Music
Janelle Monae's "Dirty Computer" album cover

Janelle Monáe’s 'Dirty Computer' Is a Battle Cry For Those of Us Who Refuse to Surrender

Janelle Monáe's latest offering sends an unfiltered message of love, inclusivity and resistance.

A computer is an electrical system that processes and encompases information, then somehow translates it into a medium that we can understand and utilize. It holds our files, our histories, our secrets, our goals. It remembers.

A computer is also a person who calculates. An intelligent being that records, internalizes and projects information and ideas. But unlike the first computer I described (the inanimate one) human computers have the gift of free will. To think, love, feel and be themselves. They never forget what authenticity is. What it is to instruct themselves, and not be manipulated by an outside force.

The metaphor of computer as human is instrumental in Janelle Monae's musical storytelling. Janelle is no stranger to teetering between the fine lines of reality and "digitalism:" for the culmination of her career, she's narrated through a mechanical protagonist—Cindi Mayweather, a cyborg who loves a human—but we had yet to truly learn who Janelle is, in our dimension.

Dirty Computer, Janelle's most personal and outspoken masterpiece to date, explores what being an unconventional, queer and authentic "computer" (a person that processes and transforms concepts, or just a creative, expressive being) means in a society that is inhumane in it's laws, standards and prejudices.

In Janelle's emotion picture and album, this translates to being a "dirty computer": when society claims that the most humanistic and natural parts of your expression, existence or love-making are an abomination. With technology rapidly advancing and social media harvesting our data and personalities, it seems inevitable that we'll become one with the digital landscape we've curated and constructed so meticulously.


People on the margins of society—people of color, queer communities, women, trans and gender nonconforming identities—are often treated like something other than human, as if not fitting the social standards created by whiteness and men automatically means we are the problem, we are the machines that need rewiring.

If cleanliness is assimilation, and dirt is pure individuality and sexual and gender truth, then preserving your data becomes a political statement, an act against heteronormative, racist, cis and male-dominated programing. "I am not America's nightmare, I am the American dream," she proclaims in "Crazy Classic Life," a party anthem that introduces the apocalyptic nature of the album and declares herself as a force in intersectional feminism.

For Janelle, we are living the apocalypse now: enduring a blubbering orange tyrant, xenophobia, police brutality against black people, trans people being murdered, persistent inequality against women. She elaborates on this idea in "Screwed," a duet with Zoe Kravitz. The duo describe all the ways they want to be screwed: in a matinee, at a festival, like an animal, but the metaphor exceeds sexual expectations. We are all screwed, because existing in America's current timeline feels like a nightmare, featuring abuse of power and force. As Janelle exits the song, she recites a poem about sex and power—both operate in regards to the other, and while sex can be empowering, especially for women owning our bodies and people with many sexualities, sex and power are often used by men to manipulate, intimidate or control.

Thus, "Pynk," the ecstatic soundtrack to pussies, tongues, lips, femininity and all the gushy stuff sloshing around inside of us, is especially significant. I've always believed in the power of images as markers of new movements, and Janelle in flamboyant fuchsia labia pants is an unforgettable moment. Although the idea of women embracing their bodies has often been articulated through a cisgender lens, Janelle made it a point to announce that "Pynk" includes all womxn, and transcends the cis idea of gender and body as a definitive thing.

Dirty Computer bounces between consecutive uplifting and thoughtful tracks, merging dance, funkadelic, rock n roll and pop: an interesting juxtaposition of celebration amidst social and cultural chaos. "Take a Byte" is a blatant ode to the computer idea, both sexually and digitally—is it a romantic invitation? A mockery of those in power who want to break apart queer identity? Or permission to bite off of her individuality?—while "I Got That Juice" plays with the notions of electrical juice that keeps computers alive and the nectar that flows between women's thighs.

Yet, these jovial explorations come to rest at "Don't Judge Me," a ballad that sounds like a letter to her fans. We've all loved her throughout her Cindi days, where her lyrics and performances, although moving, were nestled safely in a fantasy world. Janelle asks if we will continue to love and stand by her, after presenting such a vulnerable yet empowering album that lays her sexual and social beliefs out on our screens for us to swipe past or scroll further into.

I am here.

I am here for this music, for the unfiltered messages of love, inclusivity and resistance. I am here for Janelle. A computer, whether literal or mechanical, shuts down when the user wants it to, or when the juice has run out. My wires are just starting to spark. And so are Janelle's.

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Illustration by Simone Martin-Newberry

A 15-Year-Old Nigerian Student Lends Her Voice to the Fight Against Boko Haram With Graphic Novel

Aisha Mustapha's graphic novel about her experiences under Boko Haram was published today for International Day of the Girl.

Aisha Mustapha, is a 15-year-old student from Nigeria, using her voice to tell her own story. The young writer recently penned a graphic novel about her experience fleeing Boko Haram, locating her family and trying to further her education. It's a heavy subject, obviously, but with her graphic novel, she offers a voice for young people directly affected by the crisis in Northern Nigeria.

The book was published today to mark the International Day of the Girl, a day established by the United Nations in 2011 to "highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfillment of their human rights."

Aisha's talent for storytelling has previously been highlighted in Assembly, a by-girls-for-girls publication by the Malala Fund that brought Aisha's graphic novel to life, premiering it today in conjunction with International Day of the GIrl. Tess Thomas, Assembly's editor, elaborated on the purpose of the publication saying, "We believe in the power of girls' voices to generate change. Our publication provides girls with a platform so their opinions and experiences can inform decisions about their futures."

Aisha's words were illustrated by artist Simone Martin-Newberry, who had this to say about the process of creating the visuals for the graphic novel: "I was very moved by Aisha's story, and really wanted to treat it sensitively and do it justice with my illustrations. My aim was to capture the real emotions and actions of the story, but also keep my artwork bright and colorful and full of pattern, to help reflect Aisha's amazing youthful spirit."

Check out some excerpts from the piece below and head here to read it in full.
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(Photo Courtesy of BBC Africa Eye)

An Interview With Kiki Mordi, the Nigerian Journalist Behind the BBC’s #SexForGrades Documentary

Meet the reporter whose undercover reporting exposed rampant sexual harassment in West African universities.

Nigeria and Ghana have been reeling ever since the release of the Sex for Grades film from BBC Africa Eye earlier this week. It was an undercover expose of the sexual harassment and extortion female students face in two of prestigious universities. Since the release of the year-long investigation, #SexForGrades has been trending, and many more women have come forward with their own experiences. Four of the professors implicated in the footage have been suspended from their positions and the Nigerian Senate has decided to reintroduce a sexual harassment bill. Suffice it to say, the film has caused a stir.

The woman behind the film is Kiki Mordi, a 28-year-old Nigerian journalist who had experienced sexual harassment herself in her university years. We spoke with her in an exclusive and enlightening interview about her reaction to the waves she's causing, what it is like to relive and report on traumatic situations and the depth of harassment culture. She also gives a direct answer to one of the implicated professor's statements that she was enacting a form of neocolonialism.

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Keith Roper/Flickr Creative Commons

Kais Saied is Set to Become Tunisia's Next President

While official results have not been published, the retired academic reportedly secured 76 percent of the votes according to the exit polls.

Last week, Tunisia held its legislative elections, according to reports by Aljazeera. The Ennahda Movement obtained 52 seats in the 217-member parliament while the Karoui's Heart of Tunisia party came second, with 38 seats. While the presidential elections were only scheduled to take place in November, they were pushed forward after the country's first democratically-elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, passed away in July. Two independent candidates, media mogul Nabil Karoui and retired law professor Kais Saied, have been facing off in the presidential runoff. However, recent exit polls suggest that Saied secured between 72 and 77 percent of the vote.

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 10: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on stage during a campaign rally at the Target Center on October 10, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images).

Trump Attacks Ilhan Omar & Minnesota's Somali Community In Disparaging Anti-Immigrant Campaign Speech

Trump stepped up his demonization of Minnesota's Somali community in front of a braying crowd of MAGA-hat wearing supporters.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota and—in typical white-nationalist fashion—used a significant portion of his speech to disparage the local Somali community, and once again take shots at the state's Somali-born Representative Ilhan Omar.

"As you know for many years leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers," said Trump, echoing the countless anti-immigrant statements he's made in the past. "You should be able to decide what is best for your own cities and for your own neighborhoods and that's what you have the right to do right now, and believe me, no other president would be doing that," he added as his supporters cheered him on.

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