Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Living in a Country Where Thousands Wish I Didn't

Being black in America means you live in a country you didn't choose but after generations, here you are. I love this country even though my family didn't wind up here because they were fleeing civil unrest and saw this as the land of the free. It is a perplexity; loving a place that doesn't fully support or love you back and yet here you are. If you're like me you have learned how to assimilate, how to cause as little waves as possible because let's face it, people that look like me are targeted for crimes and killed at an alarming rate so sometimes hiding in plan site is our only option.

1. Learning that it's okay to take up space. This means not apologizing to every white woman for simply looking in their direction. For not saying sorry to the white male because we reached for the same shopping cart at Costco. It is okay for me to exist. I don't need to try and blend into white America by straitening my hair or ignoring racial slurs when the are said in a large group for fear of being labeled "the angry black woman." I'm done laughing at jokes that make me uncomfortable even if that labels me as "the angry black woman who can't take a joke." These labels which can hurt me but more importantly will fufill stereotypes that will impact how others in my racial category are treated. If I am the one black person that my friends or coworkers know then how I act will impact every other interaction they have with another black petson so I better not pop off. But I'm not carrying that with me anymore. You should have more than one black friend.

2. It's okay to be angry. As a woman, as a black woman it's okay to get mad. Like Solange said, we have a lot to be mad about but society wants women to smile and they want black women to disappear so getting angry even though it is extremely justified isn't always safe. Guess what, I'm not holding my tongue any longer. If white supremacists can march under the guise of free speech as they spew hatred and fear then I get to be screaming-yelling-cursing-piping-hot mad.

3. Your education is not my job. If you're conflicted about how you should feel about Trump's statements regarding Charlottesville then you haven't been paying attention. Quit asking your POC friends to explain it to you. We weren't born with knowledge about social justice and racial inequality. We had to educate ourselves which wasn't easy when all the history books leave out things like native genocide and how long miscigenation was illegal in the south. We have a disgusting twisted history with race in America but you wouldn't know it by reading a history textbook. You gotta want to learn the truth cuz you have to search for it. It's not my job, because of the color of my skin, to explain to you how Trump's rhetoric during the campaign predicted the rise of white power groups across the country or how his statements condemning both sides is a racist condoning racist actions. Or how all lives matter is deplorable and easily a white nationalist slogan or how Nazi Germany took notes from the US before performing mass extermination. It's 2017 use the Internet.

4. My experience isn't universal. I get mad when women aren't feminist.  I'm like how can you hate yourself? But guess what? I have a masters degree, my education level puts me into a different category and to assume that everyone else has the critical thinking skills, have read the same books I have, grew up in a household where I was taught how to interact  when I encountered police so I would have a better chance of making it home, is ignorant. Being a feminist means acceptance and equality and I remind myself of that when I scroll through Facebook but please, so people stop losing their lives, educate yourselves! Read, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Read Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni to your kids. Read The Autobiography of Assata Shakur. Watch movies like, Get Out and Detroit. Read about the Rodney King Riots. Ask yourself, if a person with your skin color was brutality beaten by police and it was filmed and the officers involved got off without any repurcissions, ask yourself how safe you would feel when red and blue lights flashed in your rearview mirror? Ask yourself, if you attended UVA, as the first in your family to attend college and suddenly the KKK was marching on your campus and everyone said, "it's okay it's free speech" how safe would you feel going back to class?

Empathy and compassion will save us all but if you never look outside yourself and you continue to assume that your experience is possible for everyone you will never understand why we scream black lives matter. You will never understand why the Civil Rights Movement was just the beginning. You will never understand why we cringe when you say get over it or, that's the south that's not us.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Enough is Enough

Photo Credit: Kendra Berglund
I started All This Presents: News That Should Not be Happening as a way to call awareness to racial, economic and gender inequalities in our country but I don't realize the toll it would take on me. Week after week, going through the news, reading these awful stories of police shootings, the support of rape culture within our legislation and racism in our schools - it hurt. 

During first few weeks, after I would post, I felt like I was doing good work.  I was getting the word out, the first step to change.  This past week however I couldn't bring myself to type another black boy's name who had been shot and killed by a police officer who would later be acquitted. I kept thinking that, this will be the week where there is no blood spilled because they were existing while also being black but every week there was a name. Jordan Edward's, Darius Smith, Brendan Hester, remembering Kalief Browder... 

Then there was gender.  Trans students losing their rights, women afraid they would lose their healthcare, teens not being allowed to attend school because of their ethnic hair. Of course some of these stories did eventually end happily but not enough. 

Do you want to know how long I was worked on this project before I began to feel hopeless?  3 weeks.  That's all it took for me to feel like I wasn't doing good work but shouting into an endless void of hate, ignorance, and institutionalized discrimination.  What we are up against is hundreds of years of calculated inequality that will not disappear just because we want it to or because it is the right thing to do.  

We are in a time where antiquated prejudice ideals are fighting to remain as part of our nation. Where tradition is being pushed as the norm but I have to say, just because we have done it that way before doesn't mean we need continue.  Tradition should not be synonymous with oppression. 

Enough of cops treating black people as less than. Enough treating women as unequal. Enough of the education system serving as an institution that pushes people of color into prisons. Enough blaming the color of people's skin for the contaminated water they are being forced to pay for. 

The fact that a segment entitled, News That Should Not be Happening could adopt the nomenclature of simply, "the news" is fucked up.  It's time to demand better, to live better and to treat each other better.  Enough is enough.    

Friday, May 5, 2017

I'm confident but I'll never be white girl confident.

Photo credit: Kendra Berglund
Kendra Berglund and I founded All This Publications last month in the hopes of providing diversity and inclusion in media and honestly making the world a more woke place.  This morning I designed an infographic about privilege. Something unexpected happened, I started to explore myself. I realized that I have very few if any privileges, this is always a raw moment even though I know the statistics it's hard to be reminded that no matter how hard I have worked to get where I am, there are people that arrived at the same location just because of the advantages they were afforded simply for being born. I started to think about how I act in these spaces that were designed to keep people that look like me out but have been forced to create a place for me because of legislation or changing times. How often I have felt like an outsider but more importantly how many times I have played into this.

For instance if a white lady is walking on the sidewalk towards me I will make way for her to pass. If a white lady tells me I can go ahead of her in line because I have only one item, I thank her profusely as though she has performed a miracle instead of acted like a decent human being. Am I polite to women of color in the same scenario? Of course but the fear is missing. The knot in my stomach, the immediate tightening up as I stiffen my posture as if to say, careful. When I'm polite to women of color it is out of respect, solidarity, kindness but the automatic politeness that I present to white women in particular is something different altogether. It is me worried that if I don't "act right" they will forever assume that all black women are rude/mean/unapproachable and therefore deserving of their plight in society. It will make them reassured in the racism I am assuming they possess. Because when you're the only one in the room that looks like you, you are the example, the model and the mold. If you pop off at every microaggression, every bigoted comment, every stereotypical suggestion then you are fulfilling their assumptions about everyone in your ethic group. You learn to go to school wearing a mask, you start working with the same costume and when you come home you can be who you are without fear of letting everyone down. You learn that being calm, cool and collected are what may keep you from being arrested or shot in the passenger seat of a car at 15 years old. It ain't a guarantee but it might keep you alive.

Oppression makes you poor, uneducated, and shortens your lifespan but it also makes you terrified of ever being labeled as impolite.

All together now: It is not my job or any other marginalized groups members job to make white people comfortable. If you are going to say we are all equal and that all lives matter than make sure that I can scream, yell, and roll my eyes without you thinking it's because I'm black. Make sure I can tell off a cop without being arrested, beaten or killed. Make sure I can do everything you can the same exact way  and then we can talk about all lives being created equal.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

13 Reasons Why 13 Reasons Why Missed the Mark

Val & Kendra get real about 13RW
Don’t read unless you have completed the Netflix show: 13 Reason Why.  ~Spoilers ahead~
Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, sexual assault

1.   As a suicide survivor, 13RW was not relatable.  I understand that everyone has a different story, and mine may be unique; however I don’t feel that it captured the deep levels of loneliness and hopelessness. Additionally, by not seeing the internal struggle, we were forced to watch a horrendous series of outside forces taking Hannah down.

2.      One of the most heartbreaking fails that 13RW dishes out is the rape survivors fate.  The message here is that if you are assaulted you are given just two options: suicide or secrets. 

3.      Those struggling with mental illness: you aren’t represented within this series.  Characters are depicted as victims to their surroundings; they have a predisposed fate and lack of free will.  They are not succumbing rather they are unaware there is another way.  In reality 90 percent of suicides are linked to mental illness.

4.      Overall message: “be kind.” This is an oversimplification of what is truly at stake.  People are taking away different messages with the overarching being the most prevalent and perhaps the most useless.

5.      No protocol. For instance, Hannah’s teacher, counselor, and Zack all had very ominous interactions with Hannah and none of them notified anyone. Here’s what your school should be implementing:  
FIRST.      Parents should be notified.
SECOND.      Mental health resources should be provided (either through the family’s practitioner or a 3rd party mental health provider. Schools have MANY resources in this area.)
THRID.      Schools are NOT investigators; they are only reporters: MANDATORY REPORTERS.

6.      What the fuck, Justin?  That’s your girlfriend and not only did you allow a rape to occur you lied about it.  Justin has an awful living environment but that doesn’t outweigh the fact that he continually makes the wrong choice.  This is another area where I feel the show could have informed the audience that if they are living this I type of environment there is a way out.  Instead, in the final scene with Justin, he is walking off in the sunset with a duffel bag. Again, reinforcing the notion that there are only two options: running away or secrets.  

7.       Conversations about 13RW are being banned in schools and teacher are being told to use other resources. Our take is that as long as there is context and further information, there can be intelligent dialogues surrounding the series.  When has banning anything ever worked? Not to mention kids are going to watch this, but there definitely needs to be an adult with them; one who is willing to address all the questions that come up.

8.      Where were the parents?  Seriously, I know that in YA centric casts, parents are always the missing piece that everyone seems to conveniently forget. Parents allow for teens to dash off to Amsterdam or traipse all over the state for a school project, but in real life parents are around.  Especially in Hannah’s case. They just chose to be absent.  They were sending her out without asking where she was going or who with.  They lease her a new car for a dance but don’t bother to meet all of the friends she was going to be driving.  Clay’s parents seems more involved but they too ignore their child’s wants and do what they think is best often at odds with one another.  (I mean the police station scene, seriously?)  Zack’s mom never bothers to question why her son didn’t want to go to Clay’s house after his car was keyed.

9.  Sexual assault statistics.  Meaning the numbers speak for themselves.  We didn’t need to repeatedly need to be shown images of rape to understand that this is an issue that we have failed to eliminate in the U.S.

10.  More warnings.  13RW is a show that if filled with graphic images.  They are gratuitous, but more importantly they are dangerous.  As someone with a history of sexual violence, harassment, or self-harm, this show does little to warn you about what you are about to endure.  Be careful.

11.  More resources.  If the point of this endeavor is to reach teens who are facing these issues, why not have the contact information of organizations, designed to help, at the end of each episode?  There needs to be a level of accountability; and if you don’t feel that this is your responsibility, then make another new version of a Disney movie from my childhood and call it a day.  No one’s asking you to be a hero.
*If you or someone you know is suffering from an assault, harassment or dealing with mental illness here are some resources.

12.  When Justin’s (see what I mean now in number 6) video of Hannah began to be circulated around the school how has nothing been done by the school?  Cyberbullying/sexting is a huge issue that is completely overlooked.

13.  Friends?  Networks?  Social circles? Not only were the parents notably absent but were there weren't any real friendships in this series. From the first scene, we see quite a bit of hatred among the cast of characters.  Hannah says multiple times how she just needed a friend.  Clay, who is supposedly in love with Hannah, constantly wanes between love-struck and unforgivable.  I understand pettiness but these characters are disgusting towards one another.  This pays into 13RW for making the world this big bad terrible place where the only way to survive is to get out.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Thanks Fam, I Cried a lot of Happy Tears

This week we launched our Go Fund Me page for our new brain baby, All This Publications. There is nothing more nerve-wrecking than asking for money, especially from so many people at once. Having something so new and fragile be exposed to the world for the first time...Ideas are scary and acting on them is enough to make my skin try and force its way off my bones. It's uncomfortable and disconcerting no matter how much you love, believe and support your idea -when it is out in the world you are so protective of it and it effects you.

For every big deal, every birth, every book releaee, each blog post, all my 'firsts' I have five friends that I text immediately. I talk with them throughout the day and they ground me. They wrap me up, each in their own way. They keep me going, they remind me that I have been here before but most of all they remind me that I can do it because they believe in me. Scattered around the world but they always have my back, no matter how much time has passed. Friends-no family, I love you and I couldn't do anything without you.

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." Helen Keller ❤️💛💚💙💜

Monday, March 27, 2017

Love Yourself

Getting dressed for a mad dash to Costco this evening I realized that I love my clothes. The bright blue t-shirt I bought for an 80's party in college, the overalls I desperately searched for and finally found, the wildly patterned 7 dollar slip-ons from H&M and it was in that moment I realized that I am happy.

I looked at my closet and every garment in it is something I will wear, something that reflects my mood, appetite, state of mind.

I had a complicated childhood, a confusing adolescence and a heartbreaking early adulthood. It made me anxious and insecure. It made me live like I had something to prove. But now looking at the vibrant colors, the bold textures, the too many scarves and the loud pairs of tights - I see that I am exactly where I want to be in my life. I look at my short skirts and flowly pants and I know that I have a job where I have freedom. Freedom to teach how I want and live how I want. I see my mountains of shoes and know I'm set for four seasons, another year of life. I still have the stretched out camisoles from when I was nursing. Maternity jeans that I keep for Thanksgiving and meals at Texas Roadhouse. Hats, to hide my growing out hair.  Leg warmers for when I attend a sexy heels class or go ice-skating. Long necklaces that got booted from my everyday wear once I had babies. The stiletto heels that serve as an homage to when I was younger and believed fashion over function. Vintage Jordan's that are still stained from stepping in cow poop from when I met my husband's family.

There is no item of clothing, at this point in my life, that I need to buy. Nothing that will make me feel more like myself. Nothing that will remind me of who I was before I was comfortable in my skin. Before I loved who I was.

My closet now, at age 30, is who I am. Strong and resilient. I am fulfilled and I am content.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Part 10 of 10

How to Teach in Trump’s America [Bringing up Race, Immigration, Sexuality and everything else in Higher Ed]

10 Make Room for HOPE

You’re doing incredible work but it is exhausting and sometimes unrewarding and often times negated however you need to understand that you are doing good work.  Reward yourself with someone that reiterates that.  Imagine how bogged down you feel at the end of your teaching days but remember you know that facts, you have the knowledge, you’ve done the research you have a better grasp than those that are not surrounded by a learning institution all day, who are not encouraged to educate themselves.  Imagine how much comfort we take in our education, our knowledge and now imagine you don’t have that to fall back on?  How much more chaotic everything seems.  That is why we cannot only recharge ourselves but our students also.  Don’t just hit them with the truth of the patriarchy also give them the good news, the proof of change, of progress, give them hope. 

When I discuss racism I always quote Rich Benjamin, “Interpersonal race relations — how we treat each other as human beings — are vastly better than in my parents' generation…”but I still finish the quote, “And yet, some things haven't changed. America is as residentially and educationally segregated today as it was in 1970.”  We discuss how much more needs to be done. 

We are all on a journey to learn, everyone is at a different point but we are all doing our best.  Remind our students that we live in an amazing country and that no matter the leader, the people within it are incredible.  We are allowed to criticize, we are allowed to hold our leaders accountable but now more than ever we must make sure that what we are doing in our classroom is teaching our students their rights.  Teaching them how to succeed and giving them the tools to do that.  We aren’t tasked with forcing them into a new identity.  Our goal shouldn’t be to make them all fit into one size or image.  We are to embrace them as they are.  We need to move past labels, break from stereotypes and push past our limitations.  We have the power to make our classrooms safe and interesting and challenging. Why shy away from that?