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It’s time for a musical litmus test for enlightenment

Photo: Gems/Getty Images

After the most recent Verzuz event this past Sunday, I’ve come to a social determination: There can be no further race conversations with people who are not familiar with Earth, Wind & Fire’s catalog.

The Verzuz format is so simple that it’s collectively embarrassing that no one thought to put it into motion prior to the pandemic: Put two legendary musical acts in the same room and make them have cookout debates over whose catalog is better. Almost none of the acts bring competitive energy to the challenge, with most artists appropriately deferring to each other’s greatness throughout. …


Just Rankin’ Sh!t

Happy 30th birthday to the best thinly veiled music biopic of all time. All tiiiiime!

A black and white photo collage of the members of The Five Heartbeats.
A black and white photo collage of the members of The Five Heartbeats.
Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Getty Images

6. Terrence “Dresser” Williams

Dresser had a decent voice, but getting washed in a dance contest by an old man — in front of your homies, no less — isn’t the most promising indicator of solo stardom.

5. Anthony “Choirboy” Stone

It’s hard to find a name less sexy than Choirboy. Yet somehow, even when the whole band was bombing, he was the only member who ever got shit thrown at him while onstage. Doesn’t exactly scream “we want more.”

4. J.T. Matthews

J.T. had crazy pipes, heartthrob appeal, and was a total womanizer. Sounds like a solo breakout to us.

3. Flash

Eddie Kane Jr. put it plainly in one of the…


We thought we could save people’s lives with the manna to be found in books — and they only got better over time

A black history book display at a library.
A black history book display at a library.
Photo: Newsday LLC/Getty Images

I began my journey into activism alone, a freshman at Ohio State University, still part of the city in which I was raised but a world away from everything I had known. I don’t think I was on campus a month before attending my first proper Black student event. As the African drumming and dance was winding down, I noticed a table full of books manned by a tall Black man in a suit and bowtie. I knew next to nothing about Black Muslims or the Nation of Islam and so struck up a conversation with the seller. …


Hampton’s story, even in the abbreviated form that ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ provides, is too important not to tell

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Inc

My Blackness came to me while I was a student at Ohio State University.

To be clear, I always knew I was Black. My mother, who grew up silt-poor in the mud hills of Nelsonville, Ohio, made sure all of her sons knew we were Black. Not knowing was akin to signing your name to a suicide note. But I did not know its properties, the alchemy of its historical bonds in reaction to my daily life. I only knew its consequences. I was aware of the American problems that pursued my Blackness but could not see the joy that…


Just Rankin’ Sh!t

We’ll take ‘Untold American History’ for $500, Alex

Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

6. Abraham Lincoln

Honest Abe’s connection to Black folks goes further than his role in ending slavery. In the 2001 book Black People and Their Place in History, historian Leroy Vaughn, MD, MBA, alleges that Lincoln’s father was African American and his mother had Ethiopian ethnicity, both of which may have explained his “very dark skin and coarse hair.” The political streets were talking, too — his rivals campaigned using propaganda that depicted Lincoln as “Abraham Africanus the First,” an African man. Wonder if his Lambo was blue.

5. Warren Harding

Like Lincoln, Warren Gamaliel Harding — yes, the original Warren G — was rumored to…


Black people have been telling America about itself for a long time. Someday it might listen.

James Baldwin at home in Saint Paul de Vence, France in September 1985. Photo: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Very little about America surprises Black people. We are only startled by things that happen, never by the potential for things to happen. When Trump supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6, Black people collectively checked our watches, muttering, “Oh, is today when that’s going down? Guess we’re not going south of Massachusetts Ave. today.” Shocked, but not surprised.

By contrast, White America’s reaction to the attack on Capitol Hill was marked with unadulterated surprise, as if it truly did not know itself, as if Sam Cooke did not mention it in the very first line of “Wonderful World” (which…


The work and statements of some of our favorite MCs line up quite comfortably alongside philosophy’s greatest — and most notorious — minds

Image: Qadir El-Amin/Medium. Image Sources: Bettmann, Josh Brasted, NBC, Oscar White, Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images and Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

Hip-hop is a lot of things, but the least discussed of all its facets is how it operates as a philosophy. I don’t mean as a KRS-One riff or as subject matter; I mean structurally.

Consider Thomas Kuhn. In 1962 Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he describes the field as having stretches of “normal science,” interrupted by moments of “crisis.” Every once in a while, there’s a revolution in the field, challenging and ultimately subsuming the existing paradigm. …


You Are Here

I regret to inform you that the politicians are at it again

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Once again they’re talking about putting Harriet Tubman on money. What sense does this make? What purpose? Can we not think of a better way to honor someone’s legacy, someone’s work, someone’s life than to place her on money?

How about if we collectively and unceasingly worked toward the liberation of Harriet Tubman’s daughters and sons, her progeny? To do that would mean a dismantling of the systems that bond us to begin with. A dismantling of white supremacy for one — not just a verbal rebuke of it, but a floor-to-ceiling teardown. To do that would mean to dismantle…


We tend to whitewash characters even in our minds, unconsciously

Photo: Maryna Terletska/Getty Images

A few years ago, I taught Freshman English and Composition. During downtime when I wasn’t instructing (or maybe when they had tuned me out), several of my students drew cartoon and anime characters in their notebooks. A few of them were really talented, and I encouraged all of them to keep at it.

However, I noticed that my students, who were all Black, rarely (if ever) drew Black characters, which was both interesting and perplexing.

I’m inclined to surmise that there’s at least partially a technical reason for this. When drawing, you start with the blank, white page. Most of…

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