A thought exercise about animals and cowardice

I wasn’t a very strong student in most of college, but I remember getting inspired a few times. One time, in my very first semester, I was assigned a presentation on Hobbes in a survey course on classic politics and philosophy, which was mostly a very dull endeavor. But I liked the way Hobbes wrote, and I put real work into my presentation and did well.

I think about his most famous line every so often even now, how, without society, our lives would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And he’s right. It’s not really pessimistic to say that. You only need to look at the lives of undomesticated animals to see. It wasn’t cruel when the seagull I saw on my run yesterday plucked a fish out of the water and ate it. Indeed, the only animals we can consider unkind are the smarter ones. Chimps can exhibit brutality for its own sake, and so can dolphins.

So if intelligence (baseline intelligence, not some sort of human genius) is required for true cruelty, and I believe it is, then what does it mean when so many of us seem to desire dominion over others and endless, ceaseless power and influence? I’m sure it’s fun, to be able to do what you want. But these people have convinced themselves that their social status inherently imbues them with additional worth, and to risk losing it is to risk becoming less worthwhile. To become less worthwhile is to become vulnerable to the whims of the people of whom they consider themselves to be equals. And to challenge the hegemony of their peers is to expose yourself to their animal wrath.

Ultimately, as much as the people in power enact laws and construct social mores that devalue the others, what would send them truly quaking is the full emancipation of their perceived peers. I grew up with a fair amout of class privilege, had (and have) access to people and institutions that most black people are fully excluded from. That’s not a good thing, that these spaces are private, but if they are (and they are), and I’m allowed to stick my head in, it’s on me and the people like me to speak truth to the people around me. And it’s on you, too, because most of the people who read what I write are in the same position as me.

They should be scared of the masses and the uprising that may yet occur someday. But they’re not. They’re so far removed they don’t really think about them in the daily routine, though they’re happy to enact the type of brutality only human intelligence can conjure, so long as they don’t really have to look directly at it.

But us? If we’ve been to the same schools, held the same jobs, felt some of the same power, and we reject what has been constructed? If we shine a spotlight strong enough to burn their flesh? That’s what they can’t accept.

Ultimately, humans are born with a nearly infinite capacity for love, barring a quirk of genetics. If things work out okay, we can continue to bring love to ourselves, our families, our communities, the disadvantged in our societies. Or we can only love the status quo and the people protected by it. It’s easier to be a coward. It’s exactly what society, broadly speaking, was supposed to prevent, the necessity of perpetual fear. People may think that the poor live closer to an animalistic lifestyle because of the trauma inherent in their lives, but it’s really the pampered and cosseted that live the same way our cave-dwelling ancestors once did, constantly afraid of their loosening grip on power and willing to exact ceasless cruelty to maintain it. The poor aren’t more violent by nature; after all, slaves learned violence from the people who enslaved them. The cowards who run the world had every opportunity to learn courage and they felt it easier to stay afraid. This has been exacerbated by capitalism but it precedes it and will be here long after its demise, before you start with that.

It’s really sad, actually, and it would be easy to empathize with if it weren’t for the devastating results of their refusal to help build a society that benefits all of us.

We can be better than this. We don’t have to go live in a fantastical place where all are perfectly kind to one another, as this won’t ever occur. We don’t have to just up and quit our jobs, because being self-destructive won’t actually help anyone. But we, those who went to those schools and hold those jobs, when we’re around these folks, the most fearful of all people, those who are the closest to the animals from which we evolved yet so dearly obsessed with trying to prove otherwise, we cannot allow them to feel comfortable. At the very least, we need them to fear their peers who have learned to think and behave differently from them. We need them to know, hard though it will be for them to admit it, that they can never be the best and the brightest through pure brutality and exploitation. Because, honestly, most animals rule their sphere in that way. We can do more in a society. Or we can let these people doom us to the fate of the natural world.

All it takes is courage, and if you are someone who reads what I write, I believe you have it in you. It took me many years to find mine, years wherein I didn’t know how to both be smart and kind, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t quite found all of yours yet. Keep reading, keep talking, keep learning. And then let’s make them scared of the fact that we can do what they never could: be brilliant and loving at the same time.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Running and Thinking

In May of 2014, I was convinced that it was happening.

What is “it?”

At that time, I was just beginning to race regularly, and I was coming to realize I was capable of running pretty fast. I’d just run Brooklyn at what, for that time, seemed an impossibly fast rate (1:26:47), and I was contacted by the running store I was fond of (JackRabbit) to possibly feature in a commercial they were filming. I wrote here on this very site about how I was convinced I was on my way to some sort of success through running. I was planning to get coaching certified and maybe start some sort of organization based on running and education, sort of like the nonprofit where I once volunteered that merges squash and educational guidance.

But then I didn’t get the commercial (a friend of a friend did, actually), and although I did indeed become a faster runner (until I overdid it and hit a level of consistently-fast-but-not-otherworldly, where I am happy to remain as long as I can), my loopy ideas (which included possibly running across the entire country and raising money, somehow) faded into the background, and I settled into a gradual maturity I think I was avoiding.

You see, thinking running would become my life’s work was just an expression of the fact that I felt like I’d found something I was good at (and I was, and am). I hadn’t really ever felt that way - the way I felt while racing from my first marathon until the Boston crash - in anything aside from teaching. Yet here was a new skill I had the chance to turn into a life, I figured. And ultimately, my career didn’t seem likely to take me much of anywhere, so I thought this was a safer bet.

The truth is, you can argue all you want that we shouldn’t be defined by our professional lives, but if you want to feel your career is something in which you can take some pride, you can’t just turn off that desire.

I came to the realization recently that I have always, since I was a small child making up stories about superheroes that were suspiciously similar to me, wanted my words and my ideas to be recognized, and to resonate. I chased this without knowing so for many years, and went about it in wrongheaded fashion. It took me until (checks notes) 19th grade to find the right match for my skills and my needs, yet the present is here now, and unlike my fantasies about becoming some well-known person in the running sphere, there’s nothing unrealistic about my belief that my work - situated at the juncture between race, language, and adult learning, with other topics mixed in - can’t carry some serious weight so long as I continue to work at my craft. If the goal has always been recognition and resonance, the realization of late has been that neither is truly possible in an authentic fashion without a third “R:” respect. But respect for myself. With running, as with any other thing I’ve ever loved, I got so obsessed that I treated myself poorly. I’m in a place now where I refuse to cause harm to myself, and work as hard as I can to value my abilities and my experience. And as I enter (checks notes) 20th grade, it’s working well. I’ve started to have proposals accepted for both writing and presenting, I’m earning better grades than I ever have, and I’m also, here’s the key, really enjoying it.

The thing about running is that it doesn’t change that much. I’m not going to break new ground, and there are so many people in these races with their own stories to tell that we really should just be running our own races, as the cliche goes. I’ve run 9 marathons now and I’ll run a 10th (and final?) at some point in the next few years. I’m happy I chiseled a fit person out of the inactive person I was in 2011, and I’m going to keep my health and ability where it needs to be and then some, but if I never ran another race, NYRR would be okay. I can be vital in my field, eventually, and it seems like it has a good chance of actually happening if I continue to develop my nascent skills.

This is not any kind of goodbye to running. If I didn’t run, I’d be much worse off. And now that I’m not killing myself and running myself into the ground, it’s back to being a lot of fun like it was before I turned it into my entire identity.

It’s just that I always wanted my ideas to matter. And it seems like they just might. And that’s a strange but wonderful feeling.

When I was five or so, I used to skip in circles, just imagining things for no particular reason. I didn’t dare do this at school because I was teased, but I felt free to do it at home. And my relatives would sometimes ask me what I was doing. I always just said, “I’m thinking.” And I still am.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Beating Last Year

Ever since my superman status sort of blew up in late 2016 (though it was really early 2017 when I started to struggle) and I couldn’t just count on dropping sub-six miles repeatedly, my goal has shifted to being better than the previous year in each specific race.

So far this year, here are the approximate results:

Gridiron 4 miler: -35 seconds from last year

Wash Heights 5k: -32 seconds from last year

UAE 10k: -57 seconds from last year

Brooklyn Half: +25 seconds from last year

Queens 10k: Didn’t run last year, but -27 seconds from two years ago

Team Champs: -15 seconds from last year

So, ignoring Queens for a second, that’s overall 4/5. No PRs (though UAE was very close and I’m kinda mad about it), but I’ve done well. Brooklyn is annoying, but I got hit hard by the sun and I just wasn’t weather acclimated, so it is what it is. Otherwise, though I’m not at my 2015/2016 peak speeds, I’m staying strong.

What’s interesting is I’m running less than I did the last two years. I’m still running a lot for a normal person (always at least 40, usually 50, though with more elliptical and/or bike days mixed in) and I haven’t suffered. Sure I am not at my absolute fastest, but the previous two years showed me that the super high mileage was basically breaking me down after doing it from 2014-2018, and this year I’ve found a more sustainable level.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get back to my BQ heights. I wish I hadn’t taken my unsustainable talent for granted when I had it. But honestly, considering how terribly I was treating my physical and mental health and not really enjoying the experience (as much as I was proud of the results), this is better. And a better lesson to set for a future child of mine, who doesn’t need to see Daddy running himself into the ground for no good reason.

It also shows me that so long as I’m running top speed a few times a week and pushing myself through the weather (whether cold or hot), I will race well.

Now to back off a bit for a couple weeks (no race until the Bronx) and then build up some endurance for the fall.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Some 2019 Emmy Nominations Reactions

Here are some shows I have seen, dislike, and got a lot of nominations:

Game of Thrones

GoT was always bad. Fight me. Hopefully people realize now that it ended terribly. Whatever.

Here are some shows I have checked out, don’t personally enjoy, but, like Mad Men, see why people love them and so, good for them for having good showings:

Killing Eve

Fleabag

Good Place

Here are some shows I am indifferent towards that did well but aren’t necessarily huge among people I speak to, so, you know, whatever:

This Is Us

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Schitts Creek

Here are some shows I’ve seen several seasons of that I very much enjoy and again did well:

Veep

Better Call Saul

Barry

Some new shows that did very well:

Russian Doll

Succession

Here are some performers who I’ve long enjoyed and am happy for their continued support:

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (the biggest lock ever? Last season? Great performance? Literally about to win 7/7 times and set a record not to be broken for perfect winning percentage?)

Tony Hale

Jonathan Banks

Bob Odenkirk

Giancarlo Esposito

Bill Hader

Henry Winkler

Some first-nomination folks:

Joey King

Anthony Carrigan

Sarah Goldberg

Some snubs:

Aw, man, give the Good Fight some love, eh?

Why can’t they remember Kim Wexler ever?

And then there’s When They See Us.

When They See Us got a total of 16 nominations , and 8 of the performers were nominated. From the very opening sequence of this show I felt a deep internal unease and strain, in a good and compelling way. I enjoyed it greatly but even I was truly unable to watch more than one a day.

They obviously can’t all win, and knowing the Emmys they’ll give the Limited Series award to Chernobyl because prestige or something. But I hope at least one person from this show wins during the telecast to speak on everything it meant to so many people, and especially to men of color. No matter what happens, it will always exist and I am grateful for this.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Neptune Notes 7/5/19

I haven’t written one of these in a long time.

  1. So he’s about to be 9 months old. We cured the big issues from the early months, the constant barking, by giving him a new place for bad behavior. We had been placing him in his crate, but since he could still see us, he just barked. We lost many nights of sleep to this. But now he knows to self-correct most of the time.

  2. We have a routine for him in the morning, and from dinner on. But right after work he tends to be… “turned up” and unable to focus since he’s been alone for a while. This is the final frontier, the only challenging time. We’ll get there.

  3. For reasons, he’s becoming more my responsibility than Alissa’s, which I wasn’t prepared for when we got him. Now that he’s older and generally has a very sweet personality, I really enjoy spending time with him, and it’s a pure mutual affection I’ve never really had.

  4. I’m learning how to run short distances with him. I don’t think I can ever bring him on training runs because he doesn’t have the attention span. But I can absolutely take him out for a sprint here and there, and it’s good for both of us.

  5. He hates the heat. So do I. Honestly, he seems to take after a lot of my personality. Living with two of us is a lot of fun for Alissa. Haha.

  6. Things I still don’t enjoy:

    1. Dude, stop lunging for paper. Why do you want paper? Why?

    2. Why do you want every nasty chicken bone?

    3. Why do you want every piece of plastic? Stahp.

    4. He really hates being picked up, but I like picking him up so I need to get over this. He’s not a baby anymore. He’s more of a small child or even a pre-teen.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Blast From The Past

I wrote for a weekly paper in college. It was more of a magazine, really, styled after the New Yorker in a lot of ways, which means that, although it was pretty funny, it was exceptionally pretentious for people who were college-aged. I wrote for it for all four years, and it was the only extracurricular I did consistently through my entire fairly mediocre undergraduate academic career.

One other thing I did in college was play rugby, poorly. I joined the club team (ie no cuts) part of the way through freshman year when three friends decided to sign up. I was very much a follower at the time. But I liked rugby. It was unique, and it was fun, and I felt like I was part of something, the same way I feel like I’m part of something with my running team and the running community in general.

But I wasn’t very good, mostly because I was slow (funny to say that now) and I wasn’t very coordinated. I mostly stayed on the sidelines and I played when they needed a body.

So, I say all that to say that I got a message today from a teammate from the class of 2004 who remembered an article I had written in said paper about a rugby tournament we had won. The team, apparently, remembers that Ivy League win very fondly, so he wanted to know if I had a copy he could share. I googled, and lo and behold, there it was, so I sent it to him, and he shared with the alumni email list, which I’m still on.

I wrote for that magazine for all four years, like I said, and I rose to manage one of the sections, and eventually to become Managing Editor, which sounds great, but that role made zero editorial decisions, and I’d really wanted to be Editor in Chief. They picked people whose writing they were more fond of, and I lost a lot of confidence in my writing ability. I had said, to anyone who would listen, that I wanted to be a writer after college, but since I didn’t really have a plan (I was no Elizabeth Warren), it never took off, and I banked on leading a prominent campus publication as a springboard, and when it didn’t happen I kind of gave up.

So now here I am, getting a doctorate, and realizing that I may well end up making my living from my writing in some fashion, all these years later. I placed far too much emphasis on the decision that didn’t go in my favor those years ago, and I should have found my way into writing long ago, but it’s useless to regret and useful to cherish reality, so I’m just glad I was reminded that a group of rugby guys - perhaps more representative of the general public than my colleagues at the paper - thought I had some skills when I was 17.

So here’s the article. It’s pretty good, very clearly written by a kid. I think at this point what’s clear is that I’m not all that great at writing from anything other than my own personal perspective, but I’m pretty damn good at that.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

On Code Switching

I used to code-switch all the time, long before I knew what it was that I was doing. When I was with my family, I spoke more the way I thought they wanted me to. When I was at school, I spoke more the way I thought they wanted me to. And when I was at parties (as I got older), I spoke the way I thought they wanted me to.

It doesn’t work, man.

I’m not saying code-switching doesn’t work. I’m saying attempting to gain acceptance through modifying speech doesn’t work. My family loves me regardless of how I talk, and at this point in my academic career, adopting a voice that isn’t my own just won’t work.

I’ve been encouraged that every single one of my professors in my doctoral program thus far has encouraged me to really find and use my voice. I haven’t been told - as I was in a previous program - to adopt jargon where other vocabulary will do, or to change the way I write aside from knowing and using the forms and conventions that will make publication likelier. I have never written more like myself and it’s been great.

Recently, however, I realized that I had stopped code-switching in my daily life a few years ago. I change the subjects I talk about depending on my audience, sure, and whether or not I include profanity varies, too. But when I teach, when I socialize, when I meet new people, I’m pretty much always using the same words, the same accent, the same speech patterns overall.

I won’t pretend there isn’t a class privilege involved here. My natural speech is relatively (although not entirely) acceptable in “elite” society so I don’t HAVE to hide it. It’s true. I might have to code switch if I spoke AAVE more naturally and comfortably. But the real goal isn’t to get us to learn how to speak Dominant American English more perfectly - although, in 2019, we probably still should know the conventions - it’s to kick in the door so, however we speak, they listen.

Maybe that’s something I can achieve, in some small way. To get them to value our speech as it is. It took me 30 years to value my own authentic voice. Excuse the jargon, but I have found my own idiolect, and just like all of yours, it is fantastic.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Student and Subject

Having really done a lot of work to achieve greater mental and emotional clarity over the past two years, I’m experiencing reactions to my schoolwork and readings that I must have had back in the day but just ignored because they were uncomfortable.

So, back in middle school and high school I had a really great English teacher, probably the person who made me want to write more than anyone else. The school forced us to read a Shakespeare play every year from 4th grade to 12th (and then I went ahead and read all the rest in college; I still have that giant book somewhere at my mom’s), but this teacher was very intentional in choosing books from different contexts, including many black authors I gather weren’t read in most schools, and especially not very white schools like mine. It was great, in retrospect, and I really enjoyed reading Morrison and Hurston, but doing some work for school now I am struck by how I feel while reading articles about African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

I’ve know about AAVE as such since the first time I went to grad school (sigh), but the author of the particular study I’m reading was clear to frame her positionality as a white researcher in the context of exploitative research performed on marginalized groups. In other words, she was sensitive and kind and acknowledged that others haven’t been. It’s a great article (though it’s super long). But that’s not my point.

While reading, I was struck by the way AAVE is analyzed and picked apart. And then I thought about how my program, supportive though it may be, is still… a lot of white students. These are, by and large, very kind and sensitive white students. But the point I keep delaying because it’s uncomfortable to say is, I think for a long time I felt as though I was on display when we discussed black culture, students, and, now, language. I don’t really speak AAVE very often though I certainly understand it, which is another way of saying I’m pretty far from the stereotypes and tropes of black men. I’m not really saying that’s good or bad, but it’s true.

Ultimately, my teachers and professors have generally handled the issue well. Especially now, my classmates never say anything that makes me feel on display. But I think that my classmates, being very young and very privileged kids, did a lot of really unsettling things when these books were read in class, and I’m pretty sure it was pretty unpleasant. I can’t pinpoint moments, but there was a pervasive sense that these books mattered less than the standard classics, at least as far as my classmates were concerned.

My experience being one of the few black faces in my environments was valuable, but sometimes I think the thing I learned the very most about every day was just how different my life was from theirs.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Brooklyn 2019

My streak of “better than the previous year” race results has ended after 6 races (Team Champs, Bronx, Marathon, Corbitt, Gridiron, Wash Heights, Healthy Kidney).

That’s disappointing. But it was hot at the end of this race. I need to anticipate sunny spots and… well I haven’t really figured out what to DO about them yet. Maybe wear a hat. What part of me overheats? My face? Arms? This I will have to test.

Overall, though, good race. Faster 10k-15k than 5k-10k, so I picked the speed back up after the hills and ran strong until the sun got me. And I actually only slowed down to a 7:00/mile pace while throwing up, so that’s pretty fast.

Wish I’d hit my top goals but I am in good - but not my very best - shape. And after 2017 and early 2018 were rough, I have had a full year of consistent training and performance, and that’s good to feel.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality

Music

If you had asked me what my favorite song was, invariably the answer would have been some song with which I associated a really positive emotional memory. Whether it’s a bunch of Metric songs I got really into on a trip to Vietnam in 2009 when I was becoming more confident as an adult, or all the many songs I fell in love with in 2005 when I joined Terrace and felt accepted for the first time, or even all the angry Eminem songs from high school, it was hard to say what songs I liked as songs and not just songs that took me back to happy times.

Music has honestly been a difficult subject for me, and one of the ways that racism has manifested for me more noticeably. I’ve come to recognize the microaggressions I was experiencing every day, but at the time, dismissing black music was a really acceptable way to dismiss the value of blackness.

In eleventh grade, I had the “brilliant” idea to make a mix CD for a class assignment. I had put a bunch of current hip hop songs on it, and I thought it was very clever. Only problem was, a girl in my class had the same idea, and she went right before me, and her entire CD was 80s music. The class loved her presentation, and stared blankly at mine. This, I’m not saying was racist, however it was a stark contrast and one that surprised me. As remains the case in 2019, hip-hop was extremely popular in 2002, but, having not experienced different groups of kids, I had no idea the strangehold that 80s music (and older music) had on my peers.

What I should have done was stick up for what I liked. But I wanted to be welcomed.

That summer, I went to France on a study abroad program, and this was now a new group of high-achieving kids to get to know. One girl (I would say “woman” but we were all 15-17), who now writes for the Economist, told me two things, one of which was true and one of which wasn’t. She said that she didn’t like hip-hop because it was misogynistic (much of it was, and is), and because it didn’t take any talent to create it.

Leaving aside the fact that every genre is misogynistic and singling out black artists is not great (a lot of white critics pull this move), this second theory came up a lot on that trip. Several people on the trip, who were huge fans of jam bands and the Dead (I hate jam bands to this day because of these kids), frequently told me directly that the music I’d brought with me was worthless and lacking in value. (You will not be surprised to hear I was the only black kid.)

I should have stuck up for what I liked. But I wanted to be welcomed.

And then there was college, where this all went into overdrive. Everyone really loved 80s music or classic rock, and the people who liked contemporary music were into emo (it was 2003, I dunno man).

I had literally never heard “Stairway to Heaven” before (it’s still bad and boring, fight me). I actually didn’t know the words to “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen is great, but the movie is bad). And hip-hop was still played at parties, but people only really got excited when it was time for Bon Jovi. I know we were in New Jersey, but literally none of us were old enough to have listened to that music when it was released.

It struck me that so much of what we listen to starts with our parents’ tastes. Based on what we play at home, any children we may have will be really into reggae. But the point is just that music has a deep connection to culture and to race, and it was clear to me, and clearer now, that black music was only valuable when people wanted to find a hook-up partner. The most common thing I heard about hip-hop was that it “wasn’t music,” not even just that it was bad, but that it didn’t rise to the level of art at all. Think about that.

At Terrace, people actually valued hip-hop and other black music. But there was an ugly strain of self-righteousness involved, like the time I was told that a song I wanted to play was “white boy hip-hop.” No one could just listen to black music, see, they had to be experts on it. They all “knew” which Wu-Tang Clan member was the best lyricist, see. My classmates either eschewed black culture or became so immersed as to try to take ownership of it. Part of this was the nature of college kids being the worst (still true, always), but there’s more to it than that.

In Korea, my first year we all found a few bars for expats. There was one bar, Old Skool, which was popular with the American soldiers stationed there (the imperalism involved is a topic for another day, so stop). And that bar and its talented DJ (who I’m still Facebook friends with; hi Jeff) really got the party going with whatever hits were popular in 2008. But Old Skool was kinda gross, and the soldiers got in a lot of fights. Which means that, yes, the one bar that actually had a lot of black people was considered the most dangerous one. So we eventually hung out at other places, and mostly listened to upbeat dance-rock (like TV on the Radio and Metric, which I still enjoy).

Since 2010 or so, I haven’t felt pressure to justify my musical choices or seen what I enjoy as less valuable, mostly because I started having my own parties. And a lot of this story here is just an extension of being a racially and culturally isolated person throughout my adolescence. But I wish I had the insight I have now, where I could have seen their dismissal as part of white supremacy and racial erasure. They know they can’t really have a good party without playing black music. This has been true for decades now. Their parents probably told them what to think about it and like all of us, they listened and learned. I hope only that the very accomplished people who told me that hip-hop didn’t require talent have grown up and grown out of these views.

But probably not.

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Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality