On Busting Your Safe And Inoffensive Thought Bubble

thought-bubble

Unsurprisingly, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has received quite a bit of heat this week for his remarks about interracial marriage and the gag reflex. Some of these responses were, well, great. Some were decidedly less great. But everyone—myself included—said some variant of the exact same thing. (Summarized take: “What the fuck are you talking about?“)

Actually, let me rephrase that. I have no way of knowing that every news site, magazine, and blog that talked about Cohen’s piece said the exact same thing. Just the ones I happen to visit daily. This includes places like Gawker, EBONY, Jezebel, The Atlantic, The Root, Salon, Slate, Clutch, The Grio, and The Daily Beast.

And this is a problem.

If you were to sit down and make a list of the staff bios at each of the places just named, you’d likely find a very diverse collective. Men, women, gay, straight, Black, White, Latino, whatever. A photo of all of us together would look like a reunion shoot for the last 20 years of Benetton ads. ¹

I’m very aware of this, and I like to pat myself on the back for reading opinion pieces and comments at so many different places from so many different types of people.

But this diversity isn’t necessarily meaningful. It’s more theoretical than actual. All of these voices and opinions and takes are coming from the same Northern/Urban/Progressive bubble. It’s an expansive bubble. But, a bubble nonetheless. If a giant flood struck tomorrow and swept Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C. off the map, 95% of the digital magazines I visit would no longer exist.

And, when you’re getting most of your voices and opinions and takes from the same bubble, you end up with a situation like yesterday, where, again, every single blog, magazine, and news site I visited had the same take on the Cohen story.

It probably seems odd that I’d complain about this since I had that same take, but that’s kinda my point. I don’t think it’s a good thing that the places I frequent the most are all agreeable to my feelings and sensibilities.²

And it’s a problem because my situation isn’t unique. There are dozens upon dozens of surveys and polls that’ll tell you we’re becoming more and more isolated with where we choose to get our information from. And while we like to think that we’re too smart to allow this to affect us the same way it affects others (and by “others” I mean both “conservatives” and “people we don’t deem to be as educated“), we are not that smart. No one is.

This lack of thought diversity—which comes as we do what we can to shield out any potentially offensive or upsetting thoughts and opinions—can leave your own thoughts and opinions unchallenged. And few things are more dangerous than barricading yourself in a sea of likemindedness and sycophant. Me having an internet bubble is no different—well, no better—than Joe The Plumber having his Fox News/Drudge Report/Tea Party Facebook meme bubble. We’re both stuck in separate mall food courts. The only difference is that mine has a sushi bar. (And a clean bathroom.)

¹Full disclosure: I’m sure many of you are aware of this, but for those who aren’t, I’m a contributing editor at EBONY.com, so I’m talking about myself here, and I would be in this hypothetical photo. And I would be wearing an I Love Bougie Black Girls t-shirt. 

²Admittedly, the Cohen story may not be the best example of this problem. Not sure if a well thought out and thoughtful counter to the prevailing take is possible here. (Yes, I realize this is the most ironic footnote ever. Thanks for asking, though.)

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The Surreality, Hypocrisy, And Futility Of The “Serious” Internet Argument

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There is a strange type of popularity that comes with being a well-known blogger. It’s almost surreal. While a (very, very, very, very small) percentage of the general population is very familiar with you and your work, an even larger percentage isn’t even aware that the medium you derive your popularity from exists.

You can be an obscure author, comedian, or rapper with a small but very passionate and very engaged fanbase. What separates blogging is that even if most people haven’t heard of that particular author, comedian, or rapper, they’ve at least heard of books, comedy, and rap music.

Let me put it this way: I’m sure many of you reading this have, within the last couple of years, had explain to someone what a “blog” was. If not, you were probably the person someone explained “blogging” to.

I’m not complaining, mind you. This surreal strain of “fame” is just a reminder that the internet world, while limitless, is very small—and very exclusive—and that helps keep things in perspective.

That said, when it comes to internet-based arguments and debates, this perspective tends to get lost pretty frequently by many people…including me.

To wit, Panama and I had a 1500 word long discussion last week about street harassment that led to over 800 comments. This discussion was prompted by a burgeoning national conversation about street harassment that doesn’t seem to be losing any steam.

But, I doubt the men who are online all day pushing back against the anti-street harassment movement are actually the ones on the street catcalling women. I’m also sure that the women arguing with these men are aware of that. What you end up having is an impassioned internet argument that doesn’t really serve any lasting purpose besides teaching people how to win or lose an impassioned internet argument.

You also see this whenever any internet conversation about dating starts to get heated. Despite the fact that many (if not most) people offline seem to have had good relationships and generally feel good about their relationship future, online the dating world turns into World War Z. I had a friend tell me a few years ago that she didn’t even know she was supposed to feel bad about being single until she got on the internet.

And please, don’t let the topic be interracial dating. Aside from Rick Santorum and Black barbers with bad haircuts, no one offline gives a damn about who you date. Online, though, you’ll find Black men who’ve had nothing but positive interactions with Black women offline referring to Black women as hoodrat bedwenches, and Black women who, despite the fact that they have Black fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, nephews, and friends they love and Black sons they’ve produced, consider Black males to be the bane of all existence.

Now, although these internet arguments don’t have much of a direct effect on or connection to what happens offline, they’re not completely purposeless. I was aware that some men catcall and randomly proposition women on the street, but I never thought to consider how dehumanizing it could be and how unsafe it could make women feel until reading a few pieces about it.

Also, I’m aware that I’ve led a (relatively) “easy” life so far, and these serious internet arguments—as hyperbolic as they can get—tend to increase certain awarenesses for people like me. Maybe things aren’t as bad as the internet would tell it, but extremes help reiterate the fact that different people have had different experiences, and these different experiences create different ways of viewing the world.

Still, the next time you find yourself in the middle of a heated internet debate about a topic that only 0.000000001% of the population would even consider discussing, do me a favor. Log off, take a walk, tell the first person you see in the street about the nasty argument you had in the comments section of VSB about passport stamps, and study their face when they ask you who and what the f*ck you’re talking about.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Is It Me or Has The Blackosphere Run Out Of Things To Talk About?

That's totally racism! She should leave him! Be strong sister. Beyonce teaches us this!

That’s totally racism! She should leave him! Be strong sister. Beyonce teaches us this!

This ain’t funny so don’t you dare laugh, but I think that Black thought has run out of ideas. And I’m not talking the rapper from the Roots crew. No, I’m talking the majority component of Black conversation starters and “influencers”. Yes, the Ebony’s and Essence’s and Clutch’s* and Madame Noires*, etc.

Basically, the places that Black folks congregate to discuss Black issues. VSB included though I’m going to give us a TOTALLY non-biased pass since we’re a two-man deep operation. But it seems like, actually, it IS like, there are four topics worthy of talking about in the pages of Blackness – relationships, race, pop culture, and self-empowerment.

I’ve perused all of the Black intelligentsia pages – and I realize thats probably a misnomer – and there’s very little to do with politics and health or anything that isn’t purely opinion based. This isn’t to say that I don’t think that Black folks don’t have opinions on politics or finances (Black Enterprise is one good source), but it does seem that we stay as far away as possible from those topics in some of the most popular sources for Black “material.”

Now, I’d be intentionally ignoring the elephant in the room if I didn’t point out that those sites are largely (actually totally) geared towards women and maybe the vast majority of women who might read those sites couldn’t give two f*cks with a soda on the side of a partridge in a pear tree about partisan politics, sequesters, or anything in the political realm that doesn’t include the words Michelle Obama.

It’s possible that I’m completely ignoring the impact that sites like The Root and Huff Post Black Voices have on the community at large. Either that or I only follow and pay attention to the wrong pubs, but it really does seem like no matter where I go I see the same ho the exact same ideas and posts written different ways are presented. When I visit some of my more enjoyable mainstream (read white) sites, they’re chock full of all types of topics. I mean you can read posts about the role mice play in the World Cup. Or how electricity totally f*cks up the game for ladybugs in Santo Domingo. I’m not even saying that all of the things I read are good, interesting, or worthy of reading. But there are a slew or random but fresh ideas on lots of fresh and random topics.

Maybe its just that in the Blackosphere, there aren’t a lot of larger sites dedicated to news and thought in the same way that a Daily Beast or Huff Post or Slate can be. Even on sites like The Root, it seems like all the posts bottleneck right back into the racial component. Which isn’t wrong per se. There’s nothing wrong with that. And it’s important to have the facilitators of such conversations making sure that those angles are always pursued. But we still can’t seem to get past the Big Four.

Of course, there’s always the side of the argument that shows that I’m not even close to being accurate. That there are sites out there tackling all of the important issues of the day and adding new and insightful ideas to Internet and catalog of Black thought. Which is possible, but really, I don’t think that’s the case. I’m starting to think that for the most part we like to talk about those things because its one area where our opinion is all that counts and it doesn’t require being overly informed on any topic. And if you’re attempting to appeal to the most people at one time, then broad simple topics is the bread and butter to keep folks coming back. Even here at VSB, that argument can be made.

Maybe, Black folks online really only have a few things to talk about. Or maybe those of us online creating the conversations don’t think the audiences care about anything else. Or maybe OJ didn’t do it but did it at the same damn time.

I don’t really know.

But I do have to wonder, have we run out of things to talk about in the Blackosphere?

Talk to me.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. I STILL NEED MY JOB aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRLLL HE A 3

That’s A Catfish!

You aint tell me you had whiskers tho. Youse a lie and youse a cheat and I don’t want ya!

It seems like the MTV show Catfish! has taken over mainstream consciousness now. I’ve read articles about it and before I saw my first episode, no less than five people had asked me if I’d seen it.

For those who haven’t, the show is a spinoff of a documentary called Catfish created by  filmmakers Ariel and “Nev” Schulman who found himself in a long distance relationship via the Internet with a chick named Megan who ended up being an older woman named Angela who’d created a fake profile using pictures of somebody else and maintaned the lie for as long as possible, etc. Shenanigans ensue. Basically, somebody got okeydoked on the Internet.

You know, the usual.

Anyway, the documentary was spun into an MTV series where Nev helps folks connect with their Internet interests who have managed to hide their identities and come up with reasons to never meet up. Now, some of these episodes highlight a darker side of American culture: namely, many of us aren’t that bright. And are extremely, extremely naive.

It ALSO highlights how pressed people are to find love. This isn’t a bad thing mind you, but the amount of red flags people are willing to forego to maintain contact with this person they’ve rarely spoken to and largely only texted or chatted with is amazing. Oh, and in this world, Skype doesn’t exist. This is very important to remember. Or is broken. Skype breaks sometimes.

In most of the episodes I’ve seen, the person behind the love interest is never who they claimed to be and sadness usually ensues. Let’s just say you should check it out. Since so many people make connections via the Internet nowadays (Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, etc) there’s a good chance that a large number of us have met folks in real life that we were introduced to via the Internet. I can’t tell you how many folks I’ve met in the real world b/c of VSB. You know why I can’t tell you? Because it’s a lot.

Well, I figured that I’d tell you all about a few Catfish like situations I’ve found myself in. Because they do and have happened. To be fair, most of these were well before FB existed and before Google even. Yes, all of these interactions were created via the world’s first online night club…

AOL Chatrooms.

Background first. Back in the late 90s everybody was in those AOL chatrooms. I’m still friends today with some people I met in those chatrooms in the late 90s or early 2000s. Like 2000. Two people are folks I count as true friends of mine. The other good friends I’ve met online have usually come via blogging. But back then they didn’t want me now I’m hot they all want me AOL chatrooms were my sh*t. I can’t remember the names of them but they were entertaining. I do remember screennames though. I won’t put them out there like that, but I do remember.

There were two particular individuals who stuck out to me. Now remember I was back in school during this time. So I remember meeting this one young lady via one of those chatrooms and we ended up becoming friends. We’d IM at all hours and have deep convos about life and stuff. We talked a few times…

(By the way, these scenarios aren’t real Catfish moments like in the show…there’s no surprise endings like they weren’t who they said…just not what I expected or odd Internet encounters…)

…and I was like, yo, we should meet up. After all, she went to one of the other schools in the AUC (Atlanta University Center – Morehouse, Spelman, Clark-Atlanta, Morris Brown, ITC). So we set it up to meet on “the strip” the popular hang out spot on CAU’s campus. This one particular day there was NOBODY on the strip. So I’m sitting there waiting. Now, this chick told me she was an athlete. Let me rephrase…told me she “had been” an athlete. So I’m looking for a slender-ish athletic chick to come traipsing up the walk. About ten minutes after I got there comes this rather portly (not there’s anything wrong with that) young lady who looked nothing like the person as had been described to me. She walks up, introduces herself to me and we sit down. Now, I’m not a total douche so I wasn’t rude but I definitely felt untruthed to. She was like 4’11″ as well. Basically I was looking for the athlete in her. Anyway, we talk for a second then she looks at me…

…then smells me neck. All up in my personal space. Needless to say I was taken fully aback by this. I distanced myself from her at that moment and she told me that’s how she tells if people are nice. She smells their necks.

Look, I ain’t saying it aint a way to do it. I’m just feeling like there are others ways to do it, ya dig? Well, we chatted for a few more minutes and then I’m pretty sure I bounced quickly. We talked a few more times but that tailed off after a while. I’d see her around campus on occasion. But we didn’t talk much more after that as I stopped reaching out and then we faded to black. Maybe my neck stank.

Then there’s the stripper that chased me down the strip that day. (Yes that happened. And no it has nothing to do with anything).

Then there’s that chick who told me she looked like a particularly hot African-American comedienne who only sent me pics of her from the eyes up. From like 10 feet away. Who would never meet up with me. Ever.

Point is, we’ve all got stories of mishapped meetings. Or folks who weren’t who we thought they were. Hell, that’s happened here at VSB with folks thinking we were going to be different than we were. Maybe it turned out better – that did happen to me once.

Lawd did that happen once. F*cked up my whole perception of a certain American city I have since wanted to visit.

So what’s your story. Let’s get some levity on this here Friday!

No more drama!

What’s your “catfish” story?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. I AM WHATEVER I SAY I AM aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

 

My Favorite Conspiracy Theory by Panama Jackson

Moon...or New Mexico?? You tell me.

Conspiracy. (noun). An agreement to perform together an illegal, wrongful, or subversive act.

I think too much (and I also know that I shouldn’t give too much credence to conspiracy theories).

And as is such, I tend to come up with lots of random conspiracies and non-sense that at the time may seem to make sense. Though I’d like to point out that the Law of Averages says that somewhere along the way, at least one of my rants is going to be on the money. For instance, I’m still convinced that Starbucks is indeed “the man” that we speak about in our day to day activities. I’ve never been fully convinced that West Virginia actually exists as a state but is more or less a place that aliens and white people come from and use as training grounds in case black people get too “uppity” because most normal people have never been to West Virginia nor questioned its existence.

But there is real conspiracy out there that is threatening black existence in inner cities everywhere. It is the precursor to Starbucks. It is what makes it possible for the idea of Starbucks in the ghetto to exist. It is none other than…

…the white listserv.

Yes. You read that right.

What is the white listserv?? I feel a definition coming on.

White Listserv. (noun). formerly known as the white phone call, white fax, white morse code. Created in the 1960′s and evolving over time, this white listserv is the means of communicating to white peoples (primarly WASP’s) across the nation of the neighborhoods in particular cities that are scheduled to be relieved from Blacks and/or Latinos control and transformed into inner city urban enclaves of gentrification and just all around whiteness. Synonyms: Starbucks.

Let’s examine this shall we? Yes, let’s. In the beginning there were neighborhoods. Inner city neighborhoods. They consisted of mostly white people and black people were confined to the slums and ghettos of the city. One day, a lone black man, let’s call him, James, made some money and started the trend of other black folks making money and decided to move to where the white people were. They didn’t mind one black face and James seemed nice enough. His wife was high yaller and his kids could read. But more black folks made money and followed James. And it started happening throughout the country.

We reached the residential tipping point. So what did white people do? Created suburbs and got the hell out of dodge. So now the slums just moved to where ever James was because as is fact, when everybody finds paradise, it ceases to remain paradise.

Say it unison with me: Damn damn damn James.

This occurred for a good 30 years.

Well one day circa 1980, James’ old neighbor, let’s call her Jenny, decided that she wanted to move back in to the city. That’s where all the amenities and services were, as well as the parks, black men, and Icey’s. But Jenny wasn’t sure where to move because all of the neighborhoods were inhabited by les negroes. She asked a friend who asked a friend and that’s when it happened.

The first white phone call. The call intended to tell Jenny where a prime spot would be to move because they were taking it over. Who is they?? The white people. She was told the area, found a place and moved in and lo and behold, the neighborhood changed. This situation began to occur in major cities everywhere but more slowly and with more subtlety and to mostly fringe areas close enough to the suburbs but still in the city.

Now they’re everywhere. Now they’re in neighborhoods that only a few years ago white people wouldn’t dream of walking thru for fear of being robbed in their sleep. But lo and behold, there they are. Walking down Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC; or Atlantic Avenue or Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; or down Lowery Blvd (though it will forever be Ashby Street in my heart) in Southwest Atlanta’s West End community. You know those places where seeing a white person initially made you do a complete double take; one that almost made you crash.

However, there they were walking their dogs or jogging as if they didn’t realize they were playing with their lives.

These are all people who today get “the e-mail.” Yes that one from the white listserv who told them that if they bought in now, they would see tremendous gains on their property value becasue the neighborhood was going to be flipped into an inner city enclave of diversity, though the goal would be 65 percent persuasion and 35 percent unpersuasion. If they could live with it for 2 years tops, their dreams of inner city living complete with all that the city has to offer would become a reality.

They took up the offer.

And it’s still going on across America right now. White e-mails are being sent out left and right. Neighborhoods that normally would be be black through and through are now becoming enclaves where white people feel safe because they got the email. It’s my thought that somehow when you’re born and receive a Social Security Number, that they tag you if you match the necessary criteria. They have some white indicator. This same white indicator pushes you to different white listservs if you marry a black person and have black children. You’re priority becomes different…however you’re still on the list and when you receive that first email, they make you pledge to never tell a person of color, unless your husband or wife is indeed, colored.

All thanks to the white listserv…existing in a community near you.

So um, yea, that’s my favorite conspiracy theory…what’s yours?? You read books, I know you’ve got one!

HAPPY GEMINI SEASON!

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. GET YO’ HAND OUTTA MY POCKET aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

***DC PSA: For all you suckas that don’t know, on June 2, 2012, VSB is bringing you another edition of the monthly party dedicated to all 90s everything: REMINISCE. Except this June edition is extra special because it’s not only the Gemini Birthday Bash…it’s also PANAMA’S BIRTHDAY!! So If you’re in DC, please come out and celebrate Panama’s birthday with him so he can personally thank you and try not to take so many shots that he passes out and doesn’t remember the evening! And remember…it’s free before 11pm with RSVP (link coming soon), open bar from 930-1030pm, and no dress code. It’s the best damn house party at a club in the city!! Wear shorts! Be comfortable. And party with Panama!!!!***