Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 8.14.28 PMTHE OTHER DAY I WAS INTERVIEWING a young person (after 40, you get to call them that) who told me, “if you’re not working to solve racial inequity, what are you doing?” She said it like we obviously agreed on everything. Her company trains teachers to double-down on their most challenged students, usually poor and black, in an effort to reduce disparities in education kid by kid. I agreed with her and said so. But it gave me pause. Whatever I tell myself I do to make a system skewed in my favor more fair, being paid handsomely to write websites about it surely isn’t enough.

Like a lot of white people in 2016, I’m struggling to get my head straight about White Supremacy and my place in it. History let me off at at the comfiest intersection of race, gender, geography and class. Now that I’m done with whatever minor struggles I had covering my own needs, I see how many chips I always had stacked in my favor. Even the narrative of “outsiderness” I toyed with growing up seems laughable now, if not offensive. Privilege is like air: unearned, little acknowledged, yet more or less responsible for everything.

From rates of incarceration to police killings to my own white-as-hell design/marketing industry, systemic racism is no more arguable than global warming. What am I doing about it?

Not much. Reading and listening, mostly. The show RadioLab, which is usually about science culture, went off topic last month with an episode called Debatable, about a team of African-American college debaters who themselves go off topic. Instead of arguing about the season’s assigned issue (like space exploration or domestic surveillance), they steer their match-ups into “debates about debate,” calling out the racism inherent in the structure of these events and society generally. The team makes it all the way to the national championship using a rap/spoken-word delivery and in every other way rejecting debate convention. You’ll never guess what happens (spoiler: they win).

The Ivy-League debate world isn’t an accidental target. While this isn’t laid out in the story, part of the genius of this strategy is that debaters see themselves as a pure meritocracy, masters of brain-to-brain combat where only the arguments matter, one of the reasons debate is a refuge for geeks and misfits (me included). By flipping the script from the assigned issue to the forum itself (with a jolting departure in style), everything debaters take for granted is undermined: rules, shared context, civility, topicality, rationality. It’s like throwing a stink bomb and pantsing everyone at once.

Thrilling as it is, the black team’s triumph isn’t as crucial to me as the institution’s disgrace. For a few tense minutes, the opposing team (who aren’t always white, it should be mentioned, though RadioLab doesn’t) is marginalized, their hard work, assumptions and sense of justice are undermined. People are refusing to play by our rules in our house! Why might that be?

For all the guilty tears the majority culture sheds over minority oppression, white people largely fail to acknowledge or reckon with injustice. When we lose at our own game, that changes.

I AM IRRESISTIBLY ATTUNED to music played in public, for better or worse. Out of car windows and radios, in bookstores, cafés and record shops, rocking minigolf DJ sets and sweaty karaoke boxes. Often this entails suffering (Eagles, Wham, Christmas tunes, Wham Christmas tunes). Sometimes surprise—an old frat rock anthem shout-sung by a dude chorus: joyous moment (ya probably had to be there).

With the dam of pent-up spring vibes finally breaking, this crow-sourced concert has been all For Better.

Bill Callahan/Smog

The Au Pairs

Brand Nubian

Stevie Wonder

Paul Revere & the Raiders

Kim Deal


Jack White

Joe South – Games People Play

MY STATION PRESETS ARE SYNCED across my car, clock radio and home stereo. I have more feedback for pledge-drive volunteers than they can politely absorb. I’m known to plan road trips around FM schedules.

That is to say I care about radio—that most public of media, mobile before we demanded everything be, and democratic in ways TV never was. “The medium for surprise, for connection with people you might have nothing else in common with, for creating strange social alliances,” as Simon Reynolds put it. I might add: the medium for obsessives, daydreamers, and misfits (proudly!).

In the vast territory between 88 and 108 MHz, I’m tuned to a fairly narrow band: local/public/community/analog-broadcast (don’t get me started about Satellite and Pandora, no friend to real FM). Here are my dial highlights. Listen on actual radios during scheduled timeslots for best results.

Good ‘N Country / KFAI 90.3 FM / Saturdays 3 – 5 PM

I’ll put my bias out there: I thought Country-Western music was all crap. But G’n’C has made me a fan. While the era of Hank and Patsy and Cash is easy to warm to, such is Ken Hippler’s impeccable taste that even post-classic-era artists go down easy (it’s like Buck Owens is a gateway drug to Bonnie Raitt). Not the first time my judgments have proven unreliable (litany of stuff I was wrong about = fodder for another post).

Classic Hip Hop w/ DJ Divine / KMOJ 89.9 FM / Saturdays 12 – 2 PM

I blogged this once before, so psyched was I to find a jam-filled gem amid Saturday’s FM doldrums (when Prairie Home stalks you down the dial all damn weekend). KMOJ’s DJ Divine is deep in 1987-’94, my golden age of hip-hop listening, with a playlist bumpin’ enough to get me over the odd R&B detour. Growing up a mall-fed rap fan in Des Moines, this is as much education as nostalgia for me (Whodini? Nice N Smooth? Who knew?).

On The Media / KNOW 91.1 FM / Sundays 3 – 4 PM

Like a lot of folks, I have a crippling cynicism hangover from the Bush Era. So I need a show that clarifies the messy mechanics of newsmaking and the biases that shape the conversation about politics and corporatism and war. The more I listen to OTM, the less it seems like “inside baseball” for journalists and more like a guidebook for conscience consumption. I’ll also give props here to Counterspin, the other media gadfly in our market that’s just as vigilant as On The Media (if comparitively humorless).

Off The Record / Radio K 104.5 FM or 770 AM / Fridays 3 – 5 PM

Minneapolis is lousy with bands, many of which are good, and none of which I drag myself out to see at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday. So a program like Off The Record is essential. I get a compact rundown of uncompromising local music, including experimental and unhinged stuff. Local Sound Department on KFAI used to do a similar thing—with a subversive acronym, to boot—but in this arena I prefer Radio K’s student DJs who aren’t as in thrall of Minneapolis’s musical glory days. They’re all over Right Now so I don’t have to be.

RSE Radio / KFAI 90.3 FM / Saturdays 9 – 11 PM

Another rap show on the list? The second of the day, in fact. RSE Radio is like a “chef’s choice” taster’s menu to DJ Divine’s backyard BBQ. A live hip-hop mix spanning 3+ decades, the show eschews crowd-pleasers in favor of underground B-sides, remixes and deep cuts. I used to hate that they don’t say what they play. Now I’ve found it makes me a more careful listener. It’s a proper schooling in independent ‘00s rap, a decade I mostly tuned out; shame on me.

The Takeaway / KFAI 90.3 FM / Weekdays 5 – 8 AM

Am I the only person who finds AM drive time on Minnesota Public Radio insufferable? Listening to Cathy Wurzer for me is like drowning in marshmallow schmutz. So when WNYC’s The Takeaway started on KFAI last year, I rejoiced. Contrasted with MPR’s lulling banalities, The Takeaway pulses with curiosity and Real Talk. Even the audience-response segments feel fresh and insightful. It’s a perfect segue in to Democracy Now! at 9 (with possibly my favorite tagline: “The Exception to the Rulers”), which completes my power morning of gritty truthtelling. My day’s concerns can’t possibly compete.

To be continued.

>> David Bowie – Station to Station