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Grappling with Thanksgiving

I love turkey and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I love passing on family traditions to my toddler. And I especially love sandwiches stuffed with Thanksgiving leftovers. But y’all, we have got to stop with this ridiculous story about the Pilgrims and Indians becoming friends over an ear of corn and living happily ever after.

I get that people want one good meal with their families, just one day of eating and drinking and not worrying about everything else. But it’s not like we’re doing this on a random Thursday afternoon. We’re doing this on a national holiday based upon a colonial myth that enables the horrible and ongoing mistreatment of indigenous Americans. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy the day, but maybe while we’re eating our turkey and cranberry sauce, we should also consider discussing the truth about our country’s history and how we can take action to support present-day indigenous communities.

cornhuskdoll
My idea is not perfect, but as a parent of a three-year-old, I’ve decided to focus on learning about the Tuscarora, a Native American tribe based in New York. The website I’ve chosen to use as my guide offers facts about things like their traditional foods, toys, and hunting tools, how they fled from North Carolina to New York because the British attacked them, and what their lives are like now. My plan is to read these facts aloud, pass around some pictures, and talk. Then, after exploring these materials, I’m going to pull up this list of online stores run by Native Americans and pick out something with my son. We white folk too often purchase “Native-inspired” products from places like H&M or Target instead of giving our money directly to the Native American artists who did the inspiring in the first place – many of whom are living in poverty despite the fact they’re making the authentic versions of the products we seem to want.

On this Thanksgiving, I am grateful for many things, including the opportunity to learn about our Native American neighbors, to spread the truth about our history, to use my money to support an amazing community, and to hopefully inspire my son to do his part in making this country a truly more equal and accepting place.

Huge thanks to Jen Winston (@girlsupplypower) for inviting Native Americans to take over her Instagram site this week and educate and motivate people like me. Check out Allen (lilnativeboy), Urban Native Era, Corinne Oestreich, #DearNonNatives, Tranny Cita, and Cleopatra Tatbele for more info on how to support Native Americans.

Photo credits:
N085/365 Corn Doll by Helen Orozco

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Women of Color on Feminism Part 2 – “Can It Be That Your Tent Ain’t It?”

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts in Still a Feminist? on the feminist movement’s inclusivity problem and the danger of defining what a feminist is. I began by describing my experience of feeling criticized for of my choice to embrace domesticity, then concluded with the incredibly pressing issue of racism in feminism. White feminists have been talking about the movement’s race issues for over a decade now, but this conversation hasn’t changed anything at all. Instead, we need to be listening to people of color, practicing more empathy and open-mindedness, offering not only our ears and support but also our willingness to change. In an effort to promote this type of dialogue, I posed two questions to women whose voices we need to hear: 1. What does feminism mean to you? and 2. What is your advice to white feminists on how to create a more inclusive movement? I received some incredibly thoughtful, smart, and important responses from these women, and shared the first two in a post yesterday. Here are the final three today. PLEASE read and respond and share freely. It is time for us to listen.

Twisting It Up.jpg“Twisting It Up” by torbakhopper / Creative Commons

Abdula Greene, Civil Rights, Family & Criminal Lawyer:

I liked your article. I’m glad it pointed out that one can be a feminist and still embrace being either a working woman or a homemaker. Too often women are categorizing and excluding other women based on their political or religious beliefs. To me, being a feminist means not being afraid to accept a man’s help or compliment and to enjoy being a woman, knowing that I deserve to be treated equally in employment and status and not being afraid to acknowledge that there are just some things I’d rather leave to men! As to your second question, it is too complex to answer in this short format [a Facebook neighborhood group]. However, to sum up my answer to your second question, white women and black women have different issues. It would be a great task.

A writer and educator who wishes to remain anonymous:

Well, as a woman of color born from women who’ve had to be mothers/providers/friends/etc, feminism for me and my two daughters (who are half white/half black and identify themselves as girls no color attached because they’re still too young to understand), it’s being able to be independent and most importantly able and comfortable with charting one’s own path as you see fit. Feminism is being able to speak out on what you believe in and stand firmly in your truth. My daughters are young, but in our house I believe in giving power to their voices and concerns and supporting everyone – even if you don’t believe in their beliefs or choices. No one has the right over anyone else to make THEIR choices.

Gosh, I really don’t know [how to create a more inclusive movement]. I think it’s important to remember that for women of color, there is always extra work involved. As a woman, no matter your shape, size, education level there is always that need to prove that you are good enough for whatever it is that you want to achieve. For women of color, there is an extra layer – to have to prove yourself because not only are you a woman – you’re a woman of color. Just be open-minded as everyone’s struggle is different.


jessicamingusJessica Mingus, Social worker, Educator, Writer and Founder of In Our Own Skin (pictured left):

In my opinion, “mainstream” feminism has become interchangeable with advancing the priorities of white, cis-gendered, able-bodied women with economic privilege. Countless women’s realities don’t fit within that framework. Because that feminist ideology is underwritten by so many sources of privilege, it gets treated as if it’s the definition of feminism. Let me be clear: Feminism with white supremacy floating around unchecked will not heal what ails us.

Do I consider myself a feminist? Yes. But do I treat it like it’s the single most important component of my politics? No. Patriarchy is everywhere, everyday and I butt up against it everywhere, everyday. But feminism is incomplete unless it incorporates how race, class, sexual orientation, ability, age, nationality, culture, religion impact our experience as women.  Feminism can’t be concerned only with gender. Intersectionality is critical.

Some of the most harmful racial microaggressions I’ve experienced came from straight, white cis-gendered women who waved the feminism flag with deep pride but had no critical consciousness when it came to their race and class bias. The more I have reflected on those experiences, I came to see that the feminist flag they waved so zealously was staked on whiteness and affluence.

My conception of “being a feminist” is propelled by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s assertion that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I try to hold myself accountable to continually deepen my understanding of what real justice would look like and to ensure that my personal fight against the forms of oppression that impact my daily life doesn’t push aside, minimize, or otherwise silence other folks’ experiences of oppression and my responsibility to take that on in addition to what limits me.  I love Cornel West’s definition that “justice is what love looks like in public.” I try to evolve my politics with that core belief at the center.

feministfist.jpg“Feminist Fist” by Eva the Weaver  / Creative Commons

So, what’s my advice to white feminists to make a more inclusive movement? First and foremost, step back from that question and examine it. What’s so essential about “your” feminism that the goal is to bring everyone else inside that tent? Is white feminism a common denominator? No way.  I encourage white feminists to ask themselves what is it about holding on to this power of invitation, this sense of entitlement to define the terms? I want white feminists to talk less about how they can make everyone “feel more included in their movement” and unpack how “their” feminism adversely impacts all the women who aren’t inside that tent right now. I think the conversation about inclusion in feminism often winds up supporting rather than subverting other sorts of oppression. Can it be that your tent ain’t it? Where would we all meet if you challenged yourselves to move outside and join the rest of us?

How can white feminists engage multiple forces of oppression in a shared struggle for equity and justice? I would caution white feminists against tapping women of color to tell them how. Authentic relationships with people that don’t look like you or live like you are some of life’s great teachers. But white feminist women must be sure not to tokenize difference or absolve them of the struggle and discomfort that’s needed to figure out a way forward. I urge white feminists to engage in continual self-reflection around privilege. Race privilege is their intergenerational knot to untie.

So…Yes: Be feminists. Challenge patriarchy every damn day. But recognize it as but one form of oppression that must be deconstructed if justice and self-realization are the ultimate goal. 

Seriously, If I Log Out, You Won’t Forget, Right.

This week’s events got me thinking about the ways in which we communicate with one other. Social media and the Internet in general can be great resources that we should be using, but they too often take the place of important face-to-face interactions that are necessary if we’re going to make any real change in this country. Here is poet P.K. Harmon’s meditation on the topic.

Untitled
By: P.K. Harmon

Do you ever yes.
Do you ever want
to let invented words
to score on Words
with Friends. Yes.
Do you ever log out.
I don’t. I mean, Yes.

My son, or maybe me,
turns his face to the
book. You know what
I mean. Seriously, if
I log out you won’t

forget, right. Right
now I am writing
a life and it’s the only
reason. Yes. Yes.
It’s like we are chatting.
You. We. Are you
online what time is it

there there. It’s ok.
There you are, ok.
I can’t like what
you share enough.
Enough to keep me
though I am no where.
Do you. I guess I do too.

logout

Women of Color on Feminism, Part 1 – “Every Woman is Going to Have a Different Experience”

Two weeks ago, I shared my thoughts in Still a Feminist? on the feminist movement’s inclusivity problem and the danger of defining what a feminist is. I began by describing my experience of feeling criticized for of my choice to embrace domesticity, then concluded with the incredibly pressing issue of racism in feminism. White feminists have been talking about the movement’s race issues for over a decade now, but this conversation hasn’t changed anything at all. Instead, we need to be listening to people of color, practicing more empathy and open-mindedness, offering not only our ears and support but also our willingness to change. In an effort to promote this type of dialogue, I posed two questions to women whose voices we need to hear: 1. What does feminism mean to you? and 2. What is your advice to white feminists on how to create a more inclusive movement? I received some incredibly thoughtful, smart, and important responses from these women, and will be sharing them with you over the next two days. PLEASE read and respond and share freely. It is time for us to listen.

raquelRacquel Henry, Writer and Editor (pictured left):

“Feminism to me means the right to choose. I frequently discuss this particular subject with my students. When I ask them what they think of when they think of feminism, the response is usually something along the lines of radical women who hate men. They think of women who prefer to work and don’t want to stay at home to take care of their families. I never tell them what to think, but I try to guide them to the idea, that feminists are not radical. Men can be feminists, too. A feminist is someone who believes that women deserve to have equal rights/pay, but can also choose whether they want to be a stay at home mom or be the CEO of a fortune five company. To me, a true feminist believes in empowering women to be the best they can be without judgement and regardless of their career choices.

My advice to white women on how to be inclusive would be to understand privilege. I myself didn’t feel that I fully understood what that meant until the recent political elections. I was always fed the idea that everyone has the same opportunity. But the truth is that there’s a gray area there. In fact, despite the fact that I’m a black woman, I’ve had a degree of privilege myself. I’ve experienced a lot of racism, but I am certain my experiences are totally different from another black woman’s. And it’s not just race. Women face inequality based on sexuality or because they’re disabled. I’d like white women to understand that my experience with gender inequality is probably different from my white counterpart’s. Every woman is going to have a different experience. We need to recognize that. There is so much more that women of color have to face other than simply not getting the job because they’re a woman. If we were all to examine our privilege and really listen to each other, then I think we could make real progress.”

vivelaresistance“Vive la Resistance” by Letisia Cruz

Letisia Cruz, Artist and Poet (who identifies as Cuban American rather than woman of color):

“Many of the struggles that we as women face and have faced are, of course, rooted in the issues of our time. But they are also rooted in our culture. And our culture has largely been one of exclusion, of suppression, and of judgement toward women. Currently, many of us are divided politically. Given the recent political climate and how passionate we all feel about our positions, this can strain the most rock-solid sisterhood. In my own family, we do not all see eye to eye. It’s a challenge (to say the least); even simple communication becomes difficult. But what I’ve come to realize is that we are women first. We must cultivate love toward one another. We must practice compassion. We must accept, protect, honor, elevate, and embrace one another. There can be no presumption, no ego, no superiority. We are women first. This is everything.

So, in answer to your question about what feminism means to me, as a Cuban-American girl growing up in a typical Cuban household, I was raised to respect tradition. But what is tradition? Tradition is the ritual that we instill in our daughters. Tradition reminds us that we carry the strength and will of our grandmothers. Tradition calls us to return to our roots—so that independent of race, religion or political affiliation, we are women first. We must stand together. This is what feminism means to me.”

Leave your thoughts in the comments section and check back tomorrow for part two.

“We Can Find the Way” – New Song from The BPRS!

I’m so pissed that our Representatives voted to screw us all over, to take away our access to affordable maternity care, mental health services, prescription drugs and oh so much more, all so that they and their rich friends can get a tax break. These are the people who turned their backs on us – make sure you remember their names in 2018.

Yes, I understand that the AHCA bill has many steps and changes to go through before it takes effect, I get that the Senate is “going to fix it,” but none of this changes the fact that these assholes let it pass through the House. The greed and selfishness is SO SICKENING.

But more and more of us are paying attention now. More and more of us are fed up. And more and more of us are taking action. I actually wrote the words to this new BPRS song during the Obama years and sadly, the angry parts about our capitalist society run amuck are even truer than ever. But you know what? So are the hopeful parts. We’ve got this, ya’ll. Don’t let your anger/sadness/fear negatively affect your day-to-day. Smile at people. Hold doors for them. Tell your friends and family you love them. Remind yourself of all the things you’re grateful for. Spreading love and building community are two powerful ways to resist. Stay strong.

Check out The Brooklyn Players Reading Society’s Bandcamp page to hear more of our music.

solidarity“International Women’s Day, Solidarity” by Giulia Forsythe / Creative Commons

We the People: Meet Whitney

whitneyName: Whitney Walker
Age: 23
Lives In: Auburn, Alabama
Ethnicity: European
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Butter Pecan

“Vet school is really hard but I like it, it’s interesting. Apparently, though, vets have a higher rate of suicide than any other profession. It’s Wellness Week here so they were handing out suicide prevention stickers today, and an email they sent said that one in six veterinarians will consider suicide. That’s nuts. An article popped up in my Facebook feed, I don’t know how credible it was, but it was talking about how when an animal comes in that’s really sick or can’t be cured and you can’t make it better, you euthanize it, you go ahead and put it out of its misery, and the article said that vets might associate that with their own life when they have a problem that they feel like they can’t fix. If I were an animal, this is how I would fix it. The article also attributed it to the stress. People don’t take the time out of their day to call someone and tell them they did a good job. People just don’t do that. They only call to complain, so if you’re taking care of someone’s animal that means the world to them and it didn’t go the way they wanted it to, that can be stressful. I luckily haven’t had to do it yet; it will definitely be the hardest part of the job.

whitneyelephants.jpgThe work I did in South Africa was kind of boring, to be honest. It was interesting to me because I got to do it in Africa, but the whole point of it was that trees were dying off and not coming back. I did preliminary research to see if it was worth investing more. Elephants can knock a tree down pretty easily, and they also smack their trunks against the trees and rip the bark off. If there’s a circle of missing bark, the tree will die. So, we set these traps to catch rodents to get an idea of what types of rodents were there and what densities, then we put them in enclosures to give them seeds and see if they would eat them because people were saying that rodents were eating the seeds and preventing new trees from growing. We mainly caught mice, rat and squirrels. It’s funny, when you think of Africa, people want to research lions, buffalo, rhino, not really the rodents. But what we found with the seed trials is that they do eat some of the seeds, so you can’t definitively say that they are eating enough seeds and that’s why the trees aren’t growing, but really it’s like, we did the research, they eat the seeds, it’s worth looking more into. It was really cool to be there. The first two weeks were not research, I was there on a study abroad course. We went around with a game capture specialist and caught buffalo, giraffe, we moved animals that’d been sold, it was really cool. Sometimes they relocate rhino, too, since they’re heavily poached. So, the first two weeks we were actually staying in tents. Sometimes you could hear animals walking around or a lion roaring way off in the distance. It was cool, but the scary part was if you had to go to the bathroom at night. But when I did the research, I stayed in a house. It was pretty cool to see everything and how they do it all.

whitneyvulture
Ideally, I would like to work in some type of wildlife rehab place or a zoo. At Auburn, experience with that is pretty limited – we don’t have a huge wildlife program, you have to get it in bits and pieces and then apply for internships and stuff like that. In one of my classes, we work hands on, one week we alternate and work with dogs and then the next week with cows. I was actually surprised by how much I liked working with the cow. It’s easier because whenever you’re working with cows, they’ve usually been brought up to a barn with their head in these metal bars so they can’t walk away from you. It’s more relaxing out in a barn, less stressful. With dogs, you can get an aggressive dog who tries to bite you, bite your techs, you sometimes have to muzzle it or even sedate it, so that can be dramatic. Cows can get stressed out, too, but it was easier. I liked it, but I wouldn’t want to just work with cows… It can be pretty hard to get into zoo medicine, so my back up is to work in a regular small animal clinic. I would want to get board certified in exotics so that I could work with birds, small animals like chinchillas; really anything other than a dog or a cat can be considered exotic. I mean, you don’t have to be board certified to see a rabbit, but if someone brought in a sick squirrel or something, that would be fun. So, we’ll see where it goes!”

~

Welcome to We the People, a column featuring stories and profiles of your fellow Americans because we the people of the United States need to meet one another. Click here to learn more.

We the People: Meet Alma

granny-1Name: Alma Massey
Age: 91
Lives in: Mt. Washington, KY
Ethnicity: English, Cherokee
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Chocolate

“I remember Henry Reynolds – he owned the farm – and that’s where I was born. There was a lady my mom knew that helped her when I was born so they named me after her. I never inquired about where she was from but I did always think it was a peculiar name.

By the time I was eight- or- nine-years-old, I was helping to set plants and so on. When the two oldest boys left, I guess I must have been fourteen, I started milkin’ the cows and helpin’ out with the other animals. And well, if we wanted a chicken to eat then someone had to go kill one. I didn’t always have to do it – the other boys helped with most of it – and we didn’t have one very often. But I took care of ’em, fed ‘em every night, so I did have to get one a few times. You had to catch hold of its neck, grab ahold of it real tight with your finger and thumb and then wring it around and around until about the third time when its head would pop off. It didn’t take much for the head to come off. It wasn’t too messy – most of the time it would just go floppin’ on the ground. I don’t remember ever liking the brains. The other kids did. My older sister, Helen, loved to eat ‘em with scrambled eggs. But I never wanted them – I don’t know why but it just didn’t feel right.

grannyheleninjailPretty much every time there was something to do, I was out there with the boys. Settin’ the tabacca and all. We’d set the plants out, battle the worms, and then pick the leaves later on. It was a pleasant life, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed just livin’, the time, that’s all.

My brother, Elman, he’d play the guitar and Helen would sing. My grandfather and my uncle played the fiddle, all the time, every day. Yep, they enjoyed it. I liked listening to it until it went on long enough, but now I’d give anything to hear it again. They played well, they really knew how to play. When it was pretty outside, they’d be on the porch, but a lot of times they’d be in the house playing. I never did play for real. I used to chord the guitar and sing, but that wasn’t much, you know. Elman could play the guitar really well.

I hadn’t really thought about my favorite part of working on the farm. But the Bill Monroe concert was a big event. We all had a big time there. He was a favorite for a long time. They came to the school and played, if I remember right. It didn’t cost much, maybe a fifth or sixth of what it would be now, you know, just a few dollars. I got to go with Elman and Helen and it really was one of the best nights of our lives.”

Welcome to We the People, a column featuring stories and profiles of your fellow Americans because we the people of the United States need to meet one another. Click here to learn more.