New Romantix

The Male Gaze

February 17, 2017

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The best argument I heard in favor of identifying as a feminist was from a teacher, who said combatting sexism with semantics provided no armor. I trusted her because she was everything I wanted to be: black; tinged with bravado; brimming with stories of San Francisco, the Bronx, and Ivy League dorms; articulate; cosmopolitan. But back then, I wasn’t too concerned with the flex of self-definition. There were a million reasons to not be a feminist, including that I was too sympathetic to the yellow man’s plight, straight as hell, in love with Rihanna, cuffed up by libertarians, okay with makeup, pretty certain feminists were racists, believed in joint custody as a standard, and attempting to make my virginal body look as un-celibate as possible.

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Rich Chigga is Asian (Obviously)

February 03, 2017

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I wasn’t too big on getting Asians into the hip-hop room because I felt it wasn’t our place. Boys I knew were trying to hack simultaneously into Harvard, their neighbors’ wi-fi, and our high school grading portal until one kid got suspended for two years for a prank and they figured that wasn’t the way to go. Most of us were under house arrest until the tail end of senior year, and though I figured there had to be some Asian kid somewhere who knew the struggle past trying to sneak out of the house, back then, it felt a lot like really believing Schrodinger put the cat in the box. We were diasporic, but it wasn’t as cool as the word sounded, because that diaspora consisted mostly of knowing our parents were all friends with bad childhoods that manifested in some ugly competition. We took SAT practice tests on Christmas Eve. We were ridiculously bored. We all had our striving, trifling, petty Asian cards on the table. Then Rich Chigga walked over. It wasn’t that he was hard. The kid was just recognizable.

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On Freedom

December 12, 2016

I love the way Nina Simone scowls. What if you cried so much your smile looked like the sun? She sings in “Blues for Mama” that “ain’t nobody perfect 'cause ain't nobody free” and I don’t have to be in love, but I, too, have equated freedom to perfection, have used it as a crutch. Still don’t have the balance right. Kanye popped up in Thanksgiving conversation because he canceled his 21 shows and got hospitalized for acting up. The consensus was that he was immature, but I can’t deny the prettiness of his imperfections, which is his cage. You don’t get poetry like “Slightly scratch your Corolla/Okay I smashed your Corolla” by being a nice guy. I’m not trying to be nice either. I’m just trying to be perfect.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci stated in a 2013 interview that resurfaced last Saturday that a scene depicting rape in his acclaimed 1972 film “The Last Tango in Paris” was not consensual. He was attempting to get actress Maria Schneider’s “reaction as a girl, not as an actress,” which sounds a lot like artistic bullshit, so after, in framing his guilt, he said, “to obtain something, I think that you have to be completely free.” During the film’s premiere, critic Pauline Kael described it as “the most liberating movie ever made,” and though the words “free” or “liberation” may have been nonchalant choices, they still remain political, read holy and coveted to my modern and problematized sensibilities.

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Post-Election Patriotism and Radical Love

November 21, 2016

We were elite, colored, guarded, and beautiful. We made safe spaces and cried in them for no reason or for the simple reason that they existed. It was possible for a world this tense to be this pretty, the art to be this good, and for once, our art stopped being so angry. Chance used God tones, and Rihanna said “you got me like ahh” instead of “I am not a victim,” and we shifted from “black is beautiful” to “in moonlight black boys look blue.” We were sentimental and heartless with ourselves, and white people were listening to us too. We practiced radical love, which is a kind of God-love, the love that makes you feel good doing it, the love that’s unreciprocated and nonspecific and definitely okay, the love that disqualifies you from being a hardo, the love that forces you to snap at open-mics and gets you to dance salsa even if you don’t know how to with girls and boys and girl-boys and boy-girls, the Maya-Angelou kind of love, the love that’s so present you don’t need a past, the drunken love, the love that makes you cry at the anthem.

The day before the election, Tinashe posted a picture half-smiling, baby blue fingernails, and candid with the caption “HAPPY cuz my new music is out & Donald Trump is finally gonna lose tomorrow.” The day after, my roommate corrected me, saying we were now post-Obama, not Trump’s America, because black presidents create whitelash, and whiny kids don’t invent countries so we should stop giving them all the credit. I listened to Nightride for the first time, which was spooky enough for the day. Pitchfork called it “strictly after-hours,” but the reviewer was probably a little too old and white to figure that being an ice-cold bitch is more of a lifestyle than an aesthetic choice.

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Small Town Blues

November 07, 2016

Growing up, we all knew that the real rich people lived in Millburn, even though the Jewish kids in my town got spray tans and nose jobs and the Asian kids probably spent as much on AMC prep, piano lessons, and science programs. Millburn had both a downtown and debate team that Livingston kids or city planners couldn’t touch, and most of our immigrant parents had to settle for L-Town since Millburn property taxes were sky high. After eighth grade there was a mass Asian exodus to move so people’s kids could have better chances of getting into Harvard. Most importantly, the Short Hills Mall was glitzy as Kim while who would ever want to go to the Livingston one if the kid didn’t have to? Millburn was so rich that rumor claimed it once tried to secede from Essex County, which turned out to be true, but only when we were all in kindergarten and couldn’t tell one set of huge houses from the other set of small mansions. We were small-town rivalry, some of the richest towns in the state with some of the best schools in the country to back it up, and the best evidence of our wealth was our cars, meaning, that you knew you were in Livingston High when the student parking lot looked shinier than the teacher parking lot, and a kid got a Mercedes on his sixteenth birthday, and most importantly, our cars kept on getting stolen. Essex County had a history of car thefts because Newark was the capital of joyriding in the 70s, and someone once famously posted in Millburn’s town Internet forum that they’d had four cars stolen since they’d moved in, to which most people said, it took four times to learn to take the keys out?

On December 15, 2013, Dustin Friedland died in Millburn's Short Hills Mall parking deck defending his car during a carjacking, which was surprising to those of us who hung around there at least once a week. The carjacking was committed by Kevin Roberts of Newark, who defended himself during the trial. Newark was 15 minutes away by car and worlds from my house. I felt tied to it because my dad once lived there, and sometimes I helped him interview residents for his research, and I audited classes in the tech school. But I wasn’t kissing the surface of the good parts. Newark had a dioxin orange sunset. In 2015, according to Law Street Media, Newark was rated the ninth most dangerous city in the United States, jumping up ten spots since 2014 after a 23% increase in robberies and a 16% increase in murders. In 2014, the New York Times claimed that car thefts were going out of fashion, but after Friedland’s death, they published an article stating that carjacking rates were on a massive undeniable high. A Vice video on a major carjacking circle in Newark confirmed that car thefts were going down, but that didn’t mean they weren’t gonna take your car if they had families to feed.

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