History Lost in History

Olga Bancic is the badass Resistance freedom fighter you need to know about

Olga Bancic was a force to be reckoned with. Her bravery and determination to always stand up for what was right should be an inspiration to us all. But who was she? Bancic was born in 1912 to a working-class Romanian Jewish family, and her life wasn’t easy. She began working in a mattress factory at the age of 12 in order to support her family. The conditions spurred her to join a workers’ union and participate in a strike. Despite her young age, she was beaten and arrested by strikebreakers, sparking her strong belief in workers’ rights. 

Bancic would later become a strong force in unionist and left-wing activism in Romania. She faced arrest and imprisonment multiple times, but never stopped fighting. 

As fascism started to spread throughout Europe, Bancic’s political activism ramped up. She joined the Spanish Republican cause, made up of liberal democrats, socialists, communists, and anarchists, to fight the fascist takeover of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. During that time, Bancic transported weapons and assisted soldiers at the front. She, unfortunately, had to flee in 1938 when it became apparent that fascist victory was in sight. She later moved to Paris where she met and married Alexandru Jar and gave birth to their daughter, Dolores.

Bancic was always a fighter, but it was during World War II that she truly became a hero. Since Bancic and her family were Jewish, they were in grave danger when Nazi Germans occupied Paris. She and her husband left their daughter with a sympathetic French family and took up arms in the French Resistance. They joined the FTP-MOI (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans de la Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée), a group of immigrants and refugees who fought against Nazi occupiers. She took part in dozens of acts of sabotage against the Nazis occupiers, working as a manufacturer and transporter of explosives as well as a messenger.

Unfortunately, authorities put an end to their Resistance activities in 1944, near the end of the war. As immigrants and political dissidents, they lacked the same kind of protection that other French Resistance members had. The Gestapo specifically targeted them, releasing propaganda posters denouncing them as foreign terrorists and calling for the arrest of the “Manouchian group,” so named after the group’s leader, Missak Manouchian. The French police worked with the Gestapo to arrest the fighters. Bancic and twenty of her comrades were arrested and tortured.

The courts handed down a death sentence to the entire group without a proper trial. As the only woman of the condemned group, she was executed separately from the other members. It was illegal to execute women on French grounds, so her captors cruelly executed her in Germany. Her husband and daughter survived the war and were able to keep her memory alive. 

Olga Bancic was a strong and tireless advocate for human rights. She sacrificed herself for a country that disowned her and refused to protect her. France was not willing to defend her rights as an immigrant and a Jewish woman, yet she gave her life to defend the citizens of France. She faced betrayal and hostility from her government, but she fought for those who couldn’t fight.

Bancic fought to secure a better future for her daughter and so many others like her. It’s hard not to tear up reading her last letter to her daughter. In the letter, she tells her not to cry because “I believe that your life and your future will be much happier and brighter than your mother’s.” Up until her last moment, she thought of the future she hoped to secure for her daughter. 

We can all learn from Olga Bancic who was willing to sacrifice everything to create a better future. She braved terrible factory conditions, antisemitism, police beatings, imprisonment, torture, warfare, and even death. She wanted to create a fair and peaceful world. 

We should honor her strength and conviction and know that she did not die in vain. Bancic’s story shows us that it is not only presidents and politicians who create history but ordinary people as well. This woman, a mother, a mattress-factory worker, a convict, and a hero, was braver than some of the most famous men of her time. The world would be better off with more Olga Bancic’s. It is up to us to give power to her memory.

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TV Shows History Pop Culture

I love history, but I can’t stand historical TV shows

I’m a big history nerd. I’m not only a history major, but someone who collects and wears historical clothes, who owns figurines of historical figures, who collects books on my favorite parts of history, and who played history games throughout my entire childhood. Studying history has always been a huge part of my identity, and one I’m still happy to include in my life today. But it’s probably time to admit it: I hate historical TV shows. As a history geek, I should love them, but it’s hard for me to stomach a single one.

These shows forget that people in the past did, in fact, have fun.

I have one main reason, and it’s that these shows are straight-up boring. The lighting is too dark, the costumes too beige and ugly, and every word of dialogue is spoken in a raspy whisper. Everything is so bleak it’s almost impossible to follow. Try watching The Medici or The Tudors. I have difficulty figuring out anything that’s going on. And don’t get me started on the lighting in The Crown. 

A disheveled white man with a beard and a loose top.
[Image Description: A dark-haired white man in a dark shirt] via BBC. This is how Da Vinci’s Demons dresses its protagonists — in dull, disheveled, and downright ugly clothing.
And trust me, I won’t hear the excuse that real life was just as bleak back then. As a keen student of historical costuming, I know that a lot of historical clothing was bright, extravagant, and sometimes just ridiculous. I admit it’s not the biggest issue, but it still rubs me the wrong way. I feel like these shows forget that people in the past did, in fact, have fun occasionally. You rarely see any entertainment or festivities in these shows, unless they’re doomed to go horribly wrong. You almost never see any characters genuinely laugh in these shows. Sure, living in the past was terrible in a lot of ways, but people still retained a sense of humor.

I’ll give you an example. I once made the horrible mistake of attempting to watch Da Vinci’s Demons, which loosely follows the life of Leonardo da Vinci, and encapsulates everything I hate about historical television. The show portrays Leonardo as a tortured, edgy womanizer, despite the fact that he was almost certainly gay and, by all accounts, a very pleasant person. Throughout the show, he almost exclusively wears dark, tattered shirts and dusty trousers, whereas the historical Leonardo wore brightly-colored tunics and tights. It might sound ridiculous to the modern viewer, but personally, I think we should acknowledge the absurdity of history. And let’s be honest, sometimes it’s easier to relate to people who don’t take themselves too seriously.

A brightly colored Renaissance painting of a wealthy, finely dressed family.
[Image Description: a Renassaince painting showing a group of people dressed in beautiful costumes.]This is how people in the Renaissance actually dressed! Short tunics, leggings, bright colors…it may not be as sexy, but it’s way more fun!
There’s also a lot of unnecessary drama in historical TV shows. I’ll admit, this trend strikes me as odd because there’s already so much drama in real history. Shows like The Tudors, The Borgias, The Last Kingdom, and The Medici like to make a big deal out of political battles and sex scandals, and rarely imbue these plot lines with any humor or humanity. Drama is important for entertainment’s sake, but we can still try and make the drama seem somewhat human. Most relationships aren’t built on stolen glances and steamy affairs. Why not portray these love stories with affection, awkwardness, and a tiny bit of down-to-earth humanity?

History isn’t all epic battles and heaving bosoms, a lot of it is everyday life.

Even the grand, epic battles are a little too dramatic for my sake. They ignore the disease, the squalor, and the sheer tedium of real-life battles. It might not be fun to acknowledge the unglamorous parts of history, but it makes for better television. If we’re going to relate to these historical figures, we need to at least see them as human.


Most historical TV shows seem totally unwilling to have any fun with history. They refuse to acknowledge that along with the drama and sadness of history, there’s also comedy and absurdity and awkwardness. Historical people were real human beings. Sometimes they wore ridiculous outfits, joked around with each other, and made awkward mistakes. History isn’t all epic battles and heaving bosoms, a lot of it is everyday life. I certainly don’t think these shows are evil, but they do make history feel so much more distant and detached than it really is.

We should remember that history has plenty of dimensions, some good and some bad, some funny and some serious, some totally normal and some downright weird. It doesn’t help to glamorize or romanticize history, but it doesn’t help to dull it down either. Historical figures were people too, and our television should at least recognize them as such. Besides, it’s more fun that way anyway.

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Mental Health The Pandemic Now + Beyond

Here’s how texting is giving us anxiety – and what to do about it

I have a confession: I’m tired of texting.

Not because I hate technology and certainly not because I think we need to go back to the old times. Rather, I just find it mentally exhausting.

After months of not seeing people regularly in person, texting is just slightly better than solitude at best and emotionally taxing at worst. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to break up with texting altogether, but maybe it’s time that we don’t treat it like the only form of online communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we need to break up with texting.

Before the pandemic, I preferred texting to other forms of social interaction. As someone with social anxiety, it was easier.

I’d have time to think about responses, I wouldn’t have to show my facial expressions and, if a conversation was awkward, I could just ignore it. I much preferred texting to the dreaded phone conversation, the most anxiety-inducing part of my life.

Texting saved me. It was my social crutch. I could second guess myself or start a thought over without appearing awkward. I could easily draft and edit my response to any interaction, and nobody would know.

For someone who struggled so much with socializing, texting was a godsend.

What I never realized was that, when texting is your only form of communication, it’s exhausting. Because of the pandemic, I couldn’t see people in person. And with only texting, it’s notoriously difficult to tell someone’s tone while they’re texting, which can make conversations feel awkward or inorganic. I also find it difficult to hold a casual conversation while texting.

When I talk to someone face to face — or phone to phone — we’re able to shift from subject to subject and talk about the most mundane things. With texting, I always feel like I need a purpose to start or continue a conversation. This makes it very difficult to keep up casual friendships. During my time in pandemic-induced isolation, those relationships started to slip away.

Texting turned from my refuge to one of my greatest anxieties.

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There are exhausting aspects to Zoom, Facetime, and Skype as well, but having face-to-face communication can feel so much more invigorating. Being able to see someone’s facial expressions and hand gestures, and hear their tone of voice makes such a difference. Being able to have an organic conversation, with plenty of twists and turns and digressions just feels more comfortable for me.

I never realized that, when texting is your only form of communication, it can be exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, I still like texting, and I’m not in favor of stopping it altogether. Still, we should stop treating it like the primary form of online communication.

Some of us need to be able to see a human face while interacting with others.

Texting turned from my refuge to one of my greatest anxieties.

Some of us just prefer the spontaneity of a talking conversation.

Texting is great, and it can be a lifesaver in certain situations, but it can’t be the only way we communicate. Technology is bringing us closer to real human interactions in an online setting, so we should take that opportunity. It makes a big difference.

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TV Shows Movies Pop Culture

I didn’t like horror movies until the pandemic — here’s why

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, I used to hate horror movies. It might be a social faux pas to say, but I didn’t see any merit in them. To me, they were just another unnecessary source of anxiety in an already anxiety-inducing world. Then the pandemic hit. Now, I don’t just like scary movies, I love them. I’d even go as far as to say I need them. But why?

I can’t quite answer that. What I do know is that horror movies have turned from a great source of anxiety for me to a kind of comfort or escape. The jump scares and ghost stories in horror movies seem so out of this world that it’s hard for me to be scared of them, especially when the real world is already so scary. It can be helpful to direct your anxiety into something not only fictional but so unworldly and absurd that you can’t imagine it happening in real life.

There’s been a pandemic outside for over a year now, and a whole host of political and human rights worries have both prolonged the pandemic, and been unearthed by it. Sometimes it’s nice to retreat into a world of haunted houses and demons from other dimensions, even if just for a moment. When I’m watching these movies, I’m more focused on ghosts than on the pandemic, and that’s a much-needed distraction.

Still, even if it’s easy to escape, it’s not always right. I think that part of the appeal of horror movies isn’t just how distant they are from the real world. They also appeal also because they represent the real world all too well. Media isn’t just a place to escape, but a place to reflect on the state of our society. We obviously can’t turn our backs on the real world forever.

For me, watching horror movies during quarantine helped me understand the world outside of me, even when I wasn’t able to experience it personally. There are clear-cut examples, such as Get Out or Us, which criticize racism and societal inequality, or Pan’s Labyrinth, which is essentially a parable for fascism. Even the ones without overt political messages can be commentaries on the state of our society. Films like It Follows and Scream are commentaries on the sexist tropes and slut-shaming present in a lot of horror flicks and turn those stereotypes on their head.

Horror movies are also very helpful for anyone dealing with isolation, anxiety, or uncertainty. Watching films like Midsommar or The Babadook, which feature women undergoing mental health crises while also encountering supernatural horrors, made me feel somewhat seen. Going through a mental health crisis can sometimes feel overwhelming and close to the supernatural. I’ll admit, seeing my struggles through the lens of a horror movie is actually really effective. Sure, it’s not realistic, but it still makes me feel less alone.

Horror movies were always unnecessarily stressful to me, and I couldn’t find any artistic value in them.  I admit that I was totally wrong. Part of me was just being pretentious, and part of me was still working through my own issues with anxiety. I don’t blame anyone who doesn’t like horror movies, because we all have our own tastes. Still,  I’m now proud to say that putting on a scary movie is comforting for me. Sometimes, the real world is confusing and scary, and watching a story about supernatural issues is easier than confronting real ones.

However, it goes deeper than just escapism. Horror movies actually help me conceptualize and challenge the real issues the world is facing. They’ve forced me to confront both my personal issues and the role I play in society. Scary movies started out as an escape and then became a wake-up call. They became a way for me to start understanding complex societal issues that were difficult to wrap my head around – to serve as a stepping stone for more nuanced discussions and ideas.

Of course, horror movies have gone above and beyond just being ‘scary’. In fact, it’s been pretty eye-opening for me. From stereotypical horror movies to ones that dissect issues like racism and feminism (I’m looking at you, Get Out and Jennifer’s Body), there truly is something for everyone – especially if by the end of the movie, you can’t sleep at night.

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Tech Science Now + Beyond

Science and technology is not the escape from Earth you think it is

The day the SpaceX mission launched, I opened my social media to find various posts from friends and family members all saying the same thing: “They chose the right time to go,” “I wish I could go to space now,” “Now is the perfect time to leave Earth!” I understood what people were saying. It was a tough week, fraught with reports of coronavirus infections, murder hornets, and brutal police killings of Black Americans. The rest of the year continued to face more and more concerns. Nonetheless, all these posts seemed somewhat off to me for a reason I couldn’t pinpoint.

Now, I recognize what that feeling was. Looking over the posts again, I realized that almost every single one was made by a white person, and none were written by a single Black person. It made me wonder: why do we think we have the right to escape this? Don’t get me wrong. I understand that escapism is a natural human desire, and it’s hard to blame people for wanting to escape from a global pandemic and a racist government. But at the same time, what good does escape do?

These posts also reveal another strange phenomenon: how we view science as separate from the “real world.” Space, technology, and science are often considered exempt from our human world’s biases, wholly infallible and detached from racism, corruption, and inequality. But this isn’t true. Technology informs government policies, provides tools to corrupt police forces, and sows seeds of classism and inequality. Science informs health and medicine, two very unequal sectors of our society–as this pandemic has shown with difficulties in distributing vaccines to the most in need. Even the United States Space Program was pushed forward out of Cold-War era political tensions, driven by political motive and power. This isn’t to say that science is inherently evil or corrupt, but that it has an incredible capacity for political and social change.

Human problems don’t end when we go to space. They just change location.

Science is and has always been a human endeavor. As long as humans are involved, it will take on the biases of the people who create and study it. For example, NASA is not free from human prejudice and politics. NASA’s workforce is still about 72% white, and only a third of the employees are women. SpaceX founder Elon Musk certainly isn’t free from prejudice as well. Musk has expressed some progressive views, but he’s also courted controversy by speaking out against coronavirus lockdownsspouting red pill rumors, and fighting union organizing. That doesn’t mean that SpaceX is necessarily racist or evil; it just means that the world of aerospace engineering is still capable of human biases.

These statements also show the wrong way we view science as totally disparate from our society. In reality, science and technology inform almost every aspect of our daily lives, from the information we receive daily to the medicine and hygiene we all need. Science is not separate from human endeavors but entirely integral to it. The world of science is not a detached fantasy world where one can ignore human problems. It is woven into every fiber of the world we inhabit now. We can use science and technology to create positive solutions, or we can ignore this opportunity and allow them to continue to enforce the status quo. Either way, we cannot ignore the impact of either of these sectors.

As attractive as it sounds, going to space will never be a true escape. People in space are still people, with all the biases, prejudices, fears, and traumas of people on Earth. Human problems don’t end when we go to space. They just change location. Science is an intrinsic part of every problem or solution that we have on Earth; it is not a distraction from our society but a fundamental aspect of it.

Most of us cannot go to space at this moment. It would be logically improbably and ethically wrong. Right now, the best thing we can do is stand our ground and stay on Earth. Hard as is it, we need you here, and now is not the time to run — or fly — away.

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Tech Race Now + Beyond Inequality

Gen Z is bringing cyberbullying back — or are they?

I had never visited Donald Trump’s Instagram page before but, when I went to check it for the first time, I found the oddest thing in the comments. Virtually every other comment was a teenager responding to his post with cyberbullying — yes, cyberbullying. All of these comments were various insulting puns with heart and fairy emojis. These comments tend to be witty bait and switches — “You made my day…worse!” or “You tried your best! Stop trying!” or other similar sentiments. Apparently, it got so bad that Trump turned off his comments. Some critics say that cyberbullying is back in a big way. But I don’t know if this is quite true.

What I do know is that members of Gen Z have been finding new ways to confront people online. Sometimes Zoomers will take aim at innocuous people they view as an easy target, such as millennial Buzzfeed readers or anime-loving band kids. Other times, they’ll go after peers and classmates. But something that has gained my interest is the “cyberbullying” of celebrities and politicians.

You might wonder: Is it cyberbullying if it’s a celebrity? Yes and no. Celebrities are still real people, as are politicians, and any form of harassment can hurt them. However, the act of bullying requires some kind of power imbalance.

Think of it this way: Back in school, bullies would usually target kids who were at least at their level or went after people they felt were less powerful. If a teenager on social media “bullies” the president, the same power imbalance isn’t there. The president isn’t a middle school child, even if he acts like one. He holds power over most of the population, meaning that the power imbalance necessary for bullying isn’t there. The same thing goes for other politicians.

What about celebrities? Well, from my experience, most celebrities who get “bullied” or “canceled” are targeted because of past problematic behavior. It can often be unfair, but most recently, people have been targeting celebrities who support Trump or refuse to speak in favor of Black Lives Matter.

One way this manifests itself is by pulling out “receipts” of racist incidents on social media. Within classrooms and college campuses, a similar pattern happens. Zoomers are perfectly willing to call out racist, sexist, and homophobic acts, especially if they can back up their claims with evidence. Most often, this involves digging up offensive social media posts or comments, rather than simply insulting someone. There are entire Instagram and Twitter accounts dedicated to exposing racists. Other generations might find it unusual, but it’s similar to the hate pages of millennials’ youth. The only difference is that these accounts have a social purpose.

These accounts function in a variety of different ways. Sometimes these accounts call for people to lose academic scholarships, college acceptances, or face disciplinary action for offensive behavior. Others have stated that they will remove the incriminating “receipts” if the person involved writes an apology or makes a donation to a relevant fund. In my experience, most just want to make sure that everyone is held accountable for their actions.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes these accounts go too far. Sometimes they “dox” the people involved and reveal personal information. Sometimes people go as far as to send death threats and hate mail. All of these actions constitute actual cyberbullying. However, we need to separate these actions: Sending death threats to a peer or exposing them to real harm is very different from simply calling them out for racist behavior. It’s certainly different from leaving a harmless comment with a fairy emoji on the president’s Instagram account.

Cyberbullying is alive and well, but so much of this so-called “political cyberbullying” is anything but that. Let me make one thing clear: Holding someone accountable for their reprehensible statements and actions isn’t bullying, it’s justice. We should all draw the line at doxing and threats, but it’s alright to hold people responsible for their actions. At the end of the day, let kids have fun with fairy emojis and puns, so long as they direct their mockery to the right people.

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Tech Now + Beyond

How AirPods reveal the classism of high tech

“He can’t hear you, he has AirPods in!” Most internet-savvy people are probably familiar with that joke, and the inevitable response, “I don’t speak broke.” I’ll admit, it’s a fun meme, and one that makes it easy to poke at Apple’s constantly shifting line of products. Regardless, this joke reveals something much more insidious about the inherent classism of our technology.

I remember the jokes we used to tell in high school. In gym class, all the other kids would put their phones in their locker so they wouldn’t get stolen. “You don’t have to,” classmates would joke, “you have an Android.” I’d often make the same joke about myself, but I never realized why. I remember that students with a PC or, god forbid, a Chromebook were always the butt of the joke. Students with a sleek MacBook Air or an iPad rarely garnered the same heat.

Even now, the technology we own has become a tool for reading into one’s class status. Owning an iPhone SE is very different from owning an iPhone X, especially at some colleges where many students come from wealthy backgrounds. The laptop you bring to class, the headphones you wear, and the phone you use all become class markers, even unwittingly.

I’ve heard many people talk about technology as “the great equalizer,” and that’s partially true. With further access to technology, it is easier for people to, say, fill out job applications, get a better education, and access information that wouldn’t otherwise be available. The fact that most Americans have a computer or a mobile phone is a testament to the importance of technology, as well as their increased availability. Nevertheless, we need to accept that we’ve allowed these essential products to become stratified. If phones and computers are truly a utility, or even a necessity, they shouldn’t be luxury items or class markers. We all need technology, so why stratify it?

This is where AirPods come in. I remember seeing firsthand how AirPods went from a mockery among younger people to a deeply coveted status symbol. With a high price tag and the Instagram influencer stamp of approval, it was widely popular. I remember coming back from winter break just last year to see that dozens of my classmates had the newest generation of AirPods. Just a few weeks before, only a handful of students owned them.

AirPods aren’t popular because they’re convenient. They’re easy to lose, difficult to charge, and can just be an overall pain. They’re popular because they’re a class symbol. By walking around with Airpods, one can signal to others that they are wealthy enough to afford AirPods and trendy enough to understand their value. Those who can’t afford them are simply left out of the loop.

The root of the issue isn’t AirPods themselves, it’s the fact that we have allowed technology to become a status symbol. Major tech companies are keenly aware of the designer status of their products. They’re the cause of the issue, but still, we as consumers are more than eager to play along with that. Even at a very progressive liberal arts college such as mine, technology equals status. It’s easy to forget that this status centers on wealth and class.

So what’s the solution? There really is no clear-cut answer. We could learn to value technology more for its functionality. We could refrain from judging others for the technology they use. However, the fault lies primarily at the hands of larger tech companies. Tech companies need to gain a better understanding of their social responsibility with regard to class and wealth. Perhaps they’ll begin to change their strategies to curb accessibility and elitism in tech. They might even be able to remove the stigma of low-cost tech and stop marketing tech products as designer products. Until then, I’m sticking with normal headphones.

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Health Science Now + Beyond

How scientific journalism caused, and healed, my hypochondria

TW: Discussion of mental health, cancer, illness.

Do I have cancer? Cancer symptoms? How do you know if you have cancer? As a sophomore in high school, I would Google questions like this day after day. I remember the anxiety rushing through my head, only worsened by the WebMD articles informing me that, yes, I did indeed have cancer. It took me a year to realize that I was wrong, but it was a long and stressful year.

At this point in my life, I wasn’t particularly educated on health or my body. I had taken health class in school, but we learned very little about our own bodies, and even when we did, it was vague and uninformative. In all five years of health class, we only learned about cancer once. My teacher told me that the primary signs were uneven lumps, unusual discharge, and wounds that won’t heal. At this point, I was convinced I had cancer.

Or so I thought I did. Totally ignorant about the functioning of my own body, I mistook my normal, healthy vaginal discharge for a clean sign of cancer. Once I took into account an odd (but benign) birthmark, a stubborn tonsil infection, and a few small cuts and bruises that wouldn’t go away, and I was certain that I had late-stage cancer. My stress over my apparent illness led to heart palpitations and migraines, which I took as signs that the cancer was spreading.

It probably sounds ridiculous. I agree that it does. It was only later, when I found out about hypochondriasis, that I understood what was happening to me.

To those who don’t know, hypochondriasis is a psychological disorder in which one develops chronic hypochondria. A person with hypochondriasis will assume that they are ill with a serious disease when they are not, and mistake any small ailment for a sign of a larger problem. Many people have experienced hypochondria, but for those of us with hypochondriasis, the anxiety is constant, chronic, and life-altering.

Anything can bring on a bout of hypochondria. For me, it was news articles about strange new diseases that could threaten one’s life or clickbait articles about sure signs of cancer. I’d find some way to match my own symptoms to the ones described, and subsequently spiral. It wasn’t an easy time.

However, I am proud to say that I eventually pulled through. Finally talking to my family about my symptoms helped me understand that my illnesses were normal and not life-threatening. When I eventually faced a serious illness earlier this year, my hypochondria all but disappeared. Once I understood what a serious illness felt like, nothing else could compare.

My hypochondria was a result of my health curriculum, “educational” health websites such as WebMD and “scientific” clickbait. However, science and medicine journalism also helped heal me. Whenever I’d have heartburn or a migraine, I’d calm myself down by reading about the actual mundane causes of these issues. I eventually came to realize that my “symptoms” were not at all symptoms of heart disease or cancer, but very common minor ailments.

Most of my health issues were stress-related, and once I realized this, I finally began to heal. I haven’t had a serious migraine or heart palpitations in a year now. I can thank my scientific research for this, but I can also thank my own strength. Understanding genuine medicine was a catalyst for me, but working on my mental health was just as important.

I still struggle with hypochondriasis, but I find myself improving every day. Mental illnesses don’t disappear overnight, but I’m learning to work through them and learn from them. In the midst of the pandemic, my lived experience is actually quite a blessing. Many of my friends and family members are now struggling with hypochondria themselves, and I’m able to help them work through their anxiety. It’s never easy, but I’ve found myself not only starting to heal, but also help heal others.

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Activism The World Inequality

Your activism in SWANA countries cannot start and end with Palestine

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of my white, non-Middle Eastern friends posting about Palestine and Yemen on social media. Some of the content has been about protesting recent annexations in Palestine, or the Israeli government. Others are about the famine in Yemen, though with very little political context. This is a good start, but honestly, I wish these allies would step up their game. Activism for SWANA people does not start or end with Palestine and Yemen.

I think it’s great that people are protesting imperialism by the Israeli government. However, I never see any of these people standing up for other colonized or oppressed groups in the Middle East. How many of you are standing up for the Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidi, or the Druze? Listen, as a Middle-Eastern person, I get that the intricacies of ethnicity in the Middle East can be complicated. Still, there’s no excuse to not stand up for these minority groups. All of them are fighting for human rights, dignity, and autonomy. Do their struggles not matter as well? Or are their struggles just not as popular? 

I’ve seen few posts about the media crackdown in Iran or the financial crisis in Lebanon – that is at least until the Beirut explosion opened people’s eyes to what’s happening in the country. Is it because these issues don’t seem as clear cut? Because it’s harder to project a white savior complex onto them? I’m not so sure.

But I do know that white Americans prefer to center conflicts where they can be the saviour.

Part of me thinks that white allies aren’t willing to speak out on these issues because there’s no media coverage. Another part of me thinks it’s because white allies don’t understand them. When it comes to issues of oppression and imperialism, white Americans have trouble seeing things outside of a Western context.

Race, ethnicity, and religion function in different and complex ways in South West Asia, and so you can’t project Western notions of oppression onto the Middle East. Often, people of the same race or religion oppress each other. It’s easier for white allies to understand Israel and Palestine, in which they are seeing white, Jewish, colonizers versus brown, Muslim, indigenous people. They don’t bother to look at the multitudes more nuanced examples of oppression.

For example, the Kurds, a majority Muslim ethnicity, face repression and violence from the Turkish government. They are often made up of Turks, who are also from a majority Muslim ethnicity. Just because they are both Muslim and appear to be the same ethnicity to Western eyes, doesn’t mean that oppression can’t function in this way. In Palestine, right now, a government made up of Jewish people is oppressive. Still, in most other countries in the area, Jewish people, specifically indigenous Mizrahi or Sephardic Jews, are oppressed by majority ethnic groups.

I’d ask white Western allies to examine why they only pay attention to certain issues. It’s great if you’re passionate about these causes, but consider why you only care about the ones that are trending.

It’s also important for white Westerns to not hold double standards for South West Asian countries. Go ahead and criticize the imperialism and ethno-nationalism present in the Israeli government. It’s justified. But don’t you dare ignore the settler colonialism that created countries such as America, South Africa, Australia, or the ethno-nationalism responsible for the formation of almost every European country.

Speak out for the treatment of ethnic minorities in Turkey, by all means. But you still must ask yourself how your own country treats ethnic minorities as well. If you’re upset over the media crackdown in Iran, make sure you also criticize secret police arrests in Portland.

Many white Western allies are making an effort, but they need to do better. I understand that Middle Eastern politics can be confusing, but it’s not helpful to anyone to reduce these issues to a singular “endless war” that only Westerners can solve. Palestine and Yemen are great starting points, but we need more consistent allyship. I want to see white Western allies show up even when it’s not trendy.

So stand with us even when you don’t hear about it in the news, even when you don’t gain “woke pains,” and even when it’s complex and not easy to understand. If you’re a real ally, it shouldn’t be an issue.


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TV Shows Movies Pop Culture

Why are plus size women always relegated to the comic relief sidekick?

We all know the trope. The main character is skinny, white, pretty. She can be goofy, but rarely at her own expense. Her love stories are the focus of the plot. She always has a funny sidekick, often a woman of color, and most commonly a plus-size woman. She’s there to provide emotional support and a witty one-liner or two. Think of Sookie in Gilmore Girls, who plays second fiddle to thin and quirky Lorelai Gilmore. Or think of Etta Candy in every incarnation of Wonder Woman. Even children’s shows, like Total Drama Island, Good Luck Charlie, and Austin and Ally repeat these tropes. Don’t fat women deserve better?

It’s nice to see fat women in the media, for once, but why do they always have to be funny? Almost every larger woman in TV or the movies is basically a walking joke. Sure, it’s gotten more diverse, but the representation itself has barely improved. Fat women are still relegated to comic relief or goofy sidekick. You might say we’re a long way from the Fat Monica gags on Friends, but that’s not true. Think about Insatiable, featuring Debby Ryan, which treats its main character as a joke until she loses weight. That’s the same formula, isn’t it?

Let’s consider some of the most popular plus-size actresses around now. Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson both broke into the mainstream years ago, and their popularity has rarely floundered. They’ve both been in dozens of TV shows and movies, usually playing comedic roles, which they do brilliantly. Rebel Wilson just recently had her first starring role in a romantic comedy, for which she garnered critical praise. Melissa McCarthy won an Academy Award for her dramatic lead role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? However, if you ask most people, they primarily think of them as comedic actors or side characters. Why is that? They’ve both shown that they have range, and both immense comedic and dramatic talent. They’ve both played lead roles. So why do we relegate them to comedic side characters when they’ve proven that they’re capable of so much more?

These two women are success stories, however. Most plus-size actresses never get the chance to expand into dramatic acting. Skinny comedic actresses have plenty of opportunities to break into dramatic acting, even if they’re not particularly talented actors. Skinny comedic actors also get totally different treatment. Actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Anna Kendrick are in plenty of rom-coms, but when they’re funny, it’s quirky and cute. They’re rarely the butt of a rude joke. Furthermore, these skinny comedic actors are able to break into dramatic roles with ease. Plus size actresses have to prove over and over again that they’re worthy of serious roles, whereas skinny actresses can easily transition from comedy to drama and vice versa. 

The problem I see with this is that plus size women constantly have to prove their worth to others time and time over to be taken even remotely seriously. They need to be funny and willing to make jokes at their own expense in return for our consideration. We require humor and self-deprecation from fat women, in return for the common human decency we all return. Fat women don’t need to put on a performance to earn their keep. They are capable of the same range of emotions and humanity as the rest of us.

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We deserve more fat women on television, and not just as comedic sidekicks.

I want fat women in periodic dramas, with pretty dresses and dramatic love triangles. I want to see fat women in rom-coms, having meet-cutes and falling for handsome heartthrobs. Let’s see some fat girls in coming-of-have fantasy stories, as the chosen one, as the hero.

Plus size girls and women have every right to just as beautiful, dramatic, and tragic as their skinny counterparts. For once, I’d like to see a version of Gilmore Girls where a plus size mother and daughter are the protagonists, and get to be cute and quirky and fun. I’d like to see a fat Wonder Woman too.

A woman’s value should never be dictated by her size, and that’s true in television as well as in real life. Let the big girls be the heroes for once. They deserve it.

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World News The World

Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

You probably haven’t heard about Armenia and Azerbaijan in the news. The two countries have been at war for decades, but the conflict is starting to heat up again. You might be wondering what on Earth this conflict is about, and why it even matters. All I can say is: it’s a complex issue, and it absolutely matters.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are both South-West Asian countries located in the Caucasus, a region that also includes Turkey, Iran, and Georgia. The people of Armenia are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the region, indigenous to the Armenian Highlands. They are almost always Christian. Azeris, who live in Azerbaijan, are from a Turkic ethnic group, who came over in the medieval times and established their homes in Anatolia and the Caucasus mountains. They tend to be Muslim.

The conflict is mainly over a contested territory known as Nagorno Karabakh to Azeris, and Artsakh to Armenians. Artsakh was historically a part of Armenia, but when the Soviet Union took over, they handed the land over to Azerbaijan to promote diplomatic relations with Turkey. The Soviet Union tried its best to increase the Azeri population of the region, and it was almost a quarter Azeri at its peak. After decades of war, however, the population is now about 99% Armenian. Azeris in Artsakh and Armenia have been systematically displaced, and Armenians in Azerbaijan have been forced to leave as refugees as well. 

The conflict began to heat up again earlier this month, when Azerbaijani forces invaded the border of Armenia. This is a turning point for both countries. Not only was a ceasefire in place, but the invasion took place in the border villages of Tavush. This is in Armenia proper, not in contested territory.

However, the real battle has been taking place within the diaspora, not on the front lines. In cities such as Baku, Moscow, and Los Angeles, Armenians and Azeris have been fighting on the streets. There have been assaults and vandalism. Protestors from both sides are burning flags and stepping on them. Azerbaijani protestors have even been crushing imports of Armenian apricots. 

A lot of the violence has been taking place over the internet as well. I follow a lot of Armenian meme pages, and I can see the fights going on in the comments sections. There are death threats and sexual assault threats, spamming of flag emojis, and nationalist chants. I’ve been most affected by Azeri trolls saying they hope to finish the Armenian Genocide. Listen, we all have our disagreements, but threatening to commit genocide and referencing our historic trauma is not okay.

As an Armenian-American, I’ll admit the issue is personal for me. Armenians have lost most of our historic homeland, and our land is very important to us. The population of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh is mostly Armenian and has declared itself independent of Azerbaijan, and I do believe in self-determination. I’m obviously disgusted by the fact that even uncontested land in Armenia is under attack. We are still reeling from the wounds of the genocide and the loss of our land, and it’s natural to have a complex emotional reaction.

However, I still feel for Azeri people. It’s horrible that so many of them have been displaced, assaulted, and killed, and I feel for them. It is the fault of Turkey and the Soviet Union, not the Azeris, for giving our land away so carelessly.  We both became pawns of greater colonial powers. None of these colonial powers are on our side. Both of us have been taught from a young age to hate each other, sometimes to the point of violence. The ignorance and hatred starts at a young age, and it can be hard to unlearn. We Armenians often attack them for their dictatorial government, but that’s not their fault. After all, aren’t they the main victims of this dictatorship? It’s so easy to forget that our “enemies” are human beings too. 

At least for me, I just want the bloodshed to end. I don’t want there to be more Baku Pogroms or another Khojaly Massacre. I’m not going to play the “both sides” argument, but we cannot ignore the fact that both of our groups have suffered immensely at the hands of this conflict.

I am not going to excuse the Azerbaijani government’s refusal to acknowledge the UN ceasefire. I cannot excuse the way that Azeris have carelessly called for a completion to the Armenian Genocide. However, I don’t think that our goal should be to win the war. It should be to have peace, for once. I know it’s naive, but someday I’d love for Armenians and Azeris to coexist someday, maybe in neighboring countries, and maybe even in the same one. We were born into this conflict, but we don’t have to let it continue. I don’t want the people of Azerbaijan to be my enemy, but it’s going to take work from all sides to create peace. If you want to do your part, sign these petitions to get Aid to Armenia and Artsakh as Azerbaijan breaches their borders  and stop Armenia from invading Azerbaijan’s land and killing Azerbaijani people.

If you want to learn more about the conflict, here’s some additional Reading:

Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict: Why Caucasus flare-up risks wider war 

De-escalating the New Nagorno-Karabakh War 

US silence on Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict reflects international disengagement

Global Conflict-Tracker

Armenia and Azerbaijan: Preventing War

Armenia and Azerbaijan: A Season of Risks

Armenia/Azerbaijan: Don’t Attack Civilians

Race Money Now + Beyond

Has #BlackLivesMatter changed the way we spend our money?

As Black Lives Matter protests heat up across the world, allies and activists have been confronting the issue of what constitutes a substantial change. Signing petitions, attending protests, and expressing solidarity are popular and important ways of enacting change, but they aren’t the only means of supporting the movement. The question is, how do we go beyond posting a black square and make a tangible change? Perhaps through our money.

Some would say the best thing to do is open your wallets. More than anything, these waves of Black Lives Matter protests have made us consider where our money goes. Race and economics have always been deeply connected in the United States and worldwide. The average Black American family only owns about 10% of the wealth as the average White American family. Redlining, segregation, and job discrimination have exacerbated the economic divide that sparked from slavery. Reparations for enslavement would total billions of dollars today, but that money has not materialized. Black families have been more deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as overpricing in low-income communities.

At the end of the day, money speaks.

Donations have been a greater presence in this wave of protests than before. Allies and activists alike have pushed for others to donate bail funds, funeral funds for Black victims of police brutality and transphobia, and Black Lives Matter organizations. Two bail funds in my city of Philadelphia have raised over $1.8 million in the past weeks. The Minnesota Freedom Fund alone raised over $35 million. While there’s controversy about how these organizations will use the money, there’s no denying the importance of the overwhelming display of support. At the end of the day, money speaks.

The importance of money goes far beyond just donating. The movement has called into question who we buy from, and who we should buy from. Recent comments from CEO’s of companies, such as CrossFit, have revealed the racist prejudices behind these popular corporations. Many supports of the BLM movement have realized that it doesn’t make sense to support BonAppetit if it does not adequately pay its contributors of color, or to give money to companies such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s who do business with the Trump family. The movement has become an important wake-up call that our purchases do not exist in a vacuum. Obviously, in our current economic system, it is near impossible to avoid giving money to problematic or exploitative companies. Still, the BLM movement has prompted an important examination of where our money goes.

Another way to support the movement is to support Black-owned businesses of every type. This could mean buying from a local Black-owned bookstore instead of from Amazon, to buy from Black clothing designers instead of outfitters like Dollskill and Urban Outfitters, which infamously steal from BIPOC designers, or to buy food from Black-owned restaurants. It’s immensely important to support POC-owned businesses, especially BIPOC-owned businesses, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, many restaurant owners of color, especially Black restaurant owners, had trouble securing government loans for small businesses affected by the coronavirus. Considering the financial impact of the pandemic now is an incredibly important time to support these small businesses.

The BLM movement has prompted an important examination of where our money goes.

I’ll give a personal example. I live in the Philadelphia area, one of the most diverse cities in the United States. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most segregated and has some of the highest income inequality. A new mobile app called Black and Mobile offers an innovative solution. Black and Mobile is a food delivery app by Black developers, which delivers food exclusively from Black-owned restaurants, and employs Black drivers to deliver the food.

Of course, money isn’t the be-all and end-all of the movement. Throwing money at an issue will never fix it entirely. We have a long way to go before we unlearn racism and uproot the racist systems that be. Nonetheless, we need to recognize the importance of money in anti-racist work.

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