African Children’s Literature – Where is it?

I’m currently taking a directed study in the education department. The course is called Multicultural Literature. Amongst other elements, the major focus in the course is the representation of people of color (POC) in children’s picture books. As a Zimbabwean and member of the African diaspora, it has been important for me to hone in on the representation of Africa and African characters for my course assignments. Reflecting on my own childhood experience of finding representation in books while I was growing up, I knew finding such books would be a challenge.

Nappy Hair

Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron

Throughout my schooling in the Unites States, I’ve attended predominantly white institutions where I was the only POC in the majority of my classes. The books that I had access to were as lacking in diversity as my classes were. I was fortunate that my parents made a conscious effort to get books with African/African American characters and themes in them, so that I could find myself in literature. One of my favorite books used to be Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron. The beautiful dark skinned girl with a giant afro on the cover always made me smile. I used to also love Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe. It is a lovely Afro-centric spin on, “Princess and the Frog”, the western fairytale which most kids learn.

But my education and creativity were still quite white-washed. I can remember writing stories in 3rd grade and all of the characters I created were white and did things that I dreamt of doing. Thinking back on this now is disheartening, because white representation was the default that I was mostly exposed… It reminds me of a YouTube video I watched a few years back where a young African American girl had a doll with brown skin and a doll with white skin placed in front of her to choose from: The girl chose the white doll because she thought it was more beautiful than the brown skinned doll. This is the epitome of societal conditioning.

So far, my assumptions have been relatively spot-on. I went to the Worcester Public Library two weeks ago to see what I could find, and I only found five children’s picture books that somewhat fit what I was looking for. This is upsetting because in Worcester there are large populations of Ghanaian, Liberian, Kenyan, and Somalis. On the bright side, there were several books with African American characters in them as well as great selections of books with Spanish speaking characters from Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico, and many other countries. The selection at the Worcester Public Library seems like a much more diverse one than in the libraries I went to when I was in elementary school; however, these books are far from outweighing the breadth of literature featuring White characters.

I’ve spent time searching online for children’s books with African representation. I’ve used several different databases and academic search engines and have come up with between 15 and 20 books. These are books which have been published with in the past 10 years in the U.S. This is a tiny amount compared to the thousands of children’s books that are published in the U.S. every year. After having read some of these children’s books for my course, I’ve begun to notice a lot of similarities amongst them. Many of the books are African folklore and bedtime stories. They often times teach morals. A lot of them use Africa in a historical context and refer to it in association with slavery.

In addition to my reading of children’s books, I have been reading the book, Free Within Ourselves: The Development of African American Children’s Literature by Rudine Sims Bishop. I’m about halfway done with the book. Much of the themes I’ve encountered in Sims Bishops’ book have helped set the stage for my thinking for this course and the projects I’ll be endeavoring in. Bishop discusses the origins of African and African American children’s stories as going from songs that taught of history, religion, and slave life. She also introduced the impactful African American writers before and during the Harlem Renaissance.

A writer that Bishop has introduced that has helped open up my thinking for this course so far has been W. E.B Du Bois. I’ve spent time thinking about his Brownies’ Book, and how it was initially developed to empower African Americans by representing them in literature as beautiful, intelligent, valiant people. The publication was intended to shatter the caricatured, stupid, sneaky, workhorse image White writers were continuously producing. His legacy has transcended him in the way that there are now Black authors challenging the White represented default. Jaqueline Woodson, an African American, is one of the newer authors who won the scene and has been noted for her book, Brown Girl Dreaming.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson

But in thinking about the books that I read while growing up and the books that I’ve researched, I keep asking myself: where are all the African children’s literature writers? Why aren’t there more books being produced? Have we, as African writers, moved away from this pride and responsibility of rearing conscious, confident, and self-aware African children? One of the elements I’ve begun to consider in effort to find an answer to these questions is if African and diasporic Africans are focusing too exclusively on producing supportive works for adults. One of my favorite African writers who is also involved in social justice and education is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has brought to life the stories of Africans in the homeland and immigrant Africans. She and other authors have been so powerful for teens, young adults, and adults. But young children are missing out on these critical opportunities to find representation.

Over this semester I hope I will find some answers for these questions by further research. I’ve started contacting some of these authors who have published some of the stories that I’ve been reading in hopes of gaining their perspectives on my research. More importantly, I hope to locate more books with African/diasporic characters and donate them to schools in the area. I also hope to band together with student-run organizations in effort to get more books in schools. To top all this wonderfulness off I, myself, will be writing a children’s book telling a story that I find important and hopefully have it published. There’s a lot of awesome work ahead of me this semester. We’ll see what happens!

– Lulu

Blood Moon of 2015 captured by a Clarkie

The Total Lunar Eclipse - also called as Blood Moon - captured by Demet.

The Total Lunar Eclipse – also called as Blood Moon – captured by Demet.

Many Clarkies enjoyed the “font seat” observation of the rare Total Lunar Eclipse of a Supermoon on the evening of September 27, 2015. Here is a photo by Demet Senturk (ClarkU, ’17), who observed the eclipse from her apartment’s roof top.

Check out some quick facts about the Blood Moon, and amazing pictures from around the country and around the world!


Reverse Culture Shock/ A Post-Study Abroad Identity Crisis

I have been rooted and uprooted from three cultures in three years, and I think I am suffering from some intense “reverse culture shock.” Okay, I know this sounds very dramatic, but that’s basically what happened. Some might be unaware of this term, but it’s something a lot of international students or students who have studied abroad are familiar with.

The way I see it, “reverser culture shock” refers to the process and the struggle of adjusting back into an environment that used to be your comfort zone. It’s almost like pushing the reset button, just like when you immerse yourself into and get accustomed to a new environment. In this post I will touch upon my Study Abroad experience, and my re-adjustment into Clark life.

A little background: I am an international student from India. It took me a good 2 years to get used to the Clark way of life, though I think I am still getting used to America. I was dropped into this place that was, at first, sort of a dreamland for me. I could do anything I wanted, wear what I want, come home when I want. If you have a slight connection with South Asia, you know what I am talking about. But this honeymoon period ended real soon, and I realized everything in this country was different from home. From words to personal interactions, from family dynamics to friendships, everything had changed for me and it wasn’t the most pleasant feeling.

After two years of introspecting and navigating, I finally felt like I belonged to this place. Then before I knew it, I was leaving for London to study abroad for a year. As I moved countries and cultures, I found myself in the same position once again. I was in a completely different and an absolutely massive city, I knew no one, and I had to start from scratch. Theoretical definitions don’t do justice to a student’s transition period into a new culture. It is a very individualized experience. Some adapt fast, and some take their time.

London — this was the third completely different culture that I was exposed to. The English language was the same, but its usage was worlds apart. For one, pants were called trousers, and pants meant something completely different. And might I say that this difference got me into some not-so-pleasant situations. Jokes apart, I had the best time in London. I would love to go into details, but that might take up the rest of my day and make me tear up and hog on a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s.

With the Indian flag. London School of Economics

With the Indian flag. London School of Economics.

The real struggle started when I came back from London and had to go back to Clark for senior year. At first, I was really excited; I was about to meet all my friends after the longest time. There was a slight issue, though. I had changed. My opinions, my style, my personality were not the same as before. I was afraid of not being able to fit in like I did before. I had gotten used to a different education system and social setting. I was no longer used to being in a small campus with a small and close-knit student body, seeing and hanging out with the same people everyday. I felt like a first year student again. I had to think twice before I spoke, because I didn’t want to offend people. I lost connection with a few people, and I couldn’t seem to reconnect with them.

I thought I was at fault. Maybe I was being a show-off or I was not being mindful. I had this whole trip down the guilt lane where I thought I should have made a better effort to keep in contact with everyone. I just didn’t feel at home. Then I went to the study abroad ambassadors meeting with other students who studied abroad. That’s when I realized that I was not alone; most students were going through the same thing: reverse culture shock. That was a comforting experience for me.

I strongly believe in the fact that every experience, little or big, changes you. My year in London helped me immensely with personal growth and realization. I learnt to be independent, taking moral and financial responsibility. And yes, I lost a few things and people on the way, but it’s okay. My advice to anyone going through this experience would be to stand your ground. If you believe in the person you have become, then people and connections that are worth it will still be around. It’s week 5 of classes and while I’m glad to be back, nothing can replace the late night London strolls.

– Radhika 



Black Culture Revamped: A Look into Afropunk and Growing Sub-Culture of Black Alternative Identity

So it’s already been 4 weeks since classes first started, and I’m still living in the magic that was AFROPUNK. It was pure and utter madness and everything I could have ever dreamt of. I was immersed in sounds of music coming from every different angle. People’s bright smiles and laugher. The smells of Caribbean food, BBQ, and fresh empanadas.

And the fashion! The fashion was just incredible. I was surrounded by beautiful brown skinned people, with “tribal” inspired face paint, and dressed head-to-toe in African inspired attire. There were vibrant orange and red dashikis, people in overalls and head wraps, and women draped in bright kente cloth and big, bold jewelry. One women who I was style-stuck by was wearing an intricately designed green and black African print pant suit. She paired the outfit with a clear, medium-sized brief case. To top it off, she had a striking look: a shaved head and several piercings. She was just the coolest! There were so many stunning looks throughout the entire weekend.

It was a beautiful feeling to be amongst so many creative young people who were brought together for the love of Black music and art. Once I entered the venue sight, Commodore Park in Brooklyn, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was at Woodstock, but for African diaspora and African American youth. There was this feeling that we were participating in some kind of historical, cultural explosion with the combination of phenomenal performers, the political and social justice demonstrations, educational dialogues, and the general collectivist energy. People were free.

The artist who really embodied this Black alternative culture was whom I was most excited to see perform. It was none other than the ever fabulous, Grace Jones. I grew up listening to Grace Jones as my mom is a huge fan of hers. There are no words in the English language that can really describe how amazing her performance was. Her flawless confidence, powerful vocals, and out-of-this-world costumes made for one of the most memorable experiences of my life. For me, it really made AFROPUNK 2015 what it was. But it was also incredible seeing Lauryn Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Jesse Boykins iii, SZA, and many more.

afropunkfashion-4The name AFROPUNK really captures the culture of the festival and its attendees. There is a strong sense of rebellious, revolutionary punk-rock attitude with an African diaspora flavor. It symbolizes Black Alternative culture. The article by Aaron Barksdale entitled, “AFROPUNK Is More Than A Festival, It’s A Part Of Black Culture”, captures a lot of what I experienced. Barksdale refers to Matthew Morgan, one of the founders of the festival, by saying, “He came to America in 2000 to continue his work with these kinds of musicians: black artists whose style tended to lie outside mainstream ideas of how black music was supposed to sound or look.” Morgan initially wanted the festival to be for those who don’t feel as though they fall into the stereotypical category of Black identity. Those who are in the “other” category. Many people criticize the festival for not being as “punk” as it used to be because of the mostly mainstream artists that they now feature. But I definitely don’t agree. As an African diaspora, third-culture, self-determining individual who never quite felt a connection to the stereotypical interpretation of American Black culture, I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. Morgan is quoted saying,

‘”AFROPUNK is a mindset… it’s not a musical genre”… “We exist to be a part of what is 360 degrees of blackness”… “It’s an alternative view on our culture and music and things that are important to us.”’ (Barksdale)

In this quote, Morgan is speaking to the transformation of Black identity. He addressing the opportunity for Black culture to be more than what we usually see represented in movies, on TV, or through the media. Of course I think there has always been people rebelling against the usual representation of Black culture, but I think AFROPUNK has become the vehicle to empower those who fit in this evolving culture.

If you missed the festival this year, I strongly suggest trying to make it in the future. The tickets are a little painful on the pocket but there are community service initiatives you can be a part of to earn a ticket as well as other opportunities. As for now, enjoy some of the pictures and the video I’ve included in my post and get hip!



Event recap: SASA’s Mela Masala

Every year, SASA (South Asian Students Association) kicks of the school year with a makeshift South Asian carnival on the Green and this year was no different. As I was walking over to the Green to attend my fourth and last Mela Masala, I could already see the huge line forming at the food station. For those of you who have gone to this event, you know that Mela Masala wouldn’t be Mela Masala without its Samosas (spiced potato filled snack wrapped with dough and deep fried) and its Pakoras (mixed vegetable fritter dipped in flour and deep fried).

Photo by Demet Senturk

Photo by Demet Senturk

Photo by Demet Senturk

Photo by Demet Senturk

I have written an event-recap for Mela Masala for the last two years, and have consistently mentioned how just for a few hours the Green turns into a mini world in South Asia, with loud Bollywood music playing in the back and people running around with henna tattoos on their arms. And to this day, Mela Masala has managed to uphold its traditions and it keeps getting better each year.

This year I would like to take a stroll down my memory lane and tell you what my first Mela Masala was like, and why it has held a special place in my heart ever since. I strongly believe Mela Masala does more for the South Asian first-year students than any other attendees. When I was at this event as a first-year, I walked into Red Square and I was confused as to why there was music I was awfully familiar with. Why was I smelling food that I only smelt when I was on the streets of Dhaka city?Why were there non-South Asian people with henna on their arms? I was absolutely confused when I walked into this mini South Asian carnival.. but it was a good kind of confusion. The kind of confusion where you slowly realize, after the first couple of minutes, that there are people here that are just like you. And indeed on that homesick day, after days of experiencing culture shock and constantly speaking English, I was acquainted with Clark’s South Asian community. Since then I have been carrying a part of my home as a badge of honor, because I too had started fitting my roots into my Clarkie life. And those I cared about, soon joined me in my little affairs with South Asia every now and then throughout the semester, and very soon, I had a family of my American friends and a family of my South Asian friends. Yes, Mela Masala is responsible for the beginning of all of that, as many of my fellow South Asian seniors this year will agree.

Photo by Demet Senturk

Photo by Demet Senturk

On-campus student clubs that we are heavily involved with soon become our biggest passions and are a big part of our time here at Clark. As super-active Clarkies, each event we organize holds within itself a part of us and our memories, ones we are sure to look back at and cherish once this journey comes near an end. These memories we make, the identities we form, and the friendships we make become a part of us forevermore. Yes, SASA throws a fabulous carnival each year and while many of us attend it just as we walk in and out of plenty other events at Clark, some of us stay there for hours and let it enter our lives and have it change us for the next four years. Hats off SASA e-board 2015-2016!! I am sure you’ve made a difference in a couple of lost Desi souls this year.

Nostalgic SASA Vice-President

– Suaida

(All photos by Demet)


Conflict and Destroyed Culture: Understanding Cultural Genocide

As ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) continues to pillage, the casualties of its terror echo a tragic shock to our world as we have perceived it. To speak of the actions and repercussions of the movement, would be followed by tangents too convoluted to enclose in this short piece. I do, however, believe that more discussion should be proposed on what this means for the past-present-future of our geopolitical human existence. As we discuss things that matter most to us, I will narrow my focus to the discussion of destroyed heritage.

As an art history enthusiast, my academic inclinations have made me endorse the preservation and restoration of artifacts. I’ve come to understand that these artifacts represent our attempt at understanding our past. Perhaps, this urge to understand our human past is derived from an academic need to resolve questions of the present. The biggest challenge to this mode of thinking has been my understanding of political revolutions. How do I come to terms with the cultural casualties lost in China’s Cultural Revolution? Or the Taliban’s destruction of Buddhist statues in 2001? Or the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in my own home country of India? As self-seeking as this may sound, these questions are lost research material, lost answers to several questions.

13_smallNaturally, my initial reaction to the news (and the accompanying videos) of the destruction of the Mosul Museum was of shock and anger. The video angered me. Then followed a string of other videos showing the destruction of other ancient relics and sites. Several friends and professors shared the same immediate opinion, that this was an act of barbaric, indoctrinatory fundamentalism.

Irina Bokova, director-general of the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared it a “new phase of cultural cleansing perpetrated in regions controlled by armed extremists in Iraq.” Yet these relics do not represent the challenge of the “antagonist western ideology” – what I think is imbibed in the prime agenda of the group. Rather, the destroyed artifacts are of their own history. To answer this question with the answer of religion is most simple. The militant groups’ aspiration for a homogeneous Islamic state demands the destruction of all non-Muslim cultural heritage.

To further complicate my perspective on these acts, I came across David Nersessian’s definition of “cultural genocide.” Professor Nersessian, Assistant Dean of Global Programs at Boston University’s School of Management, declared the need to rethink cultural genocide under International Law. Nersessian defines cultural genocide as:

“The abolition of a group’s language, restrictions upon its traditional practices and ways, the destruction of religious institutions and objects, the persecution of clergy members, and attacks on academics and intellectuals. Elements of cultural genocide are manifested when artistic, literary, and cultural activities are restricted or outlawed and when national treasures, libraries, archives, museums, artifacts, and art galleries are destroyed or confiscated.”

Nersessian proposes for cultural genocide to be recognized as “a unique wrong that should be recognized independently and that rises to the level of meriting individual criminal responsibility.” At this point, the discussion expands to a recognition that cultural history deserves the right to be preserved, and the use of the term “genocide” dictates an immediate menace, an extermination of human history. Human history, in this sense, specifically means a universal cultural heritage.

While the ethical wrong and the need for recognizing humanity’s right to cultural heritage has been addressed, the implications behind these demands still need to be examined. If a political or religious revolution aims to destroy cultural relics, does it really mean it is an attack on a universal heritage? Does the heritage denote a memory challenging the oppressed, or is it a memory that has no place in the envisioned future/modernity? Stating it as a cultural heritage for humanity also denotes a problem. Mainly, that the crime against cultural heritage could almost be a nonsensical proposition to someone who thinks differently. The cultural progression of humanity, for the other side, might just mean a negation of the past relics themselves.

Bringing in the case of “the other” takes a more rhetorical turn, however necessary. In his book, The Puppet and the Dwarf, philosopher Slavoj Žižek recognizes the problem that,

“[we] ultimately perceive as a threat to culture those who live their culture immediately, those who lack a distance toward it. Recall our outrage when, two years ago, the Taliban forces in Afghanistan destroyed the ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan: although none of us enlightened Westerners believe in the divinity of the Buddha, we were outraged because the Taliban Muslims did not show appropriate respect for the ‘cultural heritage’ of their own country and the entire world. Instead of believing through the other, like all people of culture, they really believed in their own religion, and thus had no great sensitivity toward the cultural value of the monuments of other religions—to them, the Buddha statues were just fake idols, not ‘cultural treasures.’”

I suppose herein lies my biggest issue, that of academic discussion. While the other is often valued as an agency with complexities, when it comes to cases of fundamentalism, the other’s perspective is viewed in an entirely different light. After all, whose aesthetic perspective are we inclined towards? Maybe what matters most is a deeper, more critical understanding of the other and its motives? Perhaps, this is the first move towards a negation of our inherent biases, allowing for a better understanding of “fundamentalism” itself.

– Fileona 

Eddie Murphy - Delirious - 1983

The day I wasn’t entertained by Eddie Murphy

Today I went to the Armand Hammer Museum, in L.A. (for context, I’m in L.A. for the summer, for a research internship). The occasion? A screening of Eddie Murphy’s controversial stand-up film “Delirious”, followed by a discussion/deconstruction of the piece. As a certified cultural ignoramus, I had never seen this film before. So, perhaps I will provide you with some context before I dive into my opinions on the matter.

Delirious was a stand up show that Murphy performed in many parts of the country – including L.A. – before his D.C. performance was filmed and released as TV Special for HBO on August 30, 1983. The stand-up comedy in the act was part of an album titled “Eddie Murphy: Comedian“, which won an award for Best Comedy Album at the 1984 Grammy Awards. Along with his concert-film Eddie Murphy Raw (1987), Delirious has been cited as one of the most successful and influential comedy routines of the 20th century.

However, the event itself was not to celebrate the legacy of the film or its star, but to examine certain controversial and prominent elements of Murphy’s act. Among these, the overt homophobia and serophobia in the routine have garnered much attention. The very first thing he says after getting on stage is “I’ve got some rules while I’m doing stand-up. F*ggots aren’t allowed to look at my ass while I’m on stage. That’s why I keep moving while I’m up here, because you don’t know where the f*ggot section is… I’m afraid of gay people. Petrified. I have nightmares about gay people.” He then follows this up with a bit about why women love to hang out with gay men (because they don’t feel threatened by them) but how that’s very dangerous because “now they got AIDS, that just kills motherf*ckers. Kills people! It petrifies me ‘cause girls be hanging out with [gays]. One night they could be in the club having fun with their gay friend, give them a little kiss. And go home with AIDS on their lips!” Apart from stereotyping gay men, perpetuating and reinforcing the myth that every gay man is a ravening wolf lusting after straight men, and furthering an irrational fear of homosexuality (see definition of homophobia), Murphy does a lot of damage by validating the myths that surrounded AIDS transmission at the time, myths which were central to the hysteria surrounding the AIDS crisis and the ostracization of gay men.

But this was only the beginning. This skit was followed by others, which imposed on various stigmatized identities. For instance, he commodifies women with bits like, “women would be throwing pussy at me on the street like frisbee. Too much pussy, pussy would be falling outta my pocket. Walking out the street, you say: ‘Oh, watch your step, that’s mine.'” He touches on body image sensitivities by discussing his aunt Bunny who’s “got a moustache and shit! The shit is bigger than a man’s and shit! Aunt Bunny weighs like pounds. Like real heavy lady and shit. And the kids were scared of her.” The very last thing we hear about her is Murphy’s impersonation of his drunk dad going on a tirade about how Aunt Bunny is a Bigfoot. Murphy also talks about race, discussing how Chinese men have small appendages and speak a “f*cked up language (which he then goes on to parody).” Arabs aren’t free of his mockery either. He says, “I don’t like that shit that Arabic…That shit’s fucked for me. It sounds nasty and shit.”

Sitting in the audience, watching the film, I experienced several reactions to his humor. I spent most of the film wincing, shaking my head, and silently protesting his sheer bigotry. But there were times when I laughed along to spot-on impersonations of Elvis Presley and James Brown, or his sketch on the ice cream truck. These moments were followed by a sense of guilt – was I allowed to enjoy the (in my perspective) unproblematic jokes of a broadly problematic entertainer? It was a sense of déjà vu, for I was reminded of the time Jay Pharoah performed at Clark. It was interesting how two black male stand-up comedians, both part of SNL at some point in their career, were using the same scripts – of strict mothers, sexualized women, and other risqué jokes.

I wonder, what does it take for black men to become successful, especially in the entertainment industry? I think of RuPaul, who has become more of a mainstream name, and wonder, has mainstream white America embraced RuPaul because he is a drag queen? Do they think that no matter how successful he may be, that at the end of the day he is a drag queen, which poses no threat to the hegemonic white power? I do not mean to implicate the LGBTQ+ community or its allies for their support of a queer icon, but I do wonder why RuPaul (arguably one of the most iconic black stars today) has struck it so big. And then we have Eddie Murphy, flushed with the success of landing an SNL gig at the age of 19, looking to launch his career to greater heights. Was Murphy so popular because he fit into the black male stereotype? The hypermasculine, hypersexual macho man who spouted homophobia, misogyny, and expletives at every turn? Perhaps the price black men pay for fame in a deeply racialized industry is their own values and individuality, so that white power is never compromised. On the flip side, comedians like Dave Chapelle, who have strived to veer off the beaten path and introduce more nuance to their social commentary, have been forced off the screen by studio execs with ratings-motivated vision and booed off the stage by unwelcoming crowds in Detroit. I do not mean to play the part of the provocateur; I simply attempt to ascertain and unwrap yet another layer of racism that exists in our society.

My last few thoughts on this film and discussion are centered on the role of art. What do we expect of art, especially of comedy? While it is quite the norm to hear of artists and performers who are informed by a socially conscious vision, is the same true for comedy? This was particularly salient as Murphy spoke on race relations, saying that racism was no longer “as bad as it used to be” for African Americans, citing how the use of the N-word had all but disappeared in white America. It was sad to see a successful black man fail to use his position of privilege to address the issues faced by his own community. But this begs the question, what is his responsibility to his community, and to society at large? What is the nature of comedy? Can society strive for a truly politically correct humor, one that does not generate laughs at the expense of the suffering of the other? We could cite examples such as Ellen DeGeneres or Amy Poehler, but just how wide spread is their influence? Do they have mass appeal, or are they only a hit among liberal, socially conscious audiences? Does this mean that society should change in order for our artists to do so? What is society’s relationship with art? Are we to censor it? To hold artists to higher standards? I do not aim to impose my own opinion upon you, but I will leave you with this parting thought. The arts today would bear a radically different face if we as a society did not expect more of it.

– Themal


Why #TakeUsDown should be taken down

I’m sure Gavin McInnes is no stranger to the readers of this blog. I wrote a piece in April about the tragically misinformed Men’s Rights Movement, and he came up as a regular contributor to the blog Return of Kings and author of such scintillating reads as “Transphobia is Perfectly Natural.” As a men’s rights activist, Mr. McInnes believes that we live in a world of misandry, perpetrated by the shadowy forces of an Illuminati-esque feminist movement. To quote Cher in the timeless classic Clueless, “As if!” But Mr. McInnes seems to be branching out. No longer limiting himself to soothing the injured pride of fragile masculinity at the expense of the rights and dignity of women, homosexuals, and the trans community, he has decided to take on the concept of white privilege. The result is utter drivel (I know, I’m shocked).

Quite recently, Mr. McInnes embarked on a photography project. Cyber space was graced with the results of his hard work and creativity, pictures of white people cuffed, gagged, or otherwise restrained, accompanied by the hashtag #TakeUsDown. The logic behind this campaign? To address the fact that White Americans, especially men, are the cause of all racially motivated prejudice and discrimination in this country, and that they deserve to be taken down. This hashtag quickly went viral among white power movements, which decided to add to this worthy cause their own embellishments. And so, hashtags such as #AwayWithUs, #WeWhitesDeserveToDie, #BlacksKillUsNow, and #WeWillHangOurselvesForBlacks. According to Vocativ, a user of these hashtags described them as “funny, fair, and actually brilliant.” Correction, the invention of modern air travel and Girl Scout Cookies was brilliant. The trivializing of the suffering of human beings, not so much.

But that is exactly what it does. These hashtags, and the campaign in general, serve to trivialize the Black Lives Matter campaign and the struggle for equality and liberation in a country riven with inequities. This campaign mocks the concept of white privilege, and negates the achingly slow progress made in engaging wider American society in conversations about race relations. It allows White America to laugh, and turn away from the uncomfortable and much needed process of soul searching. While we could dismiss this campaign, and what it represents as belonging to a minority of people, I have my reservations about such comforting thoughts.

First of all, the misappropriation of the Black Lives Matter campaign is all too widespread. I was wandering through the gay district of San Francisco last night with a group of friends when we stopped to buy what one of my friends promised me to be the best cookies in the world. While waiting in line to purchase these divine creations, we came across a poster featuring an animation of two burly men – one black, the other white – embracing. The poster itself was promoting safe sex, a worthy cause, but what was insulting about it was that the white male was sporting a tattoo that read, “Black C*cks Matter.” Yet another example of the mainstream queer community’s utter disregard for other minority identities, and proof that White America is still not ready to take the very real suffering of POC seriously.

While such garbage is the brainchild of a white supremacist minority, who no one can count on to change, their ideologies carry the very real harm of influencing the uninformed moderates. People who could be induced to support the racial equality movement were they to be educated can now turn to the more digestible and (to them) appealing messaging of white supremacy movements. This is why regressive and dangerous campaigns like #TakeUsDown need to be taken down.

– Themal


Image from the Internet

How to Combat Racism and Sexism in the Workplace

This summer has been an interesting one. Before it started I wasn’t really sure what I wanted my plans to look like, but I knew I had to be working. While I was studying abroad this past semester in Namibia, I spent hours a day searching for internships and summer job opportunities. I hunted for jobs that were going to boost up my International Development and Social Change experience as well as get me far away from my home in Maine. I went through Skype interview after Skype interview as I tried to balance the 6-hour time difference. I managed to land on a couple of reasonable jobs; nothing that was my first pick, but really great summer work. But after having spent almost 5 months out of the U.S. and away from familiar things, I made a choice to stay in Maine for the summer and work. This has been my first full summer in Maine since high school, and besides babysitting jobs, volunteer work, and stint bussing tables and making milkshakes at Johnny Rockets, this was my first work experience in Maine.

So, I picked back up a job that I had started working during the winter vacation before studying abroad. I work at the information desk at the airport. I landed on a second job working at the foreign exchange office, also located in the airport. I was ready to play it low-key and devote my summer to saving up for the upcoming school year. I was ready for the challenge of juggling two work schedules as well as maintaining my sanity. I was also ready for the airport to become my second home. But there were certain things that I hadn’t anticipated: racism and sexual harassment. Even though I work in Portland, the major city in Maine and not some rural small town, I did expect some racism. I expected the same micro aggressions that I had faced when growing up in the state. What I was not prepared for was the extent of racism and sexism in the workplace that I face now.

My jobs are customer service based, so I interact with a lot of different people. In the beginning I had people avoid eye contact with me. They would refuse to talk to me and only addressed my co-workers (who are white). People would actually just stare at me without saying anything and then just walk away! Other employees working in other areas of my workplace wouldn’t hold the same daily small talk with me as they would with my colleagues. I felt strange and isolated. Right off the bat, I felt a tremendous need to prove myself. I had to prove that I wasn’t like the stereotypes of black people that they created in their minds. I arrive early to work, I am eloquent with my words and careful with my speech, I focus on how I look in the work place and how I conduct myself. These may seem like given habits for anyone to go by in a work environment; but for me, as a person of color, I work extra hard at these things to feel some level of acceptance. To make white people comfortable. But then as the summer has gone on, my discomfort has continued to intensify.

I hear comments daily that degrade immigrants and people of color. Some of the comments that have been directed to me have been, “you’re cute for a black girl” or “you’re so lucky you get to live in this country and not scary Africa.” I have been called Buckwheat. (This is in reference to the character on the “Little Rascals,” who represents the caricature image of black people in the early 20th century.) This comment was made in observance of my “nappy” hair. Most recently I was interrogated about where I come from. Although this was not new to my ears, it still hit me like a prodding iron to the skin. The conversation looked like this: (If you are friends with me on Facebook, I’m sorry that you have to read this dialogue again.)

Man: “Where were you born?”
Me: “I’m from here.”
Man: *looking stunned and confused* “Where’s here?”
Me: “Gorham, Maine. Where are you from?”
Man: “I’m from here. Aren’t you a Somalian? You look like those Somalians.”
Me: “No sir, I’m not Somali.”
Man: “Isn’t that funny? You must get that all the time!… There are lots of Somalians working here, huh?”
Me: *getting visibly angry but trying to keep my customer service composer* “There are people from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Albania, Greece, Germany and a bunch of other places all LIVING and working here. And no, sir, it’s not funny to racially or ethnically profile someone because you think all black people look alike.”
Man: *staggers away looking dumbfounded*

Man: *comes back 15 minutes later* “You know what, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t say that.”

Me: “It’s fine… Actually, no it’s not fine. I’m not going to say it is just to ease your conscience. Don’t be so presumptuous just because you see brown skin. *puts customer service smile back on* “Now, if I can’t help you with anything I kindly ask that you move away from my desk.”

Soon after that interaction, a man stopped dead in his tracks and asked me if I was the only black person in Maine because he hadn’t seen any “blacks” on his flight.

As if that’s not bad enough, I’ve also had horrible situations of sexual harassment. On a regular basis there are older men that come into my work place and make different sexual advances and comments toward me. They stare at my breasts. They examine my shape as if I were Saartjie Baartman on display. Once while I was having lunch at my desk, a man asked me if he could have some. When I ignored him he said, “It’s a good thing you have nice legs,” and proceeded to tilt his head and try to look up my skirt. Different male employees continuously make inappropriate comments on my physical appearance and ogle at my body. I had a really severe situation where an employee old enough to be my grandfather would come by my desk every day and tell me how attracted to me he was and would express how much he wanted me and how he wanted to take me places. He would talk about other women’s bodies to me. He would always try to get me alone and try to hug me so that he could touch me. My coworkers told me that they had experienced similar interactions with this man but they had ignored it. I was even told that he occasionally grabbed women’s butts. I couldn’t tolerate this. I wasn’t going to wait until it escalated. I was forced to report him and he resigned before a case could be filed against him.

It’s infuriating that as a woman of color I have to face all of this. How am I expected to want to wake up in the morning and take hours and hours of this? I dread going to work because the energy to deal with these situations has been drained from me. It’s one of the most helpless feelings having to tolerate racism and sexual harassment because I have to make a living. It’s not like I can’t work. I have worked in a variety of places with different work environments from the corporate level to grassroots, but I have never experienced anything like this. This work experience has really slapped reality into me and the extent of racism and sexism has made me realize that this is what many women of color face everyday. The male entitlement, exotification, and degradation. The feelings of inadequacy, otherings, white privilege and ignorance. The blatant racism! Both of my bosses are two of the nicest and most considerate people I’ve worked with. They aren’t the problem. If it were it would be easy to cut ties with the jobs and go somewhere else. But when it is customers who are impacting my work performance, it’s a difficult to call it quits – as customers are “always right”!

This doesn’t only happen in Maine. Because there is ignorance everywhere, I feel like I’m just expected to suck it up and deal with it. Bite my lip. Become the strong black woman who never cracks like I’m expected to. Be complacent. Be dutiful under any circumstance. But if I’m supposed to spend half of my life working, I know these interactions will kill me even quicker as I feel my blood boil. The tensions in my very body from this experience has taken its toll on me even before I begin full-time employment! Am I waiting to become another “excess deaths” statistic?

So, what are my suggestions on dealing with these issues? Okay, here it goes: Don’t work. Leave the country and live on a secluded island. Somewhere tropical. But if you’re like me and can’t do that, fight back! Stand up for yourself. Educate people about why they’ve made you uncomfortable because you deserve to feel safe and confident in your work place. Handle situations tactfully and effectively. If your boss can’t stand by you protecting yourself, then maybe that work situation isn’t meant to be. But this is something I’m still trying to wrap my head around.

– Lulu