Being Noah Tesfaye #16: “Black Panther” and Why It Made Me, a Young Black Student, So Damn Happy

It is not in it’s ability to be a great movie, but it is it’s cultural and global introduction to black power is what makes it such a groundbreaking film

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Like all blog posts, this story begins somewhere. Last week, I remembered that the most anticipated superhero movie in years was coming out two weeks. I let my A&C editor know that I wanted to write the review. My news editor and friend let me know he wanted to write it as well, so we agreed to co-write. Sometimes our school paper gets access to pre-screenings, and when we got tickets to see the movie this past Tuesday, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Walking into this film, I had the highest of expectations, and thankfully, it exceeded my expectations in all ways. I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy watching a film as I was when watching “Black Panther.” This film is truly one of the greatest, arguably top two superhero movies ever, and one of the best movies this year for sure.

I didn’t get to mention my personal thoughts of the film completely in our review, you can find that on our website, so I thought I would share a few more of my thoughts that we didn’t mention in the review. The first point I want to make is that there is no possible word that could describe how much pride I had watching a full-black lead cast in the biggest film series of our generation. When you see Chadwick Boseman fight against Michael B. Jordan, or when you see Lupita Nyong’o fight alongside Danai Gurira, I don’t think I have to mention this, but I will again: this is the first time this has ever happened! I mean let’s just be honest. As much as I love “Get Out” or other films with black leads, there still has never been a film that has been able to capture black power and black empowerment on such a scale like “Black Panther.” How many times do we actually see that not only a nation in Africa as a place of groundbreaking innovation, Wakanda, but is actually the most technologically advanced place in the world? For as much as we see chaos, especially for me with the recent protests in Ethiopia, black people across the globe get the chance to see their people be the smartest, most high tech, and powerful in the world, and that’s worth something we should be thankful for.

As a film, “Black Panther” fulfilled all my criteria for a great film: a great script, strong male and female leads, and great visuals/cinematography/music. Starting right off with the script and the narrative, I will just say that besides what is in my longer form review, I found Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s adaptation of the Black Panther character to especially carry a narrative that the audience really should connect with. They wrote the film so that you could not only just care about T’Challa, Black Panther, but, if anything, you could care more about Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, the antagonist. The motivations for each character are established clearly and concisely to set context for why every single action is taken throughout the film. I won’t go into spoilers, but the two approaches on how to rule Wakanda by T’Challa and Killmonger are truly the best fictional interpretation of the battle of ideologies between MLK and Malcolm X. You can make arguments for why both sides are possible solutions to bring Wakanda to the world, as it’s an isolated nation at the beginning of the film.

Speaking towards the characters themselves, from humble T’Challa to my favorite, Killmonger, to the ferocious Okoye to the methodical Nakia to the angry W’Kabi and to the hilarious M’Baku and Shuri, I couldn’t have asked for a better team of characters that complemented each other both in dialogue but also in how they acted with each other. There was a sense of camaraderie that couldn’t necessarily be seen in the script but rather in how they appeared on screen. When you see them on the press tour now especially, it is clear that they know how important this film is, and they brought individually and collectively their best performances to the biggest stage in film.

I’ll just touch on the music, but please, I assure you that listening to “Paramedic” by SOB X RBE after watching the film is literally the greatest feeling in the world, as it’s literally Killmonger’s anthem. Overall, the soundtrack, while most of it isn’t in the film, does flow just like the film and each song provides a distinct musical interpretation of each section of the film. There were some slip-ups in the CGI at a few points, which will be obvious once you see the film, but for the most part, it was on-par with any other Marvel film in its spectacle and its scope.

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The scene I have a screenshot of from the trailer above is really a part of the bigger importance of what “Black Panther” means for me as a young, black student. Even though I’m older than most of the middle school Marvel fanatics, I cannot contain my true passion and happiness for this movie because I am so proud that people like me can get the opportunity to be shared in such a positive light on the most grand stage ever granted. Ryan Coogler, Bay Area native and director of “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” took a risk by bringing the true meaning of black power to the world. Thankfully, he did the best job anyone could ever ask for with the creation of a world and group of characters that exemplify what it means to be strong and black. This movie will inspire millions of black people across the globe, heck it’s absolutely inspired me, to know that we can be ourselves and that’s enough. We don’t need to change our blackness to fit into a mold.

There’s no way this film could ever speak for any issues that happen in the world, particularly in Africa, but it provides insight into the most simple debates that exist about why the second most populated continent can become a greater place and has the potential to be one day the greatest continent in the world. As both African and African American, I am so proud of this film, the team, and everyone who has helped bring this story to the world. If you want to watch a film that will be one of the most important of this decade and possibly this century, or just want to watch a great film about gripping with change and acceptance, then you should watch “Black Panther.” You will not be disappointed. I promise;)

Being Noah Tesfaye #15: Needing to Write

This week hasn’t been quite the best week in the world. Granted, I did do some awesome things. I wrote wrote three and co-wrote a fourth article for my school newspaper. I did get the pleasure to meet two political science professors and got to go to a real Stanford class for the first time ever. I was enthusiastic and excited to get this knowledge into my speech for my English class and would like to think I created a somewhat convincing argument to restrict hate speech at universities(we didn’t get a choice on what side, just what topic. For the record, I am for not restricting hate speech in universities at all).

This all goes just to say that I’ve had one of the most strenuous weeks that I enjoyed and I feel like I did nothing. I had some incidents and comments about stuff at school that I wasn’t too comfortable with. I had an incident where at a point I feared for no reason that my academic career could come to an abrupt end. At times, I really believe that I hate who I am and who I’ve become. Sure, I feel like I may be productive, but it isn’t about that. In a time especially when I’m trying to deal with the issues of college stuff and school work in general, I am struggling to find the meaning in it all. That doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I want either. I know that I want to go to a great school, study political science/theory and constitutional law, and help as many people as I can. But it still doesn’t feel like enough.

I don’t shy away from my insecurities. I don’t appear to have them, but I do, and at every single second of the day, I try to find out how I can combat these failures I find in my life in order to secure what I wish to be a life of fulfillment. The problem that I realized early on is that I shouldn’t ever do anything for anyone else. As such, I tried to minimize other people and their involvement to my success. I thought that by doing so, I would be able to come to a point where I would be able to get everything together. That being said, I still don’t believe that I have gotten to the point where I realize that I am truly responsible. It is my responsibility for how well I can succeed and how well I can successfully take advantage of every single opportunity my circumstances have bestowed upon me.

So why am I even writing about this for the blog this week? There’s one simple answer: for my sanity. Every single Saturday, I come and sit down in a coffee shop to escape everything. I write to get a sense of where I am. I write to understand why I’m making the moves that I am. I write to realize where I will go. So no matter what I write about, I know that it is helping me, even if it’s just a little nudge, to really continue to explore who I am. So even if this gives me relief for just the next fifteen minutes, I can refocus onto what I need to become the best person I can become. Even though I don’t know where I will be in a year, I know that this is the one place I can come back to and just scream my frustrations out onto the blog and give myself some sort of hope that a refuge is some place I will find one day. I’ve only found part of it, but I’m on my way there.

Being Noah Tesfaye #14: What do I want to do for a career?

I’m sorry, but this is the ultimate question that I don’t spend an hour without thinking about. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to write about for this week, but I set it out as my mission to write something every single week this year. Let’s be honest for a second. As a child, how much did you flip around your career ideas? It was pretty simple for me at this time to constantly change it around, but didn’t we all switch it around? Actually, there were tow kids usually. One type of kid knew exactly what he wanted to do since he knew what it was, and the other type of kid is the one that doesn’t know what they want, so they spend hours contemplating their future. Fortunately and unfortunately, I fall in that second category. As a young adult, I try to figure So the question if the day is: what do I want to do for a career?

When I first found out what a career was, the first dream I had as a child was to become an Egyptian archaeologist, digging up the next King Tut artifacts. Later on, I began to realize that this career didn’t really have much prospects in the US, where I want to stay, and I didn’t want to have a career that would, for the most part, be mundane in helping excavate artifacts that don’t really affect the world today.

The next career that I remember I wanted to have was to become an NBA coach. Understanding my lack of physical prowess at a young age, I knew and understood the game from the bench better than any of the starting players on the court. But alas, this didn’t serve the purpose of making an impact on people’s lives for anything other than entertainment.

I considered a job in public policy and becoming a senator in middle school. I thought I could learn about making the nation better, but then I realized that politics, for the most part (at the time), was a fairly slow, inefficient process and as a somewhat impatient person, I didn’t want to wait around for my fellow congressmen and congresswomen to agree with me.

At the start of high school, I binged ALL of Grey’s Anatomy during a single week of ski week. I was fascinated with idea of actually saving someone’s life. I wanted to become the next Callie Torres, an orthopedic surgeon, mainly because I had a compound fracture in my right arm three years prior, and I wanted to fix the problem that I had. I also even though of going into cardiothoracic surgery and be just as cool as Cristina Yang. But after watching the show, and then matching up the skills I have, medicine wasn’t quite the place for me to be. I did love the idea of helping and having a direct impact on people, but STEM didn’t fit me.

Then, like I said in a previous blog post here, New York City completely changed my perspective. After being exposed to how powerful the law really was and being able to interpret the Constitution, I knew immediately that my options were now narrowed down to just two options that I loved. The first was to become a constitutional lawyer, arguing one day in front of the Supreme Court over constitutional interpretations and studying America for how we can adapt the laws to help all Americans. The second option was to become a professor in political and constitutional theory, combined with a job as a writer for the Atlantic, my current favorite news publication. These two careers would fit me because I can impact people with what I do, but also with what I write, something I have been able to see with writing for my school paper.

So at this point in time, I am leaning towards those two, but to be honest, I don’t know where I’ll end up. The one thing I do know is this: I want to become a better reader and writer and I want to help people in as many ways as I can with my words and actions. As long as I can do such things, then I can be happy with the career I end up with. I want to change the world, and even if it may be at a small scale, I always want to know that what I’m doing is for the better of human kind.

Thanks for reading this week! If you enjoyed reading, please leave a clap and a follow so we can get more readers! Also, if you want to talk about anything I write here, follow me on Twitter @noahbball1 and we can chat! I’ll see you all next week.

Being Noah Tesfaye #13: 4:44, The Most Important Album of This Past Year

The first time I listened to 4:44 by JAY-Z, I was lying in my bed in my dorm at Columbia. My roommate was sound asleep, like usual, and I decided to hit play at midnight on June 30th, hoping this album could be everything I anticipated it could become. I played “Kill JAY-Z,” thought it was interesting, but soon after, I fell asleep, with the album still playing…

I woke up later that morning and decided to play it from start to finish going to get breakfast and some good cold brew from UP Coffee Co. Initially, the first impression I had of listening to this album was that it was too short for me to ever enjoy. But, to take advantage of my Tidal free trial, I played it again, and again, and again, and again. I also downloaded a free copy as part of the Sprint promotion where Shawn gave away a million free copies. I don’t know what happened but I think it was the time I started discussing the album with my friends before class. I didn’t know quite the impact it would have on my life for the rest of the year.

That weekend, I exclusively played the album, memorizing the lyrics, interpreting every single bar that was there. And then it hit me. I realized that out of nowhere, this album was my favorite album. Ever. I didn’t understand why. Maybe it was the Nina Simone samples, or the simple drum breaks, or the punchy, punctual bass. But there was one thing I couldn’t get over: the lyrics. Now, I understand that his lyrics aren’t hard to understand. They’re not suppose to be super difficult to understand. What made me appreciate the album so much was his ability to just speak the truth of his own life. His experience being black, the two competing minds of Shawn vs Jay, family feuds, and his legacy. No one I had heard has had this kind of sincerity that I felt came from his lyrics. I have listened to a lot of great music, going all the way back from Rakim, to Tupac, to Cole, and of course JAY-Z. But the albums that spoke to my age and direct experiences as a teenager didn’t connect to me. That’s what made 4:44 so amazing. I didn’t experience losing out on a property for $25 million, or have an affair and almost lose my wife. I don’t have a gay mom either. What I did have was two personalities: the crazy measured. The one who always wants to do every insane thing imaginable, and the one who panics to get through work.

When I was walking to get to the 59th Street station to go to Coney Island on July 4th, I saw a skyscrape filled with nothing but the 4:44 album cover. I knew this album meant so much more to me even at that point, because everywhere I looked, I saw the album, and everywhere I looked, I saw the album speak towards circumstances of my life.

“Kill JAY-Z” spoke to my split personalities I feel at most times of my life, as I alluded to earlier. That idea of feeling like you should do something that you know will hurt you, and that guilty conscious will hurt and punish you for acting that way. Shawn is speaking to Jay in this song, and that’s how I try to reason to myself to get out of the selfish state of mind.

When “The Story of OJ” came on, and I listened to the chorus, I couldn’t believe how simply you could put the African American struggle. Yes, we have different skills, come from different experiences, and want different things, but we are all still the same, under one name.

“Smile” was me connecting to my appreciation of the life I do life. I don’t have the most peaceful and happy life, but I should be able to continue to appreciate my life for what it is. I should be thankful for the opportunities that I have and most of all, my mom is just a legend.

I understood “Caught Their Eyes” as my constant fight to watch out for those who get in the way of my success, attempting to threaten what I want to achieve. The most important thing was that you should watch out for those deceptions that could come in the way at some point too.

Well. “4:44” was… it’s just a masterpiece. No need to connect it to anything else. It’s one of the most important songs in hip-hop ever. Most people don’t know that yet, but they will in twenty years. A true classic. Not much else to say honestly.

“Family Feud” especially was almost laughable at some of the similarities with my family, and I appreciated his simplicity of saying: “I’ll f*ck up a good thing if you let me.” How much more blunt can you be? Really? The Beyoncé sample, feature, whatever it may be is phenomenal that balances out the snares and beautiful piano melody in the background sets this up as the most joyful song on the project

“Bam.” This is the “turn up” song of the album, mainly thanks to the fact that this song is the response to “Kill JAY-Z” from Hov’s perspective. He just attacks every single level of reasoning with just working to constantly go on the offensive, never settling for anything at all. That’s how I pump myself up. I want to and continue to get to the level where I can work harder than everyone else.

I couldn’t stop laughing at “Moonlight” because of its hook: “We stuck in la la land. Even when we win, we gon lose.” I appreciate his shredding of these rappers who sound the same and don’t change anything else. This song connects with me personally because I relate it more to how I see everyone around me doing things because others have done it, never thinking about what they actually want to accomplish.

“Marcy Me” is without a doubt my favorite song on this album. It’s not just the instrumental and the singing chorus, but it’s the idea of reflecting on how far you’ve come. I couldn’t believe just six years ago that I could be at the state I am at today. Also, “Hold the uzi vertical, let the thing smoke,” and the rest of the line about Lil Uzi Vert was appropriate, mainly to point out the stupid actions that these younger rappers are doing today.

I hope that my “Legacy” can play out something like Shawn’s. The intro from Blue is appropriate for this one especially, and I want to create a legacy that I can leave for the world one day. I want to truly change the world.

With the Grammys tomorrow, I’m rooting for 4:44 to come home with the victory. But to be completely honest, no Grammy or two or eight or none will take away from the impact this album has had on my life. When I ranked it as my number one album of 2017, I should have been more clear about the fact that everyone who loves music should listen to this album because it will become a Picasso. I’m just fortunate enough to realize this now, and maybe in thirty years, I’ll remind you, “I told you so.” Thank you Shawn Carter for making the most important album of my life and I wish you and the family all the more success in the future.

Thanks for reading this week! If you enjoyed reading, please leave a clap (on the side fo the page), and be sure to follow me so we can get more readers! Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter @noahbball1 for any updates to the blog. I’ll see you all next week at the same time.

Being Noah Tesfaye #12: We Need a Leader

So last week I was talking to my mentor teacher/friend, the only black English teacher at my school, about how African Americans could possibly really become equals and demand for true equality. After everything we talked about, the one thing he said was that we need a leader. And ultimately, he is COMPLETELY correct. Black people don’t have someone who can currently demonstrate their wants and rightful desires in this country. As much as I do want to believe that there has been a lot of progress made, there is no single YOUNG black leader in politics that can carry the legacy of the likes of John Lewis.

The first initial answer that any non-black person would say is Barack Obama. Now, as much as I believe that Obama was one of the most important people for African Americans, he hasn’t been as forceful and as direct about black issues as I would have hoped. When pressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Obama agreed that reparations are more than justified, but in its actual application, he didn’t know how feasible that goal was. As a strong supporter and passionate advocate for reparations, I would have hoped that our former president did take a stronger position on the subject. His speech to Morehouse College, the famous HBCU, left many, including myself, kind of surprised in his apparent lack of sympathy for those who have dealt with the worst hardships of the results of Jim Crow and slavery. In many ways, I like to think that I’m kind of like Barack in a sense that I have African heritage and grew up in a fairly diverse place. Nonetheless, we don’t have that heritage rooted in being brought on slave ships across the Atlantic. We both struggled to find our identities in a world where we didn’t know if we were ever fully accepted.

Barack is a strong example of someone that I have definitely looked up to as a black leader and helping bring more opportunities for people who are first generation like me. But he his goal wasn’t the betterment of black people; it was to be the president of the United States and a person beloved by all. We need someone who can truly lead and live a life to the betterment of all black people and continue to demand progress, never settling for any moment.

This is why I find the dispute between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Cornel West were absurd and utterly stupid. To be clear, I side completely with Ta-Nehisi, not just for my affinity for him, but it is because I don’t think he is attempting to be the spokesperson for black people. When Cornel West wrote the Guardian opinion article saying “Ta-Nehisi Coates is the neoliberal face of the black freedom struggle,” I couldn’t stop laughing. Really? And then I read through the article, and I just became sad and disappointed. How could someone go after someone’s writing without understanding the context and purpose of Coates’ writing. He merely writes from a perspective of honesty and specificity about the effects of slavery and Jim Crow that have led to the plights of black people today. Being narrow doesn’t mean that you don’t have other reasons for what you believe. Being narrow means you know know your lane and you can acknowledge that your perspective that you are writing about is not necessarily showing the full scope, but rather the scope of your field of expertise in detail.

These disputes between black intellectuals and people who I believe, regardless of whether they intended or not, have some sort of opportunity to use their platform to share their perspective. Both of these authors are able to help bring to light some of the issues that black people face and are able to articulate them in clear and effective ways. However, to have conflicts between these two in ideology speaks of the larger, unfortunate circumstances that I want to change. Unity is one opportunity where regardless of specific ideologies, we need to be clear in what we want to accomplish. And nothing could be more effective than having a true leader to truly advocate for black issues and take initiative for these issues on a national scale, seen on a global scale. We need another Martin Luther King Jr. We need another Malcom X, or maybe a little less extreme. We need someone who can not only bring the issues of black people to national spotlight, but garner the support necessary to cause actual legislative change. This comes from an increase in black people in politics. Even though we may never truly ever become equal, why not try and work as hard as we can today?

Thanks for reading! Please leave a clap and follow so we can get more readers! See you all next week.


Being Noah Tesfaye #11: “Get Out” and What It Reminded Me About Race and Politics

If you haven’t seen Get Out by now, then you probably should stop reading this and avoid any further spoilers. Furthermore, if you haven’t seen Get Out, I insist that you should go watch this one of a kind film immediately! Anyway, my mom hadn’t seen the movie, so we watched it last weekend. Then, a few weeks later, I stumbled upon this article. And it brought up the point that I often forget to emphasize to a lot of my friends. In America, we emphasize too often the prevalence of white nationalists and their racist rhetoric. And while I do think it is important that we emphasize that their rhetoric is horrible and dangerous and all that, I feel as though that isn’t the real threat to preventing black people from rising up in society. I mean, sure, if you live in the South, much of the racism you face is more outward and explicit. But the racism that I know minorities in Silicon Valley experience is “liberal racism.”

We all know what racism is: “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” according to Merriam Webster. This idea of racial superiority is nothing novel, yet it continues to persist in society. Here in Silicon Valley and from my personal experience, people behave in a way that continues to perpetuate racial superiority, but the instant they get called out on this behavior, they immediately claim “I’m not racist.” This can range from stereotyping to direct use of slurs, but the result, regardless of intent, leads to facilitating a situation where “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” This is where I think we as people might lean if we dig into the definition at surface level. I would tend to agree with this point of view, and in many ways I think that this can lead to a few problems.

The first and most obvious problem when you call someone out on these ideas of “liberal racism” is that they most often didn’t intentionally mean to say anything that would lead to this sort of circumstance. This is where the term “racially insensitive” comes up. This is a more relaxed term that usually is used as a means to differ from the specific intent that comes with being racist and being racially insensitive. Some argue that this term comes back to the idea that the label of racist is “harsh” and that we shouldn’t label anyone with such a strong term. I find this logic to be absolutely stupid and honestly a way for people to let their racist comment, regardless of whether it was intentional or not, slide. If you did something regardless of whether it was intentional or not, in any circumstance, the fact is that you did it. You wouldn’t tell a judge that you took something from a store shelf, walked out with it unintentionally, and claim you didn’t steal. You did.

The best example I would like to use from experience of liberal racism is the idea that certain minorities, regardless of their work ethic and determination, aren’t as well-fit to take advanced courses. I speak for my experience in middle school when, like I mentioned in a previous post, my math teacher thought I shouldn’t take the honors math track for reasons I didn’t understand at the time. Her judgment that I wasn’t ready for it was unfortunately based on the fact that African American and Latino students tend to, objectively, have lower scores and are less successful students. However, of course we all know that these minority students have significantly more setbacks to their lives, from the lower socioeconomic brackets, to bad public schools, and so on. But the fact that this teacher was adamant that I don’t take this advanced course showed me for the first time an experience that was not intentional, but was designed regardless to continue to perpetuate racial superiority. I know many conservatives may disagree with this point with “Oh, why do you always bring up race?” And to that I would like to say that had it not been for my race, that teacher would have seen my As and hard work, and would have been objectively been able to say I should definitely take that honors math course.

So what the hell does any of this have to do with Get Out? As I watched the film, I couldn’t believe the precision Jordan Peele was able to describe some of the subtle, yet race-based conversation that continues to arise with black people in this country. The main character, Chris, gets into discussions with his girlfriend’s parents, who are white, about what it’s like to be black, and later at a party, a group of people at a party at the Armitage house question Chris about his athleticism and the unique features of black people. Besides this all being extremely awkward and disturbing, it continues to portray more of the same stereotyping that exists with particularly black citizens in this country. They are amazed that he can speak so eloquently and it only continues to the point, and reaches a climax where he gets literally hypnotized by his girlfriend’s mother to get his eyes extracted for a customer. This family literally sells features of black people to the highest non-white bidders, and this famous artist just so happened to be blind and wanted to see again.

I can speak for other black people that there couldn’t quite be something we fear as much as being crippled and at the mercy of white racists who pick apart our best features and throw everything else away for scraps. This movie showed me, and lots of other black people, is that these types of irrational fears that seem like true terrors are in actually nowhere near the magnitude to the kinds of real fears we have everyday. I pray everyday that when I do get pulled over by a police officer that I stay as calm as possible and any movement I make could result in the end of my life. I live in constant frustration by the fact that I will get wrongly accused of something I didn’t do just because of my skin tone. These fears seem extremely irrational and for most of the time, I can exist free of these fears because where I live isn’t too bad. Nonetheless, I feel insulted every time I hear a racist joke about black people because they somehow believe my existence as an Ethiopian is different from any other black American. Sure, my last name is different, and I may have the ability to trace my roots of my family, but that’s it. I still get treated the same. No racist is going to be less harsh to me because I’m Ethiopian. No police officer is going to be less harsh because I’m African. No court of law will be less harsh because I’m not the typical black teen ethnicity-wise. Just because I am first generation, doesn’t make it mean I’m less of a black person. My family just happen to have moved from a sh*thole country voluntarily and only thirty years ago.

In many ways, this is why I think that sense of security and support for one another and its significant lack of it is why we aren’t able to ensure our true success. Maybe if we weren’t so caught up in getting upset at each other, with the Ta-Nehisi Coates vs Cornell West debates, or with the fact we aren’t demanding more from our legislation without bringing enough people to compete at that level. Get Out presents us with the opportunity to reflect on the status of black people and really check if the true enemy we are going after is the white supremacist in Alabama or the white liberal/conservative intellectuals who we are only starting to challenge now. I am glad that for once that the fears of liberal America were put on such a display in this movie, and Jordan Peele shared the unfortunate story about the fact that those who even appear to help us are also not willing to let us reach an equal summit of power.

So let us take this year as an opportunity to intelligently tackle the issues of black people. Let’s try to think and continue to look at the great parts of our community taking up the arms in legislation, changing communities. We could use more politicians like Jewell Jones, citizens who are willing to impact their communities and take the most methodical legal approach to eventually one day securing the true equality of black people. We may never be equals in this life, but what we can do is to continue to work as hard as possible to one day be on that level and at the very least put the next generation at a better place than we are at today. Dr. King would be proud of the steps we have taken the past few years, but in his words: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Hope you enjoyed reading this week! Be sure to follow me on Twitter for some of my thoughts more immediately as well as some fun tweets as well! See you all next week at the same time.


Being Noah Tesfaye #10: Why I Fear Failure

So initially, I was going to write about watching Get Out and what it reminded me about liberal racism and racist vs racially insensitive, but I decided to save that for next week. What I wanted to write about, or rather just vent to anyone is my fear of failure and not succeeding. I have been trying to understand for so long the consequences that I could face by not succeeding to the lengths that I truly believe that I can achieve and as a result that always gets in the way of me being able to achieve the great things that I want to do.

This idea isn’t anything new for me or anyone else like me who constantly lives depressed. I would like to think that for the most part I have a handle on these issues and can be comfortable living mostly positive everyday. But every once in a while, it slips. Yesterday was one of those days when I couldn’t get it to click. I kept missing one, two, three, four questions when doing practice reading passages for the SAT. Now usually, I am pretty confident in my ability to remain calm and be proactive with my ability to look intensely at my mistakes and be able to grasp how I can be better at working on my weaknesses. But for some reason, yesterday it all collapsed. I bombed a section of the practice reading and I couldn’t remain calm throughout, couldn’t read anything on the page, and began to panic. It was just a practice test. It didn’t count for anything. And yet for some reason, it was as if in that single moment, every single worry I had of not succeeding all came crashing down.

I believed in that single moment that it would all be over. The college dreams, the great SAT score, the law school aspirations, everything hinged on this single practice test. And when it didn’t go the way I hoped it would, I raged irrationally and for reasons that shouldn’t have happened. I blamed my brother for playing Xbox so loud when I could’ve just put on my noise cancelling headphones. I blamed my dog who wasn’t even barking, yet in my mind was. And most of all, I blamed the environment that I was in that allowed me to somehow not do as well as I wanted to in this situation. There was no reason for me to get upset from an outsider’s perspective. I have plenty of time to make up for this one misstep, and yet, I couldn’t think about it this way. All I saw was these mistakes and the end of it all. The past success, the optimistic future, was gone.

What I came to realize, with the help of my mom most of all, is that I truly am my worst enemy and the single person who can destroy everything I have going. I have been too petrified about the idea that when I fail, it would end everything that I’ve worked so hard to achieve. And the worst advice I always get that I find at first ludicrous is “relax.” As a young black teenager, I don’t feel like I can ever relax because I think there is no chance for me to make a mistake. But the truth is, that this advice, is kind of true. I feel like I’m trapped at every point in my life and in everything I do, but I have yet to look at what I have. I need to get rid of my attitude about not doing enough and failing with gratitude for the circumstances I have to succeed. I could have been my cousin in the countryside in Ethiopia with no chance of leaving home. I have the whole damn world at my fingertips and it is only about my effort and drive to get to where I want to go that is in the way.

So I need to step back for 2018. Every single time I feel like a failure, a piece of sh*t, a loser, worthless, I need to bring back everything into perspective. By no means is this a concession to stop working hard. Best believe that I will be working harder than I’ve ever done this semester and the rest of this year through apps. But I want to get back and see the big picture. I want to see and remind myself of why I’m working so hard and keep that as the main objective. And while it may weigh on me a bit more, it will remind me that I am only at the beginning of something I know will be special and that will change the world. I may not know completely what that thing will be, but I know that I can work as hard as possible AND be grateful for this one in a million opportunity I have to pursue my dreams. That’s my goal for this year. Now, I’ll go back to tackling that reading section productively and I’ll see you all the same time next week. Thanks for reading.

Being Noah Tesfaye #9: 2017 — The Year of Self-Exploration and Self-Realization

I didn’t know what 2017 would really become on January 1st. This year was by far the most challenging and one of the most difficult years of my life. Sure, school this year was difficult taking a ton of honors/AP classes, but it wasn’t what was truly challenging for me in life. The hardest part about 2017 was that I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who Noah Tesfaye, the Ethiopian/African American high school student from the Bay Area, was. I would talk incessantly about certain issues in politics following our presidential election, yet I did not have a factual and logic-based reasoning into why I believed in what I believed. I followed blindly the rhetoric that has surrounded my life and rarely ever sought to develop my own unique opinions on how the world works, and in many ways, failed to develop my own self-identity.

Starting 2017, I didn’t know where I would end up in December. So I just decided to become more educated. And I don’t just mean taking my education more seriously, but I mean to educate myself in topics that truly interest me rather than wasting time, pondering how depressing my current situation may have been. The first step I took towards that goal was trying to find some sort of summer program to fulfill my love for learning. That was the Columbia University Constitutional Law summer program that I wrote about a month ago here. I learned through those three weeks that I can work diligently for hours on end learning about subjects that I am passionate about. Learning for the first time in my life was absolute fun. All the work I was putting in felt as though I was progressing towards a better understanding of who I was. And sure, that was based on the class I was taking, but it was primarily because of the candid discussions I had with my peers and most importantly friends. They were able to challenge my way of thinking in hopes of not only sharing why their opinions matter, but did so in a way that helped me learn to form my own opinion. They helped me begin to find my identity and for that I will always be forever grateful.

Following my newfound interest in Constitutional Law and friends, I went to Ethiopia at first only for a vacation. However what I ended up finding on this journey was much more. I discovered the roots of my family. I didn’t realize quite what it truly meant to be Ethiopian until I visited as a true teenager who was ready to explore what the country had to offer. As it turned out, there isn’t really anything for younger people to do in Addis other than party, and realizing that was not for me, I embraced the culture and family I had. I didn’t realize to what extent my heritage, Ethiopia, had truly shaped my life until I saw my family interacting. I saw the profound respect for one another, the enforcement of education. I saw the parental restrictions and lack thereof, the omnipresent poverty and wealth that seemed to exist in such close proximity. What Ethiopia showed me most of all was that I had a place I could always go back to and never feel like I was ever an outsider. I was, for the most part, just like everyone else, and I could just stand, looking across the street, without any suspicious looks.

The day I visited my grandfather’s village, I met family I didn’t know existed. Aunts, uncles, second cousins, and everything in between. I didn’t know it until then, but what set them apart from me was that my grandfather walked a full day straight to go to school every week and walked back home on the weekends. He persevered against all odds to get his medical degree, proving to me in the most powerful way that you could truly accomplish anything against the circumstances you may face. And so, with newfound family and connections, I came back to the US with the sense of purpose. I knew that I wanted to learn as much as I could and take full advantage of every opportunity I have. There was no reason for me to not work as hard as I possibly could because there is no 24 hour walk, there is no barrier than my own mind that can stop me from pursuing whatever I truly want.

During the beginning months of the school year, I became fascinated once again with journalism. I saw how much I enjoyed being a part of my school paper. Shooting videos to report stories was fun, but I knew deep down that I enjoyed writing just as much. I re-discovered and later fell in love with the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates this past fall. There was something about his writing style that captivated me: brutal honesty and truth. For as much as I did read a lot of great news, there was no journalist I had read about up until that point who was able to truly convey the gravity of the issues he wrote about that connected with me on such an elemental level. Coates helped me focus my eye on what is truly going on in the world. I began to read between the lines, think about the positives and negatives of situations around the world, and it helped me understand what it means to be a black person in America.

I also would be remised if I didn’t credit Gary Vaynerchuk for helping sharpen my mindset. Sometimes in life, you really need someone to just yell at you and tell you to just get sh*t done. He preaches about the need to not have any excuses and you need to go out and tackle the goals you want to achieve. No one is stopping any of us in America from attempting to achieve our goals, and with his constant yelling and anger, I was able to sit down and set my goals towards one simple idea: write.

At first I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, or why I was writing in the first place. But if there is any advice I truly appreciate the most from Ta-Nehisi, my current English teacher, and Stacey Marie-Ishmael, it is that you can’t really critique any sort of writing you may have if there is none in the first place. There was no way for me to continue to help find who I am and becoming if I didn’t just start writing about anything. So I started this blog. I didn’t know what it would become, and I still don’t know what this exactly is. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to write once a week, publish on Saturdays, and talk about issues from the one subject I am attempting to master: Noah Tesfaye.

The past two months of writing on this blog has received a tremendous amount of support that I didn’t know existed. I am thankful for everyone that does read and I want to say thanks for sticking around to read every week. But I do want to say that this is the beginning. I am writing this blog in hopes of discovering more of who I am. The idea behind this blog is not to just grant you with a new perspective on issues that are relevant today, but for me to become a better person and citizen of the world. I created this to learn more about the world. My Affirmative Action and Case for Reparations articles guided me to a better understanding of the race I am a part of and what it means to be black in America, regardless if I have the full scope of the heritage or not. Writing about adults and parents was something I believed helped me share my frustration with our inability as teenagers to communicate effectively and respectfully with adults and therefore hindering our ability to build stronger relationships with the older people in our lives.

So for what it’s worth, this blog will continue to be published, once a week, for the foreseeable future. I know I am not the only person who experiences the same circumstances that I do, and I can only hope that they stumble on this blog and realize that they aren’t alone. I will continue to write here because I know that even though I may struggle and deal with hardships in my life, I can always come here and share my frustrations and anger, pouring my thoughts into something that people from all countries and backgrounds can learn about and have something to enjoy every Saturday afternoon. Thank you so much for reading and I will see you all next week for another installment of Being Noah Tesfaye.

Also, since I didn’t want to post this for next week, here are my top ten albums and songs from 2017. Feel free to tweet me @noahbball1 for some candid debate about these lists.


  1. JAY-Z — 4:44
  2. Tyler, The Creator — Flower Boy
  3. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation III
  4. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation
  5. Joey Bada$$ — ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
  6. BROCKHAMPTON — Saturation II
  7. Kendrick Lamar — DAMN.
  8. Royce Da 5’9″ — The Bar Exam 4
  9. SZA — Ctrl
  10. Sampha — Process

Songs (had some ties(ok, a lot), Redbone didn’t come out in 2017, but if it did, it would be #1 on this list for sure):

  2. Tyler, The Creator — Boredom/See You Again
  4. JAY-Z — 4:44/Family Feud/Kill JAY-Z/The Story of O.J
  5. Joey Bada$$ — BABYLON (feat. Chronixx)
  7. Daniel Caesar — Best Part (feat. H.E.R.)
  8. Kendrick Lamar — ELEMENT./LUST.
  9. Rolling Stone P — Little Do They Know
  10. Vince Staples — Big Fish

Being Noah Tesfaye #8: A Student’s Case for Reparations

 I. Why write about this?

I don’t know where to start with this one. This has been the issue that I initially didn’t know how to speak on. Being a first generation African American with no connection to the black American culture, I didn’t know at first how to feel about this issue. That being said, I knew this much before I embarked on this journey. Throughout the history of the United States, there have been and still are systemic problems with this nation and its treatment of African Americans. From the prison industrial complex to land lords refusing to lease to black people, there is no shortage of issues that are placed upon African Americans purely based on their race. All of this came from the institution of slavery and the social construct that is race. If you asked anyone hypothetically about whether it would be fair for a group of people responsible for building a significant part of the most powerful nation in the world not receiving any sort of compensation for their contributions, any good person would call that flagrant. This hypothetical group is the African American people of this nation that was brought here against their own will between the mid 1600s to mid 1800s. This is my case for reparations for those people.

II. The consequences of the past still affect the present

As a journalist at school, we are taught to gather as many perspectives for any story, and especially with this serious of a topic, I decided to call one of my conservative friends about this issue. His explanation for why reparations shouldn’t exist in the form of direct payment is that first, it happened too long ago in the past. He also argued that, for the time period, it was acceptable to own slaves, and because so few people owned slaves anyway, it would not be worth it for the US government to spend money on this issue that so few people were responsible for. I challenged him with the reparations to Israel from Germany, and he refuted that it had never been acceptable to gas millions of Jews. And while I do agree that it has never been acceptable to massacre Jews or any race ever, there is a clear double standard going on with these two persecuted groups, a race-based double standard in my opinion. Slavery was the most violent, outrageous, and government-supported institution in American history that took place over two hundred years in this country. The consequences of perpetual racism that has taken place then and now are responsible for the plights of black people in this country every single day.

There is a reason why African Americans make up only 13% of the American population yet 38.6% of the federal prison population. There is a reason why only about 23% of ALL black people ages 25–29 have any sort of bachelors degree. There is a reason why for every $100 a white family holds in wealth, the average black family only holds $5.04. That is a 20 to 1 wealth ratio. Let that sink in. That is completely different from the perception the psychologists from Yale found when conducting this study. When they asked black and white Americans of varying incomes about this wealth gap, they estimated that black people had approximately $83 for every white family’s $100 in wealth, 16 plus times the amount they actually have.

This inequity is what our nation was built upon. When you bring over half a million people to America over the course of two hundred years with the intention of never paying them, and then just releasing them from slavery in 1865 in hopes they could just “figure things out” is ludicrous. Rather than slavery ending, it just transformed into sharecropping. This eventually led to Jim Crow laws later being established in the South during the late 1800s because society continued to perpetuate that black people were inherently worse than white people. When you can’t provide equal opportunity to go to college and gain an education, you won’t have black people ever see the light of Congress and representation in local government necessary to change public perception of race. This continuous cycle of subordination without the chance to correct this idea even in children at an elementary school level is what led to the persistent racist and white supremacist behavior that has become normalized for the better part of our nation’s history.

For those who’ve seen 13th, then you know that the 21st century slavery is the prison industrial complex. Once slavery was ended with the 13th amendment, state and local governments all across the South and even other parts of the country would arrest black people for “loitering,” and send them to jail for irrational and racist reasons, resulting in unfair sentencing. Privatized prisons only exacerbated the issue and harsher sentencing against black people has led to corporations profiting significantly off of prison labor that they can pay pennies on the dollar. All of this stems from slavery.

III. Government inaction

As much as I think our government has helped pushed the United States into a much more equal opportunity nation, there has not been enough of an effort towards even the research of the consequences slavery and racism have had on this country. Every year from 1989 to 2017, former Representative John Conyers (who I think you can judge for yourself after all his allegations found here) proposed the famous H.R.40 bill, or the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. He wanted to create a commission to help study the effects of slavery and approve of possible solutions to these consequences. Every single year since 1989, it has never passed, and with his resignation, there is little hope this bill may ever be pass.

Not only has Congress feared the idea of granting reparations, but they have feared even the study or research of the subject altogether. Not only does this speak volumes for how much they are afraid of discussing race, but they are more afraid of uncovering how bad the nation has been towards black people in particular. The Senate did pass an apology for the institution of slavery in 2009, but one, this happened in 2009, nearly 144 years after the 13th amendment and with the first black president, and two, all it was was a written statement, with no courses of actions to take attached to it. As much as it was a step forward to acknowledge the problem, the next step should have been how to address the injustices caused by slavery. Unfortunately, that has never happened.

IV. It has been done before

Well, the first reason I came up with respect to why we should have reparations was quite simple: if the US and countries across the world have given monetary reparations to other marginalized groups, why can’t African Americans in the US get reparations too? In 1988, President Regan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which granted $20,000 to each survivor of the Japanese Internment during WW2. Now, I understand that direct monetary reparations for African Americans could end up going to millions of black people and cost billions more than what was sent to the Japanese, but the US has granted reparations before.

Another childish, yet justifiable reason I came up with was “Well, Germany did it. Why can’t we do something on a larger scale?” Following WW2, the German government has continued to pay for Holocaust survivors’ medical treatment and in 2013, pledged to pay over $900 MILLION to help establish a fund for Jewish Victims of Nazi Aggression. Whether you think it is possible to have the US pay this much is one thing, but the very fact that Germany is pledging this much to correct for their wrongdoings over the course of around 13 years shows us that we should pay back reparations of some form towards the descendants of the millions of slaves that were brought to the US over the course of over 200 years. Again, although the population receiving reparations today from Germany is minuscule compared to the black population today in America, monetary reparations have been granted before, and the German government is an example of a governing body who has taken responsibility for its past.

V. What can we do?

Even if we cannot accept the fact that payments to millions of people is possible, although I certainly think it can and should be done, there are methods besides just direct payment that can reduce the inequality between white people and black people in this country caused by slavery. The first step must be education. There must be no division between what the South and what the rest of the nation views the Civil War, or segregation as. How can we accept reparations when it was only 22 years ago that Alabama recognized the 13th Amendment? There has to be no misconception about the Civil War was the “War of Northern Aggression.” That was a war for slavery and to preserve the oppression of millions of black people in this country. Period. I do think that it is unfortunate that the rest of America has failed to help those in rural areas in changing how they view slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Everyone in this nation should be granted through school a comprehensive understanding of the gravity of slavery and how brutal the institution was.

Once we can truly understand how horrible the enslavement and segregation of black people was, we can then be equipped with the necessary knowledge to address the subject of reparations. I want to make one thing extremely clear. Reparations aren’t a partisan issue. They are a correction for the past wrongdoings of black people by this nation. If you don’t support any form of reparations, even in building institutions to support the African American youth in this nation, then you do not believe that our government should be responsible for slavery and its ideas that continue to threaten the success of black people today. Considering how much this nation profited upon the backs of slaves and following Reconstruction, I don’t think there is any reason why we would not grant reparations of some sort towards African Americans.

Legally, there is a basis to grant reparations. If there is a specific way for the descendants of slavery to prove that they were brought here against their will and were profited off of their unpaid labor, then the debate towards granting those specific people reparations can be made. This would cause many people to at first evoke the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause as a reason why monetary reparations could never be legally possible. These reparations would be treated as if the state was responsible for the lives that were lost during those 200 years. The US government is responsible for the rapes, lynchings, and brutal murders of millions of African Americans during slavery and through post-Reconstruction/Jim Crow era America, just like they would be responsible for the pollution of a state-owned facility that caused someone to die of an illness. If you can prove that your descendants have been enslaved, you should be granted some sort of compensation for your family’s suffering, whether that means getting a better mortgage when buying your family’s first home and/or access to better educational opportunities, starting in elementary school.

Ultimately, I would be remised if I didn’t mention the fact that there are plenty of marginalized groups in American history. Native Americans got a country stole from right under them. Mexicans were kicked South because the US won the Mexican-American War, yet weren’t allowed to return to the US. I could go on and on with these groups, but I struggle to genuinely understand how the treatment specifically of African Americans and their enslavement and continued marginalization in the country they were responsible for helping become the most powerful nation in the world can go unnoticed. Social justice and reparations for slavery are two connected, yet very different topics, and in many ways, this is why I wholeheartedly disagree with Senator Bernie Sanders on his stance against reparations. Reparations aren’t just about bringing the socioeconomic statuses between white and black people closer as it is about the state being responsible for the torture of black bodies for the better part of this country’s history. This nation’s government has never claimed full responsibility for slavery and segregation, and their inability to correct for these injustices is why white supremacy and socioeconomic inequality will continue to be perpetuated in the United States. The one thing I do know for certain, through my research and self-reflection this past week, is that if this country cannot truly acknowledge how slavery, segregation, and racism is responsible for what America has become, we can never begin to correct the consequences these institutions have done to our country.

I would like thanks for taking the time to read this. This piece was inspired by The Case for Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates, so if you can, send it his way and hopefully he can read this! Please leave your thoughts in the comments either here or on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter @noahbball1 to engage in some insightful conversations. Please share this article with your friends and family and have some candid discussions this holiday. See you all next week.

Being Noah Tesfaye #7: Adults and Why We Shouldn’t Fear Them

Let me be the first one to say that I like adults in many ways more than people my age. I’m not denying I of course have friends that are my age that I truly care about, nor am I saying I don’t appreciate younger children either. But personally, I really feel like I’m at least 25 in my mind. That’s why I can relate to adults a whole lot more. And that’s why I don’t fear them. I actually am interested in learning from adults and I am never intimidated by anyone to speak up.

This was brought back to my attention a few weeks ago when I got back a test that I scored decent on, but most of my colleagues didn’t do super great either. We were all complaining about how our teacher was grading our tests all semester, and I finally got tired of the jabber. I just asked everyone, “Why don’t we just talk to the teacher about the way they grade?” No one had ever brought this up prior to this point in time. I didn’t have any problem bringing this up to my teacher. On the surface, he/she(for anonymity purposes) doesn’t appear to be the most generous person. I thought it was justifiable to ask our teacher as a student how he/she grades. So I went up to him/her, asked how they grade, and asked if the way he/she graded was intentionally curving those who score higher on the exam. He/she said they would go over it with our other teacher, and they emailed me a few hours later letting me know the grading policy would be changing to grant a fair and equal curve to all students.

It bothers me that students are so fearful of not just their teachers, but of their parents. And for many cases, there is a reason for that. Some students have the unfortunate circumstance of abusive parents, or controlling and manipulative parents, or even parents that just force them to study 24/7. But if you aren’t in that circumstance, I would assume that you have parents and adults in your life that you can speak your mind to, respectfully. That is how I’ve been raised. There is no reason to fear adults because you should be able to speak to them respectfully and in a way they can respect you.

This also goes for other teachers at school too. I often see people fear some teachers that I don’t really mind discussing random topics with because I know they are human. They aren’t, and I know this may be hard to believe, malicious and evil beings who assign miserable homework and mind-bending tests. They like watching Stranger Things and eating cronuts too. They also like to chat about sports and aren’t afraid to discuss the political climate in America. What disagreements and/or feuds you may have with your teachers, that is no real reason to not acknowledge them for who they are: normal people, just like you and me.

So what is the first step as students to being genuine to our elders? It’s simple, actually. For starters, we could start treating our teachers with genuine respect as someone who is above us, but know that they are people we can talk to. Our parents were once our, and if anything, no matter where they’ve come from, they could have some sort of understanding for the circumstances we deal with. Another step we could make is to try and get a better understanding with adults in our lives is to ask questions. Ask literally anything. The more we can ask and understand their experiences, the more they will become more “human” and more relatable to us.

And perhaps the one thing I would suggest for all of us to be able to appreciate and recognize adults for who they are is to just be more mature. We all need to grow up a bit and realize that our teachers like Star Trek, and even some of our parents used to love playing video games too. Sure the adults in our lives can be hard to appreciate through all the things they do that we may not like, but if we can truly appreciate adults as we do our friends, then our relationships with them can truly be of mutual respect and admiration.