Hackney: The Times are Changing

For my neighborhood assignment, I wanted to pick a neighborhood I knew nothing about but that would be somewhere I would spend my time if I were a local. I decided on Hackney because I had heard there was a music scene there but my expectations were pretty open. I decided the best way to experience the city was to spend a day there alone, walking around and finding the cool places on their own, without help from TripAdvisor or any other place aimed at tourism.

When you get off the train at Hackney Downs, it looks like a pretty sketchy borough of London. This unassuming city which has in recent years become a hipster hotspot, has a long history within London.

The borough the way it is today was founded in 1965 when it merged with Stoke Newington and Shoreditch, both of which share a large present day hipster population and have recently been facing the effects of gentrification. The name Hackney, however, dates back to the 1200s when the area was believed to be surrounded by marshes, making it somewhat inaccessible and therefore deemed an “island”.

Hackney coat of arms which is a combination of the three combined boroughs

Both Shoreditch High Street and Kingsland Road, prominent Hackney avenues were once apart of a large Roman road that ran through the borough.

What was once a place frequented by nobility, the borough now stands as one of the most economically struggling parts of London with every ward in the 10% of “most deprived” in the country with “47% of its children living in low income homes. It also has a reputation of being very unsafe, at least in recent history but has seen a significant drop in recent years.

This low income, dangerous vibe is still apparent when you step off the tube with rundown shops and homeless people on every corner. When I first got there, I thought perhaps I was in the wrong place, while I know hipsters are known for getting in before the rush, this place seemed like a sleepy town full of people just trying to get by.

After wandering through residential streets for a while, I finally arrived at Mare Street, one of Hackney’s most popular. The shift in atmosphere was palpable. All of a sudden there was free wifi, a huge museum, manicured gardens in front of the courthouse and a picturesque art film theatre. The people shifted too, gone were the shop owners and families heading home and in their place were young, rainbow-haired “cool kids” toting their vintage shopping bags and casually taking drags from their hand-rolled cigarettes.

Unlike near Shoreditch High Street and the markets there, the hipster seen in central Hackney is a little harder to find and is much more word of mouth than tourist attraction. While Mare Street stood out, it was only after a little bit of searching that I came across it.

They’re were Labour posters in many windows, and anti-tory stickers littered among the streets.

“It’s not uncommon to see labour posters,” Viki, 34 said. “People who’ve been here their whole life are much more conservative than the kids moving in who are very liberal. They’re bringing a new mindset to the city.”

There is definitely a variety of cultures but they haven’t quite mixed yet. There is a lot of Turkish and Kurdish influence due to its high population and I saw lots of orthodox Jews walking around with their children which lends itself to an interesting culture.

Orthodox Jews walking through Hackney

“The [Kurdish] community here is very welcoming,” Olan, 52 said. ” My family has lived here for a long time and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else other than my home.”

There is lots of local media like the Hackney Gazette and the Hackney Post which focuses on community news and attractions like Hackney One Carnival and Hoxton Hall events.

While I chose this neighborhood to focus on the hipster music scene, what I found in the heart of Hackney was much more intriguing. A meeting point of culture as well as a once overtly dangerous neighborhood now dealing with the effects of gentrification.

“Things have been changing a lot in recent years and it’s not all bad,” Freddie 21 said. “The hipsters yeah, have been changing the culture but its the companies moving into places like Shoreditch that are changing things. It has gotten a lot safer though I think.”

For a city once nicknamed “murder mile” and has recently been in the news for the mugging of a 92-year-old woman, theres is quite a distinct and vibrant culture that hopegully will be able to retain its sense of self with the current influx of outsiders, although I do hope the upward trend of safety continues for the sake of its residents.

Yours Politely, Natalie


External Links:

Hackney Wikipedia Post

Woman, 92, dragged along ground by robber in Hackney

Hackney Gazette News





Spare Change

Since getting to Europe four weeks ago, I’ve visited three countries and seven cities.

Though this traveling was a new experience for me, after a month here, I feel like somewhat of a pro at navigating new places. I’ve been the go to navigator and somehow always manage to figure out how to get us home, even when I’m five drinks in. The one thing I haven’t managed to get used to, aside from the traffic driving on the wrong side of the road, is the amount of homeless and poor people I’ve seen in and out of London.

From Italy to France to Dover and Brighton, everywhere you go, there’s frail, pleading people trying to survive. And it absolutely breaks my heart.

I noticed it most just outside Vatican City. There were fragile women lying in prayer at the walls of the City holding out dirty cups, hoping for a helping hand. The contrast between the eloquence and holiness of the Vatican and the people begging for a handout really put my trip in perspective. I am fortunate enough to tourist all of these wonderful countries and bask in the gems that you can’t find in America while these men and women who get to see this beauty everyday only want what I have. A bed and a guaranteed meal.

While we were at the Trevi Fountain eating gelato and enjoying the end of our dinner wine buzz, I noticed a man, sitting on a skateboard with a boot on his hand. His feet looked like they had been handicaped in some way and he used the booted hand to scoot along the cobblestones. Instantly my buzz was gone and my heart sank. How can I enjoy the beauty around me when there’s so many people in pain?

This thought had stayed with me the entire trip and I believe it will my entire life. This trip and the people I’ve seen in he streets have sparked a new interest within me to want to help these people in a meaningful way, not just giving them a pound or two but really learning about their problems and finding ways to fix them.

While the pretty photos and newfound friends will also stay with me once I’m home, the way I feel when I see someone in a position of misfortune has forever been changed and for that I am grateful.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Social Class and the Way England Is Failing Its Citizens

Every society has its own unique social structure. In the U.S. it revolves mainly around racial economic issues resulting in distinct social groups.

Economically disadvantaged people in the U.S. are stereotyped as poor, black or hispanic minorities taking advantage of welfare and other social programs. The terms “Inner City” and “Welfare Queens” bring to mind images of single black or hispanic women with many kids or gangs of minority men terrorizing the streets. Whether accurate or not, these stereotypes infiltrate the class system that dominates America.



In the UK, however, the class system is built less around race and more around wealth and geographic location within the country.

The south of England, which includes London, has been long known as the affluent part of the country, producing different accents that are seen as “posh”.


The north of England, which is home to places like the shipping town of Liverpool and Bradford, which relies on a textile industry. 10 out of the 12 most economically struggling cities are in the North and none are in the true south, according to a 2016 report on the Independent.

“There’s definitely a class divide in England,” Maya, 24 said. “People here can tell the difference between a northern accent and a southern one and totally has class connotations.”

Broken up into an elite class, middle class, working class, service workers and the precariat, the UK has much more obvious and unbreakable class divisions. Its not impossible to move between classes in the United States (although crossing racial lines is much more unreachable) in the UK, the crossing of class lines is more challenging.

The gap between the classes is also much more noticeable in the UK and the wealth gap that comes along with it is more damaging than the “one percenters” of the US.

Look at the Grenfell Tower tragedy, for example. Government housing in a wealthy part of town feels the consequences of the higher classes cutting corners in an attempt to rejuvenate the city. Lower classes are seen as exactly that, lower citizens, a sect of people that is somehow beneath.

Grenfell tower is a perfect example of the government and governing classes putting their own economic and personal gains over the wellbeing and safety of lower castes, according to local 38-year-old Londoner, Greg who visited the tower in the days following the fire.

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Overall, the concept of social classes is not an English invention but it is one perfected by them, possibly as a result of their ever-present monarchy, a symbol of status and class. Perhaps it;s due to how much longer of a history England has than America that makes the persistence of seemingly outdated social classes possible or maybe it’s that their ruling class stems from a long line of royalty who have been in a place of power for centuries.

I don’t have a solution for England’s class problems and I don’t have a solution for ours either. I do know that with class gaps come inequalities that in some cases put the lower classes in danger and that there needs to be something done to bring the classes together as a singular England.

Yours Politely, Natalie



Additional Sources:

The Telegraph: The seven social classes of 21st century Britain – where do you fit in?

BBC News: The Great British class calculator: What class are you?

The Independent: Northern Powerhouse? 10 of the UK’s 12 most struggling cities are in the North, report reveals

London: The Real Melting Pot

In general, Western cultures do a really crappy job of representing all types of people in any real way. Coming to London, a crowded, big city in a “white” country, I was expecting about as much diversity in advertisements as you see in Austin. In some cases this is true but there have been times where the casual use of diverse people in campaigns has surprised me.

The demographics of London and the country as a whole, I think has a lot to do with why there is a bit more inclusion in their advertising. It is very much an international city and its proximity to so many other countries helps keep up a multicultural vibe, this is sometimes but not always, reflected in their ads.

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“In 2007 there were over 300 languages spoken [in London] and more than 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000,” according to Wikipedia. Only 44.9% of London’s population is “White-British” making minority representation all the more important.

I have seen a lot more racial representation here when it comes to groups like muslims and blacks than there is in America. Instead of only seeing these groups in stereotypical or intentional ways (like seeing black basketball players or muslims in a religious setting), there is integration in the way that they are represented as normal citizens.

Compared to the U.S., the self-proclaimed melting pot of culture, London seems to do a slightly better job at inclusion and remembering to represent all citizens. In the U.S., its news when a large company casts a minority or underrepresented person in a major ad campaign, even when those minorities are celebrities like Gabby Douglas during the Olympics.

I by no means think that London has enough inclusion or diversity but I think that they are at least making some effort. Seeing minorities on billboards or in newspaper ads should not be exciting or shocking, it should be commonplace and we have yet to reach that point.

The diversity of London is one of the things that makes it’s culture the way it is and without it, the city would look and sound entirely different. With so many immigrants and minorities living here, it would do ad agencies good to appeal to these consumers and show them equal representation if not out of morality than out of economy and to increase their customer pool.

Creating Our Own Reality?

Everyone is guilty of flipping channels only to find that the only thing on is Kardashian or Teen Mom reruns and getting sucked into a multi-episode reality TV spiral. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of, in moderation.

Reality TV is addicting. I don’t know if it’s the yelling or the fancy hair and clothing or maybe just the way it allows us to look into the lives of people we would never otherwise cross paths with. Whatever it is, it lets us escape the world of mundane schoolwork or family life and enter into one of stolen boyfriends and intense girl on girl drama.

I’m not someone who denounces all who watch as anti-feminist drama queens but I can recognize the impact these shows have on our society. By portraying “real” women as catty and men-obsessed its not only setting a bad example for young girls and women but for grown men who then view women that way; and in a male-dominated society, this can be a big problem. 

When media corporations think that all women want from TV is petty trash TV and lifetime movies about unrealistic love stories, they are denying that women are complex, intelligent and capable members of society. When we watch these shows weekly and with the vigor of some Twitter superfans, we’re telling them their right and that it is profitable.

Women are interested in politics and math and the future of our world and we need to show these old white guys sitting around a table at CBS that we want more than just another season of The Bachelor. We want strong female leads and multidimensional characters who aren’t afraid to be a bad ass.

But that doesn’t mean that occasionally, we can’t snuggle into our couches, grab a bottle of wine and find out what exactly went wrong between Kourtney and Scott.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Where Have All The Female Journalists Gone?

I’m currently taking an opinion writing class as part of my major and in it, we talked about the discrepancy between the amount of women and minorities in journalism schools versus the amount that are actually working in newsrooms across the country. This has really stuck with me since then seeing as I am a minority female journalist (looks like I hit the jackpot). 

What my professor said was that although women overwhelmingly outnumber men in schools like mine, UNT’s Mayborn School of Journalism , when they get to the newsroom, something makes women leave.

This isn’t that surprising when you look at the history of media industries. With the “Mad Men” past of the advertising world and the “Boys Club” that was (is?) the print media world, it’s no wonder women and minorities feel unwelcome, perhaps they still are.

I decided to look this up after listening to my Race, Gender and the Media class discuss how unfair the media world portrays women. If we don’t have women in newsrooms, how will we ever get accurate representation?

According to an article published by The Washington Post, my professor was right. They looked into the annual newsroom census (below) and discovered that newsrooms are still about two-thirds male and as for supervisors, 65.4% are male.

Taken from The Washington Post, “Is journalism really a male-dominated field? The numbers say yes.” Amy Joyce

This is bad news for thousands of aspiring female journalists like me and should be worrisome to everyone. Without female an minority voices, you’re not getting the whole story.

What I want to know is why. Is it the lack of support from male bosses? The threat of sexual assault? Or is it something far too common in all fields, we just don’t make the same kind of money.

Taken from BuzzFeed, “Here’s What Female And Male Journalists Actually Make”

According to BuzzFeed, its the latter. Just like in Hollywood and your local doctor’s office, women just can’t seem to get equal pay, an isn’t it about damn time we do something to change that?

Yours Politely, Natalie

In Defense of Twilight – A Feminist Success

In class a group presented a summary of an article explaining all the ways that Twilight, the teen movie about vampires in high school, is an anti-feminist train wreck.

I disagree.

Not only do I disagree because the teenage Natalie who spent her 16th birthday in Forks is begging me to defend Bella and Edwards love story but because of all the teen blockbusters of the last 20 years, this one got the short end of the stick.

When Harry Potter came out, it was heralded a major success on all accounts and now boasts theme parks, multiple movie franchises and even a online subscription site. No one talks about how the main character is a cis-white male or that the main female lead is portrayed as a bratty know-it-all who puts her nose where it doesn’t belong.

Twilight was branded “cheap fiction” from the time of its publication but with the release of the somewhat cheesy movie adaption, it entered the realm, for some, of worst franchises of all time.

The problem I have with this classification is that, thanks to the hype surrounding its release and the hoards of teenage girls showing up to the premiere, people forgot to look at it for what it is, a low-budget, independent film that was the result of three bad ass women making a movie they believed in.

Catherine Hardwicke, Kristen Stewart and Stephanie Meyer on the set of Twilight

Director Catherine Hardwicke, along with her good friend (and indie darling of 2008) Kristen Stewart created a film with an up and coming studio that was never meant to be a global commercial success.

But it was. And because of that, it was judged on the same level as films with triple the budget and the backing of a major studio. This meant that all the things that this film, and most indie films in general, do right were overlooked.

“[Twilight] made $400 million on a very tight budget… there’s just no reason why I couldn’t have been in the club of successful directors, getting offers. Why wouldn’t I have gotten offered a three-picture deal? Or a one-picture deal? Or a development deal? Or an office at a studio!” – Catherine Hardwicke on sexism

One complaint that is often raised is how white the cast is. I’m sorry but vampires are pale and it takes place in Forks, Washington, a town of less than 1% African-Americans and over 67% whites. Additionally, people seem to forget that the sequel, New Moon, features exponentially more minority characters and screen time than the white cast members. Every single actor portraying a member of the Quileute tribe had to have documented proof of their Native American ancestry as to not lead to white-washing a tribe of indigenous people, which by the way, make up more than five times the amount of people in Forks than African-Americans.


Could Bella Swan have been a stronger or more vibrant lead? Sure. But she’s not supposed to be a symbol of feminist success, she’s a sad teenage girl who gets thrown into a mystical world of sexy vampires and true love. She’s bookish and awkward and plain but that doesn’t mean she’s a bad role model. Not everyone can be Lena Dunham.

This is not a case of white-washing and this is not a case of romanticizing harmful relationships. This is the story of a girl falling in love with a freaking vampire and if you are upset about their relationship because he’s “controlling”, you’ve got other issues.

If you look at this movie for what it is, a multi-million dollar blockbuster starring a relatively unknown actress, directed by a relatively unknown female director and based on the bestselling novel of a first-time female author, I’d say feminists should be pretty damn pleased, if only they could look past their own self-important biases.

Yours Politely, Natalie

Hear the World: UNT’s Ethnomusicology Graduate Student Concert

The UNT College of Music is one of the most inclusive and diverse music programs in the country,  along with being one of the most prestigious. This is never more clear than when looking into the Ethnomusicology graduate program. This program, which began in the spring of 2016, features areas of study in music from all over the globe and gives students the opportunity to be exposed to different music styles and the cultures that created them.

Their graduate recital “Hear the World” was a representation of this philosophy. Featuring students performing music from Mexico, China, India and Africa, the event was a night of cultural exploration and celebration.

While I had very little exposure to these styles of music prior to attending this event, I didn’t feel as out of the loop as I expected to feel. Music is music and no matter where it originated, it has the power to connect and make people come together. And that’s exactly what these four extremely varied music types did, they came together and put on a great show.

The first group to perform was the Modern Mariachi group headed by Jose Torres, a graduate student and professor. He told of how mariachi tradition has evolved over time and that the modern costumes that have become synonymous with this style of music are actually borrowed from the Mexican Charro culture and hold very specific symbolism and rules. He told the audience to get loud, stand up and show them that their enjoying the music, as is tradition in Mexico, and the crowd listened. While I have heard authentic Mariachi before while visiting family in El Paso, it was a different experience hearing the traditions and the stories behind the songs sung in a language I can’t understand. He told about the heartbreak and emotion that the composers put into every song and how they all tell a story, making them more than just a pretty song you hear over dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

Second up was the traditional music of China, directed by graduate student, Yuxin Mei . She began this section with a pipa (pronounced pee-paw) solo, an instrument that resembles a guitar but sounds much pluckier. She played a fairly long piece that she explained told the story of an emperor whose favorite concubine killed herself and thus resulting in his own tragic suicide. You could hear the passion in every note, she put her heart into that piece and transformed it into something so much more than just a woman on stage playing music. You felt the pain and heartbreak and the passion of the notes. Her hands fluttered around the strings so fast your eyes couldn’t keep up, all the while she made it look as effortless as telling a sad story to a group of friends. A few more people joined her for other pieces but none as beautiful or resonant as the first.

Third was music from India and a change of pace. The contrast of the fiery, loud instrumental music from China to the softer vocal-heavy traditional Indian music really highlighted their unique differences. Thanmayee Krishnamurthy was the vocalist and lead of this trio and her voice truly was the centerpiece. With the help of two others playing variations of drums, her voice filled the recital hall and demanded attention. Each “raga” they performed had a story and her voice told that story in a powerful way. The first song ended with a long drum solo that really let the two drummer’s – one of which is a high school student, the other a professor – talent shine. The contrast of the instrumental Chinese music and the lyric filled songs from India worked to show that no matter the style or instruments, music is powerful and beautiful.

The night ended with a short performance by the members of the African Percussion Ensemble directed by Nate Ash-Morgan. They played two songs and while entertaining and interesting, lacked the uniformity and precision of the other three groups. The highlight of this performance, ironically, was not a musician but rather the traditional African dancer who showcased a war dance and then a lively “recreational dance”. While the drummers drummed, looking slightly confused and bored, she was the one who brought the culture and communicated what these songs are meant to say.

Overall, the night was one of eye-opening musical experiences that really explored all that this program has to offer while sharing their passion with the crowd. I had never heard of “ethnomusicology” before this but now I know that our university is better for having them as part of our community as they truly embrace the diversity that makes our school great.

It Didn’t Start With Trump…But He Sure Made It Worse

In his first few weeks in office, President Donald Trump has already issued around seven executive orders, arguably the most controversial being dubbed the “Muslim Ban”.

This order “suspend[s] entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order…” according to CNN and the official document.

US President Trump swears in General Mattis as US Defense Secretary . DC

This decree meant that foreign-born U.S. citizens and green card holders from the affected middle eastern, Muslim countries were held in questioning for hours last Friday when they tried to reenter the country in airports across the nation.

This, of course, led to nationwide (or at least Democratic) outrage as mothers and sons and husbands and wives were separated, and entry was withheld. Protesters gathered in inspiring numbers and stood up for those who needed a voice.


Although maybe not illegal, this order is un-American. Yes, it isn’t technically a “Muslim ban” (despite Sean Spicer and President Trump using this term numerous times before calling it “media propaganda”) as Muslims from countries like Saudi Arabia (an oil exporter and country which Trump has business ties) are still welcome.

America was founded by people escaping persecution yet throughout all of our history, we boast examples of hatred toward immigrant groups doing the same thing. First it was the “unskilled, uneducated” Irish Catholics escaping famine, then the German Jews hoping for a more accepting place to live, and now the “terrorist” Muslims seeking refuge in the nation of immigrants.

Despite our beginnings, it’s clear that we haven’t been a welcome harbor for immigrants of any race or creed for quite some time, but now we have our racism legalized.

Donald Trump represents a significant percent of Americans, so saying that he is just a madman who needs to be stopped is only half the battle. Mosques are burning, hijabs are being ripped of women’s heads and Muslims are being profiled at airports all across the country. And none of this began when Trump wrote it down.

Yours Politely, Natalie

A Love Letter to Austin

When planning for a city, you don’t expect it to become the 11th most populated and fastest growing city in the country, 182 years after its founding. You also don’t expect it to be among the top ten best places to live year after year but that’s exactly what’s happened in Austin, Texas.

Austin is a city of contrasts. Intertwined with tall brown buildings and traffic-filled paved roads sits a winding blue lake separating one half of the city from the other and large, lush grassy areas like Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores.

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At night down on 6th street, you’ll find twenty-somethings bar-hopping through dance-music filled hole in the walls while over on Rainey Street, thirty-somethings are too busy discussing world politics and sipping their craft beer or local vodka to notice. If you go too far to the south end of downtown, you hit “South Congress”, a world all it’s own full of knick-knack shops, vintage stores and legendary local restaurants. If you go too far north, you enter the world of the University of Texas and all its collegiate glory, frat houses and all.

This city is ever expanding and changing. What once was home to the state’s most eclectic of hippy’s during the 70s is now shared with technology executives and more millionaire than you could count, although you’d never know it. A running joke in Austin is that if you’re trying to find the richest guy in the room, just look for the one in jeans, flip flops and a t-shirt. Status is determined not by what clothes you wear or what car you drive but by how ethical your company is and how beautiful the view from your backyard looks.

This is thanks to the fact that through the years, as Austin’s population has skyrocketed, it hasn’t forgotten its history or its culture. In between the ever present construction of new residential towers, like The Austonian, which recently overtook the 360 Condominiums as the tallest building in town thus breaking the record for tallest residential building west of the Mississippi river, there lay secret nods to its history, only obvious to those who know where to look.

Down MLK, on the “local” side of town, in between college coffee bars and upscale boutique restaurants, is a tall metal tower that one might mistake for just another piece of construction clutter. This narrow, thin metal frame holds a circle of large lights on its top, which at night illuminates the entire block on which it sits. This tower, and the 16 others that remain scattered throughout the city are all that remain of America’s moonlight towers, an invention brought on by the high cost of street lamps in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they could shed light on up to 1500 feet. These 17 towers are the sole survivors of their kind, as all other cities have taken theirs down in favor of expansion.

Hawk on a Moon Tower

Austin not only still has standing towers that turn on nightly, the locals are proud of them and consider them an integral part of the city’s culture. At Austin City Limits Music Festival, one of the city’s biggest outdoor music events, the sides of the stages are covered with photos different city landmarks, like the capitol building and longhorn statue. One stage every year is covered with pictures of the moonlight towers, an incredible honor for something that went out of fashion over a century ago.

Along with towers from the past, there are other historical sights sitting right alongside the newest and most modern of constructions. On Embassy Road on the east side of town, near the Texas State Cemetery is a small house surrounded by, you guessed it, residential construction. This house once was the home of the French Embassy, back when Texas was its own country. It is also, coincidentally, the oldest home in the city, celebrating 175 years, and is now a museum.

With artifacts like these and others like the Treaty Oak (which has a long history filled with Native Americans, protest, attempted tree murder and much more), it’s obvious that Austin is set on preserving as much of its rich and unique history as possible. It also stands as an example to other major cities that its is possible to expand at a rate of nearly 50 people per day and still have the ability to preserve the essence that made the city great.

Ask me about this in another decade, however, and you may get a different response. With the extreme growth and booming economy comes a need for  newer, more upscale attractions and with this comes higher rent. Higher rent means that the original hippies and hipsters no longer can afford the town they helped to shape. With more and more of them being pushed out, it will be up to the city to continue to stay true to their roots and not let the growth overtake the culture and help preserve the people who make the city great in the same way they have preserved its landmarks.

Yours Politely, Natalie