For Halloween week, I’m watching and reviewing highly-regarded horror films that I’ve never seen before.
Title: Get Out
Release Date: February 24, 2017
Director: Jordan Peele
Production Company: Blumhouse Productions | QC Entertainment | Monkeypaw Productions
Get Out is a chilling thriller and social commentary on race starring Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington, an African American photographer in New York City. His white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) invites him to visit her parent’s large house in a remote suburb, promising Christ that they’re good liberals and not racist. Meeting Rose’s family and neighbors at a party leads to Chris dealing with numerous racial microaggressions. But even more disturbing is the stilted behavior of the few other black people Chris encounters.
First time director Jordan Peele carries the suspense well for the first two thirds of the film, and it’s not a surprise that he now hosts the revival of The Twilight Zone as the movie has that kind of feel. The final act is horrifically violent as Chris fights for his life, but it is also rather cathartic. Symbolically, this movie works on many levels. It depicts the ways that even “good liberal” white people are complicit in institutionalized racism. It also relates the continuum of violence upon Black bodies through slavery to segregation to mass incarceration to police violence. Finally, throughout American history, white people have seen Black culture as fashionable and appropriated it as their own, with characters in Get Out choosing to literally wear black bodies.
There are additional good performances from Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford as Rose’s parents, and Lil Rel Howery as Chris’ loyal best friend, Rod. This is an excellent film and definitely worth watching to catch the stuff I missed now that I know what the big twist is.
BackStory :: Oh, Bloody Hell
You ever wonder about the history of profanity in America? This podcast’s got that shit covered.
Code Switch :: When Disaster Strikes
Inequality rears its ugly head in America in many ways. Code Switch explores how disaster aid is biased in favor of white, prosperous homeowners and against poorer, people of color who rent.
WBUR CommonHealth :: New Gene Therapy Shows Promise For Patients With Sickle Cell Disease
Gene therapy at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital is working to cure sickle cell disease.
Fresh Air :: The White House And Its ‘Shadow Cabinet’ Of Fox News TV Hosts
How Fox News has becom the state media of the fascist administration in the White House.
99% Invisible :: The Known Unknown
The Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington Cemetery is meant to represent the remains of military lost in war that cannot be identified, but in the case of the Vietnam War, the remains buried there were in fact known and only slowly revealed to the family.
60 Second Science :: Warm-Blooded Animals Lost Ability to Heal the Heart
Warm-blooded animals are able to regulate body temperature thanks to Thyroid hormone, but it also prevents warm-blooded animals from being able to regenerate heart tissue.
Throughline :: American Shadows
A history of conspiracy theories in the United States going back to the Founding Fathers and the American Revolution.
Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:
On the Media :: Africatown
Survivors of The Clotilde, the last ship to carry Africans kidnapped into slavery in the United States, created a community outside Mobile, Alabama after the Civil War (covered in the recently published Zora Neale Hurston book Barracoon). The community has been devastated by environmental racism but survivors still hope to preserve its history.
99% Invisible :: Mini Stories: Volume 6
Have you ever watched a tv show or movie set in New York with a scene set in an alley? Did you know that New York City actually only has a handful of alleys? Do you realize that Hollywood’s obsession with New York stories having scenes in alleys means that the same alley is used again and again? This story and the history of karaoke machines, Santa Fe’s burning Zozobra tradition, an American community only accessible from Canada, and Detroit’s railroad station are told in this podcast.
Running tally of Podcast of the Week appearances:
Author: Chris Hayes
Title: A Colony in a Nation
Narrator: Chris Hayes
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2017)
Riffing off a phrase from Richard Nixon’s nomination speech, journalist Chris Hayes writes a series of essays about how African Americans have in fact become a “colony within a nation” in the decades since Nixon stressed the importance of law and order. The “colony” within the United States is denied the right people enjoy in the largely white “nation” and the nation is built on exploitation of the colony. Issues covered include police violence against Black Americans, and systems of police enforcement driven by drawing revenue from largely Black populations, the War on Drugs, the militarization of police, white fear, and Broken Windows ideology. Hayes notes that the “nation” requires that the “order” part of “law and order” be prioritized and thus law is often used as a blunt instrument rather than a tool of justice.
Hayes’ strongest writing comes in the analogies he uses to explain his ideas. The life for Black Americans in the colony is similar to Colonial Americans who rebelled against British rule. While unjust taxation is often credited with starting the American Revolution, Hayes traces the history of excessive force used by the British in an attempt to stop smuggling and make the Colonials pay tariffs being the real source of division. White fear that drives police officers and white gun owners to shoot Black people without thinking is similar to the siege mentality of early colonists living among Native Americans and slave owners who lived in constant fear that they’d be victims of violence from Native Americans and enslaved Africans. The idea of how community policing may work in comparison with the increasingly militarized and punitive policing in America today is demonstrated by how college campuses are policed. Colleges have a considerable amount of disorder and a high level of law breaking that is tolerated and even encouraged in a way that is opposite of how a poor, urban neighborhood is treating.
This is a well-written and thoughtful book and a good one to read to reflect on current events and how we can change things for the better.
Recommended books: Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Author: Richard Rothstein
Title: The Color of Law
Narrator: Adam Grupper
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2017)
Housing segregation continues to be the rule in the United States today as most neighborhoods, cities, and suburbs are greatly tilted to be either mostly white or mostly African American. Politicians, pundits, and everyday people consider this de facto segregation, based on the choices of individuals to live among people of “their own kind,” or credit the wealth disparity that prevents Blacks from affording to live in white areas.
In this book, Rothstein argues that this common wisdom is all wrong. He argues, with lots of evidence provided, that in the past 100 years, the Federal, state, and local governments have created de jure segregation of housing. By historically being shut out from housing opportunities offered to whites, African Americans were unable to build equity and create generational wealth to pass on to later generations, contributing to the prosperity gap that exists today. The places where Blacks and whites live today were created by the de jure segregation laws of the past, and laws against discrimination are only half-measures in that they do not undo the damage done in the past.
Here are some of the ways in which the government segregated housing detailed in the book:
- Federal Housing Authority subsidizes housing in whites-only subdivisions.
- FHA enables redlining by refusing to insure African American mortgages.
- FHA regulations for segregation actually written into widely-distributed manuals. Local projects that intended to be integrated could be forced to follow these Federal regulations.
- Public housing projects built for whites were larger and better resourced, while separate public housing for Blacks were usually smaller and something of an afterthought. White projects often had vacancies while Black projects had waiting lists.
- Property taxes overassesed in Black neighborhoods and underassessed in white neighborhoods, adding to the burden of making ends meet for Black families.
- Government programs that enabled whites to buy homes in the suburbs not available to Blacks. A generation of African Americans ended up trapped in decaying cities, far away from good jobs that had also moved to the suburbs.
- Restrictive covenants that prohibit Blacks from moving into white neighborhoods granted legal protection.
- Highway projects deliberately targeted Black neighborhoods for construction, demolishing viable communities and creating barriers around what remained (while at the same time benefiting prosperous white car owners commuting between city and suburbs).
- Police and governments allow and abet violence by whites against Blacks who move into white neighborhoods. If fact, Black victims more likely to be charged with a crime if any legal action is taken at all.
- IRS maintains tax exemptions for organizations that fund segregated housing.
- Housing segregation serves as a stumbling block to integration of schools.
- Government aware that Black home buyers were being targeted for risky subprime mortgages but fail to act on regulations to protect them.
- Section 8 vouchers restrict African Americans to housing located only in poor, African American neighborhoods
Rothstein also offers a final chapter with several solutions to segregation and inequality in the United States:
- Education – this book is a good start to countering the widespread belief in de facto segregation based on individual’s preferences and prejudices. The history of the government’s support for funding and requiring segregation must also be taught in schools.
- Revive George Romney’s proposals to deny HUD funds to any communities that use exclusionary zoning to enable housing segregation.
- Use the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing of the Fair Housing Act to rectify barriers to desegregation of housing.
- Subsidies for African American homebuyers in predominately white areas (in a sense, restitution for their parents, grandparents, great-parents being unable to buy homes in these areas back when whites purchased homes at bargain rates).
- End zoning regulations that prohibit multifamily housing or require large lots.
- Promote inclusionary zoning.
- “Fair Share Act” to require states to establish mechanisms to ensure that every jurisdiction houses a representative share of African Americans and low income people.
- Allow African Americans to use Section 8 subsidies in areas with higher rents, and model Section 8 programs on the mortgage income deduction which applies to all rather than being first-come, first-serve.
This is a powerful and important book and should be read by all Americans who care about creating a just and equitable country.
Recommended books: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, Nobody by Marc Lamont Hill, The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anna Clark and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
Author: Anna Clark
Title: The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy
Publication Info: Metropolitan Books (2018)
I briefly knew Anna Clark when I used to volunteer at the Haley House in Boston and she was a member of the intentional community that lived there. Ever since she moved to Michigan I’ve followed her journalism career from afar. She seems the perfect person to bring together a passion for social justice and the skills of journalism to documenting the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
Clark tells the story from the perspective of the local activists who brought the problems with the water to light and the health and science experts who verified that the water was dangerous. So much of the Flint water crisis is rooted in greed and indifference. The decision was made by the city’s emergency manager who was appointed by the governor to “run the city like a business” (a practice carried out in many Michigan cities leading to 53% of Michigan’s African American population living under non-elected local government). The switch from Lake Huron water via Detroit to the backup system of the Flint River was purportedly to save money until a new regional water authority came online, although it is questionable if money was saved at all considering the costs of updating the local treatment plant.
While it’s often reported that the Flint River water is unhealthy, it turns out that water in the river and when it left the treatment plant was in fact clean. But the different chemistry of the river water compared to lake water had a corrosive effect that leeched lead from the city’s ancient pipes and also promoted growth of infectious diseases. The water authority failed to use the proper anti-corrosives to help prevent this from happening. But the real scandal is that when residents complained of discolored and odoriferous water and the bad health effects, especially among children, the city and state officials refused to help and continued to claim there was no ill effects from the water.
In addition to thoroughly documenting the crisis, Clark also provides the historical background that shows why the water crisis inordinately affected Flint’s poorer residents, especially black and brown people. The prosperous Flint of the mid-20th century was heavily segregated, with the effects of redlining and housing segregation still felt today. The movement of prosperous white families and corporations out of Flint was funded by disinvestment in the city itself. And while medical experts have been aware of the poisonous nature of lead for centuries, that did not stop industry from making efforts to use lead – whether it be in gasoline or water pipes – and promote it as safe.
Poison City is a well-written book, and a very important book to read as Flint’s crisis is one that is happening or could happen in various ways in cities across the country. It’s hard not to read this book without feeling rage, yet Clark finds hope in the community activists who fought to bring this issue to international attention, and continue to fight for clean water in Flint.
Recommended books: The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, The new Jim Crow : mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and Foul Ball by Jim Bouton
This is a particularly fruitful week for podcasts with a bumper crop of excellent episodes!
Afropop Worldwide :: Skippy White: A Vinyl Life
Checking in with a legendary soul & R&B record shop owner and entrepreneur, Skippy White. His shop is located in Boston’s Egleston Square, not far from where I live, but this is the first I’ve heard of him!
Code Switch :: Behind the Lies My Teacher Told Me
An interview with James Loewen, author of the seminal critique of American history education, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.
Hub History :: Folk Magic and Mysteries at the Fairbanks House
Daniel Neff, curator of the Fairbanks House museum in Dedham, talks about the house build by Puritan colonists that contains hidden charms and hex marks meant to ward off evil.
99% Invisible :: It’s Chinatown
The stories behind the origins of the distinctive architectural styles of American Chinatowns and the fortune cookie, neither of which actually originated in China.
Snap Judgment :: Talk of the Town
A local salesman, a fixture of his Oakland neighborhood, goes missing and is believed dead leading to an outpouring of remembrance in the community. But one journalist digs deeper to find out what actually happened to the mystery man.
Tiny Desk Concerts :: Yo-Yo Ma
The famed cellist performs pieces of Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, and talks about learning to play the instrument.
Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Loop Groups
The work of the hidden actors who perform the background sounds of crowd scenes in movies.
Title: Hidden Figures
Release Date: December 25, 2016
Director: Theodore Melfi
Production Company: Fox 2000 Pictures
This historical drama tells the story of 3 of the 20 or so African-American women who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the 1960s as “computers,” mathematicians who performed vital calculations during the early days of the space race. Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), considered “the brain” even among her peers, is assigned to the all-white, overwhelmingly male Space Task Group to use her skills in analytical geometry to calculate flight trajectories for the Mercury program. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who has the talent to become an engineer, goes to court in order to fight the Jim Crow laws that prevent her from attending a University of Virginia engineering program at a local whites-only high school. And Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) is the de facto manager of the women in the human computers group without the title or the pay. When she learns that an IBM mainframe will eventually replace her group, she sees it as an opportunity to to teach herself FORTRAN and retrains her colleagues as programmers, eventually being officially promoted to supervisor of the Programming Department.
Like many historical dramas, a number of supporting characters are fictional or composites, but in Hidden Figures that helps keep the focus on our three leads. Similarly, historical facts are fudged with a lot of details compressed or presented out of order, but again for a movie its more dramatic to have John Glenn request that Katherine Johnson verify the IBM’s calculations while he’s heading to the launch pad rather than a few days earlier. As a humanities person, I’m also grateful that they dumbed down all the mathematics in a way I could understand, while simultaneously realizing that the best minds at NASA would not have been discussing such basic issues at Langley.
All three leads are well-acted and I appreciate that they show three very different ways that these women responded to the hurdles placed before them and achieved their goals. Kevin Costner puts in a decent performance as the leader of the Space Task Group, who seems motivated to desegregate Langley less out of a sense of justice, and more due to it causing delays. Kirsten Dunst plays Vaughn’s casually racist supervisor who eventually grows to respect her, kind of a stock character, but keeps it subtle enough.
A fun part of this movie is how much it parallels one of my all-time favorite movies, The Right Stuff, with some scenes and dialogue being exactly the same but from different perspectives. Hidden Figures is also a great historical film that I think I’ll enjoy revisiting, and especially important for making the story of Johnson, Jackson, Vaughn, and others at NASA so well known.
A good crop of podcasts this week featuring Parliament and owls, but not a parliament of owls.
Twenty Thousand Hertz :: Six O’Clock Soundtrack
I always liked tv news music as a child too, particularly the Action News theme. Here’s the story of how news music is made.
Sound Opinions :: New Wave & Alison Moyet
Another defining musical style of my childhood, New Wave, is examined along with an interview with New Wave musical great Alison Moyet.
Code Switch :: The ‘R-Word’ In The Age Of Trump
An exploration of when it’s appropriate to describe someone or something as racist and why some journalists are hesitant to do so.
All Songs Considered :: George Clinton & The P-Funk All Stars
Parliament Funkadelic are back and as funky as ever.
LeVar Burton Reads :: “The Truth About Owls” by Amal El-Mohtar
A sweet story about a girl from Lebanon who immigrates to England and finds her place through the study of owls and Welsh mythology.
Snap Judgement :: Senior Year Mixtape
The touching and heartbreaking of three students at a San Francisco high school over the course of their senior year.
Hit Parade :: The B-Sides Edition
The first live-audience Hit Parade episode features pub trivia questions about b-sides that became bigger hits than their a-sides and a performance by Ted Leo, “the nicest guy in punk.”