VSB Goes To Harvard » VSB


Over this past weekend, Damon and I had the privilege and honor to speak at the Harvard Black Law Students Association’s Spring Conference on a panel entitled “Black Media Matters” where we discussed Black representation in the media, Black media in the context of the larger media picture, and way that new media has allowed for different forms of activism, amongst other things. We sat on a panel with Kimberly Foster from ForHarriet.com and Dr. Brittany Cooper from the Crunk Feminist Collective and Salon. (It was moderated by Licia Harper of the Hip-Hop Entertainment Law Project.) Our panel was very interesting. But I also had quite a few thoughts about the trip overall, so I’m going to share them here.

1. I actually really like Boston as a city. I even like Cambridge. They both give good skyline. I used to date a woman from Boston. <— That sounds like an epic opening line from a book, right? This woman I used to date from Boston (who lived in Boston, and then New York City [NEW YORK CITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!]) while we were dating used to refer to Cambridge as Lame-bridge. Pretty standard fare I presume for people from the city-proper talking about folks from near in suburbs. But I like both. I like cities with a lot of history and Boston is one of those cities. I opened with this bullet because folks’ perception of Boston is a bit skewed but it’s also how I felt before I got there the very first time. I view Boston as a kind of white Atlanta. If you’re young and white, Boston is your spot. I also viewed it as ground zero for racist cities in America. And while it’s one of the few cities where I felt acutely aware of my Blackness, I also was surprised at just how many minorities lived in Boston. While I’d never live there, I just want to say that I really like Boston.

2. While out eating, Damon remarked about how it’s interesting to be in a place that is literally known as the landing space for the best of the best. To be around so many people who were the absolute best wherever they were and made it to the top is pretty cool. Boston has tons of colleges, but MIT (shouts to Liz!) and Harvard are pretty universally renowned. Everybody’s heard of them and everybody pretty much views them as some of the top universities in the world (except possibly people who went to other Ivy League schools or whatever league or association MIT is apart of). And I agree with him. It is an interesting feeling to be around those folks who for whatever reason, made it to a “top spot”. I think I’m pretty brilliant, but as I drove by MIT I felt like, there’s somebody in one of these dorm rooms right now who is half my age but knows three times more than I do. And that’s okay. Clap for ’em. I mean, I went to Morehouse so you know how that goes. It’s just different #doe.

3. That snow in Boston right now is real. It’s one thing to see it on TV, it’s a whole different thing to drive by a 6 foot snow all. It’s how I feel like KKK rally’s would feel if I was standing in the middle of a circle. Not that Boston is a KKK rally or anything. I’m talking about the snow, which just so happens to be mostly white (sometimes its yellow…ewww), so you know, six feet tall…a lot of white….never mind.

4. So, you know how natural hair vs relaxed hair, and light skint vs dark skint (sorry brown, you get very little country here), and Beyonce are some of the most contentious topics in the Black community? I don’t think we give reality shows enough credit for being as polarizing as they are. And maybe it’s because you mostly get folks on Twitter (and me) who love them, and folks who are supposed to “know better” who hate them and perhaps those worlds don’t collide enough. Or maybe they do and I just don’t realize it. But our panel entered into the world of reality shows and Black representation on television and that is one SERIOUSLY divisive topic. It seems like folks either believe they’re damaging the Black community or that they’re just entertainment.

5. I’m going to say this, and its going to be a bit contentious but, I always find it puzzling that the people that “ratchet” television LEAST affects are the most offended by their mere existence and potential for Black destruction while doing the absolute least to change shit about it. Except Sorority Sisters, because that fucked with Black sacred institutions. And possibly because VH1 over-estimated the audience for that show. It’s entirely possible that a huge segment of ratchet world doesn’t give two shits about a sorority so they weren’t really watching so it was easy to get it pulled once the entire groundswell of opinion was that the show as terrible and needed to go. But folks created campaigns about that. Yet, I feel like SO many folks think anything associated with Mona Scott-Young is destructive to the community – it’s basically crack – and needs to go, but I don’t feel like short of the groan-and-mumble are folks THAT hell-bent on doing much to change that landscape. And I say least affects because the convo about reality shows was pretty contentious at the panel, but it was also folks who probably aren’t going to be that affected by whatever destruction we deem is associated with the shows. Unless it’s how white people view us because of those shows and that I couldn’t really care less about.

6. Dr. Brittney Cooper is a force. The ability to be ratchet, articulate, and speak in the entrenched language of the academic elite is a special skill set. It is the stuff of legend. I feel like they could have a panel with just her speaking and it would be as interesting as the discussion we all had together.

7. Here’s another interesting tidbit, there were 4 panels on Saturday. One of them was entitled “Our Brother’s Keeper/Our Sister’s Keeper” except it was split with the “brothas” in one room and the “sistas” in another room. Damon and I attended the “Our Sister’s Keeper” panel. I can’t speak for Damon, but for me, I went because I have a daughter. And having a daughter has opened my heart up to a whole slew of curiosities and interests and empathies that I did not know until I had a little girl and started thinking about the world she will grow up in…but also, my place in the world I left for her to grow up in. I’m far from the worst dude on the planet, but there’s a luxury of not having to concern yourself with many of the micro-aggressions women have to deal with constantly. Obviously, as African-Americans we deal with them too, but the sexism angle is one I don’t know. So I wanted to hear more what these formidable and established women had to say. There were also only three men in the room. Which is telling, but again, the panels were scheduled at the same time and separated.

8. On a simlar note though, when I was trying to find that panel to go to, I asked one of the organizers of the conference and she assumed I was looking for the men’s panel. Which I suppose is understandable. It’s telling though. I know women want us to be at these things, but they also don’t even think we’d even think to come to those panels. There’s a there there. I wonder if any women thought any men would be in there. Yo no se.

9. I realy enjoy doing panels. What I don’t enjoy is panels about relationships. But if you want me to talk about pop culture, society, media, pretty much anything related to the Black experience I’m all in. But I’m so over the relationship angle at this point in my life. Interestingly enough, I’ve spoken at Harvard, Princeton, FAMU, Delaware State, Howard, American, the University of Maryland (to this point…there are a few others but those come immediately to mind), and I’ve not once been asked to speak about relationships at any of them. Manhood, Blackness, hip-hop, media, health and awareness….all at those places. I need to be doing university tours.

10. Shouts to the folks from the Harvard Black Law Students Association for having us to speak. It was a great experience. And it was fun being around a bunch of folks JUST like you who were kickin’ ass and takin’ names.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • Shout out to Amherst.

  • Val

    Wow, PJ, thanks for that. You made me feel like I was sorta, kinda, there. I wish that kind of stuff was on TV or online more. I love seeing/ hearing intelligent Black folks discuss ratchetness and all kinds of other stuff. Kudos to you for thinking of Panamontana and attending the women’s panel discussion. I’m sure whatever you gleaned form it will come in handy with her.

  • KB

    Was the panel discussion recorded? If so, is/will be there a link to check it out?

  • Damon Young

    More takeaways:

    1. Harvard is…Harvard

    I’ve been to New York City maybe 15 times — enough to “get over” going to and being in New York City — but the surreality of it still hasn’t worn off. It’s a place that’s been both the setting and focus of so much of American history and culture that when I visit it just feels big. Not big size-wise — although it is that too — but big in terms of “Damn. This is New York Fucking City.”

    Harvard conjured the same feeling. It looked like any other university. I didn’t see the entire campus, but what I did see wasn’t as visually impressive as Princeton or even Penn State is. Still, everything just felt…big.

    Even speaking to the students felt a little different. Not because of the students — who looked, talked, and acted like every other group of mid-to-late 20s Black grad students I’ve met and spoken to — themselves, but because of where they were. Let me put it this way: A few months ago, I spoke to a friend’s AAU basketball team and said something about how one of them could be president one day. Although technically true, it’s a bit of a boilerplate cliche often used when speaking to kids to remind them to think and dream bigger. Basically, “perhaps you won’t be president, but there are a million other great things you can be besides an NBA player.” But, when speaking to a group of Black men and women who will have Harvard law degrees in the near future, there might actually be a future president (or two) listening to you.

    2. Our panel lasted 90 minutes. It could have lasted 900.

    We started off speaking about the role of Black media today and how it connects to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, topics which kept the audience engaged and entertained. But once it segued into representation — basically, are shows like Empire and Love and Hip-Hop bad for us — it became a full-fledged argument. Not a bad argument. But a heated and healthy debate where we (the panelists) all basically had the same opinion (“No. Empire isn’t “bad” for Black people. Was is bad is respectability politics and thinking that “better” representation will have any tangible effect on how Black people are treated.”) while some of the students very passionately disagreed. Even after the panel ended, the conversations continued into the hallway, in the walk back to the hotel for dinner, and before (and after) dinner.

    Three more takeways from the panel:

    A) You don’t want to argue with Brittney Cooper about anything. Ever. Because you will lose. She is amazing.

    B) You know who else is amazing? Your boy Panama. He definitely represented for VSB, bringing that same insightful ridiculousness he does here on a weekly basis.

    C) Before the panel, Licia (the moderator) asked if any of us were in NABJ (the national association of Black journalists). We (Brittney, Panama, and I) all reacted as if she asked if any of us had four legs. It’s something none of us ever even considered doing because 1) we’re not journalists and 2) we all (kim included) chose untraditional paths. None of us went to J school or anything like that — and none of us have any aspirations of being a traditional journalist — so being a part of NABJ just doesn’t seem like something that would be that beneficial. Maybe I’m wrong, but I haven’t seen anything to convince me otherwise.

    • panamajackson

      Thanks homey! *sniffle*

      • Lea Thrace

        get a room you two! sheesh!

    • RewindingtonMaximus

      I feel like those kind of conversations are the ones you never want to end. Being mentally stimulated with like-minded individuals feels like a treat after trudging through many scenarios where you have to stoop down to other people’s levels.

    • MeridianBurst

      Yeah, some things can be said to people and you know it’s a generic motivational thing. It’s interpreted as such. Then there’s people who have this aura to them where you know what is said is completely literal. Every black kid needs to know to dream big but you can also just FEEL when you’re engaging someone who actually will be big one day. I’m sure that as guys who have such a unique voice in black culture, to be at Harvard and embraced by members of that club, it becomes rather eye opening what your possibilities are.

    • Furious Styles

      “No. Empire isn’t “bad” for Black people. What is bad is respectability politics and thinking that “better” representation will have any tangible effect on how Black people are treated.”

      This. That is where I lean on the controversy lately. The Cosby Show didn’t solve all our problems; Empire isn’t going to destroy us all. I’m not that into the show, but for f82ks sake how many “positive” role models and shows will we need before we can have any “edgy” entertainment?

    • Noki

      NABJ is pointless. I was a member and know the inner workings. It is a very self congratulatory conference and they usually get together to complain about big media houses not hiring enough blacks. The big media houses hire a few, then fire us later. The sponsors are all Coca Cola, McDonalds or some “foundation” designed to perpetuate a specific message about black identity. I’d much rather see independent platforms like blogs, youtube channels, VSB, Crunk Feminist or For Harriet. You have liberties to say what you want, how you want and your “sponsors” can come or go. I think journalism is changing and people like me rather have an unfiltered voice than a politically and corporate sponsored voice. Great post!!! Wish I could watch the talk on lifestream

    • “A) You don’t want to argue with Brittney Cooper about anything. Ever. Because you will lose. She is amazing.”

      Hardly: http://www.avoiceformen.com/women/black-feminists-dont-need-to-go-on-strike-they-need-to-get-a-life/



    • ??Jessica??

      “B) You know who else is amazing? Your boy Panama. He definitely represented for VSB, bringing that same insightful ridiculousness he does here on a weekly basis.”

      Am I the only one who smiled and felt a great amount of pride?? I mean, one of Panama’s articles was what introduced me to VSB (then everybody’s wits and smarts makes me keep coming back) so I’m kind of a Panama groupie. I mean I just felt proud, like, that’s my boy getting shout outs of how amazing he is and coming from a colleague made it even better. But since I’m the only one with a proud grin on my face imma just sit in my corner, but know @panamajackson:disqus you got fans!!! #AJamaicanOneToo

  • Agatha Guilluame

    Good shyt.

  • Boston’s a nice place to visit, living there or in the vicinity is a different thing all together. As for me I hate driving in Boston, and it’s pointless to drive around there with a GPS, which will give you a middle finger if you do not make the right turn like it instructed you to do.

    As for the whole media thing, there’s some proof that the media does influence perception. But, I think it has a much greater influence on the people being projected vs. the people actually viewing it. The positive feedback and enthusiasm of Asians based for the Fresh Off the Boat show is a great example of this: it must have been reminiscent of how black people felt about other black family sitcoms when they first came about in the 70’s and 80’s. Emotional attachment, whether positive or negative, tends to be the best indicator of whether a show is having an effect on a group of people or not. The people who are going to be affected by Empire or Ratchet Reality shows, are going to be the mostly black people who watch it and argue about it on twitter.

    There was a documentary once on the Biography channel about the effect of the Godfather, whether the films shows that the people who were most influenced by the Godfather, were actually people in the mob. Before the film they had acted as thugs and dressed like bums; the portrayal of the Corleone family, made them start spending all their money and suiting up. Another example of this is the influence of House of Lies has had on Management Consultants. Martin Kihn said when he first wrote the book where he exposed the industry, he pretty much got blacklisted and ignored, however, once the series came out and Don Cheadle made such consultants seem Sex-crazed Machiavellians, he was viewed as a hero.

    • MeridianBurst

      Are you saying television shows resonate more with the people who have similarities in their own lives/cultures? That makes sense. I said something similar in my own comment before I shaved it down.

      • Well, yes, but that’s not really my point.

        Take the example of the Cosby show: it was purposely designed to propagandize a view of what it meant to be black and middle class to America as a whole. It’s effect wasn’t so much that it changed the view Americans had of blacks, but more so it set the standard for what bougie/middle class black family aught to look like.

        I think people get so much on the effect that the media has on how they are viewed by others, that they don’t pay attention to the effect the shows actually have on themselves.

        • MeridianBurst

          Actually, I was just making an observation that we have something in common. I know that wasn’t your point lol.

          So, the Cosby show was propaganda to America as a whole but it wasn’t so much about changing the general perception of blacks, it was that it altered the black paradigm of what family and economic status looked like. Basically, it made black people think of themselves as doctors, involved fathers, wise and regal women and that was the more substantial affect of such representation.

          In my original comment, I said that people who don’t watch ratchet reality television and people who do, find one another insufferable because the culture of the show seeps into how they actually carry themselves in life and how they go about every day situations.

          I do think there are people out there who can make a distinction between television and real life. The way they live in actuality is not affected by a show or the culture that surrounds the show, even though they may enjoy it the same way most people do.

          • fafa

            …and that is why I’m not a fan of ratchet tv and the people that celebrates them. Everyone is concerned about what they eat and how they look on the outside, but don’t seem aware that the music we listen to and the shows/movies we watch affects our subconscious. Once you have enough people watching the ratchet shows, blogs writing op-ed of every episode (Side-eye to VSB). These caricatures on those shows become famous and some of their viewers do indeed let the foolishnees seep into their daily lives. If any of my friends were partaking in the foolishness I hear happens on these reality/ratchet tv shows they would quickly be dropped. People cheating on their spouse, spreading STI’s, fighting, etc.. Unacceptable. And I dont see empire as ratchet TV ; the love and hip hop(s), housewives however do fall into that category.

            • MeridianBurst

              The only thing that bothered me about Empire was that it seemed to be a bunch of stereotypes about black people thrown into one show on a network like FOX. It’s like the usual thing of shucking and jiving just to get a foot door and it’s not something I can get behind. I don’t think it’s a bad show, I don’t judge the people who do enjoy it, and I don’t even think it’s something that shouldn’t be watched. I just can’t do it. It’s like if the first major Mexican show was about gardeners and maids. Even if it is ridiculously good it’s still like, really?

              VSB is the balance in the black blogosphere to me. It’s quality work told from a perspective that we all think and feel as black people but never quite have the courage to verbalize. That is its tone to me and most of what drives it tends to be in that vein. You do have your instances of ratchetdom but it’s 1 post out of 15-20 in a week so unlike other blogs/sites, it isn’t saturated with that kind of thing. You do have your people who try to take what they ingest from the culture of things like Love and Hip Hop and try to deal with things in a similar fashion, but you also have people who make a clear distinction between fiction/entertainment and what happens in real life.

              There are people who are intolerant about it, where they absolutely want no part of that kind of television or the people who mimic it. They’re the kind of people who never mix it up with that kind of thing or those who reflect it. Than you have people who, it may not be their thing and they draw personal boundaries, but they can still have a relatively cordial demeanor so as long as those boundaries aren’t infringed upon.

              • uniquebeauty79

                “It’s quality work told from a perspective that we all think and feel as black people but never quite have the courage to verbalize. ”
                Ma’am every since I have started reading this blog, I never imagined that you would or have ever had a problem verbalizing anything. (that is a compliment btw…)

                • MeridianBurst

                  lol. =)

                  While EYE may not have a problem verbalizing such things, I still believe that people in general have a lot of things they never get to say because of societal pressure. And also because we enable one another to sweep things under the rug without having the tough conversations.

                  • uniquebeauty79

                    So true. It’s like racism in the work place. Everyone knows it’s there but everyone is weary to express their true feelings on it so it’s never spoken on.

                    • MeridianBurst

                      Exactly! We all tend to feel the same things and experience the same things, but we never really speak amongst ourselves in that raw, honest capacity. To give such unspoken things amongst us a voice is pretty dope.

                    • uniquebeauty79

                      Yes!! Some people, not all, but some use Social Media to voice unpopular ops under the guise of an avatar. They wouldn’t dare to say that stuff aloud. (ex. Those fake IG accounts that troll mostly celebs and trash talk).

                    • MeridianBurst

                      Social media can be a very powerful platform which is why it’s so great that you have a social magazine like VSB that’s willing to post the perspective of our experiences that rarely ever get addressed. I wish the comment section reflected that same substance and honest commentary, and that the people who chime in with unpopular opinions wouldn’t automatically be ridiculed or shut down for it, because it limits the discourse that we’re able to have with each other.

                    • uniquebeauty79

                      True and a debate amongst intelligent people should just be that. Either sway the other persons opinion, make them understand why you chose the side you chose, or agree to disagree. I see too much on IG where the conversations go from “I don’t like what you said.” to “Let’s meet in Temecula” and it’s like Why??? You don’t agree keep it moving…

                    • ??Jessica??

                      “I see too much on IG where the conversations go from “I don’t like what you said.” to “Let’s meet in Temecula” and it’s like Why???”
                      I laughed waaaay too hard at that sentence!

                    • uniquebeauty79

                      I got that from a story I think Panama did about some grown a– men that really wanted to meet up and fight about some internet mess…The whole story was ridiculously funny!!

              • AlwaysCC

                this was an awesome comment.

              • ??Jessica??

                “It’s like if the first major Mexican show was about gardeners and maids” lmao…… Devious Maids came to mind!

  • Lakeisha Williams

    Yo, all 4 of you (Panama, Damon, Dr. Cooper, Kimberly) were amazing! Students are still buzzing about the panel. Thanks again for coming out.

    • panamajackson

      I think I can speak for Damon on this one…we really appreciated the invite and really enjoyed that convo. That was a great convo that REALLY could have kept going for a very long time. I’m glad I was part of it. Thanks for having us.

    • Sahel

      If you are ever in Oxford…..

    • Michelle

      Just curious…
      How many white people tried to/did attend the function?
      Based off of my prior experiences, any functions that has the word “Black” in the name seems to draw them in.

      • Lakeisha Williams

        There were quite a few who attended the Conference at some point throughout the 2 days, but the vast majority of the attendees were Black

  • Nicholas Peters

    Whenever I think of Boston…I think of a 5-month meat locker that I would not survive

    • AlwaysCC


  • RewindingtonMaximus

    Like I said on IG, them VSB boys going places.

    Real talk though, I wish I was there. I love those mind-altering conversations, because it definitely takes the “am I the only one” aspect out of many topics and our opinions about them.

    I know it sounds weird but maybe you guys can create a panel yourselves of VSB members who’s ideas and perspectives you’d like to see (or hear) be spoken out loud in front of an audience. I feel like you guys have a real good template here that has inspired many people to find their own voices, and others (like myself) who are learning to get the courage to speak up. It will work, trust me on that.

    But yea, thanks for the breakdown, sorta feel like I was there now.

    • Baemie St. Patrick

      I’d travel for this.

  • Baemie St. Patrick


    • I’m here for #CountryBrownGirls

      • Baemie St. Patrick

        I’m just here so I won’t get fined.

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