Work Now + Beyond

Workplace professionalism is a construct rooted in white supremacy

There has been a recent push across the U.S. made by several employers, advocating for the return to in-person workspaces after a year 42% of American workers (successfully) worked from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people, Black people, in particular, have been opposing this return to normalcy because white-collar workplaces have always been a source of oppression for us in a number of different ways; all equally as harmful as the next. 

In fact, only a mere 3% of Black professionals want to go back to work full-time in the office. Therefore, white professionals must reckon with what that statistic illustrates about the type of environments that workplaces have created to the detriment of their Black employees.

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In the context of white-collar work settings, workplace professionalism is “working and behaving in such a way that others think as competent, reliable and respectful,” according to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. The concept of professionalism also emphasizes how people physically present themselves at work or as an extension or representation of their employer even while away from the office. 

Unfortunately, though, as a result of having to learn to adapt within white workspaces, Black people have had to learn to code switch—a term coined by Einar Haugen in 1954 to describe language alternation, or the mixing of two or more languages, or dialects—manipulate our natural hair texture, or overall abandon our culture as a means for survival in the workplace. And if we fail to successfully integrate or become what white employers deem as “professional,” we risk facing punishment.

In truth, this conversation is long overdue. “Professionalism is just a synonym for obedience,” Chika Ekemezie says in an article for Zora. And she’s right. “The less social capital you have, the more you are tethered to professionalism”: meaning, performing professionalism becomes even more essential the more financially insecure a person is, which puts a lot of pressure on working-class Black Americans to conform to a status quo that centers whiteness or we risk being barred from economic and job opportunities.

Consequently, “these expectations of professionalism are so common to us — from our outer appearance to the way we behave — we begin to create different versions of ourselves, doppelgängers to help us get through the day,” Chika explains. However, having to be what is essentially “reformed” versions of ourselves for long hours of the day, five days a week, can have negative consequences on our mental health and job performance.

According to a Harvard Business Review article titled “The Cost of Codeswitching,” the authors assert: “Seeking to avoid stereotypes can deplete cognitive resources and hinder performance. [In addition] feigning commonality with [white] coworkers also reduces authentic self-expression and contributes to burnout.”

Ultimately and unsurprisingly, workplace professionalism in the U.S. wasn’t designed with Black people and Black culture in mind. And especially in a white-dominated society, Blackness is seen as inherently unkept, unrefined, and undignified. 

The idea that we can successfully keep up this illusion of professionalism to remain physically integrated with white people is ridiculous. Because the culture surrounding what constitutes professionalism has forced Black people to adhere to whiteness in a way that’s simply unnatural and unsustainable. 

Even still, Black people have continued to fight a losing battle of performing respectability in the workplace that will never be good enough because the goal post for what professionalism means and who it truly applies to is always moving.

So, if there was ever a time to re-examine toxic workplace culture, it’s now. In the past year, Black communities across America have been hit hard by a global pandemic and have watched as the policing and justice system continues to have a flagrant disregard for our livelihood. And despite all of the racial injustice that was highlighted in both 2020 and 2021, the support for Black lives is at an all-time low.  

Coming back to the office would only serve as an added burden on Black American’s mental and emotional well-being. Working from home, on the other hand, has finally allowed Black professionals the freedom of self-expression without having to endure the inherent racism that comes from being amongst predominantly white work environments.

Understandably, though, adjusting to telework has been difficult for many and ultimately isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to rectifying, improving, or rebuilding racist workplaces. 

But whatever the case, in whatever a post-pandemic society looks like, we can’t resort back to western, white supremacist work culture just because it’s comfortable for some while disadvantageous for others. And to put it plainly, professionalism has long been about control just to remind racially marginalized communities white people hold the power and can wield it against us whenever and however they like.

In turn, there needs to be a continuous conversation for how we can accommodate Black, Indigenous, and other POC communities into the workplace all while dismantling the oppressive idea of professionalism. Because wearing a bonnet, a durag, braids, dread locs, natural hair, or just overall being unapologetically and authentically Black while working never hurt anyone.

And if we’re all working to build a more equitable society, traditional ideas of professionalism would have no place there anyway.

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Race Money Now + Beyond

The origins of tipping at American restaurants are rooted in racism

In the United States, it’s a common custom within the service and hospitality industry to tip waged workers. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers in the US is $2.13, compared to the main federal minimum wage which is $7.25, and has remained just short of two dollars for many decades.

People have been critical of the exploitative practice of tipping for years. The critiques mostly surround corporations utilization of tipping to legally get away with paying their workers an unlivable wageEssentially, customers are responsible for paying restaurant worker’s wages through tips.

And although tipping is optional, many Americans view not tipping service workers as rude or unethical due to their low wages. The other spectrum of people’s critiques simply highlights how grossly low and unethical paying individuals $2.13 is.

Restaurant workers are more likely to live below the poverty line than the general population, and that likelihood increases depending on things like race and gender. Activists have been trying to raise the minimum wage for hourly workers for decades. The Raise the Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, would additionally raise the minimum wage for tipped workers for the first time in almost three decades.

American capitalism makes our economy inherently unethical and predatory.

The stagnation of wages for tipped workers is itself abhorrent and a clear illustration of how predatory capitalism is on lower-income and working-class people. Workers’ wages being reliant upon (optional) tips from customers, rather than a guaranteed right from million or billion-dollar corporations is unethical. However, upon an even deeper examination into the custom of tipping in the US, its history is more corrupt than most know. 

Tipping actually originated in “medieval times as a master-serf custom wherein a servant would receive extra money for having performed superbly well,” Rachel E. Greenspan explains in an article for TIME. In the mid-1800s, wealthy Americans discovered the concept of tipping after travels to Europe and brought the custom to the states in order to seem dignified and well-traveled. 

The custom stuck in the Post Reconstruction Era, after slavery “ended,” as a way to opt-out of paying Black people who were now looking for work. Restaurants would pay Black workers little to nothing and forced them to rely on (optional) tips from white clientele, which “entrenched a unique and often racialized class structure in service jobs, in which [Black] workers must please both customer and employer to earn anything at all,” says Dr William J. Barber II in an article for Politico. Thus, legally continuing the practice of slavery but in a re-imagined way.

The custom was nationally unpopular for a while and only a custom done in the South because many people felt forcing customers to tip was condescending and classist. People thought it cruel to suggest poor people should give an additional amount of money on top of their bill. As a result, some states even made laws against the practice.

Additionally, tipping was thought to be a concept reserved only for Black workers, whereas white workers deserved to be fairly paid for their work. However, as Black people began moving north for economic opportunity and to escape segregationist laws, the custom of tipping followed, becoming the national standard within the US’s restaurant industry.

It’s imperative to know the history behind malpractices deemed as “normal.”

Fast forward to today, conversations (or arguments) surrounding the ethics of tipping at American restaurants occur often on social media between wait staff and restaurant workers and restaurant-goers. I’ve always found these discussions to be futile because the ethics of greedy corporations are never questioned, which in turn produces no real, systemic change for waged workers.

Rev. Dr William J. Barber II further states in his article, “We may live in a very different society from 150 years ago, but the subminimum tipped wage still exacerbates the inequalities passed down from that time.”

American capitalism makes our economy inherently unethical and predatory. So, rather than people regularly arguing amongst each other on whether working-class people are responsible for paying the wages of other working-class people, we should be collectively challenging our government to pay us livable wages.

Although the history of tipping in America is racist, raising the federal minimum wage benefits all working-class people regardless of race. Thankfully, an organization of restaurant industry leaders called Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment (RAISE) was founded in 2019 to champion living wages, basic benefits, and fair promotion policies for waged workers in the restaurant industry.

In addition, wages for hourly workers reliant on tips are being raised in isolated policies across the states like in Michigan or Washington DC. However, there obviously needs to be a national standard that correlates with the cost of living in America.

With racism being examined so closely this year, it’s imperative to know the history behind malpractices deemed as “normal.” And instead, challenge or dismantle those norms to begin building an economy that equally serves all.

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Celebrities Gender Race Inequality

Lana Del Rey has always been problematic, we just never talked about it

Late last week, Lana del Rey gave us another installment of Racist Dogwhistling by White Women Who Should Probably Know Better, a semi-monthly social media conversation that usually ends with iOs apologies and discussions about “real racism.” 

The singer posted an essay on her Instagram account that began thusly, “Question for the culture: Now that Doja Cat, Ariana, Camila, Cardi B, Kehlani and Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé have had number ones with songs about being sexy, wearing no clothes, f**king, cheating etc – can I please go back to singing about being embodied, feeling beautiful by being in love even if the relationship is not perfect, or dancing for money – or whatever I want – without being crucified or saying that I’m glamorizing abuse??????” 

She went on to describe herself as “just a glamourous person singing about the realities of what we are all now seeing are [sic] very prevalent emotionally abusive relationships all over the world” and said that she finds it “pathetic” that her “minor lyrical exploration detailing [her] sometimes submissive or passive roles in [her] relationships has often made people say [she’s] set women back hundreds of years.”

Apparently, she is “not not a feminist” but feels that there should be “a place in feminism for women who look and act like [her] – the kind of woman who says no but men hear yes – the kind of women who are slated mercilessly for being their authentic, delicate selves…”

Let’s unpack this. While I do not care to follow anything regarding Camila Cabello’s career because she has her own history of anti-Blackness, the rest of the women that del Rey name-checked have been criticized often throughout the course of their careers, for being “too sexy,” being “too political,” breaking up with their partners, their tattoos, their partners’ infidelities, the ways that they speak or dress. On one hand, del Rey was being ridiculously self-absorbed and obtuse. On the other, save for Ariana Grande, every woman on that list is a woman of color. 

Perhaps Lana del Rey could benefit from a brief chat with a capital F feminist, because then she may learn a little about the ways that Black and Latinx women have been stereotyped and hypersexualized by racists for centuries. And that by propping herself up like this “authentic, delicate” victim of undue criticism, she is operating right out of the Racist White Women of Yore Playbook, by invoking ideas straight from the Cult of Domesticity, or the Cult of True Womanhood. 

In response to the backlash she swiftly received, the singer wrote that when she mentioned women who look like her, she was referring to “people who don’t look strong or necessarily smart, or like they are in control etc. it’s about advocating for a more delicate personality, not for white woman [sic].” Which, as several Twitter users pointed out, still does an efficient job of masculinizing Black women – another old, racist standby. 

Full disclosure: I do not hate Lana del Rey’s music, despite some of its problematic themes. I enjoy a good, hauntingly depressing track every now and again. It was good music to write to when I tired of my other standbys, but I would often get put off by some of her lyrical choices, and I’m not at all heartbroken that I have to give it up. 

For example, in her song “Off to the Races” from 2012’s Born to Die, she repeatedly references Lolita, with the lyrics “Light of my life, fire of my loins,” a couplet that author Vladimir Nabokov actually pulled that quote from the real-life child abduction and molestation case that inspired his novel. 

If possible, she managed to make this even more troubling by heaping a bit of cultural appropriation on top, by describing herself (or perhaps more accurately, the character she plays) as “Lolita gets lost in the hood” during a 2011 interview with The Guardian. That she’d donned this “hood” persona but then turned around to throw Black and Latinx women – for whom being considered/stereotyped as “hood” can result in being devalued or disrespected – under the bus in 2020 is…not surprising, but it does rankle the nerves. 

Then, there’s her notorious sample of the troubling 1962 song by The Crystals, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss” in the title track of her 2014 album, “Ultraviolence.” Are the accusations of glamorizing abuse really that far off? 

Lana del Rey has relied heavily on shock value in the past. For example, “Cola” from her 2012 album, Paradise literally begins with the lyrics, “My p***y tastes like Pepsi Cola/My eyes are wide like cherry pies.” Which she immediately follows up with “I got sweet taste for men who are older/It’s always been so it’s no surprise.” Is that a reflective take on power imbalances in her previous relationships? Or is it her leaning into her problematic “Lolita” persona? 

In her “final” note about her earlier post – which, spoiler alert, would NOT be her final words on the subject – she stood firm in her stance that she was merely “writing about the self advocacy [sic] for the more delicate and often dismissed, softer female personality. She went on to predict that the “new wave/3rd wave of feminism” would be helmed by the kind of women for whom she is speaking. 

Not even touching the fact that Lana del Rey does not know that third-wave feminism is already a thing, let’s dissect her comments about the aforementioned artists not being “soft” or “delicate.” 

Nicki Minaj was the first female rapper with major buzz in years, and she literally sang love songs, calls her fans Barbies and made the color pink a huge part of her brand. Beyoncé has songs about insecurities, feeling silenced in a relationship – the woman literally put out “Lemonade,” which repeatedly made references to her real-life husband’s infidelities. Cardi B breastfed her baby in a music video. Kehlani’s “Nights Like This,” one of the most-streamed songs of her career, thus far, is all about feeling powerless in a relationship that does not serve you. [Note: I’m skipping over Doja Cat because then, I’d have to write about her most recent scandal, and honestly, we’d be here all night.]

The fact that this all comes on the heels of food writer Alison Roman accusing decluttering genius Marie Kondo and cookbook author/famed Twitter user Chrissy Teigen of “selling out” for having become successful – it’s just too much. Roman was interviewed about her career’s trajectory and was discussing her future, and instead, squandered the opportunity to further her own wins by hating on two Asian women – one of whom (Teigen) was prepared to actually work with Roman. 

Apparently, if Asian women build successful careers by leveraging ideas and recipes inspired by their own cultures, that’s selling out. However, when a white woman does it, it is innovative and creative, and cool. When Latinx and Black women make music about sexuality, they can never be “delicate” or “soft.” Instead, they are “strong” and “in control,” which is code for “unfeminine.”

Given Lana del Rey’s response to the backlash she’s received, I’m fairly certain that she is shocked at her comments are racist. But here is the tricky thing about racism, especially in a country with a history like that of the U.S.: it’s been so heavily ingrained in American culture that many white people who traffic in casual, underhanded, or coded racism shut down the moment they are called out for their behavior. They believe that only violent, taboo racism is “real racism,” and that anyone who disagrees with them is reading too much into things, being overly sensitive, or misunderstanding their message. They don’t even recognize their own dog whistles and will argue you down that you are wrong because they didn’t mean it that way.

That is why the unlearning process is such a big part of becoming a say-it-with-your-full-chest feminist: this society was built on a racist, patriarchal system, and those who refuse to listen to women of color when they are called out for this kind of behavior are doomed to repeat it.

Gender Race Inequality

White supremacy in America is the difference between Louis Farrakhan and Milo Yiannopoulos

There’s been much uproar over Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory’s connection to Louis Farrakhan.  The discourse and backlash to the Women’s March in many ways has been similar to that around the Me Too Movement.  Tamika Mallory has been used as an excuse to discredit the Women’s March movement, even by women who participated.  Louis Farrakhan, without a doubt, holds many abhorrent views. He’s homophobic, anti-Semitic, and not afraid to say it.  He’s also been a powerful organizer for the rights of African Americans in this country.

Let’s do an experiment though. Let’s take a look at Milo Yiannopoulos, a known racist or was it…provocateur?  Milo Yiannopoulos and his brand had an enormous audience and power. He has no background in working towards any greater good or social justice organizing.  He is racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, and Anti-Semitic.

In some ways, the two men have many similarities.  Both are members of disenfranchised groups. Louis Farrakhan is African American and Milo Yiannopoulos is gay.  Both men excel at attracting attention, even if it’s for inflammatory, hate-filled remarks. Both have been widely and rightfully criticized.

However, many of those who are listening to Louis Farrakhan are listening because he cares about the future of African Americans in this country, and many of the people who appreciate that are not an audience for his other views.  In other words, his power is limited. He has been largely denounced and he is not given a stage on major news outlets.

In contrast, Milo Yiannopoulos was for a time widely defended in the name of free speech and by those who just felt they should hear him out.  There were many who didn’t agree with what he had to say, but liked his pluck, his style, his brand. Hell, people just thought he was fun. He appeared on HBO to debate with Bill Maher and was even given a book deal with Simon and Schuster.  It took a support of pedophilia for him to lose this incredible platform he was given.

This is America today and this is white supremacy.  It’s easy to tweet about intersectional feminism on International Women’s Day and it’s easy to support perfect leaders.  The real test is how we respond to those with whom we disagree. I am not by any means defending Louis Farrakhan’s views, they’re despicable, it’s easy to condemn them.  I’m just saying to look at how our country dragged its feet when it came to the white man and those willing to engage with him.

We are so ready to tear down black women and women’s movements in this country.  We construct platforms and movements as though they’re chains, and one imperfect link will bring the whole thing down.  I’ve seen so many female leaders come out with statements condemning Tamika Mallory in the name of intersectional feminism, saying no excuses, period, full stop.  But when intersectional feminism means cutting out a Black woman at the forefront of the largest demonstration in US history, you have to ask yourself, who are intersectional feminists even fighting for?

Race Inequality

The ultimate guide for not having the cops called on you for being Black

Technically speaking, the police do not exist for one’s benefit of harassing a group of people.

But in the world of concerned white civilians and neighborhood watches, which are arguably interchangeable, we have been inundated with stories of Black people having the police called on them for sleeping in their dorm common rooms, asking for plastic cutlery, and barbecuing in a public park. It’s as if an agency whose roots can be traced to preserving slavery can be weaponized for white convenience, but also the Caucacity to do so with impunity.

Though to be fair, it’s not their fault we’re not white. Have you tried to discern who is the threat: a Black child with a pellet gun from a white teen who brings an assault rifle to a school? Or a Black girl hanging poolside in a bathing suit. The onus is on us to be less threatening. So in the spirit of black preservation, here are some tips on avoiding white people calling the cops on you.

1. Hire a skywriter so you never show up unannounced

Body camera footage of two women being pulled over my police.
Via AP

Understand that seeing a minority in a white space can be jarring. To put everyone at ease, keep a skywriter on retainer, so they can introduce you whenever you’re staying in an Airbnb or taking a campus tour.  Remember your existence is to entertain. And who doesn’t love seeing a small plane write “Jesus” in the clouds, followed by your criminal history?

2. Align yourself with the “Justice for Harambe” crowd

People protest the death of a gorilla at his vigil outside the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.
Photo by John Minchillo

Casually mention the injustice and savage murders of Cecil the Lion and Harambe. They’ll forget to report that you were trespassing on your property by going into a diatribe on why the kid’s neglectful parents should have gotten shot instead of Harambe.

3. Wear closed-toe shoes to the park

Women calls police on black people barbecuing.

If you’re a Black man 40-years-old and up, consider trading in your fisherman sandals with a closed toe shoe, ideally something with velcro in all designated grill zones in city parks. This is more so for your safety as wearing open toe shoes does create a pending threat when worn while barbecuing.

In other news, the city of Philadelphia will honor the brave men who celebratory burned, flipped, and committed other forms of self-expression towards cars after the Eagles victory by giving them the key to the city.

4. Ditch the cutlery and start eating with your hands

Black woman wrestled on the ground by two cops.
Via Canita Adams/ Storyful

Get rid of your cutlery in exchange for eating with your hands.

White people will follow suit thinking it’s some strange, new trend that you created despite it being the norm across the world. Plus, opting out of plastic cutlery will help lower your carbon footing, which will win you points with your white, bohemian neighbor with dreadlocks who was five minutes away from reporting you to the homeowners’ association for leaving your garbage can out the day after pick up.

5. Give them permission to say all the words in M.A.A.D City

Five black posing for a picture.
Via Myneca Ojo / Facebook

What white people won’t admit is that they really want to say the n-word in rap songs. Kendrick Lamar’s M.A.A.D City helped them through a rough patch last month, in which they witness a group of Black golfers using a putter throughout the course, instead of switching between clubs for short and long distance shots. The situation still has them shaken.

Besides aren’t we just oppressing ourselves by not letting them say it? For it was Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “no one is free until we are all free to say it.

6. Use the “all Black people know each other” excuse to your benefit

Black teen interviewed by off screen reporter.

Unlike white people, who share the one Black friend, all Black and Brown people know each other.

Use this to your advantage, by suggesting that “Tyrone had wanted you two to meet.” Brad will be too busy trying to remember this nonexistent friend that he won’t notice that cashier has finished ringing up that jacket he had accused you of stealing.

7. Just don’t be black

White woman posing as a black woman.
Via KXLY News

I would suggest donning white face, but that’s reverse racism.

Gender & Identity Life

My family calls me “kalo pakhi” (black bird), and it’s only helped to break me down

When I was younger, I’d rub the fleshy insides of cold lemons on my face because WikiHow said it would help “lighten and brighten” my skin.

I kept this nonsense up for weeks, praying that the citric acid would dissolve the summer brown on my cheeks. I stopped eventually, not because I became aware of the ridiculousness of colorism based pressure within the desi community, but because I was lazy and eventually ran out of lemons.

Lemon shortage aside, colorism exists across countless ethnic groups, each with its own specific brand of dark skin depreciation. Within the desi community, it manifests in marital eligibility. One of the first questions or comments that families will pose concerns of how “forsha” (fair) the potential bride or groom is, with accompanying nods of approval or clucks of disappointment. It makes false promises to dusky girls via the corporate might of skin lightening creams like the infamous Fair and Lovely and their backward propaganda that tries (and succeeds) to link success/desirability/happiness with being lighter.

It exists in quieter places like when my mother advises my youngest sister to swim after sunset, more upset about how much darker she’s gotten than of the chlorine water dripping off her legs and onto the back seat of our new car. Colorism fed an ugly monster that had lived within me for so long, the one that cursed my father for giving me his hairiness and brown nose.

It fueled frustrated jealousy of my lighter skinned sister and our even lighter-skinned mother, who both existed as walking manifestations of the “after” picture on skin lightening ads.

It cemented inferiority into my subconscious whenever family members teasingly called me “kalo pakhi” (black bird). Never mind that I actually existed in a hazy middle ground in which I wasn’t light enough to avoid such comments, but also not dark enough to truly understand the absolute worst condescensions of homeliness.

But it’s even more than that.

Colorism cultivates and perpetuates anti-blackness in our desi communities.

Colorism makes it easier for racism to settle comfortably in our dialogue because devaluing dark skin is already ingrained into our psyches.

It breeds a complicit youth, who take the lustrous parts of black culture, like music and language and style, but drop the ball in understanding the nuances of racial tensions in American society.

We give ourselves a pass because we too fall prey to hateful discrimination for being “other” in white spaces, while simultaneously forgetting our privilege as non-black people of color. This mentality that continues to persist across generations of Desi Americans only further feeds into the discrepancies of the model minority myth, that insists that we, as a demographic group, are expected to perform better socioeconomically.

But by convincing ourselves that we are somehow better than our dark-skinned brothers and sisters, better than our fellow black Americans, we contribute to the longevity of systemic oppression and white supremacy.

So what do we do?

We start and continue conversations about how the coordinated damage of colorism and anti-blackness work hand in hand in our communities. We work to dismantle the hierarchy of color by letting our girls get darker without condemning their self-esteem and checking our elders when they try to justify their prejudices because of media-based stereotypes.

We let our boys know that unless they’re willing to shoulder the weight of centuries of racial discrimination on their shoulders, they should keep their liberal use of the N-word from their tongues. We loudly speak up against institutional anti-blackness at every level, but we also silently support our black brothers and sisters when their voices are the ones that need to be heard.

We work from the inside out, because our solidarity is hypocritical if we aren’t self-aware or actively working to disassemble the issues that continue to plague our communities to this day.

And then maybe I’ll rest assured that my little sister will be happy enough in her brown skin to never feel the need to squeeze lemon juice on anything but her biryani.

Race Inequality

Do I count as a person of color if I’m Asian-American?

Throughout my life, I’ve held on dearly to the bonds I’ve formed with people of color.

I especially revere my core group of friends who identify as women of color because of the sense of solidarity we’ve felt for each other. We grew up in a predominantly white, southern town, so the connections we fostered across racial and ethnic lines were powerful.

In a barrage of whiteness, building this coalition made me feel less alone. These relationships were crucial building blocks for me to unapologetically embrace my intersectional Filipinx American identity when I so often felt ashamed of how I stood out as the “other.”

This collective friendship was the first time I had ever experienced sincere solidarity among people of color. But as I’ve grown to build upon my social consciousness and expose myself to activist spaces for people of color, I’ve begun to question more and more my place in these spaces as an Asian American woman.

Before college, my understanding of social justice was admittedly shallow. I had narrow means of consciousness-building amid a public school education that taught us that the U.S. Civil War wasn’t really about slavery, and limited access to resources to cultivate my own self-education in the first place. All I knew was that the connections I fostered with my core friend group came from a place of what I perceived as shared struggle.

What I didn’t acknowledge were the degrees to which that marginalization affected us individually. While I acknowledged the obvious differences in experiences between me, a Filipinx American woman, and my Latinx and Black friends in high school, I didn’t know how to deconstruct the way my privileges as a light-skinned Asian American set me closer to whiteness than my Black and Brown friends, and how problematic this can be when identifying as a person of color.

When I entered college, I immediately immersed myself in my alma mater’s Asian American community. I not only learned about and advocated for the issues that uniquely affect my community, but I also became keenly aware of how Asian Americans were used as a wedge between Whiteness and Blackness, and how our community has been used to antagonize Black Americans with the model minority myth.

After learning how Asian Americans can be complicit in anti-Blackness. I became leery of an identity that I previously thought was irrefutable. I started questioning more and more, “can I even call myself a person of color?”

The answer to that is a bit complicated. If non-Black people of color in general are going to use the term, we must use it with extreme caution to context and know when to sit down during racial justice conversations.

Colorism and classicism are real. As a light-skinned Filipinx American woman from an upper-middle background, I do not experience oppression and violence the same way folks who have darker complexions or those who come from lower-socioeconomic households do.

Although I am an Asian American woman who experiences oppression and marginalization in unique ways, my experiences are not interchangeable with those of Black Americans. This difference is key in critically discussing race relations and how centering my own experiences can diminish the significance of others.

Systemic forms of oppression like racism affects different communities in different ways, and language is crucial to assuring that these differences are recognized and that we’re uplifting the most marginalized, even in the ways that we use the term “people of color.”

I often feel exploitative when I call myself a person of color, which in itself is already a broad umbrella term. By claiming this name without context, I am unwittingly erasing the experiences of Black and Brown folks that experience oppression in ways that are often more violent and fatal.

While I can acknowledge the ways white supremacy oppresses me and other Asian Americans, I can acknowledge and advocate for my community’s struggles without erasing the very real and violent experiences of others.

For non-Black people of color, we have to recognize our privileges and confront how we unwittingly oppress each other when we erase Blackness in an attempt to form solidarity. I am simply not entitled to all spaces for people of color, and that’s okay.

I can identify as a woman or person of color for purposes of coalition-building and unity, but I have to de-center my experiences as a non-Black woman of color when hearing about the experiences of Black women of color. We need to center the experiences of those most marginalized and disenfranchised, not conflate them with our own.

Race Inequality

Since you shouldn’t be using the n-word while rapping, we made a guide with 7 words to use instead

Hip-hop and rap music is one of the best things to come out of the United States. Developed by inner city Black musicians in the 1970s, hip-hop and rap has been used by Black artists as an expression of the Black experience— the joy, the pain, the oppression, the hope. Of course, many non-Black people have come to love and even make their own hip-hop music. But there lies a problem among many non-black rap fans— too many of us use it as an excuse to use the n-word.

This is not a piece about why you shouldn’t use it.

Many talented Black writers and scholars have tackled the subject far better than I ever could, and if you were able to make it to this article, you’re likely able to make it to Google. Just… don’t. One argument that I’ve heard repeatedly from other non-Black people absolutely intent on finding a justification is that rappers often use the n-word in a context that means “friend” or “homie” or “people” rather than specifically Black people. And sometimes that’s true. But it’s still not okay for you to say it if you’re not Black.

My fellow South Asians are especially guilty of thinking they get a pass. So don’t. Take it from another non-Black person who deeply appreciates the work of black artists: it’s not that hard.

Any lover of rap music knows how easy it is to get really into it. When you listen, you want to rap along. So here’s a list of words that us non-Black rap fans can use in place of the n-word. Keep in mind, these aren’t for when the song actually does use the word in reference to a Black person, derogatorily or not.

1. Nothing


I lied, this one is for those songs where you saying anything would just be a euphemism. I often just censor myself and skip over it, so that it sounds like someone muted the word out like they do on the radio.

2. Homie


Be cool about this one, though. “Gossip, gossip, homie just stop it” does not work at all.

3. Buddy


This one just makes me laugh. Try it. It’s a good one for when you’re feeling a bit goofy.

4. Jedi


I wish I could claim credit for this one but the Set Your Goals cover of Lil Jon & the East Side Boyz’s “Put Yo Hood Up” uses Jedi as a replacement word (I have no idea what that video has to do with the song, so please disregard.) It’s equal parts awesome and hilarious with perhaps a bit of cringe.

5. Neighbor


There’s just something so wholesome about addressing someone as neighbor whether they live next to you or not. Love thy neighbor. Rap with thy neighbor.

6. Comrade


Feeling a bit red? Let your favorite rap song bring out the socialist or communist in you (minus the corrupted powers part).

7. Muggle


You’ve heard it before from people trying to justify why they insist on using the n-word. “It’s just a fun word to say!” Well, racism is never fun. What’s way more fun to say is the British terminology for a non-magical person (non-maj for us American folks). And this one, I can take credit for coming up with. There are very few rap songs where you can’t use the word ‘muggle’… and actually mean it as if you’re referring to a muggle. In fact, it works as such a fantastic replacement that even one of my friends who can use the n-word has started using it regularly.

Words are powerful. As a result, words can also be painful. It falls on all of us to make sure we don’t bring unnecessary pain to our fellow human beings, and if that means doing something as small as avoiding the use of a single word, it’s more than worth it.

Race Inequality

Some Black men would rather pick Becky over Black women – but we’re okay

I’m not going to take time and lead up to how I’m feeling. I’ll start off with this: I’M TIRED.

Black women are disrespected by non-Black people all the time. Our hair, our sizes, our lips, the way that we talk, laugh, dance, and breathe overall is always criticized. Worst of all, our biggest critics are Black men themselves (with a Becky on their side of course).

“WAIT! NOT ALL BLA—” Nope. Stop it right there. Please, hold all your “not all Black men” comments until the end.

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I’ve never heard or seen men belittle women of their own race the same way Black men do to Black women. I’m not talking about the whole “women are weaker, men are superior” thing. I’m talking about the “Nah, I can’t handle Black girls” mess. The “Black women are too ghetto” and “Black girls need to be mixed with something to be cute” and “Dark-skin girls are so loud, damn…” crap irks me.

Black men: Do y’all realize that you’re not just insulting us, but also your mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers too? You came from Black women! You would not exist without us! Your hair, lips, hands, skin, and that smile you like to charm Becky with would be nothing without Black women.

Attacking the women who will support you is a bad move. “Black women are the worst,” huh? 

Yet, when a Black life is lost, all of a sudden, Becky gets quiet… 

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Some of your “better than Black girls” girlfriends are only around for their Black men fetish and light-skin mixed baby fetish.

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Then again, what do I know?

And something I have said and written about before: Black women DO NOT CARE if you’re not dating a Black woman.

I repeat, WE DO NOT CARE one bit. As long as you and your significant other are happy and staying in your lane, it’s all good. Black women are over here unbothered and thriving. However, if you’re just showing off your Becky with the caption “Black women never gave me what she gives me” or “White girls are evolving, Black girls better watch out” then……


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Sure, at first we might cringe a little, but we decided that it’s better to move on. We think your anti-Blackness is disgusting and it’s sad how you’re begging for our attention. 

If you want to be ignorant then, by all means, go ahead.

It’s not even worth feeling pity that you think this way. If there had to be any pity from me, it’d be for the non-Black girls you’re messing with for the sake of trying to make us jealous.

It’s tiring to see how much you try though. It’d be nicer to see you packing this kind of trash up and replacing it with positivity on my timeline. 

Maybe start with one of those anniversary posts of you and Becky love – without the “Black women got nothing on her” part.

Race Inequality

Why is the Muslim immigrant community so selective about mourning Black lives?

Three young black Muslim men were shot dead execution style, with “multiple” bullet wounds, in an Indiana home five days ago.

They were Mohamedtaha Omar, 23, Adam Mekki, 20, and Muhannad Taha, 17.

A little over one year ago to the date, Yusor Abu-Salha, Deah Barakat, and Rayan Abu-Salha were shot dead in their home, eerily almost the same exact way, by what we soon learned was a hate and xenophobia motivated attack.

The ever-growing openness of hate mongering and xenophobia in the West is no secret to the rest of the world, much less the Muslim community. Whether it’s you-know-who suggesting we should kill them “with bullets dipped in pig’s blood” or suggesting a ban on Muslims, the community has become well accustomed to the frankness with which the radical right frames its conversation. The question moments after a Muslim American’s life is brutally lost is much less a question of whether or not it was a hate crime, but rather when the media, the investigators and essentially the rest of the world will recognize it publicly as a hate crime.

Why then, days after the Fort Wayne attacks, was there a silence around the deaths of three young men within the Muslim community?

Following their tragic deaths, officials attempted and miserably failed to link the tragic deaths to gang-related incidents yet the Muslim community sipped the Kool-Aid until we could know for certain it wasn’t gang related. And now that we know, as if we didn’t already know all along, I can still hear the crickets chirping. I recognized this silence from when news (barely) broke last year about 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein of the Somali Muslim community of Kansas City, who was killed in a hate-motivated hit-and-run just outside of his local masjid.

So, why the silence? Where are the candlelight vigils and Facebook statuses? Where are the prayers in masjids and the mass MSA emails?

I will be the Muslim to say this: three young black Muslim men shot execution style on private property five days ago hasn’t even received a fraction of the attention that the Chapel Hill victim’s received moments after their deaths. I will be that Muslim to say that when our black brothers and sisters are victims of xenophobic brutality the non-black Muslim community looks away.

Selective mourning is not a good look on us.

Anti-Blackness in the Muslim community is very much alive and very much real. We push our Black brothers and sisters to the fringes of our communities, be it socially, politically or even economically. And even in death, we add that extra level of marginalization.

Even in death, we do not respect our own Black bodies in the way that we respect our own Arab, Desi, white, Asian, non-Black bodies. We decide who from amongst us is deserving of mourning and to what extent we allow those souls the liberty of dignity and public infuriation over their loss.

Race Inequality

What do “big dick Asians” and anti-blackness have in common?

Last month, Eddie Huang, author of “Fresh Off the Boat,” brought to our attention the full extent of just how harmful his misguided attempts at reclaiming Asian masculinity are. Self-appointed spokesman of his “big dick Asians” movement, Eddie seeks to oppose the racist emasculation of Asian men in a way that I can only see as counter-productive.

He’s mistaken from the start, conflating masculinity for misogyny, a rising trend among Asian Americans. The attempts of Huang and many other Asian American men attempts to reclaim their manhood all manifest through the objectification and conquest of women.

As a typically female-presenting Chinese person, I can’t believe the internalized racism and misogyny that I’ve faced from fellow Asian men. It all ranges from “Why do Asian girls only date white guys?” to ham-handed pick-up artists techniques that leave me cringing. I have to ask the question: Why are Asian men resorting to the definition of masculinity instilled by their oppressors?

Do not reinforce the docile Asian woman or abusive Asian husband stereotypes, and definitely do NOT incorporate anti-blackness and homophobia into your definition of “macho.” This is your chance to reclaim masculinity, guys – at least do it well.

But back to Huang. See, last month he got into a Twitter argument with notable black feminist Mia McKenzie. The exchanges between black and Asian communities have always been tenuous. Good at times, worse at others. It’s important to remember that as Asians, no matter our gender, we benefit from anti-blackness. (I’m looking at you, Eddie.)

McKenzie asked Huang to clarify a statement he made on Bill Maher, that “Asian men have been emasculated so much in America that we’re basically treated like Black women.”

He pointed to an OKCupid study showing that Asian men and black women were among the least desirable – a fair study, with truthful statistics – but what happened after the fact just blows me away. I expected misogyny from Eddie Huang, but from a self-proclaimed lover of hip hop/”the struggle,” I never expected this.

After he got to explain his side, all McKenzie did was explain why what he said was problematic and ask for an apology. Now, I’m siding with McKenzie here, but even if I weren’t, there are ways to disagree respectfully and this is not it. This is a thinly veiled sexist pass.

Rightfully, both non-black people of color and the black community were quick to call him out.

(For the full conversation, click here)

Finally, a takeaway lesson we could all learn from this (besides that performing masculinity as misogyny is definitely a misguided attempt to redefine men) is that we need to be more aware of anti-blackness in our communities. I was wary of Eddie’s hip hop-drenched persona from the start (how are you gonna act like you’re about that life when your fame comes from media about you growing up in a suburban white neighborhood?). As a collective community, we need to be more aware about calling out problematic and high-profile people.

I care about all the Asian men that feel lesser because of a feminized Asian narrative, but I’m starting to question if they care for me. I’m starting to wonder if they care for anything aside from their own struggle.

How does it feel, Eddie, to have the Asian community not back you up? This is a warning to future “big dick Asians”: We do not tolerate misogyny. We do not tolerate your efforts to set back our path towards solidarity.