Earlier last week on October 18, Colin Powell, former US secretary of state, passed away after succumbing to complications from Covid-19. According to his obituary in The Guardian General Powell “rose higher in public office than any previous black American” and is remembered by many in the United States as a “trailblazer and role model” who set an example for all Americans. Former US president Barack Obamatweeted that “Michelle and I will always look to him as an example of what America – and Americans – can and should be”. So, if General Powell was such an exemplary man by popular account why is his death surrounded by words such as a “complicated legacy?”
Colin Powell was without a doubt a highly influential man; he has been credited with influencing “American foreign policy in the last years of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st” and his endorsement of Barack Obama in the final weeks of the 2008 presidency helped shape the result of the election. This influence, however, has not always yielded the results one might expect from someone who is being lauded as a role model. While those in America remember Powell fondly, elsewhere in the world his death has not sparked the same feelings. The role he played in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to many blaming him for the subsequent death and suffering and as such any conversation about his legacy is incomplete without mentioning those that he hurt.
A speech from Powell in February 2003 at the United Nations is considered a pivotal moment for what happened in Iraq. He tried to convince the world that a war in Iraq was needed by citing what was later proven to be false intelligence on weapons of mass destruction. His words were crucial in selling the war to the American public, a war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and displaced many others. What is even more concerning is that Powell was privately opposed to the war and yet ended up becoming a vocal supporter in the public sphere. Maryam, a 51-year-old Iraqi writer and mother of two told the Associated Press that “he lied, and we are the ones who got stuck with never-ending wars”. Today the war may be a memory for most but for many in Iraq, its horrors are persistent to this day. The sharp rise in birth defects in the city of Fallujah since the US invasion serve as one of the reminders of how Iraq is suffering to this day.
Powell’s role in propagating US imperialism is not limited to this one incident that he has admitted to being a “blot” on his record, he would later still claim that “on balance” the US “had a lot of success” in Iraq. His legacy of causing suffering abroad to protect the interests of the United States stretches as far back as the Vietnam War. On 16 March 1968 American troops marched into a Vietnamese village and brutally murdered around 347 to 504 civilians. The event would become known as the My Lai massacre and is largely regarded as a war crime by the international community, a crime that Powell helped cover-up at the time. In 1989 Powell oversaw the US invasion of Panama, the operation was paramount in developing the Powell doctrine, the idea that the “US only go to war to protect strategic interests and once engaged, must have a decisive plan for winning and a clear exit strategy”. This doctrine would later come into play during the first Iraq war, a swift operation that lasted only two months but relied on the heavy bombing that caused thousands of civilian deaths.
It is apparent that during his lengthy career Powell has directly or indirectly contributed to the suffering of many and to ignore that pain in the name of respect and politeness after his death would be a grave injustice. Mirroring a similar rhetoric American academic and television personality Marc Lamont Hill tweeted that telling the victims of these wars to be silent is “morally grotesque”. Not only is silence at this point morally questionable but it only serves to further cover up the crimes of American imperialism. Colin Powell may have shown remorse over his actions, or he could have felt that as a black man in America he had no choice but to follow the status quo but neither of these things can erase his actions. To achieve what he did in a country that is seldom kind to its African American population is certainly exemplary, but it is not enough to overlook his role in the often violent and imperialist endeavors of the United States and his legacy must reflect these actions.
I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her.
Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.
The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her.
Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.
And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously.
Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions.
At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity.
Last week, 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, voted on whether to unionize. If a majority vote in favor of unionizing, this will be a historic win for workers in the United States. Even if the union doesn’t pass,The New York Times describes the recent efforts in Bessemer as “the most significant unionization effort in Amazon’s history.”
Over the last few decades, progress has occurred at a rapid pace. There have been new innovations intending to transform all walks of life. Amazon has largely been at the forefront of this change, introducing technological advancements to many of its operations across retail, grocery, entertainment, and more. However, as Amazon continues to expand, its employees are drawing attention to the cost of this aggressive advancement: workers’ health, wellbeing, and dignity.
As the second-largest private employer in the U.S., Amazon’s growth has helped to create thousands of jobs. The behemoth has also been applauded for paying its workers above the federal minimum wage, which at the time of publishing is $7.25; most Amazon employees start at $15 per hour.
Bessemer warehouse workers are arguing that compensation is still too low in light of the grueling conditions they endure while at work.
AP News reports that Bessemer Amazon employees work on their feet for 10 hours a day and only receive two 30-minute breaks. At a Senate hearing, one worker testified that people are punished or even fired for taking more breaks than the allotted two. This has prevented warehouse workers from using the restroom a “normal amount,” according to Vice—which echoes complaints by Amazon’s delivery drivers, who often have to urinate in bottles to meet quotas.
Reveal investigated a “mounting injury crisis” at Amazon warehouses. After obtaining company records, Reveal found that injuries have increased over the past four years, with Amazon failing to hit its internal safety targets because of its rapid rate of production. Vice adds that during the pandemic, Amazon failed to properly protect its warehouse workers, resulting in almost 20,000 workers testing positive for COVID-19.
In addition, Bessemer workers say they do not feel valued or respected. Many have noted that they are monitored throughout the day in order to ensure productivity goals are met. This surveillance on top of what TIME describes as a “punishing pace of work,” has created low morale as workers feel dehumanized and disposable.
The culmination of both the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic has brought to light employers’ responsibility to respect, protect, and listen to their employees. In addition to fairer compensation, many of the Bessemer workers who voted in favor of the union simply want to feel dignified in their workplace and have their complaints heard by Amazon. Vox reports that 80% of Bessemer Amazon employees are Black, with Amazon’s “overall front-line workforce disproportionately composed of people of color,” leading union organizers to also focus on issues of racial empowerment and equality.
Historically, big businesses have discriminated against workers of color, often paying BIPOC less than their white counterparts. In the South, unions have long supported racial empowerment and equality, with sanitation, steel, and mining unions, to name a few, championing for Black workers’ rights during the Civil Rights Movement between 1954 and 1968. Unions are also who we have to thank for creating the framework of today’s work conditions. CNN lists weekends, 8-hour workdays, better pay, health care and retirement benefits, and banning child labor as the results of unions tirelessly working to protect workers and advance their interests.
However, not all employers and employees support unionizing. Business Insider spoke to two Bessemer employees who voted against the union. They asserted that Amazon already provides what a union would, such as decent pay and benefits, and that a union would not be able to protect workers against termination.
Amazon is also opposed to the union, preferring to speak with its employees directly on workplace issues. The company has taken an aggressive approach, including a PR campaign and papering employee bathrooms with anti-union rhetoric.
While Amazon is doubling down on its treatment of workers, Vox notes that Amazon could be more worried that a union would “upend the speed and agility of warehouse operations; typically, the faster Amazon pushes warehouse workers, the quicker the company can get orders out the door to customers.”
It’s also important to note that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, continues to amass billions of dollars in wealth, while his employees do not. Brookings reports Amazon has “shared little of its astonishing profits” with its workforce. Specifically, Amazon earned an additional $9.7 billion in profit last year while Bezos added $67.9 billion to his personal wealth—and yet the company chose to end its $2 per hour pandemic wage increase.
March 29, 2021 was the last day for Bessemer employees to vote on unionizing. After months of advocating, lobbying, and organizing, the results of the vote are expected to arrive any day now. No matter the result, many labor experts are expecting the efforts of Bessemer Amazon workers to inspire other warehouses, with Vox predicting a possible reshaping of the future of warehouse work in the U.S.
However, the question remains: what is the price of progress? How far we are willing to go in the name of innovation must take into account individuals. It is people who make up a company, and it is people who are helping to drive digitalization. Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, remind us that the price of progress cannot and should not be people’s lives, wellbeing, and dignity.
Netflix’s 2020 documentaryDisclosuretakes a close look at the heartbreakingly misguided representation of the trans community in Hollywood films and describes their existence in this heteronormative, white, cis world.
The documentary features several famous trans people from the modern film industry—Laverne Cox, Jen Richards, Candis Cayne, Chaz Bono, Elliot Fletcher and others—sharing their experiences of leading trans lives, and how they in turn, molded their perceptions of the way their community has been depicted in American films over the years.
“Do you know that feeling when you’re sitting in a movie theatre, and everyone’s laughing at something, and you just don’t get it?”
Hollywood has repeatedly threaded trans identity in humorous plot lines and fictional contexts.
We’ve seen this in films like Flip (1971), The Jeffersons (1977), and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1959). In these films, gender non-conforming people were the butt of the joke in the story. As soon as a trans character appeared on stage, waves of deafeningly loud sounds of laughter broke endlessly among the audiences. However, the same jokes left the trans viewers unsettled and traumatized.
If we go back some years, cross-dressing was illegal. People who transgressed gender expectations—mostly for the purpose of comedy—were mocked, harassed, even arrested. In a different, more intersectional narrative, this portrayal of cross-gender actingalso degraded womanhood and was stained with flecks of racism.
As shown in White Famous (2017), when a Black man wore a pink dress, it was perceived as an emasculating act. If we trace back history, Black men have typically been emasculated in American films, shrouded in similar contexts.
A couple of main subjects in the documentary say that such films made them wonder if the audiences were laughing with them or at them. Trans people were outsiders. They felt “othered”.
“Trans jokes. Really?”
Hollywood has taught people how to react to trans identity, and this reaction is mostly fear.
Trans characters in many Hollywood films are depicted as dangerous psychopaths, serial killers, deviants, and perverts. We’ve seen this in films like Dressed to Kill (1980), for example. As soon as Angie Dickinson stepped into the elevator, Michael Caine emerged in a wig, sunglasses, and a long trench coat and murdered her in cold-blood.
The ideas around trans identity and violence have mostly been erroneous from the beginning.
In The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Jodie Foster says, “there’s no correlation in the literature between transsexualism and violence. Transsexuals are very passive.”
To this, a subject in the documentary said that they’re not passive—they’re just not violent, psychopathic murderers. This shouldn’t be so hard to admit.
Other Hollywood films, such as The Crying Game (1992), propagate reactions to trans identity that edge on disgust, repulsion and riddance. When Jimmy found out that he made romantic contact with a trans woman, he retched in the bathroom. This created a ripple effect of men reacting with vomiting to trans people.
The same also holds for trans people. When they’re on the precipice of transitioning—there’s no one that they can turn to. They find themselves alone in finding their way and coming out to the other side. And that’s when media and films become their template for understanding their gender and sexuality. They learn ideas about themselves refracted through other people’s prisms.
The release of The L Word (2004) sparked feelings of excitement, anticipation, and hope among the trans community. It was going to bring a trans masculine character to the show for the first time. It was going to be different. Better. But then the lead character, Max, went from being nice and likable to raging and violent. His character was portrayed exactly like trans characters in other films—violent, frustrated, and dangerous. It spread transphobia.
Another problematic facet of trans depiction onscreen is the unequal representation of trans men and trans women. Trans women vastly outnumber trans men in terms of portrayals on media. In reality, however, the numbers are equally split, just like cis people. If anything, it shows that women are generally a more commodifiable asset.
GLAAD discovered after surveying 102 episodes of television that trans women are commonly shown as sex workers. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with making a living out of sex work, but it’s just not all that trans women are. They’re so much more than what they’re shown to be. They live normal lives like all of us.
“This is the paradox of our representation—the more we are seen, the more we are violated.”
Another aspect of being a trans that the documentary identifies is the questions that trans people are asked on private and public platforms. They’re personal, disparaging, and downright disgusting.
Interviewers have commonly been seen embarking on lines of questioning that revolve around surgery, cutting, and removing.
“The skin of the penis is used to create what appears to be a vagina. Is that correct?” “And is it acting like a penis?” “How do you hide your penis?” “What was your name before?” “Who do you have sex with?”
Isn’t this exactly why trans people feel afraid of disclosure—questions, violence, marginalization, unacceptability?
This is exactly what the documentary is premised on. It uncovers what disclosure means for trans people—coming out to the other side, revealing their identity, disclosing their sexuality.
The idea is deeply problematic per se. It presupposes that there’s something to disclose. It means that trans people have a responsibility to say what their identity is because other people might have a problem with it. It undermines their feelings. It makes them feel excluded, othered.
Netflix’s Disclosure gives meaningful insights into the ravaged lives of trans people. It emphasizes the destructive impact that Hollywood has had on them as a community. It highlights their struggles. It’s a step in the right direction.
It’s an excellent documentary—informative, real, and heartbreaking. I suggest that all of you watch it.
Halloween – what a weird word. There’s nothing quite like it phonetically in the English language. Except for “hello”, and “sweets”. Man, if only it really did mean just that. But the term’s real history is less on-the-nose.
At school we learn that the word is just a simple contraction of “all Hallows’ eve” and that is true. But before it was called any of these things, it was originally known as Samhain or Sauin.
Samhain is where most of Halloween today stems from
Pronounced ‘Sow-Win’ (kinda sounds like Gretchen Wieners is trying to coin a term for success; “omg that’s like, so win”) this pagan ritual was an ancient Gaelic celebration where the Celtic people marked the end of their calendar year and prepared for the dark, cold winter.
Because this “dark half of the year” was a time often associated with human death, Celts believed that on Samhain, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead disappeared, presenting a one-night-only connection to the supernatural. People would dress up in costume and present food offerings outside their homes to ward off any unruly ghosts, as well as attempt to get their fortunes read around the bonfire. This is where the elements of spooky, dress up, and trick-or-treating first came from, as well.
Samhain was Christianized into All Souls’ Day
But being a pagan ritual, Samhain was eventually Christianized and reframed as All Hallow’s Eve. All Hallow’s Day was one of the three days Roman Christians would honor and pray for the ‘hallows’ to reach heaven; hallow [v.] being an archaic term for a holy person. These days already held similar rituals to Samhain, like parades and dressing up as angels and devils. So allegedly, in the ninth century AD, Pope Gregory III switched the original date of All Hallow’s Day which fell on 13 May to instead fall on November 1st, attempting to overwrite the non-religious occasion. I suppose it does make sense to commemorate the dead when it’s darkest, so can we really blame him?
But the true Samhain still reigns supreme
Once Halloween had itself a new Christian dogma, the world said “so long” to the word ‘So-Win’. But while the celebration was intended to turn holy, the original pagan myths, beliefs and rituals were never quite done away with. Of course, over time these rituals morphed and spread, blowing up even more with the mass Irish migration to America into the Halloween we know and love today. So while Halloween may have undergone a name change, it’s still pretty much ye olde festival from 2000 years ago.
You’ve heard of a Jack Kerouac, but have you ever heard of a Hettie Jones?
The Beat Literary Movement of the 1950s is coined for its explicit subject matter and bohemian lifestyle. Americans in the 1950’s lived in largely suburban towns and felt threatened by things like communism. Men went to work in suits and women stayed home to cook, clean, and tend to the children.
The rebel, beatnik, group of authors that made up the Beat Generation were iconoclastic. Much of their work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. They experimented with form and structure while writing about sex, drugs, and religion. Traditional literary houses rejected them and looked down on them as a group as being defiant, untalented, and unprofessional.
I think that their being unconventional was the whole point, though.
They were the antithesis of mainstream American life.
They wanted to publish anything that was deemed inappropriate by society. These people were tired of the routine, and frankly, felt beaten down by the conservative lifestyle that they were stuck in. They were highly controversial in that they were the antithesis of mainstream American life and writing. Many of their works of poetry and prose focused on shifts of consciousness and escaping “squareness.” The stereotype around the Beats is that they were not in favor of what they considered to be straight jobs. Instead, they lived together, packed into small and dirty apartments, sold drugs, had sex with each other, and committed crimes. They are also known for exploring homosexuality, which was a highly taboo topic in 1950’s America.
One of the most iconic, and downplayed, female poets of that time who deserves righted acknowledgment is Hettie Jones.
Hettie Jones published 23 books- and yet, we forgot her
Hettie Jones is most known for her marriage to the famous Beat Poet Amiri Baraka (formerly LeRoi Jones). Few people know that Hettie helped run Totem Press, one of the more important beat publishers, along with her husband. She went on to publish about 23 books, one being a memoir of her time spent with Amiri and the rest of the Beats titled,How I Became Hettie Jones (1990). She has also written for many prestigious journals, lectured writing across America, and began the literary magazine “Yugen.”
Hettie is one of my favorite poets, so I think that her writing deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement, right there with the boys who got so much praise for their work.
Hettie’s writing is rooted in practical idealism. She left her family home in Long Island to go to college and to fully discover herself. When she graduated in 1955, she never turned back, and moved to New York City. She met Amiri while working at The Record Changer, a jazz magazine. He was a young, black poet with just as much intelligence and intensity as Hettie. They quickly fell in love and moved in together. They would go to poetry readings at cafes and bohemian bars, where they met many of the other Beat poets.
Hettie deserved to be at the forefront of the Beat movement.
When the pair founded their own magazine, they published the writings of many of the iconic beat players who could not find a home for their writing in the traditional sphere. Hettie was in charge of editing the works that were to be published in the magazine. It was here that she honed her craft and found power in the refined writing that makes her work stand out from the rest.
By 1960, Hettie and Amiri had two children, were married, and lived in New York City. Being a biracial family, though, countless bigoted remarks were directed towards them regardless of the Beat scene. Hettie was on the receiving end of most of these cold stares and was able to see the world through the eyes of her husband and children. This affected her incredibly and eventually became a recurring theme in her writing.
When Amiri became tightly involved with the Black Power movement, he was criticized for having a white wife. They divorced in 1968. Hettie thrived on her own though and made a living with her children while teaching and editing. Her separation from her husband also gave Hettie an outlet to speak up and finally publish works of her own. She has been quoted to say, “Without a him in the house, there was more space/time for her, and I tried to redefine the way a woman might use it.”
To this day, Hettie’s writing is compassionate. She writes about her own experiences in a compelling manner while weaving in the issues that she cares about. Currently, Hettie lives in New York City, and is a writer and lecturer. In addition, she runs a writing workshop at the New York State Correctional Facility for Women where she recently published a volume of writing by incarcerated women.
We all seek the perfect embodiment of our personal beliefs and ideologies in those whom we support politically. We look to them for guidance, leadership, justice, and integrity. We also might look to them to affirm and validate our own convictions or perspectives. As global citizens, we are hoping to find political representation that perfectly aligns with our vision of what society should be. However, as strong as this desire is, it’s an impossible reality. Unfortunately, time and time again we are disappointed by the politicians we support, and often we disagree with their policies and actions, too. I’m here to say that this frustration is completely justified.
You don’t always have to agree with your politician. In fact, you don’t even have to consistently agree with just one singular politician. You don’t have to advocate for just one particular person to represent your beliefs, either. It is okay to be disappointed by your politicians because politicians are, by default, problematic.
But first, I’d like to make a distinction between problematic and corrupt. Politicians are often problematic which means they sometimes defend policies that you don’t agree with. Or they vote on a bill with a decision you never expected. Or they endorse a candidate you despise. Or a scandal from their past surfaces. A corrupt person, on the other hand, is someone who is tyrannical. It is someone who actively acts in favor of their own selfish gain and in opposition to society as a collective whole. A corrupt person’s goal is solely to gain control and oppress. So, Bernie Sanders? Problematic. Mitch McConnell? Corrupt and tyrannical. They fall under two different categories.
But, to some degree, all politicians are problematic from one perspective or another. This is simply due to human difference—differences in lived experiences or growth, differences in epistemologies or ideologies, and differences in intention. And still, it is acceptable for us to support someone despite those differences.
It took me a while to accept this. I, like many others, naively wished for a political hero to save us from all ofthe corruption within the American government. Once upon a time, I supported Andrew Yang as a viable democratic presidential candidate; he was logical and intelligent, personable and charismatic. Many of his policies seemed like great solutions to some of the economic, political, and societal problems we have in the United States today. Universal basic income to combat artificial intelligence taking over some of the most common jobs in America? Yes, sign me up. Ranked choice voting so we never have to vote for just one person for any office ever again? That could solve so much in terms of party politics.
However, as Yang continued to share more of his proposed policies and took actions I opposed, he became just as problematic as any other political figure in my eyes.
Yang didn’t support universal healthcare. He also wanted to keep American troops deployed overseas. Both things I personally disagree with. This confliction didn’t sit right with me. I kept thinking: How could I support someone who may ultimately have a hand in shaping the future of my country, while opposing some of the things he believes in? Would it be right for me to support him? I felt unsure.
He also sometimes reaffirmed Asian stereotypes with catchphrases like, “The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math!” and his MATH caps. For Yang to use this phrase and capitalize on it was, in a way, to cater to his white audience by essentially legitimating a stereotype that claims that all Asians are good at math—a stereotype many non-Asian people perpetuate.
When the spread of COVID-19 fueled anti-Asian racism and xenophobia, and Trump himself deemed coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” many Asian Americans looked to Andrew Yang to call this behavior out. In an attempt to address this racism, Yang wrote an opinion letter in the Washington Post that was published in April. Rather than condemning this racist rhetoric, Yang called for Asians to step up as Americans saying “Asian Americans need to embrace and show [their] American-ness in ways [they] never have before…. [they] should show without a shadow of a doubt that [they] are Americans who will do [their] part for [their] country in this time of need.”
This was, as many critics have expressed, an unsettling message. Yang, as an Asian American, was not explicitly defending his fellow Asian Americans. Instead, he made a flawed argument that states Asian Americans need to make themselves appear more agreeable to white Americans to combat this racism. Yang faced backlash from Asian communities across the country. Simu Liu, who is set to play an Asian American superhero in the Marvel universe, called Yang’s op-ed a “slap in the face.” Conversely, writer Hannah Nguyen defended Yang stating Yang did not call for Asians to assimilate into American society, but rather to embrace the American identity—a statement she supports. Others appreciated what they perceived as a message for Asian Americans to come together with all Americans. But, in my eyes, Yang made a grave error in wording which led me to rethink what his values about race, ethnicity, and diversity are.
So much of the public seemed to hate Yang after his opinion letter was published. I almost hopped on that bandwagon, too, until I realized that criticism is not the same thing as hate, and frankly it should not be the same thing. People are undeniably quick to attack those with whom they disagree. This is a major problem in American politics today. Elizabeth Warren claimed Native American ancestry and was, rightly, vehemently attacked for it. But this dire mistake should not overshadow her efforts to fight for Medicare for All and affordable college. Ilhan Omar voted “present” on the Armenian genocide resolution. This was also justifiably criticized, but it shouldn’t take away from her agenda to establish proper paid family and sick leave. So, despite my disagreements with Andrew Yang, I realized these don’t cancel out the things I do agree with.
I still think Yang would be a great leader despite his being problematic. Many of his ideas would do wonders to improve America both economically and societally. That said, I also continue to bedisappointed by some of his ideas and some of the things he has done—but this is natural. Let’s keep critiquing those in power, but let’s also normalize disagreement and disappointment without blacklisting our problematic politicians.
If you’ve had the privilege of never experiencing discrimination or if you are a POC who doesn’t fully grasp the history and weight of racism, now is not the time to burden your black friends with the task of educating you, even if you have the best of intentions.
Now is not the time to be asking for free emotional labor from the black community, many of whom are already under emotional duress from the events of the past weeks. Racism has been long established as a tool of oppression on a global scale that it’s contributed to generational trauma. In fact, it’s been more than established, racism is a learned behavior that has been protected and enforced to this day. So while you’re donating and signing petitions, here are some works that break down systematic oppression.
1. Who Killed Malcolm X? (2020)
This Netflix mini docu-series is on the assassination of Malcolm X, a prominent black American Muslim Civil Rights Era activist. The series outlines some alarming evidence regarding his assassination in 1965 and explores the conspiracy that he was killed by white supremacists with the help of the government. After the docu-series was released earlier this year, the murder investigation of Malcolm X was put under review.
2. When They See Us (2019)
A true-crime mini-series, this is the story of the Central Park Five, five teenagers falsely accused of the assault and rape of a white woman jogging through Central Park. The show follows their trial and wrongful convictions.
3. 13th (2016)
Named for the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in America, this documentary film traces the connections between the rise of mass incarceration in the United States and the justice system. It proves how slavery is alive and well in modern times through the prison-industrial complex and the disproportionate convictions of minorities. Netflix even uploaded the film in full to YouTube, so it would be accessible to everyone. You can watch it right here.
4. American Son (2019)
Starring Kerry Washington, this film follows a mother anxiously waiting for news on her disappeared son in a police department. Racial tensions are discussed through conversations with her ex-husband, a white FBI agent. He is just as concerned for their missing son but doesn’t understand his ex-wife’s fear of police.
5. If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)
This film tells the story of Tish and Fonny, sweethearts since childhood, and of the racial discrimination they face. From being denied rent by New York landlords in the 70s to Fonny’s wrongful arrest after being falsely accused of rape. The film discusses abuse of power by the police as well as the flaws in the justice system.
6. Imperial Dreams (2018)
Starring John Boyega, this film is about a reformed gangster, returning home after serving time in prison. Imperial Dreams discusses mass incarceration, racial profiling as well as the rehabilitation prisoners need after being granted their freedom.
7. Dear White People (2014)
Later also adapted into an amazing Netflix show, this comedy film details the many microaggressions Black students experience at a fictitious Ivy League. The lead Samantha White, played by Tessa Thompson, is a frustrated student who begins a radio show to call out white people for their racist behavior.
8. The Great Debaters (2007)
Denzel Washington plays a debate coach at a HBCU during the 1930s in the Jim Crow South. He is determined to elevate his team of students to the same stature as their white opponents. This film discusses the racism and segregation found in academia as well as the violence experienced by black students in the American South.
9. Seven Seconds (2018)
This show is about the hit and run of a young black boy by a police officer and how members of the Jersey City Police Department scramble to cover it up to “protect their own”. This limited series is crucial in understanding the way a police force operates like an elite gang, abusing their power and carrying out injustices.
10. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)
Jimmie Fails and his best friend Mont Allen spend their days roaming San Francisco, musing over the city’s changes due to gentrification and how it’s affecting the community. Jimmie dreams about reclaiming the Victorian house he grew up in and sees his opportunity when the current owners have a dispute over the estate.
11. Selma (2014)
A historical drama, Selma follows the voting rights marches lead by the revolutionary Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. Directed by 13th’s Pea-body award-winning Ava DuVernay, this film centers on the political tensions and various threats King faced while organizing a march to register black voters in the state of Alabama.
12. BlacKkKlansmen (2018)
Directed by Spike Lee, this film tells the story of Ron Stallworth, the first black officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department. It details the racial discrimination Stallworth faces from his coworkers and the undercover operation he begins to infiltrate a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
13. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Another directorial piece from Spike Lee, this classic dramedy outlines the rising racial tension in a Brooklyn neighborhood. The film focuses on the ethnically diverse neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant and the violence that erupts as summer temperatures rise.
14. The Hate U Give (2018)
In this masterpiece film adaptation of the novel of the same name, after witnessing her childhood friend being murdered by a police officer, sixteen-year-old Starr, played by Amandla Stenberg is swept up in the national news coverage of the killing. Starr must decide if pursuing justice is worth destroying her carefully crafted image at her mostly-white prep school and having a police target on her back.
15. Whose Streets? (2017)
This documentary follows the murder of Michael Brown and the Ferguson uprising. After Brown was killed by a police officer, Ferguson. Missouri was engulfed in protests and riots demanding justice. Documenting the protests this way, on camera, was intended to show what was really going on as print journalism was lacking in their coverage as the events in Ferguson unfolded.
16. I Am Not Your Negro (2016)
Inspired by James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript, this film breaks down the history of racism in the United States by examining civil rights leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary voices Baldwin’s personal thoughts on the American civil rights movement.
17. Freedom Writers (2007)
This drama film focuses on the lives of a highly diverse student body at the once prestigious Woodrow Wilson High School. Set two years after the Los Angeles riots, racial tensions are at an all-time high among rival gang members who attend the school. Freedom Writers outlines the racism and prejudice found among various ethnic minority groups.
18. Hidden Figures (2016)
Detailing the work life of the black women who worked at NASA during the Space Race, this film exposes the racial and gender segregation that dominated the space agency. Starring Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monàe and Octavia Spencer, the Academy Award-nominated Hidden Figures describes the life and important work of three black female mathematicians who rose above their white male peers’ perceptions of them.
19. Just Mercy (2019)
Starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, this film follows the pro bono work of Bryan Stevenson, freshly graduated from Harvard law and determined to free Johnny D. McMillian, a death row inmate who was coerced by police into confessing to the murder of a white woman. The film outlines discrepancies in the legal system and how it upholds racial bias in murder cases.
20. Get Out (2017)
Written and directed by Jordan Peele, this psychological thriller follows what happens when Chris Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya, learns a horrifying secret about his white girlfriend and her family.
21. Zootopia (2016)
Lastly, this animated film educates audiences on discrimination and racial profiling. Following a rookie cop on her dreams of serving and protecting, Zootopia shows how perpetuated prejudice feeds into a flawed justice system. A perfect movie to use when educating the little ones on racial inequality.
As protests demanding justice for George Floyd’s death rage on across the globe, many are now grappling with tricky questions about these protests- what they mean, what they do, and who gets to participate. Specifically, the question of how non-citizen immigrants can safely participate in public protests, as police presence remains to be a major concern for many people of color.
Despite the majority of public protests originating as peaceful, police instigation and intervention has led to heightened aggression. Even choosing to take part in a peaceful protest now poses risks of police arrests.
Living in Houston, where George Floyd once lived, I have been so proud to see my city engaging in powerful demonstrations against police brutality. But as my friends gear up to attend the demonstrations, I’ve hesitated to take part. As a non-citizen immigrant, I struggled to understand how I could safely protest. It’s frustrating knowing that the very system I want to protest against so dangerously threatens me. Especially because as an immigrant, I owe a great deal to the Black community.
I want to express my support with the Black Lives Matter movement and so do so many non-citizen immigrants. Of course, it’s important to note that participating in demonstrations is not the only way to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Actively educating yourself and those around you, donating to charitable organizations, and signing petitions – these are all necessary forms of support. If you’re worried about the potential repercussions of protesting, know that you can still be an ally. Undocumented immigrants, those with expired visas, and those with prior convictions face more severe consequences than other immigrants. Due to the high rates of arrest and the presence of ICE at several protests, it is critical to underscore how dangerous it is for you to go; you might want to allow those with more privilege to march on the front lines and instead focus your efforts on safer forms of allyship.
However, if you do choose to protest, here are some key things you ought to know.
The most important thing to know is that no matter your resident status, you have the right to protest. This right is protected in the constitution and the first amendment applies to all immigrants and non citizens just as it applies to citizens. If you do choose to participate in protests, you are not doing anything you’re not permitted to. However, before attending any type of demonstration, non-citizens must understand that the consequences they could face are severe. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, could face deportation if they are arrested during protests. Therefore, there are several precautions that protesters ought to be taking to safeguard themselves.
As immigrants, however, there are additional steps that you should take. In addition to knowing a criminal defense lawyer, make sure you have the information of an immigration attorney available. Bring a card with their information and write it down somewhere on your body in case your belongings are taken away. You do not have to bring your documentation to protests, and in fact, should probably refrain from doing so. Losing these documents – passports, green cards, etc – will have serious repercussions as they are incredibly hard to replace.
You are also not required to disclose your immigration status or present any documents to police officers. However if ICE is present at protests, you will have to comply with them. This is why it’s so important to have an immigration lawyer ready to represent you before you go to the protest. Do not say or sign anything until you contact your immigration lawyer.
If you’re an international student worried about legal repercussions, check in with your university. Several universities are offering legal assistance to their students who are arrested during protests and may be able to provide you with legal representation, or at least help you find the resources you need.
It is also much safer to bring a friend with you to the protests. Give a friend the number of your lawyers and, if you get arrested, ask them to record the badge numbers of the officers who arrest you.
Finally, if you feel that a demonstration is becoming an unsafe environment and there is a heightened risk of arrest, leave at once. You are not wrong for prioritizing your safety.
In our society, it is easy for immigrants to buy into the idea that we have no power. We do and you have the constitutional right to express that power. If you choose to protest, know that you can express your views, and if you want to make a difference you can. Take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones, and know that, no matter how you choose to fight the good fight, you are doing important work.
If you’re interested in more comprehensive information, take a look at these resources!
Following the eruption of public outrage on social media which ensued after George Floyd‘s death, I took a break from my personal platforms, but I felt weak for doing so.
As a journalist and a Black woman, I believe that it is my job to consistently contribute to the current civil rights discussion in my country. But within a week I had seen one too many comments questioning the value of my people’s lives and I could no longer mentally take it anymore. It wasn’t the overabundance of police brutality videos or injustice that weighed on my mind either.
As sad as it is to say – I’ve already seen and experienced those types of things first-hand and I’m used to seeing content like that.
What I couldn’t handle, on the other hand, was the ignorance and hatred. I couldn’t bear to read rebuttals to the absolute fact that Black Lives Matter.
I took a break from my personal platforms, but I felt weak for doing so.
But as I logged off for a few days, phrases such as “silence is violence” haunted me. Was my temporary absence from social media silence? Was I supposed to push through and continue to speak out despite the toll it took on my mental health? I was still consuming the news. I was still reporting on my community. I was still speaking about the issue on webinars yet I wondered if, in a way, my inactivity on social media was wrong. I felt guilty.
That’s the thing about silence during this time: There’s more than one definition to the term, considering the multidimensional social, political, and cultural curve balls being thrown at us daily.
Eric Brock Jr., a 19-year-old activist, told me that he too felt pressure from social media to always post, but was taking time off to grieve from the traumatic state of the country. He said that from such pressure, he was compelled to write a disclaimer to his audience that clarified his inactivity. Silence to him runs deeper than consistent activity on social media platforms, especially for Black people.
“The Black community is not a monolith and it never has been,” he said to me. “We express things in different ways and some people need time to heal.”
Posting a black square means nothing if you aren’t actively fighting for change offline, too.
Brock says that he does understand how silence can be compliant towards racism for non-Black people though, especially when they have not stepped up their efforts offline in being an ally or contributed to the conversation at all. This becomes particularly dangerous when we see social media users engaging in performative activism online without doing the actual tactical work offline needed to make real change.
We saw this with Instagram’s ‘Blackout Tuesday‘ challenge which aimed to bring awareness to the Black Lives Matter movement. Users posted black screens in an attempt to show their solidarity to the cause.
However, the challenge’s execution essentially drowned out necessary information from the movement and, in my opinion, was used as a performative way for some to show others how good of a person they are.
Posting a black square means nothing if you aren’t actively fighting for change offline, too. It also doesn’t somehow give you an advantage over someone else who may be supporting the movement in different ways than you expect them to.
But with this in mind, astrologist Tyler Massias said to me that he does think that content outside of activism at the moment can be unsympathetic and distasteful. He said that non-Black people who don’t focus their platforms on the Black Lives Matter movement are practicing a privilege that isn’t afforded to Black people in America.
“Throughout history, our [Black people’s] existence has always been viewed as subservient. We are always having to think about it and speak about it,” Massias told me.
And activist Alexis Glasglow, a tireless protester in her Florida hometown, knows exactly what it means to dedicate all of her time both mentally and physically to the movement. She mentioned to me that seeing people’s inactivity on social media can be aggravating at times.
We have to find things to smile about throughout the day and allow ourselves the time to grieve and heal.
“You see people doing all of these things and then you also see people that you know, and who you can name, who haven’t said anything or even reached out to you,” she said to me.
But while social media is a great place to start, it isn’t the only way to use your voice. Glasgow said that people can call out racism as they see it within their communities, attend demonstrations, and sign petitions just to name a few ways to get involved offline.
As a country, we’re going through a lot right now and we can’t always realistically be our most vocal selves 100% of the time. The consistent exposure to Black death, Black trauma, ignorance, and racism weigh heavily on any average person along with a deadly pandemic that still affects the world too.
We have to take breaks occasionally. We have to find things to smile about throughout the day and allow ourselves the time to grieve and heal.
Just as our stomachs need food to eat, our minds need care and attention as well in order to continue the Black Lives Matter movement and change the world.
On August 9th 2014, Darren Wilson, a white police officer, shot an innocent, unarmed, black teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, MO. For many in America, this terrifying incident was just a glimpse into the severe racial discrimination that black people regularly face in the hands of an oppressive system. I remember what happened afterwards, when that neighborhood rightly broke out into a protest that lasted for weeks, which prompted parallel spouts of #BlackLivesMatter activism in similar neighborhoods. I remember the tear gas and rubber bullets that the police, wearing riot gear, confronted protesters with, and I remember the military style tanks that were deployed by the Missouri National Guard to quell those protests.
I watched again in 2016, when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem at games, opting to kneel instead, in protest of this country’s treatment of racial minorities. He is quoted by NFL Media to have said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people are getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Many other athletes followed suit.
Then, in 2017, neo-Nazis gathered for the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. Hundreds of white nationalists joined forces to protest the removal of Confederate monuments, bearing torches and shields. As the night progressed it turned bloody. One counter-protester and two police officers died, others were badly beaten. Two days later, during a press conference, President Trump said, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
Fast forward to this week, and I have seen and continue to see thousands in states like Michigan, New York, California, Nevada, and Illinois rally against statewide stay-at-home orders amidst the coronavirus pandemic that has so far taken the lives of nearly 70,000 Americans. None of those among the “anti-lockdown” and #reopen protests are donning facemasks or practicing safe social distancing.
This video is just one snippet from the protests this weekend, but it speaks volumes. None of these police officers are in riot gear, there appears to be no army tanks, and the protesters are not met with tear gas or rubber bullets. Those who are participating in the anti-lockdown demonstrations are aggressively close to officers and are even behaving viciously while putting their hands on them. But nothing happens to them. These protesters, who are historically the ones who respond with “just obey authority” when a black person is beaten or murdered at the hands of the police, are displaying their ignorance for world to see. The cops too are somewhat unable to see danger when it comes to white people, even when the danger is clear, because that is the narrative that has been ingrained into our society. Meanwhile, according to that same narrative, there is an ever present danger when it comes to black people, even when no danger exists.
The predominantly white demonstrators, though a minority opinion in their state, are mostly concerned about the economy. They are frustrated and feeling oppressed—which is quite a conflation—by the current lockdown order. They would like to see some normalcy. Of the protests in Michigan, President Trump tweeted:
What about the families who have lost loved ones to this virus, don’t you think that they are very good people who want their lives back again?
Or, better yet, what about the community in Ferguson who watched while Michael Brown’s body laid in the street for hours under the August heat after he was murdered in front of them. America should have given in a little. America should have put out the fire a long time ago. These are, indeed, very good people. They are the ones who are angry, every single day because of the reality they face. They want their lives back, safely.
And, if we really wanted to talk about patriotism, the anti-lockdown protesters would, in a just world, be the folks that are at the brunt of those “find a country that works better” remarks. These unpatriotic and disrespectful demonstrations are being done at the expense of Americans who are working and risking their lives on the frontline. The protesters are effectively going against everything they ever claimed to have stood for except for one… racism.
When someone asks you to go on a seesaw you know they’re either six-years-old, incredibly inebriated or just super fun. What you don’t expect is to be taken to three monster pink seesaws straddling the huge gate separating New Mexico from Mexico.
These professors figured they would use their skills to bring “joy, excitement and togetherness” to those on either side of the border between New Mexico and Mexico. On Instagram, Rael wrote, “The wall became a literal fulcrum for U.S.-Mexico relations and children and adults were connected in meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side.”
I watched the videos of kids and adults bouncing up and down either side of the monolithic gate and was surprised at how effective the installation was. The symbolism of the seesaw is so simple, subtle and hard-hitting. Rather than, let’s say, two fax machines, which could just have easily symbolized cause and effect, the seesaw encompasses our childhood and the importance of co-dependence at the same time.
The seesaw is a throwback to our youth and it reminds us of friendship rather than fear-mongering and the inhumane treatment of immigrants. Mexico was once again just another kid in the playground that America played with, got in fights with but ultimately co-existed with. Reductive maybe, but the images taken of the adults and children swinging on it on either side reminds us of mutual compassion that we just haven’t seen in the news for months.
The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) has expressed similar admiration for the installation and the symbolism of connection it brings forth.
“Art is such a powerful vehicle for change…We are all connected. We are all one.”
However, Rael and Fratello showed sinister undertones with this choice. The seesaw represents more than a brotherhood or sisterhood. It recognizes the unfortunate power America has over many of the immigrants running from Mexico, other Latin American or South American countries, all of whom need lawyers or representation. To operate a seesaw, both players need to do their own work. If Mexico needs something, they need America to take the other seat. If not, Mexico will just stay where they are. Real-life consequences affect people much more deeply than the relative ease of pushing off the ground.
Prior to the Trump Administration, immigrants could find work and obtain a temporary permit to live in the U.S. while they waited for their court case. Now, migrants are sent back to Mexico while court proceedings drag on and are allowed back only for their hearings.
The seesaw installation is heartwarming but thought-provoking. Though a physical wall facilitates an “out of sight out of mind” philosophy, this art installation contributes to personifying immigrant’s struggles. Watching American families use the seesaws to enjoy themselves with those who are barred from entering the U.S. is quite simply a powerful image.
Let’s applaud the designers of this art installation. It doesn’t pull any punches in reminding us of the reliance one state has over the other. It paints a picture of togetherness that, contrary to what doomsday media outlets might have us believe, we have hopefully not forgotten.