Artist Turns Demolished Public Housing into… a Bee Sanctuary? Plus, the “Angry Black Woman” in the New York Times

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It’s IdeaFestival time in Louisville, and that means cool people who do cool things descend on our city to talk about the things they’re doing. We chatted with one of those folks, Juan Williams Chávez, this week about his work, and what it means to do social activism through art.

honey crewOne of Chávez’s big projects, the Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary, takes place on land that was once home to one of the country’s most notoriously awful housing developments. Built in the mid-1950s, the 33-building, high-rise complex fell into almost immediate disrepair, and was described in a Missouri history book as “something out of a Charles Dickens novel.” It was eventually demolished in the mid 1970s.

Today, thanks to Chávez, it is home to a bee sanctuary, where members of the community learn about urban agriculture. The decision on how to use the land wasn’t incidental. “Bees function as a community,” Chávez explains. “Pruitt-Igoe was designed for community. I wanted it to kind of go back to community.”

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about the “angry black woman” stereotype that reared its head in a New York Times feature this week, pointed at television producer Shonda Rhimes.

The backlash was righteous and overwhelming, and the Times’ Public Editor ended up issuing an apology (and an acknowledgment of how troubling it is that none of its 20 critics are black). We break down the stereotype and how it does and doesn’t play out in pop culture.

“And speaking of things that are hard for a lot of folks to understand,” as Jaison says, “it’s Bisexual Awareness Week.” We dispel some of the most common misconceptions about our bi brothers and sisters.

Project Runway’s Mondo Guerra on the Importance of Communication in HIV Treatment; Pioneering Black Artists in Jug Band History

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mondo2It’s a busy weekend in Louisville! The Louisville AIDS Walk takes place this Sunday on the Belvedere, and one of this year’s special guests is fashion designer Mondo Guerra. Mondo came out as HIV positive when he was on season 8 of Project Runway (he came in second, but would later win the first Project Runway All-Star season). He’s now part of Project I Design—a national campaign geared toward improving communication between HIV patients and their doctors.

We speak with Mondo this week, who says that despite increased awareness, there’s still stigma surrounding HIV. When he came out on TV, he’d been HIV positive for 10 years but hadn’t told his family yet, waiting until just before the episode aired to have that conversation. “I was very self shaming, and I was very embarrassed, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents about this,” he says.

“Stigma has always played a role in this experience, this journey that I’ve had with HIV. But at the point that I’m at right now, living with HIV for 13 years and what I’ve been through, I really try to not use the word ‘stigma’ in my own personal vocabulary, because I feel like there’s so much negativity attached to it.”

Elsewhere in town this weekend, the National Jug Band Jubilee is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Saturday at Waterfront Park. Author Michael L. Jones is on the event’s board, and hopes to broaden the appeal of jug bands to the descendants of those who pioneered it: African Americans.

loujug“When you think of the African slaves, when they came here, they didn’t have instruments. They had to make their own instruments,” he explains. “And so they turned household objects into musical instruments.”

Jones stopped by our studio this week to introduce us to some jug band greats who made music history right here in Louisville. His new book, Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee, contains photos and detailed stories about how Louisville played such a big role in the evolution of jug band music—and how record companies tried to erase the black players who contributed to its rise.

“This is something that originated in African origins, that African Americans are totally divorced from, because they think plantations, and banjos and stuff,” Jones says. “[In] jug music, you see the first combination of European tunes and African rhythms,” he says.

“I tell people it’s the secret history of rock and roll.”

 

Louisville’s own Sara Martin, billed as “The Famous Moanin’ Mama,” sings the Jug Band Blues, in 1924.
 
 

InVisible Ink: The media on race, sexual orientation and gender-based violence

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[Originally published at LEO Weekly]
 

jaisonleoA recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that the old punchline about white folks having only one black friend might very well be true. (Who else was happy when Aisha Tyler’s character briefly appeared on the NBC sitcom “Friends”?) The Washington Post breaks down the results of the study this way: “In a 100-friend scenario, the average white person has 91 white friends; one each of black, Latino, Asian, mixed race and other races; and three friends of unknown race. The average black person, on the other hand, has 83 black friends, eight white friends, two Latino friends, zero Asian friends, three mixed race friends, one other race friend and four friends of unknown race.” This means that white people have about 91 times as many white friends as they do black ones. White America, please marinate on this information and then govern yourselves accordingly. And Black America, the next time a white co-worker tells you that some of their best friends are black, smack ‘em on the head with this LEO and tell ‘em to quit lying.

It’s football season, and despite reviews that he played well in the preseason, Michael Sam was dropped by the St. Louis Rams, but then picked up at the last minute by the Dallas Cowboys. I am glad that Sam, the first openly gay NFL player, will continue to play the game he loves and get paid for it, at least for now. It seems to me that because he is openly gay, Sam’s performance on the football field is judged more critically and skeptically than would otherwise have been the case. Jason Collins, as the NBA’s first openly gay player, has similarly had his performance discounted and underrated, despite indications that he was a satisfactory player before his coming out. Couple Sam’s cut from the Rams with the offensive and reductive coverage by ESPN of his locker room showering habits, and it seems to me that openly gay professional athletes in the major pro sports still have an uphill battle to get the respect they deserve both on and off the field.
Elsewhere in football, 27-year-old Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens is facing stiff public backlash after TMZ released video footage of the 212-pound running back cold-cocking his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator and dragging her unconscious body into the hallway. Initially, the league only suspended Rice for two games for the domestic battery incident, admittedly never having asked the hotel for the elevator footage. Readers, please understand that athletes have been punished more harshly than a two-game suspension for smoking weed. It was only because of the video release and the subsequent public outrage that Rice has since been fired by the Ravens and banned indefinitely by the NFL. The handling of this and other domestic violence cases by the NFL sends a horrible message to players, women and young male fans alike about the value the league places on a woman’s worth.
Speaking of gender-based violence, reports of the assault and murder of trans people, especially trans women of color, continue to make the news (or not make the news). I recently hosted award-winning transgender blogger Monica Roberts of The Transgriot as a guest on my “Strange Fruit” radio show. I was shocked to learn from her that more than 400 trans women have been murdered in Brazil in the last few years.  Domestically, it happens far too often, too. A trans Latina woman named Alejandra Leos was killed in Memphis just this month. A Trans* Violence Tracking Portal (TVTP) report from May reveals that at least 102 trans people in 12 countries were murdered by that time earlier this year. Although the specific motive for each instance of violence and murder is undocumented, TVTP founder Allison Woolbert notes that social and institutional bias against trans people is the prominent factor in the deaths, as she explained in an interview with the website Vox: “All of the murders that are in our system are directly due to the societal conditions in which transgender people are forced to live. The suicides, the violence, the missing persons and the murders are all directly related to a person’s gender identity.”
I look forward to the day when violence against women—trophy wives and transgender alike—is no longer a national or international phenomenon.

How Louisville’s Local 236 Fought for Racial Integration in the 1950s

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International Harvester Co. assembly line and press, 1948. Credit Royal Photo Company Collection, University of Louisville Photographic Archive, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

International Harvester Co. assembly line and press, 1948. Credit Royal Photo Company Collection, University of Louisville Photographic Archive, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky

Labor historian Toni Gilpin will make two appearances in Louisville tomorrow to tell the little-known story of a local  labor union that was ahead of its time.

A local chapter of the United Farm Machinery workers organized at Louisville’s International Harvester plant in the late 1940s, and began advocating for racial equality both inside and outside of the plant. Their efforts would lead to an entire factory of mostly white workers walking off the job to protest the unfair treatment of their African American colleagues.

Outside the factory walls, union members tried to desegregate the Brown Hotel and Cherokee Park—both whites-only at the time—and were met with violence and forcible removal by police.

Gilpin spoke with Kaila about the work of Local 236. She will appear tomorrow afternoon at the University of Louisville and tomorrow night at the National Association of Letter Carriers.

More photos of the International Harvester plant are available in the University of Louisville’s Photographic Archives.

Journalist Chris Tomlinson Explores His Family’s Relationship with Slavery & Its Legacy

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Tomlinson-Hill-Cover

“There are black people in town who have the same last name as me, and I never thought about why that might be.” 

Author Chris Tomlinson says he hears that a lot while touring for his recent book, called Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families Who Share the Tomlinson Name—One White, One Black. In it, he traces his family’s history to a cotton plantation in Texas, and reaches out to another Tomlinson family whose ancestors were held as slaves there.

Slavery is a topic that brings up strong feelings in Americans, because as Chris points out, it was part of our country’s economic and social as recently as five generations ago. But he says it wasn’t white guilt that motivated his work on the book. “I’m not asking forgiveness for what my great grandfather did,” he insists. “On the other hand, I do have an obligation to recognize the privilege that I have because my ancestors oppressed people.”

Chris says slavery, the Jim Crow era, and the institutionalized racism that has always been present in the United States have afforded white people unfair advantages, and it isn’t helpful to ignore that reality. “Until 1964, no white member of my family ever had to compete with a person of color to get a job or to get a privilege. And even today I can go places and I’m treated in a different way.”

Tomlinson Hill is a fascinating look at how the remnants of slavery are still present in our every day lives—sometimes even our own names. Tomlinson was in town as part of the Authors at the Library Series.

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we talk about Ray Rice, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens who was released from the team after TMZ posted video this week of him physically attacking his then-girlfriend in an elevator. The assault happened in March, but at the time, Rice received only a two-game suspension. Accounts differ about whether the NFL saw the footage then, or not until this week. 

Rice and his girlfriend were married subsequent to the attack, spurring understandable concern from experts and survivors (domestic violence rarely happens just once, and usually escalates with each incident). Others blamed Janay Rice for staying with and marrying the man who had knocked her unconscious.

Financial scholar and commentator (and Louisville native) Dr. Boyce Watkins penned an open letter to Janay Rice, praising her for her decision to stay with her abuser. We read an excerpt from his letter on this week’s show—specifically this passage, which was widely scorned on social media:

For every woman who made the mistake of staying in a relationship with a perpetually abusive man, there is another woman who is glad she made the choice to keep her family together.   Some will call these women stupid or the product of male manipulation; I call them heroes, ultimate mothers, and powerful people.

At the very least, women deserve to have a say in what happens to their families without paternalistic eavesdroppers forcing them to do something they don’t want to do.

With black families being torn apart left and right by the pitfalls of extreme feminism, we should appreciate situations where someone isn’t seeking to throw the baby out with the bathwater and destroying their family at the drop of a hat.

Dr. Story points out that while most domestic and sexual violence is intra-racial, black women feel pressure to excuse the violence visited upon them by black men. “Black women have been living with these things in silence for fear that if they air it, they’re somehow race traitors or they’re selling their man out.”

She calls for black male thinkers and writers to speak up when high-profile black men commit violent crimes against black women. “You got contempt for Darren Wilson? You need to have contempt for Ray Rice,” she explains. “Both parties felt as if it was their right to be able to do anything they wanted to a black body.”

Monica Roberts of TransGriot; High School Poets Write about Identity

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You know her from her groundbreaking work as the TransGriot, and a frequent commentator on Strange Fruit. We know her as our Auntie Monica! Award-winning blogger Monica Roberts stopped by the Strange Fruit Studios on a recent visit to Louisville, and we checked in with her about the state of trans human rights.

While Monica’s blog covers a little bit of everything—”sports, feminism, human rights, whatever I feel like talking about,” she says—the overarching focus is the lives of transgender women of color.

monicapicWhy a trans women of color blog rather than a general trans women blog? “Trans people of color experience a transition much differently from our white counterparts,” Monica explains. “We are impacted negatively by racism that we deal with in our parent society, and even in the LGBT ranks.”

Even within the transfeminine community, there are challenges unique to different segements of the population. “The issues that I face as a trans woman of African descent, and the issues that a trans woman of Latina descent faces are two different issues,” she says. “I don’t have to deal with, like a Latina woman does, being jacked up on the street for immigration issues. But both of us do have to deal with stop and frisk.”

We also take you along as we visit an after-school spoken word poetry workshop, where high school students—largely LGBTQ and African American—work through tricky subjects like oppression and identity, through their writing.

And in our Juicy Fruit segment, we get an update on Michael Sam, released by the Rams, picked up by the Cowboys’ practice squad, and obsessed over by ESPN when it comes to showering with the team. We also talk about a conservative commentator who thinks gay people should pay more for life insurance, and learn about Dr. Story’s first book, “Patricia Hill Collins: Reconceiving Motherhood.”

Transgender Parenthood, Beyoncé’s F-Word, and What College Students Know about Rape & Consent

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In many ways, Nick and Bianca Bowser are very typical parents. They have two children; Kai is three and Pax is one. “We are exhausted all the time,” Nick laughs. “We both work at a bar, so we both work at night, so there’s very little sleep.”

The thing that sets this family apart, and has recently landed them on the Riki Lake show and in international headlines, is something strangers on the street usually don’t even notice: Nick and Bianca are both transgender. Nick was assigned female gender at birth, and Bianca was assigned male. Neither has undergone full surgical transition (partially because it’s so expensive), so when they decided to have children, they were able to conceive.*

Nick and Bianca are part of our own community right here in Louisville, and Nick stopped by this week to share their story. We were curious about why they chose to go public with their family’s story, when they otherwise have no problem passing. “We want people who are like us to be able to get help if they need help,” he explains.

There’s a mountain of different issues that trans people have to face, and we feel as thought bringing our story to the public and letting them know, hey, we really are normal, but there’s something different about us. We have a family. We’ve had children. We’re the same as everybody else. But we had to face all these other obstacles because you (as a whole) don’t understand who we are, so were  discriminated against because of that.

In our Juicy Fruit segment this week, we focus on the so-called anti date rape nail polish, “Undercover Colors,” and how it’s been criticized as just another instance of putting the onus on women to prevent rape.

Dr. Story talks about how she teaches her classes about rape and gendered violence, but says college students in general are still woefully uninformed about consent. “They just really have no idea what equals consent, what is actually rape,” she says. “A lot of times young people are saying in classes that they don’t really even think about consent when they are about to engage in a sex act, period.”

And, of course, we couldn’t let this week go by without delving into Beyoncé’s legendary performance on the VMAs, the giant F-word she flashed at the world, and how we still live for her.

 

beyonce_feminist

 

 

 

 

* If you are completely lost right now, start with GLAAD’s Transgender 101.

Coming Up on Strange Fruit: Nick Bowser on Trans Parenthood & What It Means to be a Family

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Nick Bowser and his wife Bianca are both transgender, and have made national headlines for following their own unique path to parenthood. This week, we’ll talk to Nick about what it means to be a family, and his hopes for the future of the trans movement.

In Juicy Fruit we focus on the anti-date-rape nail polish that’s been in the news this week, and the state of consent on college campuses. And, of course, Beyoncé at the VMAs!

Strange Fruit posts on Saturday morning at strangefruitpod.org, and airs Saturday night at 10pm on 89.3 WFPL.

Bonus Fruit: Why It’s Hard to Talk about Ferguson

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After our first show on Ferguson, we heard from a listener who said he “wanted to spend more time with you two hearing how you both felt and were dealing with the events of the week.” In this bonus fruit, we talk a bit about how we felt in the aftermath of Ferguson, and why it was so hard to address on the show that week.

On that same show, we had spoken to Councilwoman Attica Scott, who made comments about police officers being paid by taxpayers to kill our babies. WDRB President Bill Lamb used that quote in his POV segment that week, telling Councilwoman Scott to “shut up.” We listen to part of his POV and address it in this clip.

Freedom Rides and Food Banks in Ferguson, Plus Throwing Shade at the Dictionary

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It’s been two weeks now since a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown, and the community is still experiencing the aftermath.

The school year in Ferguson was supposed to start on August 14, but it was delayed due to the unrest, leaving students who rely on school meals with fewer options. And business closures have left some residents out of work and short on money. This week we check in with a St. Louis food bank to see how they’re responding to folks in their community who need help putting food on the table.

brinaUofL student Brina Joiner (right) traveled to Ferguson, and stops by our studio to tell us what she saw there that we aren’t seeing on the news—and to share some much-needed optimism with us and our fruitcakes. Joiner tells us it’s important for young people to make the trip, because history is unfolding there. “I have to go to Ferguson,” she says. “I have to see what’s happening. I have to make my voice be heard, to create that change. To create what comes next.”

Our other guest this week would agree. Patrisse Cullors, of Dignity and Power Now, along with our friend Darnell Moore, is organizing a freedom ride to Ferguson for Labor Day weekend. It’s part of the Black Lives Matter movement they started after the shooting of Trayvon Martin. She says showing solidarity in times of protest is important, and even more effective when done in person. “There’s nothing like having an actual body on the front lines with you,” she explains, “to say I am here with you. I am your ally. I am not going anywhere.”

In our Juicy Fruit segment we lighten things up with the news that Oxford Dictionaries has added one of our favorite phrases to their list: throwing shade. Unfortunately they got the definition a bit wrong. They also added some other terms, and Jaison gives Kaila a pop quiz to see how many she can define.

And new pictures of Queen Latifah and her presumed girlfriend on vacation in Italy lead us to to wonder, will she ever come out? And does it actually matter any more?

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