Squirrel Hill Blues

T Storm Heter

Composed Nov 2018. Posted July 17, 2019

Dedicated to Lori Kaye, who was murdered on April 27, 2019 in the Poway Synagogue shooting, which took place six months to the day after the Tree of Life Shooting in Pittsburg.  Lori rushed the shooter, placing herself in front of her rabbi, saving his life and others.

Dedicated also to the victims of the Vel d’Hiv roundup in Paris, which took place 77 years ago, to the day. Zikhrono livrakha, may their memory be a blessing.

Self-care day gets sidetracked by non-self-care

Another shooting

Bloody survivors crying

Talking about the guns

News always names the gun

Some details we don’t need

The conservatives hope it’s a “middle easterner”

But…it’s a white marine

A dude whose had “domestic issues”

The day is fucked

I’m exhausted from stress of

Reading about bad shit

Trump destroys our country

One executive order at a time

I see the stress on the faces of my students

They are just trying to get by another day in


11 Jews die in synagogue

I’m not over it

I’m not going to get over it

Two weeks ago

And suddenly my Jewishness

Feels like a weight

Around my neck

My girls, I ask them

How do you feel

M. says

“I knew this would happen”

I. says “I’m okay”

These two girls grow up in a world

Where being Jewish

Is met with


Thinking of my Grandpa Bud

Fighting Nazis in Amsterdam

After the war he brought home a Luger

From a dead Nazi

Summer 2017

Unite the Right

“The Jew will not replace us”

Fall 2017

Al-right gun nut

Harasses me

Threatens me

Doxxes me

My school says “don’t talk about it”

Three weeks ago

At Penn State

I drive three hours

I am there three hours

I drive three hours

Back home

To talk about it

I talked about it

I am talking about it


Back at work

A three-hour diversity meeting

Banging my head against the wall

Against the wall

Ahmed, the wall

Just like she says


Mixed with rage

And confusion

And impotence

Political impotence

Can’t act

Can’t move

Get dressed and shave

Is that self-care?

The self-care routine breaks down

The air is molasses

I can’t move

Can’t breathe

The news makes me



…watch more news

Is this my escape?

Tamer Nafar

Chuck D

These are my fuckin heroes

Touched by fire, by god

Where is that fire in me?

Where is that god in me?

I try to say: write philosophy

As if that’s my rap, my poetry

There is a lot of shit inside of me

The feeling inside of being beaten down

Of being a survivor

The guilt fucks with your head

Why me?

Why did I survive?

At what cost

Did I wake up alive today?

Survivor is a noun

I need the verb

The violence is in my soul

It’s in my brain

Feeling his angry breath to this day

Deep sadness inside me

The death of a brother

The sadness of a Christian hell

The sadness of a father never satisfied

The sadness of a mom’s broken nose

The sadness of a mind cage

Don’t talk

Don’t talk about it

Don’t talk

Don’t tell

Not my besties


At a breaking point

Feeling like a freak

Inside this skin

There’s no protection

Chuck D protected me

PE kept me alive

Kept me on the road

Kept me from driving into the sun

Chuck D, the father I needed

Seeing death on the TV

Dead TV

Death TV

Murder in a synagogue

An angry white kid


This violence

Is a daily affair

Name the

White boy violence

That infects American veins

Talk, talk, talk

11 Jews die in synagogue

I’m not over it

I’m not going to get over it

Two weeks ago

And suddenly my Jewishness

Feels like a weight

Around my neck

Remix and Jazz–My Recent Writings

Check out my article on “Jazz” in the newly released book Keywords in Remix Studies (2017). I explore the history of the turntable in jazz culture and compare it to the history of the turntable in DJ-culture.  Long before DJs learned to create break beaks, jazz musicians would lift the needles of turntables while listening to records in order to slow down and repeat phrases they wanted to imitate.  Jazz musicians of the 1920s used turntables as tools for copying sound.  Today’s jazz musicians have a number of technologies like the Amazing Slow Downer that have replaced the turntable. An exciting new direction in jazz-remix culture is the work of Christian Scott Adunde whose album Stretch Music (2015) has redefined the concept of an “album.”   Stretch Music and its accompanying app give the listener/user the ability to mute whichever instrument they want, speed up or slow down tracks without pitch alteration, and more.  Scott Atunde’s work demonstrates the fruitful exchange between jazz and remix culture.

In a related piece of writing for the jazz magazine The Note I explore remix-jazz culture from a more personal point of view.  I was raised in Kansas City by hippies who were passionate amateur musicians.  Weekly Friday nights jams were a staple of my childhood.  We didn’t have living room furniture; we had a Hammond B-3, multiple acoustic pianos, a drum kit or two, a rack of guitars, trombones and tubas, and a slew of other instruments.  Everybody played.  Cousins, uncles and aunts, and friends from all over.  What brought everyone together was the listening party.  My father would put on whatever new album he’d scored, and everyone would listen and try to play along.  One cut would be on repeat for five or six or seven times, until the band could get the changes.  By the end of the night, with any luck, a new tune had been added to our repertoire.  These weekly listening parties had a profound effect on me as a musician, artist, and human.



Immigration and Whiteness (ESU, Feb 27, 2017)

Immigration and Whiteness





Immigration Nation

Immigration Nation

By T Storm Heter

[Delivered at Stroudsburg rally, “Vigil for Immigrants”, Courthouse square, Sat, Feb 11, 2017]


Someone shouts “go back to where you came from”

I came from here

Someone compliments me “your English is so good”

Thank you, I smile, “your English is good too”


I am immigrant,

Aren’t you?


Chile, Nigeria, Kazakhstan

France, Turkey, Russia

India, Bangladesh, Canada


I’m an immigrant

Aren’t you?


Jew, Buddhist, Sikh

Jain, Akan, Hindu

Muslim, Baptist, Mystic


I’m an immigrant,

Aren’t you?


Namibia, Laos, Colombia

El Salvador, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia

Yemen, Romania, Poland

Portugal, Ireland, Italy,

Iran, Jordan, Venezuela,

Kenya, Bolivia, Georgia


I’m an immigrant

Aren’t you?


Do no mistreat the stranger,

We were strangers in Egypt


Do not mistreat the stranger,

Your mother was once a stranger


Do not mistreated the stranger

Your grandmother was one a stranger


Do not mistreat the stranger

You were once a stranger


I’m an immigrant

Aren’t you?


Someone shouts “go back to where you came from”

I came from here

Someone compliments me “your English is so good”

Thank you, I smile, “your English is good too”


I am immigrant,

Aren’t you?



Race, Racism, Whiteness–Why I Write



As a white dude teaching black studies I’m often asked, “Why are you teaching Black studies?”

My friend the philosopher Michael Monahan writes about this question in the beginning of his book The Creolizing Subject.

Here are my top five reasons for teaching Black studies:

(1) Racism is the most fundamental social problem we face today. The problem of the 21st century is the global “color line.”

(2) Philosophy is critical thinking.  We need critical thinking most in areas where it is hardest to think critically.  We should be interrogating whiteness.

(3) Innovative, dynamic, and exciting philosophical work is being done today by philosophers of color.  Traditionally, philosophy has been one of the whitest, most colonized disciplines in the academy. Whereas disciplines like History, Anthropology and English started the process of decolonization in the 1970s, Philosophy has only begun to face its whiteness in the last twenty years.  It is a good time to be a philosopher; philosophy is becoming more open, more diverse, and more interesting than ever before.

(4) My theoretical perspective, Black Existentialismis not the same as my body, which is a white, male body.  Interestingly, if I say my theoretical perspective is “French Existentialism,” my white, male American body gets a free pass.  It is assumed to be natural that a “white” American would study a “white” European author.  The disruption caused by my being a white Black Existentialist is a productive disruption.  The disruption can help us name the theoretical and demographic whiteness of philosophy.

(5) It is easier to be a white person writing about blackness than to be a black person writing about blackness.  I feel compelled to study and talk about whiteness.  As Richard Wright might say, “we don’t have a black problem, we have a white problem.” As a Black Existentialist, I urge my University to hire black staff and black faculty at a rate that reflects the demographics of the 21st century.


Black Noise/White Ears, the book

social distortion pedal

social distortion pedal, t storm heter 2016


For several years I’ve been researching the subject of jazz and race.  I’m now in the process of writing up my thoughts in book form.  I’m calling the book “Black Noise/White Ears.”  The title is an allusion to the black existentialist philosopher Frantz Fanon, who wrote one of the most important texts of black existentialism in 1952, “Black Skin, White Masks.”

In Black Noise/White Ears , I’ll be using the ideas of Fanon, along with ideas drawn from a long cast of other wonderful (living) thinkers like Sara Ahmed, George Yancy, Lewis Gordon, Ingrid Monson, Martin Munro and Josh Kun, just to mention a few.

I’ve decided that as I write my book I will share my ideas here, in the form of short blog posts.

The motivation for the book is the question: “What does it mean to ‘hear’ race?”

In the United States, race is usually something we claim to see.  But don’t we also categorize each other based on sound?

The writer Gary Younge wrote a striking book in 1997, No Place Like Home where he described the confusion many Americans expressed when they heard a “black looking” man speak in a British accent.

As a philosopher and musician, I am interested in what musical sounds get labeled as “white” or “black” or “Latin” or “Asian.” Where do these genre labels come from and how to they affect the way we think about each other.  For instance, why is the genre Hip-Hop considered “black music”?  Are there particular sounds in Hip-Hop music that are “black” or “white” sounds?

I am a jazz drummer.  I’m white.  Does that make the music I play “white jazz”?

Jazz music originated in black and creole communities, in the US South and West.  But by the 1930s white jazz artists dominated the charts and jazz became the popular music of the United States.  Today, most jazz musicians are trained in conservatories and universities.  Demographically, jazz has become a white dominated music form.  Why?

These aesthetic questions are important.  Music is the one place we talk explicitly about “ear training.”  Maybe we all need ear training.

Within the next 25 years  the US will become a majority-minority nation.  Our racial vocabularies need to be reinvented.  We are not a “post-racial” nation.  We’ve mostly suppressed the hard questions about race and mixture.

We hear a lot about “talking about” race.  I’m more interested in the act of listening.  How can we begin listening to race–and listening to the mixture of race that characterizes both our past and our future?



North American Sartre Society, 2016 Call for Papers


#SartreSociety2015 PROGRAM

here is the program for this year’s Sartre Society:

NASS 2015 PROGRAM (final)


and here is a map of the area

map bethlehem pa NASS 2015


time for some sartre


good reads, re: race

A few weeks ago a colleague asked me for a list of books about diversity.  He was looking for something that would appeal to a general university audience.  Something that would be a great conversation starter.  Something very readable.  I came up with a couple of ideas.


Kym Ragusa, The Skin Between Us: A Memoir of Race, Beauty and Belonging  (link)

Ragusa’s 2006 memoir is beautifully written.  Her main theme is ‘belonging’–how does one find one’s place in a community?  As a mixed race person, she seems to belongs in both the Black and Italian communities of Harlem, yet both communities question her fidelity.  Too black for the Italian kids and too Italian for the black kids.  The memoir gestures at the pain of growing up on the margins, but through subtle description and her talent at narration, the reader leaves feeling something quite different than sympathy for a victim.  This is not a victim memoir.  Ragusa visited my campus in 2008 and I asked her if she felt vulnerable putting all these stories to paper.  Her answer has stuck with me–“I didn’t tell everything; I chose what to say, what not to say, and how to say it.”  Her approach to creative non-fiction is inspiring, and suggests how many of us readers might relate to our own histories; how we might find the narration of our belonging and non-belonging.



Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Recreate Race in the Twenty first Century (link)

This 2012 book is an interdisciplinary work of art.  Chapter 1 “The Invention of Race” is worth the price of the book.  I taught this book in a Philosophy of Race course and found that students responded immediately to her arguments, which are laid out elegantly and with punchy examples.  If you are looking for the historical cases to support the idea that ‘race in the US is socially constructed,’ look no further.  The central argument of the book builds slowly, carefully and dramatically.  Although this is not a short book, its can be ready quickly.  The chapters also stand alone.  Highly recommended.


Charles Blow, Fire Shut up in My Bones (link)

I began reading this book last month, and had to put it down in order to catch my breath.  Like the Ragusa memoir, here we are dealing with an author narrating a past that is not without pain.  I would contrast Blow’s work and Ragusa’s work with that of Elizabeth Wurtzel (Prozak Nation;  More, Now, Again). Wurtzel’s addition memoirs are too voyeuristic for me; they treat the reader as thrill seeker wanting to get off on someone else’s pain; and the narrator seems to also want to get off on her own pain.  Fire is not that sort of memoir; it is not fundamentally about racial or class voyeurism.  The point is not to get the reader to vicariously place himself in the shoes of an ‘other’ or a ‘victim.’  The memoir is about us, the reader, watching an adult narrate his childhood.  This memoir is about freedom, and the construction of identity through prose.  This type of memoir appeals to me much more than voyeuristic memoirs of pain.


These two last books are a bit older.


Gary Younge, No Place Like Home: A Black Britain’s Journey Through the American South.  (link)

This isn’t a new book (2002), but it’s hilariously written, and sociologically compelling.  I’ve taught it, and it’s wonderful at presenting a non-United-Statesian perspective on race.  One of his basic themes is “looking local, sounding foreign.” What a great way to discuss what it means to “sound black” or “sound white.”  The auditory qualities of race are important to racial identities, but it can be difficult to find a way into the topic of auditory whiteness.  Younge has anecdote after anecdote, such as the time he ‘accidentally’ went to an all white church in the deep south.  The moment Younge’s accent was heard by the congregation, he found himself mobbed by graciousness rather than anger and confusion.  His IQ went up twenty points on the spot!  This book is written in journalistic style, with wicked humor.  A great book for talking about the notion of “sounding black.”



Cornel West, Race Matters (link)

This book is the oldest of the bunch (1997, 2001), but I continue to teach it and recommend it.  Simply written, and with striking first person examples, this book describes race in terms of “liberal” and “conservative” views.  The book is written for those who want a clear definition of “liberal” and “conservative,” not  for the professional philosopher who wants subtlety.  West’s pragmatic solution is to attack ‘nihilism’ through community organizing and addressing poverty.  Pedagogically, the book gives both liberal and conservative students a vocabulary for articulating their ideas about race. Even three or four years after my students have had my class, they tell me that they remember reading the West book and debating his views on race.   An effective book, and one that shows non-philosophers how philosophy can be relevant to social issues. Something that you could give your friend at the coffee shop.  A great conversation starter.







veggie games

I like to play a game with my students.  I lecture on a topic.  At most 20 minutes, no more.  I give ten or fifteen students a sheet of paper.  During my 20 minutes they have to write one question for me.  I stop talking.  I collect the papers.  I shuffle them.  I read aloud the question and give my best impromptu answers.

This game works best with topics that matter to me. I have to think & work. I go with my honest gut feeling, even if it leads me into unpolished reflections.  I let the students ask whatever they want–personal questions of me, political questions, abstract ones.  I tell them the worst that could happen is that I’d decline to answer.

Today we talked about vegetarianism.  I opened the discussion with a five minute interview with a vegetarian.  A very young vegetarian–a ten year old.  This articulate ten year old (my daughter) was asked how long she’d been a veggie, why she’s veggie, and if she ever desired to eat meat.

After playing the interview, I proceeded with my own top five reasons for being a vegetarian.  Those top five reasons go something like this:

5-Vegetarian food is healthy.

4-Vegetarian diets are good for the environment.

3-Factory farms are pretty nasty.

2- Vegetarian food tastes awesome.

1- I love animals.


Here are some of the wonderful questions from my students:

“How does your daughter know she’s a true vegetarian if she has never eaten meat?”

“Was it hard for you to get your daughters to become vegetarian?”

“Do you believe it is easy to be born into a family of vegetarians?”

“Do you eat tofu?”

“Animals eat other animals.  Why is it seen as barbaric if humans eat other animals?”

“Why is it bad for humans to kill other animals?”


One of my favorite reasons to teach vegetarianism is that I’m able to foster a discussion that connects abstract moral theory to everyday living.  My students read Singer’s 1979 piece and they also listen to an interview of a nine year old explaining her moral reasoning for zoo abolitionism and total vegetarianism.  I disclose my own reasons for being a vegetarian and allow curious students to ask personal questions about my moral theory and how it affects my everyday life choices.

I also offer a possible psycho-analytic reason for my 22 years as a vegetarian.  I was born in Kansas City in 1974 and was raised in a tough urban environment.  Around 1982 my parents fled the city and moved to rural Kansas.  We lived in a farmhouse with no running water and no indoor toilet.  We began accumulating farm animals like a goat, a pig, chickens, a duck here and there, a peacock here and there, lots of dogs, lots of cats, etc.  I became attached to the pig, which I viewed as a family pet.  We gave him an uninspired name “Porky,” but it was a name nonetheless, which, to me, signified family membership.  I bonded with Porky the same way I bonded with my dogs.  Porky was a family pet and my friend.  Then, one day, Porky was gone and there were pork chops on the table.  You guessed it.

I enjoy talking about vegetarianism because it allows me to be a different kind of teacher.  I get to tell stories–my stories.  I get to answer real questions.  I get to poke and prod at social conventions.  I get to hear from hunters eager to know what I think about the moral status of deer.  I get to hear from sons and daughters of farmers who also named & ate their farm animals.  Most of the latter seem a bit resigned to the ‘naturalness’ of eating a family pet.  Although, I’ve yet to come across one of my students who has eaten the family dog.  There’s always one or two who say that they’d be curious enough to eat some dog meat if it was offered to them, and if the seasoning was just right.

I do worry that in teaching about my vegetarianism I come across as preachy.  So, I simply address my preachiness head-on and try to keep a sense of humor about it.  “Man, I’m really sounding preachy aren’t I.”

I think some of my students suspect that its no accident that I teach vegetarianism on the week before Thanksgiving.  Okay, I’m just going to plead guilty on that count.

Today was different in one respect.  For the first time ever I accompanied my discussion with images of factory farms.  We looked at battery cages, mega meat chicken farms, and dairy cattle.  I’ve never used images like this in class.  I don’t like looking at the images myself.  If I’m going to use propaganda, I prefer it to be text rather than image propaganda.

The next step would be to assess how the story telling method of philosophy works.  Do students retain more or less?  Are their powers of critical thinking awakened or dulled?