What I Read This Week: Missing Black Girls in DC, Racial Terms, and Emmett Till


Image via Scott H. Young

I’ve missed two weeks worth of “What I Read This Week,” but I am back and I plan to do better.

The readings from this week were pretty heavy. Take your time and process each of the stories and remember to take care of yourself amidst such triggering and traumatic news. The news of the missing black girls in DC flooded social media this week, raising awareness not only of the number of open cases, but also the lack of acknowledgement we give to the lives of black girls when they need us most. The piece below from The Outline is crucial in that it contextualizes in great detail the true numbers behind the girls missing and why social media awareness is important but the work must persist even after the trending topic fades. The New York Times published a piece including its editors thoughts on racial terms. The piece is interesting for several reasons, one of them being that the article concludes with the announcement of a Q&A Facebook chat with Rachel Dolezal that had me and other people on Twitter a bit curious and confused. The Whitney Biennial recently opened and was met with protests against a painting of Emmett Till by artist Dana Schutz. Professor Christina Sharpe is interviewed by Hyperallergic and gives a very critical perspective on the trauma that the work causes, white artists creating images of black pain and black death and why it should indeed be removed from the museum space. I’ve also included a heartbreaking piece on the murder of Timothy Caughman who was killed by a white man who confessed that he hated black men. The piece below really takes the time to discuss the humanity of Caughman, which I appreciate greatly. He was not just a victim, he was a man with history, character, personality. I’ve concluded with a lighter piece on an exhibition titled “Adornment,” in which the artist is elevating the meaning of door knocker earrings and braids. In addition, I’ve included some bonus pieces from the past two weeks that are also a bit more light-hearted. Zadie Smith has written a beautiful, fictional piece on Billie Holliday. I found it heartwarming that The New York Times T Magazine’s annual music roundup included a mention of the now famed Thanksgiving jingle by Shirley Ceasar, who lists beans, green, potatoes and tomatoes. There is also a write-up on Kelela that was somewhat of an emotional read for me and written by my favorite New York Times reporter Jenna Wortham. Concluding the bonus section is an extensive piece on what actually happens when we call Congress.

As always, share! See you next week (I promise).

The Story About Missing Black Girls Is Lacking Important Context

Of course, none of this is to say that using social media to raise awareness about the epidemic of missing black girls is a bad thing. But when vulnerable individuals are turned into symbols, real harm can be done. It’s perhaps a cynical thought but how soon until #MissingDCGirls goes the way of #BringBackOurGirls or even #Kony2012? Social media has changed the game when it comes to garnering attention for underreported stories. But while raising awareness may now only take a matter of seconds, maintaining that awareness — and making sure it’s accurate — takes much more time and work.

What Racial Terms Make You Cringe

If you’re a woman, you’re used to the male gaze. But if you’re a woman of color, something else also happens. You’re forever described as “exotic.” You know, the moment when your skin can only be fussed over as “mocha” or “cinnamon” or “caramel”? Brown works just fine, thanks.

What Does It Mean to Be Black and Look At This

So Mamie Till refuses to have those images not be shown. And she says (this isn’t a direct quote): Look at what they did to my son. This is my son. Look at what they did to him. She insists that the violence that he has been subject to be seen, unobscured. It seems to me that what Dana Schutz has done is to take that unobscured violence and make it abstract. Mamie Till wanted to make violence real. And that thing — white supremacy, violent abduction, murder — that Mamie Till wanted to make absolutely clear is abstracted in Schutz’s work, and in her defense of the work.

A Man Who Hated Black Men Found a Victim Who Cared for Others

For several years in Queens, Mr. Caughman ran a division of the Neighborhood Youth Corps, a federal antipoverty program designed to provide part-time jobs to poor youths. “He probably gave out about two or three thousand jobs to people in the community,” said one of his cousins.

‘Adornment’ Is the Stunning Photo Exhibit Paying Homage to Door Knocker Earrings and Braids

They’re seen as ghetto or you know the larger the hoop, then the more promiscuous you are, the more sexualized you are,” said Melendez, a Boricua jewelry designer/collector who meticulously styled the women. “Not until high fashion – not until they get their hands on it and they make it hip and cool or trendy [is it acceptable.] We’ve been using these adornments to elevate ourselves, to say that we are worthy, to say that we we have status, we have class. And in a way, it connects us to our ancestry. Adorning yourself with all this gold to shine bright to say that yes I’m a queen. I’m a goddess. I am important. I am somebody. And so we wanted to flip that and work with door knockers basically to reclaim it and to elevate it.”

Bonus (from the past two weeks):

Crazy They Call Me

What Calling Congress Achieves 

25 Songs That Tell Us Where Music Is Going


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