Power: The Evolution of Black Masculinity Through Fashion
In an article released this month by the Church of Latter-day Saints, leaders and historians are cited in what is meant to be an explicit disapproval of past racially restrictive policies. Yet an actual read of the article is disappointing.
Nate Hill Wears Naked White Women as Scarves
Nate Hill stood in the living room of a twee North Brooklyn apartment on an afternoon in late October with a naked white girl draped around his shoulders. I pulled out my iPhone and snapped a picture. Then he nodded and started to walk slowly around the girl’s furniture. Everything was silent except for the creak of the wood floor. After about a minute, he gently let the girl down. She smiled, said thank you, and showed us to the door.
The peculiar act that I saw was part of the 36-year-old performance artist’s latest project called “Trophy Scarves.” The project involves Nate traveling to the homes of white women, getting them naked, and wearing them as human scarves. As strange as it sounds, it’s not the first time Nate has perpetrated some seriously weird shit in the name of art and social critique. Nate crashed into the art world back in 2008 with taxidermy tours of Chinatown’s garbage. He followed that up with “Death Bear,” a project that involved him wearing a bear suit and meeting up with random people to take away their possessions associated with bad memories. He’s thrown half-eaten cheeseburgers at pedestrians while riding a bike, delivered fake crack to apartments while wearing a dolphin suit, and sent a computer virus to all of his press contacts. Most recently, he’s been focusing on doing race-based pieces, like “White Power Milk,” in which he operates a website where you can order milk gargled by pretty, college-educated white girls.
I followed him around Brooklyn as he transformed a couple white women into naked fashion accessories. I asked him a few questions along the way. Here’s what he had to say.
What’s “Trophy Scarves” about?
Well, there are people who see certain races as status symbols, and someone had to comment on that.
Is this a similar tone to what you were doing with “White Power Milk”?
Yeah. With “White Power Milk,” I just wanted to talk about how people see white women as a status symbol. With “Trophy Scarves,” I wanted to find another way to come at that. I guess it’s the same kind of satirical, tongue-in-cheek approach that I like to take with things. I like to talk about something serious but do it in a lighter, kind of a goofy way.
Don’t Have People in Blackface at Your Birthday Party
Welcome to another edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of 1 to RACIST, with “1” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
-An Australian girl currently known only as “Olivia” became internet infamous this week for posting a bunch of photos from her "Africa"-themed 21st birthday party. In Australia, I guess “Africa-themed” parties traditionally include plenty of racist caricatures of black people, dudes in gorilla costumes, and a dude in a KKK outfit. If you haven’t had your eyeballs melted by these pictures yet, please prepare to lose your ability to see the majesty of human existence!
Still trying to figure out what a Klansman is doing at an African-themed birthday party. You can’t tell a black person to “go back to Africa” if they’re already there.
An elephant never forgets… unless we’re talking about remembering to respect ethnic minorities!
Please note the title of the album on Facebook was “This is My Africa.” I’ve never been to Africa, but if it’s as lame as this party looks, then you can have it, baby.
The girl who threw the party issued a statement on her Tumblr, which was subsequently deleted. In the statement, she offered a rebuttal to anyone who dared be offended by her friends’ decision to buy all the grease paint and Darque Tan oil in Australia and apply it to their faces:
"I am 100% sure that parties would be held that would be ‘Australian themed’ or American themed or even countries of the world, and in that instance I don’t believe anyone would be offended. People wear oktoberfest cotumes [sic] to parties and no one cracks it that they are not German?"
I am 100 percent sure that if I had an Australian-themed party, I wouldn’t paint my face white. But that just might be because I hate costume parties. RACIST
Black, White & Greek
In 1963, in the midst of the heated debate over the desegregation of American schools, the University of Alabama announced that it would for the first time allow African Americans to enroll. Fifty years later, in September 2013, two University of Alabama sororities rejected an African American student because of her race. As a result, an anti-racist student group called the Mallet Assembly and other members of the community took action to prevent segregation within the university’s Greek system.
Off Hollywood: LeVar Burton
In a world of ever-increasing cynicism, LeVar Burton continues to influence a better tomorrow. Born during the height of the civil rights movement, he pretty much seemed destined to make a positive difference from the time he was a teenager. At 19 years old, LeVar made a powerful television debut in the mini-series adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which helped cultivate a new understanding of the condition of the American slave.
In addition to his career as an actor, LeVar has dedicated the last 30 years of his life to fostering a love of reading in children as the host of Reading Rainbow. “Being the son of a school teacher,” he says, “I was raised with the notion you are what you read as much as what you eat.”
I recently sat with LeVar in his office—surrounded by healing crystals, sage, and his shiny gold Emmy—to discuss his career, Google Glass versus Geordi LaForge’s “Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement,” and if he ever feels like being an asshole.
VICE: You made your television debut in 1977 in the role of Kunta Kinte, a young man unwillingly brought to America, who—despite serving many years as a slave—never lost the connection to his African heritage. How did you prepare for such a weighted role?
LeVar Burton: I was a college student at the time, studying theater at the University of Southern California. In terms of my readiness as an actor, I was already living the actor’s life, busy dedicating myself to studying this craft. When I read Kunta for the first time, I knew who this kid was. I knew the innocence and the rage. I have no other way of explaining it: I felt like I’d been preparing to play Kunta my whole life.
Roots was a huge success. Today it remains the third highest-rated mini-series of all time. How did this affect you personally?
It was overwhelming to be a part of a piece of entertainment that holds that much power.Roots was weird for me specifically, because it was personal as well as public. With its success, my whole world shifted—I went from being a theater student to the cover of TV Guide. The reason it continues to have tremendous impact on the nation is that it speaks to the hearts of people who value the concept of freedom. Kunta represents the indomitability of the human spirit, and the idea that we are all born free no matter what the circumstance. So yeah, those aren’t the kind of shoes you fit into perfectly at 19 years old. You grow into them. It’s taken me my entire career to tap into the riches of that experience.
Why did it take a television mini-series to help create a better understanding of slavery in America?
It’s the power of moving pictures when they are combined with sound! Human beings are predisposed to gather the full spectrum of information in a shared experience. It gets our attention, and the information easily penetrates the deepest levels of our consciousness. The experience of watching Roots on television helped people develop empathy towards the condition of the slave. It was an awareness our country needed for genuine healing to take place.
We Spoke to Innocent Men Who Were Stopped-and-Frisked
Recently, Steve Ferdman commented on a Reddit thread about stop-and-frisk. We emailed him, and he agreed to tell us more about what had happened to him.
When were you stopped-and-frisked?
Steve Ferdman: Last summer.
What happened when the police approached you?
A plain-clothes cop tapped me on the shoulder from behind and said, “Hi.” Three other plain-clothes cops surrounded me and pulled their badges over their shirts—they were tucked away as they initially approached. One reached into my pocket grabbing my Leatherman pocket tool. They then asked me where I was from, if I had ID, and why I had or needed a Leatherman pocket tool. Bewildered, I explained that I often use the tools to tune the carburetor on my motorbike and to take the seat off my bicycle when I park outside. Then, I asked for clarification as to why he was reaching into my pockets without my consent for something that is readily available at 100 percent of hardware stores in America. Rather than answering, they quickly finished running my ID, handed it back to me along with my multi-tool, and said, “Have a nice day.” They then all stood there mean-mugging me as I walked away.
Do you think stop-and-frisk is racial profiling?
With regards to stop-and-frisk, it’s obviously a racial profiling issue. I think people would be less offended by stop-and-frisk if it were enforced in all areas equally—I’d actually have a blast watching tourists and wealthy folks get stopped-and-frisked. If you can arrest a black teenager for a dime bag of weed, why not stop an investment banker and lock him up for the bag of cocaine in his pocket? Sadly, you’ll never see random searches on Madison Avenue. It’s an uptown and outer-boroughs thing—which is why it’s deplorable.
"Paula Deen" Is Going to Kill "Trayvon Martin" on TV
Welcome to the Trayvon Martin Will Never Really Die edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of 1 to RACIST, with “1” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.
- Popular fiction often dabbles in what-ifs. What if Superman grew up in Soviet Russia? What if the Nazis had won World War II? What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on the bus? Trying to make his way home?
These are all fascinating questions worth exploring, but Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has decided to ask another, possibly more provocative, question: what if Paula Deen shot Trayvon Martin because she thought he was trying to rape her? I mean, doesn’t Paula Deen look like she packs heat?
The show’s executive producer Warren Leight explained the premise to Entertainment Weekly:
“[Jeffrey] Tambor is a defense attorney representing a very high-profile celebrity woman chef who thought she was being pursued by a rapist and turned around it was a teenager. And she shot him. There’s a lot of stop-and-frisk elements to that as well… Is racial profiling justifiable? Can self-defense involve racial profiling? We’re diving right into that,”
It appears that Law & Order’s plot generator, which has mixed and matched elements of popular news stories for decades, is broken. This sounds like the absolute worst idea I’ve ever heard.
A Convicted South African Terrorist Discusses His Country’s Future
Dr. Renfrew Christie was jailed during the early 1980s for passing on the South African government’s nuclear development plans to the African National Congress (ANC), the political party that spearheaded the campaign to end apartheid. There was some talk he would be hanged for his troubles, but the judge spared him. Instead, he was imprisoned right next to the hanging area in a Pretoria prison.
He recalls beautiful singing in the prison for two or three days before an execution, presumably to make the last days of the condemned more joyful. Or morbidly bittersweet, depending on how you look at it. He says the consecutive crash of doors signaled that the hanging party was moving its way through the prison. There was silence before the hangings, then the slam of a trap door—“that’s when you knew their necks were broken”—then more silence and then the banging of nails into the coffin. He estimates he has heard about 300 hangings during his stint in prison.
Christie’s story reads like Jean Le Carre fan fiction: conscripted into the South African army at 17, he soon “saw something I wasn’t supposed to see that told me they [the government] were playing with nuclear weapons. From then on I was hunting the apartheid atom bomb.”
He wrote his PhD thesis on the electrification of South Africa—a subject area that allowed him access to plants where he could observe “how much electricity they were using to enrich uranium.”
The George Zimmerman Trial Reminded Me of Who I Am in America
It’s easier to hide from the specter of Trayvon Martin than it is to face his dead body sprawled awkwardly on the concrete. I was trying to escape it desperately last Saturday night, when George Zimmerman was found not guilty. I was at a fashion brand’s swanky event in a nightclub in Manhattan surrounded by obligatory white kids who like rap and probably have trust funds, boozing myself into a stupor. The next morning, when outraged people took to the streets all over the country, I went to a screening of Sophia Coppola’s Bling Ring and caught up on some reading at a coffee shop. I tried to ignore the news. I didn’t want to bear to think about it because it all hit way too close to home.
Usually, instances of black folks dying doesn’t fuck me up that much. The music I listen to every day is full of references to black men shooting or getting shot at. Like Tupac said, “Niggas been dying for years…” Not a day goes by that I don’t catch a story of a young black man who has met a violent end. Sometimes it’s through gang or drug violence, other times it’s by the hand of the cops, still other times a senile neighbor shoots a 13-year-old kid for no reason. Black death is so constant and relentless all over the country that news of new tragedy has started to lose its resonance for me.
The suddenness, violence, and pointlessness of deaths like Trayvon’s is hard for me to imagine, much less understand. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening on a different planet. I didn’t grow up in the ghetto. I’ve spent much of my life in the suburbs. I’ve lived around rich white folks, I went to school with them, I slept with their daughters, I took drugs with them, and I came of age with them. When you’re a black person who’s been in the company white people as much as I’ve been, sometimes you find yourself saying, What’s the difference? Aren’t we all the same?
But any time I’ve ever gotten too impressed with the progress of the arc of the moral universe toward justice, I’ve been smacked back to reality. It always comes when I least expect it—getting pulled over for no reason or followed around by a counterman in a stank-ass bodega that didn’t even have the fucking wave cap I was looking for. In those moments, I remember, as much as I’d like to forget, that we are not the same. We are not treated equally in the eyes of the law and we don’t face the same obstacles.