Summer ‘Buyout’ Destination: The Catskills’ Eastwind Hotel & Bar

 

 

Obviously seeking creative ways to decisively bounce back from this bottom-line-devastating pandemic, hotels have gotten impressively creative—for instance, those clever “buy now, stay later” programs. And fast emerging is a new “buyout” trend, wherein one assembles one’s most beloved friends and family to take over an entire hotel for a weekend or more. Kind of like a wedding party, except no one has to deal with the responsibility of actually getting married.

Kilkea Castle in Ireland, for instance, can be had for just $8000 a night. Head over to the Continent, and France’s Hotel Château du Grand Lucé is going for precisely double that—and well worth it, we must add. But since Europa remains off limits to Americans now (see what happens when you don’t wear your masks?), we’re obviously inclined to propose something distinctly more geographically attainable.

 

 

Now certainly The Catskills, the sprawling Upstate New York region just about two hours from NYC, is going on about 15 years of steady hype—yet has somehow remained pretty much unspoiled by the usual urbanista plunderers. Perhaps because it is yet still a bit sylvan for pampered cosmopolitan types? But we spent a weekend last year at the casual chic Eastwind Hotel & Bar (located in Windham and new to the scene in 2018), to where you can get decisively away from all those maddening NYC stresses—as well as the heightened social distancing issues—and yet not really want for any of the perks of being in a big city.

And yes, the hotel is now offering two-night buyouts for just $9000 in total. This includes 16 rooms and suites spread over two buildings, plus three Lushna Cabins, should you choose to invite your, um, glamping friends. It’s all done up very stylishly in an aesthetic we could only admiringly describe as Scandi-rustic, far more appealing than all the faux-farm hipsterati stuff that has so blighted Brooklyn these last several years.

 

 

And you could really only be bored at the Eastwind if you wanted to be. Windham Path, Diamond Notch Falls, and Mine Kill Falls are just a few of the ridiculously scenic hiking trails; there is mountain biking, horseback riding, yoga on the lawn, and even an authentic wood-barrel, Finnish style sauna; and, for the foodsters in your group, opportunities for local foraging. There are also two Writer’s Studios amongst the rooms, should you choose to ignore your companions, and instead spend the time finishing your Great American Novel.

“We have definitely seen an increase in bookings over the last few weeks,” says Co-Founder Bjorn Boyer. “People are wanting to get outdoors and enjoy nature, and there are an array of options for our guests such as hiking, biking and fishing. Eastwind provides a quiet place to unwind, reconnect with friends and family, or work remotely. From a contactless check-in to breakfast delivered to your room, we are continuing to do everything we can to ensure the health and safety of our guests and staff.”

 

 

We we visited, we were admittedly most content just playing games in the lounge, or chatting up the bartender over martinis and manhattans. But the Eastwind serves up five-star level breakfasts and dinners in that same lounge area, which can also be enjoyed by the fire pit or elsewhere out on the lawn (though keep an eye out for picnic stealing Yogi Bear types).

Boyer concludes, “Guests who buyout Eastwind can enjoy all of the property’s no contact amenities: cocktails can be delivered to outdoor decks, or even to guests’ rooms…or anywhere they are on the property. Staff can also provide group buyouts with outdoor BBQ dinners prepared over an Argentinian wood fired grill, and served under the stars.”

And considering how much time since March we’ve spent staring up at the ceiling, those stars actually sounding really good right now.

 

Essay: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Star O-T Fagbenle on Racial Fairness in the Entertainment Industry

 

 

Since first appearing on the screen in 2002, English actor O-T Fagbenle has been perpetually busy with film and television projects, including starring roles in popular mini-series’ like The Interceptor and The Five. 2017 saw the premiere of the outrageous comedy Maxxx on E4 (now streaming on Hulu), for which he starred, produced, wrote and directed.

In that same year, of course, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale debuted to widespread acclaim, followed by three wildly successful seasons, with a fourth on the way. In it, Fagbenle plays Luke Bankole, husband of Elisabeth Moss’ rebellious June Osborne—a role which made him a bonafide star in America. Later this year, he’ll appear alongside Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz in Marvel’s much anticipated Black Widow.

At a time when racial divisions have come very much to the fore of the American conversation, he graciously offered to pen an essay on an entertainment industry “system” that is yet still doing a very poor job of offering good opportunities to black talent, both in front of and behind the camera—and how that situation can, and must be corrected.

 

O-T Fagbenle in The Handmaid’s Tale

 

 

On Giving Black Talent the Same Chances

 

I remember coming in for the table read for a big acting job. I went through hair, makeup, through the production office, I met the writers, the writers’ assistants, the producers, the producers’ assistants, I met catering and the drivers and on and on and I didn’t see a single black person. Not one.
I thought to myself… I wonder if anyone else sees this? Is it uncomfortable for anyone else that they can see that the company they work for hasn’t really hired black people behind the camera or any who are Heads of Department (HOD)?  None in sound, or editing, or in the camera department and on and on.
For those of you in the industry, think back on the last job you were on and count how many black HODs there were, or the job before that. Take a moment.. it’s likely to be a quick exercise.
In my career of more than 50 productions (so well over 1000 HODs, writers and other positions of power) I’ve worked with about 10 black people who were HODs, executives or directors. I don’t think it’s for the most part because of racist bastards. I think it’s because:
1. The people in power don’t really notice.
2. They almost exclusively give first chances to white people.
3. They believe that there aren’t many black people qualified for the job.
They are there, but it takes extra effort to find them, often it means taking a risk and the job is already hard enough! It means forcing oneself to not go with the usual practices of hiring and it also means calling it out.
I wonder… why aren’t my white counterparts calling it out as outrageous when they walk around set and don’t see black people behind the camera or in a writing room or amongst the executives again and again? Why aren’t I consoling them as they say how fed up they are with it? Why don’t they insist that the same chances given to the first time white director, producer, DP are given to up and coming black people?
But then I look at myself and wonder why am I not more vocal about it? The truth is – as much as it bothers me, it’s because I’m afraid that there might be repercussions for speaking up. Mainly because well… no one wants to be the squeaky wheel on a team, much less be a lone black person bringing up race. Awks! I’m just trying to get along and be liked! I’m just trying to do my bit as a professional. But me not saying something is… well, a little racist. I’m not talking about the person but the inaction… Bear with me…

O-T Fagbenle in Maxxx

 

In a way it’s irrelevant if any person thinks they aren’t a racist. The question is, do we act in such a way that helps maintain racist patterns in society? In this instance, how am I – O-T – ineffectual in changing the hiring practices of the companies I work for? When I look at my company, or my team of agents, publicists, stylists, lawyers etc., how many black people did I hire? I have a company too. Am I a racist? No.
Do I contribute to racist systems if I’m not hiring/interviewing black people or making noise when I realise the companies I work for are doing the same? Yes.
I think it’s an important shift in thinking. It stops racism being “out there” done by ugly people we don’t know. It means that there is great work to be done combatting racism right here at home. Not amongst racist individuals, but in apathy against racist hiring patterns. How many black people did we interview for that assistant job (assistants often go on to be producers and series writers)? How many did we interview for the HOD job? I’m not talking about giving undeserved jobs. I’m just asking how many people got a chance to interview?
If you’re in the industry maybe you’re like me? Maybe you’ve noticed that the jobs you work on don’t have black HODs or execs or writers or producers… maybe they have one. Maybe you’ve noticed that the agency you work with doesn’t really have many black agents or assistants (because assistants become agents), or the fancy production company doesn’t have black executives.
I encourage you to see racism as a system that either you are actively confronting and working against, or allowing to be the status quo and then, in effect, supporting. Sure creating a mentoring program at your work is a good start. But I encourage you to:
Try harder to acquaint yourself with the great black professionals in the industry you don’t know.
Give an up and coming talented black person that first shot that every single person on set once got. A foot in the door that doesn’t hold the caveat “they got it because they were black” (you had no racial caveat to your foot in the door). Just give someone that same first shot that you were afforded and you may have already afforded others.
It’ll be a great start.

 

Photo Credits:
Photographer: Emily Assiran
Groomer: Stacy Skinner
Stylist: Mindy Saad

Loupe Artist Petrus Bergstrand’s Cultural Guide to Stockholm

Thielska

 

 

As unrelenting travelers, a game we’ve found ourselves playing under quarantine is one the one where we plan out trips that may or may not actually happen, recognizing that anticipation can at least provide a part of the thrill that we’ve been asked to put away for now. Naturally, scanning the slate of postponed exhibitions is a crucial element of said planning, as we honestly can’t wait to get back to our established schedule of fervent gallery and museum hopping.

Surely, the much buzzed about app Loupe has played a crucial role in helping art lovers survive this three-month cultural disconnection, with its multiple and expertly curated channels of “on demand” streaming art. In fact, during the lockdown, they notably launched a new motion art feature.

Yet still, as we can’t expect international travel to be returning to normal levels any time very soon, we asked Loupe artist Petrus Bergstrand to take us on an artistic trip through his comely hometown of Stockholm, admittedly our fave Scandinavian capital. The successful Swedish painter is known for his canvases that explore the possibilities of abstraction and surrealism, while unburdened by the narrowness of specific narratives. His work has been exhibited in New York, LA, Miami, Dubai and, obviously, Stockholm. It can also be viewed, of course, on Loupe.

“Petrus’ abstract pieces are multifaceted,” enthuses Loupe curator Nicole Kutz. “Their layers, organic forms and colors are not only striking in person, but they translate beautifully to Loupe’s streaming experience. His work truly fills a space both onscreen and in the flesh.”

The latter, of course, we’ll just have to wait for.

 

Petrus Bergstrand, The soft reality

 

Petrus Bergstrand’s Cultural Guide to Stockholm

 

Theilska

Thielska (pictured top) is an art museum at Blockhusudden on southern Djurgården. The gallery contains the financier and art collector Ernest Thiel’s collection of works of mainly Swedish painting from the 1900s. Thiel sold the building, the art collection and all the equipment to the Swedish state in 1924. This is a gem for the visitor who wants to travel back in time. Djurgården is also a large royal green park open to the public 24 hours a day. Beautiful for a nice long walk in any season.

Karlavägen

This is where the top notch Swedish galleries decided to accumulate. The area is an allé, as they call it in French, with a walking space and well curated gardens in the middle of a wide avenue going in opposite directions. You can find galleries like Forsblom, Anna Bohman, and so on—I like to go here for openings.

 

Galerie Forsblom

 

Hälsingegatan

Similar to the area around Karlavägen, in Hälsingegatan you will find many interesting galleries showing a less bourgeoisie kind of artm and a wider variety of art forms. Here you can visit my favorite small galleries Flach and Fagerstedt. Don’t be afraid to ask for recommendations about the route around the gallery area. They are very co-operative here and love to do simultaneous openings that end up becoming a block party (especially during summer).

Ulfsunda slott

Ulfsunda slott is the historic Queen Kristina’s hunting castle, built in the 15th Century, located right opposite my studio. This is now a conference area, gallery, spa, hotel, café, and a great place for a business meeting. In the gallery and dining area they show some great upcoming artists. You can stroll the garden, shoot pool and hang out; but it’s not really for the social party person, though. More of a tête-à-tête vibe here. I go here occasionally for an opening or a meeting.

 

 

Skånegatan / Katarina bangata

When I want to visit the southern part of Stockholm, I take a 50 minute stroll from my studio in Bromma to Skånegatan. The area has a wide range of restaurants, record shops, thrift stores and cultural hotspots. Not far from there you can find my favorite Indian eatery Shanti, located on Katarina bangata. I go here for lunch at least once a week—delicious.

Lillsjön

This is my meditation garden, and I go here for my daily power walk, to clear my mind and to reload energy. The pond is located a stone’s throw from my studio, and it can solve any problem for you with its magic in summer. Lillsjön is great for inspiration, relaxation and bird watching.

 

 

Sosta

Sosta is a little cafe found in the middle of Sveavägen. On this nice, broad avenue, planned by Jean de la Vallées, you can find a lot of bars, cafes and shops—but Sosta is a must. A small but lovely Italian place where the staff is like family from the first conversation, and the audience is a broad blend of people with one thing in common: the love good coffee.

Konstnärsbaren

The artist bar, or KB as it is most commonly called, opened in 1934, and is now somewhat of an hotspot in Stockholm’s pub life, for the artist wannabes as well the original artists. The unique murals have been painted by Sweden’s foremost talents and are matched with exhibitions by contemporary colleagues. A unique atmosphere and exciting history. Many stories have passed here. Come see for yourself.

 

 

Biljardpalatset

This is a Swedish undercover classic. Dark and gloomy, it has three floors of billiards with two bars. They usually play great music while the game is on.

Riche

This restaurant has been around since 1893, and many world-known personalities have come here. In the small bar you can enjoy DJs and live acts throughout the week. They also show contemporary art and some mostly younger, upcoming acts. At Riche you can blend in as a 23 year old or a 66 year old. A great place for a full night of fun and madness, or just a pit stop for a peek at the art, architecture, crowd and menu.

 

 

 

Essay: ‘OMKalen’ Star Kalen Allen on Being Heroic Through Troubled Times

 

 

This past November, a headline in The Advocate read ‘Is Kalen Allen the New Gay King of Media’?

It was a perfectly reasonable question to ask, considering his two-million-plus-and-growing social media following. He first became a sensation via his hilarious Kalen Reacts video series, while his OMKalen pop culture news series remains wildly popular; on top of that, he’s become a regularly scheduled sidekick to Ellen Degeneres on her eponymous television show. He’s still just 24-years-old.

He’s singularly and very naturally funny. But in such trying and divisive times as these, he can also be profoundly serious.

And so BlackBook asked him to pen an essay explicating how he views all that has been going on around us over the last month, and how we managed to get here.

 

 

We Are Our Own Hero

 

Have you ever thought about the fact that from the moment we, black people, come out of the womb the weight of the world is on our shoulders? We may not feel it at first, but that heaviness is there.
From the very beginning, there is already a set of rules, regulations, and restrictions that we must follow for the rest of our lives. We are robbed of innocence before we even learn to ride a bike. It is troubling and unfortunate that we are in a never-ending battle with our existence.
A few days ago, I was watching a video of a little black boy playing basketball in his front yard. He glanced over and saw a police car driving down his street, and he ran to hide in fear. I started to think about when I was a child, having that same feeling when I would see a police officer driving through my neighborhood. My struggle is this: police are supposed to protect and serve, yet we fear them. In a world where we are the enemy, who will protect us? Who will save us from ourselves?
Not only do we not have the same privileges as our fellow Americans, we do not have equal rights. The way that we have to constantly monitor how we move through this world is exhausting. We can’t even try to breathe without our existence being questioned. We are walking around holding our breath, and not even realizing it, as it has been something we were inherently taught since birth. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have realized that we have to be our own heroes. We are strong, resilient, and will continue to make a way, out of no way. It is a bittersweet concept to come to terms with, and I don’t appreciate that we have no other options. However, we are natural-born survivalists no matter how taxing the day to day has become.
Recently, I’ve grown tired of saving myself, and I believe a lot of us are in the same boat. This exhaustion has caused me to think a lot about vulnerability, letting my guard down, and being completely exposed, whether that is emotionally or physically. It is a luxury to be vulnerable, and I have never fully known what it seems like to experience that freedom. None of us have. We are told as black people that we have to endure the pain of hiding, being questioned, and staying on the defense. We must endure that pain. We have to be tenacious, and the moments where we tense up will pass. It is almost as if the pain is in our DNA, we come from a lineage of quiet suffering.
Incredibly, we as a people have endured so much and yet we continue to persevere. Even though our resilience can occasionally feel like an obligation or a burden, we have to remind ourselves that we are living proof that there is nothing we cannot overcome, or bear. We must practice self-care, self-love, and allow ourselves to step away and take a break. Our mental health must be at the forefront of our priorities, as we navigate the next chapter in all of our lives. Get a therapist, start a journal, meditate, do things that bring you joy, even in the smallest ways.
To be one’s hero comes with a lot of responsibility, and some days, you may choose not to save the world, and that is OK. I believe we will see a day where we won’t have to persuade people to see our worth in this world, and that we will have the luxury of living a life of unashamed vulnerability. Until then, wear your cape proudly.

BlackBook Premiere: Amanda Blank Returns With the Post-Punk Stunner ‘Oh Man’

 

 

Philadelphia has long been fertile ground for artists who fearlessly surf the perimeter edges—and Amanda Blank has certainly epitomized exactly that. As part of the Downtown Records stable in the mid-to-late oughts, she represented a certain sort of post-electroclash cool, sharing stages and ideologies with the likes of Peaches and Santigold.

Alas, she went missing in 2009, perhaps sensing just how dull the following decade was going to be. But after the Strokes-y sounding 2019 single “Put Me Out,” she’s promising a new album, seemingly confessionally titled The Ruiner, out sometime in 2020. In the meanwhile, BlackBook premieres her stunning new single and video, succinctly titled “Oh Man.” The track is an absolutely sublime bit of melancholy post-punk, with its galloping beat, chiming guitars (Could that be Johnny Marr? Alas, no.), and the sort of moody atmospherics that had us pulling out all our old Postcard singles for comparison.

 

 

The vibe is decisively matched lyrically, with Amanda lamenting, “Nothing is the same / The joke’s on me.” Certainly words to viscerally encapsulate our current situation.

Has she gone and become a bit more…pensive?

“I am still very much Amanda Blank,” she assures, “writing pop songs for sensitive bad bitches that fuck on the first date. ‘Oh Man’ is tender, angry, hopeful, and out for revenge. Just like me. It’s one of the first songs I wrote in what turned into a five month long fever dream making The Ruiner.”

Welcome back, Ms. Blank.

 

Essay: Actor Brandon Kyle Goodman – ‘What I Want My White Friends to Know’

Image by Daniel Leeds

 

 

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Brandon Kyle Goodman is a black, gay man working in an entertainment industry that feigns knowing how to process such a thing in an equitable way. He has had successes, with recurring television roles in Alive In Denver, Little Italy Los Angeles, and appearing alongside Anne Hathaway in Modern Love. He will also be starring in the upcoming Netflix film Feel The Beat, currently in post-production, and is a writer on the hit animated series Big Mouth.

But his raison d’être, surely, is his activism. He notably advocated for #BlackLivesMatter well before the horrifying, epochal death of George Floyd on May 25 laser focused the world’s attention on America’s glaring racial injustices—as well as on those in power who perpetually inflame those injustices for their own purposes and gain.

On May 27 he posted a poignant video message to his white friends and followers on Instagram; it was viewed more than a million times. He graciously accepted BlackBook‘s invitation to further explicate that message.

 

Feel The Beat

 

What I Want My White Friends to Know

 

I always know another headline is coming. I always know another Black body will be added to a 401-year-old list. And yet, I’m never ready. I’m never prepared. I’m never. I’m never.
Honestly, what I should be doing right now is finding ways to talk about a movie I’m in. That was my original intention when I first sat down to write something; to talk about playing a POC queer character in a family film. But then on Tuesday, May 26th, a week after I celebrated my birthday, I was confronted with a ten-minute video. The type of video it was, I never watch. But on Tuesday, May 26th, 2020, perhaps I felt… “brave”?
I thought that Tuesday was going to be just another day in quarantine. I’m a writer on a popular television comedy series, and with COVID-19 forcing us all to stay at home, our writers’ room takes place over Zoom.
At 12 pm, we broke for lunch. I spent my break, as I usually do, scrolling on my Instagram. After a few flicks of my finger, I started to see a hashtag repeatedly showing up in my feed: #GeorgeFloyd. I toggled to the page of an activist I follow. A blurred-out square with the words “Sensitive Content” displayed across it. The caption read “His name is George Floyd…” I put my phone down. I knew what was behind the blur, and I wasn’t going to watch. I never watch. I never. I never.
At 12:47 pm—I remember the time because I didn’t want to be late returning to my Zoom box—I don’t know what possessed me, but I picked up my phone, leaned back in my chair, and without any further consideration, I pressed play.
Somewhere in Minneapolis, on a hard cement street, a Black man, unarmed and handcuffed, found his neck underneath the knee of a White police officer. The Black man cried out repeatedly that he could not breathe. He pleaded for his breath. He fought for his breath until around minute four of the video. At that point, he had no more breath to fight for. In the remaining minutes of the video, his neck stayed under that knee. Around minute seven when the police officer finally stood up, my own breath began to slow. It became shallow as I watched the lifeless Black body forcibly rolled onto a stretcher and boarded into an emergency vehicle. Tears poured down my face. #GeorgeFloyd.
At 12:58pm, I put my phone down, hustled to the bathroom, splashed water on my face, and returned to my chair. I logged back onto Zoom at 1:00pm. On time.
I work with some of the most emotionally attuned people I know, a lot of whom are White. But it was clear no one had seen the video yet. Perhaps they hadn’t even seen the headline. Should I bring it up? What would I say? What would they say? To be fair, I wouldn’t have wanted to talk about it anyway. What I actually needed was to say, “I can’t be here right now.” But the war inside of me to be a “good employee” forced those words to the back of my throat where they remained lodged for the rest of our day. We wrapped work at around 3:30. Or maybe it was 4:00? Truthfully, it felt like I sat there in my Zoom box for a week. I smiled at my colleagues, blew a kiss, and closed my computer.
As the day went on, every hour seemed more excruciating than the last. I searched for something to quench the pain. This was a familiar pain, the same deep pain that I had felt weeks before when I learned about Breonna Taylor, and the days before that when I learned about Ahmaud Arbery. I know this pain well. And even though it’s familiar territory, I still haven’t figured out how to… “cope”?
I always know another headline is coming. I always know another Black body will be added to a 401-year-old list. And yet, I’m never ready. I’m never prepared. I’m never. I’m never.
The next day, Wednesday, May 27th, two hours after I wrapped at work, I picked up my phone and recorded a video for my Instagram entitled, “To My White Friends.” In seven minutes and twenty-two seconds I answered the questions “What do I want White people to know?” and “What is my hope?” I thought just a handful of my friends would watch it. But as I sit here writing this, it has received over a million views. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll watch it too.
Thursday, May 28th, less than twelve hours after posting my video, I woke up at four in the morning, panicked and restless, unable to sleep. I quietly got out of bed, trying not to disturb my husband and dog. I snuck into our living room, and as the sun slowly and painfully began to rise, I cried. And I couldn’t stop. I felt myself breaking. Shattering. Like when a building meets the face of a bulldozer and crashes down into itself.
Around 6:01am, attempting to carry on with my usual morning routine, I stood in the kitchen preparing egg whites, lit solely by the light above the oven. I became overwhelmed again. I felt exposed. I felt vulnerable. I felt my ancestors. I thought of Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin. I thought of my deceased grandmother, Reverend Dr. Virginia Goodman. I thought of my mother. I stumbled back into my living room and sat on the edge of my coffee table. My body buckled over, unable to stay upright, getting heavier as I felt the weight of slaves ripped from Africa and brought to America to be raped, beaten, lynched. And then I remembered on Tuesday, May 26th, 2020, at 12:48pm, I had watched another unarmed Black man murdered under the light of the same sun that was now creeping through my window. I thought of George Floyd’s mother.
So. White friend. What I want you to know is, for four hundred and one years in this country, Black people have been crying for our breath. We have been asking you to take your knee of Whiteness off our necks.
We have been pleading for our humanity. But you have not listened. And I mean you. YOU. My reader. Not the overtly racist, bigoted person that you’d like me to defer to. YOU. My friend. My colleague. My neighbor. You have not listened. You see what’s going on, but you do not hear us. You have not listened. If you listened, your outrage would become action. You would gather your White and non-Black peers and mobilize. You would educate yourself. You would read about our experiences written by our great thought leaders. You would admit where you fall short. Where you’ve been complicit. Where you’ve benefited. Where you’ve let racism slide. Where you’ve reacted or responded in ways that are racist. You may be a good person, but racism sits safely in your unconscious. Undetected. Unchecked. Laced in the construction of your words, satiated by the space inside your silence.
Your racism is learned in the two dimensional and vicious characters on your TV shows. Your fear is learned in the way News is curated. Your stereotypes are learned in the conversations you may have been exposed to around the dinner table. Your apathy is learned in the silence you were certainly exposed to in your communities. Your inability and unwillingness to acknowledge and unlearn this racism violently permeates our friendship like poison.
White friend, you have some unlearning to do. That unlearning doesn’t just happen. You must commit. You must put forth effort. Even if it’s “not fun.” Even if it’s “embarrassing.” Even if it’s “uncomfortable.” My life and the lives of those who share my Black skin depend on your unlearning.
It will not be easy, but guess what’s harder? Being the mother, father, brother, sister, or best friend of any of those names you’ve seen a hashtag for. Reposting that hashtag is not enough. You must work to become an ally. Not just in name but in action. Storming your local city hall. Investing your money in Black business. Considering your Black neighbors when you vote. Challenging that “joke” at your Sunday brunch. Posting on social media may be a start, but it’s just that—the beginning. Do more for us.
If not for me, then for my unborn Black children. My Black child will have to face all of the animosity and challenges that your White child has to face, and then, they will also have to face your White child. Will my child be safe in a world with you? Will my child be safe in a world with your child? I want to say yes. But in the words of a friend, “I don’t trust the grace that I give to you and yours will always be given back to me and mines.” Prove me wrong.
White person. White friend. Ask yourself: What piece of your privilege are you committed to acknowledging, using, and sacrificing, to make our country just, equitable, and safe for Black lives?
Your answer to that question is the difference between me living or becoming another hashtag.

Essay: Actress Daya Vaidya on Love, Privilege and a ‘Pivotal Time in Our History’

 

 

Actress-Producer Daya Vaidya first made a name for herself as Nina Inara over two seasons of the television drama Unforgettable, from 2011-2012, and since 2016 has been a recurring character (Jen Kowski) on Amazon’s hit series Bosch. But her real life journey has instilled her with an especially uncommon perspective. Growing up mixed race in Nepal, she later moved to a “tough and dangerous” 1980s Oakland—and is now raising three children with her black, ex-boxer husband Don Wallace.

In light of the explosion of protests across the country and across the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police (which, remarkably, seem to already be effecting policy in very real ways), we asked her to offer her unflinching view on the changing, and sadly unchanging realities of race relations in America.

 

A Commitment to Living For Peace and Justice

 

Daya means ‘mercy’ in Sanskrit (an ancient Indic language over 3,500 years old). I am mixed race…born in Kathmandu, Nepal, to an Indian (South Asian) father and an Italian/Latin mother who was searching to find herself at the foot of the Himalayas. These two unlikely travelers fell in love, created me and later, when I was three years old, moved away from their tiny village in Nepal, to Oakland, California.
My father was a force, a deeply spiritual man who raised his children with a sharp moral compass, fierce integrity and unbridled compassion. He did not suffer fools lightly; ignorance and hate were called out in every facet of our lives. He was brave and unapologetic in his convictions. I remember many dinner parties where the night erupted in my father giving one of his white friends a lecture on why their supposed innocuous statement was in fact racist. He’d say it to their face, he’d explain why and use his vast knowledge of history to give that person the social context necessary to penetrate their privilege. He was fierce, but fair. From the youngest age, he told my sister and I we were black. He was not confused. We knew we were Indian, he was proud and taught us our culture, but when it came to his little brown girls growing up in Oakland in the ’80s, we were black. He was black. In a city where the Black Panthers rose up and the fight for civil rights was a daily way of life, our identity and solidarity were with black people, period. Oakland was hard, tough and dangerous…a renaissance city, where black culture thrived and beautiful art was created.
We went to black schools and lived in a black neighborhood, their burden was ours. My father had no interest in simply assimilating to white culture. He understood we would eventually enter a world where we were the minority, experiencing the multiple stings of exclusion and systemic racism; he wanted us to have the tools to face that. Even my white brother was taught from that space, to understand his privilege and how to be an ally in his daily life, not only perform as one momentarily. And my mother, a product of the ’60s, was a force in her own right, fighting injustice at every turn.
My father understood oppression deeply. He watched his father get beaten by police, only to jump in to protect him and get severely beaten himself. He is lucky he survived. He also watched his fellow Indians get sorted and separated by caste and the color of their skin. His mother and father, along with other relatives, were freedom fighters who walked with Gandhi, preached nonviolence and fought for the rights of women, as well as Daltis (supposed “untouchable” Indians who were oppressed and usually had darker skin). He recognized the original sin of the caste system in India, as he recognized the original sin of slavery in America. My father was a successful journalist in his country, yet he could not get a job in the U.S. He was brilliant and gorgeous, yet all they saw was his dark skin and accent. He was angry and struggled with his temper, for inequality burned like a fire in his chest. My father passed away to cancer when he was only 57 and I was in my twenties. His death left me lost and distraught…but the fight never stopped burning inside of me as well.
It wasn’t until 2008, when I met my husband Don Wallace, an ex-pro boxer who also felt the rage of hundreds of years of persecution, which he channeled into boxing, art and activism, that my soul began to heal. A dark skinned black boy born to a Jamaican mom in London, who later moved to Hollis Queens, NY when he was 11, Don can count on more than two hands the times he and his friends were roughed up by police. He watched his neighbor get nearly beaten to death by police right in front of his door; and he watched the NYPD Police Department, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, jail hundreds of young black boys for minor infractions, destroying generations of families for years to come.
That Jamaican boy from London and Queens, married this Indian girl from Oakland, creating 3 beautiful children: identical twin boys and an eleven year old girl – Leela, Jai and Dev. They have Indian names honoring my father, but they are black. They have more privilege and opportunity than my husband and I ever had, yet I witness how implicit bias plagues their daily interactions. They are too young to consciously notice, but I see it. I feel it. We have started the lessons early to inoculate them. My twins understand they are beautiful, smart and talented, but they aren’t allowed to play with toy guns, especially in public. They ask us why? The answer, along with the many lessons black boys have to be taught to keep them alive, will be explained as they get older…they are only eight. We spent three years teaching my daughter to love her hair. She was the only black girl in a predominantly white school and starting at three she wanted “Barbie hair.” From the moment she could talk we’ve had to counteract the unending images she saw of beauty being equated to white skin and Anglo features. These are only a few examples of what it means to raise black children in the United States of America…and the world.
As the country cries in universal pain over the nonstop murder of black men and women, I again find myself in a unique position. As many white people quiet themselves and reflect on a country where their privilege was often oblivious to them, I reflect on my own privilege. Where does my ‘Indian girl from the hood with a black husband and black children’ place me in all of this? Where do I fit in? I’m not one of my well-meaning white girlfriends who deeply want to be an ally: my skin and experiences have taken away that privilege. I am not a POC (person of color) woman who can slide by or “pass.” I am not “ethnic friendly,” the term I coined when my POC, but look totally white actor friends, would book jobs that check the diversity box, but remain visually acceptable to White America. No, I do not have that privilege. I get the stares, the looks and the ambivalence in accepting my existence because of the color of my skin.
However, I’m not my husband. I will never live through his pain and experiences. I worry about his life on a daily basis, but not my own. The systemic racism leveled at black men and women in this country is uniquely horrendous. I worry about my twin boys getting older and their lives being in jeopardy; and as all mothers understand, my children’s lives are more important than my own…so they are me and I am them. That is my truth and where my privilege begins and ends. The intersection of race, class, culture and privilege is complex and I do not have easy answers. I only know what my dad taught me from our little street in Oakland…I am Indian, I am a woman of color and I am the mother of black children and the wife of a black man. I flow between 3 different identities; and I will use that cross section of privilege and understanding oppression until the day I die, to fight for all marginalized people. This is not a fight when convenient, trendy or popular. It means fighting when everyone else has stopped; it means acting when everyone else is frozen, it means speaking when everyone has gone silent. Rising up is a way of life.
It is uncomfortable. It is painful. It is a deep commitment to living for peace and justice, seeing inequality and calling it out. And ultimately, it is about coming together, all races, all cultures, all genders, as one and building a movement of solidarity and love against tyranny and hate. That is not a passive platitude, but an active call to action. Love is active. Peace is active. Through nonviolent, active resistance, we will engage, educate and change our country. We are at a pivotal time in our history and it is the time to be brave, come together and unravel the racist fabric we all have been woven into.
See me. See us. See love. Black Lives Matter.

Essay: iNTeLL of GFTD / 2nd Generation Wu on the Irrational History of Judging by the Color of One’s Skin

 

 

Lightning, as it turns out, just might strike twice.

The Wu-Tang Clan legacy is, of course, enshrined in the rich history of hip-hop. But while no one was really looking, their kids grew up and the mic got passed so that they could carry it on. And so answering his own question, “What would hip-hop sound like on Jupiter?”, iNTeLL, son of U-God, along with Method Man progeny PXWER, have released a couple of monumental singles (Meth even guested on “New Generation Remix”) as the fittingly monikered 2nd Generation Wu. Their latest track is the appropriately soulful “Soothe the Soul,” under the banner GFTD—and featuring a seriously sensual vocal performance by Jackie Paladino.

As yet another young black man has just been tragically gunned down and killed, allegedly by the weapon of an Atlanta police officer, BlackBook asked iNTeLL to expound on what it means to be black in America at such a time as this—and no surprise, he included a bit of a history lesson. Though he was also quick to remind us, “When I’m not expressing myself with this many non-rhyming words, I’m dropping knowledge through my music.”

Best pay attention.

 

 

Humanity Against Humanity 

 

In my opinion, since the beginning, I feel like early humans always had a part of their brain that made them separate things based on the value that they meant to them.
“Oh this rock is sharper than that rock, so this rock must be better than that rock.” Evidence suggests at first it was primarily physical things that humans used to separate one another, such as people being stronger or weaker or bigger or smaller. But I feel that evolved greatly once religion came into play. Then it became how, “I’m saved and you were not. I am holy and you are unholy. You’re a sinner and I’m a saint. I am closer to God than you which means I am better than you.” Once that psychology entered into the world, and you combined that with the consensus of perspective of what civilized behavior was at that time, you got “these people are soulless animals and my people are civilized and saved.”
And when you can run with that philosophy and psychology for hundreds of years and get the rest of the world to adapt to it, that’s how you get really awful atrocities happening to the indigenous peoples and peoples with darker skin tones around the globe to this day. When you can trick a human being into looking at another human being like they are not looking at a human being, that is a very dangerous skill. Columbus had it. Hitler had it. Jim Crow [defined] it…and now some people in law enforcement have it, and use it to this day.
Now whoever the artist was that decided what the world-accepted image of Jesus Christ would be, he decided to give him a lighter skin tone, disregarding the skin tones of the people who live where Jesus walked. Does anyone ever wonder why? And if you look at the science, we all have melanin, and the more melanin you have, the better you are at protecting yourself against the harmful rays of the sun’s UV radiation. Doing my own research, I learned that there are other parts of the world where there are no colonizers.
Yet within those cultures, they still separate each other by skin tone and put more value on those with lighter skin than darker. If 100 years from now the tables are turned and people of color or people with darker skin tones have all the positions of power, and can make people who have lighter skin tones lives harder with their power, I think that would definitely happen—as I personally know people with darker skin tones than mine that believe certain lighter skin-toned people are soulless devils, or that they are inherently born evil. I say all that to say it’s a part of humanity to go against humanity
We are a paradoxical organism simultaneously obsessed with our own future and our own demise. I don’t have all the answers, but I’d like to see a new systems in place that counteract what we experience today as systematic racism, but also prepare to counteract any other forms of separation/prejudice/discrimination that may arise in the future.
Like, imagine being the first racist or committing the first hate crime on Mars? That would be pretty shameful. I’m hoping my son can walk on Mars as a proud human being from Earth and not just as a biracial astronaut who has to worry about getting pulled over in his Mars rover. As for my thoughts on the murder of George Floyd, I feel like any person in law enforcement that commits murder should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Then their pension should be given to the victim’s family, their department should receive a new leader, and everyone else has to take mandatory Civil Rights training.
We’re forced to see color, but we can all choose to see people first.

Essay: Artist Shinique Smith on Standing With Grace and Dignity

 

 

 

Like Charlottesville, VA before it, Baltimore became a geographical symbol of America’s racial divisions when Donald Trump hatefully called it a “rodent-infested mess” in 2019. It was one of the fuses that was lit that led to the explosion of protests in Minneapolis following the murder of George Floyd—and so many others—which then ignited similar protests across the continents.

The Baltimore Museum of Art has also become a symbol—a cultural one—of the struggles for justice and equality in America that seem to move forward only to get pushed back again. It has enacted a bravely ideological policy to acquire works only by women for the entire calendar year of 2020. And it has steadfastly supported the work of artists of color. One such work, Shinique Smith’s Grace Stands Beside (which is on exhibit through August 9, though the museum remains closed for now), is as powerful and relevant as it is possible to be at such a time as this. She has described it as representing, “a complex state of being that Black people and others who have endured tragic prejudice have embodied to survive and to rise beyond.”

Smith, now living and working in Los Angeles, was born in Baltimore in 1971. After a stint in the film industry (she launched an African American film festival in Seattle), she went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2003. She soon gained wide acclaim for her visceral, spiritually-imbued sculptural creations, exhibiting everywhere from New York to Miami, Venice to Paris. Her work is now held in the permanent collections at the Brooklyn Museum, Denver Art Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, amongst others.

She kindly accepted BlackBook‘s invitation to elucidate the title Grace Stands Beside within the context of this historic moment in America.

 

Grace Stand Beside Us All

 

Grace Stands Beside…me please, always and now…
…after bearing witness to willful murder and feeling the reverberations of that breathless moment—within protests and in the sad and angered eyes of strangers, who I feel akin to, through shared similar experiences of horror, disappointment and helplessness. A moment that vibrates with the possibility for radical change and with an awareness that George or Breonna could have been someone I knew or loved or me.
How does anyone process? One emotes, reflects and transcends as one can. This is a learned and practiced exercise employed often. And, inevitably flashes of memories resurface from my dungeon of racist encounters. ‘Central Park Amy’ triggered my memory of that one time over 20 years ago when I was a young woman working as a freelance production assistant and the only Black crew member on a semi-popular 90’s thriller starring a now famous blonde actress who was the same age as me at the time.
My main job was to wrangle and transport the talent, and for over a month we had worked together, this actress and I, in a very friendly and easy manner. Until one day when she arrived late with shopping bags from a spontaneous spree, making her and her fellow lead actors late to set (for which I was being blamed). I briefly and jokingly chastised her for her shoppingwhich was not out of step with the rapport she and I had developed, then we all jumped into the van and I drove them to set.
Her expression changed and the whole way there she was quiet. When we arrived, everyone rushed to hair and makeup. The next thing I knew one of the producers called me over because I had been accused of threatening this actress. She had told them that I was ‘aggressive’, and she did not feel ‘safe’ around me. Her words hurt me and gave the producer reason to reassign me, and the bigoted assistant director leave to harass me all night by mocking my name over the walkie talkie. I tried to speak with her, but she wouldn’t even look me in the eye.
This was a production I had worked on for months during pre-production and production and built connections which may have taken me to the next job; and her wounded pride convinced her it was okay to fabricate this lie and besmirch my reputation. In the mix of it all (grace stood beside me)—I remained professional even though I wanted to cry from the shock and hurt. I stood poised with my name being mangled over the radio—fighting tears and rising above what I knew was racist behavior—not a threat to my life but to my livelihood and my reputation. This was one of many encounters from 1st grade to the present that have sought to hinder me. There are countless stories like this with mild to much more damaging effects for Black people—many tears have fallen and choked down for later expression.
Some may perceive that when Black people cry, that we are always crying (which if it were true would be justified, because there aren’t enough collective tears to relieve the pain we’ve endured). When Black people protest in response to a horrendous loss of innocent life at the hands of those who have the duty to protect us, we are identified as destructive, violent and enraged (though if we were truly savage this entire country would have been burned down long ago); and if Black people stand with dignity in the midst of tragedy, though we feel every wicked glance, we are perceived as though nothing bothers us—as though we are unshakeable (and in the end we are just that, unshakeable).
We are human beings that over centuries have endured more than many humans could bear and continue to do so because GRACE is in our DNA. Demonstrating Grace is an evolved state of being—some may call it having spiritual resolve, wherein we strive to transform personal and public tragedies, losses, slights, and ‘Amy Cooper’ type gestures that have happened daily throughout our lives, into positive energy for our own individual and collective survival.
Our Grace vibrates kindness, strength, wisdom, generosity to All and it shines in our Creative Expressions. Grace glows from within us. Grace shines through our eyes and through our skin and that Grace radiates—contributing incredible light and gifts to the whole of the world. And I imagine that it is this Grace that may be most intimidating to those who have sought to dim our light. It must truly be vexing that our light shines even brighter despite the assaults waged against us.
Sincerely, I hope with the Grace which resides within me, that one day, all will respect the warmth and joy of our light and our lives. Until then may Grace Stand Beside Us All.