Checking My Own Privilege: The Answer to “Where Have You Been?”

I spend a lot of my time challenging white people in my life (and sometimes just those I pass on the street) to check their privilege and take a look at the world using a different, more empathetic lens.    I am actually beginning to realize that, the more I do this, the more I will do this.  I hope that makes sense.  I simply mean that with each time I put myself out there and stand up to injustice, I see twice as many opportunities to do it AGAIN than I did before.  It has been an incredible, eye-opening, and deeply challenging journey.  I have been doing this my whole life, but only in Trump’s America have I begun to understand the true complexity that is the tapestry of hatred adorning every wall in this country.  And yes, I mean EVERY wall.

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Want to buy this? Me too.

Sometimes, though, I lose sight of my own role in all of this outside of  Social Justice Warrior Princess.  It’s not that  I don’t recognize my own privilege, it’s not that I don’t know how to use it, it’s just that I don’t always notice it immediately when it shows up.  That’s an area of failing for me and a space where I really need to grow.

What has catalyzed this immense and, frankly, kind of refreshing moment ion introspection was the choice I made over the last 3 weeks to kind of pull back from the blog a little bit.  I was blogging daily for a while.  I was wading through the dark corners of the internet in search of white supremacists with whom to engage and browsing scores of news articles for the latest ways in which racism and Trump’s America has reared its ugly, fused excuse for a head.  And then, one day about 3 weeks ago, I messaged a good friend (who has made an appearance here a few times) and told him I was tired.  I told him I felt overwhelmed and stressed and broken.  I told him I didn’t understand how to balance this blog and my finals with any semblance of success.  And he told me to take a break.  So I did.  

But here’s the thing: once I took that break, it became harder and harder for me to come back to this.  I kind of liked not having to face it.  I kind of liked taking a breather and avoiding the truth regarding the dire and terrifying state of this country.  I kind of liked just pretending, for a minute, like things were OK.  And that makes me kind of upset at myself.  

The only reason that I was able to take this break is my privilege.  The only reason I was able to take some space from staring oppression and hatred and racism in the face is because of my privilege.  The only reason I was able to, even for a second, get comfortable in today’s America (or any America of any era ever) is because of my privilege.  And for me to lose sight of that?  Not OK.privilege_becomingaware-388x600.jpg

So, while it doesn’t have to be a hurricane of rage (which is my general MO), I cannot look away.  I cannot look away because the reality of this world is that there are people who have to face this on a daily basis with zero breaks.  They have to face this in a very real, visceral, and often violent way.  They have to face this as their children, brothers, mothers, sisters, fathers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends are murdered.  They have to face this trauma, along with the trauma endured by their parents and grandparents+, regardless of whether they have finals or a deadline to meet.  And so if I am to be an ally, I cannot take advantage of luxuries that are not afforded to people who don’t have the privilege of whiteness or passing whiteness.  I cannot look away when things get to be too much.  

And with that, I will say this: I will keep fighting.  I might not write daily, but I will always be fighting.  I will not look away and I will not get comfortable.  Because none of this is OK.  None of this is normal.  And we can’t LET it be.  Resist with persistence.  Do. Not. Stop. 

The Line Between Appropriation and Appreciation: Natural Beauty Brands as a Form of Resistance

The United States has spent centuries building a nation at the expense of women of color. What do I mean when I say this?  Exactly that.  This nation has never valued women of color the way that we should, especially since they are the very backbone from which every rib of our history has grown.

There are so many deep and difficult valleys to explore if we delve into the ways that women of color have been devalued and exploited in this nation, but there is one in particular I want to focus on today.  I want to focus on what everyone else seems to be focused on: beauty, haircare, and appropriation.

I recently had a conversation with a white friend about the line between appropriation and appreciation.  I spent a good, long time thinking about this and realized that, as long as the media continues to misrepresent and whitewash black women and/or other women of color, white women’s attempts at achieving the same look will always be appropriation.  I have re-had this conversation a few times recently, namely in response to Katy Perry‘s most recent gaffe in this arena.

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Please note, the woman who responded was not a white woman, but a woman of Pakistani descent.  She spent the rest of the conversation stating how appropriation isn’t a real thing and that because she hasn’t experienced racism, black women are probably just making a big deal out of nothing.  This conversation just served as further evidence (for me) that sometimes oppressed people oppress people.

Anyway, for centuries, black women have been told that in order to be considered beautiful, they must whitewash themselves.  They must straighten their hair.  They must stay out of the sun.  These were things I heard in my own friend circles, in my own family, and then, as I grew older, saw perpetuated in the schools I worked in and social media communities.  Women of color are not, under most circumstances, encouraged to celebrate their natural beauty in the way white women are.  Women of color are instead sold bleaching creams, relaxers, straighteners, and a myriad of other appearance altering and chemically toxic things that society tells them they need so that they can look more like white women.  Meanwhile, white women appropriate the exact same hairstyles, makeup trends, and even skin tones (or attempts at it… hello tanning beds) and are celebrated for it.  This disconnect in the American standard of beauty is deeply damaging for young girls of color.  And we need to do something about it.

Portia.jpgSo, of course, some people are.  And, of course, like most (if not all) progressive movements, this movement towards appreciating your natural beauty not in spite of but BECAUSE of your race is being lead by women of color. One such woman is the woman I would like to highlight in today’s piece.  Portia Ingram has created LoveAbenaa Naturals as a company that creates products that encourage young women of color to embrace their natural beauty, regardless of how society tells them to feel about it.  When I spoke to Portia about what inspired her to create LoveAbenaa Naturals, she sent me this:

A Love Note To My Younger Self

You were so beautiful in your braids and beads,

Clanking as you road your bike til the sun went down

Running through sprinklers and dancing with fireflies.

There came a time when your hair became “unruly”

When grandma said

“It was going back home”

In a tone that stung

And left you silent and wondering..

Those hot combs on picture day left their scars for the cameras

And that relaxer you endured

Left your crown tarnished.

But your hair flowed like girls on primetime,

Even the girls that were your shade of chocolate

Left their beads in a box and traded it for boxed hair

And you asked..

Can I be

Real?

And you masked your crown in relaxers,

Dependent on flatirons

And constant trims.

Your crown grew smaller

As the burns grew deeper

But the hair stayed straighter

Until everyone wanted braids but the

Black girl with the

Flowy hair..

But along the way,

Strangers helped you remember

And you left that relaxer on the shelf.

You cut off your tarnished ends

And one-by-one

 heard your hair breathe for the first time

In a lifetime

With new life you promised to

Nurture & nourish it

Protect it

And love all reflections of it.

You

Created LoveAbenaa Naturals.

Your reparations & your food.

Thank you. ❤

I was at a loss for words when I read this.  It was easily one of the most beautiful, most empowering, most uplifting pieces I have ever read.  But it also made me deeply sad.  It made me think of those times where I watched my mom with the hot comb in my kitchen, straightening my cousin’s hair.  It made me remember the burns on her ears and the toothpaste salve we swore would help.  It also made me remember the tiny rods my mother wrapped into my hair to create the very same coils she had burned out of my cousin’s.  It made me feel an ache and a pain that it isn’t fair for me to feel… because I never endured the worst of this.  But to know that the women I love, the women who raised me, spent their lives trying to change something so natural and beautiful in themselves while trying to create it for me?  That broke my heart.

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So, in all, I am grateful for companies like LoveAbenaa Naturals who are standing as a voice to encourage young women of color to be their true and incredibly beautiful selves.  I am grateful to women like Alicia Keys for using their platforms to change the mainstream image of beauty in this country.

So, be a part of the movement and check out LoveAbenaa Naturals for yourself. Share it with your friends. Let’s empower those who empower and lift those who lift.  That is the most powerful way to resist and persist.

YouTube Link: http://goo.gl/MKej3P

Twitter & Instagram: @loveabenaa

Facebook & Place to shop: LoveAbenaa Naturals

Saved By the Bounce: Resistance is a Party (sometimes)

It has been a minute since my last post.  Finals have been a little overwhelming.  This, coupled with all the personal wars I tend to wage on a regular basis and the move to NYC looming, has rendered me pretty blogless.

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This upcoming weekend, though, has been giving me a little light to look forward to and a lot of inspiration to channel.  Saved by the Bounce is a throwback dance party focused on unity, dancing, and just being yourself.  Where other parties are charging outrageous sums of money, putting pressures on you to look a certain way, expecting you to dance a certain way, or requiring you to be of a certain subset of humans, Saved by the Bounce is encouraging you to come as you are.  They are standing as a beacon of inclusion, acceptance, and fun in an industry overrun by a focus on image and prestige.

In his second appearance on this blog, I talk to DJ TRST about what this party means to him, why he started it, and what it might mean for the rest of us.


1. What is saved by the bounce? Why does it exist?
Saved By The Bounce (SBTB) is a back-to-basics throwback party. It’s a big dance party for people who need to dance, but also not stress out about how much money they’re spending on their night.  SBTB came about from the frustrations that my partner Jovito and I experienced in the NYC nightlife scene as DJs, specifically with the subliminal discrimination and subtext demands from owners/venues/promoters along with the shift in power moving towards favoring promoters over DJs. We’ve seen people of color get denied at the doors of clubs because of how they look, their “status”, or because of the shoes they are wearing. I got tired of that. I had a moment where I was calling that shit out all the time, but then I realized and said “why not create a space/environment where people can feel safe?”
2. How did you guys pull this party together?
Aw man. The idea came from both Jovito and myself deciding one day to create our own party; we wanted it to be a haven for people to feel dope vibes. We reached out to an old friend of ours (Jeremy) and we all partnered up to make this party happen. We were the bartenders, the DJs, and the promoters of the party and we did everything on our own.
3. How has it grown since its inception?
We aimed to make Saved By The Bounce a house party. We wanted to bring those Sean Paul “Get Busy” house parties back to the scene and what ended up happening was we created an environment where the culture can thrive and be respected with B-Boys/B-Girls, dancers and just overall music lovers. I recruited a young lady I met at a 305 Fitness class, Elyssa, to be a partner, as well.  With her innovative ideas and experience in marketing, we have seen crazy improvements. We got a dope #FeelingBouncy neon sign for our parties that is a staple of who we are. We have added art work to our parties for an opportunity to showcase dope pieces from artists we respect and want to see thrive.  That artwork also serves as a great conversation starter. We started to brand the party carefully and steadily; we named our signature drink Michael’s Secret Stuff (from Space Jam) and we are debuting two new signature drinks at our party this weekend.
4. What kind of music do you play? 18120370_10156072675122589_2035050589_o
We play the stuff that isn’t played in clubs. 90s/early 2000s Hip-Hop, 90s Dancehall/reggae, Dirty pop, Funk/Disco, 90s House music, a dash of soca and latin music and (as always) a little sprinkle of trap music, because everyone is trying to get LIT! It’s just overall a good healthy mix of everything!
5. What is your hope for what people get out of a party like this?
I want people to get back to the days where DJs are looked up to and respected: the days when you would say “Oh DJ TRST is deejaying that ill party tonight, let’s get the crew!!” Our mission with this party is to unite people from all races and beliefs and have them leave their drama at the door, and just dance the night away. SBTB is a sanctuary for the ones that feel like they don’t belong.
6. How does seeing the results of your work (happy people dancing) make you guys feel?
Seeing people dancing and feeling good when we play songs we know they’ll love? It feels amazing. The fact that the party is the reason that people have a memorable, positive night is priceless. It feels great to know we have created something for the culture, not for just money and greed like so many nightclubs and promoters do in Manhattan.
7. How/why are parties like this important for unity and strength in Trump’s America? 
At SBTB, we are about unity, respect, and love. A lot of “parties” and nightclubs out there like to promote their weekend nights as a “different experience,” but really all their nights are just expensive covers, shitty staff, expensive drinks and bottle service, and shitty music and shitty DJs that ALL play the same thing every where in the city! You see fights break out because of petty differences and egos going wild. Our party doesn’t promote that. We don’t promote flexing or showing off money. We keep our prices low and our music dope to let everyone feel equal. Right now, in Trump’s America, it’s vital that we stay united no matter our differences and keep pushing forward with love and respect! This party reinforces that.


In addition to talking with DJ TRST, I also reached out to some party-goers to see if their feelings about the party matched his.  And by and large, they did.  The overwhelming response seems to be that this space, created by TRST, Jovito, and Elyssa, has provided millennials with a space to dance, be themselves, and not worry about “image.”  It’s not about “getting fucked up” or “hooking up.”  It is instead about really connecting with other people and dancing to music that makes you feel good and happy.

And when asked if they believed a party like this could be an act of resistance in and of itself, the answer was yes.  One party-goer said, “… if coming into a space to enjoy each other’s company” regardless of where we come from is act of defiance in today’s society, then this party is absolutely that.  The party was described as not overtly political, but an example of how natural and normal diversity should be.  “They’re not deliberate in their political power; they’re natural, in that diversity shouldn’t be a staple of political progression, but [instead just a staple of] normalcy.”

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A party like SBTB is vital in Trump’s America.  Millennials are, by and large, a very liberal group.  Having been thrown face first into a world of conservative hatred, many are scrounging for spaces that are safe and progressive in nature.  In other words, millennials are looking for a way to escape Trump’s America and reconnect with their values and one another.

Millennials, unlike any generation before us, tend to forge many of their connections with other people via social media.  Not surprisingly, a lot of us take things one step forward and wage some form of resistance using that platform.  However, this can get exhausting and we end up needing positive, face to face interactions with people who respect and accept us for who we are. We need to come together, vibe together, and remember what this generation is really all about: unity.  We need to find a space to dance and live and lean on one another, especially in times like this.  Parties like SBTB provide people with a safe space to recharge and reconnect.  In Trump’s America, this is priceless.

Want to go to Saved By the Bounce this Saturday April 29 at 10pm?  Buy tickets here.

Want to follow the party/creators on Instagram? Click below.

Saved By the Bounce // DJ TRST // Jovito // Elyssa

An Interview With a Formerly Undocumented Immigrant: Xenophobia, Ignorance, and Trump’s America

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”- The 45th President of The United States of America


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“In the audience tonight, we have four mothers whose children have been killed, brutally killed by people that came into the country illegally. You have thousands of mothers and fathers and relatives all over the country. They’re coming in illegally. Drugs are pouring in through the border. We have no country if we have no border.” The 45th President of The United States of America


“We need strong borders. We cannot give amnesty. I want to build the wall. We have some bad hombres here, and we’re going to get them out.”-The 45th President of The United States of America


“We have to have assimilation–to have a country, we have to have assimilation. I’m not the first one to say this. We’ve had many people over the years, for many, many years, saying the same thing. This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.”The 45th President of The United States of America


These words, spouted from the mouth of a leader chosen by a subcategory of humans with a particular dislike for anyone that’s not white, have echoed through the gaping holes left in our faith in this nation.  Nationalism and xenophobia are dangerous precursors to terrifying history.  We would be quite stupid to ignore that, don’t you think?

What I can tell you is this: Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and galvanization of ICE have sent immigrant communities into a state of panic.  Undocumented people all over the nation are questioning whether to send their children to school, get much needed medical care, go to work, get groceries…

And I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the nation I want to be a part of.  This isn’t the nation I am proud of.  And this isn’t the nation I want to raise my kids in.

My mother was an undocumented immigrant.  I have friends who are undocumented immigrants.  And I can’t stand by and watch the country I call home demonize people that I love… good people who came here in search of safety and opportunity, just like literally every white settler who came here centuries ago.

Today on the blog, I interview a dear friend.  He just got his citizenship and agreed to answer a few questions for us.  Please, read his words.  So many people in this nation need the lens that this man so generously provides, so as you usually do when it comes to the immigrants of this nation, take advantage.

  1. So many people who make the journey to this country have an unbelievable story as to how they and their families got here. What is your immigration story? My mom chose to leave with us to the USA after getting divorced from my father. She wanted to give us the opportunities that the USA was selling: The Land Of Opportunity. It was my mom, my sister and me. I was 2 1/2 years old when we came to America by plane. My mother had the hardest part in this because she had to leave everything and her career (accountant) behind to start over. It was very hard for her to make a living in America where her degree from Ecuador didn’t matter.
  2. As a kid growing up in a nation that has a troubled recent history with immigration, how did your undocumented status impact you (or not)? Honestly, directly it hasn’t necessarily affected me. Luckily, we never had people knock on our door. Maybe my mother protected us from all the evils of the immigration system. But the kids in school would make fun of me.
  3. Do you feel that there is a difference in the way that the US treats immigrants of color vs. white immigrants? Oh most definitely. Once you have that shield of white skin, you automatically are considered a peaceful person versus a threat. I use to work a loss prevention/security job at Sears and we had codes for each race, and black people were the first ones, then hispanics, while whites were 3rd. Yet when I would watch the cameras, I caught a lot of white people stealing merchandise. A lot of them are the ones you “don’t suspect” like old Russian white ladies. Black people are always looked at the number one group of people to commit a crime, when that’s simply not true. They just get caught more often than whites because there is this hidden subliminal urge to point the finger at a black person over a white one.
  4. You mentioned that you just recently got your citizenship. What made you decide to make that choice? To be honest, my mother paid for it. I couldn’t afford it, but I tend to have a very procrastinating attitude so she said she would pay for it. She was hearing about Trump and what he wanted to do with immigrants, so I’m glad I’m now a citizen.
  5. What was the citizenship process like? It was simple and quick for me. The interview/tests went smooth because I studied and I know the english language.  Plus, I don’t have anything on my record. Even the lady interviewing me told me I’m one of the easy ones for her day because some people have so many things that need to be assessed, like criminal records, children, etc. And imagine trying to learn in English about new things you know nothing about? That’s brutal. I feel for non-English speaking families/folks who go through this process.
  6. How has Trump’s win impacted you? Your family? Your community? I was watching the election results come in. I think I opened a bottle of liquor when it was announced that he won. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a sick joke. And I can’t forget watching him walk out to announce that he won and seeing all those white people cheering for him. They literally voted for racism. Plain and simple. So far, it hasn’t impacted my community (at least at first sight. Honestly I’m kinda waiting for the day someone comes at me with some racist crap-that saying “I wish a n*gga would” comes to mind).
  7. Have you faced any discrimination in your career or personal life as a result of either your skin color or your immigration status in this country? All the time. But definitely not as often a person of darker color. Specifically, I was let go from a DJ residency I’ve had for almost 2 years, because one of the managers (white woman) and several of the patrons the owner is friends with (all white as well) have complained about the “urban music” I play. My job ,as a DJ, is to make people happy and dance. That’s my job. I take a lot of pride in that. When I don’t have people dancing, I question my night on the train ride home, thinking of what I could have done better or differently. If there is a party in the venue that is predominantly black and I get them dancing with some 90s hiphop/r&b and some chill Dancehall, the white people start getting nervous. I’m very serious. The white woman manager comes up to me and says “can you play like, top 40, pop music? Just not this.”  It aggravates me.
  8. What do you do? Your career? Your art? Your life? I’m a DJ/Producer/Engineer. I’ve produced a handful of viral remixes on SoundCloud including my Formation Remix (over 570k plays) and my Yoga Remix (over 350k plays). So I’ve been a producer/audio engineer for over 14 years now, but I kinda put that to the side in order to focus 100% on DJing. I’ve DJed in big clubs, casinos, bars, lounges, weddings, and (my proudest accomplishment) I  helped create a dope back-to-basics throwback party called Saved By The Bounce. It’s just a big dance party filled with great music, great vibes, great drinks, and positivity! As a DJ, I take a lot of pride in my sets, filled with a huge variety of genres and party rocking. I’m not a huge MC fan, but I like to talk to the crowd with the music, so I create routines that trigger reactions from the crowd and it always works. My favorite genre to play has to be dirty pop (*NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, S Club 7).
  9. If you could tell Trump’s America three things about undocumented immigrants, what would they be? Undocumented immigrants aren’t bad people. They are scared, and they are desperate for help or guidance towards being in a better position. Immigrants literally take the jobs you guys don’t want to do (do you guys want to be the janitors or do the dishes at a restaurant?) Immigrants have aspirations and dreams. Why are your needs more important than theirs? Everyone should have equal opportunity.
  10. Advice for other undocumented immigrants in this nation right now? Keep your family safe. Keep working hard and keep your fellow immigrant neighbors alert and safe. You guys are the backbone of this country, no matter what anyone says to you. Get the immigration process done with haste because you never know where we might be a few months from now under President Orange Turd.

I can’t thank this friend enough for giving his time, his words, and his perspective to this blog.  This message is full of hope mixed with anger and fear and a desire to help.  That’s the reality of what communities of color and immigrant communities are facing in America today.  And unless you are OK with being complicit in that, then you need to get up and resist.  By any and all means necessary.

Donald Trump’s Impact on My Marriage and Pretty Much all of My Relationships (in general).

You may have noticed I’ve been MIA for the last few days.  Or maybe you didn’t.  The reason, though, is that I gave myself some time to enjoy my anniversary with my husband.  And I got some time to really reflect on the last two years of my marriage.

For those of you that don’t know, my husband and I met freshman year of college.  For a brief time, we were at the same university.  We were 18 years old and we had no idea what love or life was really about.  Three years later, we decided to turn our passion infused friendship into a full blown romance.  We never looked back.

Long story short, we fell in love and things are amazing.  I truly am married to my best friend.  We spent a long time learning to love each other and, as a result, we built a foundation I have faith in… a foundation that has become more vital than ever in the last few months.

I realize that this post is a personal one, but it’s important to me.  Trump’s presidential victory in November threw a rope of tension into our marriage that we had never experienced before and, if I’m frank, I am grateful for it.

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Want this?  Because I do.  Buy it here.

Before Trump’s victory, the socioeconomic and racial differences that exist between my husband and me were never really something we addressed.  We didn’t need to.  We were living in a world that allowed us both the luxury of living with naivety.   And our combined privilege (his whiteness, my seeming-whiteness, his maleness, our hetero-ness) underscored that luxury.  In the last few months, though, that luxury has been stripped from us and the realities of our differences laid bare.  The real work of learning to learn each other and support one another has begun.

We have been forced to look at the chasm that exists between us.  Of course, we didn’t create it, but it’s there and it is wide.  We have been forced to study this chasm, to understand the darkness that lies deep inside it, and to learn the skills/humility we would need to build a bridge across it.  This bridge can only exist because of the strong foundation we built up until this point.  But that doesn’t mean that building it has been easy.

I know that I have written about inter-racial marriages before, and I know that I have mentioned how my husband and I have had to learn to navigate what it means to be in one, but I wanted to take the time today to underscore just how important our journey has been.

We have challenged one another to grow.  We have challenged one another to stand firm in our convictions and stand up to our friends/families who have cosigned Trump’s hateful and oppressive agenda.  We have challenged one another to limit the space for people who are oppression apologists.  We have challenged one another to make space for thoughts we might be uncomfortable with, but need to face.

In choosing to marry my husband, I gained an incredible partner, but we must remember that partnership is a process based in the ability to overcome hardship together.  And for a minute, I truly believed that Trump’s presidential victory added a hurdle to our lives that we weren’t prepared for or aware of.  In reality, though, it just unveiled one that was already there and challenged us to face it head on.  It has been painful process.  It has been uncomfortable.  It took us a few jumps to make it over, but we did.  And the experience has been necessary and love-deepening.

To the interracial couples out there who are struggling in the wake of this resurgence of hate and oppression: you are far from alone.  This forced awakening has been abrupt and difficult, but I think that in the end, it will make us stronger.  It will make us better equipped to provide our children with the tools to challenge privilege (both their own and that of others) and stand against oppression.  It will force us to have the hard conversations and deepen the bonds of our partnership.  And to everyone who has seen their relationships and friendships fall apart in the Trump shitstorm, it’s OK.  Seriously, watch the video below:

It really really is OK. Regardless of the nature of your relationship, it is OK to end it because of Trump.  Some things just can’t be saved.  And honestly, the people who support Donald Trump or make excuses for those who do are not the people you want in your life.  Rewatch the video above.  These people are fucking deplorable.  I don’t care what anyone says about me for saying that.  The racial slurs, the gendered insults, the homophobic language, the blatant violence against people of color, the nazi salutes… and ALL of it inspired and cosigned by Trump?  That’s enough evidence for me that these people don’t belong in my life. And neither do the people who make excuses for them.  For every Trump supporter/apologist I have lost, I have gained an amazing new friend and/or ally.  Nothing like a national-personal-global  fucking tragedy to show you who your people are, amirite?

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Trump advocates for violence against POC.

Honestly, if my husband had voted for Trump, I don’t think our marriage would have survived it.  And no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  This is not some average political difference of opinion.  This is about values, humanity, empathy, respect… and if someone can support Trump, or make an excuse for those who do, I have no issues ending the relationship.  I have and will continue to quietly cull my friend group and limit contact with Trump-supporting/apologist family.   And I have no problem admitting my husband would be part of that process if he had voted for DJT.

Thankfully, though, he’s amazing and never even considered doing something so horrendous.  He’s been anti-Trump since the jump, but it took us a while to get to a point where we completely understood how the election results impacted us in different ways.  It took us a long time to get to a place where we understood how the other needed to process and handle the aftermath, but we did it. And in the end, he is doing the work that every white ally needs to be doing in the Trump era.  He has marched in every march with me, whether its focus was Black Lives Matter or Anti-Trump activism.  He is actively challenging the views of his friends and family that have chosen to vote with their whiteness rather than their conscience.  And even more importantly, he is actively challenging friends and family who define themselves as “liberal,” but still harbor harmful, oppressive views on race, gender, immigration, Islam, etc.

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Click here for source of photo + badass article.

Anyway, this long post exists just to say: my husband is the partner I have always wished for.  He inspires me and challenges me in ways I don’t always love, but that I always need.  He has catalyzed my transformation into the woman I am today.  Together, we have grown into intersectional feminist, anti-fascist, anti-racist activists.  I am so proud to be his wife. And I am so grateful to Donald Trump, his followers, and their apologists for giving us the fire we needed to see the divide between us.  It is only as a result of this that we were able to build a bridge of progress right across the years of deep-seeded division. So if you don’t have a partner and/or friends who can do this with you, you need to work on finding that.  A partnership and a tribe is the only way we are going to get through this.  Resistance is not a singular endeavor, but a group effort.  So get with us :).  On this side of the chasm, we take anyone who is ready to stand against oppression and hate.

New York’s Moves on Free College Tuition and the #RaiseTheAge Movement: Kalief Browder’s Legacy and Statewide Progress in spite of Trump

I am a proud New Yorker.  However, when I heard that the majority of my home county (and a good portion of my state) voted for Trump, I found myself severely disappointed.  I thought I lived in a pretty progressive area surrounded by pretty progressive people.  I guess that’s another area where teenage narcissism kind of bites you in the ass, huh?  You have no idea what people around you are really like.

Screen Shot 2017-04-10 at 9.00.12 PM.pngHowever, New York’s response after the election inspired me. They did, on multiple occasions, make public stands against the monster-in-chief and his hateful followers.  They took a stand against Trump’s xenophobia on multiple occasions using multiple platforms.  Cuomo issued a clear statement reminding the nation that New York has and always will be a refuge for ALL people, in spite of the bigotry that is infiltrating the most powerful levels of our government.

New York (along with our West coast sister, California) is setting an incredible example for the rest of the country to follow.  And it seems that we are just getting started.  I want to use today’s post to highlight two major developments from the last few weeks.

  1.  New York decided to raise the age.  This means that individuals under the age of 18 cannot be tried as adults.  In other words, children will no longer be sent to adult prisons, where they are often victimized and end up leaving with varying forms of PTSD and adult criminal records.   Why is this important?  Well, it begins to level the playing field.  Minority children are much more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system.   From there, they are much more likely to be tried as adults.  Given that these children are already disproportionately targeted, putting this protection in place could ensure that the results of this don’t result in adult criminal convictions or time spent in adult institutions.  The school to prison pipeline fills adult prisons with young, children of color to perpetuate what we now know is modern day slavery.  Families are torn apart.  Lives are ruined.  And the reality is, systemic racism and oppression against people of color shoulder much (if not all) of this blame.
  2. New York decided to provide free tuition to low-and-middle-income students. 20110525-sbu_graduation28.jpg  Students must maintain good standing and agree to stay in NY for 4 years after graduation, but if they do, their entire tuition is covered.  This is amazing.  I know entirely too many people who couldn’t attend college because it simply cost too much.  Families living at or below the poverty line saw higher education as a pipe-dream luxury, but now, it can be a reality.  And given that class and race are inextricably linked in this country, this also disproportionately impacted students of color.  This move can have a significant impact on closing the wage and achievement gap between youth/young adults of color and their white counterparts.

Essentially, what is happening here, is that New York is taking steps to level the playing field for people of color and impoverished people within the state.  With legislation like this, kids like Kalief Browder have a shot at the American Dream, which,  for the most part, has really only been attainable for white people.

141006_r25549-800.jpgDon’t know who Kalief Browder is?  Do some research.  I could spend thousands of words on the story of this young man and still not do him or the injustices he suffered any justice at all.  This 16-year old kid, who was racially profiled and arrested by the police, spent 3 years in an adult prison without ever being tried for the crime of which he was accused: stealing a backpack.  Why did he spend all this time in jail?  Our justice system exploits the poor.  His family couldn’t afford his bail, so instead of going home to finish school or go to college, he spent time being brutalized in an adult prison by both guards and inmates.  He endured over 400 days of solitary confinement, a torture particularly harmful when applied to young people.  After 3 years, the state released him and dropped the charges; they never had a case.  But the damage was deep and it was done.  Browder later committed suicide, stating he just couldn’t live anymore after enduring the horrors he faced in Rikers.  I have to believe that stories like his played a great role in the progress we are seeing in New York today.  We are forever indebted to Mr. Browder.  His story, along with others, has highlighted just how flawed our system is.

Of course, there are people who will complain about NYS raising the age and offering free tuition.  I’ll let you guess who ::insert eyeroll emoji here::.  But the reality is that this is a step in the right direction.  And for those who are complaining that graduates have to stay in New York, please stop.  I think that’s a perfectly fair stipulation.  Give back to the community that gave you a chance.

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And if you are interested in helping to push for continued change in our criminal justice system (you should be), please consider participating with and/or donating to the following organizations:

Southern Poverty Law Center

The Sentencing Project

Free Minds Book Club (Donate Books!)

The Bronx Freedom Fund

ACLU

Stop Solitary for Kids

The Innocence Project

#cut50

Juvenile Law Center

Color of Change

Kalief Browder Memorial Scholarship Fund (this scholarship is still helpful, even with the new tuition assistance plan!)

Also please watch:

13th (available on Netflix)

Time: The Kalief Browder Story (I don’t know where to find this for free. I’ll keep looking and update once I do.)

And please listen to this.

New York is trying to start the process of making things right.  I understand that this is a monumental task that will take decades, if not centuries, but NY is setting the tone for progress in a way that I can be proud to stand behind.  So, to the other states of this very broken union, take notes.  And to people in other states who are hoping to see similar changes, pressure your state government.  Donate to the orgs listed above.  Get active and resist Trump.  Just because your state sided with hatred instead of progress does not mean that you have to.  Silence in times of injustice has always been violence, so don’t fall into that trap.  Don’t let your privilege blind you; we are all responsible for the Kalief Browders of our world.  We are all responsible for ensuring that our young people, regardless of the color of their skin or their socioeconomic status, have an equal shot at success.  Do the work.  Make the sacrifice.  Resist.

 

Harnessing the Women’s March Energy: A Micro Example

It has been harder for me to write over the last few weeks, so I apologize.  Between finals and just general feelings of being overwhelmed, I haven’t been able to clear enough brain space to come up with a discrete topic for any post.  And sometimes you can’t force it.  So I didn’t.

But today, something special happened.  It takes me a while to get to it, but bear with me.  You need the background.

I dropped my husband off at the bus station near my house.  While we were walking towards the top floor, a group of young teenagers and their chaperones(?) walked by completely decked out in MAGA gear.  When I say decked out, I mean hat, t-shirt, sweatshirt, pants… the whole deal.

15595f56f1d044c699776c2e2523602b--donald-o'connor-donald-trump.jpgMy body had a reaction when I saw them.  I’m completely serious.  I felt a mixture of sickness, disgust, fury, and a tinge of fear.  It’s a reaction like none I have ever experienced when looking at another person.  And I realized that it’s because I look at them and I realize that I am looking at racism and bigotry unabashed in a person who, one year ago, I might not have been able to tell was a walking nightmare.

And then I had another realization: this feeling I was having might be a first for me, but that’s because of my privilege.  Looking white has provided me with the luxury of a general naivety (though less than those who are actually white) about the true nature of so many people.  People of color, though, walk through the world every day wondering if the white majority in the sea of people around them is of the unsafe variety.  They always wonder what’s under the surface and how much of what lurks there harbors a hatred towards them.  Will their racism show itself?  Will it be explicit enough for everyone to see?  Or will it be implicit, leaving the victim to question whether they’re overreacting or “reading too much into things”?  This is a fact of life for so many people, but the rest of us are just now learning what that’s like.

A very close family member of mine was relaying her experience of this to me a few weeks ago.  She said that she was on a plane leaving DC, just after the inauguration, and was sitting next to someone who was looking at their phone.  They exchanged pleasantries, but she found herself wondering: is this person on our side? or are they on the other one?  She snuck a peak at the phone screen and realized she was going to spend the rest of her flight sitting next to a Trump supporter.  She was uncomfortable.  She, as a white woman, had spent her life living in a world where these questions weren’t really necessary.  But here she was, sitting next to a person for whom racism, at the very least, wasn’t a deal breaker (and, if we’re honest, probably harbors a little racial resentment themselves).  And when she relayed it to me, she shared, with the most incredible humility, how this made her realize just how much white privilege has protected her in this world.  She said that she had this moment where her reality was shattered.  She said, “people of color must feel like this every day.”

So today, as my husband and I walked through the terminal with these people all around us, I remembered that moment.  I have a pretty natural RBF as it is, so I can’t even imagine how I was looking at them.  Some of them had the nerve to look back.  Most didn’t.  But I found myself wishing they were gone.  I don’t want to share my spaces with people like them.  I know I don’t have a choice, but I don’t have to like it.  And I am not going to pretend otherwise.
That might sound harsh, but it’s true.  Even if I cut some slack for those who voted out of sheer ignorance back in November and have since come to their senses, I have no sympathy, space, or tolerance for anyone who still celebrates the bigot sitting in the oval office.  We all know it wasn’t “economic anxiety” that drove Screen Shot 2017-04-09 at 9.38.50 PManyone to support this man.  I don’t care what Bernie or Warren say.

Anyway, we walked past them and my feelings of rage started to diminish.  I decided that I was going to stop at a few shops on my way out. I headed down to a store to buy a few things and, after I had been in there for a few minutes, that same group of Trump supporters walked in.  They were loud.  They were laughing.  They seemed to have no idea that they were in a city made up of mostly people of color, with a culture rich in diverse tradition, and nearly completely democratic.  I was literally dizzy with rage.  I had to walk away from them and into a different section of the store.

As I was doing so, I noticed that nearly every other woman in the store had done the same.  The store had nearly segregated itself; women of color on one side, and white, Trump supporting women on the other.  It was almost surreal and deeply saddening.

I guess my emotions were all over my face, as they usually are, because one of the women who worked there walked up to me and asked if I was OK.  I told her no, that I wasn’t OK at all.  I told her that I had seen some hats that had deeply upset me and that I just needed to be in this other space to breathe for a little.  She looked at me and said, “I know.  It sucks.  I have to do this all the time.  They come in here every day, so I completely understand-” and then she paused to ask, “Can I hug you?”

I am not a hugger. Seriously, I hate when people touch me.  But I said yes to this woman.  And we hugged.  For a long time.  And when I tell you there was something really special about this hug, I mean it.  I could tell that all of the pain and fear we were carrying met right between us.  We put every bit of it into that hug and, as a result, pushed it all out.  I don’t know if you have ever had a hug with someone where you really feel like your spirits touched, but that’s what this was.  We were standing, employee and customer, hugging in the middle of an underwear store, surrounded by people who voted in a way that was directly detrimental to our rights and our safety.

I share this story in part because it was honestly very magical for me, but in part because this is one of the most pivotal moments of resistance I have ever encountered.  When faced with hate, we found one another and we held one another.  Instead of being consumed by the energy we were surrounded by, we turned it into something loving and supportive for one another.  We must remember to do this whenever we can.  If anyone remembers the power of that energy we felt at the women’s march, I learned today that it is possible to replicate that on a micro level.

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So in the face of hatred, hold each other and lift each other.  Our power exists in our unity and our love for one another.  Whether it is in a crowd of 500,000 people or in an embrace between two, it matters.