How I Got Radicalized

As a child, I knew Radio Raheem died but not how. Only later did I realize a trash can through a window was a reasonable response.

Spike Lee on the set of his film ‘Do the Right Thing’
Spike Lee on the set of his film ‘Do the Right Thing’
Photo illustration, source: Anthony Barboza/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Welcome to How I Got Radicalized, a new series at GEN that tells a story about a cultural moment that made you drastically rethink how society works.

I was 10 or 11 when I first watched Do the Right Thing, decidedly too young to sit through Spike Lee’s 1989 film peppered with scenes and language that my elders would have likely deemed too “colorful.” …


After so many months of casualties, the only deaths we talk about are the ones that carry a message

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Chadwick Boseman. Photo: Jason LaVeris/Getty Images

In the early months of the pandemic, in an effort to pace myself when consuming the torrent of news, I allowed myself to read the charts only once a day. Every night before bed, I would dive in, studying the latest case counts and death tolls. I would spend nearly an hour building small curves inside my head, trying to prepare myself for what might be coming to Ohio. I was trying, as so many did in the beginning months, to take control over a virus that had (and still has) no interest in our desires. …


From Lil Baby to Megan Thee Stallion, rap has defined the activism — and uncertainty — of the Trump era

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Noname performing at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, 2017. Photo: PYMCA/Getty Images

It is 2020, and the patience of the people has worn thin. This is true on many fronts, including in our growing ambivalence toward the idea of celebrity. Popular culture will never be entirely free of its obsession with fame, but particularly during the pandemic, there has been a frustration, even an outright dismissal, of celebrity culture. The frustration, largely, stems from how plainly the limits of celebrity have been shown when it comes to offering any direct aid to a high-stakes moment.

In the world of rap music, there have been frustrations as well, particularly in recent weeks. Even for those hip-hop fans who were not interested in entertaining the distraction of a Kanye West presidential run, there was the fresh annoyance with Ice Cube for working with the Trump administration as an adviser on a plan for Black America, and with Diddy for swinging in late last week to claim he was starting his own political party, Our Black Party (though he did this while also officially endorsing Joe Biden). In the case of Cube, many cited a departure from the politics he performed in his younger days with N.W.A. and as a solo artist. In the case of Diddy, it was just a further example of him being out of touch with the needs of people who aren’t as wealthy as he is. …


A new series from GEN looks at how we can reconcile our organizing lives with our working lives

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Photo illustration. Sources: Brooke Fasani Auchincloss, Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

As I have been putting together “The Uprising Marches On,” GEN’s package on what’s next for the movement for Black lives, I have been finding myself explaining to people more and more how I distinguish between my work as a writer and my work as an organizer. For the latter, it comes down to showing up in the best way I can for the many communities which call me one of their own. This is something I feel good about most days. I feel good about the former, too — not often because of my own writing, but for the kind of writing I’ve encountered while editing this package. …


As people march against police brutality, music makes the movement more accessible

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Illustration: Rose Wong

It’s hard to explain the extent to which humidity can wear on a body. In Columbus, where I live, spring doesn’t turn gently into summer. The season ends abruptly, with the heat of summer overwhelming the calm air of spring. With so many new people taking to the streets, embarking on miles-long marches, the organizers in my community have sent out intermittent reminders: Start drinking water early, and drink more than you need. Even if it is 85 degrees out, dress like it’s going up to 95. Take a snack, if you can swing it. Walking through the thick, weighty fog of humidity can make lifting the feet more difficult. Sweat appears, not in small doses, but in waves. As the miles accumulate, it can be easy to lose focus. …


Violence is only permissible here when it’s state-sanctioned

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Police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 29, 2020. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

I find myself once again struggling with the American definition of violence. With who gets to define what violence is, and what it looks like. Some of this is because violence is so often discussed only as action, and not inaction: Protesters in the streets, but not institutional neglect. Violence in this country is so often discussed in the present, without any historical context. Our country talks about a city on fire, but rarely about what had to burn and who had to be left behind for a city to exist in the first place.

America now finds itself in another moment of reckoning, right as the country opts to “reopen,” a catchall term for some kind of return to normalcy that also whitewashes the risks for those who can’t work from home and must now return to the workplace. States like Ohio are setting up databases to report employees who don’t come to their place of work. Make no mistake: This is an act of violence. In a country where unemployment has skyrocketed and 40% of people can’t afford a $400 emergency expense, the wealth of billionaires continues to accumulate at the expense of exploited workers. This, too, is violence. People who are unhoused sleep outdoors in cities where hotels sit largely empty. Covid-19 has run through multiple prisons and detention centers, leaving many incarcerated individuals sick, and some dying without proper care. …


In 1988, the legend took the stage at the Grammys not to accept an award, but to give one — and to demand what he deserved

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Photo: Ron Galella/Getty Images

In the late 1980s, Little Richard became a sought-after guest in movies and on television shows — a reversal of sorts after a long, difficult period. The bulk of the ’70s had been hard on the legend; the rock and roll revival circuit didn’t take well to him, and as the decade wore on, his notoriously high-energy shows became marred by sluggishness and vocal issues. He’d complain about the lighting and the microphones. He was weighed down by drugs and alcohol and years of partying. By 1977, he returned to the comforts of the lord, releasing the 1979 gospel album God’s Beautiful City before going silent. But in 1985, Charles Wright’s biography Quasar of Rock: The Life and Times of Little Richard reignited public interest in Richard, who stepped back out into the world, insisting on reconciling his faith, music, and public persona. …


With the deaths of Ellis Marsalis, Adam Schlesinger, and John Prine, I’m left wondering whether music really can help us heal

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Photo sources: Ebet Roberts/Getty Images, Rich Fury/Getty Images, Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Over the past month, I have found myself relying on the warmth of familiar music. As bad news accumulates, I am returning to the records of my past — ones where I can identify every drum flourish and every guitar bend. I am craving the predictability of known sounds, at a time when I am without control in nearly every other aspect of my life. On a run through an empty street, I listen to the Coltrane my father loved. Sweat sits heavy in my too-long hair; my barbershop has been closed for weeks now, its windows covered in brown paper. But none of that matters as I hum the horn solo in “Cousin Mary” like I did as a kid in the passenger’s seat of our family van. The grocery store is a forest of reaching limbs and aisles packed with people both anxious about distance, but also anxious about what they have, and don’t have. …


In keeping with a years-old tradition of picking an arbitrary number of albums based on how long a year has felt and how much music has come out, I’m going with 85 albums this year, which is the most I’ve ever ended up with. I think this is a function of how much I traveled this year — I spent more times on planes/in airports/in hotel rooms than I ever had before. And I also made a commitment to not rely on repetition as much. New geographies required new soundtracks. So that’s how I ended up here. It’s also notable that with each year of done this, the number of albums seems to increase. Which I think is good, but also probably indicative of the fact that the years are beginning to feel slower. Here is last year’s, for the curious. Unlike last year, when my memory around albums felt really cluttered and messy, there was a lot of clarity in my memory of the albums I loved this year. A lot of touchable moments attached to them, even if it was just a moment of watching the clouds grow thinner from the air as a city emerged from an airplane window. A few important notes: There are a few albums I really like but are still kind of new and I’m still sitting with them so I didn’t include them here. Among them are the Harry Styles album, Roc Marciano, Kaytranada, and Atmosphere. I’m still in heavy rotation mode on those, and they’re not included below because they still feel fresh. Also, it’s not an album but I feel like I must shout out the illuminati hotties single “ppl plzr” because I’ve listened to it every day for a month and a half. AND ALSO, I didn’t include Burial’s compilation album because it seemed a little unfair but yes, it is perfect. Lastly, it’s vital to note that these are just my personal favorites and not the definitive best. I liked and listened to more than 85 albums this year, but I had to stop somewhere. As always, I’ll drop in some good writing or stories done by my peers with most of the albums. …


The actor/writer/director turned sketch comedy into a test bed for groundbreaking horror. Now, he heads into his next decade armed with the power to match his talent.

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Illustration: Jacob Rochester

By the time Get Out hit theaters in the early months of 2017, I was beyond ready to escape Connecticut. I had lived there for more than two years at that point, initially brought there by a partner’s job. I’d had a hard time adjusting, in part because it was difficult for me to process the very particular type of racial tension and discomfort that would often arise in New Haven, where I lived and worked. Racism wears many masks, as do the microaggressions it spawns. In the Midwest—where I came from—the racism was familiar to me. …

About

Hanif Abdurraqib

Poet. Writer. | Poetry editor @MuzzleMagazine | Author of The Crown Ain't Worth Much & They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. | Ohioan

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