EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

It was right there, a bit of boilerplate I had slugged in, due to be cut in the next draft: “In light of recent events . . .” I was hundreds of words into sifting the issues that arise when white rap fans use the N-word, knowing that whatever I came up with would be read during one of the most publicly race-conscious moments of recent history. But after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot and killed by cops, many of those words I’d written wanted to twist, or invert entirely. By revising the first sentence, I found a twist.
More… “An N of 0”

Sasha Frere-Jones is a musician and writer from Brooklyn. He lives in Los Angeles.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
This paper is a modified version of a talk that was given at the Smart Set Forum: Free Speech on the College Campus on April 21, 2016 at Drexel University. The Forum was sponsored by the Pennoni Honors College.

Discussions about free speech on college campuses are made all the more difficult because many of the controversies that ultimately become framed as controversies about speech begin as controversies about racism, racial equality, sex discrimination, sexual assault, and rape. These are not easy issues to discuss – especially when we disagree. And yet the current state of the “Free Speech” debate on college campuses amounts to little more than a fruitless exchange about who is silencing whom, which distracts us from the issues that require our attention.

More… “Space, Speech, and Subordination on the College Campus”

As both an educator and as an attorney Laura Beth Nielsen has spent her career working on the role of law in social change. Her License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy, and Offensive Public Speech provocatively examines how the law can be used to deal with racist and sexist street speech. In addition to being a professor and director of legal studies at Northwestern University, Nielsen also serves as a research professor at the American Bar Foundation.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

Do ethnic groups or religious believers own their myths and legends? That is the question raised by a controversy involving British author J.K. Rowling. The creator of Harry Potter and Hogwarts has been condemned for incorporating Native American traditions — for example, stories about supernatural “skinwalkers” — into her expanding literary mythology.

It is impossible not to sympathize with the complaint. Few groups have suffered more than Native Americans from having their traditions stereotyped or appropriated by white Americans and Europeans. Outright caricature, like the big-nosed, red-skinned Indians in old cartoons, is the least of it. From the American patriots who dressed up as “Indians” to vandalize British ships during the Boston Tea Party of 1773 to the New York political machine named “Tammany Hall” after Tamanend, a Lenape leader, to the modern Washington Redskins football team and the appropriation of Native Americans as New Age sages and environmental heroes, the casual and disrespectful borrowing of Native American motifs and imagery by white Americans has paralleled the white supremacist tradition of blackface minstrelsy. More… “Who Owns Myths and Legends?”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

On February 1, 2016, the anniversary of Langston Hughes’s 1902 birth, the poet achieved a 21st-century mark of distinction: his name trended on Twitter. Over at the music streaming service Spotify, 8,099 listeners in the past 30 days had played recordings of Hughes reciting his poetry. On YouTube, since being posted a little over a year ago, a reading Hughes did at UCLA shortly before his death had been played 12,226 times: amazing for an 85-minute, not-exactly-hi-fi, audio-only recording from 1967.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. As an African American icon Hughes is beloved, and as a writer Hughes has lodged his handful of poems permanently in the public mind. This has been true since 1921 when his first published poem, written when he was still a teenager, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” caused a sensation in black America. It remained true, as observed recently by W. Jason Miller, when Hughes’s poem from 1948, eventually known as “Dream Deferred,” was instrumental to the imagery and language of Martin Luther King’s 1967 “A Christmas Sermon on Peace.” And Hughes’s centrality was affirmed yet again in 2004 when presidential candidate John Kerry made use of the 1938 poem “Let America be America Again.” All of this is to note that, along with Whitman, Dickinson, and Frost, Hughes is arguably one of the few marquee names in American poetry.
More… “The Hughes Blues”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+

A Presidential race limps into its first few rounds, the NFL nears its 50th Super Bowl, and “Best of” lists trickle out, yet they all sit bloodless next to my personal favorite horse-race: the Oscars.

The Academy Awards is a glitzy, glamorous evening of over-produced and stupendously boring television, but I love to watch it: the thrum of a seeing a favorite victorious and the satisfaction of seeing artistic taste vindicated are powerful emotions. But for all its flaws — or perhaps because of them — the Oscars do feel oddly vital, like it matters and like it says something about us, if for no other reasons than how much we talk about it and its reported purpose: to measure the ambit of that year’s dreams. More… “Our Oscars, Ourselves”

Alex Dabertin is a recent graduate of Columbia University and lives and works as an actor, writer, and director in New York City. You can find more of his writing on Bright Wall/Dark Room and on tumblr.
EmailTwitterFacebookDiggStumbleUponGoogle+