“Lost Ones”

Lauryn Hill’s song “Lost Ones,” from her album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, can be applied to recent the occurrences, reactions, and general environment at UVA after the Martese Johnson incident.

To begin, the line “you might win some but you just lost one” is featured prominently in the chorus and is repeated a total of eighteen times over the course of the song. This line captures perfectly the feeling of hopelessness after the event occurred in March. Although we have seen strides in the fight for equality for all oppressed people, after the Martese Johnson incident it almost felt like we were back at square one. “It’s funny how money can change a situation” clearly applies to the higher education system to which UVA adheres and reinforces how public image and damage control are both actions the administrations take time and time again after sensitive incidents occur at the university. “My emancipation don’t fit your equation” shows how oppressed people want to become equal on their own terms.

“Tarnish my image in your conversation” is a perfect example of victim-blaming, while “gained the whole world for the price of your soul” outlines the spiritual consequences of accomodationism. “Wisdom is better than silver and gold” ties back to the idea that the university must value its students on an individual basis before its status as a money-making business. Finally, “Hypocrites always want to play innocent / always want to take it to the full out extent / always want to make it seem like good intent / never want to face it when it’s time for punishment” perfectly reflects the corrupt attitude of police brutality occurring in the United States and to Martese Johnson. “But until you do right, all you do will go wrong” makes a powerful statement not only about changes the University needs to make, but changes that would positively affect the United States as a whole. Things will not get better by ignoring the problem; the only way to bring about change is to advocate for specific changes within our society.

The Role of Women in Hip Hop

Hip hop once was, and continues to be, a male-dominated music genre. When male rappers speak out about women in their music (regardless of whether or not they are portrayed in a positive or negative light), they are in control of the narrative concerning the experience of women. Unfortunately, as a trend, this narrative tends to be highly sexualized and/or glorifies violence and objectification of women. Sociologists and culture experts have contended that this misogyny may be due in part to male rappers’ desire to showcase their masculinity and conform to the hyper-masculinized culture of the hip hop genre; it has also been argued that the misogyny is representative of a broader societal view and/or perception of women. Regardless of the exact reason for this trend, in the male-dominated atmosphere of hip hop, women are often voiceless: fortunately, female rappers change this state of being, as they actively take the narrative into their own hands.

A good number of female rappers have overcome the obstacles necessary in order to be taken seriously in the hyper-masculinized, predominately male music genre of hip hop. While there are female rappers who conform to the prevalent misogyny found in rap music, or even go so far as to actively objectify themselves, many speak out against this portrayal of women. These artists not only encourage women during press interviews and their daily lives, but also frequently write lyrics supporting the empowerment of women. Female hip hop artists who wish to change the portrayal of women in rap music – all the way from Salt-N-Pepa in the early days of hip hop to Nicki Minaj in the current day – have an enormously significant role in the genre, as they are actively taking control of their narrative and using it for the means of empowerment instead of derogation.

Girls’ Access to Education

Girls’ access to education is something I am particularly passionate about. Education has had an enormous, empowering impact on my life, and I believe all girls everywhere deserve this same access. All over the world girls are not able to attend school on account of mounting fees, pressure to marry, family responsibilities, pressure to conform to the traditional (and sometimes religious) perceptions of gender roles, long and unsafe distances to school, etc. The list of limiting factors go on and on, but so do the reasons why sending a girl to school benefits the entirety community. The longer a girl stays in school, the less likely it is she will contract HIV/AIDS and become married at a young age, and the more likely it is she will have fewer and healthier children and be more financially stable later in life. These ten videos – a mix of empowering songs and educational sources – would be my “textbook” on the issue of Access to Girls’ Education Worldwide.

  • Beyoncé – Run the World (Girls) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBmMU_iwe6U “My persuasion can build a nation, endless power… Who run the world? Girls.”
  • The Daily Show – Extended Interview – Malala Yousafzai https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjGL6YY6oMs (Learn more about Malala, an activist and proponent of girl’s education worldwide.)
  • Destiny’s Child – Independent Woman https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lPQZni7I18 “All the women who are independent, throw your hands up at me.”
  • The girl effect: The clock is ticking https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1e8xgF0JtVg (Learn how educating a girl can affect the entire world.)
  • Sara Bareilles – Brave https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4 “Maybe there’s a way our of the cage where you live… Show me how big your brave is.”
  • It Only Takes a Girl https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwEhKu3T51Q (These girls’ project teaches the benefits of girls education and goes to show that being an activist can be as simple as creating awareness.)
  • Alicia Keys – Girl on Fire https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J91ti_MpdHA “Looks like a girl, but she’s a flame… You can try but you’ll never forget her name.”
  • Girl Rising (Official Trailer) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJsvklXhYaE (Great documentary that highlights the transformative power of girls’ education.)
  • Kelly Clarkson – Breakaway https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-3vPxKdj6o “I’ll spread my wings and I’ll learn how to fly. I’ll do what it takes ’til I touch the sky.”
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRfDzznfEOU (Trailer for a heartbreaking but beautiful documentary that exposes factors such as sex trafficking and gender-based violence as limiting factors for girls’ education.)

An Eye for an Eye

Why riot? Why loot? Why burn? Why violence? It’s human nature.

After Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous use of nonviolence as a tactic against oppression, mainstream society in America arguably created a standard of nonviolence that they collectively believed oppressed people should obey. They came to expect the actions of oppressed people to remain peaceful, even in the face of devastating societal blows. People quickly became disillusioned with the idea of nonviolence (even during Martin Luther King Jr.’s time) as they felt they were withstanding too much to be fair – that the pain they were receiving utterly outnumbered the pain they were inflicting. The tendency to riot, loot, burn, and wreck havoc is essentially the manifestation of the “eye for eye” mentality has driven human instincts for all of time. It goes against basic human nature to withstand violence / ill-treatment and not protect oneself.

Secondly, the process of peaceful nonviolence goes against our natural human instincts. When in a highly charged emotional state, we have a natural tendency toward action, whether that action be flight, fight, destruction, etc. The process of peaceful nonviolent protesting requires patience, planning, organization, and discipline, which are are not easy to cultivate in such an emotionally-charged atmosphere. Rioting and wrecking havoc, on the other hand, are much more spontaneous and in-tune with our natural human instincts for action. 

Today’s mainstream society tends to look at rioting and looting in condemnation, fear, or even just general confusion – “Why are they burning down their community?” – without realizing that it is natural human instinct to fight for one’s life against forces of oppression. In this light, it makes sense why a community would react in such a way after the power structures that be come in and so easily destroy their lives. Although the destruction of oppression may not always be physically or outwardly destructive, it feels this way to the individuals affected, and they respond – naturally – in equal measure.

In Light of Recent Events…

Last semester, I was fortunate enough to take a class called “History of the Civil Rights Movement” taught by Dr. Lynn French, a former Black Panther and activist during the Civil Rights Movement. Professor French traced the history of the movement from right after the Civil War all the way to the full-fledged movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We learned about activist organizations, influential leaders, projects and campaigns, and the interaction between ideologies that I did not know anything about beforehand. I am immensely grateful I was able to take this class, not only because the activists’ selflessness, creativity, and bravery were awe-inspiring, but also because of the way it impacts the way I interpret and process modern events concerning race.

One of the most significant things I took away from my class last semester is that racism is utterly invasive in our society, and that it has not truly ever gone away – it simply continues to shift forms and morph and adapt along with our changing society. The class etched a picture of a movement hundreds of years in the making, with new activists rising each generation and tackling specific problems facing their specific eras. If more people studied the civil rights movement – or any modern social movement – they would realize that despite modern advancements, it is illogical to believe that discrimination has been completely eradicated from our society. Modern history textbooks and curriculum do a very poor job articulating this point. The Martese Johnson incident last week is an unfortunate, but perfect, example of this concept.

As a future English-major, I find immense solace in analyzing, dissecting, and finding patterns within information (which I have found myself doing in tenfolds this past week). But it only helps me cope on the surface: I cannot deny that I am angry. Angry, and fundamentally saddened. The first thing I thought when I saw the photo of Martese Johnson — the boy who helped me plan my schedule during summer orientation, the boy who convinced me to take Italian, the boy who passed along indelible pieces of college advice while cracking jokes and brightening the moods of nervous incoming first years — was that it looked exactly like a photograph from the 1960’s.

Dissecting “Norma Rae”

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 5.53.40 PMGuest Contributors Searnda Marshall and Mary-Chandler Philpott weigh in on the cinematic classic “Norma Rae” and dissect its depiction of social change. 

What is your opinion on the film as a work of art? 

Searnda Marshall: Norman Rae was a great depiction of the everyday struggles of a women trying to make a difference. Whether the difference be at home, work or personal life. The film as a work of art paints a classic picture of those struggles being made manifested and tested. It is the greatest expression of liberation and freedom.

Mary-Chandler Philpott: I greatly appreciated seeing the true story of union-organizer Crystal Lee Sutton immortalized in the Oscar-award winning film Norma Rae. Reading a newspaper clipping about Crystal Lee Sutton’s achievements would simply not be the same as embarking on an almost two-hour journey with the fiery heroine dedicated to making her particular community a better place. In this regard, Norma Rae is a brilliant example of how true events can be a worthwhile vehicle for artistic inspiration.

Contributors Mary-Chandler Philpott (mcp5kq@virginia.edu) and Searnda Marshall (smarshal1944@students.pgcc.edu)

Contributors Searnda Marshall (smarshal1944@students.pgcc.edu) and Mary-Chandler Philpott (mcp5kq@virginia.edu)

Comment upon the film’s political expression. How effectively do you think it got its “message” across? 

SM: From a political perspective, I felt as though the message was lost. I mean besides being unionized nothing else really gravitated towards politics in my opinion.

MCP: I think the film did a great job showing the positive effects unionizing can have on a community. While I believe Norma Rae is, at its heart, a character study (for which Sally Fields thoroughly deserves her “Best Actress” Oscar win), the film also had a very deep political message. The world has been and continues to be extremely split on the opinion of unions and unionizing, and Norma Rae offers a self-confident, modern, and beautifully filmed contribution to the “pro-union” argument.

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How does Norma Rae differ from reality? 

SM: Norma Rae doesn’t differ from reality. A real women trying to overcome and shed light on real issues. This story has been acted out a million times . A woman hears something is inspired to create change. A man normally comes along encouraging her to continue this righteous path. This then brings conflict in other relationships, but doesn’t stop the women from going after what she believes will make change. Same story different person.

MCP: While Norma Rae is certainly based on a true story, it is still a Hollywood film, and Hollywood films have a tendency to exaggerate, over-dramatize, and distort/edit storylines to appeal to the widest audience possible. Despite this tendency, Norma Rae has been praised for its authenticity and heart, and I concur with this general sentiment. Choice is an important part of Walter Fischer’s narrative paradigm, and I believe Norma Rae makes it incredibly easy for moviegoers to choose to believe in the heroine’s plight and stand alongside her in solidarity.

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How effectively does the film depict social change? 

SM: The Film is effective in its efforts to social change: Equality, genderism and race .

MCP: Norma Rae clearly depicts a woman deciding (despite societal pressures to remain quiet and voiceless) to come out and advocate for herself and for her community of workers. The entire plot pivots on this depiction of social change.

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What was your favorite part / aspect of the movie, and why?

SM: I feel as thought this a great film I adore the scene where Sally Fields   gathers her children and explains to them who she is. It’s her most vulnerable scene in my opinion. I love how she was just open and honest with her children.

MCP: While overall I loved how the humor lightened the dramatic tension and made it an even more enjoyable movie, my favorite part was one of the final scenes when Norma was being asked to leave the premises. Instead she declared, “Forget it! I’m staying right where I am. It’s gonna take you and the police department and the fire department and the National Guard to get me outta here.” I loved Norma’s strength, empathy, and resolve throughout the film, and I think all of these qualities render her a role-model worthy cinematic character.

Broadening Our Personal Networks

In today’s age, the ability to connect with others and cultivate a personal network has never been easier – or more important. Social media is one of the most helpful tools a modern individual can utilize in order to broaden his or her personal world and grow a larger network. Social networking is applicable to almost anyone wishing to grow their following: fledging artists can use Instagram to show off their work, non-profit groups can spread awareness through Facebook, politicians can voice their opinions through Twitter, and novelists and writers can create blogs to keep in touch with their readers.

As a writer and hopeful novelist one day, I am particularly interested in the way social media has utterly transformed the relationship between authors and readers. Before the rise of social networking, “writers” and “readers” were distinctly separate entities. Readers could mail letters to writers expressing appreciation or criticism, but there was no telling if the writer would respond to or even read the mail they received. In today’s age, social media has drastically changed this relationship. Many authors – especially young adult authors who write for an audience that tends to be active on social media – now create personal websites and blogs to create publicity for their writing and keep in contact with readers. Readers have the chance to comment on blog posts, respond to tweets, and like Instagram posts of their favorite authors. Not only has this helped authors create publicity and reach wider audiences, but also it creates a stronger bond between readers and writers and fosters an almost “give-and-take” relationship between the two.

For example, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, along with personal websites and blogs, are very active on Twitter and frequently provide insight into their creative processes and respond to / converse with followers. John Green is another modern author who utilizes social media to develop a relationship with readers: he is an avid Tumblr user and along with discussing his art uses this platform to speak out on a wide number of issues. I appreciate these authors’ efforts to connect with readers and broaden their personal networks; as a hopeful writer, I believe I can learn important lessons by their examples.

Strange Fruit / Take Me to Church

Despite almost 75 years between them, Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit and Hosier’s Take Me to Church are both songs that brilliantly capture the ugly underbelly of social institutions.

Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit, first released in 1939, uses an extended metaphor of trees to discuss the rampant racism in the South. “Southern trees bear strange fruit,” she croons, “blood on the leaves and blood at the root.” By noting that there is blood both on the current leaves and down at the roots, Holiday is commenting upon how long these horrors have been occurring in the southern states. Holiday also uses the song to speak out against lynchings, a form of mob-killing that occurred extremely frequently in the south: “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze…” Finally, in the final lines of the song, Holiday laments the fact that the institution of southern racism is practically invisible, despite its numerous horrors: “Pastoral scene of the gallant south / The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth / Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh / Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.” This juxtaposition shows that the “idyllic” beauty of the south acts as a mask for the brutal racism that occurs there.

Similarly to how Holiday’s Strange Fruit tackles the issue of southern racism, Hosier’s contemporary song Take Me to Church speaks out against organized religion. The line “every Sunday’s getting more bleak / a fresh poison each week” makes a statement about the potentially negative messages people might be receiving weekly from attending a church that preaches hate. Throughout Take Me To Church, Hosier seems to be making a statement about some Christian views on sexuality and homosexuality, and how these particular churches – despite setting out to make the world a better place – actually end up doing the opposite by (a) shaming sexuality, which is a normal part of the human experience, and (b) narrowing the parameter of what is considered “acceptable” forms of love. This contrast is perfectly exemplified by overall gospel sound of the song in tandem with lyrics that deal primarily with sexuality – a pairing that might normally be considered taboo.

Just as Holiday portrayed the idyllic south hiding many dark and brutal racial secrets, Hosier similarly attacks the hypocrisy of some modern forms of organized religion: “That’s a fine looking high horse…”

Bringing About Change

As a photographer, I have always been interested in fellow photographers who use their work to document and shed light on social issues. It is a very selfless act, especially in the highly competitive world of art, for an artist to make the active decision to use their talents to help others and bring focus to a particular issue. One of the first American photojournalists, Dorothea Lange, did just that during the Great Depression when she abandoned her successful portrait business and turned her lens toward those who desperately needed help. Lange began working for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and traveled around the country photographing the homeless, displaced farmers, hungry families, and unemployed workers – and was overall extremely influential in humanizing the plights of Americans during the Great Depression.

Lange describes her most famous photograph, Migrant Mother:

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“I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me.”

Dorothea Lange, an exceptional photographer, artist, and humanist, used her particular skillset – photography – to shed light on the struggles of the American people during the Great Depression.

How can you use your individual talents and skills to bring about change?