Getting Emotional About Chairs

The first thing I noticed when I walked into this doctor’s office were the chairs. It is not unusual for me to focus on chairs when I enter a room. A quick scan tells me where or how I will be waiting to see my doctor. What was unusual was the sense of relief that spread from my chest throughout my body as I realized that these chairs were different. They were wide. Not just one or two, every single chair in that waiting room was made for a large person to sit comfortably in. I could sit in any chair I wanted in that large waiting area without thinking about whether the chair arms were going to dig into my sides and hurt me. To realize this was freeing. It was like exhaling after holding in a breath I didn’t even know I was holding in. I couldn’t help but smile. I immediately felt welcome. The person who designed this space had the comfort of people like me in mind when they drew plans. This space was made for me. I felt validated and confident. I’m going to be real honest here and admit that there were tears in my eyes. Tears of joy.

Most spaces are not made for people like me to exist in or be comfortable in. I remembered all those times I had to endure pain trying to squeeze myself into a desk meant for a person much smaller than me, turning sideways when making my way down the aisle on the bus, being turned away after waiting in line because I couldn’t fit in roller coaster seats, enduring the stares and the discomfort of being seated on an airplane, not fitting into car seatbelts. Eventually I stopped trying. I stood up in auditoriums during presentations, and stopped going to amusement parks altogether. When people asked why I would just tell them I preferred standing. But in that doctor’s office, I didn’t have to worry about any of that. I could spread out and stretch my legs. I could take up as much space as I needed to without consequences for my body being bigger. It’s such a simple thing, being able to sit in comfort. It’s a shame that this simple thing is denied to people every day just because of their body size.

If at this point you are thinking, “Well, why don’t you just lose weight then?”, I’m going to need you to educate yourself before making a comment. I don’t have time to explain to you how complex a disease like obesity is and how mismanaged it is even by people who have medical degrees. Check your thin privilege.

e850daca41f42bf64baeb3fe9745ea30.jpg

I’m not talking about how difficult it is to find fashionable and affordable plus size clothes or the fact that even the stores that do sell these items place them in the back of the store or only sell them online (I’m looking at you Old Navy). I’m not talking about the horrible things people have said to me or yelled at me from a moving car. I’m not even talking about how comedians make money by fat shaming themselves or how fat jokes on sitcoms are somehow still acceptable (that’s a whole other blog post). I’m talking about chairs, the essential items we need to work, relax, and function, many of which are not useable by a growing percentage of the population. I’m speaking mostly of chairs in public or business spaces. By not including people of larger body sizes when constructing and designing spaces, it sends the message that we are not important and not welcome. It makes us feel guilty for daring to exist in a space that is too small for us. People shouldn’t feel ashamed of who they are just because of their body shape or size. To be fair, there are a lot of people out there who find larger bodies disgusting and believe that we shouldn’t exist. I don’t have time for those people. I’m used to my presence as a plus size woman of color making people uncomfortable and I’m over it.

I’m here. I deserve to be in whatever space I want or need to occupy. If it costs me some pain and bruising, okay, but it would much nicer if it didn’t and I could #slay in comfort. #byefelicia

Beck

I am single, and that’s OK.

I am single, and that’s OK.

This is a new sentence that I’m writing to myself, something I try to remember when I feel lonely. It’s new to me because no one has ever told me this before. Since I was born, everyone and everything around me told me that I would really start living when I found “my special someone”, “my soulmate”. Only when I was in love and married would I truly be fulfilled in life. “There’s no good that can come out of singleness. A woman can’t find self-worth unless it comes from the admiration of a man.” These are the messages that I have heard all my life, and they have damaged me.

For a while, I believed them. I waited for guys to start taking notice of me. I waited for my first date, my first kiss, and my first boyfriend in high school. When that didn’t happen, they told me it would definitely for sure happen in college. Well, here I am four years later, still never been kissed, still single, and yeah I’ll say it, somewhat bitter.

single-women-in-the-winter-months

But I’m tired of waiting to be happy and fulfilled through a romantic relationship. I’m tired of feeling like I’m missing out on something. I could either use my single years to grow personally and enjoy my independence, or be miserable and bitter. That doesn’t mean I don’t still get lonely sometimes, it just means I don’t waste time regretting something I don’t have. I wish I could really be as strong as my words make me seem. I wish I didn’t feel pain when I see my sister and her finance kiss for the thousandth time from the corner of my eye. I wish I didn’t wonder if I just met my future husband every time I meet an eligible or attractive guy my age. I wish I could focus on my relationship with Christ, one that really would fulfill me, rather than my absence of a romantic relationship. But this is a learning process, and my feelings are still catching up with my new ideas about singleness.

My mother frequently tells me that she can’t die in peace until she sees me “married and happy”. That’s usually followed by a variation of, “If you lose weight, men will pursue you.” Is it any wonder that I have struggled with low self-esteem and poor body image all my life? It took a long time for me to re-educate myself so I wouldn’t believe in her harmful message; that my body was to blame for my singleness. I don’t resent my mother for saying these things; she truly does believe it and only wants to see me happy. I do wish that she had taught me to love myself and value my body at a younger age. Nowadays, I correct these statements as best I can by telling her that I am happy even though I’m not married, and that I don’t want a husband who desires only my body, but all of me, and I’m willing to wait for that.

Why did I spend the first two decades of my life obsessed with love?

Our culture is obsessed with love, both physical and emotional. We’ve been fed romance and love songs since we were in diapers (Disney, anyone?). We saw sex at an early age, most likely introduced in a negative way, and continued seeing it everywhere; movies, music, ads, clothes, books, news. We saw it so much that we’ve become desensitized to it. It no longer surprises us to see a woman exploiting her body to advertise a product or company; in fact, it makes perfect sense to us. Hardee’s commercials are a great and disgusting example of this. What does fast-food have to do with a beautiful/sexy woman? Absolutely nothing; but by creating a connection between a desirable woman and the desirableness of food, Hardee’s sells more burgers. It’s simple, sex sells.

Hardee’s ads are so good at what they do that they work on a deeper level. That’s what scares me, it’s subliminal. Our waking minds may not notice overt sexuality plastered over the walls of our media, we’ve learned to “ignore” it. But our inner minds and bodies absorb those messages and internalize them.

America’s Real Favorite Pastime

Traditionally, baseball is considered America’s favorite pastime, but I think most people would consider football an even greater American sport. The National Football League certainly makes more than Major League Baseball every year, bringing in about $9 billion dollars annually (Source). Would it surprise you to learn that the pornography industry is a more than $13 billion dollar industry (Source)? If where we spend our money is any indication of how we spend our time, well, you see what I’m getting at here. The pursuit of sexual experiences consumes us; it’s our favorite pastime.

What does this mean? It means that our society and the messages it is sending us about physical and emotional love are finding a home in our minds and bodies (and our browser histories). We’re taught at a young age to lust after things, celebrities, food, and wealth. We’re told we need these things to be happy and fulfilled. We’re told that our self-worth is tied to attaining these things; that we’re lesser-than if we cannot achieve these things. We’re hyper- sexualizing ourselves and then wonder why there’s a growing rape culture and a strong sexual trafficking infrastructure in our neighborhoods.

I’m not saying the sexual act or expressing one’s sexuality is bad, in fact, I believe quite the opposite. What I’m saying is that we need to evaluate how these messages are affecting us on a deeper level. Maybe sex/porn addiction is not just an individual’s lack of willpower or lack of a better hobby; maybe it’s a manifestation of those lustful messages we’re constantly bombarded with from birth. Maybe it’s a symptom of a larger societal problem. I am not suggesting that those with an unhealthy relationship with sex blame society for their problems. Rather, I am suggesting a deeper look at the root of those problems to better understand them with the goal of overcoming them. We all have natural tendencies, but our society is nurturing us to act in a certain way, and just because you may not watch pornography doesn’t mean you’re immune.

You may wonder why I am addressing my acceptance of singleness as a healthy state and larger societal messages about sex and love in one blog post. I believe these two topics are interconnected in complex ways. My previous ideas about singleness as “bad” or abnormal have their origin in the idea that women and their bodies are for men (a patriarchal idea), so by not being in a relationship, I was not living life to its fullest potential. I wasn’t “fulfilled” because I wasn’t doing what society was telling me to do in the majority of its advertisements and media, fall in love have sex with men. I also wasn’t “happy” because a man had never shown me attention or told me that I was beautiful, talented, sexy, or intelligent (all of which I am, by the way). The same societal ideas of love and sex that contributed to my frustration about being single are the same ideas that encourage self-destructive tendencies in women and men (i.e. eating disorders, sexual addiction, rape, even suicide). Since I have declared my selfhood by saying it is OK to be single, I have come to not only appreciate my freedom, but love myself and my body more. I’m not counting down the days until I meet my husband and live happily ever after. My story doesn’t begin with me meeting “a guy” and end in marriage, my story began years ago and my happily ever after is now.

Beck

Themes That Have Been Running Through My Mind

Don’t praise me.

I know it’s because of my insecurities with my body, but I hate it when people praise my efforts to lose weight. When I come home from the gym and my mom says, “I’m so proud of you for going to the gym!” I cringe and don’t respond. I don’t tell people when I’ve lost weight because I don’t want to hear them say, “Wow! Good for you! I’m so proud of you.” I know it’s strange, but I hate it because it brings attention to my large body and the fact that I need to lose weight. I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to ignore this fact, and a person bringing it up, even in a positive way, bothers me a lot. People generally wouldn’t tell a thin person they were proud of them for going to the gym, so why tell me? Because I really need to go to the gym, right? But everyone needs to be active to be healthy, not just people who are overweight. When people praise me for working out, they think they are encouraging me to continue a healthy lifestyle by recognizing my efforts, but I’m not doing this for them or for their recognition. I’m doing this for me and my future. I don’t need or want their praise, especially if they are treating me differently than others (i.e. thinner people) who are behaving the same way. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for their concern or affection; I just don’t enjoy receiving that kind of attention.

How you spend your day is how you spend your life.

This theme was inspired by me watching the last Hobbit film this week, which wasn’t completely disappointing. After watching the movie, I remembered how obsessed I was with Lord of the Rings when I was in middle and high school. I devoted so much of my time and energy reading and learning about everything that had to do with LOTR and Tolkien’s universe. For what reason? Having an encyclopedic knowledge of LOTR made me happy. It was all I talked about and all I watched; it brought me into a community, it entertained, inspired, and motivated me. But in the end, this obsession didn’t really do me any good besides encourage a love of reading. Now I can’t help but think, what if I devoted the same amount of time and energy to something more worthwhile? Not my career or education, but Jesus Christ? What if I had an encyclopedic knowledge of Him? what He said and did? What if I made Him my inspiration and motivation? joined a community just as obsessed with Him as I was? How would my life be different? It wouldn’t just make me happy, it would give me real joy. It’s not quite as easy as all that. I need to work through my misgivings concerning the church and my own stubborn resistance to Him that we all share. But, reading and learning are things that I enjoy doing, and it’s not so much that I don’t find Jesus interesting as I’ve been desensitized by a lifetime of hearing the same standardized sermons over and over. So that’s where I’ll start, reading.

I need a new job.

On a much more practical level, I’ve been thinking and rethinking my situation and decided to seriously look for a better job. Earning minimum wage is terrible; earning minimum wage in a retail position is not worth it. I had a bad experience last week when I was sick and needed to call out. But even before last week, I applied to a handful of temp agencies in Raleigh. So far, I have not heard anything from them. I’ve also applied and have an interview for an AmeriCorps VISTA position at Fayetteville State University. To be honest, it’s not paying much more than what I’m making now, but it is in my career field and would help me develop my professional skills. There are two things that prevent me from being super excited about this job. 1) It’s an hour away from Raleigh so a lot of time and money would be spent commuting. 2) It requires a one year commitment that I may or may not be able to complete. The job runs from Feb 2015 to Feb 2016, but I’m planning to start grad school in the fall of 2015. I would be willing to defer enrollment for a semester (which would take me to Jan 2016), but an entire year? That’s a long time. Since nothing is set in stone for grad school, I’m going to the interview next week, but I don’t know what to do! My gut feeling, and my Mom, tells me to let this job go and attend grad school this fall, but what if I give it up and don’t get in? At the same time, I can’t stand the thought of working at Starbucks for another eight months before grad school.

I know things will work themselves out. In the meantime, I’ll just bake some cookies.

Merry Christmas!

Beck

Fat objectification: Fetishism

Wow. :)

Happy Bodies

I think when we think about objectification in tends to be about women who fit a defined norm of what it means to be beautiful. I’m not going to claim that larger women are more objectified, but I wanted to point out some specific forms of objectification those deemed “fat” face. More on fat objectfication.

Fat Fetishists, Fat Admirers, Chubby Chasers, are all names given people who prefer larger bodies sexually. And there are all sorts of acronyms for those they are attracted to: BBW – Big Beautiful Women, BHM – Big Handosme Men, (you can SS or “Super-size” either”). And, of course, there are all sorts of derogatory terms on urban dictionary (No link for you). This terminology shows how sexual attraction to fat people is considered as part of the realm of kink and fetishism.

Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with kink and fetishism (as long…

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November in 800 Words or Less

Where have I been all November?

Happy Halloween! Happy Birthday to me! Happy Thanksgiving! :)

I’ve thought about writing many times this month, but haven’t made the time to do it, partially because I’ve been busy and partially because I’ve been lazy. Getting used to a new work routine that changes every week has not been fun. I do enjoy some things about my job, but I don’t get to do those things very often. I really want to find a better job that will pay me more than minimum wage.

To celebrate my birthday, my sister and best friend went out to dinner and drank wine. I got Caged, which was hilarious. This was followed later that week with a family dinner that was surprisingly pleasant. No one was fighting or drunk, there was an ice cream cake. Success.

Capture

On the 19th, I spoke at a Faces of Homelessness panel at Elon, my alma mater. I met with the other speakers and some current students for dinner before the panel. One formerly homeless man asked me how many times I had spoken and he looked shocked when I said this was my first time. Then I learned the event was being filmed. I suddenly grew really nervous. I didn’t really know what I was going to say. I had printed out the Pendulum article I wrote in the spring and the blog entries I wrote as well, which I thought would help. The truth is I have often doubted whether what I went through was actually homelessness or something else. One of my former professors blatantly told me I had no right to use that term, so speaking about my experience on a panel about homelessness made me feel a bit like a fake. Hearing the stories of the other speakers made me think what I had gone through was not really that intense or tragic, even if it felt that way to me at the time.

When it was my turn, I started with something about invisible homeless and then spoke about what and how it happened last year. I honestly don’t remember what I said afterwards. It was so difficult to say those things in front of my peers, some of which I had classes with last fall. Did I mention the room was packed? People were sitting all around on the floor and near the door. I didn’t know where to look. I finished by saying that what I went through was only a fraction of what the other speakers had been through and could only imagine how much more difficult it would have been had it not been for my friends and church.

There was a short question and answer session after we shared. I was asked what the school said when I told them. I answered by telling her that there wasn’t anything they really could have done but that was an area of improvement for the school.  Another person asked me what kept me going through the experience. I told her that I was plain stubborn and knew that if I didn’t push through, I wouldn’t have graduated. I also mentioned that my faith in Christ was a huge source of hope and comfort as well as solution for my situation.

After the event was over, people came up to me and shook my hand thanking me for sharing. One guy kept saying how “gusty” it was for me to talk about that in front of my classmates “especially at Elon”. The wife of Elon’s president also spoke to me and said she remembered reading my article in the spring and wished me luck in the future. One student gave me a hug and said that my story moved his friends deeply, even though he had dragged them to the event and they had previously made fun of homeless people. It was so reassuring hearing things like that from the audience. I could tell a lot of them were close to tears, although I can’t claim credit for that. This has given me the courage to claim my experience and speak at further events about homelessness.

I haven’t had the courage to watch the video yet, but I believe there is a video in this Pendulum article.

There are two more things I want to mention in this post. (1) Starting a diet and workout regime during Thanksgiving week is probably the worst week of the year to start anything requiring physical activity and calorie counting. #getswole (2) I APPLIED TO GRAD SCHOOL!!! I should begin to hear back from schools mid-December. Let us pray.

Beck

PS: My friend and future brother-in-law, Andrew, started a blog this month. Check it out y’all. He’s super well-read…like, better than me. #jealous

What Are You?

Today, I attended the Women of Color Institute conference at my school. While this conference was very inspirational and empowering, I couldn’t help but feel a bit frustrated by my awkward position as biracial. Most of the speakers and attendees were African-American, with a few Latina and Asian-American participants. And then there was me, half Indian and half White. I don’t believe that I was the only biracial or mixed race woman there, but if there were others present, I wasn’t able to distinguish them from the group. Most of time this doesn’t bother me, but I quickly grow silent when the topics such as African-American hair care come up (and it always comes up). I don’t quite fit in.

Most people who are biracial choose to favor one part of their identity over the other in order to participate fully in that race or ethnic culture. I don’t have that ability. Sure, technically I’m Asian-American, but no one thinks of India when someone says “Asia”. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that India is part of Asia. Even some Asian-American people I have met look confused when I try to identify myself as Asian. Then, when I say I’m Indian, people ask me what tribe I’m in and I have to further clarify my racial identity.

Trying to pass as White was never really an option for me either. Living in the US, it’s easier to identify more with the majority culture, but no one ever looks at me and thinks, “That girl is white.” I’m not white, I’m half white; historically and culturally, there’s a huge difference. I can’t ignore the Indian part of me and I don’t want to. Nor would White people accept me if I tried.

Coming to a predominantly white institution really emphasizes my otherness, so I never felt comfortable hanging out with huge groups of white students. Nor did I feel welcome in the small Black community on campus. Even though I’m a woman of color and feel some affiliation with Black culture, when it comes down to it, I am not Black and I will never know what it’s like to be a Black woman in the US. And while I do look Hispanic, I’m not, so it’s not as though I could insert myself into their organizations or social groups either. In fact, it bothers me when people mislabel me as Hispanic, because it emphasizes the fact that I don’t really look Indian, even though I am.

I know what you’re thinking, “Why aren’t you making friends with the Indian students?” Well, reader, I cannot participate in the Indian culture completely for two reasons: I don’t know Hindi, and I’m a Christian. Knowing the language would open up new opportunities to participate in the shared stories, songs, and traditions of India. Because I have not yet learned the language, participation in these aspects of culture, shallow though they are, is more difficult. I listen to and sing Hindi songs and I watch Hindi films, but my understanding of them will always be through a Western and English filter. Much of Indian culture, values, and traditions also come from a shared participation of Hinduism. I’m not Hindu, so many of those aspects of Indian culture are lost to me. So yes, I am Indian, but only half Indian, and other Indian people tend to ignore me because I cannot participate in their culture fully.

So, where does that leave me? Nowhere and everywhere. I don’t fit into the ineffective and over-simplified categories of race in the US. But, this is what sometimes makes me feel frustrated and sometimes fortunate. I have a double consciousness and I can code switch really well. I know what it is like to be a minority in the US. I also know what it is like to not be a minority in the US. As a racially ambiguous person on the surface, I am faced with discrimination and racism. However, because I am not a part of a historically marginalized group, the stereotype threat I face is not as well-defined as that of African-American or Hispanic people. In other words, people are racist, but they’re not sure what I am, so they can’t make specific negative assumptions about who I am. This is good because it gives me more opportunities to define myself before others try to define me. This is also frustrating on days like today, when I wish I could identify easily with one race or another in order to feel a stronger sense of community and sisterhood. I love being biracial because I am proud of both sides of my racial identity, but if you don’t learn how to navigate around racial barriers and code switch, it is a lonely existence.

Beck

Know Thyself

leadership

The most interesting LEAD workshop I attended was the TAIS Debrief, which went over my scores for The Attentional Interpersonal Style Inventory (TAIS).  A description from the makers: “The TAIS measures constructs crucial to effective performance, especially performance in high pressure situations…results will emphasize how you are likely to react under stressful conditions and will illustrate how pressure affects your ability to concentrate, stay motivated, and communicate effectively.” This test is so legit and it’s interesting to hear how I compare with others tested. It didn’t really tell me too much that I didn’t know already, but it did bring some problems to my attention. haha Get it? I’m hilarious.

What I learned from the test was that I am best at paying attention to a specific task for long periods of time, while being relatively good at being aware of my environment and thinking conceptually. My biggest distractions are internal, which basically means I get caught up over-thinking things and dealing with my emotions. #preach

I love being busy and having a diverse number of activities, but that can backfire when my schedule is too full. #college I scored high in the need to control others, which means I like leading others, and high in self-confidence, which means I believe in myself. But my self-critical score was low, which means I’m hard on myself when I make mistakes. #mylife I’m really intellectually competitive, even with myself, and this intimidates people. #maybethisiswhyI’msingle

One of the most interesting, but not surprising, results was that I am equally extroverted and introverted; my scores in both categories were the same. This means that I enjoy being with people and being in the spotlight, as well as needing alone time and reflecting. According to the test, this is very rare and is confusing for people who think you have to be one or the other. This wasn’t surprising because I’ve known this for a while. I’m always borderline when I take the Myers-Briggs and I’ve noticed that I slowly go insane when I’m stuck in the house for more than two days or constantly out of the house for a few days.

The last part of the results basically told me that I like to talk and express my ideas, which are generally good ideas and encouraging to others. It also said that I need to listen more, which I’ve noticed is not my strongest attribute although I am working on it. I really like to talk, and as you can read from this blog I have a lot to say. The results also indicated that I have troubled voicing concerns or problems to others because I think it will ruin relationships. I have a tendency to swallow my feelings and deal with them internally rather than addressing the problem, probably because I’m non-confrontational when it comes to dealing with coworkers. People also tell me that I’m hypersensitive because I take criticism personally, so when something is wrong, I usually just think it’s my problem and try to move on. I think this blog helps me vent that frustration indirectly though. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Congratulations, you now know more than you ever wanted to know about me.

Beck

White Girl Black Girl, a poem

I learned today that one of my poems was chosen as a winner of the Human Rights and Social Justice Writing Contest at my school. I am incredibly honored to have won. I almost started crying during my midterm when I found out.

I wrote this poem to make people uncomfortable and get people reflecting on who they are on campus. It’s not supposed to make you feel happy, and its purpose is not to offer solutions, but to bring awareness. It was born in a moment of reflection and frustration, and I hope it creates a moment of reflection for you too.

White Girl

Get out of my way Brown girl
I’m walking here
My North Face jacket and cowgirl boots
won’t stand for your presence
See this Longchamp purse?
It cost more than you spent
on textbooks this semester
And I have it in five colors

Get out of my way Black girl
You don’t belong here
With your Payless shoes
And your sub-par brands
I make sure you know
You can’t match my style
When I stare you down
at the coffee shop

Yeah, keep hiding in your MCC
That’s where we like you
Out of sight, out of mind
Not seen or heard
Not On Our Campus
We own these bricks
And all these societies we join
Ensure we’ll never mix

You wish you were me, you all do
With my straight blonde hair
And my classic blue eyes
My polished ivory skin
and my Vineyard Vines
Don’t even try to compete
You’ll just fail again
like you always do

Get down Black girl
When will you learn?
Your knappy hair and
Your face like mud
Will never outshine me
Why don’t you just give up?
Crawl back to whatever ghetto
you managed to escape from

Don’t worry, I’m not racist
I have that one Brown friend
We haven’t spoken in weeks
But she’s convenient to me
Don’t worry, I’m not ignorant
I’m fully aware of the distance,
Of the disparities between us
And that’s just the way I like it

This campus won’t ever change
Always separated, never equal
Always silenced, never celebrated
There’s no hope rising from these ashes

Every slur that goes unnoticed
Every crime that goes unchallenged
Fuels my fire, My desire
to stay beyond your reach
And leave you in the dust
Cause we both know
you don’t bELONg here

Photo courtesy of Heather Cassano, The Pendulum.

Photo courtesy of Heather Cassano, The Pendulum.

Black Girl

Go ahead, White girl
Walk past me with disdain
Stomping down the bricks
In your brown leather boots
Your nose stuck in the sky
I’m impressed with the number
Of designer purses you have
Tell me, how many will you
Be taking with you when you die?

I don’t have to explain my style to you
I don’t have to defend my face and hair
Against your judgment and your stare
I can express myself with or without
Whatever brands I choose
You can keep your expensive-
Eco-friendly-keeping-up-with-the-Jones-’
mine-is-shinier-than-yours-Porsche
I’ll stick with my simple-broken-in
Gets-me-where-I-need-to-go-sedan

Tell me, did your daddy buy you
A new MacBook Pro
After you told him yours was stolen?
Do you understand what it means to work?
To be in need? To go without?
Your moneyed perception is so blind
To the realities of this world
Your excess is sickening
But your ignorance is just sad

Truth is, I’m a threat to your
Imaginary superiority complex
Because even though I come from the ghetto
And you come from old money
We ended up in the same class
At the same college
And your perfect White world
Is disturbed by my presence

Truth is, you ignore me
Because you can’t come to grips
With the crimes of your ancestors
You come from a history of injustice
I come from a history of resilience
I would never want to be you
You hate me because you hate yourself
You hate me because I remind you
Of your guilt; it’s okay White girl,
Some things you can’t help being born into

Don’t worry, rich girl
One day you’ll learn
That you can’t keep us down
That we’ll never give up
That difference doesn’t mean deficiency
That the world is only turning
A more beautiful shade of brown
With every passing generation

This campus may never change
Always separated, never equal
Always silenced, never celebrated
I’m covered in ashes
Still I rise, filled with hope

Every slur that goes unnoticed
Every crime that goes unchallenged
Fuels my fire, My desire
To remain, to be heard
To change the status quo
Even though, we both know
Minorities don’t bELONg here
Minorities are just allowed here

Beck

Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference, Part 2

The Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference always raises more questions than it answers, but for me, it asks the only questions worth answering.  It leaves me wanting more; more information, more opportunities to gain skills, more community, and more stories to listen to.

Microaggression
I started the second day of this short conference in a session called “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Recognizing and Responding to Microaggression”.  I first had an interest in microaggression when I read Claude Steele’s book, Whistling Vivaldi, which presented research about how stereotype threat, conveyed through microaggression, can prevent students from succeeding academically in college. This session not only expanded my vocabulary about microaggression, but also gave me a better way to respond to these verbal or behavioral indignities.

One of the comments we talked a lot about in the discussion was, “Everyone can succeed if they try hard enough.” This comment makes me angry. It makes me angry because when you say this, you are invalidating someone’s struggles to achieve success. You are limiting their definition of success to the American Dream and negating the set of circumstances that may prevent them from reaching that dream. You are assuming that if they are not succeeding in your definition, it must be because they are lazy and are not trying hard enough. Because America is the land of opportunity, right? Because we all have the same chance to get a good education, job and pursue happiness, right? I believe that’s a lie that we tell ourselves so we can sleep well at night. How can you pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you do not have bootstraps? The truth is that you can work hard all your life and never make it over the poverty line. Not because you’re not intelligent and capable, but because you started at a disadvantage in a system that is designed to uplift some and leave the rest behind.

I want to learn more about microagression because it’s something I encounter on a daily basis on my college campus. Every time someone asks me where I’m from, I don’t know whether I should say “Charlotte” or “My Mom is from India”, because I don’t know if they are asking me where I was raised or why I’m brown, as if being brown was something I needed to provide an excuse for. Every time someone comes up to me and speaks Spanish and they assume I’m Hispanic, because I’m biracial and don’t fit into the neat categories of race that America has constructed. Every time someone’s face turns up at me when I tell them I went to a public high school instead of a private high school. It’s frustrating and I want to understand it more so I can educate others about it as well.

Resources:
35 Dumb Things Well-Intentioned People Say, a book
A Place at the Table, a documentary
Resilience: A Lesson from Sochi, an article
The Microaggressions Project, a collection of stories

Leading through Relationships
I enjoyed all the sessions I attended, but the other I will mention here was called, “Does the Shoe Fit? Understanding Equity and Equality with the Relational Leadership Model.” I am a leader. I’m not sure when I came to this realization, but I am confident in my identity as a leader now, and it’s a skill that I seek to refine through experience. I am a relationship builder. I lead best by creating positive relationships with and among those I lead, and between my organization and other organizations. This is why the Relational Leadership Model really appeals to me. It combines purpose and process with ethics, inclusiveness, and empowerment of followers. This model illustrates to me that the best leaders are also the best listeners. They are willing to listen to all ideas and suggestions, able to hear needs that are not expressed, and provide encouragement and resources to meet those needs effectively. These leaders create other leaders by helping their followers achieve their potential. That’s the kind of leader I would like to be. This session helped me realize that.

At the end, we were shown this spoken word video that I am obsessed with already. : )

Resources:
Spark, a book
Exploring Leadership, a book

mandela

Define American
The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way a person looks at reality, then you can change it. – James Baldwin

Our key note speaker today was Jose Vargas, an extremely talented writer and speaker who documented his undocumented life in the US. His goal is to change the culture surrounding immigration and undocumented Americans. He believes that politics is culture, and if you can change the culture, you can change policy. I agree with this, and believe he is creating change through speaking authentically about his experience and revealing the stories of those who are advocating and fighting for their right to be here. He certainly opened my eyes to the struggles of undocumented Americans. His presentation made me care about them as if they were my own family. You may call me a sucker, but like Jose said, “You don’t have to be undocumented to care about undocumented Americans”; just like you don’t have to be Black or LGBTQIA to care about their rights and issues.

We live in an “age of intersectionality” and “positive disruption”. Fear of the other is what we are sold in this country, but we have the potential to “push past our fear” and perhaps even more importantly, our apathy, to create cultural change that leads to policy change. But you “can’t solve a problem if you don’t face it” and I think we’re doing a good job of distracting ourselves from the real issues to cover a gaping wound with a bandage.

I’m so grateful that my Mom didn’t have trouble emigrating here from India because she married my Dad, but I know that we are the exception and not the rule. I remember the night my friend told me she and her family were undocumented Americans. She told us about how she walked across the desert with her mom at the age of nine into a new country and home. She cried and begged us not to tell anyone because she was afraid her family would be deported. At the time, I didn’t quite understand the gravity of her situation, but I think I have a better idea now. She later moved to Mexico for college because she was unable to go to school in the US. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for her to leave her family.

Immigration is stories. There is no one in this country that I would not take the time to listen to, because we are all deserving of dignity. As I come down off this conference “high” (and off my soap box), there are some things I will take away into future conversations and circumstances:

First, listen. Shhh. Be quiet. Listen. What is being said? What is really being said? What is left unsaid and what does that tell you about someone’s story?

Second, learn. Read, research, repeat. Read, research, repeat. Come to the table with a humble attitude and as you listen and ask questions, you will grow into a better leader and follower.

Third, reflect. Critically reflect. About yourself, your identities, your biases, your assumptions and how they impact those around you.

Last, advocate. Turn your knowledge into action. Don’t die with your greatness buried inside you. Pursue your passion. Make your passion the well-being of your neighbor. Turn off your apathy and turn on your voice, because with knowledge comes power and with power, responsibility, social responsibility. What we said and what we did during this conference is just the beginning of an exponentially expanding web of influence and awareness that has the potential to positively disrupt the status quo of our community and country.

#4all
Beck

Other Resources:
Courageous Follower, a book
Followership, a book
How the Irish Became White, a book
My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant, an article by Jose Vargas
Time Magazine
Documented, a film by Jose Vargas

Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference

My college hosts an annual conference called the Intersect Diversity and Leadership Conference. This conference combines all my favorite things, diversity, leadership, and plastic name tags. Okay, I’m not that excited about the name tags, but I am excited about what this conference does. It brings people together from colleges around the region and creates a space for dialogue about diversity and social justice issues. I know what some of you are thinking; “That’s just an opportunity for minorities to vent their frustration about their supposed oppression.” To which I would reply, “It’s so much more than that.” The pillars of this year’s conference are Social Change, Oppression, Power and Privilege, and Organization Change. Yes, we talk about the minority experience in the US, after all, that’s what got many of us interested in this subject. However, we also talk about diversity of religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, geographic location, experience, and much more. We do critical self-reflection to better understand our identities and how they shape our lives and interactions with others. We talk about what brings about successful and sustainable social and organizational change. We discuss issues such as minority education, same sex marriage, and immigration.

One of the main concerns of this conference, and one of the reasons I love it so much, is because we talk about talking. Communicating, really communicating, about important things and not being ashamed of our unique perspectives and ideas. Our speaker tonight was a professor in the Communications school. His speech, which was very interactive, was about how to communicate effectively so that we can talk about these tough issues. It was about paying attention to the small details in order to become better listeners, about the tone and attitude with which you say something, and how that can inspire someone to action or turn someone away from your message. It was about humbling yourself and valuing everyone, no matter how insignificant they may seem in the grand scheme of things.

At the end of the speech, he had everyone write down a word or phrase that represents what they stand for, what inspires them to action, or what they strive for. I wrote, “Let all voices be heard.” I told you, I’m passionate about stories, especially those stories that are usually silenced or ignored, because I believe that everyone deserves to be heard. That’s how we as humans are vulnerable with each other, that’s how we make connections and recognize ourselves in others. Stories carry all our pain and joy. They are both a lament and a celebration. Stories make the world go around. (Go ahead, ask me which story I think is the most important.)

All those words were just day one.

Beck