#WAR: WHOM TO BLAME

Articles, Essays, Non-Fiction

By: Steven Underwood

In Columbus, there is a military stand at every College fair, at every job fair. Across the street, you hear about a Miss, or Mister whom has their homes and bills paid for by a noble son or daughter in the military. Advisors make suggestions to the middling student on how to afford college; athletes without the intellect to propel themselves academically into the D1 get a brochure for adventure.

Nothing talks about the pain and anguish that will be inflicted by them onto people whom look just like them.

The military is a billion-dollar enterprise and puppet of American greed. They swoop into foreign nations and flush them with violence and anguish until there is little to nothing that can save them from the monsters they eventually become after the are forced into the uniform and after they are forced out.

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This is not to say there is no choice, but when the questionnaire is: A. You avoid the military and watch your family become swallowed by the persisting hopelessness of the city; B. Become consumed in the drug enterprise that is glamourized despite its entire market hinging on the poisoning of black and brown people (much like what they would be doing in the military) and risking the prison system; or C. Conforming to an organization that turns you into a weapon of people who are your enemy and promising a Hero’s journey in service of the government that has never protected them, you see that there is no choice at all. Any free will, makes you culpable in the downward spiral of your entire generation.

Recently, many leftist digital personalities have taken to bashing and wishing the extreme misfortunes of death, depravity and karma upon the poor. Some people are justifiably upset, victimized by the enterprises that have a stranglehold on the poor and exploits their economic disadvantages to harm everyone they’ve ever known. Others simply talk from a pedestal too high for them to see their own culpability in these military transgressions: how they’re upper-middle class suburban lives have swallowed programs, advantages and aid that the communities adjacent to them have starved without. I’ve seen these people every year in high school: they cross from the other side of the tracks – often for drugs – and dabble with the dark side.

Whatever the case is, I never think it’s a solution to focus on the mutual destruction of the lower class. That’s not very socialist, and therefore, that is not to the benefit of a disadvantaged group here, or across the seas. I won’t get into the arguments on compliance and force. I won’t get into the rhetoric of blame and target. Instead, I will get into the rhetoric of fact.

Fact: the Government chooses to fund the military over education and social reform programs.

Fact: the Government chooses to strategically place these programs and organizations that place the military pipeline between high school and economic liberty and expect its vacuum not to suck in the gullible naivety of 18 year olds.

Fact: the Government targets locations high in poverty, high in resources and high in such profound cultural dichotomies and western media propaganda over the last two decades that these exploited children can barely recognize if they will be battling people, or terrorists.

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In all honesty, I can admit that I have some culpability in turning a blind eye to the actions of the government and the exploitation of the poor in the military (Much like Ta-nahesis Coates, I do harbor a bias to Barrack Obama the person, and distinguish him as separate from Obama, the President). And I do blame some of these children – the young who enter the military to become hometown heroes, or to champion the imperialistic powers of the West; the middling students who refused to even attempt the other way out that didn’t include the pain of another: the people who knew they would be hurting others for their own wealth. (I may have subscribed to the institutional scam of Accademia, but I never picked up a gun in the name of the West). However, what I always do is encourage that focusing of power at destroying the root of an evil.

The root I so clearly sense is a government that is still stuck in the exploitation of others to create this construct of power that is incapable of being shared, without the poisoning of its lower half and the halves it cannot directly influence without anguish.

In all, toy soldiers execute a plan that a larger hand positions them to perform. Microcosmic actions always begin at the macro, as per the human constructs we subscribed to.

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Backseat Driver

Art, Essays, Non-Fiction

By: Steven Underwood

Names have been censored to protect people, identities, and relationships

Some Men have these rides with one another that isn’t very fun, it’s always very hurtful, and it’s about doing your best to destroy the person closest to you, at the benefit of rising among a hierarchy that ultimately might not matter.

I participated in this while still in high school, and to this day I can’t imagine why. We were driving in the car up Demorest Road, a long street that connects you to the most important places in Columbus, Ohio. I’m in the back seat – neither my choice, nor the first time this weekend. See, this place – the back seat– is the most toxic environment in my circle. It’s where you’re forgotten and ignored and relatively useless to the overall direction of the evening. It’s where it’s whispered: “You should honestly just be happy we invited you, several of us didn’t want to.”

It’s a place I really should not have been, because the person driving the car was my best friend, B.

There is an unspoken truth to it: every man might have a circle, but every man also has a right hand. The dynamic between the two isn’t always equal – hell, the strongest side at the moment might even realize this, and will take advantage: hoping to keep the power on their side, lest they lose something important to their character. Yet, there is an agreement between the two: you will take care of your right hand, and your right hand will take care of you.

And still, I was in the back seat, and not by any insignificant act. I knew I was put there. I knew I had done something wrong in the eyes of the highest order of the hierarchy, and this was a punishment. Maybe in some group chat they were laughing at me; I already knew that in some conversations they were: I knew because I was told about it every time, and if I got upset, It would probably happen again, this time around someone I liked, next time maybe around people who could potentially like me. This was the rule of the hierarchy, because to them I didn’t bring anything to the table and I had no point to me outside of my relative loyalty.

B and I, lock eyes in his rear-view mirror. It’s for a moment, but I still see him smirk as he accelerates up the road. I try to figure out what I did wrong exactly, but I’m clueless. The car keeps moving, and I’m interrupted by a ringtone.

It’s another friend, a good friend. Someone more loyal than we deserve, and stronger than most of us gave credit too.

B quickly takes him off speaker for the conversation. I want to tell him to get off the phone. I don’t: we don’t die this time.

Our friend’s voice is stronger than the silence in the car without the music or the radio. “What are yall doing tonight?”

It’s very obvious: we’re going to eat, and going to a movie, likely to see our other friends – a crowd of girls who either have dated, will date or thought of dating every member of our circle.

B does that thing he does before he lies, before he convinces himself he is lying for everyone else’s benefit – that he is being selfless, instead of selfish. He smiles. Not a true, full smile, no, he shows his teeth and cocks the ends of his grin, like he is caught in a hesitant laugh. “Nothing. We just staying at my house tonight, for real, for real. Nah, it’s gonna be boring and my folks don’t want anybody else here. Talk to you, later.”

He hangs up the phone.

Noone laughs at M, but there is an energy of humor between all of them. I don’t feel it. I’m not in on the joke, because I’m observing and analyzing, and I feel more outside of the group, more outcast than the times I was the one on the otherside of the phone, hearing them lie to me and convincing myself I actually did not just get ditched, during a time I really needed the people who accepted the mantle of friend.

The Truth, like the sun, can never stay in the dark for too long before it rises. It elevated off my tongue and between my lips before I realize I had been with child my own ruin.

“Why did you just lie to him?”

The energy of humor dissipates, and suddenly I realize there are worse things to being outside of the joke. It’s being outside of the circle. They turn on me, quickly.

“I ain’t got the room in my car for him, Steven.”

It was odd to hear my whole name coming from him. I’ve long since learned to measure familiarity with how people use my name. When I’m good, useful and loved, I’m Steve. When I’m boring, broodish and antagonistic, I’m Steven. Coming from a friend, it shatters. After all, there’s so much difference in a letter when it’s said by someone you love.

I remain quiet the entire ride.

The next weekend, after a long week of classes and lunch room laughter, I find myself at home again. I call my friends, and conveniently, they’re all over our mutual friend, S’s house. They’re not doing anything tonight, and hang up the phone.

I open my phone and check the social media trifecta: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. On all three, I see the streetlights and stop signs behind a window. Someone else is in the backseat.

And despite the clear excuses your consciousness plucks from the river denial, you find yourself so sad you’re drowning in self-doubt and contempt.

There’s thoughts swirling about you that are dangerous to think and you’re stranded, alone. “Have I ever meant something to someone? Or has ever moment of care just been another rush to get me out of their hair?”

Men have this way of ostracizing each other worse than any other toxic environment because we often root ourselves in the domination of other creatures. For this reason, they build hierarchies. We compete with one another to rise in them. No one can be equal, and there’s always someone to be beaten or left out.

If you’re a B, you’re at the top because you learned to make yourself the top: by choosing people who live to love and love to nurture, and bleeding out the compassion from them until you’re floating in it.

We claim a bond between brothers is the purest form of love to exist next to that between a mother and child. That’s a lie. It’s maybe the most vindictive of relationships. The few times I’ve seen my friends cry, they followed up their behavior with decisions that derives on cruelty. Often, we know the things we do to each other, as men, are horrible, because we know we love each other; we know that if we lost the other person, it’d be a pain we couldn’t speak on; we know that romantic love isn’t sometimes the strongest love we can feel, because going forever without a girlfriend is reasonable, but going forever without the person who loved you despite never having to need you for anything is unrealistic.

And yet, men put each other, and our love for one another, into the backseat.

 

#TRENDSETTER: Talia Rashay, Columbus, OH

#TRENDSETTER, Articles, Culture, Non-Fiction

Talia Rashay, 22, Columbus, OH; Dancer

IG: _taliarashay

Twitter: @_ImShay

“The possibilities are endless when you do what you love and love what you do!”

***

By Steven Underwood

 

When I met her, she had a dance at the base of her foot and a kick in her step that set flowers to bloom down the halls of our middle school. We weren’t rich, but her presence always was. Talia Rashay (Or simply, Shay), a Columbus native, had a beautiful art to her that was like smelling spring. She collected anything orange; she sung in the choir; she was pure and cool and vibed like jazz in moonlight behind a pair of glasses and a butterscotch smile.

Talia’s RAW profile sings her love for dance: “Dancing lives in me, music frees my soul and I express my love through the connection of movement and music” – she follows this with a heart emoji, because she’s just sweet like that.
Few who know her do not also know her reverence for family – and friends that are family, like her heart-and-soul, Brittany Dinea. Her brother is featured stage right in all of her snaps, and she smiles next to him like a proud mother. That butterscotch smile she reserves for love, affection and dedication. Her brother was an athlete for FRANKLIN HEIGHTS HIGH SCHOOL, a public school on the Southwest side of Columbus that has become the seed for Ohio’s most powerful and inspirational young minds like the revered Marshawn McCarrel, model, Brandon Lynn Watters, local entrepreneur Tony Harvard and Community Organizer, Matthew Quinn.

Often, her left manifests Brittaney, a bohemian princess who moves through Columbus like a nymph of concrete and beauty through perseverance, filling walls and canvas with art and inspiration. This inspiration flows into how she moves: always seductive, but rhythmically modest and conservative, like a dance of spring fertility – seduction for the sake of life, rather than excess and sloppy gluttony.

This kind of movement is rediculously difficult in Hip Hop. The artform is naturally bombastic and raw. It is delivered in truths: both measured and unmeasured, brutal and delicate. Few people ever call the Truth beautiful, but somehow Talia moves beautifully. On her Instagram, followers can find a video of her practice with Tru Kingdom Mega Crew from Columbus, Ohio. Far from alone on the stage, Talia’s actions are complimentary, but motivates an blossoming energy under the strobe lights. She doesn’t seem to ever strive for the spotlight of the performance, but lures it in as a matter of personality while up there. She lacks bombastic move, but — as every dancer knows — it’s not in what you do, it’s how you do it.

Stripe Shirts and Chocolate Ears with a Butterscotch Smile (PC: _Taliarashay)

Such art is never a product of talent. Anyone could move to something sexually; anyone could step out on a floor and live in the moment selfishly. Talia’s talent comes best through hardwork and dedication to a craft that is meant to convey love. Though her Twitter Profile (@_ImShay) whispers of “Naturally Gifted” across the bio, her actual talents are a reflection of a flower pushing through icy bedrock and overwhelming snowfall: a promise of tomorrow’s spring day.

All Rights for the Featured Image are due to Visual Artist, Brittaney Dinea, and can be found @Brittanydinea on Instagram.

#TRENDSETTER: Brandon Watters, Columbus, OH

#TRENDSETTER, Articles, Culture, Non-Fiction

Brandon Watters, 22, Columbus, OH; Fashion and Acting

IG: Brandoooonnn

Twitter: @NoOtherName_ 

Inspirations: Jaden Smith, ASAP Rocky, Frank Ocean, Mace Windu, Deadpool

***

By: Steven Underwood

Brandon Watters collects DVDs: rows of them, and he watches them in the mostly remodeled basement of his family house in one of the more suburban neighborhoods of Columbus, Ohio.  When we were younger, it was like a cold prison: four dense white walls of cinder with too few power outlets and an itchy carpet that we turned into a teenage paradise.

Even then, that room had more DVDs than necessary. Some were his father’s, a large, stern black man with a pair of ever watching eyes. But most of those DVDs belonged to Brandon. His most prized and prestigious collection of every movie you wouldn’t realize to think of from action-adventure to obscure heart-wrenching dramas.

And if you ask Brandon why he collects these DVDs, he will shrug at you: “Bruh, this is art.”

Brandon and I have been cool since the day he walked onto my bus with a semi-tall curly afro and a green sweater. He was easily impressionable, and did a lot to hide the talents he thought people didn’t: it was basketball, or nothing.  At the time, I don’t know what made me choose him, but I did and since that day I’ve been defensive and protective of the man I knew he could become.

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Post-fashion show, Watters chills in a turtle neck and chain complete with a furry staple.

Now, he wears face-length dreads, leather jackets and buys his pants from the female section of unisex clothing stores. He loves to thrift shop and, soaking wet, he maybe weighs the combined weight of all three dogs he’s lost. And, just like me, and many members of the Columbus Underground of Artistry, he is an artist whose sensitive about his shit.

“I kinda just express the moment.” He says when describing his art form. “I don’t wanna say how I feel, so I express what I feel in that situation. Like if it’s raining, my outfit will reflect it. I embody that time. Even when I’m taking pictures, I think about something someone said about me and that will be my caption. It will be my response. Something I will say in a certain moment”

Brandon is naturally anti-social despite the charismatic image he adopts like an armor to protect himself. It makes him seem more radiant than he is, and somehow it’s this armor that causes people to float towards him at their own peril. Vanishing over the course of a week or a month isn’t anything foreign for him, no matter who is looking for him. During his Caspar days, he’s shoulder deep in a project he wants to perfect. Other times, he is just in that same basement as our teen years, isolated in that basement with his DVDs.

But this need to isolate himself is something that has caused much friction between him and others whom he deems to love. My own personal friends have asked me personally why are we friends. “The way you talk about him, i’ve always expected that nigga to be this suave, charismatic, awesome nigga who glows,” said my own friend, Jan. “I kept expecting some fine cross between Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba and Trevante Rhodes with the way you painted him.”

Other less blunt people have just rolled their eyes when he and I were in the same room and just bluntly ask: “Yo, why are you two friends?”

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Watters upstairs from the infamous basement.

To both of these kinds of people, I have no idea what to say afterwards (especially to the former, because the implications is always that I’m not “worthy” to even associate with him). Both perspectives are valid, though, we’re so dissimilar on the surface: maybe it’s something that I just see in him that he conveys via his Art?

After all, it isn’t necessarily that we have a lot in common: he’s athletic, and I’m not. I express love in the most open and warming ways, and he doesn’t. He tries to maintain this image of himself with a certain kind of power, and I do what I want, when I want in a devil-may-care attitude, while veiling my own real power behind a carefully tapered cloak. I was raised to be a loving brother-in-arms, and he has been raised to be in solitude.

How we see each other, and why I’ve strived to make a friendship last the trials of post-graduation and three states in distance…It’s always been something that you would have to grow up with us to understand.

The twenty-two-year-old, like me, is a proud Franklin Heights Alum. Heights is a high school set in Southwest Columbus between the shiny suburban neighborhoods and what is widely considered the ghetto of the city. It was there we learned the imperative of hard work through shitty lunches, and a year without sports or extracurricular activities. We watched kids fight one another just to have something worth fighting for; talk loudly just to remind everyone that they had a void and thought within the now because the pain of now was the only thing present.

It was a place of hard knuckles, hard hearts and harder heads; where you needed fangs and claws and a sharp tongue to remain on top of your own life and not be crushed by your environment. An experience like that is life-bonding, and that helped us both make it out.

If you ask us now, we don’t know what made us different than the others who were swallowed by the city we both loved. The place we claim as our artistic homelands.

We suspect it was because we had people – and by we, I mean I: I know those days despite anything that happened, we knew we had each other – Brandon, I, and our friends; we had a way of inspiring each other to express who we were. We did it through performance mostly (even I dabbled in dance for two years), but others took mild inspirations where they could find it and applied it to something secret and theirs. Yet, no matter what, it always expressed the cacophony of characters we had at Heights. At the time, we – everyone, Brandon included –thought the interest that struck Brandon was his athletics as a varsity point guard.

Brandon was a Baller. His father created the mold that he would fill that was exactly that. Everyday after school, dribbling up and down the asphalt drive way, practicing the right way to dunk, to pass, to make the J from middle court. He practiced in the rain; the sun; in fog. Brandon was a Point guard and that was it. He was an Academic, sometimes. But that was it, Brandon’s hobbies revolved around a spotted, orange ball and a netted hoop a foot in diameter.

Sophomore Year of High School, Brandon Watters was cut from the Basketball team.

“I realized I wasn’t going to the NBA at a very young age. I realized that this wasn’t going to happen. And I lowkey wasn’t trying to push it, but everyone kept trying to push me. I got cut, though. That was the biggest reality check. I mean I was a weird kid, I’ve been drawing since the age of one, I’ve been watching weird shit since age one.”

Weirdness is something that captivated Brandon for a long time. One of the many things Brandon veils behind his armor is a love for the alternative interests commonly refered to as Nerd Culture. There were days in our youth when I would wake up from the middle of sleep to find him looking through my own ULTIMATE X-MEN issues. He never mentioned he was reading them out loud to me, ever. It became a secret that he never knew I knew until I brought it up to him one day.

When the first and pivotal AVENGERS movie debuted, we all went in one large group and watched the movie through the end credits and Brandon personally pretended that he didn’t know who Thanos was. When I asked him why, he tried to laugh in an involuntary sigh of charisma. “I ain’t want to seem like a nerd.”

His Netflix account has a lot of provocative shit: BEETLEBORG marathons, a soiree with the season-long series, PUSH, and even the hit DC TV show, YOUNG JUSTICE. He is just a bit more open about what he loves now. Yet, there still seems to be that involuntary distancing between Fashion Brandon and Nerd Brandon, as if both could never live together in unity within his being — because, you know, black men are never allowed to be multi-faceted.

“I especially love YOUNG JUSTICE. Anytime I need some inspiration, I sit down and watch some old episodes over again. Especially the dark episodes.” He said “Knowing I wouldn’t go far in sports took me a far place. I want to be what I want to be. Art is something I really enjoy watching.”

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A turtle neck is always a signature look.

Brandon dabbles in a bit of everything for his Art. For a time, his Art was acting. Brandon took several acting classes and submerged himself in the lore of the craft. He went to many Theater shows just for the hell of it: to see actual actors at work, forming expressions and formulating their dialogue. “I was going to a theater show. I love watching it because they’re artists. They’re artists, but they’re acting in real time. You will never see that play again. You can see the plot again, but this performance? Never again.“

During NYFW 2017, Brandon had the courtesy of walking for a few fashion designers after meeting with them in Cincinnati. He was one of a handful of Columbus artists to appear during any of the shows that week. For the first time in a while, Heights students were pounding the pavement throughout the Gotham city.

Though I never told him, I was very proud of his accomplishment. Brandon, as a person, is known uniformly by his nearly open charisma and shining smile. He laughs off pain and shrugs it down as if that careless motion could send years of darkness cascading off like small black raindrops off a raincoat. A certain kind of person will look at him and think they can know him in totality: as a Fashionista, as an Asshole, as an Anti-Altruist, as a Player who deflects love of any kind. The more observant person will notice something softer beneath the surface that craves the need to express itself at any stakes and at any cost. I see an amalgamation of many things: some of which is positive, some of which is negative and recognize that complexity of him as a person. I embrace that he is, in-fact, a multifaceted black artist.

But when he walked during NYFW, as a Columbus’s one true son, and as someone I’ve personally see grow large enough to survive in both the dark of day and the light of night, I was proud to say that I was right about this young artist from my city.

I was right the day I saw his curly afro on the bus when I thought he was going to shine and everyone had to be there to see it. Even if he’d have to shine without me.

Review: TACKMA

Fashion, Non-Fiction

A review of the boutique

Location: 844 N High St, Columbus, OH 43215

By Steven Underwood

I didn’t even know I was walking into a clothing store, if I’m being honest.

My friend, Matty, invited me out to an opening of some sort my last day in Columbus and I decided: why not, my brain is decaying in this house and I can blow a quarter C-note on an Uber.

Walking into the place, the first thing you notice is a pool table and a DJ booth. Today’s Hip-hop only, and it didn’t feel close to ashamed about it. I didn’t come to play: I gravitated to the clothes and began to pick through it. Hoodies, hats and trench-coats. Most of the clothes never dropping beneath a hundred dollars a pop. The most affordable objects in the entire room were the hats. Lucky for them, I was fake-balling for the day, so I didn’t turn around and leave.

But, I wasn’t going to blow more than a hundred there. I decided it was best to just bide my time, go to their online store and keep it simple. So, I blew 95 dollars on two hats because the material was like rubbing my hand across a suede jacket. I was judged by Matty, and I felt like I should be judged, but I’m a victim to the aesthetic.

Supporting Columbus business is also the goal of the day, really. I could’ve went across the street to the faux-bohemian boutique and blew a hundred dollars — hell, I was probably going to spent a hundred dollars online in a week anyway. The different? There were a lot of black faces in the store; the clothes were nice; and I have a hairline that’s evaporating like American patriotism in a post-Trump presidency: hats are vital. 

My issue (besides the pricing) was the lack of diversity in the boutique. There were hoodies and jackets, jacket and hoodies. Joggers, joggers and more joggers. All of them had essentially the same style, and none of it had any style that felt like it was…me.

In all, the place was great, though. I would’ve bought a hoodie and a jacket if I could stand. But, I’m a starving college student and Trump is my president. I’m hoarding my rubees for a McChicken on a snowy day (and I don’t even like McDonalds)

I give it four out of five stars that do not exist because they’re social constructs.