Lady Gaga Take II

Despite the widely circulated petition mentioned in my previous post on race and queer issues, calls by major queer organizations, a twitter and facebook campaign, and personal phone calls from other musicians, Lady Gaga took to the stage at the end of July in AZ after two days of vacationing in the state prior. Regardless of what you think about her decision to hold the concert, it seems impossible to describe her two-days of vacation in AZ as an act of solidarity with immigrants.

Since the political firestorm surrounding Arizona has been in both national and international news for some time and most artists have officially or unofficially signed on to an artist boycott of the state, we have to assume that Lady Gaga understood that immigrants’ and brown people’s rights were on the table when she made these decisions. Though she has, as far as I know or am able to find, never spoken out about immigrant rights or SB 1070 prior, her concert in Arizona provided an opportunity for her to care about people whose basic human rights continue to be at stake.

When the petition to ask her to care went viral and major news media started to report on the controversy, Lady Gaga finally did the minimum necessary to retain her fan base. THE DAY OF THE CONCERT she met with immigrant rights  groups in Arizona. She did not schedule these meetings nor request them On the contrary, queer immigrant right’s activists working with the Dream Act had been trying to get a hold of her since it came out that she was neither going to speak about SB 1070 nor adhere to the artist boycott. Their meeting was scheduled to last 10 minutes. However, the activists managed to eek out 10 more minutes to tell her a heart wrenching personal story about how the SB 1070 had already cost one of them their brother and safety in their own home after a police raid. In Gaga’s version of the story, she says

“I met a boy who is suffering … He told me his house was raided because of a parking ticket or something.”

The boy’s tragedy had such a lasting impact on her, she could not even remember the details of his story a few hours later. While most people have focused on her dedicating a song to him and saying immigration raids are evil, I hope the other half of that story is now sinking in.

A last minute meeting scheduled for 10 minutes after press starts to turn against you, a half remembered story, and a few choice words condemning ICE while on vacation and/or making concert related bank in Arizona by choice is hardly solidarity. When it is not backed up by any actual work for immigrant rights during the time spent in AZ, prior to it, or afterward, it is laughable.

Gaga followed up this makeshift meeting by writing “Stop SB 1070” on her arm in black ink. As you can see from the picture below, her sharpie-activism was barely visible between her tattoos. Worse, it was likely not visible to the majority of concert goers except when captured on one of the overhead monitors.


In my mind, anyone can scribble anything on their body and call it a revolution, but without actual social justice work to back it up what does it really mean to the people whose cause you have inked in so un-permanent and un-prominent a way?

She also spoke out at the concert itself. First she called herself “brave” for crossing a civil rights picket line:

Thank you so much for buying a ticket to see my show Arizona. I didn’t used to be brave, I wasn’t a brave person at all, but you have made me brave. And now I’m gonna be brave for you.

Who is she being brave for? The immigrants for whom she showed no interest prior to the concert or even during the initial stages of the petition asking her to care? The immigrants who she finally decided to talk to for 10 whole minutes after it looked like media might turn against her? Or the politicians and business owners in Arizona that support an Apartheid like state in which any brown person is suspect? After all it is these politicians and business people who have condemned the boycott, called it unfair and an act of violence against “good Americans”,  and said that they will rely on other people “who support besieged Arizonans” to bring needed dollars to the state.

Not content to just condemn SB 1070 outright as was needed and called for, Gaga also took time out to disparage the civil rights related boycott saying:

I got a phone call from a couple really big rock and rollers, big pop stars, big rappers, and they said, we’d like you to boycott Arizona, we’d like you to boycott playing Arizona because of SB1070. And I said, you really think that us dumb fucking pop stars are gonna collapse the economy of Arizona?

. . .

I will yell and I will scream louder and I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.

Like many people from the current generation, Gaga seems both ignorant of the effect of both past boycotts and the present one in Arizona to impact lawmakers’, law enforcers’, and every day people’s perceptions of civil rights.  The money lost in Arizona from people canceling concerts, conferences, and other events have had a huge impact on Arizona so far. Despite her mocking description of it as an attempt to “collapse the economy” the boycott has increased conversations about non-violent protest, solidarity, and the power of both individual people and state’s to impact civil right’s decisions that fly in the face of whatwe  claim N. America is about. That has been essential in every civil rights action in this nation that has not had the official support of the government through national level legislation. It has also shifted the policing tactics and the businesses practices of those impacted in favor of repeal or none enforcement. And finally, it has increased the number of prominent people in Arizona willing to speak out publicly against SB 1070. Their voices are essential precisely because when good people say nothing, oppression always wins.

Even if she does not know what the impact of boycotts has been in Arizona, which would of course speak again to her lack of concern about immigrant rights there, history is on the side of boycotts effectiveness for gaining civil rights. The bus boycotts were instrumental in ensuring people like me had the right to sit in the front of the bus, ride the bus when it was crowded, and even sit down in a seat of our choosing even if a white person wanted to sit there instead. The walkouts, which was a form of boycott, were essential in ensuring people like me also had access to education that reflected us and were able to teach at and attend universities. Isn’t interesting that Arizona’s recent targeting of immigrants has also included an attempt to reverse the latter while also enacting racial profiling through transit that would likely force people on to the bus where they are easier to round up and harass?

Despite the implication of the last quoted line from Gaga above, the majority of people involved in boycotts were engaged in peacable protest. The philosophy surrounding boycotts is non-violent. Most importantly, boycotts have been a cornerstone of non-violent protest against both government and corporate oppression in the U.S. since before it was an independent nation.

It was the police who were not peaceful.

Police turned on the hoses, brought the dogs and the rifles, and used them all against marginalized people in this nation asking simply for basic human and civil rights. The police shoved, punched, bruised and even broke bones of protesters as a matter of course. In some cases they killed them or were at least believed to have done so, since most were not held accountable for deaths in custody or shortly after it. What the police did not do, “besieged citizens” carried out themselves with limited impunity. This is the picture of violence related to boycotts not peaceful protesters in search of equality.

One of the most disconcerting things for me, as a historian, has been watching middle class white activists argue that boycotts are “wrong”, “unhelpful”, or “useless” in the face of their import to equality in this nation. These liberals, many of whom have some activist credibility, not only continue to support businesses and economies that have actively excluded, ignored, erased, or even targeted people of color, immigrants, women, queer people, differently-abled people, etc but also actively mocked those wh0 do participate. In boycotts involving feminists or people who the feminist community have called feminist despite contradicting self-identification, they have even gone up and expressed solidarity with the people who are being boycotted for excluding or targeting marginalized people. Somehow the very fact of their whiteness combined with even the most minimal activism, like sharpie-activism, negates an entire national history and reframes equality seekers as the violent and oppressive minority.

Frighteningly, Lady Gaga’s own actions and the desire to excuse her are only one reflection of this larger trend. Both feminist and mainstream liberal blogs, some written by Latin@s (see comment section for real issues), have proclaimed her solidarity with immigrants on the basis of a few choice words couched in a series of economic actions and even more telling longstanding social justice inactions that show how very little she actually cares about immigrant rights. In fact, before the end of her speech, she reframed the immigration debate into one of universal rights that does not even reference immigration:

Tonight I want you to free yourself, I want you to let go of all of your insecurities, I want you to reject any person or any thing or any law that have ever made you feel like you don’t belong.

I’ll tell you what we have to do about SB1070. We have to be active, we have to actively protest, and the nature of the monster ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice and the bullshit that is put on our society because you’re a superstar no matter who you are or where you come from, and you were born that way.

While I applaud those who understand that all oppressions are interconnected and that everyone suffers from them whether targeted or not, the tactic of taking a specific issue in which one’s actions are implicated and enlarging it into a general discussion of humanism is one that is often used by liberals and Republicans alike to mask their inaction or benefit from specific oppressions. When we talk about how everyone is oppressed and everyone can shine, we stop talking about how Lady Gaga spent two days vacationing in Arizona and 20 minutes talking to activists to cover it up and instead get to pat ourselves on the backs for supporting such a freeing artists who cares about everyone and everything.

Like the apology from Mel Gibson for his misogynist and antisemitic comments several years ago that had absolutely no reflection in his continued antisemitism, misogyny, and racism I find very little lasting credibility in Gaga’s inked arm and statement. I find even less in the activists willing to embrace her as a supporter of immigrant rights.

Let me close by saying that if we really live in a world where boycotts are seen as stupid and violent and scribbling something on your arm with a sharpie and saying “[insert oppression here] is bad” while doing nothing to change it is revolutionary, then we might as well pack it in. There is no social justice here.



  • AP/unattributed
  • AP/unattributed
  • AZ Press/unattributed
  • Freedom Bus burned by anti-civil rights people only held accountable in the last 5 years
  • Birmingham Desegregation Campaign/Amistad Resources/unattributed
  • “The Power of Inaction”/J Dilworth

Think Fast: 10 Songs You’d Sing in Public

Ok, seriously, I couldn’t think of anything to write about on the blog today that did not take more research than I wanted to do on a lazy Saturday. So I am staring at my navel and inviting you to do the same.

Today’s post, and its title, comes from an ice breaker that assumes you will answer the question:

  1. quickly, no pausing to think
  2. using a mix of songs that reveal something about you and/or are songs someone else who knew you couldn’t guess

For this post, I ruled out anything I’d put on the blog before or anyone I mention a lot which includes of course: Miguel Bose, Juanes, Brick and Lace, Joss Stone, most of the 80s (remember 80s Fridays), so it was tough.

Here’s my list in no particular order:

  • Rhianna Push Up on Me – because it is a song that me and my girls dance to a lot when we are just hanging out in the house and when I don’t want to clean the house, I turn this on full blast as part of a mix of similar songs and it turns sweeping up on its head

  • Annie Lennox & Chryssie Hynde Baby Give it Up – ok, the truth is I just want to be involved in anything that involves these two women on stage at the same time; I of course would be puddling myself in the corner

  • Laura Izibor I Don’t Want You Back – because I think this is the best break up song ever and I did sing it in public for a friend of mine who was all twisted over a drunk dialing from her ex and by the end of the song, the whole front row of the bar and a couple of the waitresses were singing along.

  • Rob Thomas Mockingbird – I went to a private concert this summer by the last boy I dated, 4000 years ago, he looked right at me & started to play this song and when he got to the part about walking away he handed me the microphone and we sang the rest together (who knows, if Rob Thomas had been around when we were kids, I’d still be straight … nah)

  • Camper Van Beethoven Take the Skinheads Bowling – come on, who doesn’t want to sing this in public?

  • Shakira No – in this case, I probably couldn’t sing this song in public because she has too many vocal changes for me in certain sections but you know if you’re gonna sing in public there should be some risk right?

  • Johnny Lang Red Light – now if you follow my twitter you could have guessed this one but most people would not have guessed this one  either I think, all though it was right up there with Sugarland’s Better than This as my theme songs back when Dr. Crackhead was in charge of the department

  • Hole Violet – this goes under the Dr. Crackhead files

  • La Ley Aqui – just cause

  • Son by Four El Puro Dolor – I saw drag kings sing this once and melted; I am not really sure I could pull it off but go big or go home

So what would your top ten songs be?

BHM: The Valentine’s Edition

Who better to cover for Valentine’s Day than Sade?

Sade Adu blew away the music scene with her soulful love songs in 1984. Her debut album, Diamond Life sold over 50 million copies and included songs like “Smooth Operator” and “Your Love is King”. The former continues to play on radio today.

The African-born, black British songstress’ sound mixed soul, jazz, R & B, and a wee bit of new wave, that was yet distinctly her own. Her lyricism touched deep chords amongst her fans and music critics exposing the beauty and the pain of love. Though she is often talked about for her moving voice, it is important to note that she is also credited for writing or co-writing the majority of the songs in her career, and all of the songs on her first three albums. And while she has only released 6 studio albums in 25 years, preferring to focus on her interpersonal relationships and family, the power of her voice has kept people enthralled by her musical journey.

Her string of hits have not only provided the soundtrack for many women’s love affairs, but has also given many women of color a voice from which to speak their own desires, joys, and heart aches. While her music has universal appeal, I am hard pressed to think of any of my friends from within the black diaspora who do not have a Sade album and a story unique to the black female experience that come attached to why they love it. For me, I remember that Sade was one of a handful of black women who I could count on seeing on MTV or hearing on my radio outside of Hip Hop and that was critical b/c at the time I was living in a state with very few people of color and any reflection of blackness, and bi-racial identity, made me feel less alone.

Here is the latest release from Sade, Soldier of Love, which is already making old fans swoon and new fans rediscover the soulful side of love:

So this Valentine’s Day, whether you are planning something with a loved one or just with the person you should always remember to love, ie yourself, why not also celebrate a little black herstory with the songstress of love: Sade. 🙂 Whatever you do, remember to love and be loved today and not let a holiday define or judge you.

Friday 80s Music Nostalgia

This one goes out to historiann whose post title today quotes the best lyric from this song and properly ties it to concerns about big pharma and the medicating of youth. I remember saying this all the time to my older sister, to describe irrational behavior around me, “All I wanted was a Pepsi.” (On a more serious note, I also remember how knowing the lyrics to this song actually opened the door to helping out a few “institutionalized” youth b/c I was volunteering at a post-treatment youth center back then.)

Suicidal Tendencies – Insitutionalized

lyrics (b/c I know for some they will be hard to follow)

Sometimes I try to do things and it just doesn’t work out the way I wanted to.
I get real frustrated and I try hard to do it and I take my time and it doesn’t work out the way I wanted to.
It’s like I concentrate real hard and it doesn’t work out.
Everything I do and everything I try never turns out.
It’s like I need time to figure these things out.
But there’s always someone there going.

Hey Mike:
You know we’ve been noticing you’ve been having a lot of problems lately.
You know, maybe you should get away and maybe you should talk about it, maybe you’ll feel a lot better

And I go:
No it’s okay, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone I’ll figure it out.
You know I’ll just work by myself.

And they go:
Well you know if you want to talk about it I’ll be here you know and you’ll probably feel a lot better if you talk about it.

And I go:
No I don’t want to I’m okay, I’ll figure it out myself and they just keep bugging me and they just keep bugging me and it builds up inside and it builds up inside.

So you’re gonna be institutionalized
You’ll come out brainwashed with bloodshot eyes
You won’t have any say
They’ll brainwash you until you see their way.

I’m not crazy – in an institution
You’re the one who’s crazy – in an institution
You’re driving me crazy – in an institution
They stuck me in an institution
Said it was the only solution
To give me the needed professional help
To protect me from the enemy — myself.

I was in my room and I was just like staring at the wall thinking about everything
But then again I was thinking about nothing
And then my mom came in and I didn’t even know she was there she called my name
And I didn’t even hear it, and then she started screaming: MIKE! MIKE!
And I go:
What, what’s the matter?
And she goes:
What’s the matter with you?
I go:
There’s nothing wrong mom.
And she goes:
Don’t tell me that, you’re on drugs!
And I go:
No mom I’m not on drugs I’m okay, I was just thinking you know, why don’t you get me a Pepsi.
And she goes:
NO you’re on drugs!
I go:
Mom I’m okay, I’m just thinking.
She goes:
No you’re not thinking, you’re on drugs! Normal people don’t act that way!
I go:
Mom just give me a Pepsi, please
All I want is a Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me
All I wanted was a Pepsi, just one Pepsi, and she wouldn’t give it to me.
Just a Pepsi.

They give you a white shirt with long sleeves
Tied around you’re back, you’re treated like thieves
Drug you up because they’re lazy
It’s too much work to help a crazy


I was sitting in my room and my mom and my dad came in and they pulled up a chair and they sat down, they go:
Mike, we need to talk to you
And I go:
Okay what’s the matter
They go:
Me and your mom have been noticing lately that you’ve been having a lot of problems,
You’ve been going off for no reason and we’re afraid you’re gonna hurt somebody,
We’re afraid you’re gonna hurt yourself.
So we decided that it would be in your interest if we put you somewhere
Where you could get the help that you need.
And I go:
Wait, what are you talking about, we decided!?
My best interest?! How can you know what’s my best interest is?
How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy?
When I went to your schools, I went to your churches,
I went to your institutional learning facilities?! So how can you say I’m crazy?

They say they’re gonna fix my brain
Alleviate my suffering and my pain
But by the time they fix my head
Mentally I’ll be dead


It doesn’t matter, I’ll probably get hit by a car anyway

You know all these years, I thought the lyric was “I’ll probably get my car anyway” not “get hit by a car.”  Oh well.

Paging Molly Ringwald

Tell me this new French band doesn’t sound like some of the less techno background music in any of the John Hughes Molly Ringwald vehicles.

M83 – We Own the Sky

This video comes from a contest the band’s label had to make a video for the song. This is one of the only videos that had people of color in it. I chose it partially because of its creators’ ability to think beyond racial homogoneity and partially because I think it is literally the only video I have ever seen on youtube that wasn’t a PSA or some kind of mocking thing that features elders. How cool would it be for a song that has huge indie buzz and is no doubt about to break in the U.S. to feature something other than beautiful androgynous mainstream youth?

m83- Don’t Save Us From the Flames

And this one really is channeling all of the best of 80s new wave. If you cannot hear it, then all I can say to you is:

Blaine: Think you can recommend something else? A little less political?

Andie: Lionel Richie?

Blaine: Nah (Hughes 1986)


Happy Valentine’s Day – Remember there is Always Atleast One Person who Loves You

My gf and I have a ritual. Every year, I give my students a choice of chocolate covered strawberries or pineapple flowersteachlove from an Edible Bouquet that I buy for each class. I tell them: don’t let the commodification of attraction keep you from knowing that you are loved today. As long as you love yourself there is no ritual shopping day that can undo that. She has them do classic reading on the meaning of love and then discuss it as socio-cultural-chemical construct as well as a lived experience. (Her department is less touchy feely than mine.)

Later I go home and help prep and cook our V-D Sucks meal, a tradition started 15 or so years ago when we lived in England. We invite all of our single friends, fill everyone’s glass with wine (and decorate each goblet with a photo of the celebrity they are most likely to shag), steep their plates with yummy food, and spend the evening sharing/discussing the passages, quotes, 25-713043photos, or stories about love/dating/desire that they are requested to bring with them. The item shared reflects the mood of our friends so they range from sappy to bitter, intimate to kink, farse to just plain out there; most are literary pieces but occasionally they are absolutely hilarious things some celebrity said when they thought they were being deep. but all in the spirit of the day. Even tho the number of our single friends is waning, the number of chairs around the table never does.

So whether you choose to do something to show yourself how much you are loved or you gather with friends to share the love, let this be the Valentine’s Day when you thumb your nose at capitalist driven historically inaccurate celebrations of heteropatriarchal reproduction disguised as real love and devotion and embrace the beauty in you.  (And if you really don’t have a bunch of friends to share the love with and you are not yet in the head space to love yourself enough to be alone on Valentine’s Day, please consider volunteering at a crisis line – the week of VD always sees spikes in domestic and sexual violence and suicide rates. It can be particularly hard for homeless and queer youth, so you might also want to volunteer at a shelter. Either way, you won’t be able to do hands on stuff unless you’ve been volunteering there all along, but you could do labor that frees up an experienced volunteer to handle the increased volume.)

If I could have you all over to our home, I would.

Laura Izibor – From My Heart to Yours



  • Pride LA
  • Geli @ a Valentine’s Poetry Reading in Cebu (from this great poetry site: Ming’s World)

BHM:Black Women Songstresses And Social Commentary

I am so cranky today, I needed some music and so today’s black herstory month post goes out to some of the female musicians who spoke out about oppression:

Ertha Kitt – I wanna be evil

Refusing to accept gender boxes, Miss Kitt sang the truth of most of us “good girls” who know that femme is not synonymous with vanilla and who work our good girl outsides with are little evil girls dancing in our hearts.

Alicia Keys – Superwoman

This beautiful song turns the idea of superwomen on its head by celebrating hardworking mothers, working class women, black women scientists, queens, survivors, etc. rather than praising a woman for sacrificing herself and her dreams for the success of others. Keys reminds us that we have always been superwomen and part of our heroism is survival, the strength to follow our dreams, and to choose to care for those around us.

Ethel Waters – Miss Otis Regrets

This song was written by Cole Porter and performed by Ethel Waters in 1936 it is about an upperclasswoman who fails to get help to stop her violent husband, so she stops him herself.

Jill Scott – Hate on Me

This powerful big black woman said it better than I can “You cannot hate on me ‘cos my mind is free.” Jill Scott reminds us that as long as you know who you are and you are being real that no one tearing you down matters.

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam

Simone wrote this song in 1964 after a series of critical moments in the Civil Rights movement that pushed her to the point of breaking. She cited the Alabama bombing that killed 4 little girls in a church, the killing of Medger Evers, and the ongoing struggles in Mississippi and she said “I suddenly realized what it was like to be black in America in 1963 . . . it came as a rush of fury, hatred, and determination.” What I love about that quote is that she, lke Lorde after her, understood that rage can be productive if channeled into social justice action. To me this is one of the major differences between radicals and liberals (as well as sell outs) b/c we neither suppress nor apologize for our rage, instead harnessing it, and riding it to a better place.

Zap mama & Erykah Badu – Bandy Bandy

While this may appear to miss the mark in terms of social commentary, I would argue that women, especially women of color, are taught to be disassociated from their bodies and that many black women’s empowerment circles (be they bloggers on walks, collectives arising from sexist events on campus, or cultural centers and/or libraries, or retreat centers around this country) all have getting back in touch with your body and what it is telling you as part of the healing work we must do. So does this song talk about the oppressions that cause disasociation? Nope. But it does remind you that in the place where wind blows over sand, we used to know.

Aretha Franklin – RESPECT

This song was an anthem to women everywhere as well as a motto for so many who struggled from the margins.  It was recorded in 1967 and has been sung, recorded, and featured in concerts, films, documentaries, etc. well into the present.

India Arie – I am Not My Hair

Arie breaks down the connections between beauty, colonialism, and hair and its legacy for the African American community. It came to mind today partially because of a moment last night when my mother called and said “I found a picture of the Obama girls with their real hair!  I’m sending it to you!” and this morning in class when one of my radical black students walked in with a t-shirt that said “No you can’t touch it!” which made several of us laugh outloud while others in the room shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Bob Andy & Marcia – Young, Gifted, and Black

I loved this song. My sister and I used to sing this one while bopping down the street on errands. It wasn’t until much later that I learned Nina Simone had written the song after seeing A Raisin in the Sun.  All I knew was that it made me feel happy about the world and about myself.

Janet Jackson and Missy Elliot – Son of Gun

Me and the boys used to rock this one.  It was a song about female empowerment and kicking players to the curb.

Billy Holiday – Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I do

Lady Day told everyone that she could do what she wanted and nobody talkin’ about her was going to change it. If she didn’t want to chase middle class respectability it did not make her any less powerful a woman. She championed love, freedom, and happiness in this song and it became the anthem for coming into ones own for many women.

Lauryn Hill – I Get Out

Decrying the power of women to get out of systems of oppression ranging from sexism to racism to classism and colonialism, Lauryn reminded us all no matter how tightly crossed the wires of the cage are we can all sing. (This is also one of the most powerful songs against DSV I have heard in the last 3-5 years.)

So what are your black herstory songs?

Friday 80s Blogging: Bet You Didn’t Think I Listened to These Guys


No party has a monopoly on citizenship or belief in a nation in which we can all be proud. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

This one goes out to all my friends who believed all you needed was to work hard, love strong, and be loyal and the world would come out right. And yes, I am saying whether you live in middle america, the coasts, or the gulf, we all need someone who is going to save our economy, stop corporate corruption and big pharma, and ensure that all of us have equal access to an education, health care, a non-predatory mortgage, and a job that “pays for the bills that kill.”

John Cougar Mellenkampf – Pink Houses

(he played this song at a democratic primary meeting a year or so ago)

Bon Jovi – Living on a Prayer

(They are doing a fundraiser for Obama next week)