San Francisco Bay Area folks: Donate Art, Gift Books, and other items to raise cash to promote refugee rights and self-sufficiency!


Synchronized Chaos family in the San Francisco Bay Area:

I’m currently interning as a communications fellow at Oakland’s Asylum Access (, a refugee rights organization advocating for those fleeing violence to be able to leave camps, seek work and start businesses. We currently operate within Thailand, Tanzania and Ecuador and will open two new offices abroad over the next few years. Our lawyers go to practice in these countries, helping refugees get refugee status, representing them in harassment, equal pay and benefits access cases. We’ve been around just a few years and have impacted the ability of over a million people to work, send their kids to school, and not get returned to nations in the midst of genocide and civil war.

We’re hosting a soiree and silent auction near the end of June at the City Club in San Francisco – and are seeking donations for the auction.

They’re looking for high-end items, something that would sell for at least $75-$100.  Framed art and gift books could work very well.    Gift certificates for restaurants, lessons, shops, shows, etc also appreciated.

Please comment here or email me at if you’re interested, and I’ll put you in touch with the folks organizing the soiree, as they’ll make the final decisions about what to include.  Thank you very much!


Free show tickets available for the Synch Chaos family – storytelling in San Francisco

Producer and publicist Bruce Pachtman has made these available for our community – review if you like, or just attend the show! Interesting experience.

Solo Sundays
Sunday, April 28 -7pm
Stage Werx Theatre
446 Valencia (nr. 16th) SF
Solo Sundays: Hilarious, Heartbreaking & Provocative Solo Performances
Solo Sundays, S.F.’s premier monthly showcase, presents select samplings of veteran virtuosos and top emerging talent in the intimate StageWerx Theatre in The Mission. Beyond stand-up and storytelling, solo theater creates casts of thousands – plus special effects – all bursting from a single performer. The results are hilarious and heartbreaking, passionate and provocative, ablaze with personal visions.
  * * * * *
Wilfredo’s heart belongs to a singer with a tin ear who married a sleeping shrimp. Down the street at the lesbian bar a poorly dressed aspiring butch goes big and runs out of money. Polaroid Phyllis captures their victories and agonies. It’s the seventies and every shot counts. Warning this piece may contain disco music. (work in progress)
“Grandma Moses Wants to Tell You: Parables for a Surreal Age”
  * * * * *
In this day and age of digital overwhelm, do you long for good old fashion storytelling? No? “Good. Babushka didn’t want to telling of story anyway.” Instead, she’ll fill her belly with drink while she fills your brain with a dream-like mash-up of the romance, rats, bicycles, bleach, and a man who turns into a pile of sticks right before your very eyes. “Come closer. Listen, or you make Grandma cry.”
“Worst. Boyfriend. Ever.”
  * * * * *
Can a bad boyfriend make you gay? No, just miserable. Beer drinking, shit talking, Camaro driving boyfriends are the skeletons in any good lesbian’s closet. Or was it just me?
If people are 100% interested in attending all they need to do is copy this info:
1. Include your name  _____________
2. Solo Sundays at Stage Werx
3. Sunday, April 28 – 7pm
4. Whether they’d like one or two tickets
and send it to To obtain a ticket I need that info.

Poets and writers! Make your work available to a wider audience through a custom iPhone/iPad app!

Everyone, two people in the Synchronized Chaos family, columnist, poet and software engineer Leena Prasad and writer/software person Rui Carvalho, are offering to help our publication fundraise. They’ll create an app of your poetry for $200, with one-third of the proceeds going to Synchronized Chaos!
Mention Synch Chaos when you order an app and we’ll receive cash. Please contact us by commenting here or emailing us at
 If your purchase more than five  iPhone/iPad or Windows apps, the maximum yearly fee will be $50. If your purchase two or more Android apps, the maximum yearly fee  will be $15.
Both Rui and Leena have experience and references regarding their software and development skills, and will provide work samples upon request.
From Leena Prasad, who specializes in haiku, senryu and other Japanese-inspired poetic forms: 
So, you have written several haiku, senryu, or tanka. Maybe you have a collection of haiga. Now what? You can publish them in a book but, really, smart phone apps are where people are spending a lot of their time and these Japanese inspired forms are well-suited for the small screen.
I converted my senryu book ‘not exactly haiku’ into an iPhone/iPad app and can do the same for you. I can also create an Android version. Check out my app by searching for it in the Apple iStore or by following the links at
–    Basic app package: cover page with menu items (Favorite, Contents, More…) + one author page + 20 pages (screens and menu similar to ‘not exactly haiku’) + ability to mark each page as favorite and  email and tweet the text content + a “more” page with six buttons, one of which links to the author page and five which can link to any url.
–    Additional static screens, $3 / page:  screens and menu similar to ‘not exactly haiku’.
–    Additional dynamic screens, $TBD: customized screens with buttons, etc.
–    Yearly Fee: to keep the app in the online store.
From Rui Carvalho, who handles all types of poetry, including short prose poems and flash fiction: 
I offer top quality apps for Windows Phone and Android. Each app is intended to be a valuable asset for poets who want to value their work and present it to friends and readers all around the world. The standard content is: i) 20 poems; ii) short presentation of the author with maximum of two screens and one photo (optional); iii) a link to an existing website of the author and iv) an inspiration photo per group. If desired, it is possible to add extra poems and/or a short quiz (an extra fee will be applied). The app will be available for countries as USA, Canada, UK, and many others. Additionally, it will be possible to produce apps for iPhone if the author needs at least one  app per platform.
Rui’s writing is available here on his website:

Synchronized Chaos April 2013: Looking Deeper

Welcome to April’s issue of Synchronized Chaos International Magazine! We wish you a lovely Earth Day, and an energizing spring or fall, depending on where you are.

This month’s submissions encourage us to go beyond just absorbing the information and entertainment we see and hear, and to explore and analyze it in more detail. This starts with first fully understanding what we’re considering, as Joy Ding says Lynn Gilbert tries to help her readers do through her oral history biography collection, Particular Passions.

Gilbert, before the invention of the Internet, researched and put together biographies of accomplished women from history, such as computer programmer Grace Hopper and writer Betty Friedan. Using academic oral-history techniques, she lets each person, whether famous or lesser-known, speak for herself, discussing topics such as her inspirations and motivations, work-life balance, and the journey of becoming a pioneer in her particular area of knowledge and encouraging more women to enter her field. Particular Passions aims to look at each woman’s journey in more detail and record chapters of history people entering the workforce nowadays will not remember.

We can also go deeper by contextualizing items and artifacts in terms of history and geography, knowing where and when things happened. Dacia Mitchell takes on this task through her thesis, where she interprets historical cartoons. She describes how 19th century American caricature artists ironically reinforced pre-existing ideas of racial superiority through the seemingly rebellious act of poking fun at politicians, by giving those they didn’t like stereotypical nonwhite features. She discusses her thesis in this month’s installment of her interview with Daily Echo political journalist Randle Aubrey, and goes on to analyze the social functions of media such as talk shows and music, placing things in context by comparing them to cultural artifacts from other times in history. 

Randle Aubrey himself talks about an educational project for Middle East nationals concerning current affairs, entitled Democracy Camp, and highlights the importance of knowing about places before we can talk about them. This can start with something as simple as locating the country or region under discussion on the map, as Democracy Camp participants learn.

Using one art form to reflect the style and sensibility of a piece created in another media, as Neil Ellman does through his ‘painting poems,’ also provides a richer understanding of the work’s structure and content. Some have said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture – i.e. that some formats would be very difficult and nearly ludicrous to translate. This may be so in some cases, but derivative works such as Ellman’s do grant us a chance to more deeply examine the same material by grasping and echoing the underlying aesthetic.

We can also reach greater levels of understanding when we go beyond surface impressions, ideas and criticisms, as Nigerian author and social critic Ayk Adelayok does through his columns. Adelayok’s The One Whose Face is Veiled, My Oga at the Top and Ours is a Nation urge people to look beyond the promises and style of those in power to challenge their corruption, and not to dismiss as ineffective those who are actually taking the required time for critical analysis. ‘Oga’ goes beyond the political, encouraging readers to examine their own personal and intellectual foibles before making fun of politicians or blaming the system for their unemployment.

Science may seem out of place in this discussion of art forms, social values and historical thought, as the hard sciences are theoretically based on evidence and hypotheses testable through impartial methods. However, while the physical facts may not change, science is still a story told by humans. The words and methods we use to explain and convey what we discover can reflect our social attitudes and psychological preferences as much as the facts themselves. 

One of the ways people tend to want to understand science is as a good story: simple, understandable, and dramatic. The extinction of dinosaurs through a meteorite crash has those characteristics, as we imagine picturesque Apatosaurus snacking on leaves in the cool of the day and fearsome Tyrannosaurus returning from the hunt, unaware their lives will end in an instant and the planet will change forever.

Knowing we cannot accept this story purely on its narrative quality and plausibility, Dr. David Lindberg looks into this commonly accepted narrative. He finds that the large impact could well have killed the dinosaurs, although the precise mechanism would have been a little more complex than we imagine. And he drives home an even more unsettling point: that the surviving species were not necessarily the smartest or best adapted to their environment, but merely those who would have escaped the lingering effects of the blast.

Leena Prasad’s protagonist does the same thing in her monthly column, Whose Brain Is It, sampling fish as her older family members have told her it’s good for her brain. She evaluates the findings through modern science, and after considering the inconclusive evidence, chooses to go ahead and eat it, with the cognitive benefits as an extra possible bonus. 

Moving from science back to poetry and prose, how do we express strong feelings in new ways through words? One way is to look deeper at specifics, starting with images and details and moving from them to ideas and emotions, so our words are grounded in something real and not just sentimental. Several writers this month follow this pattern, beginning with literal places, memories and events, which they adorn with poetic descriptions.

Some works eventually place a greater focus on the feeling and atmosphere than on the event’s literal facts and details. But our feelings are very much real, as motivations for our choices and thus contributing causes to human events.

Poet D.M. Aderibigbe of Lagos, Nigeria conveys scenes of childhood, soccer, and beaches where as UC Davis African Literature professor Dr. Brenda Deen Schildgen said, the published and translated modern literary canon is fairly recent. The history people and writers grapple with involves not idle nostalgia, but real and present events with lingering effects on people of the day.

Cynthia Lamanna does the same with the familiar Easter story, exploring the feelings of Jesus and the disciples during His arrest and execution.  She integrates the physical reality with imagined empathetic thoughts, starting with a historical event and going farther to create a poetic meditation on faith and sacrifice. As a person of strong faith, Lamanna experiences the crucifixion and resurrection as present realities. As with D.M. Aderibigbe, the historical events inspire her daily life, as she strives to follow Jesus’ example.

And Sarah Melton’s review of Charles’ Ayres’ memoir Impossibly Glamorous echoes in this vein. Ayres isn’t expansively poetic, but his book does make use of atmospheric details to take readers deeper into his life and into a period of American history, allowing readers to see the 1980s through the eyes of a young gay Midwestern teen. This decade’s often viewed as a consumerist, materialistic, artificial time, full of peppy pop music, shoulder pads and shopping. This was before the West discovered environmentalism, when the economy did well for those at the top and the rest tried to emulate them.

Yet Ayres goes beyond the facile stereotypes of those years. We see what people were hiding from during that decade – loneliness, AIDS, the possible side effects of the past few decades of war and rapid social change, the threat of everything falling apart. In recent years some societal sectors have witnessed a resurgence of 1980’s culture, and it’s been suggested that the eighties came back because they were more fun than the serious grunge or alternative ethos of the 90’s. People can miss illusions, even if they suspected all along they were illusory.

Charles incorporates pieces of what he finds in different places, including Japan’s pop music and radio DJ scene, where he became a minor expatriate celebrity, into his life. As with  D.M. Aderibigbe and Cynthia Lamanna, he starts with the specific and lets deeper themes emerge. These are all the more powerful because we aren’t moving from one drama and tragedy to another, because we get the chance to breathe, to feel the cool of the stone and the defeat of the disciples, hear the glitzy club pop and clumsy foreign mispronunciations, and kick the soccer ball upon the Mauritian beach. 

It’s been said that life’s a journey of creating yourself as much as finding yourself…and Charles Ayres, and our issue’s other writers, incorporate different traits and cultural artifacts into their lives, becoming the people they are today.

We invite you to consider and peruse this month’s posts. Perhaps this issue of Synchronized Chaos will serve as raw material for you in creating yourself!

Icon created by Finn Gardiner, a collective in Boston, MA

Whose Brain Is It? A monthly neuroscience column from Leena Prasad





Presented within the flow of the lives of real people and fictional characters, this is a monthly exploration of how some parts of the brain work.



Fishing for IQ

Topic: Food

Region: All brain regions

Fiona is getting a craving for fish. She thinks about how her mother used to tell her to eat more fish because fish sharpens your intellect. “The Japanese eat a lot of fish,” she would say, as if that somehow proved a correlation. It was only later that scientists found a connection between eating fish and having a healthy heart. But a better brain? She laughs and wonders if the Japanese have a healthier heart, and maybe her mom should have told her about that instead.

Fish contains a high level of omega-3 fatty acids. Various studies conducted on rats have correlated omega-3 intake with improvements in learning and memory. Thus, Fiona’s mother might be right. The body cannot make its own omega-3, so this fatty acid must be provided via food and fish is one of the best sources.

Fiona plans her dinner for the night: curried tilapia, garlic spinach, brown rice. As she waits for the tilapia to finish cooking, she pops some anchovies into her mouth. The tilapia and anchovies will provide omega-3, but tilapia only provides 150mg per ounce as opposed to the anchovies which provide a whopping 2300-2,400 mg per ounce.

Her best friend is East-Indian and says that turmeric is good for the brain. Fiona has read about studies which show that curcumin from turmeric can help prevent neurological decline related to Alzheimer’s. She likes turmeric and other Indian spices, so she is happy to use them to make her meals tastier. The folic acid in her spinach may also reduce age related cognitive decline. The folate studies conducted on humans are inconclusive and require further research.

As Fiona waits for her dinner to finish cooking, she looks in her refrigerator for something to drink. There’s milk and orange juice, but neither is a good accompaniment for fish. She makes a hot cup of green tea instead. If she had chosen milk, she would have opted for Vitamin D which is good for the brain, but she can get this from simply walking around outside when the sun is out. The orange juice would have provided flavonoids, which are good for the brain, but she is still getting this from the green tea.

It is not easy to make food choices that provide optimum benefits. Even thought Fiona’s fish is providing essential nutrients for brain and body, the selenium found in fish can cause mental decline. Moreover, many fish contain mercury, which is a known neurotoxin. The brown rice that Fiona is eating is great for fiber and other nutrients, but it is also a source of zinc, too much of which can cause cognitive impairment.

Fiona does not know the science of how her dinner will impact her brain. Thus, she might have trouble balancing the positive and negative food intake in order to maximize the food nutrients. With the influx of information currently available to consumers of popular media, some of it contradictory, it’s difficult to make a decision as to what is really healthy or not. As with many areas of neuroscience, the study of the affect of food on the brain is in its infancy.

The lessons learned from ancestors, directly through our parents or through the larger cultures, are probably helpful in making food decisions. After all, the advice being passed down is based on hands-on experience of generations. But if Fiona simply follows the advice given to her by her mother and best-friend and ignores new research, she will not learn about the dangers of food and the important of balance. If she attempts to balance traditional knowledge with scientific findings, she will give more consideration to her nutritional intake and potentially improve her brain health.


This is a monthly column published in magazine. Leena Prasad has a writing portfolio at Links to earlier stories in her monthly column can be found at

Josh Buchanan, a UC Berkeley graduate, edits this column with an eye on grammar and scientific approach.

Dr. Nicola Wolfe is a neuroscience consultant for this column. She earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychopharmacology from Harvard University and has taught neuroscience courses for over 20 years at various universities.


  1. Nature, Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function, July 2008,
  2. Harvard Health Letter, Food for thought, May 2012

The entertaining outsider: Sarah Melton on Charles Ayres’ memoir Impossibly Glamorous


Impossibly Glamorous – the biography of Charles Ayres

–      Reviewed by Sarah Melton

“Impossibly Glamorous” is a refreshingly funny, unflinchingly real and thoroughly entertaining biography of Charles Ayres – who, while not as well known in his most recent city-of-residence (yet) was quite the radio sensation in Japan. Beginning with a mischievous start as a bit of an outcast in the suburbs of Kansas City (which he describes as “the C-List actress of American cities”), Charles makes his way through life and all its wild twists and turns with a bit of daring, a hearty helping of wit, and more fashion sense than you could throw a tornado-blown house at.

It’s a story of perseverance, and of friendships, both steadfast and shaky. It’s about a search for love, acceptance, and a fervent drive to move up to bigger and better things in life – to make each day just a little more fabulous than the next.  Mr. Ayres accomplishes all that and more, even if he did have to kiss a few frogs (and eat a few eels) to get through it all.

Amid all the laugh-out-loud moments and one-liners throughout the narrative, there were some genuinely touching moments in his story as well. The reaction of his parents, for instance, when he came out of the closet at the height of the AIDS epidemic (and the heightened homophobia was affecting so many of his colleagues). I particularly loved his dad’s reaction to his becoming openly gay, and how far he went to show his son that acceptance that so many youths of that era did not receive. Definitely not least of all, there was his clear and unfaltering love and admiration for his childhood friend, Cèsar, to whom his biography is dedicated.

Then of course, there’s the “grand finale” of this particular chapter of his life – as he had the misfortune to be in Yotsuya, Japan during the earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 2011. I won’t go into much detail of what he experienced there (spoilers!) but can say that his chilling narrative of what transpired in the cities surrounding the hardest hit areas of Japan is definitely worth the read.

Ayres’ writing style is so forthright and amiable that one can read about his life as easily as if you were sitting at the bar with a good friend, sharing a couple of cocktails and kvetching about lost loves, crazy co-workers and the latest fashion fads.  More than a few times, I was drawn in by his waxing nostalgia of his childhood in the ever-materialistic 1980’s, and recalled my own moments of sniffing Strawberry Shortcake heads and losing sleep to late-night Dead Milkmen videos on MTV.  He seemed to wear his heart on his well-adorned sleeves more than once as he spun the tale of his many adventures thus far, and yet never lost the subtle armor of a biting wit and clever quip to tie up his experiences, as each chapter concluded.  It was also fascinating to hear his stories of the celebrities he had the opportunity to interview (via translation) with Tokyo FM, from the Pussycat Dolls to Yoko Ono, and how each of those stories touched him in one way or another.

One thing I did notice throughout the book was what seemed to be a constant running theme in his life – the feeling of always, in some way or another, feeling like an outsider.  Whether it was from being gay in Kansas, middle-class in an upper-class school, being American in Japan, or even as subtle as being the roomie on the outs in a house of three, that feeling of “not quite belonging” was always in the undercurrent.  Though I’m sad that it took something as major as a tsunami to bring him to the San Francisco Bay, I can honestly hope, after all he’s been through, that he finds that sense of belonging he’s been looking for there, at last.

To learn more about Impossibly Glamorous and the works of Charles Ayres, you can visit his website at


Randle Aubrey’s interview with radio host Dacia Mitchell, part 2

The Slinger Of Facts. Secretary Of State Of Blackness. Dacia Mitchell is the new co-host of This Week In Blackness Radio, a Brooklyn, New York-based podcast focusing on issues of race, class, politics, and culture. As a doctoral student participating in NYU’s American Studies program, Dacia is currently working on her dissertation, “Is A Laugh Treason?: Caricature, Slavery, and Citizenship in the Age of Revolution”, a study of 17th- and 18th-century political caricature and its impact on the formation of white identity during the early stages of post-colonial America and the French Revolution. Dacia currently resides in Oakland, CA with her husband and three-year-old daughter, and between managing the TWiB blog, preparing their daily docket, working exhaustively on her dissertation, and being a functional component of her family, she was able to devote some time to sit down with me and answer a few questions about her life and work.

In this second part of the interview, we talk about Dacia’s dissertation and why it matters, Lil’ Wayne, media representations of black people, comparing Rachel Maddow to Casablanca, and the people who are inspiring her right now. Dacia is a genuine inspiration, a real powerhouse in progressive discourse, and I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed making it happen.


RA: I wanted to talk to you about your dissertation, as I’m very curious about it. It’s called “Is A Laugh Treason?: Caricature, Slavery, and Citizenship in the Age of Revolution”. So I read your description on your blog, and it’s very wonky. It’s fantastic, and I love the idea, but can you summarize it for me us in like, regular, layman’s English so that we can get an idea of it? Then talk about why you chose this subject and how it is relevant to the current discussion of race.

DM: Sure. The first part of that, what it’s about, is 18th century caricature. Back in the 18th century, there was a sudden influx of caricature that was produced. These were graphic satires; what we would think of as political cartoons. These political cartoons grew in popularity very suddenly, and what I think defines a caricature is the exaggeration of features, or the exaggeration of gestures. The influence for those features or those gestures came from what was considered anyone who was not a white male. So in order to represent a white, British politician as being a bad guy, you could give him an enlarged forehead. Say he had a savage gambling habit; you would give him large lips. They were pulling body parts from Africans, from indigenous peoples, or from anyone that’s considered to be “other”, and placing them on to the body of a white male in order to poke fun at them.

What it ends up producing is an anxiety about what whiteness is, because whiteness was not something that was explicitly defined at that time. You had kind of a national identity in Britain that was shifting, because you’ve got British colonies where racial mixing that’s happening, and there are tales that are coming back from the colonies through the Metropol that are talking about this race mixing, and are making people really uneasy. Then you also have this question of what does it mean to be a free Briton, when you’ve got France defining what freedom is and what it looks like during the French Revolution. So it’s about how information was being circulated throughout the Atlantic world that was creating both an anxiety about whiteness, but also establishing what whiteness was. That then solidified how we understand identity through to today. It was a modern conception of identity that hadn’t existed before then. The way that we understand ourselves as unique, free individuals comes from this moment of seeing yourself represented as both yourself, but also as this monstrous version of yourself, and having to define identity based off of that media representation. It’s not just how someone sees you, but it’s also how someone sees you represented on paper. The triangle that creates.

RA: So it’s like how someone sees you as an individual, but then how someone sees you as a culture, and how those two overlap?

DM: Right. Also how the fact that a representation of you can change who you are. The caricatures that were created were mainly of politicians, but the act of even a layperson seeing the caricature was producing an idea of who that person is through these cues of their bodily exaggerations. So it almost creates a lens through technology for viewing authority, for viewing power. If there’s any way for towards better understanding yourself as a free individual, it’s how you see yourself in relationship to power. If that is seen through a media representation, what you end up having is…I feel like I’m getting really academic again –

RA: It’s kind of hard not to. It’s very nuanced, very complex.

DM: It’s very complex, and basically the way we understand ourselves is through mediatic representation. In this particular moment, mediatic representation was about defining what’s considered to be “normal” and acceptable citizenship, and what is considered to be “other” and different. In that, normalcy is defined as white, as male, as straight, as property-owning, and “other” is everybody else. A mechanism that allowed people to start to see that way was caricature. See? I knew I’d get there. *laughs* I knew I would.

RA: *laughs* So what brought you to this subject? You’re currently studying American Studies through NYU, and you have a Master’s in Visual Studies from California College of The Arts. There’s obviously some Visual Studies stuff going on here, so is this a sort of tie-in of your Visual Studies work with your American Studies work?

DM: Well, American Studies is really American cultural studies. It kept the name “American Studies” from way back when the State Department started program as a way to create good, non-Communist scholars and diplomats [to] spread throughout the world. After 1969, when buildings were occupied, it shifted how American Studies was considered, and it became sort of a [blend] of multicultural studies. So you have ethnic studies that are produced at this time, you have women’s studies and gender studies, black studies and Latino studies, and American Studies was an intersecting site for that to happen. As a result, American Studies PhD’s are now a cultural studies interdisciplinary program, and so my program is a mixture of cultural studies, visual studies, and history. It brings together my Visual Studies training with the history lessons that I’ve learned in American Studies. As for the inspiration for the caricatures, I have this habit of looking at a caricatures or looking at an images – I’m very image-oriented, which is funny, since I’m on the radio – but I’m very image-oriented, and I think meaning is produced through looking at an image and operating from that. I came to it when there was the caricature of Michelle Obama and Barack Obama on the cover of The New Yorker. It was the cover from back before he was elected in 2008, and they were giving each other fist bumps, and in the caricature he’s wearing something like a Muslim outfit, and she was dressed in military camo with bullets across her chest, and hair like Angela Davis.

RA: I don’t think I saw that.

DM: It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek since it was on the cover of New Yorker, and it was supposed to be a representation of how the Right was creating this image of Michelle and Barack Obama. I had done some work in my Master’s program that led me back to the 18th century, some histories of representation work, and I had stumbled upon some of these caricatures but had kind of shelved them as scholars will do. You just kind of put it in a file. But I reopened the file, I saw the caricatures and I was like, “That is insane. What do I make of it?” That’s always what happens: you see something, and you’re like, “What the hell? Something crazy is happening here, and I don’t know what it is.” So I went back to the peak of racialized caricature in the United States, and saw that it was so done, so many people had done it. I was afraid to jump into that because it had been so done already, things like 19th century blackface and 19th century cartoons. So I pulled out the file and asked myself, “What exists before that?” That’s when I found this incredible body of British caricature work that I found very peculiar, where there weren’t a lot of representations of non-white people in these prints, but there was something about the way that the features were exaggerated. There were some where they were actually portrayed as apes, then I read this wonderful paper that someone wrote about representing the Scottish as being ape-like, and I was like, “Hmm…okay, I’m on to something.” So it just became about how these images are part of this crisis of national identity which is producing a white identity, one that enables people to cement their citizenship in a way that was indisputable.

RA: Now this is all post-colonial, right? Or is this pre-colonial?

DM: This is colonial. Actually, instead of colonial era, I would say that this plantation era. We’re looking at 1760 through about 1830. So the peak of my dissertation, the hot chapters, are right during the Revolutionary Era. It starts with the American Revolution, and then kind of dies down a little bit. Then we’ve got the Haitian Revolution and the French Revolution happening, which are offering these ideas of freedom and liberty that are challenging to the Metropol, they’re challenging to Britons. They don’t really want a lot of upset, it’s freaking them out, and so a way to ensure what they understood as freedom under sovereignty was to create a certain national identity that would to secure it.

RA: So this isn’t so much about just forming a white identity, abut forming a white American identity, isn’t it? Because this is in the early post-Revolutionary War period, the early stages of American development, right?

DM: It is, but what’s interesting is that the way these identities developed was regionally based. What defined white identity in North America, for example, was different than how white identity was being developed in London. While it did have to do with this exposure to a non-white other, there was also an exposure to challenging questions of freedom. Basically, whiteness became a description for freedom instead of it being something that could be considered a judgment call or an aesthetic thing. It became your ticket to freedom, and sort of a given as to how freedom was defined. But I think that one of the challenges of this is actually the fact that whiteness is developing in different ways, depending on if you’re in Haiti, if you’re in North America, or if you’re in London.

As for the way this project translates into the present day, we’re still tackling these questions of what race is and how it operates. If we understand race as a practice, as well as a technology that is used to organize people, how is it a tool that was organizing people in the 18th century? How is it something that continues to organize people to this day? Because it does, but it has shifted over time. There never was a static “this is what white people, this is what black people are”; it’s something that is constantly in flux, and changes over time. What I’m looking at is the start of what we would consider to be a racial modernity, and how it kicked off. You can go before that, but this was the moment that was particularly fruitful, and that’s why I decided to focus on it.

RA: Fascinating! So, the last thing I wanted to ask you about is has to do with On Blackness. One of the great things I like about it is that at the end of every episode, Elon asks whomever he’s talking to about who’s work on various subjects is influencing and inspiring them right now, and I want to put that same question to you: who’s influencing you right now? Who’s inspiring you right now in academia, in politics, in media? Maybe pick one from each?

DM: Pick one from each? Wow…I mean, this is going to seem so trite, but in terms of political media, I have to say Rachel Maddow. The reason why isn’t just because she’s a progressive, and quirky and everything. The reason why is that I study her shows, because she’s able to create an argument – whether I agree or disagree with that argument – in this very concise and very writerly way. As anyone writing their dissertation will tell you, you’re always looking for inspiration on the practice of writing. When you get stuck, all you want is someone to just kick you back into gear, and often I will turn to her show; even old shows. I have shows saved on my laptop that are from like two years ago, because they just did the essay really well. I appreciate her for content, but mainly for form.

RA: I listen to the audio version of her show, because I usually don’t have time to watch it, and I definitely agree with you. One of the things I like about her show the most is that she is a phenomenal storyteller. One of the biggest pitfalls I see with liberals and progressives in general is the fact that, while we are the keepers of history, the reciters of facts – and this is incredibly important, how we name names, we name events and so on – but we are lousy storytellers. We don’t have good narratives, we don’t have compelling narratives that keep people listening. She is a master storyteller. Listening to her talk, I don’t even have to watch the show; I just love listening to her speak. I’ve gone back and I’ve listened to some of her old stuff from Air America Radio, when she was still working with Sam Seder and Janine Garofalo, and it’s amazing. She just has a way with words and stories that more people in the progressive movement need to take a lesson from. On a podcast I listened to a couple of weeks ago they made a great analogy with her show to Casablanca that was very interesting. I’m probably going to totally hamfist this one, but….refresh my memory, what’s the main character’s name again?

DM: Rick

RA: That’s right, Rick. The show to compared Rachel Maddow to Rick, and her show to his bar during the Nazi occupation. She’s on this major media outlet with a major show – one of the most popular shows on MSNBC – and Rick had this incredibly popular bar during the Nazi occupation where you could you could take things up to a certain point, but once you cross that line, you’re done for. That’s how it is in our mainstream media today: if you cross the line, you’re done. She is so good at getting just up to the edge of that line, just towing it, and getting you to think without ever crossing it. It’s a beautiful thing.

DM: That’s really interesting, because what she enables is this: if MSNBC is – and now I forgot his name, the police officer that would go into Rick’s cafe – he was a policeman who wasn’t on the dole, but he was sympathetic. There’s that famous scene where they’d just reported that there was gambling going on, there was a fight, and he said, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that there’s gambling going on in this facility!” Her show enables MSNBC, if she were to tow the line a little too close, to go, “I don’t know what happened! I’m shocked that that happened!” Then they’re able to basically be able to walk back from it. That’s really interesting. I love Casablanca.

But she’s also in exile, in a certain way. There’s no one else like her [on MSNBC], and she could only exist there. You couldn’t have Rick’s cafe in Vichy, Paris. You couldn’t have Rick’s cafe in the United States. It’s in those moments when she brings on somebody like the guy that was supporting the “Kill The Gays” bill in Uganda. She brought the author on and read his book, read lines back to him and was like, “What do you make of this?” That’s the moment when you bring on somebody who’s singing the national anthem of the opposition, and then she’s able, through her support and her insistence, to sing y’know, the French national anthem, and outsing them. That’s awesome.

I’d have to say that in terms of scholarship, I feel like if I don’t say my dissertation committee, then they’ll be mad.

RA: *laughs* Provided they’ll actually hear this.

DM: *laughs* One of them doesn’t even know I’m doing this, and she doesn’t need to know. If she finds out, great. “Hello, yes I’m here,” but she doesn’t need to know. But I’d have to say, it’s always a book. It’s not always a scholar, but it’s always a book. For me, the book that is the most dogeared and written all over, the one I turn to when I’m stuck, is Toni Morrison’s “Playing In The Dark”. It’s a very small, hundred-page, non-fiction book. She’s a fiction writer. It’s a meditation on literary representations of blackness and literary representations of the African body, and how they create a cultural artifact. Not just in a direct representation of a black person, but in tropes, in “darkness”. It’s in all of what we now see as the detritus of blackness and how when combined, it becomes a symbol. It becomes a black body in itself, that is artificial, that isn’t real, and that doesn’t reflect what black people actually are. It just reflects who we are, it doesn’t reflect individualism. But there’s this trend to assemble black bodies in media over and over and over again that aren’t actual representations of individuality, something that’s often offered in media to white bodies, even though it isn’t; it’s an illusion. But it’s something that is a given when you’re watching television or reading it in literature. So “Playing In The Dark” is the book that is sitting on top of the stack of books on my floor, and I just pick it up periodically.

RA: So who’s inspiring you in politics right now? In political action, political discourse?

DM: Well, there are a few people. In terms of the big-ups, I lived in Vermont for a year, and I’m married to a Vermonter, so I was first introduced to Bernie Sanders in 2002, literally.

RA: Oh, you actually met him, then?

DM: Oh yeah, there’s this Indian restaurant that he loves to go to that I ran into him at one time, and it was like, “Hey, Bernie!” He still drives the same car he’s always driven, too. After he gave that speech – I was always a fan of him before then – but he gave this incredible speech that was a filibuster but not a filibuster, where he was talking about inequality in the country, and it was actually published into a book. I have a copy that was signed by him. He’s an outlier that just refuses to give in. He’s just like, “Nope, nope, I’m a Socialist; deal with it! My state works, and I don’t understand why you’re not listening to me, so I’m just going to keep talking.”

RA: I was hearing about him today. I think it was him and Barbara Boxer that just got together and sponsored this very aggressive cap-and-trade bill that involves carbon taxing and using the revenue from that to generate revenue for green industries, while using the rest to pare down the deficit. They’re getting ready to ram this through the Senate right now. It’s incredibly ambitious, and this is one of a long list of things that he’s been pushing for ages now.

DM: That’s not surprising at all, because once he sets his sights on something, he just goes and goes and goes. Someone else in media who I always appreciate for their writing is Richard Kim over at The Nation. He’s actually from my alma mater, from NYU, and he always has a really clear and nuanced take on whatever the story of the day is. He just wrote a piece about drones that was really great, and I follow his Twitter feed religiously, because he always has really sharp, concise things to say. He does so in both an incredibly intellectual and almost scholarly way, but that’s incredibly accessible. I’m always a fan of that, of being able to take something that is incredibly complex and bring it to an accessible level. That’s something that I try to do on the show. I’m not always successful; I can trip over my own words, because I’m still practicing, but I think that the more that you know your shit, the better you’re able to actually talk clearly about it. There are moments where I’m rambling too much, and I’ve just wandered into territory that is unfamiliar. Often I’ll stop, and then backtrack until I get back into the space where I actually know [what I’m talking about]. I think that that’s often a problem in media, is that we have these safety nets we create for ourselves in terms of how we’re going to talk about things [that are not always observed].

RA: A perfect example that you were talking about on one of the shows the other day – I can’t remember if it was This Week In Blackness or if it was on AM TWiB – there was the guy, I can’t remember his name, but he was talking about Christopher Dorner –

DM: Oh, Mark Lamont Hill!

RA: Yeah, Mark Lamont Hill. He was going and going, and everything was good, and then he made the Django reference, and everyone was like, “Ugh…what are you doing?” He went on approximately six seconds too long, got into unfamiliar territory, and almost completely undermined everything he was trying to say.

DM: But I was with him all the way up until there, and then it was like, “Aww…dude!” That’s a danger that we can all run into. I know I’ve stepped in it. There’s a sense of just being mindful, and the nice thing about the show is that I think of it as kind of a work in progress. I enjoy the “well, that didn’t go as well as I wanted it to, but there’s always tomorrow,” and seeing the show as a success in the sense of a laboratory, instead of like this polished, precious thing. It’s something that we’re constantly working on, and something that always needs improvement, which means that it will never be perfect, and there is an incentive to keep going. Because what’s the point of making it perfect? Then you have to stop doing it.

RA: Absolutely.

DM: Someone just introduced a woman who writes for XOJane. Her name is SistahTV, and I just started following her stories. Her voice is so clear and so sarcastic, but so emotion-rich and funny, that I can’t help but give her a shout-out because I just found her. She wrote this great story about her white friends being racist by serving her fried chicken and chitlins, and I was like, “You got me.” It was really hilarious.

RA: *laughs*

DM: I pick and choose from all over the place. I do have a standard feed that I wake up immediately to, and I’m on Reddit. There are people who I admire, but I’m always on the lookout for new folks. I’m always afraid of being sucked into just watching the Melissa Harris-Perry Show, or just reading certain magazines. I have these things that are my favorites, but I’m hungry for more, and the similar feature on Google does not hack it. You have to go under the radar. Also, I follow people who post interesting stuff.

RA: I’ve found myself guilty of falling into that trap sometimes, often very recently with the TWiB network.

DM: *laughs*

RA: You guys have so many shows now, and they’re all fantastic. I sit at my desk with my headphones in my ears and Stitcher just running all day, and I find as you guys release more shows and I want to follow them because they’re they’re interesting and they’re funny, but all the other shows that I like to listen to, I find myself missing them more and more. I don’t want to get sucked into this trap where I’m just listening to what you guys have to say, even though what you guys are saying is relevant and powerful, but you’re not the only voice that I should be paying attention to.

DM: Wait, we’re not? What? *laughs* Yeah, it is hard, and from my perspective, that is a great problem to have. But I do think that with immediate access we have to so much, it can be overwhelming to try and listen to everything. I do take time to try and listen to some other stuff. “You Look Nice Today” is one podcast that I follow. It’s Merlin Mann and two other guys, talking about awkward white people shit. They’re really funny. I listen to them, and other stuff, but I got bored with “This American Life”. Sometimes, I just can’t deal with the ultra-tweed liberalism that’s on there. It’s pretty grating sometimes. But I think you can give yourself permission to not listen to every single show, and listen to other folks, because people are producing lots of really great stuff right now. I would still say that for the folks who listen to us, there aren’t a lot of podcasts like us. At least not that I’ve found, and I’ve looked. That’s how I found TWiB, and I haven’t found anything like it since.

RA: You guys are filling a much-needed vacancy in progressive media, and progressive discourse in general, and I think it’s fantastic.

DM: One thing that we’re trying to do is still be people, and our flaws are out there as much as our awesome features. So I think that seeing that is also part of what makes it such a fun to do. Once Elon says “have a pleasant day” at the end of the show, we hop on Google Hangout and we wrap up about what the show is, and we talk about what’s next. We’re not just doing the show as a performance and then we’re out; we actually do hang out. If I were in Brooklyn, I would be there in person, but because of Google, we can actually do a Hangout. Shout-out to Google, I guess…? Is it weird that I did that?

RA: *laughs*

DM: The next step is to try and generate revenue, which is really sticky, because at no point does Elon want to hand over control of the show to anyone else, he doesn’t want to see TWiB hosted by Lil’ Wayne, his ratchet ass.

RA: *laughs* You guys were talking about him on yesterday’s show, about his new song, and I had heard Emmet Till’s name before, but I did not know the story. So after you talked about it, I went and looked him up, and I was like, “I wanna punch that guy (Lil’ Wayne) in the face!”

DM: Thank you!

RA: That is so, it’s so…I can’t even. It’s just so horrible.

DM: Yeah, and it seems like if you know the name – and I don’t know what Lil’ Wayne does and doesn’t know – but if he knows the name, he knows something horrible happened. I immediately went to the images, because I’m an image person. I immediately went to the pristine image of this young boy, and then the brutal image of this young boy. Then I thought that the lyrics set that you have, it was both about women and about women’s bodies, and it was about Emmet Till. So I’m like, “OK, well Emmet Till is the image of the pristine boy and the beat up boy, so what is the popular female image that we know of that we can compare it to?” That is the beautiful picture of Rhianna, and her face beaten to a pulp. So I was like, “Dude, I can’t even with you!” This is the moment when I’m like, “Look, I didn’t imagine this.” This is something where, as difficult as it is to study the cultural production of ideas because it’s easy to say, “Well, that’s just in your head,” and apologize when people see things, it’s part of something that we’re all familiar with. Even if it didn’t conjure it for you, it conjured it for me, and now that I’ve explained it to you, you see it, too.

RA: Yeah, and now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it, which just makes me all the more infuriated by the fact that he would even draw that sort of comparison in the first place. That’s just so awful, it’s so abhorrently bad.

DM: At the same time – and my advisor would be very proud that I have become this archiving historian – I don’t think that they should have censored the song. He made it and we’re now talking about it, which means that it’s part of a historical moment, and it does articulate something bigger than just Lil’ Wayne dropping a terrible verse.

RA: Yeah, so many networks have pulled the song from the airwaves, and there’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s just going to generate more [interest]. People now are going to look for it, wondering, “Why was this so bad? Let’s go listen and find out!”

DM: I mean, it really is terrible. The song is just so bad. Did you listen to the whole song?

RA: I don’t have to! I listened to the clip from the show, and I was like, “This is the song? I don’t need to hear any more than what I’ve heard; it’s God awful!”

DM: It’s funny, because Elon had me on mute when we were in [Google] Hangout as I’m listening to it with my headphones on, and my face is just increasingly scrunching up over time. He was like, “What’s happening over there?” and all I could say is, “I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t know!” I’m listening to the song, and I don’t know.

RA: It’s incomprehensible.

DM: But I do think that it should still be registered as something that happened, and not to try and erase it from the record. It’s something that happened in life, and the question isn’t just why did Lil’ Wayne decide he was going to do that, what made it OK, but what were people thinking of it when they listened to it? What’s the draw now, how many more people are now Googling Emmet Till, and are actually seeing the image and being like, “Why would you…? That’s weird.”

RA: At the end of the day, while it’s incredibly controversial and the comparison that he made is pretty disgusting, there’s a teaching moment to be had here, and to think that Lil’ Wayne is providing a teaching moment for something that kids are not learning about in school is nothing short of amazing in itself. *laughs*

DM: *laughs* Yeah, and a huge critique of our current educational system and it’s failures therein.


You can listen to this This Week In Blackness – as well as all of the other TWiB network shows – on iTunes and Stitcher Radio, or by visiting To know more about the inner workings of Dacia’s mind, be sure and visit her blog at, or you can follow her on Twitter with the handle @daciatakesnote.