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

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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

News Items and Leftovers

I was approached by the Director of Community Organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless about my article in the newspaper. He invited me to speak at a panel called the Faces of Homelessness in November at my school. Anytime you get approached by an organization that calls themselves a “coalition”, you say yes; that shit is cool. I guess I’m a cover girl for homeless people now. Homelessness never looked so hot; or as my sister would say, “You’re like the Kardashian of Elon.” Except that I’m getting noticed for not having a place to put my clothes, not for taking my clothes off. Hahaha

cry2

A friend and classmate asked me if she could post my story on the blog, Elon Awareness. I said yes, of course, and I was grateful for the invitation. It’s a really great blog, you should read some of the posts; they speak so much truth.

I’m applying for jobs, which I guess is not really news considering I’m a senior. I thought I would mention it since it’s taking up so much of my time. I’m really glad I don’t have a full schedule this semester; otherwise I would struggle to find time to do it. I’m looking for positions in nonprofits, higher education, and secondary teaching. I’m also researching graduate schools, but I won’t be ready to apply until early fall. There’s a residence life fellowship that I’m really interested in as well. Not that I don’t want to get away from my college, but it’s a really great opportunity to explore higher education as a career. I’m completely torn between secondary and higher education! My dream job would be at Project LIFT Charlotte. It’s an amazing nonprofit organization that deals with education and I really want to be involved in some way next year. They are doing some great things in my hometown.

This brings me to another preoccupation I’ve had this week: I miss teaching. I really miss teaching and talking about education. I’ve been helping my sister with her TEACH Charlotte application and interview and have realized just how much knowledge I have about pedagogy and classroom management. But it’s all going to waste. I’m not using any of it and it makes me sad. When I think about how I could be student teaching instead of taking classes, it makes me angry about everything that happened last semester. I took all the classes and, even though I did not pass one or two, I learned the content, but I’m not getting credit for any of it. When potential employers look at my application, all they will see is a low GPA and that I was kicked out of my program. I’m afraid no one will give me a chance. I can’t even ask my education professors for letters of recommendation because I failed. Who wants to recommend a student who failed their class? I feel that if ever my name is mentioned between professors, they shake their heads and say, “What a waste of potential.” I hate that, because it’s not true. I guess I shouldn’t care what they think, but I don’t like the idea that I disappointed them. Okay, so I’m still working through leftover feelings from last semester, but there’s no set mourning period for broken dreams, I’m still within my rights.

Let’s end on a high note, shall we? A few weeks ago, my boss over at Duke asked if I was available to go to China in August to be a Teacher Assistant for a Leadership class for high school students. I said I was available and very interested. I don’t speak Mandarin, so I’m not a prime candidate, but I do hope I can go despite that. I would love to learn more about Chinese culture, and it would be great to have the opportunity to see some of my former residents that live there. Cross your fingers!

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