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MIT student blogger Natasha B. '16

Killer Mike, Lupe Fiasco, and the Dancing Body of the State by Natasha B. '16

five gatherings of many people

This week was surreal, like turning pages in a book of moving pictures. Here are some headlines:


Thomas DeFrantz and the Dancing Body of the State


Thursday afternoon, Thomas DeFrantz, a former MIT professor and current professor of African-American Studies and Dance at Duke, gave a profound lecture to a rapt and engaged audience. He began with a walk across the front of the room demonstrating a “switch,” a precise and confident shifting of weight and swaying of hips, and a beautiful sentence from his upcoming book on queer black social dance. He went on to discuss the “politically embodied concepts and dances originating in African-American communities that enjoy concentrated popularity outside those communities:” dances such as vogueing, J-setting, and hand dancing. He showed clips from the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, of Madonna’s popular simplification of vogueing, of Beyonce J-setting in the “Single Ladies” video and Miley’s “unconfident and profoundly uncool” attempt to twerk, of Al Minns and Leon James dancing the Lindy Hop and other jazz dances of their time, of Michelle Obama as she “becomes herself more and more, it seems, and that self is actively engaged in black social dance.” Cynthia O’ ’16 and I swooned in our seats and ate free shish kebabs afterwards while we talked to Tommy DeFrantz. I considered switching up my whole life plan and going for a Ph. D. literature, like the woman in the back of the room who asked good questions. There are so many new questions to ask.


Killer Mike on Race Relations


On Friday, Killer Mike of Run the Jewels faced a packed room. There were journalists, students, educators, locals. You can read about the event on Complex or Billboard. Below are the bits I scribbled down.

On race:

I’m qualified to be here because I am a black man in America, and that does not make me independent of America–I am as American as apple pie and slavery.

Solving racism has less to do with politics and more to do with–look around you–look to the left and the right like you in black church–your life, your circle of friends should look like this. They should not all look like you.

The problems are not outside of us, they are within us.

This needs to be something substantial. Not “look, we got Killer Mike at MIT. I’m not here to get you to buy a CD. I don’t care if you come to my next show. If you’re not interacting with and befriending people who don’t look like you, you are not doing enough.

If we’re willing to broaden our minds, the horizon is endless.

It’s time we take ourselves off the teams we were born on.

I am an advocate for the people who are the most oppressed being the primary organizers of action against that oppression.

In response to a question asking what new technology he would have MIT students invent:

What technology puts people in the same room? What technology exists to get people in a circle? I believe in the power of human interaction. Too much of our communication now occurs between the cold crevices of keyboards and encourages people to be mean. You get fed rage from the time you wake up. If you’re a liberal you get fed liberal rage. If you’re conservative you get conservative rage. And then someone posts something online you don’t like and you give it to them. But we don’t pay attention to the real brutalities happening around us.

On Atlanta:

Atlanta worked.

Atlanta is the potential of the African-American in this country fulfilled. Atlanta taught me to unpack a lot of my racial thinking. When the only people around you to blame look like you, you have to think about the other variables, like class. A lot of what I was mistaking for racism was classism.

This shit is not just about race. It’s about a class of people thinking they are entitled to something.

He talked about the importance of diversity and cultural exchange. “We should make sure the design team reflects the people who are wearing [products], buying them.” He urged people to reach out, to think bravely, to take Louis Vuitton and Gucci to task for suing Dapper Dan out of business and then snatching up and peddling his innovations. He spoke from a place of knowledge, experience and compassion on community organizing and policing. He discussed Run the Jewels’s new music video for the song “Close Your Eyes,” which “represents the futile and exhausting existence of a purgatory-like law enforcement system. There is no neat solution at the end because there is no neat solution in the real world. However, there is an opportunity to dialogue and change the way communities are policed in this country.”



Lupe Fiasco at MIT SpringFest



We stood at the top of the stadium, high up against the back wall, where the spotlights shone out in thin beams of thick yellow. We were so close to the lights I was afraid every time they swiveled that my shadow would be cast over the whole crowd. We watched and danced and were wildly in love with Lupe.



Black Market



The Cambridge Community Center is a six-minute ride from my house. There is a “regular roaming market” of artists and vendors selling old records, old clothes, crafts, zines, and more. There were lots of beautiful punks and hippies. I rubbed some free-sample shea butter on my hands and bought a literary and arts zine called Infinite Scroll, which contains poems, pictures, comics, essays, stories, and a beautiful collection of photographs of Marfa, Texas.



Dudley “The Center for High-Energy Metaphysics” Co-op comes to pika



Harvard has a co-op, too. Yesterday I grated about ten pounds of cheese for macaroni and brewed rosewater lemonade with dried rose petals and lavender (above). They brought blueberry-pear pies. We sat on the front porch and talked about co-op things like consensus-based decion-making and collective grocery shopping.