Art is Action

ROCK PAPER RADIO joins forces with The Slants Foundation

ROCK PAPER RADIO is a dispatch for misfits & unlikely optimists by your favorite hapa haole, beet-pickling, public radio nerd. It’s a weekly email newsletter that shares three curiosities every Thursday - something to hold on to (that’s the ‘rock’), something to read (that’s the ‘paper‘), and something to listen to (you guessed it, that’s the ‘radio’). Themes include but are not limited to: rebel violinists, immortal jellyfish, revolution. Thanks for subscribing and spreading the word.
I met this young demonstrator last summer at a Black Lives Matter rally in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. She told me she made her sign herself and that it’s a picture of a dragon and a unicorn hugging because that’s what solidarity means to her. Photo credit: Kristin Leong, June 19, 2020.


Asian American musician Simon Tam spent nearly a decade fighting for the right to name his band The Slants. The battle went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in Tam’s favor, citing the protections of the First Amendment.

This 16-minute feature from PRI is a fascinating recap of The Slants’ journey, with the band’s signature dance rock mixed throughout: A slur or point of pride? The Slants’ journey to litigate their band name.

At 13 minutes, Tam offers us this surreal glimpse into the hearing:

“It was weird that we were arguing for freedom of speech and I couldn’t say anything. According to the Court rules, only my attorney could speak. And it was even more ironic that we had a room full of people arguing about what was offensive to Asian people, and the only Asian people in the room could not comment on the matter.”

Today, The Slants is both a band and charitable foundation supporting social justice through art*. Last week, after I announced my plan to launch my #AZNxBLM project as part of TED’s Mystery Experiment, I knew I wanted to reach out to Simon right away.

I am absolutely thrilled to announce that The Slants Foundation is joining ROCK PAPER RADIO in launching #AZNxBLM. We will be supporting artists and writers with $400 grants to develop original works. The theme of the project is a call for solidarity between the Asian community and the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the surge in anti-Asian violence.

Here’s the Call for Art with a link to submit pitches. Please submit and share widely! The deadline to submit a pitch is Sunday, March 21, 2021, 11:59pm. The submission form is quick and painless.



I love this essay by poet Hanif Abdurraqib for the New York Times Magazine: A World of Black Intimacy at the Card Table.

It’s an ode. To unguarded masculinity. To making space for play in a world that demands nonstop work and vigilance. To all the tricks we pull to try to steal just a little more time with the people who take us as we are.

There’s so much joy in this essay, but it’s layered. Just when you think this is a love letter to friendship, Abdurraqib swoops in, reminds us of the labor behind that love.

In New Haven, Conn., where I had been living for well over a year, I returned from a run to meet my mailman at the door of my apartment as he was preparing to place my mail in the slot. When I told him I lived in the apartment and could take it, he looked at me skeptically and insisted that I pick it up after he locked the slot again. When I protested, he slammed the mail door shut and locked it. I am not particularly sad, or angry, about incidents like these, but I have been thinking about what it is for a person to shift in worth depending on who might be doing the looking and in what city they are doing the looking. And so of course I love a game in which a card’s value can change depending on which ancestor whispered some rules to another one.

Enjoy and then invite an old friend over for a post-vaccine game night.


If Oprah’s measured cadence showering a sad and beautiful Duchess with empathetic but relentless questions is not enough to soothe your weary soul, maybe check out instead of re-watching clips from last weekend’s Monarchy-crushing interview.

This is a magical site where with the press of a polite button that literally says next forest please you can be sonically transported to forests around the world. Each audio clip includes a photo of the forest where the sound was recorded, and a geotag in case you want to plan an escape.


That’s it for issue 32. Thanks for listening, reading, holding on, misfit fam.

And thank you spreading the word about our #AZNxBLM call for art. Remember to tag @RockPaperRadio and @theslantsfound in your shares so we can return the social media love, and let the artists and writers in your life know that selected creatives will earn $400. We can’t wait to read all of your pitches.

In solidarity! See you next Thursday.



*In the spirit of full disclosure, I should share that The Slants Foundation has supported my work. I received a 2020 Countering Hate Award from The Slants Foundation for this 7-minute feature I produced on rebel violinist Joe Kye.

This photo is from a BLM demonstration in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood last summer. All three of us are multiracial and Asian - from left to right: a half-Korean demonstrator we met that day who we bonded with over our signs, half-Chinese me, and my quarter-Japanese wife Keri. (And that’s Radley the rescue doodle in the background.) June 7, 2020
You can find ROCK PAPER RADIO on Instagram and Twitter @RockPaperRadio. You can help spread the word about our community of misfits and unlikely optimists by sharing this issue on the social medias with a comment that says LET’S GO #AZNxBLM. Or something like that.