mass shooting and the think pieces started rolling out about gun control and how we’re messed up as a country. Turns out, the mass shooting was actually one guy shooting one other guy and then being killed by the police, who also managed to shoot nine bystanders in the process. It’s not the mass shooting that anyway said it was.

Meanwhile, nineteen people were shot in Chicago that weekend, a number that they match week after week after week. But that’s not marketable enough to go above the fold. It’s sad. Complex did a horrifying memorial for the teenagers who’ve died in Chicago this summer. “Between the first of June and the 31st of August, 152 people were killed. Of those, 38 were teenagers.” Scary, right?

It’s all a game. News organizations have to make money just like anyone else, and will do things that encourage that. I include myself in that number, too, though I don’t make money off this site at all. (It’s the opposite.) I prioritize subjects according to my own interests and desires, which creates a bias. It is what it is. Just be aware of that and seek the truth, instead of being given just part of the truth, I guess.

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