This Land…

11 05 2010

[As a precursor to my forthcoming thesis on Whiteness, this is a blog post I never published from last summer. I was preparing the material for my thesis and working on Stanford Summer Theater when these conversations came up. Enjoy!]

God blessed me with an adversary recently, a friend really, who I work with and whose company I’ve enjoyed very much over the last six months. He’s a nice enough guy, self-identified liberal, frat boy, from a privileged white background in Seattle, though he went to an urban public high school in the area, which he says was predominantly people of color. Certainly there are other identifiers of interest, but I choose these because I think they are significant in forming his view of the world.

A series of disdainful sighs and shaking of head at culturally insensitive jokes or references, and I was labeled hypersensitive of all things P.C. This is not an uncommon occurrence with my white friends. I think my argument for why white people are ill-disposed to make snide cultural references or joke about stereotypes should be self evident by now. Regardless, I acknowledge that many from my background find it perfectly acceptable to make “edgy” statements or push the envelope of the politically correct in order to demonstrate how educated and progressive they think they are. That being said, as unpopular as my voice may be in such cases, it has become an almost knee jerk reaction for me to question the effects of the privileged class making such culturally stereotyped comments, humorous or otherwise, however progressively informed or ironic they may seem. I say this very conscious of my own position in the matter.

So, my foil and I have spent the better part of a week hotly debating such issues as cultural and racial sovereignty, nation-state legitimacy, and white privilege, particularly as they manifest themselves at Stanford. Suffice to say, I find his views in all three areas problematically apologetic, the challenges of which are paralleled only by his adamance that my views are unrealistically radical (my wording, not his. He said “illogical,” but i take the liberty of interpretation). For example, in a discussion pertaining to the legitimacy or efficacy of Stanford’s Ethnic Theme Dorms (itself a problematic premise for a discussion), he argued that the self-secluded nature of Stanford’s communities of color precluded sufficient racial integration of the campus, such that it allowed those communities to persist in a fashion that did not reflect the realities outside of Stanford, namely an integrated society (…right). Furthermore, rebuttals including the right for sovereignty over non-normative (read: non-white) histories collected in a community outside the colonial elements of mainstream culture were attacked as segregationist (!). “Like, they should have a separate, but equal, culture?” he said, arms crossed, eyes wide with a satisfying feigned surprise. “I just think it’s ridiculous. I had so many black friends in high school, and when we got to Stanford, I almost invariably lost touch with them because they were suddenly sucked into this black-centrist community that I couldn’t be a part of. Plus, if you’re a white kid put in Uj, it’s totally unlikely you’ll be accepted unless you go way out of your way,” he continued. When I questioned the possible experience of a person of color being forced into an otherwise white dominated culture or community, I was told, “but that’s different. Mainstream isn’t necessarily white. It’s just American.” Indeed the argument continues that constant comment (like mine) on issues of so-called political correctness fuels and reinforces racial tensions rather than disassembles them. I, as you may guess, respectfully disagree and you see where it goes from there.

It’s clearly not for me to represent the views of any community, on campus or otherwise, and I don’t intend to. I can only speak to my own experience, having been recently exposed to many of the histories that the American experiment has attempted to bury over the last 500 years. These histories are not held by text books or the academy, but by the decedents who have survived and opposed the (spoken and) unspoken policies of American enculturation and its associated mechanisms.  Indeed, the communities of color at Stanford play a vital role in preserving and continuing non-normative/non-white histories that might otherwise fade into the amnesic abyss of American cultural memory. As playwright and poet Cherríe Moraga wrote in her 2005 essay, Indígena as Scribe, “I believe the United States intends to disappear its colored inhabitants and our non-western ways of knowing,” a process that is most efficaciously carried out by destroying histories and identities. Bonfil Batalla’s seminal work, México Profundo, strikingly recounts the national project of literally fabricating a Mexican identity in place of the numerous indigenous identities present in that part of Mesoamerica for centuries and the relative minority of Spanish blooded decedents, while the latter maintained almost complete cultural dominance.

I am dubious to even say the words slavery, Jim Crow, la frontera, conquest, internment camps, boarding schools, deportation, or any of the other inadequate devices we use to describe the ways in which we have threatened and betrayed this nation’s people of color with death or ejection. Most insidious perhaps in this (ongoing) process of attempted extermination is its conspicuous absence from the consciousness of White America. Most of us will concede some portion of the social inequality dialectic citing race as a persistent factor of America’s power and resource strata, but few of us can fathom that our country really has it out for its people of color – “But I don’t want America’s people of color to disappear,” the cry of defense usually goes, “I have black friends!”

I was challenged by my friend/adversary to give an example of a nation that has offered just rule better than the United States (this was in response to my comment about the illegitimacy of the modern nation state). He pressed me, as any good liberal would, to acknowledge, at least, the freedoms and democracy afforded us by espousing an umbrella allegiance to an American Identity. At least, he might say, this isn’t genocidal Rwanda or Nazi Germany or fascist North Korea. My only response is that an absence of perfectly functional or just governance from any nation cannot be an excuse for its status quo, nor is it a defacto justification for its existance. America is a nation built on stolen land by slave labor but, as my friend suggested, the statute of limitations for returning the land has expired. Send the white people back to Europe? The black people back to Africa? The sheer ridiculousness of the proposal sends most of us into a frenzy wherein the only possible solution we can see is to saddle down and look to the future. “It wasn’t me, after all, who stole the land, right?” that apologist story goes.

This collapse in the consciousness of White America, the sudden inability to hold difficult and, at times, conflicting realities is perhaps the single largest exacerbator in the ongoing narrative of American racism. Political Correctness (which, according to my friend, is my actual course of study) is now relegated to the land of pastiche, so absurd in its minutiae that we are safer in its transgression than in its dialogue. Those who consider thoughtfulness in their speech, mindfulness in the context of their conversations are, at best, the squares of the day; at worst, communists out to dismantle our God-given freedom of speech. Besides, political correctness, obviously comes down to opinion, so why defend it?

Article Article

23 03 2009


I’ve started writing for Article Article, clothing line, art magazine, (and now) blog out of Brooklyn. Peep the new entry on Bob Sinclar exclusive for Article Article.



love’s labor’s lost

17 02 2009


So, the time quick approaches when words shall oft be said in iambic pentameter and anacrhonism. I’ll be honest, I don’t even understand everything that’s about to go down, but I thought it might b’hoove me to provide the general gist for you, my peoples, so when you come and LISTEN on Feb 26, 27, 28th, you’ll overstand all that’s happened.

So, here goes:

I wouldn’t say Love’s labor’s lost is a play about love, because I honestly don’t think that’s the central focus. There’s certainly a lot of talk about love, a lot of wooing, sighing, pouting, confusion- solid cliché love stuff- but whether or not the characters are actually in love is up for debate. More than love, this play discusses the absurd challenges of being honest and true when you really just don’t know how.

Here’s the story:

Ferdinand, King of Navarre, has decreed that his kingdom shall under take a three year period of austerity, during which time he and his companions will eat one meal a day, sleep three hours in a night, and, most importantly, not see or speak with any women. Specifically women are not allowed within a mile of his court. This in order to undertake the noble cause of intensive study. The King’s friend Berowne objects on the basis of “this is a ridiculous idea,” at which point a discussion ensues, but Berowne ultimately folds and the play begins, Navarre now devoted to nothing by academics.

Troubles arise when the King remembers that the Princess of France is on her way to Navarre to discuss a land dispute between Navarre and France and also to settle a loan that was made a generation ago. The princess comes through with her entourage (Rosaline, Katherine, Maria, and their steward Boyet) and the men immediately fall in love with them. Obviously. The issue is that the King and his people, Berowne, Longaville, and Dumaine, have JUST sworn an oath to study for three years without seeing any women, declaring it publicly to the whole kingdom, so their honor is on the line. If you’re royalty and you swear something, you can’t break it- that’s like, really bad.
Berowne pretty much has an identity crisis, since he is the pinnacle of calm, cool, and collected, quick witted, and scorns love and women. He’s also astonishingly attractive…

A flurry of sappy love poetry ensues from the King, Dumaine, and Longaville, all while trying to avoid letting the others know how lovesick they are. Berowne spends most of his time confounded by how he possibly could have fallen in love, when he’s done everything to avoid it- even so, he submits to the reality of having emotions for another human being. The men discover each others’ secrets and decide to break their oath of study and begin the (ridiculous) process of wooing the four women from France.

(DISCLAIMER: There are elements of this play that are borderline extremely offensive and sexist. The method of marriage at the time was facilitated by the process of “wooing,” which if successful, “won you a woman”. Possession, ownership, submission etc. were all standard and while women were clearly always smarter than men, gender roles were still entrenched. Just suspend your disbelief for a couple hours.)

Meanwhile, the girls from France think the boys are being ridiculous (which they are), because the girls have been made to sleep in a field a mile away from court according to the King’s edict, but now they all have letters of love and devotion, sent from the schizophrenic men turned wooers.

What’s interesting is that while the men think themselves very seriously in their love, the women take its mostly a joke. They might have feelings for the men, but there really isn’t time to get to know one another, given the circumstances. Furthermore, Make us camp in a field a mile away then front like you want to marry us? Puhh’leease. Given more time, things might have been different but…

Fate throws a wrench in the process when Marcade appears with news that the King of France has died. This means the Princess is now Queen and must leave for France immediately. The men make a last ditch effort to secure the faith of the ladies’ love, but with little success. The princess tells the King to shut himself up in a hermitage for a year while she mourns the death of her father. If he still thinks he’s in love then, then they can talk. Rosaline tells Berowne that everyone knows how witty and mocking he can be, but it’s not a functional way to be human. If he spends a year telling jokes to hospice patients and reforms, then she’ll see. In a very un-Shakespearean ending, no one gets married, no one gets what they want- and Shakespeare achieves one of the more realistic endings to any of his plays. Life happens, and there’s not much you can do about it, but try to be honest.

Then everyone sings a song.

And that’s the main line through the show.

The play also looks at characters who live on the edge of society; society being the court, the edge, being the country. The Fools  contrast the royals by being more honest and faithful in practice than the royals could ever be in word. Words and rhetoric play a pivotal role in this play, because everyone talks themselves into trouble, perjury, and broken oaths, when really honest plain words are all that’s called for, yet somehow very difficult to muster.

The characters in this play are ridiculous, precisely because of how human they are. It’s amazing how crafted they are to reflect the human condition; the men are extremely privileged and lack much depth in the heart department; the women are extremely smart and don’t take any bullshit; the fools are smarter than almost everyone else. However, everyone grapples with the conflict of having emotions that words can’t explain and having desires that don’t come on a silver platter. For Shakespeare to write that given the time and place is fairly impressive, even if it panders to an antiquated social construction.

Anyway, I hope you’ll come see. I’m playing the role of Berowne and there are some very talented actors who cover up for my novice.

Here’s the link to the facebook event. And the website. $5 at the door.

She Loves Everybody

2 02 2009


The official video for Chester French’s “She Loves Everybody” premiered today on MTV after much anticipation (mostly on my part). Scope the video on their myspace page.

Pharell picked up Max and D.A. fresh outta Harvard two years ago, signed them to Star Trak and, since then, they’ve been holed up in LA, churnin’ it out, hermit style.  They’re out on tour with dates in SF upcoming in March at the SF Mezzanine. Max tells me the album will be dropping….sometime. As soon as the beaurocracy at interscope works itself out. Right.

Below, Pharell extolls the virtues of his new dynamic duo:

Join Me in the Rainforest

30 01 2009

Say word! This June 12-22, I’ll be joining Pachamama Alliance on a trip to Ecuador with a group especially crafted for young leaders, activists, visionaries, homies, and YOU! Yes, you!


Volcán Tungurahua

I’ve seen the glint in your eyes when we’ve talked about the rainforest. I’ve seen that spark, that yearning inside you that says “Rainforest…wow, I wonder what THAT’S like…” Your mind doesn’t quite know where to fit it within the history of your experience. Well, now it’s time for you to find out. David Tucker, Executive Director of the Pachamama Alliance, myself, and a few others will be leading a 10-day intensive for the new generation of social justice leaders, artistic visionaries, spiritual renegades, revolutionaries, yogis, granola-eaters, economic re-imaginists, and those with wide hearts and hungry souls. It will be a transformational experience, unlike anything you have ever seen, felt, witnessed, or taken part in. You will leave utterly transformed; it has altered the course of my life and continues to work on me, even years later.

Now I want to share it with you!

Smiley Baby

Smiley Baby in Otavalo market

Just drop in for a minute, close your eyes, and feel into the experience. If the rainforest is calling you, you’ll know. It won’t take much to respond: just show up!

I think the readership of this blog is slim enough that the right people will see this invitation and catch the spark. It is an invitation, specifically to you with the hearts to hear it. This trip is designed to meet and expand our fundamental desire to bring love, peace, and justice into the world. We will spend hours in council with one another, hours in ceremony with gracious Shamans; we will meet the inner strength we have sought after. Our wisdom will blossom and our hearts will open and it will be ridiculous fun. If that vibes with you, consider joining the journey.

Feel free to shoot me an email with any questions, or email the Pachamama Alliance directly. Take a peak at the itinerary we’ll be following to get a better sense of how we’ll spend our time. If you’re already to jump in and you don’t need anymore convincing, click here for the application.

If you do need more incentive, here are some pictures from my trip in 2006 and some from my friends:



Sacred Waterfall en Route to Wayusentza

Sacred Waterfall en Route to Wayusentza

Jacob at the top of Fuya-Fuya

Jacob at the top of Fuya-Fuya

Water Cleansing with Don Alfónso y Don Esteban

Water Cleansing with Don Alfónso y Don Esteban

Salasacan women at the morning animal market in Otavalo

Salasacan women at the morning animal market in Otavalo

Achuar staff relaxing at Kapawi Lodge

Achuar staff relaxing at Kapawi Lodge

Small spider in the forest. Yes, small.

Small spider in the forest. Yes, small.


Magic Blue Butterflies

Magic Blue Butterflies

Kapawi Lodge

Kapawi Lodge

Achuar village. Wayusentza, I think...

Achuar village. Wayusentza, I think...



At Don Esteban's House, with his family

At Don Esteban's house, with his family

My adorable brother, incredulous

My adorable brother, incredulous

On the Kapawari River

On the Kapawari River


And the net will appear

Jay-Z with Young Jeezy- My President is Black (remix)

22 01 2009

Good looks to NCT for the footage. DC at the Young Jeezy show, day before inauguration, Jay with the surprise cameo, remix, and freestyles.

Shameless Plug

13 01 2009

I’ll spare you the wealth of introductory quips I devised to cover up my nervousness about doing theater again. Simply put, the universe conspired to bring in a guest director from the Public Theater for the drama department’s production of Love’s Labor’s Lost. Pardon me while I name-drop real quick, but Barry Edelstein of the Public Theater and Robert Perillo of the National Shakespeare Conservatory have been at our rehearsals and to say they’re skill and breadth of knowledge is refined would be the understatement of the century. Karin Coonrod, our director, is also rather on top of her game.

Long time fans (read: family) will remember how influential Berowne was on my life in high school. In many ways, this character is responsible for my enrollment at Stanford and, therefore, my whole life in California; it seemed too serendipitous not to audition when I got the email. Unfortunately, the people over at the English Speaking Union forgot to renew the url detailing my adolescent prowess in 2004, so i can’t link the shakespeare competition site. Here, however, is a pic of yours truly in action, when I was but a wee lad at the Lincoln Center (note, playing at a deficit):


Alright then, enough with the pleasantries. This is an invitation. Come see our humble play at Stanford’s Piggot Theater: Thursday, Friday, Saturday February 26, 27, and 28th. Eventually you can buy tickets here something on the order of 5 bucks each, no student rush (sorry).

So, word. Come see our play. Yes. And bring your friends.

On sticking around

20 12 2008


Without art, life does not exist, nor would it be worth living even if it did. I won’t attempt to define art, since it is so desperately linked to our own individual experience, but I will say that it has saved my life on more than one occasion. Art, or what we might call the artistic impulse or creative energy is, for me, essential.

Like any major institution, Stanford is in many ways intractably monolithic. It has a board (of business owners and lawyers), an impossibly convoluted administrative bureaucracy (with the exception of Dean Julie), an annual price tag that could purchase a small island, and it also happens to be the largest owner of real estate in Palo Alto. Sound corporate? It is, in spite of its 501(c)3 status. But unlike many corporations, there are in the shadows of Stanford (and occasionally on stages), powerful spaces of resistance, revolutionaries of the academy, and mind-blowingly insightful artists.

I’m not just talking faculty either. True, Stanford’s prestige grants it access to some of the most brilliant minds (hearts, spirits, hands, voices, etc.) currently alive: (Artist in Residence) Cherrie Moraga, (Visiting Artists) Saul Williams, Patricia Powell, Djanet Sears, Linda Tillery, John-Carlos Perea, (the late) Sekou Sundiata, John Santos; the list literally goes on and on. The Institute for Diversity in the Arts, Committee on Black Performing Arts, and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity have by far the most insight into the importance of art in today’s social liminality, more so than any other department on campus.

But the real reason I stay at Stanford is for moments like these, when the Stanford Spoken Word Collective speaks TRUTH and speaks it hard:

I mean damn, you just can’t touch shit like that, you know? Straight up FIRE. I sang with Yaa Gyasi in Talisman for a year and I knew she did crazy things with her voice, but not those things. You feel me? You feel her (cuz that’s what’s up). In a similar vein, check Grant’s piece, both from the Collective’s recent winter show, Speak Now or Forever Hold your Piece:

Stanford somehow attracts just enough rule breakers, boundary crossers, ideology subverters, and guerilla magicians to make a quorum of art makers. They challenge the status quo (which, as Dr. Horrible reminds us, is no longer anything at all resembling quo). My experience with Talisman over the last two years was critical in challenging my ideas of culture, identity, and the use of art in the fight for freedom. Even the massQuerade Ball is making a vital contribution to Stanford, particularly because it breaks the bubble and demands we confront the realities of the world beyond our eyes. This year we looked at water, its sacred place in our lives, and its exploitation for corporate profit, plus it was a bomb event and everyone had a good time. Without these people, few though they may be, Stanford would be just another factory farm subsidized by Exxon.

I suppose this entry should have been about poetry in particular, but my love of the collective is exemplary of my indebtedness to art. Art saved me, is saving me, from a devastating grief that is my own and is the world’s and is an instructor with whom I cannot communicate without art. It is teaching me to carry light and pain in the same incredible heart, denying neither beauty nor  brokenness in this precious life; art is my lead negotiator. My sister left a message on my phone yesterday saying, “I know you know love always wins; it always wins, but it doesn’t always look that way.” I do know, and no, it doesn’t always look that way. But the artists who share their work and their heart at this ridiculous university help paint a bigger picture where, even if it isn’t bright and shining in the center of the frame, love is always burning at the margins.

Finally, I leave you with a love poem, by Brian Yoo, since I’m a frustratingly stubborn romantic and can’t help but be endeared to love poems (I can’t believe I didn’t write more):

I carry your heart with me

(I carry it in my heart)

NCT Shout Out

21 11 2008

There is so much going on in this video, I don’t know where to start. Brilliance. Thanks Nick.

The Struggle for Civil Rights Continues

5 11 2008

By Shantelle Williams:


I feel like I need to write down what’s going being going through my mind since the mind-blowing, earth-shaking, and long-awaited results from last night.  Last night at about 8:00pm I was overwhelmed with joy.  I couldn’t stop crying and staring at the television, in disbelief. “Really?” I asked myself, “Do we REALLY have a black president?”  I called my mom, she couldn’t believe it either.  I called my 87-year-old grandmother who has seen how hatred tainted the history of this country; she was overjoyed.  After centuries of disenfranchisement against our people, the people have spoken and chosen a qualified black candidate over a pretty qualified white candidate.  If America can elect a black president, I thought to myself, what’s next?  A Latino president? An Asian President? A Native president?!! I was soooo happy just at the implications of those results, the possibilities to come,  and how people from so many different backgrounds had come together to choose the best candidate based on “the content of his character”.  When I left the Black House last night, I was walking on air, crying, hugging, and clawing my way through the crowds to get out.  Then I headed over to the LGBT Center where the atmosphere was very different.

Just as Obama’s victory is a step forward for not just blacks, but for latinos, asians, natives, and other minorities, Proposition 8’s passing is a step backward in the fight for equality for ALL.  When the civil rights of anyone is challenged, all of our civil rights are challenged.  I know there are many straight people who would say that the passing of Proposition 8 has nothing to do with them but I beg to differ.  Native Americans, the struggle of the queer community today was first and still is your struggle for equality, you from whom this land was stolen.  Black people, “stolen people on stolen land” and those from whom the motherland was stolen, the struggle of the queer community today is and has been our bi-continental struggle for justice since the first slave ships arrived on these American shores and since the first colonizers arrived on the shores of Africa.  Latinos, the struggle of the queer community today is also your struggle for immigrant rights to citizenship and equal treatment in this country.  Women, the struggle of the queer community today is and continues to be our struggle for equality in a traditionally male hegemonic society.  I could go on but I’ll spare you.  Every group has its own struggle, its own fight for equal treatment under the law in this country, THAT is the American dream.  So today I say to you, don’t be too sure that California, Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida’s decisions to take away rights from queer people is unrelated to you.  Equality under the law ignores religious and straight up bigotted reservations.  You can be anti-homosexuality but pro-human rights.  Having said that, invalidating gay marriages that have already taken place and banning those that would occur in the future has everything to do with all of us.  You think your civil rights are safe and protected?  Civil rights such as the right to the pursuit of happiness could never be voted away by the people, you say?  Think again.  If Americans can vote to take away gays’ right to marriage and therefore their pursuit of happiness in loving whom they choose, whose civil rights will be in jeopardy next?

Friends, I apologize if this is a downer in our time of celebration at this historically-defining moment but don’t take this as me trying to make your sweet moment a bitter one. I only want to remind everyone that last night was a great victory but also a great disappointment in the arena of civil rights.  Please, discuss this among yourselves, be angry, don’t be angry, agree, disagree, do whatever you will but talk about it.  But know that whether you are black, white, Christian, Muslim, gay, straight, male or female, you, someone you know, or someone who brought you into this world understands the struggle for equality, one that continues today.  If you understand that struggle, if you cried like I did last night when I saw a huge leap forward in that struggle when the United States elected its first black president, then you MUST understand the magnitude of the situation with Prop 8.  You must see that the passing of Prop 8 would be a huge leap backwards not just in gay rights, but in civil rights for all marginalized and historically oppressed people in this nation.  Remember that there weren’t just black people marching on Washington during the Civil Rights Movement, there were people of all colors and creeds.  Remember that the civil/labor rights movement of migrant farmers in the 60s (La Causa) for the end of exploitation, brought together Filipinos and Mexicans despite the language and cultural barrier.  Know that this struggle for equality for gays must also bring together black, asian, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, and all people whose ancestors fought for their equal rights under the law.

I’ll leave you now but I encourage all of you to write down what you’re thinking/feeling today and in the days to come because this is history.  20, 30, 40 years from now when we have a latino/black/asian/white/jewish/muslim/native president (not all in one president, although that’d be tight) you’ll be able to say that you were there when the revolution started.  And you’ll also be able to say, “oh look, here’s what I thinking as well…”  This is just my little tidbit: my thoughts the day after the victory for my people and our friends.  My thoughts in the days before the victory that is yet to come for my friends and loved ones.

Peace, love, and Obama..but moreover LOVE.