Culture Feature

Andrew Callaghan Interviews the Most Controversial People in America on 'All Gas No Brakes'

Neo Nazi's, Furries, Flat Earthers, UFO Hunters, for Andrew Callaghan they all got something to say

Update 4/15/2021: After announcing in March that they had parted ways with former backers Doing Things Media — over contract disputes and disagreements about the political nature of their content — the All Gas No Brakes crew have returned as Channel 5 with Andrew Callaghan.

Having lost access to their old content and revenue streams, the team are hoping to rebuild, and have just dropped their first video on the new channel, delving into this year's spring break chaos in Miami Beach, Florida.

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy is defined by his pursuit of equal rights for Black Americans through unity and peace.

He is canonized in American history as the patron saint of change through passive measures.

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Rosario Dawson at the Los Angeles premiere of UNFORGETTABLE

By Tinseltown (Shutterstock)

Updated 11/30/2020:

While many fans rejoiced at Rosario Dawson's recent appearance as Ahsoka Tano on The Mandalorian, plenty were dismayed and disappointed that the 41-year-old actress has a lawsuit against her and her family based on their alleged attack of a transperson and "longtime family friend."

Prior to Dawson's anticipated debut on The Mandalorian, LGBTQ+ fans felt that little attention was paid to the pending lawsuit, which felt like added erasure of trans rights in a year when 39 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed in targeted crimes, often with the added insult of being unreported or misreported. (That's to say nothing of non-fatal violent crimes against transpeople, including a recent attack against Laverne Cox and her friend.)

Initially, the lawsuit against Dawson and her family included battery, assault, trespass, discrimination, civil rights and labor violations. However, recent court documents show that 18 of the 20 claims have been "withdrawn voluntarily without a settlement."

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair, Dawson was asked directly: "The claim accused you and other family members of anti-trans bias, and you've called the lawsuit false and baseless. But what do you say to those Star Wars fans who hear this and believe the worst—that you are transphobic?"

Dawson replied, "Well, firstly, I just want to say I understand…why people were concerned, and are concerned. I would be, too, if I heard some of those claims. But I mean, as we're seeing right now in these past months, and just recently actually, the truth is coming out. Every single claim of discrimination has been dismissed by the person who made them."

She added, "[T]his is coming from someone I've known since I was a teenager, the better part of my life, and who my family was trying to help as we have many times in the past, it really just makes me sad. But I still have a great empathy for him."

When pressed to make a firmer statement about her position on trans rights, Dawson affirmed, "I was raised in a very inclusive and loving way, and that's how I've lived my entire life. I've always used my voice to fight for, lift up, and empower the LGBTQA community, and use my platform to channel trans voices, in fiction and nonfiction work that I've produced and directed. So I feel the record is really clear."

Originally posted 10/22/2019:

A former employee and family friend of Dawson is suing the actress and her family for battery, assault, trespass, discrimination, civil rights and labor violations. Dedrek Finley, 55, alleges that the 40-year-old actress and three of her family members began discriminating against him after he came out as transgender.

The core assault allegedly took place on April 28, 2018 after their relationship grew increasingly antagonistic after Finley came out. While the Dawson family has yet to comment on the allegations, the details of the assault match the recent rise in violence (including murders) against transgender and nonbinary individuals. Nationally, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ individuals have reached record highs.

As is common with many hate crimes, Finley's lawsuit details how discrimination and intolerance occurred long before any violence. Finley was reportedly a family friend who only moved from New York to Los Angeles in order to work for Dawson as her handyman in exchange for lodging. Amidst renovating and remodeling the actress' personal home, Finley moved into a residence rented by the Dawson family.

That same year, Finley came out to the family as a transgender man, changing his preferred name and pronouns. "The family misgendered him multiple times each day, with deliberate indifference as to the appropriate way to address Mr. Finley," the lawsuit claims. Rosario Dawson is said to have "acted with deliberate indifference and did nothing to correct the situation."

In fact, Dawson reportedly dismissed and invalidated Finley's gender, saying, "You're a grown woman." When Finley tried to correct her use of pronouns, Dawson allegedly replied, "Whatever." He's suing for discrimination on the grounds that the Dawson family ordered him to move out of his rented residence without legal grounds for eviction.

Their dispute allegedly escalated until April 28, when Rosario Dawson's mother, Isabel, allegedly ripped out a window screen and dragged him by the arm out of the open window. The lawsuit describes Rosario Dawson helping her mother to attack and beat Finley, allegedly sitting on top of him and "actively restraining him while he was on the ground to ensure that her mother could continue battering him."

"Once Mr. Finley was lying helpless on the ground outside, Isabel, who is substantially larger than Mr. Finley, got on top of Mr. Finley's body and began punching him," the suit states. "While beating Mr. Finley, Isabel screamed, 'You're not so much of a man now,' which was a clear and denigrating reference to Mr. Finley's gender identity." Rosalia Dawson allegedly said, "Mom, stop being petty" before holding Finley down.

Other details in the allegations include Isabel threatening to kill Finley's cat if he didn't leave the residence, Isabel stomping on his hand, and one of the Dawson women taking away his phone, which allegedly held video evidence of Isabel threatening his cat.

After the (alleged) attack, Finley called the police, received hospital treatment, and was granted a temporary restraining order against Isabel Dawson. He continued to stay at the residence in dispute until September, at which point he says the Dawsons shut off the gas, forcing him to leave the premises.

Finley is suing both Rosario and Isabel Dawson for the assault, as well as Dawson's uncle and stepfather, who are accused parties to the discrimination and assault. Finley's lawyer, Tasha Alyssa Hill, told NBC News that Finley decided to sue after the Dawson family refused to communicate with him.

"Mr. Finley had a good relationship with the family, did work with them in New York and had a good enough relationship that they invited him to California and offered him a living situation and a full time working situation for the family," Hill said. "When they did that, they knew him as a lesbian woman. When he came out to California and decided to come out to them as a transgender man, that's when things started going south."

According to Hill, Finley is seeking "some sort of compensation" so he can "get back on track with his life [and] put this incident behind him." The Dawson family has yet to comment on the allegations.

Of course, part of the shock surrounding the lawsuit is that Rosario Dawson has been lauded for her activism in the Latinx community and other social causes. Washington Post has called her "the young Jane Fonda of the Afro-Latinx world" for her outspokenness about voting rights and environmental sustainability.

Just last month, Dawson described hateful anti-immigration rhetoric and legislation as America "suffering a crisis of our humanity." As the girlfriend of a presidential candidate (however behind in the polls Corey Booker might be), committing a hate crime in 2018 clearly propagates the kind of intolerance and hate culture that most Americans are trying to combat.

NOTE: Includes hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming and mixed group victimsSource: FBI, Chart: Nigel Chiwaya at NBC News

To put this incident in context, Finley's lawsuit was filed within one week of the 21st anniversary of Matthew Shepherd's murder, a 1998 violent hate crime that forced America to become more aware of hate crimes and inspired The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Still, in 2018, at least 26 transgender people were violently murdered, with the FBI reporting that the number of anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes has steadily risen since 2014. While the LGBTQ+ community makes up at least 4.5% of the America population, the FBI finds that queer individuals account for more than 16% of the nation's reported hate crimes. Of course, an untold number of assaults go unreported every year.

Culture Feature

10 Informative Social Media Accounts for White People Who Want to Be Anti-Racist

"In a racist society it is not enough to be non racist. We must be anti-racist." - Angela Davis

Rachel Cargle

Rachel Cargle via Instagram

Yesterday, Tony McDade was shot in cold blood by a white cop.

On Wednesday, George Floyd was murdered by a policeman.

Last week we lost Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to police violence.

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If You Think "Karen" Is a Slur, Then You're Definitely a Karen

A brief history of "Karens" and how to spot them at your local Women's March.

Whether you know someone actually named Karen or not, there's a high possibility that you've met a "Karen."

Not all "Karens" are named Karen, and not everyone named Karen is a "Karen"—but "Karens" are constantly walking (and tweeting) among us. Not too far removed from the "can I speak to your manager?" meme before it, "Karen" has become a catch-all name for the type of white woman with whom we've unfortunately grown all-too familiar. "Karens" live with the idea that their womanhood exonerates them from white privilege, and their day-to-day shenanigans prove they truly don't know how to read the room.

If you're so lucky as to not have dealt with a Karen in real life, then you've probably read about them in stories online. The woman in Oakland who called the police on a black family for barbecuing by the lake? She's a Karen. That time "gun girl" Kaitlyn Bennett said "we don't live in a racist society"? She was being especially Karen-like. Just this week, when Alyssa Milano—starter of the #MeToo movement—said she was continuing to endorse Joe Biden, without acknowledging the sexual assault allegations against him? Peak Karen behavior.

But the most Karen of all Karens is writer Julie Bindel, who tweeted some absolute insanity over the weekend: "Does anyone else think the 'Karen' slur is woman hating and based on class prejudice?" Ah, yes—good ol' class prejudice against upper-middle-class white folks. What could be more nefarious?

As with a lot of slang that's been adopted by the masses over the past decade, this usage of "Karen" was first coined by black people. It's since become canonized in reference to women like Bindel, who are so caught up in their narrow, self-centered view of feminism that they fail to acknowledge their glaring white privilege.

Most of all, Karens don't want to be left out of anything—especially oppression. They will latch onto any inconvenience that gives them the tiniest semblance of systematic oppression, arguing that "Karen" generalizes a specific collection of traits—white, middle-aged, upper-middle-class—as if those aren't the exact traits most frequently found in men of power. What makes Karens so dangerous is that they claim to be feminists but only act on it when that feminism directly benefits them; their racism, homophobia, and transphobia aren't always explicit, but their actions lack all the nuance of intersectionality.

Worst of all, Bindel's tweet seems to liken "Karen" with racial slurs, as if "the K-word" could ever come close to approximating the malicious history of actual derogatory words (plus, FYI, there already is another "k-word").

In summary: Don't be a Karen. "Karen" isn't a slur. If you're innocent and your name just so happens to be Karen, I'm so terribly sorry.

American Dirt

American Dirt is one of the most talked-about books of the season.

The novel initially received a great deal of positive press. It sparked a bidding war that ended in a 7-figure deal, garnered a movie deal with Clint Eastwood, was called "extraordinary" by Stephen King, and was picked by Oprah for her book club, guaranteeing its bestseller status.

Then the controversy erupted.

American Dirt tells the story of two Mexican migrants, a mother named Lydia and her child Luca, attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. It was written by a woman named Jeanine Cummins, who identified as white until very recently (she has a Puerto Rican grandmother).

Many reviewers have panned Cummins' book for its lack of empathy, its reliance on stereotypes and trauma, and its apolitical stance that seems intent on "humanizing" migrants but that fails to implicate America or its government.

"The book is riddled with gross misrepresentations of its subjects," writes David Schmidt for the Blue Nib. "Mexico is depicted as a one-dimensional nation, irredeemably corrupt and violent, while the United States of American Dirt is a fantasy land: a country free of gun violence, hate groups and organized crime. While the book ostensibly pushes a progressive message, it drives home a very Trumpist myth: 'crime and violence are Mexican problems.' If English-speaking readers assume that this novel accurately depicts the realities of Mexico and migration, it will only further the cause of disinformation and prejudice."

In addition to the criticism, the debate inspired a Twitter thread about "writing my Latino novel" that lampoons stereotypes about Latinx culture. It's also brought up serious points about the predominantly white state of the media and publishing industry and about who gets to tell what stories.

By most accounts, Cummins' narrative fails to responsibly represent its characters. Realistically, though, many people will see the criticism of American Dirt and will be filled with rage about how political correctness is infringing on freedom of speech. This is missing a deeper point (and no one is saying you can't keep working on your novel about a woman's sexual liberation, Mike).

The question isn't necessarily whether writers should be able to write about what they don't know (they should). The question is: Who gets to decide what voices get to speak? Is it really freedom of speech when certain voices are always louder than others?

American Dirt is, ultimately, the project of people whose voices have always been the loudest. It's the product of a whole lot of white literary establishment power, and ultimately it's a finely crystallized symbol of the colonialist mindset that is alive and well in the literary world.

Telling Others' Stories

"I'm of the persuasion that fiction necessarily, even rather beautifully, requires imagining an 'other' of some kind," writes Parul Sehgal in The New York Times. "As the novelist Hari Kunzru has argued, imagining ourselves into other lives and other subjectives is an act of ethical urgency. The caveat is to do this work of representation responsibly, and well."

According to Myriam Gurba, whose excellent review was one of the first searing takedowns of the book, Cummins' novel does the following:

"1. Appropriating genius works by people of color

2. Slapping a coat of mayonesa on them to make palatable to taste buds estados-unidenses and

3. Repackaging them for mass racially 'colorblind' consumption.

Rather than look us in the eye, many gabachos prefer to look down their noses at us. Rather than face that we are their moral and intellectual equals, they happily pity us. Pity is what inspires their sweet tooth for Mexican pain, a craving many of them hide."

The problem is not only that Jeanine Cummins felt she had the right to tell this story—it's that she told it insensitively, in a way that misrepresents the uniqueness of every migrant experience and instead crushes it into a stereotype and reshapes it for a white audience's eyes. If writing fiction requires a sort of alchemical synthesis of empathy, nuance, and razor-sharp awareness, then Cummins seems to lack all of these things.

Still, it's likely the book would not have been so heavily panned had it not received such extensive praise and hype. "While I have nothing against Jeanine's (or anyone else's) writing a book about the plight of Mexican women and immigrants (especially if they do their homework and don't exoticize our culture), I am deeply bothered that this non-#OwnVoices novel has been anointed the book about the issue for 2020," writes David Bowles for Medium.

The ache and frustration in Latinx critics' responses lies not only in its content, but in the larger cultural context into which it was released. "At a time when Mexico and the Mexican American community are reviled in this country as they haven't been in decades, to elevate this inauthentic book written by someone outside our community is to slap our collective face," Bowles concludes.

"The heart of the problem is that American Dirt is not really a story of Mexican migrants at all. It is the story of American entitlement, one that never questions the brute injustice of geography of birth determining opportunities in life. American Dirt is an accurate depiction of what Americans demand Mexicans and other brown people suffer to be allowed into the country," writes Rafia Zakaria for CNN.

Beyond the Political Correctness and Freedom of Speech Trap

If you look at the state of the publishing industry, it's easy to see why American Dirt slipped through the cracks. "According to the trade magazine Publishers Weekly, white people made up 84 percent of publishing's workforce in 2019. Publishing is staffed almost entirely by white people — and in large part, that fact can be explained by publishing's punishingly low entry-level salaries," writes Constance Grady for Vox. "Such salaries mean that the kind of people who work in publishing tend to be the kind of people who can afford to work in publishing… As a result, publishing is predominantly staffed with well-meaning white people who, when looking for a book about the stories of people of color, can find themselves drawn toward one addressed specifically to white people."

Meanwhile, people of color attempting to break into the industry often have difficulty if they don't fit into the white publishing industry's expectations of them. "We fight in newsrooms, boardrooms, studio meetings, book proposals, and other spaces where white editors hungry for all of our pain and none of our nuance serve as gatekeepers," writes Alex Zargoza for Vice. "If we do break through, we then have to battle editors who want us to create trauma p-rn for white readers to clutch their chest to and lament the savagery of the countries we came from are. We lose out on anything near a seven-figure deal, effectively punished for not wanting to do what Cummins did, which was treat ourselves like the pitiful emblems of pain liberal whites see us as, or bloodthirsty barbarians Donald Trump has made us out to be."

For all the doubts she expressed about writing the novel, Jeanine Cummins' statements following the controversy haven't helped her case. She's not exactly a sympathetic figure (she just earned a million dollars from a book, after all, and received a flood of glowing reviews early on). In the epigraph she wrote about her immigrant husband, Cummins writes about her fear that her husband will be deported. She fails to mention that he's an Irish immigrant, and instead essentially equates his struggles with those of the people she's trying to write about. She's even been banning critical tweets on Twitter, apparently, which is ridiculous.

Instead of shutting down this discussion and trying to paint herself as anyone but an outsider looking in, Cummins should be embracing the critiques. She should, for example, take one for the team and shut down the forthcoming movie deal, which would undeniably win an Oscar, if it were made.

She probably won't do that, though, because it's likely Jeanine Cummins still believes she is helping a cause. She also probably cares about what's going on at the U.S.-Mexico border, which—to her credit—is more than the half of America that voted for Trump can say. She also apparently spent five years doing research, though it clearly wasn't enough, considering all the errors in her book.

Cummins also probably figured that, as a well-connected writer, she had a better shot at getting her book in the hands of millions—which was true, and this speaks more to the issues in the publishing and media industries than to the author herself.

Still, the conversation shouldn't get lost in criticizing Cummins or the book. This can, instead, be a valuable teaching moment, one that should be used as an opportunity for the literary world to learn and change. Without confronting the systemic racism embedded in the media and publishing industries, change will never happen. We have to learn to differentiate between a writer's freedom to write about anything they choose and a writer's (and the literary establishment's) decision to put forth damaging content under the guise of social justice or "resistance" literature.

The publishing company (Flatiron) and agencies that made American Dirt into such a success probably felt they were also working in support of a good cause. But the hurt that the book has caused many Latinx (and many non-white) readers and writers should be a lesson for anyone trying to write about things that are unfamiliar to them, or to anyone deciding whether to promote a book, especially a book by a white writer about a sensitive, very nuanced and political issue that's playing out in real time and that's already being written about by people who are actually experiencing it.

In general, the publishing industry needs to ask itself a lot of questions based on this feedback. These questions could include: Has the book been read and vetted by people who actually lived the experience it describes? Has the author of this book done justice to the nuance of the issue? Does the book play into stereotypes? Does it fetishize trauma? Why is this story being told? Is it helping the issue? Why is the author telling this story? And is there anyone who would be even a little bit offended that a symbol of division and pain—such as, say, barbed wire reminiscent of a certain border—might be used as a centerpiece at a book release party?

Colonialism, Revamped

American Dirt, Sehgal concludes in her delightfully scathing review, "is determinedly apolitical. The deep roots of these forced migrations are never interrogated; the American reader can read without fear of uncomfortable self-reproach. It asks only for us to accept that 'these people are people,' while giving us the saintly to root for and the barbarous to deplore—and then congratulating us for caring."

White sympathy can be dangerous. In truth, a great deal of the migration flows currently stemming from Central America were created by American drug wars and violence that ensued from American-sponsored coups and violence. If American citizens are so desperate to do something for migrants, then it needs to start with uplifting their voices and compensating them for their work on their terms, whatever those terms may be—not telling stories that attempt to "humanize" someone but that actually further reinforce preexisting stereotypes and spread misinformation.

American colonialism has long operated in the tradition of invading and entering another country on the basis of a deluded idea that the Others need to be "saved" and that the invasion is for their own good; and charitable nonprofits often fall into the same trap, air-dropping resources instead of working with communities, thus creating cycles of dependence and collapse. Clearly, entering someone else's territory (or invading their story) is not always an optimal strategy.

Colonization has long been an accepted practice in literature, too; remember that Memoirs of a Geisha was written by a white man named Arthur, and The Help was written by a white womanwhich received similar criticism for its treatment of Black characters, and which was, ironically, published by the same person who published American Dirt.

The question of whether it's possible to write about "the other" through a postcolonial lens is a labyrinthine, almost unanswerable one, but we don't even have to go down that winding road now. Instead, maybe well-meaning allies can start by practicing solidarity and deepening interpersonal relationships with people impacted by issues at hand, by supporting on-the-ground organizations like Cosecha and RAICES (or any of the names on this list), by understanding that there is—to say the absolute least—no one "migrant" or "Latinx" "experience," and by asking questions, and then shutting up and listening for once.