Critique Doesn’t Land Without a Lot of Background Reading (so here’s a list)

As I sat down to draft this week’s blog post, I found myself at a bit of a loss. What could I possibly write, I wondered, that could follow what I’ve put out in the last two weeks? See, I never plan for my writing to reach very far beyond my own circle of friends, family, and fellow artists. When it does, that’s exceptional, but I’m always left with the same question: what do I write about now? Because as much as I love drum corps, this isn’t about to turn into an all-DCI blog. I’m still going to write about every genre of music and performance as it intersects with my creative practice and my identity. But what do I write to follow something so big?

The answer, I think, is something small. This week, friends, we’re not challenging major institutions and their power structures. We aren’t talking about Title IX or Phantom Regiment or schools who ignore sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of students by their private teachers. This week, we’re looking inward at ourselves. And a lot of times, that’s scarier, because we are inherently imperfect humans. We’ve all hurt people to extents we may not fully realize. But we don’t grow as a community unless every single one of us is doing this work, so it’s time to be brave.

This idea of consistent introspection is fresh in my mind for a couple of reasons. First, as some of you know, I am a firm believer in using the consequences of our actions as tools for positive change. This started at ASU, where I spent two semesters helping incarcerated writers improve their craft, and that experience continues to ask that I question and reevaluate gut instincts toward revenge and irreversible punishment (yes, even—especially—for assault-related things). I can’t call myself someone who leads with forgiveness—so frequently it’s not mine to give—but I always have an eye toward growth, especially when the personal work required to improve isn’t something the victim or affected party will be comfortable waiting around to see. Or, put another way, I’m never going to tell an abuse victim to give their abuser a second chance, but I think it’s important on personal and societal levels that the abuser is able to reach for the resources and knowledge to make them a safer person for folks to be around. (Before I move on, it’s important to note that fame and excessive riches are not appropriate resources here. Louis CK should not be getting gigs at comedy clubs. That does not help him become a more caring, considerate person.)

The other reason this is fresh in my mind, though, is because I’ve sort of found myself realizing that plenty of us genuinely need to be told that our behavior is hurting or threatening someone. During the spring, I started a series in my Instagram stories that I’ve tagged #MisogynyMonday.* Each week, I latch onto some (mostly) bite-sized topic and try to clarify it for folks who may not have a full understanding of its context and implications. While I won’t pretend to have all the answers on any of these topics, I try to puzzle through some of the particulars and leave everyone with a more nuanced view of the topic at hand. The response has been pretty tremendous—people are watching, engaging, and messaging me with questions and stories of their own.

As I point out in the stories, I can only speak to the experiences of a small cross-section of the population, and that’s important to remember. In my writings, when possible, I link to sources by folks with perspectives still more diverse than mine, but I’m working on making that a more organic part of my work (since, to be completely honest, I still kind of suck at it). And it takes time! We aren’t going to dethrone the white supremacist patriarchy overnight. Each of us needs to spend a long time listening, reading, and understanding before we speak, especially on issues that don’t directly impact our demographic. To put it in perspective as far as my own experiences, I started reading about feminism and institutionalized misogyny as a freshman in college. I didn’t start writing about it until (roughly) the second semester of my junior year. To this day, I will ask others to beta-read before I put up a particularly thorny post, and it still saves me from the occasional communication. (Try to talk to me in person about some of these nuances and I will stumble all over my words, especially if I’m put on the spot or frequently interrupted.)

The most impactful parts of my continuing education in this regard have been the books, articles, and Twitter accounts I’ve encountered along the way. These resources are full of information freely given by folks directly affected by oppression and bigotry, and they allow us to learn and widen our perspectives without demanding the emotional labor of folks who are not responsible for or interested in teaching us how not to hurt them. As such, I’ve decided that this week’s contribution to the discourse will be a list of critical reads (both musical and nonmusical) and good folks worth your follow. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a start. If you have questions about any of these selections, feel free to drop me a line. In no particular order, here they are:

  • Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow. This book is CRITICAL if you want to thoroughly understand how the justice system has been structured and manipulated to screw over people of color. It is one hell of a read, so give yourself time to chew through it.
  • Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. Boyle is a pastor and founder of Homeboy Industries, which employs gang members and the formerly incarcerated to enable them to lead fulfilling lives while staying out of prison. The Amazon blurb reads like Christians are its target demo, which is probably true, but if you’re more of a storytelling person, this is a great read.
  • Sappho and Anne Carson, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho. If you haven’t read bits and pieces of ancient lesbian poetry, have you actually lived?
  • Kyra Laughlin, National Sexual Violence Resource Center: “What Puts Survivors at Increased Risk of Suicide and How You Can Help“. NSVRC is a great resource across the board, and I highly recommend checking it out, but this article is a really vital one in this day and age (and, especially, given the way the news cycle works now).
  • Mckenzie Schwark, Project Consent: “why is consent for everyday touch important?” The good folks at Project Consent are doing really amazing work, and they are absolutely worth your follow. Start reading their work wherever you want, but this post is especially important to me.
  • Melissa A. Fabello, Bitch Media: “Touch Too Much: Let’s Talk About Consent Beyond Sex“. If you aren’t already following Bitch, put them on your radar. They have intersectional critique down cold. This post absolutely goes hand in hand with the one just above it, but I’d recommend reading both.
  • Rachel McKibbens: LETTER FROM MY HEART TO MY BRAIN/LETTER FROM MY BRAIN TO MY HEART. McKibbens’ writing is honest and pretty soul-wrenching sometimes. If you like her tumblr, go for her book, blud, next.
  • Ijeoma Oluo (@IjeomaOluo on Twitter) is a revolutionary force and the bestselling author of So You Want to Talk About Race. I’ve followed her on Twitter for ages, but this book is still on my to-read list. I’ll be picking it up this summer.
  • Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops on Twitter) is a scholar, professor at Brown, and citizen of the Cherokee Nation whose research focuses on “college access and transition for native students, and examining representations of Native peoples in pop culture through online communities.” You can find several syllabi on race theory, new media, and Native representations on her website, and I highly recommend checking them out—they are available for self-guided learning, and the reading list for each one will keep you busy for awhile. Her blog, Native Appropriations, is also worth your follow.
  • Rebecca Nagle (@RebeccaNagle on Twitter) is a Cherokee journalist, author, activist, and podcast host based in Oklahoma. Her work has been featured in a bunch of publications you’ve already read, but you should definitely give her your follow and check out her new podcast, This Land, which gives context and information about an upcoming Supreme Court case that will drastically affect five Native tribes and Oklahoma itself. Learn about treaty rights. Get educated. It’s necessary. (Note: I’m only linking to a few folks on here, but I highly recommend following as many Native folks and people of color as you possibly can. You’ll learn a lot without even realizing it.)
  • Blair Imani (@BlairImani on Twitter) is a Black, queer, Muslim author and historian. She’s the author of Modern HERstory, which “profiles and celebrates seventy women and nonbinary champions of progressive social change in a bold, colorful, illustrated format for all ages.” Her Twitter is delightful and her work is even more so.
  • Hanna Alkaf (@yesitshanna on Twitter) is a Malaysian author whose debut novel, The Weight of Our Sky, tells the story of a teenage girl caught in the middle of the 1969 Kuala Lumpur race riots. If you are at all into YA or book Twitter generally, she is worth your follow, and her book is sitting on my Kindle waiting for me to open it. (Friendly reminder: you don’t need to be a young adult to read YA. It doesn’t stop being a good story as you get older.)
  • Casey McQuiston (@casey_mcquiston on Twitter) is the author I’ve been recommending to literally anyone looking for a good book to read this summer. Their debut novel, Red, White, & Royal Blue, is a rom-com for the ages following Alex Claremont-Diaz, First Son of the United States, as he creates a PR nightmare with Henry, Prince of Wales. (Spoiler alert: it’s the best damn romance novel, queer or otherwise, you will probably read for a long time.)
  • Vilde Aaslid’s dissertation: “Interaction, Collaboration, and Improvisation in the Intersection of Jazz and Poetry” is a really fantastic read (I can’t find a link to send you to, but I maaaay have the PDF) and includes my single favorite sentence about jazz and gender that’s ever been written: “In this context, singers—and by extension, women in jazz—are tolerated as a necessary way to expand the jazz audience, but not included in the insiders’ preferred construction of jazz.” That sentence is highlighted, screenshot, and saved on my desktop. I reference it way too often.
  • Monica Hairston O’Connell’s dissertation: “The Wrong Place for the Right People? Cafe Society, Jazz, and Gender, 1938-1947” is a great breakdown of the nuances of women’s presence in jazz during the thirties and forties. Definitely a must-read.
  • Dorothy Carvello, Anything for a Hit. This is at the top of my to-read pile, and it should be for all my music folks as well. Carvello was the first female A&R exec at Atlantic and among the first at RCA and Columbia. In short, she’s put up with a lot of shit to get to where she is. Among my priorities for this year is finding documentation and stories from established, older women in music and figuring out how on earth they made all this work. I’m starting with this book.

The fact that I put this list together in under an hour probably tells you more than you needed to know about the amount of time I spend reading. Happy learning! Come back when you’re done (or, y’know, next Saturday, when I post again). ♦

*If you’d like to get the content from #MisogynyMonday but don’t have Instagram or would prefer to access it in written format, I do transcripts on my Patreon every week. For more resources on feminism and allyship, click here.