In the social media-obsessed age of journalism, before we have time to meditate on one story, we're already on to the next. For the first year, in celebration of slowing down and looking back, we've curated a list of essays and articles that defined conversations about race, pop culture, and identity in 2015. The pieces chosen for this list cover a wide array of topics, from the merits of Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen," to the injustices of mass incarceration, to Hollywood's representation problem. All pieces featured on this list were written by a person of color and published within the last year.
While all end-of-year lists aspire to be definitive and comprehensive, there's obviously no way to include all of the stellar and thought-provoking writing by people of color that came out in 2015. See something missing? Share your picks in the comments. In the meantime, check out some of the brilliant, enlightening, and stimulating conversations we had this year:
Is Mass Incarceration And Detention Of Women Becoming The New Normal?
Juliana Britto Schwartz, Feministing
This sharp and thought-provoking piece from August explores how the "intertwined prison and immigrant detention industries together form one of the biggest threats to justice our generation will face." With women becoming the fastest growing prison population and immigrant women the fastest growing detainees in family detention centers, there is a troubling an largely ignored mass incarceration effecting women -- particularly women of color.
Blackface Refuses To Die
Ashley Clarke, Vice
Every year there's another unfortunate story about some college party or Halloween party where one or several of the white party-goers show up in blackface. Film critic Ashley Clarke, author of "Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee's Bamboozled," searches for why this racist American tradition endures, despite the general consensus on its offensiveness.
They Pretend To Be Us While Pretending We Don’t Exist
Jenny Zhang, Buzzfeed
White poet Michael Derrick Hudson committed literary yellowface in October when he used the pen name Yi-Fen Chou. Calling out the tendency of white writers to drown out the voices of non-white writers in literature, Jenny Zhang zeroes in on the literary world's one-dimensional approach to writers of color. "Why... is the English-speaking literary world mostly interested in fiction or poetry from China if the writer can be labeled as a 'political dissident'?" Zhang asks. "Even better if the writer has been tortured, imprisoned, or sentenced to hard labor by the Chinese government at one point... Why are we so perversely interested in narratives of suffering when we read things by black and brown writers?"
John Metta, HuffPost Black Voices
Mixed-race writer John Metta writes in the wake of September's Charleston massacre about the reality about race in America that many of us refuse to acknowledge: "The entire discussion of race in America centers around the protection of White feelings." Metta, with brutal honesty and perceptiveness, urges white allies to "Speak up. Don't let it slide. Don't stand watching in silence. Help build a world where it never gets to the point where the Samaritan has to see someone bloodied and broken."
Fariha Roisin, Medium
When Zayn Malik left One Direction in March and made moves towards differentiating himself from his 1D persona, he also took the first step in asserting his identity as a brown, Muslim, international pop star. Muslim writer Fariha Roisin delves into Malik's identity and what it means for our perceptions of Muslim men, writing, "Malik's back-and-forth search of personhood is tantamount to watching a quiet revolution. The war on terror has been waged against men who look like Zayn. When Western culture has institutionalized the erasure of men like you, it is a sincere revolution to be yourself."
The Prosperity Gospel Of Rihanna
Doreen St. Felix, Pitchfork
Rihanna's empowering trap anthem "BBHM" from June is the focus of this great piece of analysis from Doreen St. Felix, who argues that ,"To be a black woman and genius, is to be perpetually owed." The piece celebrates the idea of "black women recouping historical debts," and calls out our discomfort with seeing financially independent black women who are "confrontationally untethered to men or to goods."
The Charleston Shooter Killed Mostly Black Women. This Wasn’t About Rape.
Rebecca Carroll, The Guardian
When Dylan Roof opened fire on a bible study group at a Charleston, South Carolina church in June, he allegedly declared that he had to do it because black men "rape our women.” The ever-perceptive Rebecca Carroll dismantles this racist idea in this essay, highlighting the fact that the majority of Roof's victims (six) were black women. "Did he only shoot black women because there were no more black men to kill?" Carroll asks. "Or because he didn’t see black women as women at all, and, as something less than women (and certainly lesser than white women), felt us undeserving of the same valiance he conjured on behalf of the women he claim to be protecting?"
A Black Woman Walks Into A Gun Show
Kashana Cauley, Buzzfeed
Gun control and American gun culture are at the forefront of the national consciousness in the wake of numerous police brutality incidents, the Planned Parenthood shooting and the Paris attacks. With this as a backdrop, Kashana Cauley shares what it like to attend a gun show, where shoppers can buy guns from private dealers -- without a background check.
Too Latina To Be Black, To Black To Be Latina
Aleichia Williams, Latino Voices
In this candid personal essay from September, student Aleichia Williams distills the precarious and at times confusing experience of being Afro-Latina. At the intersection of two seemingly disparate identities, Williams writes honeslty about growing up unaware that she could be both black and Latina. "I've learned," Williams writes, "That just because I don't fit into one specific mold or the other doesn't mean I'm any less of who I am."
How Black Reporters Report On Black Death
Gene Demby, NPR
In the year of Freddie Gray, of Sandra Bland, of Walter Scott, and so many other black people, police brutality and black death have been consistent topics for discussion. But what does this mean for the black reporter? Here, Gene Demby beautifully explores what he describes as the "psychic residue of paddling through a lake of floating corpses," and searches for the answer to coping with such an emotionally taxing beat.
The Meaning Of Serena Williams
Claudia Rankine, The New York Times
Serena Williams dominated athletically in the early half of the year, but still faced criticism and even disdain for her body and her attitude. Claudia Rankine had the opportunity to interview the tennis star this summer, and in this piece from August, meditated on what Williams and her success represents for black people as a whole. "Black excellence is not supposed to be emotional as it pulls itself together to win after questionable calls. And in winning, it’s not supposed to swagger, to leap and pump its fist, to state boldly, in the words of Kanye West, 'That’s what it is, black excellence, baby.'’’
Here’s What’s Missing From ‘Straight Outta Compton’: Me And The Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up
Dee Barnes, Gawker
When F. Gary Gray's "Straight Outta Compton" was released in August, both the film and surviving NWA members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were met with accolades and praise. But there was one glaring commission from the movie: the rap group's history of misogyny, and Dr. Dre's incidents of violence against women.Dee Barnes, the hip-hop journalist who Dr. Dre was charged with physically assaulting in 1992, came forward in this powerful piece to talk about the film and her life in the wake of her assault. "People have accused me of holding onto the past; I’m not holding onto the past. I have a souvenir that I never wanted. The past holds onto me."
White Killers Go To Burger King: Race, Planned Parenthood, And Our Diseased White Privilege
Chauncey Devega, Salon
It's widely known that police bought Burger King for Charelston massacre terrorist Dylan Roof, shortly after his arrest. The incident served as a stark example of the disparity in treatment that white criminals face as opposed to non-white criminals. As Chauncey Devega explains in this piece written in the wake of the Planned Parenthood shooting, "White men commit a disproportionate percentage of the mass shootings and domestic terrorism in the United States. Yet, their actions are never taken to be reflective of white men as a group... However, when an 'Arab' or a 'Muslim' commits a crime, said event is processed by the White Gaze as an indictment of an entire population and to summon the boogeyman of 'Muslim Terrorism.'"
Beauty Is Broken
Arabelle Sicardi, Matter
"[Beauty has] always been a man's possession," writes Arabelle Sicardi,"and that's why it failed." There are many poignant observations about the nature of beauty in this piece, particularly: "I don’t legislate beauty’s boundaries — (white) men do. They define it; they dictate; they own it, asking us to see ourselves in their eyes. When I’m getting ready to go out, determining how to look good, but not vulnerable, I think about the fact that men so rarely have this issue: how to be beautiful, but not breakable; something easily pursued."
Same Old Script
Aisha Harris, Slate
While representation of people of color on television is certainly getting better thanks to shows including "Empire," "Fresh Off The Boat," and "Quantico," Aisha Harris's brilliantly reported piece on the state of TV diversity highlights that there's still a long way to go behind the scenes. "When writers of color are in a room, and writing for a character who looks like them, it’s an opportunity to make sure that character is a full-fledged personality and not a one-dimensional stereotype."
I’m Not Grateful For Viola Davis’ Win -- It Was Long Overdue
Ashley Ford, Elle
Viola Davis made history in September when she became the first black woman to win a dramatic leading actress award at the Emmys. But while her win was historic and important, writer Ashley Ford points out: "There will be many more black firsts, even more for black women, but we've already earned them. And we will continue to earn them. And some day, they'll let one of us in. When I saw her standing there, passionate and poised, her natural hair flourishing, and an Emmy in her hands, I was not grateful for her win. Her recognition -- our recognition -- was overdue."
In Defense Of 'Trap Queen' As Our Generation's Greatest Love Song
Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Seven Scribes
One of the biggest songs of 2015 was Fetty Waps "Trap Queen," a song that has since been covered by everyone from Taylor Swift to kid singer George Dalton. The wild popularity of the song is undeniable, but in this Seven Scribes essay published in June, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib makes a compelling argument for why "Trap Queen" is actually a phenomenal love song. "It is perhaps flawed in execution, but we’re all lying to ourselves if we’re imagining that the immense appeal of the song is rooted in its cleanliness. The staple of the Ultimate American Love Song has always been 'This is what I have. This is all I can give. And I’d rather share it with you than celebrate it alone.'"
Of Lions and Men: Mourning Samuel DuBose And Cecil The Lion
Roxane Gay, The New York Times
In July, a Minnesota dentist killed a 13-year-old lion named Zimbabwe, and sparked a debate about how people seemed more upset about the lion's death than they were about the death of Samuel DuDose. As she is wont to do, Roxane Gay superbly argues in this piece why we should avoid "creating a hierarchy of human suffering as if compassion were a finite resource."
A Brief History Of Name Fuckery
Larissa Pham, Full Stop
Vietnamese-American writer Larissa Pham's observations on "name fuckery," specifically what it means to deal with having a non-American, non-"white-sounding" name, is brilliant, beautifully articulating the many struggles of having a name that isn't "normal." " Names express. Names are the first glimpse, they shine a light on the rest of an identity -- however complicated."
When People Are Property
Raven Rakia, Medium
Published in July, this article explains "how strategically choreographed, racialized fear built prisons out of broken windows." Rakia tackles the failings of the Broken Windows Theory, specifically how it "rests on the concept that black people are property -- and should be ‘handled’ as such."
The Year We Obsessed Over Identity
Wesley Morris, The New York Times Magazine
For a stellar cultural year in review look no further than this piece by Wesley Morris, where he recounts our preoccupation with identity this year -- from Rachel Dolezal, to Caitlyn Jenner, to second-term Obama. "Before Obama ran for president, when we tended to talk about racial identity, we did so as the defense of a settlement" Wesley Morris writes. "Black was understood to be black, nontransferably... But Obama became everybody’s problem. He was black. He was white. He was hope. He was apocalypse. And he brought a lot of anxiety into weird relief. We had never really had a white president until we had a black one."
Self Portrait Of The Artist As Ungrateful Black Writer
Saeed Jones, Buzzfeed
This essay from prolific black poet Saeed Jones unpacks the mixed emotions of being a successful black writer in the publishing world. How much gratitude does one owe the (mostly white) gatekeepers? "I admire writers who can say the words “thank you” without sounding as desperately grateful as I often feel, or rather: I feel like I’m supposed to feel desperately grateful because there is, in fact, a very long line of other young black writers waiting outside the velvet rope, waiting to be let in, one person at a time."
The Black Family In The Age Of Mass Incarceration
Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
In this brilliant long read, "Between the World and Me" author Ta-Nehisi Coates breaks down the impact of mass incarceration on not only prisoners, but the families they leave behind. Coates traces the current state of the prison system all the way back to Reformationwhen "the end of enslavement posed an existential crisis for white supremacy." Vagrancy laws, created to manufacture black criminals, directly resulted in a current prison landscape in which the overwhelming number of prisoners are black men.
Aziz Ansari On Acting, Race And Hollywood
Aziz Ansari, The New York Times
Aziz Ansari's Netflix show "Master of None" became one of the major TV hits of the year, particularly because of the way it skewered Hollywood's perception of Asian men. In November, Ansari wrote an insightful piece on being an Indian actor, and how diversity and representation for Asian men in particular has a long way to go. Case in point: "Even though I’ve sold out Madison Square Garden as a standup comedian and have appeared in several films and a TV series, when my phone rings, the roles I’m offered are often defined by ethnicity and often require accents."
I Dressed Like Cookie For A Week To Get Over My Imposter Syndrome
Jazmine Hughes, Cosmopolitan
When talented writer Jazmine Hughes was hired at The New York Times this year, she writes she was seized by imposter syndrome. To get over her anxiety, she decided to dress up in recreations of some of "Empire" character Cookie Lyon's best outfits for a week. Her experience makes for a funny and enlightening read, particularly the implications of being read as "ghetto." "It's easy to distance yourself from the connotations of Cookie when she's on your TV -- she's a character but what happens when she's in your face?"
The Rebirth Of Black Rage
Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation
In this exploration of the concept of "black rage," writer Mychal Denzel Smith gives a fascinating overview of expressions of anger and frustration within the African-American community, from Kanye West to President Obama. For Smith, "Black rage speaks to the core concerns of black people in America, providing a radical critique of the system of racism that has upheld all of our institutions and made living black in America a special form of hell."
The Ghost Of Cornel West
Michael Eric Dyson, The New Republic
One of the most talked about essays of last year was scholar and activist Michael Eric Dyson's scathing indictment on his former mentor Dr. Cornel West, published in April. Dyson criticized West's public denouncements of Barack Obama, and argued that the "Race Matters" writer has lost his way as a "black male leader." Whether you agree with Dyson's criticisms of West or not, the essay at the very least sparked some interesting and necessary debates about the state of black intellectualism, and its future.
Has 'Diversity' Lost Its Meaning?
Anna Holmes, The New York Times
"Why is there such a disparity between the progress that people in power claim they want to enact and what they actually end up doing about it?" asks Anna Holmes in this essay, which explores the ways in which "diversity" as a concept has failed us. "Part of the problem is that it doesn’t seem that anyone has settled on what diversity actually means," Holmes writes. "Is it who is in a position of power to hire and fire and shape external and internal cultures? Is it who isn’t in power, but might be someday?"
White Fear Can Be Hazardous For Your Health
Jamil Smith, The New Republic
In June, the viral video of a McKinney, Texas police officer violently manhandling a black teenage girl at a pool party sparked a national conversation about the policing of black joy. In this piece, Jamil Smith breaks down how "the implied threat of blackness is only the reflection of white fear."
Gay, Latino And Macho
Albert Serna Jr and Adolfo Tigerino, Substance
How do queer Latinos reconcile their sexual identities with machismo culture within the Latino community? This brilliantly reported piece from September paints a vivid portrait of the world of machismo in the barrios of Los Angeles, and the young gay men who are "creating a unique identity that encompasses both their Latino heritage and their sexuality."
Editor's Note:This list has been amended to reflect an even more diverse pool of POC writers, specifically Latin@ writers.
Also on HuffPost:
A Year In Black Twitter
This article is about the writers' association. For the hearing impairment group, see PEN-International.
|Motto||Poets, Essayists and Novelists|
|Formation||1921; 97 years ago (1921)|
|Purpose||Promote literature and defend freedom of expression worldwide.|
PEN International (known as International PEN until 2010) is a worldwide association of writers, founded in London in 1921 to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere. The association has autonomous International PEN centers in over 100 countries.
Other goals included: to emphasise the role of literature in the development of mutual understanding and world culture; to fight for freedom of expression; and to act as a powerful voice on behalf of writers harassed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views.
The first PEN Club was founded in London in 1921 by Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, with John Galsworthy as its first President. Its first members included Joseph Conrad, Elizabeth Craig, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells.
PEN originally stood for "Poets, Essayists, Novelists", but now stands for "Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists", and includes writers of any form of literature, such as journalists and historians.
The club established the following aims:
- To promote intellectual co-operation and understanding among writers;
- To create a world community of writers that would emphasize the central role of literature in the development of world culture; and,
- To defend literature against the many threats to its survival which the modern world poses.
Past presidents of PEN International have included Alberto Moravia, Heinrich Böll, Arthur Miller, Mario Vargas Llosa, Homero Aridjis, Jiří Gruša and John Ralston Saul. The current President is Jennifer Clement.
Structure and status
PEN International is headquartered in London and composed of autonomous PEN Centres in over 100 countries around the world, each of which are open to writers, journalists, translators, historians and others actively engaged in any branch of literature, regardless of nationality, race, colour, or religion.
It is a non-governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO and Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
The PEN Charter is based on resolutions passed at its International Congresses and may be summarised as follows:
Literature, knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.
In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art and libraries, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.
Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect among nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class, and national hatreds and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in the world.
PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible.
PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world toward a more highly organized political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations, and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood, and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.
Writers in Prison Committee
PEN International Writers in Prison Committee works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide. Established in 1960 in response to increasing attempts to silence voices of dissent by imprisoning writers, the Writers in Prison Committee monitors the cases of as many as 900 writers annually who have been imprisoned, tortured, threatened, attacked, made to disappear, and killed for the peaceful practice of their profession. It publishes a bi-annual Case List documenting free expression violations against writers around the world.
The Committee also coordinates the PEN International membership's campaigns that aim towards an end to these attacks and to the suppression of freedom of expression worldwide.
PEN International Writers in Prison Committee is a founding member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global network of 90 non-governmental organisations that monitors censorship worldwide and defends journalists, writers, internet users and others who are persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
It is also a member of IFEX's Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG), a coalition of twenty-one free expression organisations that began lobbying the Tunisian government to improve its human rights record in 2005. Since the Arab Spring events that led to the collapse of the Tunisian government, TMG has worked to ensure constitutional guarantees of free expression and human rights within the country.
On 15 January 2016, PEN International joined human rights organisations Freemuse and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, along with seven other organisations, to protest against the 2013 imprisonment and 2015 sentencing of musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, and called on the head of the judiciary and other Iranian authorities to drop the charges against them.
PEN affiliated awards
Main article: List of PEN literary awards
The various PEN affiliations offer many literary awards across a broad spectrum.
A grove of trees beside Lake Burley Griffin forms the PEN International memorial in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. The dedication reads: "The spirit dies in all of us who keep silent in the face of tyranny." The memorial was officially opened on 17 November 1997.
A cast-iron sculpture entitled Witness, commissioned by English PEN to mark their 90th anniversary and created by Antony Gormley, stands outside the British Library in London. It depicts an empty chair, and is inspired by the symbol used for 30 years by English PEN to represent imprisoned writers around the world. It was unveiled on 13 December 2011.
- Mauthner, Martin (2007). German Writers in French Exile, 1933–1940 (1st publ. ed.). London: Valentine Mitchell. ISBN 978-0-85303-540-4. .