Akai samurai: The Praetorian Guard’s Japanese influence in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve definitely seen the arresting image of the new enforcers in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the Praetorian Guard.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Praetorian Guards

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, writer-director Rian Johnson revealed that the Guard, Supreme Leader Snoke’s personal protectors, is a more amped-up version of the Imperial Guard in The Return of the Jedi. 

While the guards get their name from the real life guards who protected ancient Roman emperors, the look and feel of the Praetorian Guard is clearly more samurai in nature. Star Wars fans are already intimately aware of the cyclical nature of the Star Wars lore–any theme that has come up in the past can (and probably will) come up again. The same can be said of the Japanese influence on Star Wars, which is embedded right in the DNA of the Praetorian Guard.

The Jedi, samurai with lightsabers

Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars: Attack of the Clones” (Lucasfilm)

Johnson gave Entertainment Weekly the background on the Praetorian Guard, including the guard’s Japanese connection.

“The Emperor’s guards were very formal, and you always got the sense that they could fight, but they didn’t. They looked like they were more ceremonial, and you never really saw them in action,” he said. “The Praetorians, my brief to [costume designer] Michael Kaplan was that those guys have to be more like samurai. They have to be built to move, and you have to believe that they could step forward and engage if they have to. They have to seem dangerous.”

The Praetorian Guard are wearing a simplified, almost-blocky style of samurai armor with a touch of the 1980s digital aesthetic in the curved grate that makes up the Praetorian helmet visor. However, the idea of samurai is nothing new to Star Wars. The Jedi themselves are based on the idea of the samurai, including the unwritten code the Jedi live by, a type of space-bushido (without the ritualistic honor-bound suicide, seppuku, of course–these are “kids’ films” after all). Even Darth Vader’s iconic headgear and outfit are based on ornamental samurai armor.

As Samurai: The Last Warrior author John Man wrote for Salon:

…I looked at the inspiration behind the look of both the Jedi Knights and their opponent Darth Vader. So much of it derived from samurai traditions: the cloaks, the tunics, Vader’s helmet, the lightsaber.

…They are expert in the use of swords, despite their ability to call on the most fearsome and destructive of long-distance weapons…Both forgo armor to fight in loose tunics. That is how the Last Samurai, Saigo Takamori, went into battle against the Japanese Empire in 1877; that is how Toshiro Mifune appears in Kurasawa’s film “The Seven Samurai”; that is how young Skywalker, up and coming Jedi, faces up to Vader, the father hehs lost to the Dark Side of the Force.

[With regard to Darth Vader’s armor]: …[A]fter Japanese unification in 1600, the samurai became redundant, but instead of vanishing they reinvented themselves as vital members of society, adopting ever more extreme armor designs, with overlapping plates, masks with bristling mustaches and helmets with horns, or crab-like extensions (symbols of protection), or rabbits’ ears to suggest longevity. Vader’s headgear is a simplified version of a samurai face-mask and helmet, with neck protection and ear-flaps. Unlike a samurai, though, he does not need a hole in the top of his helmet through which to poke an elaborate top knot.

Side-by-side comparisons really show the connective thread between the samurai, the Jedi, and fallen Jedi like Darth Vader and his Imperial Guard.

Lucasfilm, Felice Beato/Public Domain

Even after we move away from the original Star Wars films, the idea of samurai-esque robes remains throughout the Star Wars universe, including the latest in the Star Wars main storyline, The Force Awakens. 

Star Wars “samurai-in-space” focus comes from George Lucas himself. As Ollie Barder wrote for Forbes:

It’s widely known that George Lucas was a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s work and famously used inspiration from films like The Hidden Fortress for many of the film’s plot and characters as well as whole scenes.

Barder goes on to write that even the word “Jedi” stems from a Japanese connotation.

…[T]he term “jidaigeki is Japanese for “period drama.” Films like The Hidden Fortress and other aspects of Kurosawa’s oeuvre were often period pieces. Featuring the trials and tribulations of samurai and peasants caught in-between petulant warlords.

The word itself also gave birth to the Jedi and it’s no surprise that they too borrowed many elements from the samurai as well.

Lucas borrowing for the real world is nothing new; Lucas has used the name of Tunisian city Tataouine as the basis for the name of the desert planet Tatooine and in the Star Wars prequels, the costume design for Padme/Queen Amidala feature motifs from several world cultures. In Rogue One, the idea of a space Mecca, Middle Eastern stereotypes and all, is apparent in the spiritual planet Jedha. There are even more examples of Lucas borrowing from other Japanese properties. But despite all of the other disparate elements Lucas brings into his world, including 1950s diners (looking at you, Clone Wars), the biggest throughline in Star Wars is that this is a space opera featuring space samurai protecting the innocent against the space ronin, masterless samurai who are only thirsty for power.

A Shinto color for protection used for evil

Torii at Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima Prefecture (Rdsmith4/Creative Commons)

The Praetorian Guard’s relationship with Japan doesn’t end with just Lucas and Johnson’s affinity for samurai. The bright red color that forms the Praetorian Guard’s formidable look also has ties to Japanese culture. In this case, it’s more than just mere borrowing–it’s borrowing with irony.

There are several meanings for the color red in Japan (as is anywhere else), but there is a particular meaning for red in the traditional Shinto religion: protection. However, unlike with the Praetorian Guard, who’s charged with protecting an evil leader, red is charged with protecting Shinto worshippers from evil and disease.

According to Mark Schumacher, who wrote about the history of red in Shinto, the meaning of red might have come from “demon quelling and disease (e.g., smallpox, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, measles).”

According to Japanese folk belief, RED is the color for “expelling demons and illness.” The rituals of spirit quelling were regularly undertaken by the Yamato court during the Asuka Period (522-645 AD). Centered on a fire god (a red deity), these purification rites were designed to purify the land by sending evil spirits to the Ne no Kuni [“The Land of Roots,” an underworld]. This association with evil easily segues into other links with child mortality, protection against evil forces (sickness), fertility, the caul (embryonic membrane covering the head at birth), and other child-birth imagery. The red bibs, red robes, red scarfs, and red caps found frequently on certain Japanese deities…lend strong support to his interpretation.”

Schumacher wrote that for a small amount of time, the Japanese god of smallpox, Hōsō Kami, was closely linked to the color red. This association came at some point between smallpox’s initial introduction to Japan in 550 AD and the first recording of smallpox in 720 AD. It was believed that if the skin of a person afflicted with smallpox turned purple, they would die, but if the skin turned red, they would live. Eventually red came to mean protection against ailments.

This early association between demons of disease and the color red was gradually turned upside down–proper worship of the disease deity would bring life, but improper worship or neglect would result in death. In later centuries, the Japanese recommended that children with smallpox be clothed in red garments and that those caring for the sick also wear red…The Red-Equals-Sickness symbolism quickly gave way to a new dualism between evil and good, between death and life, between hell and heaven, with red embodying both life-creating and life-sustaining powers. As a result, the color red was dedicated not only to deities of sickness and demon quelling, but also to deities of healing, fertility, and childbirth.

An argument could be made that, if the Star Wars crew were conscious of the fact that red has such a huge meaning in Shinto, maybe they were using red to align the Guard and Snoke even more with the evil and danger they represent. However, with what red has come to mean in Shinto over time, the all-red Praetorian Guard is more of an unintentional ironic statement; just like the red torii gates that signify a protection of the spiritual realm and a cleansing of the worshippers that stand near, the Guards are protectors who signify that entering Snoke’s realm is a rarefied experience. However, unlike those that visit torii, there’s no holiness or goodness to come from the Guard and especially not from Snoke. Instead of healing, there’s only spiritual disease.

Aniline Red 

From “Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection” at the Phoenix Art Museum 2017 exhibition.

The history of red gets even more complicated when you add westernization into the mix. If you notice, the color of the Praetorian Guard is not just red, but it’s a shocking red. It’s a red that makes you sit up and stand at attention. It’s an unnatural red, to be sure.

This unnatural red looks like it could be aniline red, a synthetic color that owes part of its origins to British scientist William Henry Perkin trying to find a cure for malaria. You can read more about aniline red’s road towards becoming a marketable color at Prints of Japan, but just keep in mind that it was the Europeans who brought this synthetic color to Japan. I would say it’s become one of its more iconic colors, too; as a synthetic, it’s able to keep its vibrancy over hundreds of years, compared to Japanese prints that utilize natural red dyes.

Woodblock print depicting dignitaries of early Meiji Japan. ( National Diet Library Achives, Tokyo)
Part of a Kunichika triptych. (The British Museum)

These two prints are saturated in aniline red; see how pop-arty they make these 19th century pieces?

I don’t know if the folks behind Star Wars recognized they were playing deep into the Japanese color history by making the Praetorian Guard shockingly red. Of course, the Imperial Guard are also red, and the real Praetorian Guard were also associated with red. But with so much Japanese influence making its way into the Praetorian Guard, it’s funny that even this small element of Japanese history snuck its way in.

Final thoughts

Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. Ikeda Nagaoki in 1864 (Lucasfilm/Topps, Public domain)

So what does all of this mean in the end? It seems like there’s a conversation to be had about where the line stops when it comes to “appropriation” versus “inspiration.” It’s very easy to say that Lucas was inspired by samurai films he saw growing up, much like how Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the blaxploitation and grindhouse films he saw as a kid. While it’s certainly clear that Lucas found a more elegant way to showcase his inspirations by way of a space opera, is there much difference between Lucas’ insistence on direct Japanese ties to his work and Tarantino’s insistence on directly imitating and reworking major themes from blaxploitation? To a certain degree, both Lucas and Tarantino straddle the line between appreciation and flat-out lifting (or, to be nicer about it, “paying homage.”)

If you’re being really nitpicky, you could say that many directors out there steal from their favorite films. No doubt–every director has put in a scene that mimics a scene they’ve loved from their childhood films. But where it gets interesting for Lucas and Tarantino is that there’s a certain amount of damage attributed to how they represent (or don’t represent) the cultures they’re drawing from.

For instance, how can Lucas draw inspiration from Japanese films just to give a set of bumbling aliens stereotypical Asian accents in the Star Wars prequels? How can it be that Lucas has only rarely featured Asian faces in general–much less specifically Japanese faces–on screen? The Force Awakens, the upcoming Last Jedi and Rogue One have featured more Asian characters than the prequels and the originals combined, and all three of those movies have been under the inclusionary focus of J.J. Abrams, not Lucas. This article isn’t about Tarantino, but since I’ve brought him up (and since I’m black) it’s time to start talking about how Tarantino only views blackness through a limited scope, not through how actual black people behave. (Yeah, I know he marched against police brutality, but that’s the least he could do–that’s something we all should be doing, to be honest.)

With all of this said, where does this put the Praetorian Guard? It would seem, regardless of the arguments made for or against “paying homage,” the mysterious samurai and Japan’s relationships with spirituality and color are imports to Western culture that still fascinate us and keep us fascinated with the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun. The Guard are only one more block that cements that fascination.

Make rhymes not war: the hip hop solution to gang violence

Mathys Cresson/Flickr

They showed up when Big Flossy was freestyling. At first, they kept to themselves, scanning the scene as if they were looking for someone. This made June Monsta nervous. He was standing next to me and told me that the two guys wearing oversized white T-shirts and fitted LA Dodgers hats were likely members of the Neighborhood Rollin’ 40s, a large local Crip gang. He watched them closely and said: ‘I hope they ain’t tryin’ to come out here with that gangbanging shit.’ A couple other regulars at Project Blowed – a legendary open-mic workshop – shared Monsta’s concern. They stood around nervously, waiting to see what these guys were all about.

And then, one of them edged his way into the middle of the freestyle session and tapped Big Flossy on the shoulder. Initially surprised, Big Flossy soon recognised his old friend. They dapped and the guy asked: ‘How come you don’t come around the ’hood no more?’ Big Flossy smiled and pointed to the corner, which was overflowing with MCs: ‘I been out here, on my hip hop shit.’

Big Flossy was one of many aspiring rappers I met at Project Blowed, a workshop that began in 1994 in South Central Los Angeles. I spent nearly five years in the scene, getting to know different young black men who had dreams of ‘blowin’ up’ or making it in the music industry. Each week, they performed original songs in the open-mic sessions, or freestyled with each other on the corner directly outside the club. Open Mike, a longtime regular, once compared Project Blowed to a dojo where martial artists train together. He said: ‘This is our dojo, where we come to train.’

Project Blowed was also more than just a lyrical training ground. It was a sanctuary for young men growing up in the shadows of Crips and Bloods gang violence. Big Flossy had grown up affiliated with the Rollin’ 40s. As a young man, he got jumped into the gang and identified as a gang member. But things changed once he got serious about hip hop. Once, while reflecting on his life, he said: ‘I was young and dumb back then. Just on some stupid shit. These days, I try to keep it moving – try to do something positive because this music is everything.’

Project Blowed offered Big Flossy and other young black men a safe space where they could hang out away from the menacing shadow of gangs. Across South Central LA in neighbourhoods such as the 40s, the 60s and the Jungles, police and gang members often ask youth if they are affiliated with a gang. ‘Where you from?’ or ‘What ’hood you bang?’ are questions that young people field every day. Answering these questions is not only a pragmatic issue, it’s also one that shapes their safety. Youth who answer this question incorrectly risk getting arrested, or attacked by rival gang members. At Project Blowed, nobody cared where you were from. All that mattered was if you had bars – that is, if you could rhyme.

Project Blowed was one of many creative interventions hosted at KAOS Network, a community centre. Ben Caldwell, a filmmaker, community activist and local leader, founded KAOS in 1984, running it to enrich the lives of young people who went to public schools that often lacked music and arts programmes. Rappers respected him, and saw him as part of the community. They knew Caldwell met regularly with local vendors and police to ensure that the open mic had broader community support. He was the backbone of a youth intervention strategy that might not have been possible without a leader who commanded respect from so many different interest groups.

At an essential level, Project Blowed departed from punitive ways of dealing with the ‘gang problem’. I did my fieldwork during a time when LA was rolling out neighbourhood gang injunctions – restraining orders against suspected gang members. They prohibit suspected gang members from doing things that are already illegal, such as selling drugs and painting gang-related graffiti on buildings. They also criminalise routine activities such as using one’s cellphone in designated ‘hot spots’ of gang activity, and prohibit suspected gang members from congregating with other gang members in public.

Proponents argue that these measures create an environment that’s hostile to gangs and the routine activities needed to sustain them. But these measures are notoriously vague. They create a system that increases the chances for racial profiling.

These issues came to a head recently, as the LA City Council approved a $30 million class-action settlement against the LA Police Department for illegally imposing curfews on suspected gang members. One of the original plaintiffs in this lawsuit, Christian Rodriguez, had been placed on an injunction list without ever having been in a gang.

Project Blowed was a local activist’s solution to gang violence. Instead of ramping up efforts at monitoring, arresting or punishing young people, it made positive and creative possibilities available in their lives before they were at risk to join gangs. Though it came from the community, Project Blowed was also much bigger, setting people’s sights on the world outside, and supporting aspirations and identities beyond the gang world. Perhaps more than anything, it provided an opportunity for young men who might have been sworn enemies in other aspects of their lives to collaborate and make something. That’s an example the world needs.Aeon counter – do not remove

Jooyoung Lee

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

The night when straight white males tried to kill disco

DJ Steve Dahl during Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park, Chicago, Illinois, 12 July 1979. Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

‘This wouldn’t have happened if they had country and western night.’
Richard Wortham, White Sox pitcher

It was a muggy summer night in South Side, Chicago in 1979. In and around Comiskey Park, home to the long-struggling White Sox baseball team, the scene was one of total chaos. Thousands of working- and middle-class young men, predominately white, predominately angry, went riot. Seats were ripped out of the stadium, urinals were kicked from the walls, and the opposing baseball teams were shut in the locker rooms for their own protection. Through it all, the rioters shouted a mantra. It wasn’t about inequality, lingering recession woes or the high-paying industrial jobs slowly seeping out of the Midwest. The slogan they chanted over and over, until their voices were raw, was: ‘Disco sucks!’

That summer, disco music was everywhere, saturating pop culture at the expense of almost all other genres of music. With its pulsing ‘four-on-the-floor’ beat, big vocals and affirming lyrics, disco was a shiny, upbeat escape for Americans living through the smoggy, cynical late-1970s. By the end of the decade, it had become as common as good old American apple pie – there were discotheques in most decently sized towns. Midwestern teenagers skated to Stayin’ Alive in roller discos, and many mainstream radio stations changed their programing to all-disco, all the time.

Disco hadn’t always been so mainstream. It evolved in the clubs and bars of communities that were historically marginalised by the straight, white majority. ‘Disco music was black music, basically,’ John-Manuel Andriote, author of Hot Stuff: A Brief History of Disco/Dance Music (2001), told me. ‘It was mostly recorded by black artists until the mid- to late-1970s, when white artists realised how popular the music had become. Back then, people heard new dance music in the clubs – not on the radio (at first) – so club DJs played a big role in introducing these black and Latino sounds to a bigger public.’

The gay community, its nightlife flourishing after the liberating Stonewall riots in 1969, embraced disco music and its pioneering DJs. ‘The group most responsible for keeping discos alive was the homosexual community,’ the sound engineer Alex Rosner told Newsweek in 1976. ‘The pioneering done in the disco field has been done by gays, with blacks and Puerto Ricans following … The common denominator there is oppression.’

By the mid-1970s, disco was catching on, and creating its own mainstream stars, such as Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer. But it was Saturday Night Fever (1977), the movie featuring a glamorous, dancing, ladies’ man played by John Travolta – and its accompanying disco soundtrack by the high-pitched Bee Gees – that made disco a nationwide phenomenon. ‘The Bee Gees put a white face on what was basically black and Latin music, and it exploded in popularity,’ Andriote says.

One of the victims of the disco explosion was Steve Dahl, then a 24-year-old Chicago radio DJ who pioneered the ‘shock-jock’ persona most identified with Howard Stern. In December 1978, he was fired from WDAI, ‘Chicago’s best rock’ station, when it switched to an all-disco format. Dahl soon found a home at the rock station the Loop 97.9, but he carried a grudge.

Built like the proverbial Pillsbury doughboy, Dahl brought with him a legion of young, alienated male listeners he named ‘The Insane Coho Lips’. Dahl and his posse greeted each other on-air with the salutation: ‘Disco sucks!’

‘If anything, the pushback from disco saturation was an act of self-preservation,’ Dahl would later write in Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died (2016). ‘No kid, just figuring out who he was and where he was going, would be prepared to have his assimilated rock-and-roll identity stripped from him. If the resistance was furious, it was because they were not prepared to shuck the rock and roll, which had sheltered them in their transition from kid to adult.’

Dahl saw disco as slick and inauthentic, and he took to playing popular disco tunes, only to ‘blow ’em up real good’ with sound-effects live on-air. These targeted antics were not isolated to the radio booth. At promotions, Dahl took to performing in a helmet and military jacket, destroying albums on stage. For this complicated, insecure performer, the adulation he received made him feel that he was building a movement – and advancing his career. ‘[My fans] were passionate about their music and their lifestyles,’ Dahl wrote in Disco Demolition. ‘I tapped into it, both as a response to being canned to make room for the disco format, and to build a community so I could keep my job.’

Dahl’s wife Janet took a more nuanced view of her husband’s motivations. ‘He looked goofy and chubby, his hair was bad, and he was breaking records on his head,’ she remembered. ‘But to be embraced was validating for someone like him.’ His fans, often from struggling, working-class Chicago families, lost in a new culture of women’s liberation, black rights, sexual liberation and Studio 54-inspired androgyny and materialism, felt validated right back. ‘I was a chubby kid,’ Kevin Hickey, a fan, recalled. ‘I remember Steve saying the reason he hated disco so much was because he couldn’t buy a three-piece white suit off the rack. That stuck with me because I couldn’t either.’

On 12 July 1979, Dahl would come face-to-face with the community he had created, on a night that became known as ‘Disco Demolition Night’.

That night, the White Sox were scheduled to play a doubleheader against the equally middling Detroit Tigers. As part of a ‘teen night’ promotion with the Loop radio station, fans were told that if they donated one of their disco records, they would be admitted into Comiskey Park for only 98 cents. Between games, Dahl and his cohorts promised to put the records in a giant dumpster at centre field and blow it up, the physical realisation of the audio stunts that Dahl had been pulling for weeks.

Fans flooded the stadium, as ushers struggled to keep up with the number of disco albums being shoved in their faces. One young African-American usher, Vincent Lawrence (who later became a pioneer of house music, disco’s direct descendant), noticed a disturbing trend as he took the albums. ‘A lot of the records were not disco records but BLACK records – Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.’

The first game passed relatively uneventfully, the Tigers winning 4-1. Comiskey Park, often half-empty on game days, was filled past capacity. More than 47,000 people packed into a stadium whose capacity was 44,492. So far, the promotion had been a startling success.

But as soon as Dahl, clad in military fatigues, emerged in a convertible Jeep, the night took a sinister turn. Fans began throwing beers at the Jeep. Even Dahl was momentarily stunned. ‘When the door opened and I saw all those people,’ he remembered, ‘it was: “What the fuck? They are throwing beers and cherry bombs at us. And they’re the people who like us!”’

To chants of ‘Disco sucks!’, Dahl stepped out of the Jeep into centre field and led the crowd in a countdown to the demolition of the albums. But too much dynamite caused album fragments to shoot into the sky, and a crater was formed from the explosion’s impact. The crowd roared, as players continued warming up on the field.

‘The place went bonkers … People started jumping out of the stands,’ D J Michaels, a witness, remembered. ‘It was like the rats leaving a ship. A few, then more, then total chaos.’

Dahl and his team were whisked to safety. Bonfires were started. The White Sox player Steve Trout remembered the scene:

I walked out to look at centre field, and I heard something go by me. It was an album from the upper deck and landed next to my right foot. It was stuck in the ground. I said: ‘Holy shit, I could have been killed by the Village People.’

The White Sox player Ed Farmer got in a fist fight in the parking lot. The Chicago Police Department, including mounted policemen, appeared at the scene. A little more than an hour after it was scheduled to begin, the second game was postponed due to unsafe conditions.

By the time the riot had dissipated, 39 people had been arrested, and the field was smouldering and gutted. For many of the participants, it was an exhilarating experience. ‘We didn’t take over the dean’s office but we took over our ballpark,’ Bob Chicoine, a vendor, remembered.

Almost immediately, the local media latched on to the story and ran with it. Joe Shanahan, a bar owner and native Chicagoan, recalled watching reports of the scene:

I could see the South Side kids I grew up with on the television running over their field. Those were the douchebags I ran away from in high school. And they were burning records. I thought: ‘Didn’t you all read Bradbury? Burning books? Burning records? This has the feeling of a really bad cloud. And why is it coming out of Chicago? And why is music of any kind, whether I like it or not, being destroyed for some radio promotion or some baseball promotion? It gave licence for people to not be in the modern world.

The story soon became nationwide news. Disco was again labelled ‘other’ – foreign and not tough enough for real, heartland American males. Dahl and his cohorts strongly denied (and continue to deny) that the ‘Disco Sucks!’ movement had anything to do with racism or homophobia. ‘I’m worn out from defending myself as a racist homophobe for fronting Disco Demolition at Comiskey Park,’ he wrote in his book. ‘This event was just a moment in time. Not racist, not anti-gay … It is important to me to have this viewed in the 1979 lens … That evening was a declaration of independence from the tyranny of sophistication.’

Disco did not worship at the altar of the rock god. It was the Village People versus Pink Floyd. Andriote agrees: ‘My take on what happened [at Comiskey Park] was that it was a boiling-over of testosterone from white straight men who saw disco – and the whole club scene – as threatening to their masculinity.’

By the early 1980s, disco was beyond passé, and so were all the fanciful accoutrements that went with it – glitter balls, dance lessons and belting divas. Some people point to the events at Comiskey Park as ‘the night disco died’, although over-saturation and mediocre products also helped lead to its rapid downfall. Yet, despite the best efforts of men such as Dahl, disco’s influence lives on. The marginalised groups who loved the music – blacks, women, Hispanics, Latinos and gays – have increasingly claimed their rightful place in society. Disco informs the work of many of today’s superstars, from Bruno Mars to Lady Gaga, and popular music from house to EDM. As the Village People sang: ‘You can’t stop the music, nobody can stop the music.’Aeon counter – do not remove

Hadley Meares

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Rogue One smacks of Star Wars‘ obsession with aggressive appropriation

As you might have read from my Rogue One review, I enjoyed it very much. But with the good comes the bad, and I had some gripes with it. One gripe I forgot to mention in my review was the uber-aggressive Arab world coding they were doing in it. It had gotten so aggressive on Jedha that I was literally taken out of the movie at points and was like, “Where’d they film this?!”

I was reminded of my distaste for these films when I saw Twitter user Dina’s thread on the subject. Key takeaways:

So key questions to ask here are 1) Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding, 2) How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge, and 3) How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?

1: Why did the film get this aggressive with its coding?

Star Wars has a history of being slightly aggressive with coding planets with real world analogs. Tatooine is basically the Sahara Desert, but was actually filmed in Tunisia and America’s Death Valley. Yavin 4 is a lush jungle planet, which was represented by Guatemala’s Tikal ruins and the forests the ruins reside in. For every planet, there’s a real world place. But beyond just the filming locations, other parts of the planets crib from real life as well. For instance, George Lucas got the name “Tatooine” from the real Tunisian city Tataouine. Similarly, as Dina points out, The planet Jedha gets its name from Jeddah, a city in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, seeing how this film is made by terrestrial humans who have never been to space, much less to other galaxies and off-world terrains, it’s understandable why the planets (which, if we’re being honest, act more like moons than actual planets with different continents and climates) feel familiar to us. It’s because they, in many ways, are familiar. They’re a collection of earth’s coolest/most awe-inspiring places, launched into a space opera.

However, using a desert for a desert planet is benign. When you start cribbing parts of cultures while layering stereotypical imagery onto planet’s people, then we have a problem.

Let’s get into what makes Jedha troublesome.

Jedha as Mecca: The official description of Jedha is that it’s a holy city for those who are disciples of the Force. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards has described it, quite literally, as Mecca. To quote him (via MTV News):

“If A New Hope is kind of like the story of Jesus, there must be a whole religion beyond that,” he said. “We felt like, for 1,000 generations, the Jedi were kind of these leaders of the spiritual belief system. It’s got to be like a Mecca or a Jerusalem, but in the Star Wars world.”

In the story of Star Wars, it makes sense that there should be a holy city. But does it have to be quite literally a city that takes all of the stereotypes of the Arab world and mash them together? Take a look at these pictures, culled from various press junkets and collections of official Star Wars images and screenshots:

Do these images seem familiar? Well, you might have seen some of their other brothers in Raiders of the Lost Ark:

and The Phantom Menace.

There are other tropes like this found throughout film and television. Dina notes Homeland, which is a great example, as well as Season 4 of Sherlock:

And Lawrence of Arabia:

And many more.

Hollywood’s fascination with what I’m calling “the bazaar aesthetic” is something that’s throughout film, and sure, bazaars exist throughout the Middle East and India, as shown below. But even then, there’s varying difference between bazaars; they don’t all look the same.

Hyderabad bazaar
near Charminar, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. (Ryan/Flickr Creative Commons)


Grand Bazaar in Kapali Carsi, Istanbul, Istanbul (Antti T. Nissinen/Flickr Creative Commons)

But that’s not all to the Middle East. Take for instance Jordan, where some of the Jedha desert scenes were filmed. What Rogue One used were Jordan’s deserts for the outskirts of Jedha. That’s cool. But let’s also look at what else Jordan has to offer in the real world aside from its deserts:

Jordan Trip (Christian Heilmann/Flickr Creative Commons)


Amman, Jordan (Alicia Bramlett/Flickr Creative Commons)


Jordan Trip (Christian Heilmann/Flickr Creative Commons)


Aqaba Street, Jordan
The main street along the sea front in the centre of Aqaba, Jordan. (Rob/Flickr Creative Commons/

Of course, the main Jedha scenes were shot at Pinewood Studios in London, but I’m using these images of modern Jordan because the tropes of Jedha reflect on the Middle East as a whole. Hollywood would have you believe that the Middle East is all desert and open-air markets, but surprise! The Middle East is just like the rest of the world; full of paved roads, cars, and buildings.

Seriously aggressive sartorial references to the Middle East: It’s worth pointing out that the headscarves and ceremonial robes found in Jedha reference today’s headscarves, hijabs, niqabs, and burkas worn in various parts of the Middle East. Not that there wouldn’t be an outer space city that might have a cultural tie to head coverings, but it’s especially noteworthy that a place designed to be Space Mecca also has clothing with such overt references to Islam. Did the allegory have to be taken this far in Star Wars, to the point that we forget a little that we’re watching a film about distant planets?

Also, the act of using Islamic sartorial choices goes along with Star Wars‘ other practice of cribbing cultural and ethnic styles and arranging them in a mish-mash to “create” something otherworldly. This practice goes all the way back to Princess Leia’s “cinnamon buns,” the style stemming from Lucas supposedly using Revolutionary-era Mexican women freedom fighters, or soldaderas, as inspiration. However, there’s been contention with that statement, and some now link Leia’s hairstyle to the hairstyles worn by the women of the Hopi tribe. But the appropriation-as-inspiration practice was at its height during the years of the Star Wars prequels, in which Padme/Queen Amidala had styles ranging from Japanese geisha to ancient Mongolian elite, to African updo to actual Hopi hair buns.

Inspiration: Geisha

Inspiration: Mongolian headdress

Inspiration: Geisha

Inspiration: Hopi hairstyle

Inspiration: The hairstyles of the Mangbetu women of the Congo

I get that these styles are “cool,” but they aren’t just cool for cool’s sake; there’s are complete cultures these styles are attached to, and to rob them of their actual context by putting them in a “cultureless” space opera whitewashes these styles to a certain degree.

2: How hurtful is it to the average American’s international knowledge?

The answer is simple: Americans already believe in too many stereotypes as it is. Due to what the media tells us about foreign locales, we believe that cities that aren’t in the Western world are behind the times or haven’t been affected (for better or worse) by westernization and capitalism.

Another example of a modern movie casting a “noble savage” light on a foreign place: Doctor Strange. As I wrote in my review of the film, the film posits Nepal as a place that still hasn’t been touched by the effects of the 21st century.

The film portrayed Nepal as some mystical place without roads or modern transportation. Everyone looked like they were mere seconds away from getting on their knees to pray. Religion might be a huge part of a country, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the country have to look like devotees. The film shows a side of Nepal that looks like this:

Kathmandu, Nepal--Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu, Nepal–Asan Tole Market by Juan Antonio F. Segal (Flickr/Creative Commons)

This picture looks similar to the types of crowds Stephen Strange came upon as he was looking for The Ancient One. But Nepal also looks like this:

Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat "This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley." (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Shiddha Pokhari by Dhilung Kirat
“This centuries old pond is situated at Dudhpati-17 the entrance of the ancient city Bhaktapur. This 275m×92m pond was built in the early fifteenth century during the reign of King Yakshya Malla. It is considered as the most ancient pond in Bhaktapur which is known to have many myths associated to it. Nowadays, the pond of both religious and archeological importance has been one of the popular hangout and dating destinations in Kathmandu valley.”
(Flickr/Creative Commons)


Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu Valley Sunset by Mike Behnken (Flickr/Creative Commons)


Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Kathmandu , Nepal,Himalayas,Everest by ilkerender (Flickr/Creative Commons)


Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Boats at Lake Phewa in Pokhara, Nepal by Mario Micklisch (Flickr/Creative Commons)


Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Nepal, Kathmandu, Boudhanath by SCILLA KIM (Flickr/Creative Commons)

The point is there’s a lot more to Nepal, to just Kathmandu, than the film suggests. Is there time to visit every locale in Nepal? Of course not. But there was enough time to not give Nepal the “noble savage” treatment, which means, according to Wikipedia:

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden‘s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”.[2] The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism. The noble savage achieved prominence as an oxymoronic rhetorical device after 1851, when used sarcastically as the title for a satirical essay by English novelist Charles Dickens, whom some believe may have wished to disassociate himself from what he viewed as the “feminine” sentimentality of 18th and early 19th-century romantic primitivism.[a] 

Even though the film didn’t have any of the extras speak, it clearly showcased Kathmandu as an idealistically mystical, Othered space, with closeups on holy men and temples. The extras also weren’t wearing Western clothes, something that further separated them from actual depictions of 21st century Nepalese people. Western exports have made their way all around the globe, including Nepal, and as you can see in the above pictures, folks are wearing leather jackets, hoodies, polo shirts, slacks and jeans. Even the woman with the shawl on in the first picture is wearing Westernized sandals, a long-sleeved red shirt and some green pants, and one of the men buying her wares, the guy with the leather jacket, has an iPod. If you took a shot of the extras in the Kathmandu sequence and put it in black and white, it could act as a shot from a film about Nepal in the 1800s, not the 21st century. This is not to say that portraying Nepalese people wearing traditional clothing is anachronistic; what I am saying is that painting a picture of the Nepalese as a people who haven’t been affected by world commerce and capitalism is a false picture.

The “noble savage” idea wasn’t explicit, but it was very subtly implied in order to make Kathmandu seem like a perfect place for The Ancient One and to act as further contrast to Stephen’s New York sensibilities and, indeed, his whiteness.

When movies decide to portray places in a stereotypical fashion, it’s too easy for the stereotype to be accepted as the truth. It’s even more dangerous to use stereotypes in science fiction; when a place can look like anything and be anything, why rely on stereotypes? But when stereotypes get used in science fiction or fantasy, they’re usually couched in the excuse of “Well, it’s not real anyway! It can look however the creator wants it to look.” But when we’re limiting what’s possible in the imagination, we’re also dulling our senses to what actually exists in reality.

3: How can Hollywood wean themselves away from projecting the same stereotypes on foreign places?

The quickest answer is for Hollywood to start using a bit more imagination when coming up with a look for a futuristic place. Too often, science fiction relies on stereotypes or cultures-as-backdrop to do much of the heavy lifting in a scene. For instance, Blade Runner, in which an aggressive Japanese undercurrent can be seen in futuristic San Francisco.

Actress Alexis Rhee portrays the geisha depicted in Blade Runner. (Warner Bros.)

Of course, it can be explained away that San Francisco has a high Japanese population, so perhaps San Francisco would embrace more of Japan the more futuristic it gets. However, there’s hardly an Asian person in Blade Runner–Alexis Rhee, who is the billboard geisha, and James Hong as Hannibal Chew, round out the film’s Asian population. So the whole effect comes off as a cynical costume for a huge audience payoff.

Currently, we have Ghost in the Shell coming in where the original Blade Runner left off, using Japan itself as a costume for a film lacking in Japanese characters.

It literally uses the same billboard idea from Blade Runner. (Paramount Pictures)

Hollywood has got to stop relying on tired tropes like these. It only helps keep America in the dark about its neighbors, and it keeps movies themselves from having an even greater impact than they could have.

Star Wars images: Lucasfilm/Disney

Universal Fan Con: A Safe Space For ALL of Us

Jamie Broadnax

(originally posted at Black Girl Nerds)

The Black Geeks and Black Girl Nerds have partnered to host Universal Fan Con (UFC), with the mission of taking on the lack of representation in the geek community. The convention is set to take place in Baltimore, MD on April 27, 2018, at the Baltimore Convention Center and focusing on gaming, anime, TV shows, and Movies.  “We are excited to present the very first large scale multi-fandom convention dedicated to inclusion,”  announced the official Twitter of Universal Fan Con.

The core team bringing the con together consists of The Black Geeks, a multimedia company that serves as a source for “edgy and probing original commentary” on sci-fi, fantasy, and other entertainment coverage, and Black Girl Nerds, an online community promoting nerdiness among Black women & people of color. After many years of attending conventions, Robert Butler – CEO of The Black Geeks, and Black Girl Nerds creator, Jamie Broadnax, noticed a lack of diversity in the world of Cons.

“UFC hopes to fill the void of Diversity and give fans the chance to see the geek community through a diverse set of eyes,” said Butler.  UFC aims to be a 24-hour convention; meaning that all day and night there will be a panel or event running. “We felt that the only way to ensure that as many groups as possible were represented, we have to keep it going, ” said Butler.

The UFC team is currently spending hours developing and planning innovative ideas to implement at the upcoming fan conference. One idea being explored includes using geofencing technologies that could lead to shorter waits in line and a seamless check-in process. “The team and I are always looking for ways to incorporate technology into UFC. We want to employ new technology that will make long lines a thing of the past,” said Butler.

Butler, also a disabled Marine vet, hopes to incorporate more tools for geeks with disabilities. UFC expects attendees from every walk of life to leave feeling represented. “It’s incredibly important to the Black Geeks and Black Girl Nerds that everyone, and I mean everyone, feels as though they have a place at this Con,” said Butler.

“We’re redefining what diversity is, and hope you will join us in 2018,” Broadnax expressed.

With over 900 Twitter followers, the buzz around UFC has already begun to explode on Twitter. Many users have shown their support for the convention via the social media site. “This is going to be amazing. I can feel it in my bones,” said one UFC Twitter follower.

In less than 24 hours of the initial Kickstarter launch, UFC raised $2,500 from 55 backers. “Honestly, we did not expect to gain popularity so fast,” said Broadnax. The UFC team hopes to raise $25,000 to assist with some of the costs associated with making UFC the best experience ever for the fans. The UFC Kickstarter offers a variety of levels so that any backer can earn benefits for supporting the convention.

To help support UFC’s Kickstarter visit  And for more information about UFC, follow @UniversalFanCon on Twitter.

About The Black Geeks

The Black Geeks are a community of people who share a love for geek culture, be it tech, movies, video games, or comics. Our members engage in lively debates and substantive discourse rooted in the fan experience. The Black Geeks provide a space for independent content and in-depth discussion that highlights the good, while simultaneously providing constructive critiques and potential solutions for the bad. For us, nothing is off limits. That means debating the finer points of the MCU one minute and engaging in presidential politics the next.

Our mission is to push boundaries, redefine stereotypes, and move diversity to the frontlines. The Black Geeks are a representation of Geek culture rarely heard from or seen in pop-culture. Our opinions and views are important, and we’re challenging the status quo to engage us and make our voices part of the larger discussion. Geek is a dish best served with many ingredients.

At The Black Geeks we celebrate the unique experiences of people of color, but please don’t let the name fool you, our content is for everyone! So if you’re a geek, and you love everything from comics and movies, to politics and science, we have a place for you at our table, and if you’re feeling both geeky and expressive, we would love to hear from you. There’s always a place for someone like you on our team.

Feel free to write a review, add a comment, create a blog post, share something you like, or just enjoy reading the thoughts of our members and contributors. Whatever you choose, just remember to have fun, share your love of the genre with those who love it too, and let your geek flag fly proudly!

About Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds is a place for women of color with various eccentricities to express themselves freely and embrace who they are.  This is not a site exclusively for Black women.  It’s for ALL women who are just as nerdy as we are and the men who love and appreciate us.  I named this site Black Girl Nerds because the concept of Black women as geeky-dorky beings is somewhat of an anomaly.  It’s against the order of things in the “Black Girl” world.  We represent a wide array of diverse women who embrace all cultures and refuse to conform to the status quo.

This community does not have an exclusionary purpose.  The term “Black Girl Nerd” is not intended to be derogatory nor is it racially biased.  It is a term of endearment to all women like me who have been attached to a stigma that is not an accurate representation of my personality or my idiosyncratic behaviors.

This is a website for every nerdy girl that can finally come out of the closet and tell the world that they are PROUD to be who they are—no matter what anyone says, does, or thinks.  This is a place where you can truly be yourself and not be judged by others.  This site welcomes girls of all races, but it was called Black Girl Nerds because it is a term that is so unique and extraordinary, that even Google couldn’t find a crawl for the phrase and its imprint in the world of cyberspace.  The mission is to put an end to that and know that many Black Girl Nerds exist on this planet.

This community encourages other bloggers, web creators, and the like to create niche sites such as this one to spread to the world that being a nerd is a lovely thing.  In fact, being a nerd is a gift and should be highly revered.  It is not often that you will find an unsuccessful nerd.  Therefore be nice to your fellow nerds—you never know, you may be working for them one day.

For more information go to or follow us on Facebook or @UniversalFanCon on Twitter and Instagram.

Resist Trump’s agenda with these 15 steps

Elvert Barnes/Flickr Creative Commons

You’ve been reading the news, imagining what America under a President Donald Trump would be like, and the thought of it makes you want to do something. But what?

If Trump’s presidential win has fired you up and you’re ready to go, but you need some direction, check out this list of 15 steps you can take. You can use all or just some of these steps as a jumping off point, but on the whole, these steps will help you find a manageable way to dive into the world of social activism.

1. Don’t get sucked into the propaganda

As a journalist, I can tell you firsthand that the profession has started to decay from the inside out. It’s started years ago, but the rot is only just beginning to show. Now, I’m not saying that every journalist out there is bad and every journalism outlet is now on Trump’s payroll. But what I am saying is that the rise of the 24/7 news cycle and the “news-for-ratings” mentality has led too many news outlets to rush to be the first on a particular storyline without actually investigating it.

For instance, we’ve heard a lot about the “alt-right,” Trump’s Cabinet picks, Trump’s bad presidential policy (before he even gets in office) and there’s a very real danger of Trump possibly using the media to his advantage once (or if) he gets in office. But we haven’t really felt outrage from the media about any of these stories. Instead, they report the news, give a little emotion behind it, and then wait for the next story. Waiting to be fed like birds isn’t what the journalism industry is supposed to be. We as the Fourth Estate are supposed to be forcing those in office to hold higher standards, not wait until they feed us lies for us to regurgitate as “reporting.”

This is a bit of a rant, but what I’m saying to you is to keep your online bookmarks stocked with sites you can trust. Nowadays, a lot of the news you can use is coming from alternative sources, like Teen VogueFusionVice, The Young Turks and some staples like Al Jazeera. For the most part, The Associated Press is good to use, despite some of their previous hiccups when reporting on the alt-right. Also, I just refer to them out of habit since all journalists have had to depend on The Associated PressOther newspaper sites, like The Los Angeles Times and online news sites like Politico are also good places to find news that hasn’t yet catered to Trump’s wishes. However, if you still want to stay on top of the standards, Reading The New York Times and USA Today don’t hurt.

My list doesn’t have to be your list, though; find what fills your news void and stick with it and when choosing your news to partake, stay mindful of the story’s headline. If it tries to portray Nazis as something akin to gentle hipsters, or Trump’s antics as traditional presidential behavior, then keep that story moving and find something else to read.

2. Figure how where your activism strengths lie

Not all of us can be on the frontlines of a march, and frankly, not all of us have to be. We all aren’t one-size-fits-all, so if you don’t think you can’t handle being in the middle of a march, then don’t think of yourself as a failure. What you can do, though, is find out how to best utilize your strengths in an activist capacity.

Are you good at art? Spread your message with your paints, pens, pencils and brushes! Are you a skilled dancer? Create a moving piece based on your personal feelings about America. Are you good at poetry? Do like my sister Ashley and write a book of poems about how you want to see the world become a better place. Do you love singing and songwriting? Perform your own original song, full of your message. Like writing in general? Do like me and start a website to get your message out there. If your strengths to lie more on the side of extroversion and you want to get out there and you want to protest as loud as you can, go do that.

We need voices of all types of voices willing to use their gifts to better our society. People learn in all sorts of ways, so we need all kinds of teachers willing to put themselves out there to teach and inspire. Just because you might not be on the battlefield, as it were, doesn’t mean you can’t contribute.

3. Act on those strengths! Don’t rest your laurels!

Once you figure out what your strengths are, utilize your gifts to their maximum potential. On the one hand, you’ll be surprised where your gifts can take you. But on the other hand, if you use your talents at their max, you’ll be apt to reach that many more people. Don’t think that there’s not an audience for your gift (because we’re all hurting out here right now).

4. But do rest your laurels. 

With that said, please take some time to actually take a chill pill. If there’s one misconception about activism, it’s that the activist is always on. Activists are people too, and people like eating, going to the movies, walking in the park, and sleeping in late. Do take the time to rest yourself.

5. Take some time to actually forget about what’s going on, for the sake of your brain. 

When things get overwhelming (and they will) try to just block out the world for a couple of hours. The world will not collapse because you aren’t doing something every second of the day. What will collapse is you if you don’t take care of your mental computer. What I often do is watch cake, nail art, and DIY videos on YouTube. Find what helps you turn your brain off.

6. Speak out against bad acts if you see them happening. 

When you see someone behaving badly, such as harassing a hijab-clad woman on the street or saying something derogatory to a Latinx family in the store, do something about it. Whether that’s confronting the person outright or calling the manager to get the offender escorted from the store, find some way to help those who need your help at that moment.

7.  Block people online (and maybe in life) who only mean you harm. 

Muting, blocking, and/or reporting people online is a definite must-do for folks writing or talking about activism. There will always be those who try to refute your opinion with their racist “facts,” or try to demean you. Clearly, you don’t want to waste your energy on those trolls.

However, for some of you reading this, you might have to drop some folks in your day-to-day life. Maybe the person you thought was your friend is actually more prejudiced than you realize. Maybe you’re faced with checking your neighbors one day. These folks just might have to be left to the curb as you go on in your journey.

8. Educate those you can reach in your inner circle

Sometimes, though, the bigots in your life just might be your parents or siblings. In that case, it’s a lot harder (and way more emotional) to just excommunicate them from your life. If you feel you can reach them, try to make them understand your message. Sometimes our elders just don’t know better and just need to be shown the way; just because they’re older doesn’t mean they’re always wiser.

9. If you have friends of the same gender, race, culture, sexual orientation, etc, befriend someone of another race/culture/sexual orientation/etc.

You won’t grow your worldly perspective if you don’t actually interact with the world. The real hurdle some have to jump is if they can take their activism from the theoretical to the practical. For instance, it’s one thing to say you believe black lives matter when you’re speaking from an egocentric, “I want to be seen as the good person” view, but it’s another to say that and still harbor discriminatory thoughts that block you from not only making friends with black people, but from not seeing black people as potential threats.

Communicate with those you want to be in allyship with. Get to know them and empathize with them. Friendships with those not like you are the most potent ways of overcoming bad habits and seeing others as humans, not theories or objects.

You must have intersectionality for activism to work. This is my personal view; in today’s times, we’re more interconnected than ever, and activist groups have to work together to get major things done. Yes, people fighting for the causes of one race in particular is great, but they still need alliances with other activist groups. At the end of the day, marginalized people are all fighting for the same thing: recognition of our humanity and dignity. With our common goals, it only makes sense that we come together.

10. If you’re white and want to stay accountable, order yourself a Safety Pin Box subscription. 

If you love subscription boxes, I know of no other subscription box to help you on your journey towards activism greatness than the Safety Pin Box. The subscription, created by activist/organizers Leslie Mac and Marissa Jenae Johnson, Safety Pin Box makes white allies actually accountable in their allyship in measurable ways. The box, riffing on the idea of folks using the safety pin as a sign of solidarity, puts the actual work in allyship (whereas just wearing a pin is too easy of an out).

The monthly subscription also helps financially support black femme freedom fighters. Also, black women and black femme activists can receive a one-time financial gift from the Safety Pin Box’s Black Women Being monthly drawing.

11. Do your research. 

Part of the greatness of the Safety Pin Box is that it forces those who want to walk in the path of allyship to actually do the work necessary. This leads to my next point: everyone who wants to help marginalized people should do their own research. This includes other marginalized people researching the issues that affect other marginalized people. There’s a base understanding of white discrimination against people of color in general, but how often do we face POC discrimination of other POC head on? How often do we face marginalized people discriminating against LGBTQ people of color? Again, intersectionality is the key here. Learn about your fellow humans.

12. Donate

As millennials, sometimes money is tight; the job market still isn’t everything it could be. But if you see an organization that needs financial support and you’ve got the means, donate some of your money. It can only help strengthen the organization, which in turn can help strengthen the rest of us in the fight for equality. Some organizations include the ACLU, the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, The National Council of La Raza, Council on American-Islamic Relations, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, The National Congress of American Indians, the NAACP, GLSEN, Southern Poverty Law CenterRace Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation, and many others not listed here.

13. Cultivate a group of friends (in the real world or online) who will support you in your activism journey. 

Earlier, I wrote that you might have to let some people lie where they are as you continue on in your journey. Whether that happens to be the case for you or not, it never hurts to cultivate a strong support group, either in “real life” or online. Together, you can keep each other uplifted and upbeat during the tough times, and you can have someone to celebrate with during the victories.

14. Develop a self-care regimen

I alluded to this above, but I need to stay it outright; it’s important to take care of yourself as you go on a selfless journey like this. This is also advice to myself, because I often neglect certain basics of self care. But for me, self care includes remembering the goals I want to achieve in life–not just when it comes to social justice, but my career goals, relationship goals, fashion goals, etc. Remembering your goals helps you remember who you are as a human being.

Remembering what you love doing also keeps you present. Indulge in your hobbies and talents to take you out of this world and into your own personal space.

Also, remembering the loved ones in your life will keep everything in perspective. The people who love you will have your back whether the world crumbles around our feet or not. It’s their love that serves as a reminder that we are not just specks of insignificance on this planet; they remind us that we do matter, especially if we might forget that fact ourselves.

15. Remember why you’re on an activist’s journey

Things generally get tough before they get easier, and some of the most important goals in life are often the hardest to achieve. We often get fed the idea that Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, heck even Jesus, had it easy in their life’s journey. Clearly, they didn’t. Throughout their lives of service, they faced their own doubts, setbacks, and hopelessness. Can you imagine going up against injustice in the tougher political and social climates they had to face? In comparison, we have it a little easier, but not by much.

The fact is that the majority of us now facing our own “piss or get off the pot” moments when it comes to activism and we, unlike our parents and grandparents, didn’t grow up in a time in which the civil liberties we enjoy now were secure. Because of our relative softness, we might wonder if we have the heartiness to withstand the pressure that’s facing us.

This is the point in which all of us have to steel ourselves and rely on each other. We must nurture the belief we can handle the storm and prevail. Alone, we have power, but together, we have even more. We also must remember the end goal, which isn’t actually about us; right now, we’re fighting so the next generation won’t have to put up with the same BS we’re dealing with right now. We’re fighting for their futures just as much as we’re fighting for our own. That’s why the activist path is so important; if you’re willing to do what you can to make the next generation’s lives better and much closer to that ideal of “a more perfect union,” then you’re already on the way towards success.

BONUS: Want more ways to resist bigotry and make a change in America? A website called “Weekly Actions to Resist Trump” provide actionable tasks to take each week in terms of contacting government officials and donating to organinzations. Rolling Stone‘s article “5 Ways People Are Resisting President-Elect Trump” provides some of the tips given in this list, as well as more information on volnteering, contacting your representatives in government, and more. A citizen’s guide to strategic resistance called Indivisible: A Practical Guide for For Resisting the Trump Agenda,” was created by former U.S. Congressional staffers and shared as a Google doc. Ironically, it is inspired by the same tactics used by the Tea Party.

What steps do you have to offer to the list? Provide them in the comments section below!

How Standing Rock revealed America’s true potential

The Young Turks/YouTube

The protests at Standing Rock did what few believed it could; it stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline from being drilled on Lakota land.

As the Los Angeles Times wrote, the move by the Army Corps of Engineers to deny the pipeline to continue construction came as a “surprise move,” even though the fight still isn’t over (the pipeline’s fate rests with the corps’ environmental impact statement, yet to come).

However, the victory for the protesters and water protectors wasn’t the only miraculous thing that happened. Many veterans who had volunteered to act as human barricades for the protesters met with the Standing Rock Sioux elders and leaders in a reservation casino auditorium.

Wesley Clark Jr., one of the organizers of Veterans Stand with Standing Rock, wore the uniform of 7th Calvary of the 1800s, as if to symbolically forth the spirit of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, one of the many army generals who fought the Native Americans for their land on behalf of the U.S. Government. (The event also happened on birthday of Custer, another way to tie Custer’s spirit to the event.)

Clark knelt along with several other veterans to ask for forgiveness for their ancestors past crimes.

To quote Clark (via Indian Country Today):

“Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. Then we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, that the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you. We polluted your Earth. We’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service an we beg for your forgiveness.”

For me, this is a powerful moment and it represents a powerful shift in America’s own spiritual awakening. I’ll try not to get too woo-woo in this post, but if it happens it happens, since I’m writing about some metaphysical stuff.

I’ve always felt like there would come a time when America would have to wake up to its atrocities and go through the lengths necessary to fix them. Consciously, I didn’t think Americans would ever have the guts to get dirty and actually come to terms with the unrest that has afflicted them.

It’s now a scientific fact that trauma and other extreme emotional states can be passed down through generations. It makes a lot of sense for Clark to spiritually embody the role of Custer in this ceremony; while it may not be his line specifically, Clark’s culture has a generational weight of guilt that it has yet to fully process. That generational state must contend with the generational traumas of the first Americans as well as every other non-white group in America. With so much guilt piled up, it’s understandable to not want to face it.

However, when it is faced head on, marvelous and miraculous things like this ceremony can happen. This is where true healing begins.

This ceremony shows just how much America could achieve if it works to erase its original sins. If there could be more moments like this in our country, we will actually be doing the work of making this country great.

I believe there are more moments like this around the corner. With all of the stuff this election has stirred up, there are bound to be more moments when white Americans will ask for the forgiveness of those they’ve wronged. If and when these moments happen, America’s future will look much brighter.

What do you think about this moment? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

5 lessons from Jennifer Lawrence on why white feminism isn’t cute

Jennifer Lawrence on The Graham Norton Show. BBC/screencap

You’ve heard a lot about white feminism and why many people of color, women of color in particular, can’t stand it. It’s not that we can’t feminism; in fact, we love feminism. It’s just that we can’t stand when something that’s supposed to accept us is just used as yet another tool to marginalize us and keep power centralized on whiteness. Case in point: Jennifer Lawrence.

“So what did Jennifer Lawrence do this week that we should be concerned about?” you might be asking. Well, first, you’re right in asking what she did this week. There’s never a week that goes by that we don’t hear something about Lawrence, whether it’s in the form of a gushing fashion post, a gushing celebrity news post about what she ate for lunch or how she’s best gal pals with other problematic white feminist Amy Schumer, or in some clickbait headline. Many of us are tired of hearing about the manufactured admiration for this woman.

Lawrence’s tide with Hollywood started shifting months ago at the Golden Globe Awards, when she rudely shut down a Spanish-speaking journalist for looking at his phone while asking her a question (something which a lot of journalists do nowadays, since we can record interviews, look at our notes, and take pictures with our smart phones). The tide is continuing to shift with Lawrence’s latest foot-in-mouth instance—talking about sacred Hawaiian sites in the form of crude jokes.

On a recent episode of The Graham Norton Show to promote her and Chris Pratt’s upcoming film Passengers, Lawrence joked that while in Hawaii filming The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she used one of the state’s ancient stones to scratch her butt.

“These were sacred rocks …and you’re not supposed to sit on them because you’re not supposed to expose your genitalia to them. …They were so good for butt itching! …One rock that I was butt-scratching on ended up coming loose. And it was a giant boulder and it rolled down this mountain and it almost killed our sound guy! It was this huge dramatic deal and all the Hawaiians were like, ‘It’s the curse!’ And I’m over in the corner going, ‘I’m your curse. I wedged it loose with my ass.'”

Here’s a question: Why couldn’t she scratch her backside how most people do—WITH HER FINGERNAILS? Did she really need to find a rock to do this?

Let’s also discuss that she nearly killed someone just because of her butt.

The incident caused immediate pushback from Hawaiians for her flippant manner when addressing the stones in the interview (she said the stones reflected “the ancestors…or  whatever”), her stereotypical way of addressing the people who were angry at her, and for disrespecting their culture.

The so-called “rocks” she thought were so good for butt-scratching are part of a larger burial site. As in, for Lawrence to understand, a site where people’s remains are. As in: a place to show some doggone respect. 

To quote PEOPLE:

” ‘It was an archeological site,’ says Hawaiian cultural expert Kahokule’a Haiku, who advised the Hunger Games production team. Haiku has been featured in the New York Times for his work in the Waimea Valley. ‘It’s an ancient Hawaiian living site and there are several hundred burial caves right in the area. The caves contain the bones of our ancestors–but not just any ancestors. They are called Kahuna. These were the astronomers, navigators, and doctors of the time. They were the Einsteins and Marconis of Hawaiian culture. And they were filming just a few yards away.”

After facing a firestorm of anger, Lawrence has apologized via Facebook:

But many are still unhappy with her and her seeming lack of understanding as to what she scratched her butt on. The many comments on her Facebook post show people from many backgrounds taking her to task for acting like, in keeping with this post’s theme, a butt.

So what does this have to do with white feminism? Because white feminism operates from a very narrow, very racist viewpoint. For this post, I’ll quote BattyMamzelle, who has the best, most succinct definition of white feminism I can find.

I see “white feminism” as a specific set of single-issue, non-intersectional, superficial feminist practices. It is the feminism we understand as mainstream; the feminism obsessed with body hair, high heels and makeup, and changing your married name. It is the feminism you probably first learned. “White feminism” is the feminism that doesn’t understand western privilege or cultural context. It is the feminism that doesn’t consider race as a factor in the struggle for equality.

White feminism is a set of beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of colour. It is “one size fits all” feminism, where middle class women are the mould that others must fit. it is a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white feminist, everywhere, always.”

(I highly recommend reading her full post on white feminism if you want to learn more about it.)

So, if you are white reading this, and you are worried about being perceived as a Jennifer Lawrence-esque white feminist, here are some things you can do to not get this label attached to your name and social media legacy:

1. DON’T SCRATCH YOUR BUTT ON SACRED SITES. That’s first and foremost. There’s a deeper point here though; respect the cultures of others outside of your own. Just because something looks innocuous to you doesn’t mean it is to someone else. A great way to show how misunderstanding a culture can actually make you look foolish: The slave owners of the American south didn’t realize that the songs, dances, and other artistic modes of expression used by slaves were either about passing along their African heritage, giving each other instruction on how to escape or making fun of the masters, usually in front of their faces. Instead of figuring this out, the slave masters just wrote it off as “negroes being negroes.”

2. Think of people as people, regardless of their race. If there’s one thing (among many) that irritates the bejesus out of me when it comes to white feminism is that some white women will say to other women of color, “I understand your struggle because I struggle as a woman to gain acceptance.” I’ve had this happen to me. To that, I say what feminist icon Sojourner Truth said—“Ain’t I a woman?” Do we have to keep saying what should be a basic fact for some of y’all out there to get it? Women of color aren’t objects for ridicule, fascination, obsession, or sexualization. We are women just like you, and we deserve every privilege you white women get.

3. Reach out to other women with intersectionality in your heart. As I’ve said many times on this site now, we’re in Trump’s America now, and if I’m being honest, white ladies, a lot of white women helped put us in this predicament. The supposed superiority of whiteness is connected to white male dominance, and a lot of white women apparently would rather have the security of male-based white supremacy than a white woman entering the White House as President. That’s messed up. However, to the rest of you white women out there wanting to staunch the bleeding and help protect the nation from fascism by creating lasting bridges with America’s non-white communities, you need to come with no agenda. Don’t come wanting to be a savior or wanting to get your “Good White Person” badge, because we don’t have time for that. Instead, come with an open mind and open heart, wanting to learn and be a conscientious woman of the world. Come wanting to do good for the sake of everyone, not just for yourself and to appease your white guilt. America needs everyone at the table to actually make America great, so we need you to come correct.

4. Do your own research. It would have been great if Lawrence had taken the time out to actually learn from Haiku since his services were available on site. She would have learned why she shouldn’t scratch her butt on things. Too many times, whiteness lulls white people into thinking they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whatever they want without repercussions. It’s part of the “Manifest Destiny” idea; I am lord (or lady) of all things, so I can do as I please without learning outside of my personal bubble. This ignorance is all over how Lawrence told her story, from flippantly describing the site to making fun of Hawaiians themselves by portraying them as superstitious. Lawrence should know better. If you don’t want to be like Lawrence, it would behoove you to learn about other cultures whenever you can, but especially if you’re visiting a place in which your culture is the minority. Don’t embarrass yourself.

5. Don’t follow Lawrence, Schumer, and Taylor Swift‘s examples. Shooting off at the mouth isn’t cute, y’all. There are some things you say and some things you keep to yourself. Being a feminist doesn’t mean thinking everything you say and do is some revolutionary thing. It’s definitely not revolutionary if a woman of color said or did the same thing and no one bats an eye at it or, worse, demeans the woman of color for saying or doing anything. If what you think is amazing is actually mediocre or offensive, then do yourself and the rest of us a favor and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Your ability to mouth off and have people praise you for it is actually a level of racial privilege, and it’s annoying.

I think I’ve wrung just about everything I can out of Lawrence’s debacle. What are your takes on it and how do you feel about white privilege? Comment below!