A Reflection on Night by Elie Wiesel

There are only a few books in my life that I can say have impacted me to a great extent, and Night by Elie Wiesel is one of them. Simply put, he forces the reader to confront a battered history that had befallen the Jewish people in Europe during World War II. I can only say that it has brought me a greater understanding of the horrible actions that were taken in this shameful era of human history. But to greater extent, it puts a personal and vulnerable touch to what the Holocaust was. When I was younger, I had learned about the Holocaust with an almost separation from the events. I knew that 6 million Jews had been murdered by Hitler, but on that grand of a scale, I couldn’t truly comprehend each of those lives in all their complexities and tragedies. I have found myself digging for information on tragedies such as the Holocaust as it shows the raw and unfiltered humanness of life, oppression, emotion, and death. We rarely like to bring up things so painful that a word seventy-five years later still causes hushed whispers. But as time moves its metal hands, we can only spend that time understanding and progressing from what we had been before. Night is that much needed reminder of the atrocities that humans have the ability to do to each other. I would like to reflect on a passage Elie Wiesel’s acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. “…I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices…And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim…Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must-at that moment-become the center of the universe“(Elie Wiesel, 1986). I wish that things like this never happened, but seeing as we cannot alter history, we can only hope to prevent anything tragic in the future. We can only force ourselves never to forget, to inform our children of how horrible actions had caused endless suffering. And to never deny these concrete facts. To learn and read from survivors like Elie Wiesel gives us invaluable insight and personal accounts of a history that should never be repeated. I continuously am filled with a simple yet pressing question that doesn’t seem to be answered, which is: How could humans do this to one another? How could so much baseless hatred be directed towards a certain type of people? It brings me great sadness to have to reflect on something that should have never happened. And so, as Elie, I will advocate, stand up, and do everything in my ability to stop the suffering that befalls individuals and groups of people. Because if we don’t help one another, then it will only perpetuate more suffering that the world shouldn’t endure.

My Take on Religion

I was raised Methodist,  but very loosely. Loose as in religion had been a hand-me-down many sizes too big to the point that it finds itself falling off my shoulders. Sure, we went to church on Sundays, celebrated Christmas and other related holidays, went to Youth Group, but it was never a consuming presence in my life. We never prayed before meals, never read the Bible as a recreational practice, nor did we speak extensively about God and our relationship with the spiritual. And I think this has given me the clarity of mind to both understand my relationship and other people’s relationship with God. Let me plainly state that I am still unsure of where I stand religion-wise. (Note that I use God in the loosest sense, as I simply mean higher power, or energy force, or oneness, or universe all I think are interchangeable in this context)

I believe that religion is a way for people to understand the unnatural behaviors of the world and the consequences (whether positive or negative) of our actions. Religion is the crutch that holds up those in unfortunate situations, but has also been known to be the catalyst to wars, inhumane actions, and death. We cannot deny the raw truth of the effect of religion. But it is important to distinguish the effect of religion and religion itself. As the basis of EVERY religion we see a foundation of loving and kindness, we see undying respect for one another and complete and utter compassion. While religion can have differing effects on people, whether for greater or worse, a religion cannot simply be bad because horrible acts are carried out in its name, nor should we ever make this assumption.

My mistake as a younger individual was to simply blame a whole religion that caused suffering rather than look at the situation with more dexterity. I think this is the greatest harm the effects of religion can have. We first observe a wrongdoing by another person and are quick to attach a label to them for why they carried out such actions. Assumptions, and misleading ones at that. Over time this resentment builds up for the “religion” until it bursts. And out of the “us vs. them” mentality we have forever stuck a label of putridness to a certain type of people. I see this as the effect of religion, how religion seems to be a scapegoat for the observed wrongdoings of others. This should not be so. In fact any type of blame on a person is tragically a misleading feeling wherein the blame should be found in the discontinuity between the person and theirs actions.

I feel very strongly that as far as religion goes, I’m not opposed. However once it is used as an excuse for actions that produce negative results, that person is not at all following their religion. I believe religion should be less about the deities and higher powers that we pray to, but rather about the connectedness and oneness with others we gain from it. If we are only to have a relationship with God, then what does that say about our relationship with others?

As a teenager I will have to concede by saying that for me, praying seemed to be more of a pre-nap practice, wherein the head and eyes were relaxed and it would be silent. I didn’t however take those pre-naps as an opportunity to look within myself, to try and love others by loving myself. I did however to take them as warmups to the napping phase. I am guilty for that, but I think that religion is a concept that is very hard to grasp. This would cause a disengaged child and finally and inevitably nap time.

Children, I think have a hard time understanding metaphors and complex literary devices used in such texts as the Bible. I think by any standard a boat with 2 members of every species on earth is somewhat outlandish. I think that those who created the texts of the Bible wanted to convey complex information into more understandable dialogue, and what’s better than a story to do so? For me, hearing that god created everything in 7 days seemed completely insane to me. I could barely finish an essay in that time and God created everything just like that? That easily? But I think we focus too much on the time frame aspect, and as authors of the Bible what’s the best way to explain time? By showing the transition of light to dark to light. Years would be a harder concept to convey as we would never really know if it were a year without math and geometry, and so any other concept of time was somewhat foreign. I believe that less so 7 days, but 7 stages. The authors were less worried about the time fame, and more worried about how to convey the starkness between one time period and another. This one very minute metaphor seems to be the beginning of a text sprinkled generously with more literary devices. And with metaphors always comes varying interpretations of what the words mean. Did Jesus really walk on water? Can you really heal a leper just by touching them? Do humans really have the power to split water apart? And so on. But I think people believing truly in such events are simply missing the whole point of the Bible.

Many award winning books are works of fiction, and fiction has always caught the attention of audiences. And so rather than telling a nonfictional story about a higher presence, the authors wanted to reach a greater audience. They wanted to awe their audiences with amazing stories of healing, of talking snakes, of boats that could hold every type of life form on earth. I am not saying these events are false, but what I am explaining is the motive and intentions of the authors and curators of the stories.

I understand that I am on the beginning of my journey to understanding the world, the spiritual, and in effect, myself. I am in no way one who understands the spiritual, but I am open to learn. If anything, being a person who is one with God, I find, is a person one with the rest of humankind, with all life forms, and with the unknown. We all strive for this, whether it be through religion, or morals, or meditation.

What’s Up with Country Music?

I listen to a diverse amount of music. I able to switch from Bowie to Bon Iver at will. My iPod (I know, they’re ancient things) I have rap music, classic rock, all the way to experimental music. But there is one type of genre I cannot get myself into, and it is Country. Now, before I say anything else, I am for the most part impartial to Country, I do not love it, nor do I hate it, but that is why I don’t listen to it. Country doesn’t invoke the type of emotion a hardcore guitar rift on Free Bird or the piercing and emotional vocalization of Florence and the Machines do. I do not consider myself a music nerd, I am far from that, but I do think that Country, in itself is a type of genre that doesn’t seem to have a sweet taste to my ears. There are a few things that I consider to be on my music list, and think Country misses the mark.

The first and foremost fact is that Country doesn’t add value to me, or the music scene. Let me explain. Many types of music genres have popped out of oppression whether parental, racial, or generational. A few examples include rock, which found itself popular within young teenagers who wanted to escape from their family. Or look at punk rock, which repeats the same mantra above, but with more raw and jarring emotion. It is easy to see that the roots of popular music genres of blues, soul, rap, and even gospel can be attributed to the oppression of African-Americans. What I mean to say is in our modern music genres they are all created out of a need to escape, namely a coping mechanism for that generation. While it isn’t necessarily true for all music genres, the roots of many can be traced back to the historical need to escape.

I am open to listening to Country’s background popping out of oppression, but as of now, I cannot make that connection. Because of this, I am not emotionally invested in Country, even if I enjoy a Country song, I will not add it to my music, partially because I don’t get anything from it. Now my second point is important for the genre as a whole, especially because of its intended audience. I think, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not always right, but I believe that Country music specifically caters to rural areas, and more specifically white people. What’s important to note is that I rarely see a non-white person listen to Country. Not that it doesn’t happen, but it isn’t as common as that same person listening to rap, rock, or even pop. And in a country where the minorities are becoming the majority, I do not find Country to be a viably sustainable music genre. Seeing as city populations and minorities increase, I can only be led to assume that Country will inevitably meet its end.

When that will be is a question of how quickly cities will increase in size, but my point is more to the fact that there is only so much “ear space” a person has. This means that if a person is listening to rap, then that is one opportunity that Country has failed to capitalize on.

Let me take a real world example of Country being phased out. Today we know Taylor Swift as a pop icon, but she had started in Country. Whether she recognized it or not, a Country audience isn’t as far reaching as a pop audience. She took the opportunity to transition from Country to pop, and I think this transition was very apparent in her album titled Red. It contained some pop and some Country music,  while her most recent album, 1989, is filled to the brim with pop bangers. And now Taylor Swift has captured audiences she never would have thought of if she continued pursuing Country.

So for Country to continue as a music genre, its audience either needs to grow, or it needs to cater to its audience. But if it catered to its audience, what we know as Country will not be Country. It will become, or already is, a niche music genre that is past its prime.

And if none of these reasons sway you, I don’t listen to Country music because I don’t like it.

Going to College For Free

We stress, especially in high school, the importance of higher education, regardless of what its initial cost is. This has lead many college students to find themselves in massive IOU’s that will last lifetimes. For me, the thought of owing anyone any amount of money is scary, pressing, and a real fear. Fortunately, the world rewards people who work hard, and are willing to make sacrifices, for the betterment of themselves. For me, that came in the form of a scholarship. Last year, around this time I was in the position many high school seniors are in right now. They’re waiting for an acceptance or denial letter, hopefully the former, to take that next step in higher education. What may even be a more pressing matter than going to a certain college, is the question of being able to pay for that schooling. These were the two questions I considered. What college will I go to? And, How will I pay for it?

Last year, I had spent many of my free hours searching through scholarships, and anything that would give me money for essays. As I recollect how many scholarships I applied to, the number must have been over 20, possibly more. I had a running list of all the applications and their costs. I remember I applied for something like a potential million plus dollars worth of monetary compensation. I know, it was a crazy amount that is hard for me even now to comprehend. But, I told myself that even if I got 10 percent of all the scholarships I applied for, I’d be set. It was not a stressless year. I’d considered not going to college on more than one occasion, and although it seemed like a rational thought at the time, it was my reaction to a world that was changing in front of me faster than I could think. Luckily, I was able to gather myself and realize the bigger picture. I owe the reality check to my father, and while he forced me to consider every potential outcome, I think it was a way to rationalize and categorize my options. And when the acceptance letter to USC came in the mail, I had my first break, my first real step towards my goal of higher education. While I had gotten into USC, I also found myself an owner of an acceptance letter from West Point. I will not go into the long and laborious process of that application, but I will say that it was another outcome I had to consider.

My second break came in the form of a scholarship, a big one. At the beginning of my senior year I applied for an Army ROTC scholarship to a list of colleges. They had gotten back to me, and USC was on that list. At that moment, I had a school, and how to mostly pay for it. I was ecstatic. I had found my dream, and a way to achieve it, especially considering that USC is one of the most expensive colleges to attend. Over the course of the next few months, I found myself the owner of a few other scholarships that allowed me to attend USC this first year with as little debt as possible.

Next year, however has been an increasing variable as I had not considered many scholarships this year. Fortunately, I saw the perfect opportunity at USC. I had spoken to my RA about potentially being an RA for next year, and he believed that I would be a perfect fit. It was a long process, but I have come out the other end successful. Next year I will be an RA as USC, and it gives me great pride and happiness to say that. Not only will I have the finances to continue my learning, but I will also have the ability to gain applicable experience for many of my future jobs. And so next year, I will be going to college for free. In fact, I will get paid for learning.

The biggest thing that I have gotten out of this whole ordeal is how important it is to consider every route, every possibility. For all the high school seniors, I know what it feels like to be confused and anxious for the future, but all it requires is one goal, one committed person, and lots of persistence. And maybe college could be free for you, too.

Solving America’s Prejudice Problem

Just like a third of the rest of the world, you practice Islam. You pray five times a day, you participate in Ramadan, and it just so happens you live in the United States. As a country that not only celebrates the freedom of religion, but was founded off of it, you believe that you are safe to practice your beliefs. Unfortunately, the United States is not what it seems, and is instead quite prejudice against you. You regularly encounter American citizens calling you a terrorist, denouncing Islam, and violently threatening you. You are afraid, and reasonably so, since hate crimes against Muslim-Americans have steeply risen in the past few years. You know that over 4 out of 10 people hold prejudice towards Muslim-Americans (Gallup, Inc.), but you feel optimistic because you know this anger is misguided. Americans are fearful, and you are perceived to be the closest thing to the source of their fear. The fear has stemmed from attacks on American soil by the very few Muslims that had no connection to you. Then, you observe that this fear is inflamed by the hysteria of conservative media and misinformation. This is what the United States has become, fear and anger perpetuated by stereotypes, the media, and a need for the perception of safety. Due to terrorist attacks perceived to be carried out by Muslims, Americans have turned to security measures detrimental to the United States’ relationship with other countries; however, the more effective solution would be to change the psyche of the American people to perceive Muslims differently through the media.

Even at the time of its foundation, the United States was never friendly to diverse populations of people. One only has to consider the colonization of North America, slavery, or Japanese Internment to know that it has had a history of prejudice. Blaming Muslim-Americans for the cause of terrorist attacks is no different; sadly, it was almost predictable. After the United States infiltrated the Middle East for a selfish need for oil, relationships between countries became turbulent. It is understandable to look at the situation from the Middle East standpoint, where the United States used its military force to take advantage of its resources, and created tensions which destabilized nations that would have been better off without United States intervention. It is also understandable to dislike the actions of the United States as it had supported “…local regimes, denounced as authoritarian, corrupt, and repressive…” as addressed in Understanding Al Qaeda: Changing War and Global Politics by Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou. The United States had caused an uprising in radicalist groups within the Middle East who wanted to do harm to the source of the problems. One such radicalist group was called Al-Qaeda, which was led by a man named Osama Bin Laden. They had carried out a horrific four pronged attack at the heart of America causing thousands of American deaths. Americans saw this attack to be detrimental and caused an enormous amount of pain. However, the way American citizens dealt with the trauma was misguided. The anger and pain that Al-Qaeda created has only been fueled by media needing interesting and attention catching headlines. It is quite apparent that terrorism, while gruesome and vile, have been the subject of news outlets throughout the world. As written in Beyond 9/11: Terrorism and Media in a Mid-term Period View (1998–2005) by Paolo Campana, “As it was to be expected, between 1998 and 2005, the [seven] newspapers examined have given plenty of space to the terrorism issue: on average, about 1,940 articles per year per newspaper.” What news corporations have figured out, is that terrorism can get their sales to peak. Knowing this fact, they’ve allotted space to make sure terrorist attacks have a front headline. It is important for a news corporation to stay relevant and comment on current events, but they also have an ulterior motive to create an audience that follows unquestionably. The most recent headline comes from an alt-right group called BreitBart which has radically racist beliefs and is blunt about voicing their opinion. The headline reads, Here’s Everything I Wanted To Say About Islam Yesterday, But Couldn’t, and was written after the Orlando shooting of June 2016. The rhetoric is written, “America has a Muslim problem…The terror attack [in Orlando] is an expression of mainstream Muslim values.” While it is important to note that the United States is founded off of the freedom of speech, news outlets have a responsibility with the weight of their words. Listened to more often than not, BreitBart needs to understand how much leverage words have on the psyche of American citizens. These hateful words have horrible consequences that empower Anti-Muslim hatred and actions that have the perception of providing safety to the American population. As described by the Columbia Journalism Review, “The prevalence of Islamophobia has been…contributing to the belief that all terrorists are Muslims and hence that all Muslims be viewed with suspicion, justifiably hated, excoriated, and even banned. At the same time, amplification by social media reinforces hostile political rhetoric…” What is unfortunate is that not only are media outlets providing false information of Muslim-Americans, but American citizens are sharing these articles at an astounding rate. Social media has been flooded by negative and detrimental rhetoric of the Muslim-American population, which is a way that the United States has resorted to create an illusion of security.

Security has constantly been the United State’s main priority, which has only become more essential after terrorist attacks. Without security, the United States would become a target of angry and violent terrorists. It is important to realize what is described in Terrorist (E)motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism, “To do violence is thus to experience a euphoric sense of transcendence, of being outside the self and thrust into the present in a way that is like a drug.” Not only is effective security required to stop dangerous people from causing harm, but the public perception that the United States is providing up to par security is also needed. Without the latter, the American population would fall into mass hysteria where security had been broken and imminent threats will harm anyone. Whether this fact is known in the media world or not, they have advocated the necessity of keeping up the image of effective security. Media outlets such as BreitBart or Fox News paint a picture of the “Good guy vs. Bad Guy” world where they show the United States versus the Muslim population. This is the aesthetic that alt-right media corporations have chosen, that the mission of the United States is to defeat the bad guys. It is an aesthetic that takes advantage of the American population’s simplistic views of enemies and allies. Dangerous and harmful rhetoric uses this same technique to coddle its audiences to believe them through scare tactics. What is important is to note that the American population has no desire to observe the true magnitude of the situation. They are completely satisfied listening to hateful comments about Muslim-Americans which are thus embodied into actions and words that carry the ideals of media corporations. Not only are all these skewed ideas of Muslim-Americans and harmful rhetoric channelled through the media, solutions to the problem of terrorism and security have been proposed by a person soon to be the most powerful person of the free world.

On November 8th, 2016 the United States elected Donald Trump to become their president, who has proposed solutions to terrorism in America. However, his solutions ride on the assumption that Muslims are the root of all terrorism. Though some of the terrorist attacks that have happened on American soil were carried out by people who followed Islam, the connection with Islam stops there. Some terrorists follow Islam, but a more massive percentage of terrorists follow Christianity. As the US News explains in The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing: A New Threat Emerges,  “Of the more than 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11, only 33 have come at the hands of Muslim-Americans…” So this bring up the question, why doesn’t the United States look to other reasons for terrorism than just religion? Well, it is important to note that the American population holds grudges for a long time. Additionally, the American population has been conditioned by media corporations to hate anything foreign. All of these factors combined becomes a catalyst to hate crimes. What is important is the The New York Times notes in U.S. Hate Crimes Surge 6%, Fueled by Attacks on Muslims, “There were 257 reports of assault, attacks on mosques and other hate crimes against Muslims last year, [in a comprehensive FBI report] a jump of about 67 percent over 2014.” The unfortunate aspect of a hateful President-elect and corrupt media corporations is that their words justify racist language and actions. It then leads to hate crimes targeting Muslims which gives Muslim-Americans a reason to dislike America. Donald Trump has no intention of sewing up the wounds between Muslim-Americans and the rest of the American population. When the President-elect proposes to build a wall, stop immigration of all Muslims, and plans to deport millions of people, it sends a message of hostility to the rest of the world. All these solutions cater to Americans fear of the unknown and primal anger, while not addressing the real problem, which is prejudice against anyone perceived to be Muslim.

The United States has a prejudice problem that has persisted for its whole existence. While the idea of creating a community that is unbiased is close to impossible, there are measures that can be taken to lessen the impact. All the solutions proposed by the President-elect aim at slapping a bandage over the wound, when it really needs surgery. They are all short-term solutions to a long-term problem. To find a solution, there needs to be a realization that gets back to the basics. These basics would have to derive from appealing to the American population’s emotions. However, to fully depend on a person’s emotions would cause a reaction that could turn away the audience. Not only would a solution have to include emotions, it would have to come from someone who has gone through that prejudice. This solution may seem obvious in this context, but has rarely been approached in regards to the media. One media source called Viceland in an episode called “Ramadan” of a series called “Balls Deep” took this approach by having a man join a Muslim family during Ramadan. It allowed for conversations about Muslim culture in a positive and productive context. However, the problems arise when the show was aired. The media source called Viceland was a relatively new news source when it showed that episode. While this isn’t the only problem, the channel itself caters to a younger generation. Since the channel had little time to have influence on the rest of the media in conjunction with the fact that it is meant for a younger generation , it didn’t allow for a proper marinating within the American population. To be effective in changing the minds of the nation, Viceland would have to have a longer presence in the television realm and try to capture an older audience to have a greater effect. Using the media to convey messages is an effective way, if used properly. To do so, would be to convince the whole American population, but would have to be approached in a subtle, but impactful way.

The best way would be to look at the subliminal messaging that commercials use. There has been research in the Neuroscience of Consciousness that shows in Subliminal Messages Exert Long-term Effects on Decision-making that “Several studies reported that subliminally planted information can be semantically integrated outside conscious awareness…” This is an important part of advertising, and approaching prejudice in subliminal messages would make the American population think twice about their actions, in an unconscious manner. An implementation of such a solution would include commercials that have Muslim-Americans subtly slipped into the scene, whether they are simply walking passed in the background, or used as the main subject. These subliminal messaging would help to exterminate the biases that have been ingrained since first contact with media. However effective the subliminal messaging may be, a need for additional parts to this solution are required to supplement the ingrained hatred culminated from decades of anger towards Muslim-Americans.

The media has always planted the message that Muslims are the root of all terrorism since a perceived rise in terrorism has angered the American population. When watching movies surrounded around terrorism, one doesn’t question the ethnicity of the antagonist, but small, and impactful subliminal messaging has found its way into Hollywood movies. The message revolves around the idea that a Muslim equals a terrorist. While equating these two are not fair in terms of understanding Muslim culture, it repeatedly happens, as written in The Guardian in the article From Aladdin to Lost Ark, Muslims get angry at ‘bad guy’ film images, “[A] study, titled The British media and Muslim representation: the ideology of demonisation, argues that Hollywood has a crucial role in influencing how the public views Muslims.” And this influence is not a positive one. Movies such as Homeland or American Sniper have implemented Muslims as the bad guys to the American good guys. Just like news corporations, Hollywood takes the basic track of reducing Muslims to terrorists. A normal viewer of these movies does not critically think about what ideals movies shove down their throats, but has been subliminally planted there. A better use of ethnicity of the antagonist in terrorist movies should be more representative of the real world outcome. This means that the ratio of Muslim terrorists to terrorist of another ethnicity throughout Hollywood would be the same ratio outside of movies. Allowing for this change in movie creation would not only give Muslim-Americans other roles to play in movies, but the general public will be exposed to less Islamophobic media. A recognition of this biased problem must be recognized in the media for the rest of the American population to become more inclusive.

Drastic changes of the media must happen to adjust how Muslims are perceived by other Americans after terrorist attacks. In order to happen, the United States must reassess how its media is consumed and interpreted. For a Muslim-American, like yourself, you know that America has a large amount of steps to take towards a safe and accepting place. However, you have understood that slavery was eventually abolished and the Japanese Internment was resolved which has given you hope that Islamophobia will meet the same fate. You know that the United States has bounced back from such horrible events, so you know that it wouldn’t be any different. The American population has simply been told what to believe without ever questioning why, but you know that their ideas of Islam will change. Recently, there has been an uprising of independent news sources, which have an agenda of unbiased news, while large news corporations have skewed information to their benefit. Through these efforts, the United States will become a more united country that stops the continuing prejudice towards Muslims.

Sources:

Campana, Paolo. “Beyond 9/11: Terrorism and Media in a Mid-Term Period View (1998-2005).” Global Crime, vol. 8, no. 4, 2007., pp. 381-392doi:10.1080/17440570701739744.

Cline, Seth. “The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing: A New Threat Emerges.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Cottee, Simon, and Keith Hayward. “Terrorist (E)Motives: The Existential Attractions of Terrorism.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, vol. 34, no. 12, 2011., pp. 963-986doi:10.1080/1057610X.2011.621116.

Gallup, Inc. “Perceptions of Muslims in the United States: A Review.” Gallup.com. 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

“Hate and Incriminate: The US Election, Social Media, and American Muslims.” Columbia Journalism Review. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

https://www.facebook.com/myiannopoulos. “Here’s Everything I Wanted To Say About Islam Yesterday, But Couldn’t – Breitbart.” Breitbart News. 16 June 2016. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

Lichtblau, Eric. “U.S. Hate Crimes Surge 6%, Fueled by Attacks on Muslims.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

Mohamedou, Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould. Understanding Al Qaeda : Changing War and Global Politics (2). London, GB: Pluto Press, 2011. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 17 October 2016.

“Neuroscience of Consciousness.” Subliminal Messages Exert Long-term Effects on Decision-making | Neuroscience of Consciousness. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.

“Ramadan.” Balls Deep, Viceland, 2016.

Ward, Lucy. “Muslims Get Angry at ‘bad Guy’ Film Images.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 25 Jan. 2007. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.

Living in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is known for its immense amount of idling cars, the bourgeoise, and of course it’s weather. Sunny Southern California may make a name for itself by the pastel colored beach sunsets, or the incandescent neon specks of light that blanket Downtown. And while the original length of its name is debated(LA Time), we can readily assume that a city melted down into two letters is quite an impressive feat. Just two letters, the same letters that make up “the” in French (la in french denotes the feminine the), can be assigned to 3 and a half million plus individuals. I think that the significance of this fact cannot be overstated. Something as foundational in one language can be the hub of population for another.

LA is a name so ubiquitous that it is the American West Coast city. It contains an assortment of races, religions, classes, abilities, talents, and views that show the diversity that America holds so dearly to its ideals. Los Angeles is the place where people who’ve “Made It” go. Movie stars, artists, musicians, academics, and athletes all find their home in the City of Angels. We like to assume that LA is a city that is the home of the unreachable, of the people so successful that we have no chance of ever living in such a place. At least, that is what I thought before living here for the past 5 months.

I find that with every wish granted with a shooting star, another opportunity is taken away from the less fortunate. What I mean is that I live close by to communities where tents and parks become their beds. I live close by to such poverty that a one mile drive away from campus reveals the ramshackle community beyond with their anxiety riddled faces, and a shopping cart to their name. The campus of USC is north of Compton, but only just so, that we see the edges of a world that is just trying to get by.

We can blame the desperation of such communities to White Flight, but that is not what defines them. What defines them is the fact that they’re still holding on. I think that because USC seems so much like a bubble, that I forget that LA is not a collection of maintained red brick buildings. There are things that we forget because we don’t want to remember them. We don’t want to remember poverty, and so we block it out. We don’t want to remember our horrendous past, so we formulate a different history. We want to believe that LA is a city that contains all the great parts of the country, and so we stop talking about the world beyond the glamour. Even if the world beyond is the one thing we need to talk about.

And when people bring up the fact that we have a homeless problem, I would like to correct them by saying that we have a housing problem. We have an inability to take care of our most in need individuals. But I see this as an opportunity to create lasting relationships between community members. The Dalai Lama is quoted saying, “When our focus is on others, on our wish to free them from their misery-this is compassion(The Dalai Lama 38).” We need to be compassionate to the people living within the same limits as ourselves. I am not impervious to looking a different direction when I confront these types of situations. And I feel so guilty for doing such things, because I had the ability to alleviate some misery, but I didn’t. In some cases, I ask to be ignorant because knowing the truth only makes me feel worse. But LA has forced me to confront the truth, not with a slow transition, but with a sharp and painful realization. I have been fortunate. And by some dumb luck, I am in such a position that my basic needs have seemed trivial.

I know that LA is my city. It is a place that I have become accustomed to and grown to enjoy. But for LA to be a city greater than what it is, it must confront the problems of its less fortunate citizens.

Sources:

http://articles.latimes.com/2005/mar/26/local/me-name26

Bstan-ʼdzin-rgya-mtsho, and Nicholas Vreeland. An open heart: practicing compassion in everyday life. Boston: Little, Brown, 2002. Print.

Rap Times Infinity

Rap can’t just be shoved off as an annoyance that rebellious teenagers listen to. As an art form, rap holds many complexities waiting to be unraveled. While some consider Eminem as the Michelangelo of this generation with “Rap God” as his Sistine Chapel, one must ask themselves how that came to be. Throughout its history, rap has morphed into a genre of music that has affected the whole world in intricate ways. Rap is art because art is portrayed to reflect the pressures and hardships minorities undergo, allowing for these issues to be looked at more thoroughly by the average American.

While art is accepted by the modern masses as an expression of the creator, art is rather a complex reflection of the hardships and pressures that artist faces. Humans are hardwired to document their world, which explains why history appeals to everyone. It answers the questions of who we are, how we came to be, and why we are here. In that same way, art is a visual representation of history. I consider art to hold not just the connotations of history, but also the effects that part of history had on the artist. These effects manifest themselves in how the art is created, causing a biased account of what happened. For example, I find it difficult to comment on an event without adding my own position. Say, if I am to hypothetically get in a fight, I would twist what happened to my advantage, which is synonymous to how art is created. Art is created when a negative event happens, causing negative feelings, then the artist addresses how they feel, and uses their art as a medium to channel their hardships. One such art medium, that allows artists to process their struggles, is rap.

As with any art form, rap has historically been used as the rapper’s self expression. While rap can be traced back to its origins in Africa, where a village storyteller would tell tales of their village, rap has become a relatively new form of music. Back when slavery had a strong grip on the southern United States, the African-American population would have field songs to express their situation. During their church services, there was a system of call and response to songs the congregations would sing, which had sprung from the call and response system of the field songs. Eventually these field songs gave rise to the Blues in the beginning of the twentieth century, hip hop in the 1970’s, and rap in the 1980’s. The creation of each of these genres of music were first met with disdain, but is now an integral part of the music scene. This trend can be seen in the Billboard charts. In 1965 the charts consisted of the Beatles, boy bands, and songwriter or singers, while in 2010 the charts held an assortment of Rappers, such as Usher and Eminem. The ideas and concepts talked about in modern day rap, are analogous to the treatment of slaves in early America. Because of art’s history of documenting struggle, rap has stemmed out of the difficulties oppressed populations face.

Rap as an art form, is utilized to be a vehicle to communicate the struggle of a certain group of people. Regardless of the situation, everyone has had to overcome a difficulty and through rap, Watsky is able to document his personal ordeals. He began his rap career by performing self written poetry, which forced the problems he was facing into the public view. A poem titled “S for Lisp”, was one way for Watsky to indicate how he feels about his lisp. He says, in the middle of his poem, “…So I will say this/My subtle lisp is not sinful. I’m not sorry Saturday, I’m not sorry Sunday; I’m spiritual and when I speak I celebrate the Sabbath seven days a week…” First, Watsky recognizes that he has a lisp, then early on explains how other people see it as an impediment, and finally tears apart the claim that he can’t say things well. However, Watsky was successfully able to convey his world to his audience, just as any artist would present their artwork. Rap as art takes the struggle of the rapper and is used, not only to explain what happened, but what stance the rapper takes.

Used to show the rapper’s life to the rest of the world, rap is also a platform for the rapper to push their own political stances. Art has always been subtle pointers to current events and political events. Although not subtle, rap comments on events in the news and tells what the audience should think about what happened. For example, in Watsky’s most recent album called x Infinity, he references a certain political candidate in “Pink Lemonade”, who he doesn’t approve of. “…I vote Yeezus/Deez Nuts 2020/You want to run a country? that makes me shiver/Bitch I wouldn’t trust you to run with adult scissors…” He takes an approach of ‘endorsing’ Kanye West as president, but then one line later, states that he wouldn’t trust Kanye West with something so small. Watsky is essentially saying that if someone can’t do something small without messing up, he wouldn’t be able to trust that person for running a country. His following song called “Don’t be Nice” also becomes a political when he says, “…Politicians switching positions like it’s the Kama Sutra…” While being crude in language, Watsky passes his point across that regardless of who the politician is, they change their ideals and stances on policies and issues. Watsky has a strong political view, and he conveys it through his artwork, allowing messages, both subliminal and overt, to be absorbed by his audience. Political messages have been implemented in art even before rap was ever created. For example, messages can be identified in the works of propaganda artists. These messages have the potential to change a whole society, which is why Watsky’s ideas of politics hold so much power. However, Watsky doesn’t just use references to convey his message, he uses ingenious diction and syntax to allow his message to seamlessly hop from his mouth to the minds of his listeners. Watsky’s use of diction in rap include rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, and other less visible techniques to push his message. In the song titled “Brave New World” Watsky raps, “…Two fleets keep peace on the mean streets/One treats brown people like they’re beastly/Nothing like the force that police me…”. Watsky first of all takes rhyming to the next level. He doesn’t just rhyme on the end of the line, but he does it words in the middle of lines. This causes an effect of a smooth transition between lines and thoughts. The rhymes include “fleets”, “peace”, “streets”, “treats”, “beastly”, and “police me”. The meaning behind these lines calls out some police who treat people of color badly and the contrast of how those police treat him, referencing the Black Lives Matter movement. In the same song, Watsky says, “Where did all the people at the supermarket go that used to scan my groceries?/Vanished mostly/And wassup with all the homies in the camo and the ammo with the rifles on/Their shoulder walking through the city thinking that they’re Annie Oakley?” This brings to light race relations between white people and every other minority. Watsky is pointing out that minorities do low skill jobs, i.e. cashier, and that he sees less of those people. This allows the audience to assume that those minorities had either lost their job, or moved away. In the following line, Watsky questions the hostility of stereotypical white people. He also makes an allusion to Annie Oakley, who was a sharp shooter. All these small parts of Watsky’s songs, really adds a deeper meaning to every song. Art should be multilayered, which is why I consider Watsky’s rap with its diction and syntax art. While rap can be controversial and negative, it is still art, regardless of how it is conveyed.

Although some rap has strong language and dark connotations, it is a way for rappers to explain their situation, rather than creating more tension. Watsky is not immune to using curses, and in “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa” he doesn’t hold back from cursing. “…Like my teacher taught me when I heard the crowd applaud/I thought I was an atheist until I realized I’m a God/It could hurt a bit when I murder shit/in a moment I’ll be tying off a tourniquet…” Like many rappers, Watsky succumbs to using curses to not only continue his rhyming scheme, but it’s necessary to emphasise his emotions. On the surface, it looks as though Watsky takes every opportunity he has to use negative word choice, but it makes sense in the context of his message. In another one of his songs “Stick to Your Guns” he looks at the horrible situations of mass shootings. “…You’re the sorry flock of sheep who made me rot to core/and of course you’ll make a break to escape through the corridor/don’t be late – I’ll set you up on a date with the coroner…” This is taken from the view of the shooter. Its dark language allows the audience to know what’s going on in the mind of the attacker. However, the song continues, but switches viewpoints from the shooter, to the media, and then finally to a politician. It’s essential to the flow of the song to use the mind of the shooter and the references to killing to provide a platform for Watsky to comment. Dark language, without looking too deeply, can make rap seem less artistic and more violent, but if seen from a deeper vantage point, art has to be a little risque or obscene to allow the rapper’s emotions to transplant themselves into the listener.

Rap has been vital as an art form to help minorities cope with their troubling world around them. It is important to listen and fully understand what rappers are hinting at. Without knowledge of the struggles of others, it is difficult or impossible to make it through a personal problem. The lyrics of rap also bring up huge issues society has to face regarding race, poverty, and violence. Art is suppose to create discussions and controversies that the general public must look at thoroughly before moving on, which is why rap is so vital to the American society as an art form.

Sources:

Watsky. “Brave New World”. x Infinity. Steel Wool Media, EMPIRE. August 19, 2016. Watsky, Kush Mody, Russell Simmons, Anderson .Paak, Frans Mernick, Mikos Da Gawd, Daniel Riera,Wax, Andrew Oedel. MP3.

Watsky. “Don’t Be Nice”. x Infinity. Steel Wool Media, EMPIRE. August 19, 2016. Watsky, Kush Mody, Russell Simmons, Anderson .Paak, Frans Mernick, Mikos Da Gawd, Daniel Riera,Wax, Andrew Oedel. MP3.

Watsky. “Pink Lemonade”. x Infinity. Steel Wool Media, EMPIRE. August 19, 2016. Watsky, Kush Mody, Russell Simmons, Anderson .Paak, Frans Mernick, Mikos Da Gawd, Daniel Riera,Wax, Andrew Oedel. MP3.

Watsky. “S for Lisp”. April 18, 2010. Youtube.

Watsky. “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa”. All You Can Do. Steel Wool Media, Welk Music Group. August 12, 2014. Anderson .Paak, Mister Carmack, Mikos da Gawd, LODEF. MP3.