Being an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds

For many in my generation, we’re living through our first period of social uprisings as adults. But unlike our parents and grandparents, most of our community organizing takes place behind a glowing screen.

As a millennial, my peers and I are often known for being apart of the social media generation. Scoffs and sighs from our elders about being on our phones too much go unnoticed because most of us aren’t playing Farmville on our phones (I’m looking at you 50-year old man on Facebook.) Instead,we’re starting social revolutions with hashtags, retweets and viral videos.

It’s our generation who helped push the #NeverAgain movement into the national spotlight. It’s our generation that forces people to see viral videos of black men being  subjected to use of excessive force by law enforcement and demand things change. It’s our generation who, for the first time in history, have unprecedented access to people from around the world to engage in honest conversations about race, gender and sexuality on Twitter.

But with all of the good that comes from living with everything at the click of a button, it’s our responsibility to dig deeper into the motives, meanings and message behind being an ally to people from diverse backgrounds and groups. Because retweeting, sharing and liking isn’t enough.

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The Community Tool Box, a free, online resource for those working to build healthier communities and bring about social change, has great resources for those looking to build on becoming an ally. In the tool box “Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds,” they give amazing tips for people looking to dissect through the right and wrong ways to be an ally.

“If you are not a member of a particular cultural group, you have a role to play that is different from the members of that group. You may be able to intervene and be effective in supporting the group in ways that the group members may not.”

Well, what is an ally according to the Community Tool Box? An ally is any person who supports, empowers, or stands up for another person or a group of people. Basically, everyone has needed an ally in their life before. When you break it down, it’s needing someone to help you when you were unfairly blamed, targeted or left without resources.

It is in our own self-interest to be an ally. In the long-run, each of our own struggles is tied to everyone else’s. In order to live in the kind of communities we hope for, in order to build real unity, and in order to reach our goals of building strong communities, we need to understand that we are all affected when any one person or group is not getting a fair deal or is not able to live a normal decent life. Second, being an ally is simply the right to do. If we want to live in communities that have a high moral standard, we ourselves need to start the ball rolling by doing what is right. – Community Tool Kit 

Before diving in the deep end and resorting to playing savior to every marginalized group, it’s important to do a self-audit to see where you are coming from and examine your own biases.  I am a straight, white-passing female from a middle class background. I do not know the experiences of those from marginalized races, sexualities or economic classes. And it is not my place to speak on behalf of anyone in these communities.

But my privilege and place in these majority groups doesn’t mean I am disqualified from having a voice in the fight for equality. It’s the way I use my voice that matters.

MTV Decoded did an amazing job explaining this concept in a video called “White People Whitesplain Whitesplaining,” where they discuss the importance of allowing people from minority groups speak for themselves.

“Whitesplaining — to explain or comment on something in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner, from the perspective of the group one identifies with, thereby clearly exhibiting their own bias,” wrote Jade Green, Huffington Post columnist.

It’s through the process of whitesplaining and all the various forms it can be used that being an “ally” can actually do more harm than good in the long run.  Even with the best intentions, the act of speaking on behalf of someone in a marginalized community perpetuates privilege and amplifies your voice instead of those who are directly affected by discrimination.

We must resign to the notion that we don’t know what we don’t know. If you haven’t experienced discrimination about your sexuality – don’t tell someone in the LGBT community how to react if they are harassed on the street for holding their partners hand. If you haven’t grown up fearful of law enforcement and the use of excessive force because of your race –don’t compartmentalize someone who has as “disrespectful” for being unbecoming to the police.

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Why shouldn’t you become an ally? (Community Tool Kit: Section 5. Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds”)

Being an ally isn’t to boost your ego or to relieve guilt you may feel about being in a privileged group. And it’s definitely not about playing the savior to all marginalized groups. As allies, we need to look deeper at the historical context of a groups oppression, come to terms with how our privileged groups may have led to their societal discrimination and at the baseline be an ally for the good of morality of our communities. Just as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said ““Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

 

ANXIETY AND I

Whether I knew it or not, I’ve always been an anxious person.

 Growing up, I always remember being worried about something. My weight, what my friends thought of me, doing well in school or if Nick Jonas would ever truly love me. All normal things young adolescents would worry about.

For so many years, I never acknowledged my anxiety in a healthy way or at all. At the baseline, I didn’t even recognize I had an anxiety disorder until  I was hooked up to an EKG in my doctors office at 20 years old because I had a crippling feeling as if someone was sitting on my chest and felt as if I was on the edge of tears all the time. No matter how many times I meditated, took long deep breaths, or went for a run – I couldn’t escape an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness.

I passed my EKG test but scored incredibly high on a written form given to me for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The questions on the form asked if am easy to feel on edge or become easily annoyed. It touched on overeating, not being able to relax and worrying about a lot of things at once. It was the first time seeing the way I had felt, in various degrees throughout my life, outlined on paper. I was relieved, horrified and hopeful. I was relieved to see I wasn’t going crazy, horrified that I had scored so high on these tests but then hopeful after a discussion about different medications I can take to help with my anxiety on a daily basis.

In order to give you a better understanding of how I came to be hooked on a machine in my doctors office, lets go back to high school. During those four years is when my anxiety first appeared as I had lost friendships and became aware of my place within high school society.  I began to isolate myself as friends I once had shifted their into their new groups. I spent almost every weekend with my parents watching Dateline or in my room on the computer. At the time, I remember feeling comfortable in this isolation because I felt safe and free of the anxiety I felt at school.

Often times, when I remember specific events from high school I can feel just as low as I did then. Whether it’s small things like walking in the hallways feeling incredibly self conscious or during lunch my junior year when I didn’t know anyone well enough to sit with  so I spent the hour in my beloved photography teachers classroom while she taught class. She gave me a space of relief when I felt the most self conscious and anxious about my identity.  I’m not exaggerating when I say she was a beacon of comfort and reliance for me during high school and I don’t think I would have survived without her.

Transitioning into college, my social anxiety had gotten better with the promise of meeting new people and being able to start fresh. I came out of my shell, said “yes” to hanging out with new people and tried my hardest not to resort back into the comfort of my dorm room when I felt anxious. I also started taking anxiety medicine which has helped me more than I can ever put into words. That being said, it’s important to stress how hard a transition like that can be. It’s not an easy task to recognize, address and work on the way anxiety manifests itself in your life – both good and bad.

For the good,  I’m very honest with my friends and family because I often worry about people being dishonest to me so I make an effort to be as transparent as possible. My mind is always wondering which has given me a sense of curiosity to seek out new ideas, concepts and viewpoints.  I am also very self aware. I can see how my actions and words have a deep effect on the people I interact with because I remember the way people treat me and the words that have been said to me both negative and positive.

At the same time, I can be easily pushed on the edge, I  always find something to worry about no matter how small and am fearful of a tragic event happening to me or someone I love. It has kept me from running outside in broad daylight because I am afraid I will get kidnapped or being afraid to be at home alone, at 22 years old, because something bad might happen. I’m always aware of my surroundings to a point that it becomes a mental burden on my daily life worrying something might happen to me.

At this stage in my journey, I have come to realize that anxiety doesn’t have a black and white cause or timeline. It varies for everyone in degrees, the way it manifests itself and how people cope with it. For me, I am fairly new in my journey in anxiety. Many people have been dealing with anxiety since their age was a single digit and to a higher degree than what I am dealing with. But that doesn’t invalidate what I have gone through due to anxiety. We are all dealing with something no matter how big or small. No matter what you are feeling, there is someone out there going through the same thing. If you resonated with anything I have gone through know I am right there with you. Having a community you can rely on is so important on this journey and I am here, among many others, as a community for you.

 

A Lesson on Intersectionality from The Radical Lesbians

If you were to think back to the major feminist movements in American history, what images of women come to mind? Do you think of women of color from various gender, sexuality and class backgrounds? Or is your initial image of middle to upper class, straight, white women? If your answer was the latter, don’t feel bad.

You’re right.

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The Women’s Rights Movement of the 1970s  saw primarily white, straight middle class women at the forefront of the movement.

Throughout all of the Women’s Rights Movements in American there has been a noticeable lack of diversity among the women. For the most part, the issues brought fourth by the marches affected primarily whitestraight, upper-class women and excluded issues affecting women of color, lesbian women and women from lower economic classes.

While all women should be commended for standing up for their rights in the face of injustice – we need to remember that many of the women involved in the leadership of the Women’s Rights Movements in the 1920s and 1970s used the same tactics as their male oppressors to silence the voices of their fellow marginalized women.

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The January 21st 2017 Women’s March on Washington

And that was their biggest mistake. Silencing the voices of women across gender, sexuality and economic backgrounds led to the movements problem with inclusivity that follows the movement today. It’s the voices of the collective woman who will propel  us forward toward equality for all women.

While researching this topic, I was interested to hear the complaints  from the women who were silenced and hear their perspective on the issue of diversity within the movement. And that led me straight to the Radical Lesbians.

In 1970, a group called The Radical Lesbians distributed a letter “The Woman Identified Woman” to declare how angry they were about lesbian speakers being excluded from the Congress to Unite Women in New York City and the social structure of lesbians and people of color from being excluded from a movement that directly affected them.

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The “Woman Identified Woman” pamphlet distributed by the Radical Lesbians in 1970

The letter came out in the years following the civil rights movement when women were empowered by the social and political change they had seen happen for the African American community. But at the time, the voice of the women’s movement didn’t include women of color or women from various sexual and gender identities. And the  Radical Lesbians had enough. 

“It should first be understood that lesbianism, like male homosexuality, is a category of behavior possible only in a sexist society characterized by rigid sex roles and dominated by male supremacy,” the letter read.

The letter was a call to arms for women to stop excluding lesbians and people of color from the movement and to break down the barriers men created to tear apart women because lesbians weren’t seen as “real women.”

“For women, especially those in the movement, to perceive their lesbian sisters through this male grid of role definitions is to accept this male cultural conditioning and to oppress their sisters much as they themselves have been oppressed by men.”

Reading the letter forced many feminists re-evaluate their intentions and the broader role of their mission – to make major changes to society that sought to oppress all women. One could argue that this is the exact reason the Radical Lesbians chose their name because they believed that the feminist movement would not be successful if they played by the rules and continued to exclude women from the mission.

“It is the primacy of women relating to women, of women creating a new consciousness of and with each other, which is at the heart of women’s liberation, and the basis for the cultural revolution.”

Just as the Radical Lesbians said,  women relating to women and coming together to be a voice for change is the heart and soul of the women’s liberation movement. It is my hope that in the years to come, when we see more women’s rights movements popping up around the county that women from all backgrounds choose to empower the voices of their sisters who have historically been silenced by men and women alike.

 

 

Reflecting on Black History Month

As Black History Month comes to an end, our acknowledgement toward the struggles of African Americans should not. We must continue to appreciate and honor those in the African American community who have fought and continue to fight tirelessly for the basic rights of personhood within our societal fences of white supremacy. It’s my personal belief that we need to learn from black voices not just during this month but all year long.

In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of 12 stories, one for every month of the year, from African Americans, past and present, whose achievements I’d like to acknowledge for their unabashed commitment to civil rights. Many of their accomplishments have gone underreported in the media. We have a lot to learn from the black experience in America and these are just a few of their stories.

1. Claudette Colvin – The First Rosa Parks

 

Colvin, 15, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama nine months before Rosa Parks did the same. On March 2, 1955, Colvin was taking the bus home from high school when the driver ordered her to give up her seat, according to NPR.  Colvin refused, saying she paid her fare and it was her constitutional right, but was then arrested by two police officers. Colvin later became the main witness in the federal lawsuit Browder v. Gayle, which ended segregation on public transportation in Alabama. 

(Original biography Marie Claire). 

2. Ella Baker – The woman who propelled MLK into the national spotlight

 

Baker was a civil rights activist who worked for a number of civil rights organizations throughout her lifetime. In 1957, she was asked to help organize Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and also helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, which became one of the biggest human rights advocates in the country. “You didn’t see me on television, you didn’t see news stories about me,” Baker said of her role in the civil rights movement, the Times reports. “The kind of role that I tried to play was to pick up pieces or put together pieces out of which I hoped organization might come.”

(Original biography Marie Claire). 

3. Miss Mary Hamilton – The Honorific Leader

 

In the Supreme Court Case, Hamilton v. Alabama,  the court held that an African-American woman, Mary Hamilton, was entitled to the same courteous forms of address customarily reserved solely to whites in the South and that calling a black person by his or her first name in a formal context was a form of racial discrimination. Miss Hamilton was the spearhead for the way our court system was to use honorifics for all persons.

(Original Biography Wikipedia.)

4. SIDNEY POITIER – The Award Goes To…

 

Born to poor farmers in the Bahamas but later moving to New York, Sidney Poitier came from nothing, but achieved the unimaginable for black actors of his day he became a leading man in Hollywood. Sidney was determined to make opportunities for African-Americans and did so by performing outstandingly as an actor, gaining a respected reputation. Eventually he went on to become the first black actor to win an Oscar for a leading role in “Lilies of the Field.”

(Original Biography).

5. Daisy Bates – The Little Rock Nine + Ms. Bates

 

Bates became president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and played a crucial role in the fight against segregation. In 1957, she helped nine African American students to become the first to attend the all-white Central High School in Little Rock, who became known as the Little Rock Nine. The group first tried to go to the school on September 4. A group of angry whites jeered at them as they arrived. The governor, Orval Faubus, opposed school integration and sent members of the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school. Despite the enormous amount of animosity they faced from white residents of the city, the students were undeterred from their mission to attend the school.

6. TA-NEHISI COATES – The 21st Century Leader

 

Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates is an American author, journalist, comic book writer, and educator. Coates is a national correspondent for The Atlantic, where he writes about cultural, social and political issues, particularly regarding African Americans. His raw and engaging essays about the black experience in America sets him up to be a James Baldwin in the making.

7.  JAMES BALDWIN – The Writer

Baldwin, an acclaimed writer and novelist, broke literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his works. He was known for his essays on the black experience. As a child, he cast about for a way to escape his circumstances. As he recalls, “I knew I was black, of course, but I also knew I was smart. I didn’t know how I would use my mind, or even if I could, but that was the only thing I had to use.” By the time he was fourteen, Baldwin was spending much of his time in libraries and had found his passion for writing.

(Original Biography).

8.  SHIRLEY CHISHOLM – The Congress of the United States of Shirley

9. Fannie Lou Hamer – The Summer of Ms. Fannnie Lou Hamer 

 

Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist whose passionate depiction of her own suffering in a racist society helped focus attention on the plight of African-Americans throughout the South. In 1964, working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Hamer helped organize the 1964 Freedom Summer African-American voter registration drive in her native Mississippi. At the Democratic National Convention later that year, she was part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an integrated group of activists who openly challenged the legality of Mississippi’s all-white, segregated delegation.

(Original Biography).

10. THURGOOD MARSHALL – The HonorablE Judge Marshall

 

Thurgood Marshall  was an American lawyer who was appointed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1967. He was the first African-American to hold the position and served for 24 years, until 1991. Marshall studied law at Howard University. As counsel to the NAACP, he utilized the judiciary to champion equality for African Americans. In 1954, he won the Brown v. Board of Education case, in which the Supreme Court ended racial segregation in public schools.

(Original Biography).

11. JESSE OWENS – The One Who Humiliated Hitler 

Jesse Owens also known as “The Buckeye Bullet,” was an American track and field athlete who won four gold medals and broke two world records at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. When Owens finished competing, the African-American son of a sharecropper and the grandson of slaves had single-handedly crushed Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy.

(Original Biography)

12. RICHARD PRYOR – The Comedic Relief 

 

Pryor was an American stand-up comedian, actor, and social critic. Pryor was known for uncompromising examinations of racism and topical contemporary issues, which employed vulgarities and profanity, as well as racial epithets. He reached a broad audience with his trenchant observations and storytelling style and is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential stand-up comedians of all time.

(Original Biography).

Parkland Florida Mass Shooting: No More Thoughts and Prayers

On Valentines Day, the United States proved yet again that the second amendment is more important than the safety of American school children.

We let 17 high schoolers die because the backbone of the American government refuses to take action on gun control reform in a country that has the highest rate of mass shootings in the world.

That is why I am incredibly comfortable saying that member of congress who voted against gun reform is complacent in these violent, senseless and all too familiar murders.

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Students walk in line after being evacuated from Parkland High School

A common rebuttal to this argument is that the problem isn’t the amount of guns but the mental stability of the people pulling the trigger.

You’re right, guns can’t shoot themselves.

But without the unprecedented access given to terrorists to buy guns at high quantities with unchecked amounts of magazines used in mass shootings – America wouldn’t be synonymous with this kind of unspeakable violence.

Addressing the “mental stability” excuse commonly used after mass shootings – a study referenced in Politico found those with serious mental illness are responsible less than 1 percent of all gun-related homicides annually in the United States and 14.8 percent of all of the mass shootings.

Blaming mental illness when talking about mass shootings is a copout.

We need to address the real and ugly issue at hand.  America is complacent in these mass shootings due to the unprecedented access to firearms for practically anyone who wants to buy a gun.

If we had stricter gun control laws, there would be no Sandy Hook. There would be no Columbine. There would be no Las Vegas. There would be no Parkland High School.

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Graph from L.A Times showing Parkland, FL in relation to America’s worst mass shootings

As humans first and Americans second , we can no longer fuel our moral high ground by simply spreading “thoughts and prayers” on social media in an effort to prove to our friends and family that we care about these kids lives.  If you are serious about your empathy and disgust at these mass murders then you need to combine your thoughts and prayers with action.

If you actually care, you will show up and vote in 2018 elections for candidates who support gun control reform. You will write to your congresspeople, everyday, and demand they take action on this epidemic.  You will support non-profit organizations, like EveryTown, that work to end gun violence and build safer communities.  You will not forget this mass shooting next week when the media coverage slows down. You will speak up about issues that matter.

If you remain silent, I will take your silence as complacency and that the mass murder of American children isn’t an important issue to you.

 

The Cultural Importance of K-Pop

Warning: I’m about to geek out really hard on this post about my love for K-Pop.

For the last year or so I’ve been listening to music, watching Youtube videos and consuming media in a language I don’t understand – and I love every second of it.

I’ve always loved branching out in all areas of my life and consuming media outside of my cultural bubble here in the Midwest. I had heard about K-Pop through acts like PSY and his record-breaking song “Gangamn Style” in 2012. But it wasn’t until one day when I was watching a Buzzfeed video where people were reacting to Korean Pop, commonly referred to as K-Pop, music videos that I began to fully understand the enormous impact Korean music has around the world.

In the video,  “Call me Baby” by EXO was one of the featured songs people were reacting to. And I was completely enthralled. If you’ve never seen a K-Pop music video you are in for the ride of your life.

The amount of time, money and synchronized choreography was something I’ve have yet to seen in Western music. The video was a collection of what seemed like a million beautiful, well-dressed Korean men dancing their hearts out to a song I genuinely enjoyed. I played that song on rotation for weeks and it was the entrance into my journey into the world of K-Pop.

These past few months I’ve been obsessed with the K-Pop band BTS who have broken records as one of the most successful K-Pop groups to break America.

BTS, a seven-member group of Korean men in their mid-twenties, were the first K-Pop group to win a Billboard Music award in 2017 beating out acts like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and were the most tweeted-about artist of 2017 on social media.

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BTS: J-Hope, Jin, RM, V, Jungkook, Jimin and Suga

That is unprecedented.

So, this begs the question: How does a K-Pop group like BTS that has only one member who speaks English, tap into the hearts of fans around the world?

One word: Their ARMY.

That is what their fans are called. Online they live up to their name with millions of dedicated fans who help translate their music videos, lyrics, interviews and tweets so fans around the world can enjoy their music.

My love for this genre of music has made me reflect on the importance of music to allow fans to get a outlook on a culture and country they may not have otherwise been interested in learning about. The cliche that music has no language is incredibly pertinent in the world of K-Pop.

It’s not uncommon for their fans to learn Korean, educate themselves on the culture and Korean way of life in an effort to better understand the members of their favorite band. It’s something you didn’t see many fans doing when other popular boybands like One Direction were at the height of their popularity.

Maybe it’s because the customs and culture of the U.K are more prevalent around the world. Regardless, international fans have been introduced to much more than the music of Korea – they are educating themselves about the culture and customs of a population that is wildly different than their own.

And thats a good thing. Branching outside of our cultural bubble is something we all need to do in order to expand our worldview and become more empathetic and understanding of people who are different than us. If listening to music in a different language is the entry point into an expansion of ones cultural awareness – I’m all for it.