13 must read books to become involved in social justice activism

Social justice activism and aiming to bring about change doesn’t happen overnight. However, one misconception that many people have about social activism is that they always view it in a political light. That is not always the case. 

Reading a book to me is like discovering a new purpose, finding something to ponder upon and just being able to reflect on someone else’s viewpoint and reflect. I recently read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, a book on social justice activism that revolves around a 16-year-old, trying to make terms with her high-class school while dealing with the reality that brings her back to the narrow streets of her neighborhood.

I was intrigued to read this fictional account of Starr Carter who had to suffer from the trauma of watching a close friend getting shot before her eyes. Thomas beautifully deals with the complexity of standing up for your values from a young age.

In search of more such social justice activism books, I have listed down 13 books that will easily become any social justice activist’s absolute favorite in no time:

1. Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams

social activism
[Image Description: Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams] via
Leadership is hard but convincing others about what you believe in is harder. This is a handbook for everyone looking to work towards combatting the challenges that hinder women, people of color, the working class, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and millennials, who are ready to make a change. With the help of her insights, Stacey manages to break down how ambition, fear, money and failure function in leadership, going hand-in-hand.

Get it for $15.64 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

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2. Internment by Samira Ahmed

social activism
[Image Description: Internment by Samira Ahmed] via
Written by the bestselling author of Love, Hate, & Other Filters, the book follows Layla Amin, a Muslim-American who leads a revolution when she and her family are forced into an internment camp in the United States. Internment will inspire you to reflect upon Islamophobic rhetoric and politics, ensuring this scenario remains a work of fiction.

Get it for $10.11 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

3. Front Desk by Kelly Yang

social activism
[Image Description: Front Desk by Kelly Yang] via
Mia Tang, the main character of the books has a lot of secrets. Front Desk is all about Tang’s courage, kindness and the hard work she shows to get through whatever comes her way. How she can hold on to her job while chasing her dreams, is for you to read and find out for yourself.

Get it for $7.35 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

4. Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis

social activism
[Image Description: Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Y. Davis] via
This handbook is more of a collection of essays, interviews and speeches. Davis brings her perspective of working for civil rights advocacy to present-day movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) and prison reforms to the forefront through this compilation.

Get it for $14.67 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

5. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin

social activism
[Image Description: Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin] via
The author turned photographer Kuklin interviewed six transgender to represent them thoughtfully for this book. The book is full of portraits, family photographs and candid images that augment the emotional journey of each one of them. Each discussion, whether joyful or heartbreaking, is completely different from the other.

Get it for $11.95 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

6. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

[Image Description: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo] via
White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable and triggering. These triggers may include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear and guilt. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium which this book depicts perfectly.

Get it for $14.72 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

7. A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara

[Image Description: A Is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara] via
Targeted for children, this illustrated book can come in handy for everyone, considering how ill-informed some people are despite easy access to information. Every letter is the definition of a different social movement. For F — you learn about Feminism, when we get to G –  you can learn about the meaning of grassroots organizing and why it is important. Learn ABC, the social justice activist way!

Get it for $10.99 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

8. As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker

[Image Description: As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker] via
This historical take on how the indigenous people have fought for environmental justice will bring back the social activist inside you to life. Journalist turned scholar Whitaker puts into perspective everything. From treaty violations to the efforts to protect sacred sites, you won’t want to stop reading.

Get it for $14.72 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

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9. Social Justice Activist by Ellen Rodger

[Image Description: Social Justice Activist by Ellen Rodger] via
Social Justice goes beyond individual human rights. Young budding social justice activists will get a sense of how the words and contributions of activists like Nelson Mandela and Marian Wright Edelman inspired others to choose the path of what is right.

Get it for $8.95 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

10. Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel

[Image Description: Hands Up! by Breanna J. McDaniel] via
Hand up is a story of a black girl who has a habit of raising her hands regularly, be it for playing peek-a-boo or getting dressed. As she grows older, the girl uses the action of raising her hands for a more powerful cause. Read this book out to children to help them understand the meaning of empowerment.

Get it for $16.55 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

11. Friendship as Social Justice Activism by Niharika Banerjea, Debanuj Dasgupta, Rohit K. Dasgupta and Jaime M. Grant

[Image Description: Friendship as Social Justice Activism by Niharika Banerjea, Debanuj Dasgupta, Rohit K. Dasgupta and Jaime M. Grant] via
This compilation of essays brings essential conversations around love and friendship together, from a variety of contributors from across the globe. Each essay narrates how living and organizing within friendship circles and kindness offer new ways of struggling for social justice.

Get it for $42.00 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

12. Technology, Activism, and Social Justice in a Digital Age by John G. McNutt 

[Image Description: Technology, Activism, and Social Justice in a Digital Age by John G. McNutt] via
This book offers a close look at both the present and prospects of social change. McNutt delves into the cutting edge of the latest technology while discussing developments in social media, civic technology and leaderless organizations, not leaving behind the traditional approach to technology.

Get it for $36.95 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores.

13. Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America by Noah Rothman

[Image Description: Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America by Noah Rothman] via
This book is all about the two problems with social justice, one that it is not social and the other that it is not just. Rothman uncovers the real motives behind the social justice movement and explains why, despite its occasionally ludicrous public face, it is a threat to be taken seriously.

Get it for $28.99 on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores. 

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All of these books are close to my heart as at some point or the other, they have shaped the person I am today and have enabled me to first think and then act.

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Race Inequality

How we have failed Black Lives Matter

There are three slogans that immediately come to mind when I think of 2020: whether from work emails, local business ads, or neighborhood storefronts: In these unprecedented times, We are alone–together, and Black Lives Matter. How did an organized political and social movement, which first came together in 2013, after the US justice system showed its favored hand in acquitting Trayvon Martin’s murderer, become the loudest cry of 2020?

The May 24th murder of George Floyd in broad daylight sparked a resurgence of activism across the United States and abroad. His, and many other Black lives have become casualties to systemic and ingrained prejudice, which has aggressively attacked the lives of innocent individuals—often going about their daily lives. The fact that this act of brutality by white police officers was caught on camera opened the door for a spate of brutal killings preceding May 24th to come to light. One of the earliest among them was the murder of twenty-six year old Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020. Joining the cry of “I Can’t Breathe!” was a fierce reminder to, “Say Her Name!” 

This chant, first initiated by the African American Policy Forum, was meant to reinstate the urgency of recognizing not only Black death in its numbers, but in its intersectionality. In her TED talk regarding the importance of intersectionality, Kimberlé Crenshaw (one of AAPF’s founding members) highlights the disparity in acknowledging male and female deaths. She asks the audience to stand for a litany of names, sitting only once they’ve heard a name they don’t recognize. The familiar names of Black men are read to a mostly standing audience—once the names of women are read off, the number drops drastically. This, Crenshaw reminds her audience, is why we must “say her name”—the bodies of Black women do not receive the same urgency or mobilization. 

It seemed in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s death, that we had finally heeded Crenshaw’s advice: we said her name, we posted widely on social media to call for the arrest of her murderers. However, we were quickly, and rightfully condemned: unlike with George Floyd, merchandise and memes made Breonna Taylor’s body a marketing strategy for us to feast on. What day wasn’t a wonderful day to call the Louisville police and demand that they arrest the cops who murdered Breonna? 

On September 23, 2020, the verdict was clear: we hadn’t made Breonna Taylor a movement, but rather a media spectacle. We had failed Breonna Taylor. News first emerged that only the stray bullets discharged had been condemned, reminding us how little we valued the bodies of Black women. Then we learned that the officers who had fired their weapons at Breonna had never even been charged.

While it is an exercise of our democracy to protest and demonstrate against these injustices—what has been left of this summer of activism except a capitalist machine reawakening from the drowsy haze of March-May quarantine? What workplace, or institution, didn’t send an email condemning police brutality—or at best, a senseless murder? My own sphere as a graduate student of English, and writer, called it a reckoning: were we highlighting Black voices? Were we publishing enough BIPOC writing? We had been thus far focused on the optics of not being racist; now we had to learn how to be actively anti-racist. Ibram Kendi’s books flew off the shelves as book clubs formed, Zoom invitations flooded our inboxes as we put the pressure on our mourning Black colleagues to educate us—tell us how we could help them.

As a non-Black woman, there is a limitation on how much I can claim in a space that was carved out for a much more marginalized group than my own (Indian-American, and fairly well represented in academic institutions, if not my own department). However, watching this intersection of space occur within my own communities has been a reminder of the everyday microaggressions that I have seen culturally normalized. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality has, quite literally, been a lifesaver for those who fell through the cracks of a system that didn’t recognize their varied experiences and identities. So if we know the importance of this in 2020, then we must be applying it widely, right? Well–these intersections only work when we actively choose to recognize them. 

For example, Islam is the third largest religion in the US, and while many of the mosques follow de-facto segregation based on immigrant community pockets, there is in fact a much larger community that often gets overlooked in the public narrative of American Muslims. Black Muslims make up one of the largest demographics in the US. Yet it took waves of BLM protests to remind immigrant communities of this. In my own twenty some years of experience I have witnessed first-hand acts of microaggressions against Black Muslims that even the most devout of our community would deny. 

Black mosques exist—this bears repeating—Black mosques exist, despite my (Desi) community’s apparent ignorance of the fact. Each Ramadan we hold fundraisers, inviting only for one night a local imam with a radical idea: raising money for a mosque just across town that we didn’t know existed. Why? It primarily served the Black Muslim community. We would, for one night, remind ourselves that there is no superiority among Muslims, raise a meagre sum, and then go back to campaigning for a (boys only, of course) basketball court in Stage Three of the mosque construction dream plan. No wonder then, that I would receive emails as a community point person during my undergraduate years requesting locations of nearby mosques in Baltimore, with the local lists shot down until I suggested a larger Desi mosque out of town.   

With such a framework in place, we were not prepared for the activism asked of us as Desi-Americans this past summer. A sign in itself is not enough. In the end, amidst a scramble of companies, organizations, and institutions attempting to attach themselves to the right side of history, it remains clear that the intention was to keep themselves on the right side of their consumer base, making BLM “just good business”. A storefront sign becomes just part of the window display, and we decide we’ve talked enough about race. 

I don’t know what the next few days will look like (hi, 2020) but in order for us to atone for commodifying this movement—one with literal lives on the line, I’m looking at each “intersection-ed” community. It’s time to step up and speak up for what unifies us, not lay complicit in what divides us.


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Race Policy Inequality

Defunding the police isn’t as radical as you might think

The Breakdown is a Tempest exclusive series that attempts to tackle issues, concepts, terms, and histories that are relevant and intrinsic to conversations about social justice. This is our version of a 101 on Social Justice, with a grassroot level approach that hopes to simplify and make political and cultural conversations accessible in a global level.

Even though the conversations around Black Lives Matter has existed since 2013, it has increasingly been in the news lately in response to the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd. Protests and calls to defund the police have ensued nationwide as conversations about police brutality are finally happening. However, reactions to “defund the police” have been mixed at best. Former President Barack Obama recently commented that the slogan “defund the police” is too snappy and that activists should rephrase the slogan to something less radical. So, what exactly is defunding the police?

Opponents of Black Lives Matter will have you believe that defunding the police is dissolving the entire police force to create a state of anarchy in the US in which crime rules all. However, defunding the police is actually a strategic plan to shift police funding to social services that can improve mental health, poverty, drug addiction, and homelessness, i.e. the primary motivators for crime in low SES areas. 

By addressing the causes of crime, rather than the results of it, communities can become safer, lightening the workload of police officers. Data shows that 9 out of 10 police calls are for non-violent events. Mental health calls compose about 1 out of 10 police calls. However, 1 in 4 deaths from police shootings represent people with mental illnesses. 

In cases of mental health, psychologists and mental health therapists are much better equipped to respond than police officers. Police officers are not trained to handle mental health issues in the manner that licensed therapists are. By pushing all of the wrongs of society onto police officers, we have dramatically diluted society’s ability to actually deal with the root of these issues. 

Under the defunded model, police forces will still exist. They will just deal with more heinous crimes such as murder, sexual assault, and violent crimes, which is what they are trained to do. By reducing the burden on police officers to deal with everything wrong with society, they can focus more on the encounters that they are tasked with handling relating to crime. For example, the 200,000 rape kits that remain unprocessed in police stations can begin to be processed now. In addition, communities of color will feel more at ease knowing that they do not have to live in constant fear of the police. The Black Lives Matter movement recognizes the benefits of the police force while recognizing that there is tremendous reform and restructuring needed within the system before it becomes remotely capable of providing safety and justice for all.

Defunding the police will provide a means to revitalize black communities, specifically those with high crime rates as a result of homelessness and poverty. It will also allow us to create more jobs by increasing the budgets of departments that promote public safety and welfare in a non-violent manner, benefitting all of society. Police officers will still be able to retain their jobs, but with a reallocated focus. Defunding the police is one of the best answers that we have right now to police brutality and crime.


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Book Reviews Book Club Pop Culture Interviews

Witches are at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in Alix E. Harrow’s “The Once and Future Witches”

Why have regular activists when you can have activist witches? I found the perfect combination of the two in Alix E. Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches.

We’ve all heard the witch tales told to us as little girls – the Wicked Witch of the West was a popular one in my childhood. She is so widely hated by people because of the inconvenience she causes Dorothy, but I secretly liked her better. She made the story. Why are we taught that the witches are always the villains of the story?

Author Alix E. Harrow recalls tales told in her childhood, “There are witches in so many of our stories,” she says in an exclusive interview with The Tempest, “creeping along the margins, waiting at crossroads and hexing babies; I guess it was only a matter of time before we started dragging them out into the light.” And drag to the light she did.

The Once and Future Witches is a novel that centers around injustices that, sadly, are still all too familiar to modern-day society, legal, economic, social and racial. The story is set in 1893, during the time of the suffragette movement, and did I mention that the main characters are activist witches?

Harrow admits that the idea wasn’t entirely hers: “I wish I could say it came to me in a dream, but the honest truth is that I was trying really hard to come up with a new novel idea, and my husband said, ‘you should do witches, but like, activists.'” And from there, The Once and Future Witches was born; a story combining the modern understanding of witchery with the age-old movement of the Suffragettes.

The protagonists of the book, the three Eastwood sisters, display a sense of morality that isn’t heard of from witches in the tales stemming from centuries ago; they are activists fighting for their rights as women. But can they balance witchery and activism? 

There are so many characters that you come to love in this book; my favorite happens to be James Juniper, the youngest of all the Eastwood sisters, on a journey to leave her traumatic past behind. She also happens to be the most dedicated to her roots and a proud witch – something that is consistently frowned upon within the pages of this book and is a trait that makes her incredibly appealing in the new age of activism.

Juniper is the first to become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, later involving her sisters. However, the movement itself is not just for the rights of women, it also serves as a coverup for the Eastwood sisters’ own growing power throughout the city of New Salem; a force that reconciled the sisterhood of these three and brought forward a new sisterhood between the women of New Salem.

Agnes Amaranth is the middle sister and a solitary individual, and Alix Harrow’s favorite: “I had a newborn and a two-year-old while I was writing this book, and the idea of a character who found strength in motherhood, rather than sentimentality or weakness or softness is one that mattered a great deal to me.” 

Last but certainly not least, we have Beatrice Belladonna, the eldest of the sisters and the insatiable bookworm of the trio. Beatrice is bursting at the seams for knowledge of her ancestors and finds herself digging deeper and deeper into her emotions and knowledge about witchcraft with the aid of her new friend. Beatrice’s love of books resonates with many readers and although on the surface Beatrice has less going on in her life than her sisters, it is truly a wonderful experience to watch such an introverted character bloom into a powerful presence. 

My favorite thing about The Once and Future Witches happens to be how starkly different each of the Eastwood sisters are: there’s a part of everyone in each of these sisters, making them relatable to any reader. It is also quite refreshing to see the characters find pride in being women in a time where it was shunned.

But, throughout History, where there are women, there are injustices and at its very core, The Once and Future Witches is a story about all of these struggles whilst being a disliked member of society. As Harrow so wonderfully puts it,  “All of us grew up on stories of wicked witches. The villages they cursed, the plagues they brewed. We need to show people what else we have to offer, give them better stories.”

Witchery is an essential part of history and literature. From the tales in the literary canon and children’s books to the ones in crime history and newspapers, it’s fair to say that witches haven’t always been depicted as the most just beings. The author of The Once and Future Witches dives deep into the set of fears surrounding the inversions of the natural order. Witches are often portrayed as promiscuous rather than chaste housewives; they prey on children rather than bear them and they curse houses rather than keep them. The nineteenth-century nailed in the gender roles of our society with witches being the feminine form of evil – but not the protagonists of this book. 

The Eastwood sisters alongside many of the other characters find themselves facing an age-old battle that women appear to be destined to fight for the longevity of their time. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to declare that it’s some sort of grand allegory for the #MeToo movement, which involves real women in the real world.” Harrows says, “But all the injustices my characters deal with – legal, economic, social, racial, are absolutely still with us.”

Whether it’s an issue of classism or the economical stance of women in society, Harrow taps into our innermost subconscious, allowing us to see an age-old story with modern eyes in the best way; through the lives of witches. “I think the thing that fantasy can do better than any other genre is literalize experiences that are metaphorical – it can make the invisible suddenly visible. Women’s sociopolitical power is an invisible, uncertain quantity that shifts according to class, race, sexuality, ability, and identity. But with witchcraft–I could make it visible.”

The Once and Future Witches was a great read for me personally: though I’ve never villainized the witches, I’ve never thought to put them in the position of the heroes either. I was surprised just how much I connected with the main character James Juniper – her wit and charm as well as her pride had me rooting for her the entire way through. And although witches have never been traditionally written as humane, this was the most human I’ve read them to be and definitely the most I’ve connected with them.

This book is eloquently crafted and depicts the long-lasting journey that women have been on since the beginning of time and fills you with a sense of righteousness. Remnants of beautiful yet powerful messages are hidden in the charming words you’d come to expect from an Alix E. Harrow’s story. “With my first book (the take away) was a sense of wonder and nostalgia. With this one, it’s righteous anger, and the thing underneath righteous anger, which is almost always hope.”

We are hosting a giveaway of the book on our Instagram, stay tuned! Or, if you absolutely can’t wait to read “The Once and Future Witches”, get it now on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores here or on Amazon here.

Culture Life

Here’s why Kali is the most badass goddess of all time

The goddess depicting sexuality, fierceness, anger and wonder, Kali is the epitome of all goddesses. Reckoned to be an avatar of Parvati, the Hindu Goddess, and wife to Lord Shiva, Her wild and ornate power resonates femininity and violence. She is equally ferocious and nurturing. Her feminine energy is divine and carnal.

Like nature, owning Her power of creation like a glorious crown, she is not answerable to anyone.

She is completely nude, save for a garland of flowers, ornate jewelry and a garland of the heads of decapitated men. A beautiful intermingling of contrasting dynamics in a woman who’s feared as a goddess and yet strangely loved and adored, Kali is the true representation of a badass as a Supreme Being.

The name Kali is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Kalika’ which means ‘she who is dark’ or ‘she who is death’. An erotic persona, with lascivious energy revolving around Her, She is one who devours all things. In Tantric cults, where She is worshipped predominantly, eroticism is primarily a way of confronting one’s deepest and darkest fears.

Kali is the quintessential embodiment of Shakti (feminine power); she is bloodthirsty, fearless, monstrous and scary. She is the embodiment of empowerment. Despite Her nakedness, She wins respect in a country that hates any kind of expression of sexuality.

With four arms, she is equally terrifying and magnificent. She is regularly revered and worshipped in West Bengal and other parts of our subcontinent. I have always looked up to Her as a warrior Goddess, a woman who gives me the inspiration to fight louder and more fiercely. She has the audacity to have her tongue out. She is someone who mocks corrupted men and at the same time inspires women to be as ‘oshleel’ (inappropriate), as they want to be. Kali gives me hope, encourages me to forget the laws of morality prescribed for women (by men) and live life independently.

Kali is the true representation of a badass as a Supreme Being.

I have grown up in a household where my grandmother was an ardent devotee of Maa Kali, and I listened to all kinds of stories regarding her transformation. Some stories depicted Her to be a woman, who after killing Daruka was on the hunt and literally killed innocent humans and had to be stopped. However, I choose to believe the story of how She was summoned to kill Raktabija (blood-seed) who was a demon and kept on multiplying as each drop of his blood touched the ground. So, Kali unfurled Her tongue and, spread it entirely on the battlefield, and killed the demon by swallowing his blood.

Throughout my life, I have worshipped Goddess Durga, burst firecrackers during Diwali (which we Bengalis celebrate by praying to Goddess Kali), and been awed at the hypocrisy of people who dared to show reverence towards such Goddesses and still be misogynists. These men and women ask you to not touch the idols when you are bleeding during your periods, even though Kali is the embodiment of Naari Shakti (female power).

She gives meaning to whatever She identifies Herself to be.

The feral and ephemeral nature of the dark-skinned Goddess is meant to be a direct hit at racist and misogynistic sentiments. Her nudity and ferociousness bleed confidence and wisdom, She is the Goddess of death and nurtures humanity by being a Mother. She is shown to break down the shells of Her coy and demure self, Parvati, and become a force to be reckoned with. The male patriarchal retelling of this mythology/folklore might make Her into some inappropriate Goddess, but Her complexity proves how Gods and Goddesses are prone to almost mortal imperfections.

Since my childhood, I have pretended to be Her. After all, who doesn’t dream of becoming a woman even remotely as badass as Her? The goddess Kali slays demons and wears their decapitated heads as ornaments. She breathes life into being a feminist Goddess; She is unapologetic and unladylike. She is truly the embodiment of unadulterated freedom, power, and chaos. Like nature, owning Her power of creation like a glorious crown, she is not answerable to anyone.

Goddess Kali’s femininity is not meant to be questioned. She gives meaning to whatever She identifies Herself to be. She is raw and cannot be tamed. We all need to learn from Her, and shatter the shackles of patriarchy, and wear the badges of femininity as an honor. After all, Kali resides within each and every one of us, you just need to let Her free.

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Is progressive activism actually above being classist?

Everyone in activist circles today knows that we mess up sometimes. All of us have faults and oversights, and sometimes these oversights can be harmful for those we’re trying to help. We’ve all been trying to become more intersectional, in terms of gender, race, sexuality, ability, and national origin, but many young activists like myself have a noticeable blind spot: class.

Activist circles, especially on college campuses and on social media, can lean whiter and wealthier. While activists themselves come from many different backgrounds, often the wealthy, white activists end up with larger platforms and leadership positions.

First off, let’s talk about our progressive memes. I’m never against poking fun at racists, sexists, and homophobes. They need to be held accountable, and humor is a great means of doing so. However, I do take issue with the portrayal of all bigots as poor, Southern people. You know the stereotypical image of a bigot; a redneck, wearing shabby denim and plaid, often unwashed and missing a few teeth, and living in a rundown trailer. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is classist. Sure, plenty of low-income rural White people are racist, but so are wealthy politicians, businessmen, lawyers, and doctors. So are many of the middle-class white “liberals” in our own communities.

Oftentimes, our humor doesn’t so much poke fun at the bigotry, but at the poverty of these individuals. The butt of the joke isn’t necessarily that someone is a bigot, but that they live in a trailer park and are overweight. I fail to see what’s so “woke” about making fun of someone’s economic circumstances or personal appearance. Plenty of intelligent, open-minded, and progressive people live in trailer parks and rural towns. Plenty of racists and bigots are skinny, pretty, and rich. We shouldn’t associate appearances with morality. It’s incorrect, and downright offensive.

Often the wealthy, white activists end up with larger platforms and leadership positions.

We also need to consider the way that performative activism harms low-income communities. In order to be “woke,” according to white progressives, we need to shop sustainably, eat organically, and read political theory. The problem is, not everyone can afford to do this. Sustainable clothes often cost a lot more money, and many low-income people rely on fast fashion. Fast fashion is an evil industry, but shaming the people who are forced to buy into it doesn’t make you a better person. Organic food is expensive, and many people can’t afford to buy it that often. In fact, many low-income communities are food deserts, where grocery shopping takes a great deal of transportation. Even the emphasis on reading theory is somewhat classist. Not everyone can afford to go to college and get access to such academic writing, or to buy a heap of out-of-print theory books. It’s a privilege to be woke. 

The problem is, progressive politics has become more of an aesthetic than a movement, and this aesthetic can only be achieved by upper-middle class college kids or young urban professionals. The standards we have for each other are literally impossible for low-income people to meet. Furthermore, we immediately assume that anyone who presents as working-class is conservative, bigoted, or ignorant. It is so difficult for any low-income person to break into the sphere of progressive politics. We simply don’t make any room for them.

So how do we solve this? First, we need to acknowledge that low-income and working-class people are actually doing the groundwork behind most progressive political movements. We wouldn’t be where we are today without working-class grassroots work. We also need to shift the way we code progressive politics. Being progressive isn’t just about drinking out of a reusable water bottle, and wearing the right brands of clothing. Being progressive can be someone in a trailer park registering their neighbors to vote, or a steelworker starting a union, or people at a local church creating a clothing drive for the needy. Just because they don’t “look” woke, doesn’t mean they aren’t making important contributions.  I would go as far to say that people like this should be leading our activist movements; upper-middle-class white people should serve as allies

We need to acknowledge that low-income and working-class people are actually doing the groundwork behind most progressive political movements.

All of us have oversights, but as activists, it’s our job to try to correct these prejudices and challenge our assumptions. Looking down at low-income people is not a progressive value, and it never will be. It’s time we open up our activism to people of all incomes and economic backgrounds. We need to recognize that they are responsible for some of the most important progressive groundwork. Progressive politics isn’t about what you wear, what you eat, and what products you use. It’s about compassion, dedication, equality, justice, and hard work. Let’s stop focusing on appearances, and start focusing on action.

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Real World Word Celebrities Race Pop Culture

Check out these 17 artists who are highlighting injustice in America

Throughout history, art has been used to challenge hierarchies and protest the status quo. This is still true today. Following the murder of George Floyd, there has been an uprising in support of Black lives led by the Black Lives Matter movement in America and around the world. As millions use their voices to protest injustice, artists are following suit, using their brushes and other tools to create powerful art exposing police violence and systemic racism in America.

Using murals, portraits, and sculptures, artists are delivering political messages through powerful imagery within their art. Below are 17 of these artists.

1.Errin Donahue

Based in New York, Errin Donahue is an artist and photographer. In her work, she recreates famous works of art with Black women. Inspired by “Janelle Monae and her racially imaginative Afrofuturism”, the portrait above is titled ‘The Monae Lisa’.

2.Nikkolas Smith

Freelance artist Nikkolas Smith has recently been working on pieces that relate to police brutality. He began sketching as a hobby but his artwork soon went viral and he quit his job as a Disney Imagineer to focus on art. During the Black Lives Matter protests, Smith posted a sketch of Ahmaud Abery on his Instagram, with the caption “…Today I sketch injustice. Today I paint a prayer… “If I shall die before my run, I pray the Lord my case is won.”

3.Ariel Sinha

Based in Chicago, Ariel Sinha is an artist, designer, and improviser. After hearing about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Sinha decided to challenge the anger and sadness she felt into her artwork. Using her iPad, she drew portraits of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. In the image above, Sinha drew Riah Milton and Rem’mie Fell, Black trans women who were murdered with the caption, “…Yesterday, in the middle of pride month, on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub attack, the President took away protections for trans people. It’s not enough to say their names. We must keep standing up and fighting for trans lives and rights.”


4.Molly Crabapple

Award-winning journalist illustrator and author of Drawing Blood and Brothers of the Gun, Molly Crabapple’s work has been published in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and The New Yorker. She began her journalistic career by sketching illustrations of Occupy Wall Street, and then eventually covered Guantanamo Bay, the US border, refugee camps, Lebanese snipers, and more. Molly’s coverage of police brutality and the ongoing protests is available on the NY Review of Books (the images above). She has also helped to launch the “Drawing as Resistance” program as “a way for volunteers to not only observe [what is going on], but to participate–by drawing as an act of resistance.”


An anonymous England-based street artist, Banksy has used his art for political activism since the ‘90s. He produces pieces of art that pop up in public places, such as the walls of buildings. Banksy has shown support for the Black Lives Matter movement on Instagram, posting his work along with a message, saying “people of color are being failed by the system…This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.”

6.Simi Stone

A musical and visual artist and a founding member of the Afro-punk movement, Simi Stone, created a portrait of George Floyd, using her artistry to protest on the canvas. Stone chose bright tints that make Floyd look luminous. Haunted by what had happened to him, Stone wanted to draw him in bright colors.

7.AJ Alper

AJ Alper, a portrait painter, started the social media movement titled #GeorgeFloydPortraitProject to use his voice and Instagram audience to spread awareness about racism. In his project, he did a call out on Instagram, looking for as many portraits as possible to make a video in memory of George Floyd. In the finished piece, attached above, Alper created a compilation video including the nearly 700 artists worldwide who participated and submitted portraits of the project.

8.Adrian Brandon

Adrian Brandon is a Brooklyn based artist. On his Instagram, he has started a ‘stolen series’, which is dedicated to “the many black people that were robbed of their lives in the hands of the police.” Brandon uses graphite and ink to draw each portrait but also uses time as a medium to determine how long each portrait is colored in: 1 year of life = 1 minute of color. Brandon says, “I played with the harsh relationship between time and death. I want the viewer to see how much empty space is left in these lives, stories that will never be told, space that can never be filled.”

9.Shane Grammer

Shane Grammer is a muralist located in Los Angeles. In June, Grammer created a mural of George Floyd. His mural is “dedicated to all of my precious brothers and sisters who have found themselves the victims of racism. You are precious, loved, needed, and vital for our future. We see your pain. We hear your voice.”

10.Lola Lovenotes

[Image Description: colorful mural depicting Breonna Taylor that reads "Justice for Breonna".] Via @lovenotes
[Image Description: colorful mural depicting Breonna Taylor that reads “Justice for Breonna”.] Via @lovenotes
Lola Lovenotes (@lovenotes) is a mural artist and creator in New York City. On Juneteenth, Lovenotes shared a mural she created commemorating Breonna Taylor on Instagram, saying she’s “going to keep to keep painting until she and countless others get the justice they deserve”, following a previous message on Instagram saying, “there have been countless racial injustices against Black women, girls, [transwomen + girls], and yet their names are forgotten. Their murders don’t seem to get the same attention as Black men and boys. When we say Black Lives Matter, we need to make sure Black women are included in our demands for justice too!”.

11.Otha “Vakseen” Davis III

Based in Los Angeles, Otha “Vakseen” Davis III is a visual artist, curator, and musician. He has done a group of portraits in commemoration of Black lives who have been killed by police brutality, titled “Remember Me:” In the portrait above, titled “Remember Me: Elijah McClain”, celebrates the life of Elijah McClain, an innocent young man who was murdered by police in Colorado. Vakseen writes, “A YEAR later and we’re just hearing about this, while the family has been demanding an investigation all this time…A painting isn’t going to end racism. Racism won’t end until we’re ready to have REAL conversations, self-reflection, and make REAL change.”

12.Sarah Dahir

Sarah Dahir is an artist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her Black Lives Matter art, which features faceless women to represent everyone, has been inspired by photographs from the civil rights movement. Below the illustrations, she writes, “the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”


13.Rosanna Morris

Co-founder of Cato Press print studio, Rosanna Morris is located in Bristol U.K. She has created downloadable PDF’s of her Black Lives Matter prints that the public can use, “Put them in your window, take them to your local protest, post them through letterboxes. Do as you like, just please do something more than posting on here. Reach out to your community, your MP, your Granny, and help to do the hard work of change.”

14.Boyd Samuels

Boyd Samuels is a New York-based artist with a focus on oil painting. He “brings the beauty of the African American form onto his canvas and hopes that his art will inspire his viewers to see it as well.”

15.Niamah Thomas

Niamah Thomas is an artist and art therapist located in Chicago. Thomas, when creating her portrait of Breonna Taylor (pictured above) wanted Taylor to be illustrated as soft but strong, using softer colors and floral imagery. Thomas writes, “Breonna was shot 8 times by police issuing a ‘no-knock’ warrant on her home. Then they called it a ‘clerical error’. NO. WE DEMAND JUSTICE”.

16.Teddy Phillips

Teddy Phillips is an artist based in Seattle. He has started a “Justice Series”, which are portraits featured Black men and women who were murdered. One of these portraits, titled “Manny is the Culture/Justice in his name” portrays Manuel Ellis who died while in the custody of four Tacoma police officers.

17.Ryan Adams

Ryan Adam is an artist located in Maine. His mural of George Floyd in Portland, Maine, is shown in the picture above. He writes, “However you choose to act, whether it be self-care, education, marching in the streets or expressing yourself through your work, please, please do something.”

Similarly to these artists, there are many ways to protest and challenge the structures that allow racism and police brutality to continue. Your responsibility isn’t absolved by reposts on Instagram. Educate yourself and actively challenge these injustices in whatever way you can.

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Sports Pop Culture

Athletes that got solidarity right this week – and those that didn’t

It’s been a fortnight of reckoning with a longstanding history of white supremacy for the US, and the world of sports was no exception.

As per usual, the WNBA led the pack when it came to affirming that Black Lives Matter and calling for an end to police brutality. Natasha Cloud’s powerful piece “Your Silence Is A Knee On My Neck” should be mandatory reading for fans of any sport this week.

NBA legend Michael Jordan also issued a fiery message through his Jordan Brand, which announced that it was committing to donate $100 million to racial equality and social justice organizations over the next 10 years. Do you know how bad things have to be for Michael Jordan to speak up? Really bad!

But aside from the many Black athletes who supported or marched alongside protesters calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the thousands of other victims of police brutality and systemic racism, a number of non-Black athletes used their platforms to speak out too. Here’s a rundown of sports figures that effectively stood with Black Lives Matter, and the ones that we’ll be actively rooting against in the upcoming season:

The MVPs:

1. Megan Rapinoe, USWNT

We love Megan, who’s also kneeled in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protests before and has cited him as one of her inspirations. So are we surprised that she’s come out swinging for defunding the police and using her company‘s platform to promote Black creatives? Not in the slightest.


2. Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs

If there’s any straight white man that we can actually trust, it might be Gregg Popovich. Pop actively derided his fellow white people this week for failing to step up and dismantle white supremacy prior to this moment, reminding us that “Black people have been shouldering this burden for 400 years,” before going on to call out that “The history of our nation from the very beginning in many ways was a lie.” Buckets on buckets from Pop, truly.


3. Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

I’m not gonna lie, I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I might have to be after this week. Doolittle’s been spending the last week calling out performative celebrity actions and encouraging people to buy anti-racism educational materials from Black-owned bookstores. His statements condemning the military police for using violence against protestors are particularly relevant as a player for DC, where police violence has been particularly brutal (let’s not even get started on the issue of electoral representation).


4. Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing Olympic Champion

Shiffrin has had a rough year, with her father’s passing just before the pandemic. But personal tragedy hasn’t stopped her from firmly supporting #BlackLivesMatter, or self-correcting when called in. (Shiffrin’s initial statement, later clarified, hoped for a future world of racial colorblindness). A reminder to all of us that being an ally is about constant self-education, and bearing in mind that white supremacy is a problem that requires work from all of us.


The Benchwarmers:

1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees backs up holding the ball, ready to pass to a teammate.
Image by Kelly Bailey. Image description: A white man in a gold helmet and white uniform (Drew Brees) backs up holding the ball, ready to pass to a teammate.

Brees proved this week that he’s a tool, and not even a useful one – basically, the human version of having a flat screwdriver when you need a Phillips. Brees initially called for racial equality while doubling down on his previous statements about how kneeling in protest during the National Anthem is disrespecting the flag. The backlash to this ice cold take was so strong, he had to issue not just one, but two apologies.


2. Jake Fromm, Buffalo Bills

Jake Fromm looks in the distance across the field in his red University of Georgia uniform.
Image by Tammy Anthony Baker. Image Description: A white man wearing a helmet (Jake Fromm)  looks in the distance across the field in his red University of Georgia uniform.

You know the trope of the hyper-privileged frat boy who never grows up until he’s finally in a situation his dad can’t get him out of? That’s Jake Fromm. The Bills rookie was exposed by a former classmate for saying guns should only be available for “elite white people,” which succeeded in angering both the predominantly white gun rights crowd and people of color. An exceptional feat in unity – but one would hope it’s for abolishing the police, not abolishing your career.


3. The San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers – 30 years from now if you Google “useless performative allyship in the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprisings,” you’ll see the meek black box that the Niners tweeted on Blackout Tuesday. That’s right – the same Niners who cut Colin Kaepernick after he first began protesting. The same Niners that proceeded to help blacklist him from the entire league. On that note…


4. The NFL

NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell finally apologized for not listening to protesting players. And yet, he managed to make his whole milquetoast statement without ever saying the name that started it all. With leadership this subpar, maybe not news that most of the sports figures that got it wrong this week were from the NFL? Get Kaepernick on a roster. It’s beyond time. Until then, throw the whole thing away.

No matter your sport of choice, Black Lives Matter, full stop. It’s time an industry that profits so profoundly from Black talent holds itself accountable and recognizes just that.

USA Celebrities Race Policy Inequality

Here’s why it’s important for celebrities to show their support for #BlackLivesMatter

Across the U.S., and even in many other countries, protesters have taken the street this week to rally against widespread police brutality, systemic racism, and to call attention towards the insufficient charges brought against not only the killers of George Floyd but also the killers of countless other Black victims of racial injustice. In every city protesters have been met by the local police force, in addition to the national guard, all making use of blunt, violent, and instigative tactics. Social media has also been full of callings for change, spreading knowledge or resources, and pointing out the many hypocrisies within our current system. Some of it, however, is performative. This means that some people, often celebrities, may be posting just to give off the allusion that they care, when in reality it is just empty support. One example is with the Glee star Lea Michele. Earlier in the week she tweeted this:

She was immediately met with backlash from a former co-worker who proved that her intentions could not possibly be genuine when those words did not reflect her actions in reality.

It also seems that Lana Del Ray has spoken out in support of the movement just days after posting one of the most problematic statements I’ve read in awhile that promotes a white-washed version of feminism. News flash: if your feminism isn’t intersectional we don’t want it.

Other examples of performative behavior appears through donations. I have seen some celebrities proudly post their $50 dollar donations to community bail funds, which is not a lot of money at all considering their celebrity status. In fact, I have even seen my own friends, who are 20-something years old and unemployed, donate more money. This kind of demonstration of support is insulting to the #BlackLivesMatter movement because celebrities are the ones with privilege and capital in our society. Yet, in cases like this, they are refusing to use it, even though they say on social media that they are all for equality and justice. #openyourpurse.

What I find to be the most dangerous, though, is celebrities who have not spoken up at all, or even worse, spreading the wrong message. Most of these people have a gigantic following, making the impression that they leave on the people that are influenced by them noticeable. It is an unfortunate truth, but celebrities set an example for A LOT of people on these kinds of things. So, it is important for celebrities to use their privilege wisely in times like these. They also need to show their activism, and then act on it, because they are the ones with the money to financially support a movement. In addition, celebrities, especially white celebrities, should make it their mission to amplify Black voices at this time, instead of raising their own. Let Black people grieve, vent, scream, and mobilize. It is up to the celebrity to make an effort to elevate their words because celebrities have the audience and the means to do so. And, let’s not forget that while at protests that same advice applies because white celebrities have the privilege of getting out of an arrest situation without serious repercussions, for the most part.

Among them, however are some celebrities who are doing it right. They have taken their actions way beyond social media and are showing their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement through large donations and in person activism. I will say that this is by no means a celebration of these celebrities or celebrity culture, but rather a recognition of what should and could be done if done right. To be fair, I am also wondering where all those celebrities are who made the entire world cringe when they sang Imagine in March thinking it would cure coronavirus.

Halsey helped treat people at protests who have been injured after being shot at with rubber bullets.

Cole Sprouse was arrested while protesting in Santa Monica. He also bailed out a lot of protesters who were arrested with him.

Ariana Grande has been active in the spread of resources, donated to bail funds, and attended protests in Los Angeles.

Nick Cannon has been protesting in Minneapolis all week wearing a sweatshirt that reads, “Please. I can’t breathe.”

Timothée Chalamet attended protests in Los Angeles, signed positions, and donated to various organizations.

J. Cole has been attending #BlackLivesMatter protests since 2014.

Aminé, an American rapper, is protesting and has been actively pointing out injustices.

Jaylen Brown, a professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics, drove 15 hours to protest in his hometown of Atlanta.

Pedro Pascal has repeatedly been attending protests and demonstrating widespread support.

Jane Fonda has been fighting for this cause since the 1960s and is widely known as an ally to the Black Panthers.

John Cusack is known for his progressive ideals and has been attending protests in Chicago.

Kendrick Sampson is on instagram showing wounds after being shot at with rubber bullets.

Tinashe has also been vocal through activism and by attending protests.

Justin Timberlake donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund

Chrissy Teigen and John Legend made a $200,00 donation spread across 3 organizations. 

John Boyega is showing support all the way from the U.K. 

Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds donated $200,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Colin Kaepernick, NFL player and leader in a protest movement against police brutality and racism by kneeling during the national anthem at games, established a legal defense initiative for protesters. He will be providing free legal compensation for Minneapolis “Freedom Fighters.”

These are only a handful of the celebrities that have spoken out and make a commitment to justice. They are not special, or needing of praise. In fact, their actions should be the standard. It is a shame, but not surprising, that other celebrities aren’t not taking advantage of their privilege is beneficial and productive ways. It is all of our duty to take care and to take a stand against the hate that is seemingly all around us. Check out our action guide if you want to know how you can demand justice for George Floyd by taking an active part in eradicating racial injustice. Read it, follow it, share it, and encourage your friends/family to do the same.  

Gender Inequality

Male survivors are getting left behind. It is time we talk about them.

{Trigger warning: discussions of rape and sexual violence]

Up until 2012, the FBI assumed that only women could be victims of sexual assault. The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, through which the Bureau collects annual crime data, defined “forcible rape” as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will”. (Italics mine)

This may surprise you, but it also perfectly encapsulates how sexual violence is viewed in many societies as a gendered crime with the perpetrator always a man and the victim always a woman. This myth has persisted despite being contradicted by plenty of data.

For example, in the US, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC)’s comprehensive country-wide 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NIPSV) found that men and women had had “a similar prevalence of nonconsensual sex in the previous twelve months”: 1270 million women and 1267 million men. Lara Stemple speaks of another study, this time conducted in 12 US colleges and universities between 2005 and 2011, found that “4 percent of men and 7 percent of women have experienced forced sexual intercourse during college.” A 2005 survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 46,700 men (and 126,100 women) had experienced sexual violence over the past 12 months. In Canada, a registered charity made up of sexual assault center representatives, the Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services (AASAS), claims that 10 – 20 percent of all men will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Male survivors of sexual violence face a long, uphill battle if they chose to speak up about what happened to them.

James Landrith, 21, woke to find himself being straddled by a pregnant woman who had drugged and unclothed him. When he tried to resist, she told him he could hurt her baby. It took Landrith two decades and extensive therapy to call this encounter ‘rape’. Now a sexual violence activist, he writes “when sexual violence is discussed with regard to male survivors, there is often resistance, condescension, and outright mockery by people who quite often have not experienced such violence themselves.”

Masculinity is constructed on cultural ideas of strengths, sexual promiscuity, and stoicism. Many male survivors find their experiences dismissed by being told that they should have fought their assailants off, or hearing that a ‘real’ man would enjoy any sexual encounter.

When Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Terry Crews shared his own #MeToo story of being assaulted at a party, the comedian DL Hughley mocked him saying “God gave you muscles so you can say ‘no’.” Recently, one of Pakistan’s most famous filmmakers, Jami Azad, took to Twitter to share his own experience of sexual abuse, and met with jeers and surprise that “a grown man can be raped by another individual.”

Men who have faced sexual violence are often told that getting erect or ejaculating during a forced sexual encounter must mean that they enjoyed it, or that only gay men face sexual abuse, or that men who have been raped will go on to become rapists. Organizations dedicated to helping male survivors work hard at countering these myths, noting that erection/ejaculation are physiological responses that can occur even in situations that are not pleasurable, that abuse can happen regardless of sexual orientation, that being abused doesn’t necessarily translate into turning into an abuser later in life.

In a certain way, male survivors can find themselves isolated by the language and activism of the feminist movement that has done so much to bring justice to female victims of sexual violence. Before the 1970s, rape and other forms of sexual coercion were largely seen as a result of sexual attraction. Starting with Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will, feminists in the ‘70s successfully permeated cultural consciousness with the idea that rape was about power/control and not attraction. This framing did a lot to help shift the conversation away from victim-blaming to holding the perpetrator accountable.

And yet, it allowed victims who were not women to slip between the gaps. Brownmiller herself once insisted that “strictly a crime of men against women” and that a woman raping a man was an “impossibility”. We see echoes of this idea in our current legal definitions of sexual assault as well. As previously mentioned, the FBI’s definition of rape only made space for female survivors until 2012 when the definition was amended to refer to a victim as anyone who had been penetrated. This, however, still excludes many male victims. The CDC has a new category dealing with sexual violence; awkwardly phrased as “made to penetrate”, it offers more comprehensive ground to male survivors.

Biased legal frameworks can often lead to heart-breaking and angering court judgments. For example, Kansas court ruled (in 1993) that Shane Seyer had to pay child support to his former babysitter, who was impregnated with his child when he was 13 and she 17. Some countries around the world still don’t recognize that men can be raped.

These societal and legal barriers mean that coming forward is often difficult for male survivors, and many male survivors do not report being raped. This means that they deal with their trauma without the support they should have, and this trauma often leads to depression, anger, anxiety, damaged romantic and personal relationships, feelings of ‘weakness’, and mood swings.

Helping male survivors is a long process. As the feminist fight against rape culture has shown, dealing with violence of this magnitude which is so deeply entrenched in culture means questioning broad cultural assumptions. We should stop asking men to be strong and silent as a facet of masculinity, investigate legal and court biases when it comes to male victims, challenge mockery like prison-rape jokes, and do much, much more. As #MeToo has shown us, there is a lot of work to be done to make sure each of us can live a safe and dignified life.

The Environment Race Inequality

It’s time to take a stand against environmental racism

Often times when we think of racism, we think of segregation, police brutality,  and gerrymandering. Sometimes we recall the aggressive marginalization of Native Americans, land theft, and broken treaties. However, an aspect of discrimination and racism that often gets overlooked is environmental racism. It is a prime example that racism is more than just political systems conspiring to harm and oppress people of color. Racism manifests itself in many ways, sometimes in the very act of destroying a community without ever lifting a weapon. The official definition of environmental racism is neighborhoods with a large minority population being burdened with a disproportionate number of health hazards. These can include toxic waste dumps and facilities, food deserts, and other factors that lower a person’s quality of life. But another definition of environmental racism is the physical manifestation of the lack of regard that is shown to minority groups.

The parallels between impoverished minority communities in the United States and abroad are striking. “Cancer Alley” is an area along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. These river communities have been continually polluted by large oil companies leading to high rates of cancer in the area. This mirrors South Durban, the industrial hub of the South African city. It is home to two of the largest oil refineries of the country.

Under the apartheid system, these environmentally dangerous activities and buildings were placed in the proximity of black neighborhoods.  Since at least 2001, the Medical Research Council of South Africa has linked air pollution to respiratory problems of children in Durban.  Today, the South Durban basin still has an overwhelmingly black population.

Like Cancer Alley, South Durban is affected by environmental racism in a myriad of ways.  Environmental degradation not only destroys their physical health but their economic health as well. Due to mounting medical bills, many people end up in debt. Additionally, their homes being in such close quarters with polluting businesses seriously worsens the value of their property. Subsequently, they are too sick to stay but too poor to leave.

One of the most pressing issues of our time has been the plastic waste build-up from western countries and now Asian countries refusing to continue taking tons of it in. This is a landmark decision for many Southeast Asian countries because they have been collecting plastic waste from richer nations for at least 25 years much to the detriment of their health and their own environment. Many of us do not think about where our plastic bottles and bags go. Once we put them in our recycling bins, they disappear from memory.

The rejection of plastic waste by these countries, which is now sitting on ports around Western countries with nowhere to go is important.  It brings into focus that toxic waste and other pollutants do not vanish. They land somewhere, usually with the poorest, the brownest and the most vulnerable people. This nonacceptance is in its own way a protest and a declaration. No longer will the global south be the dumping ground of western countries.

The defiant nonacceptance of these countries brings to mind similarities with other struggles concerning environmental racism. Such as the recent protests of the occupants of Flint Michigan who continue to face an uphill battle in a continued fight for clean water. The reason why these communities continue to be targeted is quite simple. Large corporations and other powerful entities do not believe that these communities are strong enough to fight them and they don’t care what happens to people who don’t look and have as much money as them. However, more and more people are speaking up and we all should speak up. Different communities from all over the world ranging from  Indigenous people of the Amazon, to ‘Miss Flint’ (Mari Copeny)  have made it clear that environmental racism is a huge problem. It is an issue poor and people of color have been dealing with for a very long time. We need to listen to them and take action.

Pop Culture

It’s time to discuss the internalized sexism among female comedians

A lot of what we find humorous is dictated by the patriarchy.

It’s difficult to make such a statement, but look me in the eyes and tell me that your friends haven’t told you they don’t like female comedians? Or that male comedians are just funnier?

If the answer is yes, then it’s incorrect. 

Laura Mickes, a professor at the University of San Diego, explored the topic after one of her students wrote “she’s not funny” on her teaching evaluation form. After noticing that none of her male colleagues received similar comments, she performed a study. She asked 16 men and 16 women to write captions for New Yorker style cartoons. 81 men and women rated the captions on which were funniest without knowing the sex of the author.

In that study, men’s captions were deemed “slightly funnier” by only .11 points. According to the study’s co-author Nicholas Christenfeld, that margin is “just at the edge of detectability”. That difference could be accounted for by men finding men funnier, as men raters considered the captions .16 points funnier, while women raters only considered them .06 points funnier.

So why are male comedians so much more successful? My theory is men’s issues are found more socially acceptable than women’s issues because our society is dominated by the male perspective.

Take Ali Wong, whose Netflix specials have been about motherhood, pregnancy, dating, going out, her search for a husband, and so much more. She is considered a comedian that is not relatable to men because she discusses “women’s issues” in spite of her material covering universal topics.

Instead, everyone watches Louis CK who is a racist, misogynistic sexual predator. The sexism is clear.

This is a battle to fight and women are definitely downhill as sexism in comedy runs even deeper due to the relentless internalized sexism within female comedians as well. For the same reasons that some people continue to outwardly hate on female comedians, female comedians are bound to hate on each other. 

And it’s hard as comedy is, by no means, concerned with political correctness. In fact, a lot of the most famous sketches ever were birthed out of political incorrectness. Ideally, we should all embrace the “female” in “female comedians” and stand together against rape jokes, sexual misconduct at shows, abortion jokes, racist jokes, and support the greater good.

But we don’t.

Take Jo Brand. She is a woman who I always looked up to as a funny, feminist woman. Early in her career, she made a move from psychiatric nursing to alternative comedy. Her style makes use of incredibly smart, self-deprecating humor. She also discusses experiences that affect women, makes rally calls to change things to what should be, and along the way, supports and uplifts her fellow comedians. So to me, she is a woman who could do no wrong.

Until I read this quote by her: “Pretty female comics fare better than normal-looking ones.” 

The quote was part of a keynote speech Brand delivered at The University of Kent about her personal experiences with sexism in the industry. I don’t think Brand meant to be sexist but this is an incorrect, blanket, and overall harmful statement.

“If you’re like me, overweight, or you’ve got some particularly noticeable aspect to your appearance in the tabloids you’ll be picked on endlessly for your looks. I’ve not really noticed that happening with male comics,” she was also quoted saying.

So what she might have meant is when you do not fall in lines with conventional beauty standards, you come up against more obstacles in your career. I believe that. I agree with that. And I support that.

But what she said is still harmful as it can be misconstrued.

It implies that women who conform with conventional beauty standards don’t have to fight the patriarchal system that she is also fighting. In a gendered world that is inherently divided into us vs them, she created yet another us and them among women. Those categories didn’t need to be created.

Additionally, it creates multiple hierarchies. In her mind, “normal-looking” women get deprecated below “pretty” ones, which simultaneously puts “normal-looking” women down, and invalidates the struggles of “pretty” women.

This is a time when anyone who is ever an “other” is fighting standards that do not benefit anyone other than cis white men. So saying that “pretty women fare better than normal looking ones” in comedy is regressive. It reinforces the societal standards for beauty and creates another “other” within an already “othered” category.

For you, Jo Brand, I had higher hopes.

Sexism is so laden in everything we do. Usually in more than one layer. In order for feminism to be successful, we have to remove all of those layers. But how do you separate the individual from their appearance or image? How do you support female comedians without othering them? These are huge questions, and I would never pretend to have an answer.

But I think when we do, women will all be so much better at lifting each other up.