How do I know? Because I’ve spent the last seven months working with him. And today, the fruits of that journey are available for you to read. Abolition For The People is a monthlong project unpacking Kap’s case that only by abolishing policing and prisons can we undo systemic racism and move toward a better future.
Back in March, the LEVEL team and I started pitching Colin and his team on what a LEVEL X Kaepernick Publishing collaboration could look like. We presented a slate of stories that had our brand’s DNA, some of which were already underway. All of us have worked on magazine issues with celebrity guest editors, so we figured this would work the same way — he’d sign off, send some tweets, maybe talk to some of his famous friends, and build from there.
Looking back, we couldn’t have been more shortsighted. If a project doesn’t make a global impact, it isn’t part of Team Kaepernick’s playbook.
That first editorial meeting started off warm and fuzzy. But by the end I left the Zoom call as fearful as I was joyful. Calling for the abolition of this country’s police and prison system is a point of no return. There’s no hedge. You’re doing it with a fist in the air and an emphatic fuck you to a broken system. We were expecting to brainstorm in the next meeting, but Colin already had a loose outline that firmed up fast. It became clear to me that this was going to be his 1619 Project moment — our 1619 moment.
Kap sat down four years ago because he was fed up with the killing of Black bodies without consequence. Hashtag in; hashtag out.
He’s not sitting anymore. Nor is he kneeling. He’s standing up—not just because the successive killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd renewed an urgent conversation (and gave white folks a collective conscience in the process), but because he felt it was time.
Over the next month you’ll read 30 stories that will walk you through why the U.S.’s faulty system needs to be dismantled. But to point out problems without solutions makes you part of the problem. So Week Four is all solutions-based.
(Forwarded this email? Sign up here.)
Fair warning: some of these stories are hard to stomach. Kiese Laymon’s conversation with Mama Woods, whose son Mario was shot 21 times by police, may require pauses. It will break your heart. Colin’s intro essay is unapologetic. Some of you may go into rage; others will offer up the max 50 claps. Dr. Angela Davis has been doing this too long to mince words. She’s not here to pamper anyone, she’s just giving you history and perspective rooted in facts. That’s just day one. Some of the foremost scholars and best writers in the country will follow.
When I wrote this letter, it was two days before Abolition For the People was going to be published; we were in one of our last meetings, and Sandra Bland’s name came up. Suddently, I found myself reliving the trauma of that 2015 news cycle. I was working at BET, and for weeks we pushed down the pain to report on the story of a Black woman who died in her jail cell after a traffic stop. I’ll never forget it — and now, in 2020, it all came rushing back. I wanted to turn off my camera, mute, and take some needed time.
So do me a favor. Go slow with this body of work. Take breaks. And take care out there.
— Jermaine Hall, editor-in-chief
This Week in Racism
🗑 Hey, Remember All Those Racist Mascots Getting Replaced? Surprise, They’re Still Around
Aunt Jemima. Uncle Ben’s. Mrs. Butterworth. This summer, the companies that own all three brands — apparently moved by the fact that anti-racism was suddenly in vogue, rather than being an inescapable moral truth for centuries — announced that they would be reconsidering their use of mascot characters that the whole damn world knew were racist. So let’s check in on them, shall we? Aunt Jemima: According to a PepsiCo spokesperson, “It will take time for the changes to fully move through our complex supply chain, but consumers will see changes yet this year and early next [year].” Uncle Ben’s: Just last week, Mars announced that it would change the brand’s name to Ben’s Original, with a new logo and design to hit shelves next year. And finally, Mrs. Butterworth: “Our brand and packaging review is underway,’ said a Conagra representative. So….nothing, then. Given all this very serious reconsideration, we’d like to propose a toast. Here’s to “complex supply chains” and “review is underway,” the vaguely plausible-sounding excuses allowing enormous companies to cower in their inertia for as long as they damn well please! (CNN Business)
🗑 Texas Cop Finds Police Murder Hilarious, Dank-Memes Himself Out of a Job
If you ever find yourself having even the slightest bit of hope about humanity, go ahead and fire up the ol’ Facebook. That’s where you might have seen Fort Worth PD officer Roger Ballard — who, exactly as you’d expect, seems to share an account with his wife and include the ignominiously retired Mississippi state flag on his profile photo — post what the kids call a meme. Well, it’s really what the kids call a hideously racist meme: a dead Black man lying in an open casket, with a caption reading, “The face you make when you don’t understand ‘stop resisting.’” Aside from functioning as a perfect encapsulation of a fundamentally broken system, the meme also worked to get Ballard fired. [Holds up finger, cocks head to listen to imaginary TV producer] I’m sorry, we’re just getting word that Ballard was actually “indefinitely suspended,” which means that [listens intently] rather than being immediately terminated for publicly espousing a sentiment that singlehandedly invalidates his employment as an officer of the peace, he [listens, jaw dropping] has the right to appeal said termination. If you need us, we’ll be planning to never go to Fort Worth for any fucking reason whatsoever. (NBC 5)
🗑 Zoom Continues to Be Great at Virtual Backgrounds, Very Ungreat at Preventing Interrupting Racists
You remember the riddle, right? Goes like this:
Now imagine that, but instead of hearing the knock at your front door it was at a meeting of an anti-racist task force in Western Michigan last week. And instead of a delightful moo from a lazy herbivore, you’re assaulted by a barrage of slurs and hardcore pornography from someone who overrode the mute functionality. Kind of the perfect advertisement for the task force, if you think about it. (The Lakeshore)
The LEVEL Up: Culture Picks From the Editors
🎶 Jay Electronica, Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn)
As if you needed any more proof that these are the end times, 2020 has now brought not one, but two Jay Electronica albums to the public. Following his collaborative LP with Jay-Z, A Written Testimony, the previously shelved Act II: The Patents of Nobility (The Turn) leaked this past weekend in all of its early 2010s glory. Be clear: This mythical, lost album is noticeably unfinished in parts. But the N’awlins poet laureate’s music — steeped in Black pride, Islamic teachings, and slick bravado — is timelessly dope. Let it bump ’til the apocalypse. (TIDAL)
📺 Song Exploder
Back in 2014, Hrishikesh Hirway made Song Exploder a hot podcast. Now, Netflix has made it a hot show. The series that digs into the origin story of some of your favorite tracks has been converted into a captivating docuseries — an easy binge that pulls back the curtain on the creation process. This four-episode season features Alicia Keys, R.E.M., Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Ty Dolla $ign sharing a behind-the-scenes look on making music that may at times blow your mind. (Netflix)
🎧 Louder Than a Riot
Hip-hop is on a constant collision course with the carceral system. Artists are routinely targeted, whether being tailed and harassed by hip-hop police or testified against in court with their lyrics as admissible evidence. Marketing plans lean into criminal imagery. In this new NPR Music podcast, journalists Rodney Carmichael and Sidney Madden attempt to detangle the dynamics of the rap-to-prison pipeline — and examine how they impact Black America as a whole. (10/8, NPR)
LEVEL Read of the Week
Power Creator Courtney Kemp on Tariq’s Redemption and Black Antiheroes
You love it: the crime, twisted plotlines, scandalous double lives, gratuitous head shots. Power has become a cultural TV phenomenon, and the woman behind the hit series (and Power Book II: Ghost) knows how to keep you hooked. Here, Courtney Kemp opens up about the show’s most (un)loveable characters, how the streaming surge has impacted Black creators, and the future of the universe she’s built. Read the story.
You are signed up to receive emails from Level. You can adjust your settings at the link in the footer of this email.