what poets do ft. ‘stranger things’

WHAT POETS DO ft. stranger things

what do poets do

we go to that place, where no one else wants to
propel ourselves through the barbed wire fences
slime, decay and darkness
cut through time and space to enter
another dimension

suspend ourselves from reality
for this mission

guided by nothing more than what you’d call
6th sense
or intuition

and to many we look as crazy as the lady
talking to her lights

but we go further in anyway, sometimes we disappear
let the soot settle on our skin
in layers
then sift through all of it
just so we don’t miss any precious stones
what you would call words
a mere string of words

but this mere string of words
turns your whole world upside down
if even for one moment
and allows you to see this land of magic
and mystery
if even for a moment

and all you can do is clap, snap
tell me “good!”
and tell me you want to see more of this world

do you know what it takes to go in there
do you know what it takes to come out
with gold
and to share it with you, instead of keeping it to myself
knowing you may marvel at it for but one
not offering me that heavy equipment i need to go back in
the machinery i need to keep breathing
in the upside down
help me bear the heavy gazes
of those watching from the nosebleed seats
those most concerned with summer pool parties
winter’s christmas theme
and enough eggos for breakfast. routine multiplied by routine.

it’s eleven now,
midnight soon, so
can you

tell me
where the words took you
what monsters it saved you from
or how the world looks different to you
or even ask me about the journey

and i’ll share more of the upside down
with you

voice > brand

i am so utterly tired of the part of my life  that tells me to “hurry up and become a brand”, meaning “hurry up and package, polish, and make yourself presentable so that the person that comes strolling by can’t help but stop and take interest.” i want to scream, “NOOOO. maybe they shouldn’t stop. maybe they aren’t the ones that need to connect to my story. maybe i will expend too much energy in that less than authentic connection that i could have spent going deeper within. maybe my story isn’t finished yet or maybe i haven’t honed my craft enough yet or…”

don’t get me wrong. i truly get the importance of putting yourself out there as an artist, and even in doing some things that don’t feel completely true to you. if it were not for my social media presence, my networking efforts, etc. i would not have had half of the opportunities i’ve had this year. but there is something that doesn’t sit well with me when some of the leading “influencers” of my day and age instill this fear in youth/creatives/hustlers that we ought to “brand” ourselves in order to make something of ourselves.

i think that following this advice without understanding that meaning/message/self-actualization should be the core of the journey/the art is what leaves us feeling hollow. more importantly, it leaves us without GOOD ART!! it is what leaves us chasing instagram likes and followers. and like nothing is ever enough. and that there has to be a transactional element to what one produces for it to be integrous. more important than urging people to put nice ribbons and fonts and catch phrases on themselves is to urge people to find their inner truth, inner compass, and use that to steer them into the right spaces, places, aesthetics, etc. because the world ends up packaging itself around conviction, truth and true beauty pretty organically…



In my life, if you look at my poetry. And my pursuit of it. You see that it exists at odds with the previous generations. That in many ways, it is birthed from that friction. In a world far, far away from the world of my parents. And even further from the generation before that. But if you make the journey past my grandparents, you’ll find this place that both rips my worlds—everything I’ve known—from beneath my feet and explains everything I feel in my blood. And this world can be captured with the life and legacy of a sole individual—my great grandmother’s brother—who I call Jyanti dada. Just a few days ago, he passed away. And though we had all seen it coming as he was in a state of rapidly deteriorating health, it felt like my world froze for a few moments.

Jyanti dada has spent his life tucked away in my grandfather’s ancestral village of Atroli in the state of Gujarat, in India. He has insisted stubbornly on staying in this village despite the lure of material wealth that pulled most of his family to India’s big cities, to America, and to London. And this one time five years ago, when I sat next to him from sunrise to sunset with a voice recorder, in an effort to capture what felt like the last bit of magic remaining in the world, I asked him about his life, his choices, his heart. And his answers to me, were in poetry. I’m not saying they were “poetic”. No, no. They were…actual poetry, kavitas, shayari…allegories on allegories, rhymes, metaphors, alliteration, imagery, wisdom, truth, beauty, observations, reflections…all in our native tongue of Gujarati…most of it freestyled. You see, my great grandfather was a poet. He was also a farmer and the village mukhee (the leader who maintains the law and order), but these titles are secondary to me. And when I first learned this–that he was a poet–when I was old enough to really understand the rarity, the purity of him, it felt like the greatest miracle the universe could ever give me. It felt like permission to step into who I was without abandoning what came before me. And I had been desperate, starving for that permission for as long as I’ve known.

And Jyanti dada asked me then–5 years ago–to leave everything here and stay there with him for a while, to volunteer at the local school, to sit out under the trees and write and recite poetry to my heart’s content. I wanted to, so so so badly. But for many reasons, I wasn’t able to. And it has been one of the biggest regrets of my life. Because I knew that hidden in his world, his words, his village, were the blueprints for the kind of life that calls my name every morning. And if only I had more time to write it all down. To take notes on what currents and choices brought about the most luminescent, hilarious, wise, enchanting human being I have ever met. If only, if only. But a few days ago, I was on the phone with one of his daughters–Alpa, who is also a brilliant poet and lyricist! And when I started to tell her what I loved about her dad, she broke down in tears and told me in Gujarati, “You have some of him in you”. And I didn’t think it was possible to receive a greater gift until I heard those words. And it gives me some faith that I maybe do have an ounce of the blueprints.

My goodness. Why am I tearing up again? Jyanti dada–this post will never, ever do you justice so I will dedicate part of my life’s purpose to you, and show you what you meant to me through my actions.


so much of what makes something wholesome, just, good, morally upright and ethical centers around this idea of inclusivity. think voting rights. access to health care, clean water, food. emphasis on diversity. community. affirmative action. “how few people can we leave out?” and then, so much of what makes something desirable, enticing, notable and valuable is linked to this idea of exclusivity. think olympic athletes. specialization. competition. adele concerts. adele herself. “how few people can achieve such skill, such heights?”

in many ways, the two concepts are oppositional. either one tends to come at the expense of the other. it’s a push and pull i find myself thinking about a lot. and most recently, it’s been on my mind in the realm of music.

you guessed it.

jay z strikes an admirable balance between the two with his newest album, ‘4:44’.  this feels noteworthy because for so long, for so many years, i have been rolling my eyes when any of his songs came on the radio. he raps about his billion grammy awards, his bank account, his all too exclusive lifestyle, interests and circle of friends, all too often. “Tom Ford”, “baddest b**tch in the game”, blah, blah, blah. content-wise, this may have been appropriate and even necessary during his formative years as an artist with a rags to riches story. but a decade or two in, it gets pretty stale and uninspiring. more than that, it starts to get annoying.

with ‘4:44’ jay-z definitely doesn’t abandon his tendency towards bravado and showmanship. after all, it is his signature. but it’s tempered with such genuine concern for community, brotherhood, social justice (namely, racial justice), open introspection about fatherhood and his masculinity, his wife and all the women of his past (his apology to all of them). most of the things on this list i’d attribute to a kendrick or cole album…had i not heard ‘4:44’.

the track ‘family fued’ is but one example on the album that achieves a striking harmony between inclusivity and exclusivity. “the track is about the separation in the hip-hop culture and community. Hov is witnessing new rappers disrespecting their old heads, while old school artists and fans misunderstand the new generations. “Family Feud” stands as Jay’s call for all rappers and fans to put aside their differences and come together for the good of the culture.” he raps about the importance of unity but he also reminds everyone of what sets him apart–what puts him on top when he says, “what’s better than one billionaire? two. specifically if they’re from the same hue as you” (referring to p. diddy and himself).

before i listened to the album in its entirely, i saw this post go around on instagram that reads “jay z album gonna make you: fix your credit, pay your child support and taxes, take care of your kids, apologize to your wife, change your instagram, sell your jewelry, buy property, buy more suits, pull your pants up and start reading books.” i thought it may have been a slight exaggeration for the sake of reposts.

i admit i was so very wrong. jay’s lyrics really do make you want to work towards something larger than yourself.

and then there’s the strategy outside of the the content, the lyrics. it’s in how the album was put out into the world–in perhaps the most annoyingly exclusive way in the history of music. the day jay dropped his album, the only way you could hear it was if you were a sprint customer or if you had previously subscribed to Tidal, his own music streaming service. even if you joined Tidal that same day, you wouldn’t be able to hear it. WHAAT????

i hung out in my car for hours on end, where local radio stations were playing the album all the way through. i was itching to hear it so badly that despite my mid-day hunger pangs that warranted me making or getting a real lunch for myself, i subjected myself to McDonald’s drive-thru just so i wouldn’t have to leave the car. the album is THAT good. and because he made it so exclusive to access, it made me yearn for it more. it carved more specific memories into my head. delayed. gratification. is. important. and it’s not to be confused with deprivation and absence, as jay z has literally poured his entire soul out for you and me.

it’s almost as if jay recognized that his new, more inclusive than ever music wouldn’t be believable to us–that he had to give it to us in the most jay z way imaginable.

i was looking for every reason to critique this album, to diss jay-z. especially after cheating on beyonce, i didn’t think he could do anything to redeem himself in my eyes. he still hasn’t. but this album is seriously worth listening to. it feels believable, convincing.



Are well educated people less racist?

It may be the case that better educated people are simply better at covering up their racist tendencies.

By Neerali Patel

For me, the biggest takeaway from the 2016 presidential election and its outcome is a lingering and building curiosity about the “other.”

Perhaps due to my urban life and cosmopolitan worldview, the closest I can get to explaining–and understanding–this elusive, esoteric “other” often takes the form of Michael Moore articles and documentaries about the economically struggling, Trump-voting Rust Belt. More recently, I’ve also explored this “other” in J. D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy, which explores and exposes the generations-deep culture of the people in a small steel town in Ohio.

Many of my liberal, well-educated friends have spoken with confident disdain of those “others” who landed Trump in office—rural, racist, and uneducated voters who were keen to elect a deeply immoral man to the most influential political position in the world.

Maybe this confident attitude stems from the fact that highly educated people tend to think of themselves as progressive, as sociologist Geoffrey Wodtke has uncovered—making it easy to demonize those who are uneducated as ideologically backward.

But I am not convinced that this narrative surrounding the “other” is just, or even accurate. Specifically, I’m talking about the reinforcement of a very harmful stereotype—that of the “uneducated racist.”

This contempt may seem well-warranted. But the idea that only poor, uneducated people can be racist is deeply classist and elitist. Moreover, it’s just plain wrong.

According to a study conducted by researchers Toon Kuppens and Russell Spears, well-educated people are not less likely to be racist—they just tend to be what’s known as aversive racists.

Aversive racism refers to those who express judgemental attitudes toward racial/ethnic minorities by persistently avoiding them or otherwise harming them in subtle ways. One seminal study on aversive racism, for instance, found that white people recommended Black candidates with the same marginal credentials as white candidates 20% less often. Test subjects never stated outright that Black people were inferior—but they clearly expressed judgemental attitudes toward them.

In some ways, aversive racism is even more frightening than traditional racism, because it allows for a kind of subterfuge. According to Wodtke, being more intelligent doesn’t stop people from being racist—it simply makes them better at covering it up. I don’t mean covering it up in the way one thinks of a carefully executed CIA covert operation. I am referring to lifestyle dynamics.

Think of the affluent, white spaces that aren’t necessarily situated in the confederate flag waving lawns of the South or the Trump voting Rust Belt. Where the populace is well-educated and politically correct in speech, but perhaps in speech only. I think to the wealthy, liberal college campus spaces I’ve occupied, where I was surrounded by countless incredibly intelligent students who sternly disassociated with any mention of racism, but who also rarely if ever associated with marginalized communities (namely, low income communities of color). While what I was witnessing may not necessarily be a wholly accurate example of aversive racism, it is certainly a set of dynamics that makes aversive racism more likely to take hold.

In the case of Trump, much attention has been paid to his uneducated, racist voters. There has also been outcry–rightly so–over people like the white-supremacy-affiliated Steve K. Bannon, who is overtly racist (and, interestingly, highly educated as well).

But aversive racism among Trump’s inner circle must not be overlooked.

Take, for example, Andrew F. Puzder, Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of Labor (now resigned). Puzder has a BA in history from Cleveland State University and a law degree from Washington University. He has never said anything overtly discriminatory, as Bannon or some Trump voters have.

But he is definitely racist.

As CEO of CKE restaurants, the company that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardees, Puzder has implemented policies that directly harm people of color. He opposes the minimum wage, and has pushed for robots/computers to replace low-wage workers altogether.

Almost anyone who works in the service industry knows that many low-income people of color occupy this space. The percentage of Latinos (40.4) and African Americans (31.2) that occupy jobs in the low-wage service industry is significantly greater than that of white Americans (20). So while Mr. Puzder isn’t known to be hostile toward minorities through his speech and demeanor, the way he approaches business—what he considers to be good business—comes undeniably at the expense of minorities. And bringing these already damaging practices to a national scale would mean making more marginalized Americans suffer.

Similarly, there is no room for calling Betsy DeVos, who has been named the Secretary of Education, anything other than an aversive racist. DeVos is not only well educated—she earned a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College in business administration and political science—she is a philanthropist and education activist, making it easy to assume she cares about civic duty and providing opportunity for all, especially those who exist at the fringes of our society. Like Puzder, she has also never said anything overtly discriminatory.

But she, too, is most definitely is racist (and, as the confirmation hearings have illuminated to painful effect, ableist).

In Detroit, where she wielded enormous influence over educational policy, DeVos turned schools, which should be a public service, into a machine for profit. And her initiatives to turn schools into money-makers have disproportionately disadvantaged low-income, African American, and Latino communities, leaving them with the most abysmal and consistently underperforming charter schools.

As the former Republican Party chairwoman in Michigan and chair of the pro-school-choice advocacy group American Federation for Children, DeVos has been a shining light to members of the movement dedicated to privatizing public education. She has worked to create programs and pass laws that require the use of public funds to pay for private school tuition in the form of vouchers and similar programs.

She has also pushed hard on schools of choice, where districts open their borders to kids from other jurisdictions. In concept, this could be a great equalizer: Children from poor districts could attend schools that have many more resources. But in practice, it has played out differently. In districts in Michigan that participate in choice, white and more affluent parents have fled sooner and minority kids have come into previously white schools, establishing de facto segregation, according to a report by Bridge magazine.

DeVos isn’t an educator or an education leader, but she will continue to scale the policies and practices she’s put in place in Michigan on a national level as the Secretary of Education. And it will result in creating greater distance between white America and the rest of America.

So what conclusions can we—should we—draw definitively from all this?

Perhaps that the uneducated Americans we so often dismiss for their “backwardness” are not necessarily the poster children for American racism. In fact, in fixating on this population, we reinforce the detrimental stereotype of the uneducated racist, while overlooking the power of aversive racism.

Aversive racism is dangerous because it cannot be observed at face value, and cannot be heard through the use of certain words. It is nuanced, complex, and often hidden behind the veil of erudite political correctness.

And here’s another important point—it’s not just those associated with Trump who can be aversive racists. Educated, ostensibly progressive liberals can say and do things that affect marginalized communities, even as they never outwardly express discriminatory beliefs.

According to an article in HubPages,

“…while liberal individuals might be more outwardly friendly towards minorities, they are also more affected by subtle biases they are unaware of. A bias an individual is not aware of is also a bias they are unable to confront and overcome….[In addition], studies have shown that white, liberal employers will almost always give an open position to a highly qualified black applicant over anyone else.  No racism there, right?  The problem arises when a white candidate and a black candidate are equally qualified for a position.  In almost every instance, a black candidate and a white candidate with the exact same credentials will result in the white person being hired.

As a well-educated American myself, I know that it would be more useful to analyze the life I lead—the people/institutions/structures I affiliate with—than to point fingers. I may not be an active aversive racist, but I also don’t think I stand on moral high ground because of my liberal, educated, diverse urban background.

Nobody does.

Michelle Obama isn’t a hypocrite

Recently, Michelle Obama very publicly called out Trump on his misogyny after the release of audio tapes in which Trump openly talked about sexually assaulting women. Many people took such comfort and found such healing in the way Michelle Obama unapologetically outlined how rape culture makes women feel—how it has made her feel and continues to make her feel—that there have been many calling for her to step up to run for office during the next election cycle. She is receiving praise and accolade from women and men all over the country and all over the world.

Despite the universal appeal of Mrs. Obama’s speech, there were some who took problem with her words. I first noticed the criticism on my Facebook newsfeed. One of my friends posted a story about Michelle Obama’s speech. Her relative responded in the comments by saying, “She hangs out with rappers that rap slang hate and misogynist language. Hypocrite much???”

Though I was relieved that my friend called out her relative for their racist remarks, I was more confused about her claim that Michelle Obama is a hypocrite as it relates to matters of calling people out on misogynistic behavior. Still, I thought this comment existed in isolation until I came across an article that made the same claim. And then I came across countless other articles attempting to make the same argument in American Thinker, Snopes, Gossip Extra, Fox News, from Rush Limbaugh, etc, etc.

Knowing that this is a more widely held view than I had known to be, I feel the need to challenge it.

So it is true that the Obamas are friends with many rappers and artists at large. They have hosted many rappers at the White House, but they have welcomed them on the grounds of their public persona as artists and entertainers. The first question that comes to my mind for those holding entertainers to the same standards as the person who is trying to be taken seriously in the political realm—someone attempting to be the leader of our country—is, “on what grounds are you able to compare them?” Second is that if you are as outraged by misogyny as you claim to be, then why don’t you have a greater sense of outrage towards Donald Trump? Why is it that you need to pen articles about the misogyny in the rap world and not that which is blatantly on display in this election—for the entire country to see, not just music aficionados to hear?

Another aspect to this, perhaps the most important, is the substance and message and influence of the work of so many of the artists that the Obamas have welcomed to the White House in the recent months. The first that comes to mind is Kendrick Lamar, who was one of the artists mentioned in the articles criticizing Michelle Obama. Not that it wholly matters, but contrary to what many of these right wing pundits would think, Kendrick Lamar not only doesn’t drink or smoke, he is considered a social activist for speaking about and raising awareness of issues that plague the African American community through his music. Anyone who has listened to any of his music knows this. In his most recent album, To Pimp a Butterfly, he has sampled a Tupac Shakur’s speech in which he warns society of the dangers of violence and poverty in the African American community. And far from being misogynistic, Kendrick doesn’t even promote any sort of violent or materialistic lifestyle. His song “Alright” is an example of how he attempts to offer healing to his community. His song “I” is about overcoming depression and celebrating oneself despite the world’s opinions and setbacks.


Obama has also met with artists like Chance the Rapper, who will also be at the White House for the Tree Lighting Ceremony this Christmas. Specifically, Obama has met with Chance to discuss the topic of criminal justice reform—an issue that hits very close to home for the Chicago native—one that he knows a lot about and can offer some productive insight on. In addition, anyone who has listened to Chance—especially his recent mixtape—knows that he is an even greater anomaly to some of the harshest negative stereotypes surrounding what it means to be a rapper. His words speak to a fondness for his childhood, his loyalty to his friends and family—the deep respect and love he has for the mother of his child, a reverence for community, his tone offers a lighthearted and upbeat feeling that you just want to dance to, his style is so youthful and playful. For god’s sake—his recent mixtape is called Coloring Book!

And just a few days ago Obama met with rapper Macklemore. They met to discuss how to combat the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our country. Macklemore also uses his music as a vehicle for social good. For example, his song “Inhale Deep”—though it is technically about drug use, shows how detrimental it (drug use) is and how it took away from his own creativity and career in the past. Macklemore has also offered consolation and healing to countless members of the LGBTQ community through his hit song “Same Love”. He is well known campaigner for gay rights among other things.

To me, the types of rappers that the Obamas have welcomed to the White House seem to be doing the opposite of what the criticisms claim. They seem to be choosing those artists that are notably role model worthy—those with a positive message. And why go after artists and rappers to do the work of uplifting and inspiring and conveying positive messages to youth in the first place? Why not seek out another—perhaps less controversial—profession? Because the reality is that kids are more likely to pay attention to what their favorite artist is saying—to emulate their qualities, something they can possibly relate to—than they are in just another politician or removed public figure advising them or attempting to seek some sort of influence over them without having much of an emotional connection with them. And so what these rappers bring by being at the White House is a sense of relateability to so many people in this country that feel they exist at the margins.

Common is yet another artist who has been criticized for his affiliation with the Obamas and yet he is committed to social activism in the form of the incarceration epidemic and youth empowerment in the form of greater access to college education.

The list goes on and on.

To me, it seems that what might be more bothersome than misogyny to those criticizing Michelle Obama is the particular policy and social issues that these rappers align with and stand behind. And if that’s the case, I would hope there is a more honest conversation around policy points. Because as it stands now, dismissing an entire genre of music that happens to be rooted in the African American community frankly does seem pretty racist.