Books Interviews

London Shah feels compelled to tell stories: an interview with the author of Journey to the Heart of the Abyss

London Shah has been dreaming about a submerged world for years.

The British Muslim author, who is of Pashtun ethnicity, said in an email interview that she specifically dreamed of a submerged Britain. Not that she wants the current world to be flooded; just that it’s an image that has hovered near her for much of her life.

And now London’s sophomore novel, Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, the second in a duology about a 16-year-old submersible racer named Leyla who goes on an epic adventure to save her father and discover the secrets the government is hiding, is about to release. It’s set, fittingly, in an underwater version of Great Britain.

“The setting came first, long before any characters,” Shah said. “I cannot recall a time when I did not fantasize about our world carrying on beneath the surface of the seas. I imagined a submerged world as aesthetically close to our current one as possible, and nothing too hard sci-fi.”

Shah was mesmerized by the idea of a realistic underwater world, not one populated by mermaids but one where humans could watch present-day sea creatures — a huge whale, maybe an octopus — living their lives right outside our spheres of existence.

The first book in the duology, The Light at the Bottom of the World, was published in 2019 and the closing book publishes on Nov. 16, 2021. 

“Every feeling and thought I had ever held about what life might be like living deep underwater, I have explored in these books,” Shah said. “All the wonder and magic, all the constant, suffocating perils, and of course all the endless possibilities! I explore them all. I have lived with this fantasy forever, and I am excited beyond words to finally share it with everyone.”

Shah said that growing up she loved studying English, writing fiction for assignments and telling stories, but that she never considered that “author” could be a viable career option. 

“As a South Asian Muslim, back then I never believed writing was even an option for people like me,” Shah explained. “I have always loved creating with words but was never exposed to the idea of doing anything with that passion. Nobody I knew was a writer, and I knew exactly nothing about the publishing industry.”

Despite this, Shah said she is filled with ideas, which compel her to write. She has a vivid imagination and has been envisioning different worlds and stories since at least kindergarten. As much as creating new worlds to play in can be difficult, Shah said she loves doing it.

Worldbuilding is intoxicating,” she said. “It is a lot of hard work, but watching your very own creation come to life—this whole other reality!—makes all the challenges worthwhile. It is exhilarating.”

She is motivated to write as well to tell the stories of characters of color. As a woman of color herself, Shah said she loves to fill her stories with main characters whose backgrounds and ethnicities reflect real-world people who do not often get to see themselves in the pages of their favorite books.

“To provide representation for those who have rarely seen themselves in the pages of a book, rarely experienced those like themselves going off on epic adventures and leading amazing quests, is the best motivator,” Shah said.

And in fact, because she writes for teens, Shah indicated that their reactions also propel her forward and motivate her. Her first book was a Battle of the Books selection and she’s been blown away by the reception among teens and students.

Another demographic who’ve embraced her book? German readers.

The book has been translated to German and published by Loewe Verlag, and Shah said she has loved seeing the book’s reception in that country.

“Its reception has been heartening and affirmative, and readers in Germany have been so enthusiastic and positive and lovely,” she said.

In order to write Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, Shah said she planned the book out scene-by-scene. Famously among writers, the second book in anyone’s career is notorious for how difficult it can be to write. Shah said she worked to overcome this slump by planning the whole book and by focusing on her craft, including by reading.

In fact, Shah believes so much in the power of reading to a writer’s craft that it’s what she recommends to aspiring writers.

“Expose yourselves to the art of storytelling whenever and however you can,” she said. “Recognize the things you feel most passionate about and that way if you are ever stuck for ideas, you will already have a rich source of details to pick from. Using and exploring what we feel an intense connection with ensures the story remains exciting to us, and has plenty of heart.”

In addition to Journey to the Heart of the Abyss, which is an anticipated conclusion to a fantastical debut, Shah recommended several other books she’s loved.

Currently, Shah is reading The Silver Tracks, which is book four in the Mirrorworld series by Cornelia Funke. She described it as, “remarkable.” In addition, she recommended Ciannon Smart’s summer debut Witches Steeped in Gold, saying, “It is different and fierce, and I loved it. Smart’s worldbuilding is to die for; it is rich and original, and you completely lose yourself in its ferocious heart,” and adding that book is a “thrilling, unpredictable read.”

Finally, Shah recommended the entire Bone Season series by Samantha Shannon. “Despite the heavy themes throughout, there is a tenderness to the narrative I have rarely encountered elsewhere in fiction,” Shah said. “The result is an enthralling experience. I barely took any breaks between the books, hardly breathed for fear of being rudely dragged out of that mesmerizing world. The next instalment in the series is my most anticipated book.”

Shah can be found online or on Instagram, and Journey to the Heart of the Abyss releases on Nov. 16, 2021.

Editor's Picks World News Health News Coronavirus Science The World Policy

COVID-19 death counts have taught me that numbers are not reliable

As a Humanities student in a household full of Engineers, I have often had the Letters vs. Numbers debate. I always lost. Our whole society functions under a belief in Science and facts – things that can be proven. Someone’s word is never enough. In a certain way, numbers have become our new religion.

I believed in it too. I enjoyed the flexibility and subjectivity of my History and Literature essays but often envied the ‘simplicity’ of STEM subjects, where problems only had one right answer. However, the current pandemic has made me realize for the first time that numbers can be and are constantly manipulated, and we should not rely so blindly on them.

In a way, Science has becomed our new religion

Like many people, I am sure, I have been closely following COVID-19. It is pretty much the only topic being covered in newspapers at the moment. In particular, I have followed the famous curve that we so desperately need to flatten and checked its progress day by day, comparing different countries. The fact that I study in the UK but have my family in Spain allowed me to see how two different countries reacted to the pandemic and the numbers that they provided.

After being advised by my university to return to Madrid, I started receiving messages from many of my UK friends, worried about me and my family. ‘I hear that things are really bad over there’ they would say. ‘Well, aren’t they everywhere?’ I would think to myself. I would then turn on the news and hear the presenter state that  ‘Spain is the country that has suffered more COVID-19 deaths in relation to the size of their population’. And my question is: Are we?

“We don´t know where on the curve we are” said Francisco Moreno, head of internal medicine at Mexico City’s ABC Hospital.

I do not by any chance want to minimize the gravity of the situation that we are currently living. This is a horrible time and my country has been suffering incredibly. The fact that I find myself celebrating that yesterday there were ONLY 637 deaths is appalling. However, these statements and statistics are indeed relying on information that, when contrasted and researched, raises some questions.

For example, China’s mobile phone users have dropped by 21 million, making their COVID-19 casualty rates suspicious (3,331). Germany only counts COVID-19 as the cause of death if patients do not have other medical conditions, and France and Spain do not include patients that die outside the hospital nor make autopsies to certify the cause of death. Italy and South Korea have done enormous testing efforts, which have resulted in very high infection rates, particularly in comparison to countries that limit testing, such as Venezuela, who only tests people that have traveled internationally or have had contact with a confirmed infection. In fact, the rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tokyo after the announcement of the delay of the Olympics has been considered suspicious by some media outlets. Nigeria identified in March over 200 people that were in contact with the first coronavirus patient in the country but only tested 33.

At the end of the day, calculations are made by people, and people make mistakes

Francisco Moreno, the head of internal medicine at Mexico City‘s ABC Hospital said that he feels like he is “walking blindly through the woods” because “the official number of cases isn’t real. We don’t know where on the curve we are.”

Most healthcare authorities across the globe are advising people that are symptomatic but do not have difficulty breathing to stay at home. This is a wise decision taken to keep hospitals from overflowing, but it directly affects the way that we put together infection statistics.

The infection rates and recovery statistics are the most affected by the advice to stay at home. The lack of testing and the fact that the virus acts affects people differently makes it likely that there are a lot more people infected that the numbers that we see on TV, but also that a lot more people are “cured” than those in official statistics. I know several people that had all the symptoms of the virus and were not tested because they did not need hospitalization. Healthcare systems are focusing on those people whose lives are at risk and that is important and necessary. However, it also means that the recoveries of people who stay at home while being sick are not included in statistics. The same goes for people that were asymptomatic and have no way of knowing if they have had the virus or not.

Numbers can be and are constantly manipulated, and we should not rely so blindly on them.

“Cases are bound to fall through the cracks,” stated David Flora, chief resident at a Caracas’ hospital. “And those cases that we skip create new cases that don’t meet the criteria either.”

We need to assume the flaws of the new myth that we have created: Science. Particularly Science as an all-knowing discipline. Just as we do with facts that we read and hear online, we need to contrast numbers. Because scientific knowledge can easily be manipulated, and statistics can very easily favor the person that created them. We need and should use Science, but without worshiping it.

At the end of the day, calculations are made by people, and there is no point in trusting numbers if you don’t trust the minds that obtain those results.

Book Reviews Pop Culture

“The Nightingale” shows us that war heroes aren’t always men

Kristin Hannah’s book The Nightingale is impactful, important, and not something that fades from memory easily. I read it quite some time ago but the story still weighs inside me.

It’s about women. It’s about struggle. It’s about love. It’s about war.

The Nightingale is the story of two French sisters, Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Rosginol, as they resist Nazi forces when World War II engulfs France.

Despite being sisters, Vianne and Isabelle are as different as two people can be. Vianne, the older sister, believes in following rules and peacefully surviving through the time of war. Isabelle, on the other hand, is more rebellious, fearless, defiant, and wants to fight in the war. As the war wages on, the differences between them become more pronounced.

“You are stronger than you think you are, V,” Antoine said afterward.

“I’m not,” Vianne whispered too quietly for him to hear.

Vianne’s husband, Antoine, is sent away to fight as a soldier. After he’s gone, Vianne is left alone with her daughter, Sophie. She continues teaching at a school along with her friend and neighbor, Rachel.

Throughout this time, she faces many challenges – Nazi officers billet with her, her body is violated, and her Jewish neighbors are arrested. Later, she begins rescuing Jewish children and hiding them at the local Catholic orphanage when their parents are taken away. She’s afraid, but she has suffered enough and wants to make a difference.

Isabelle, in the meantime, becomes a part of the French resistance movement, and hatches a plan to assist allied airmen out of France after their planes are shot down. She becomes known as the Nightingale for her work. Isabelle is dangerously vulnerable at this time as she faces a threat of being caught by the Nazi forces.

Later, Isabelle is captured by the Nazis and interrogated. Doubt shadows them – they don’t believe the Nightingale to be a woman. Isabelle’s estranged father saves her then, by claiming to be the Nightingale. He’s executed in her place.

“How can I start at the beginning, when all I can think about is the end?” – Isabelle Rosignol

I live in a country, Pakistan, that has been pushed to brink of war several times. And each time that happens, the role of women in war, and their sacrifice, is often ignored. Women bear the brutalization of war – many are raped and sexually violated – but even then, no one talks about them. Misogyny cages women, even when there’s a war impending.

This book presents a hidden perspective. It shows that women too are war heroes, in their own right.

Vianne and Isabelle are powerful characters. They represent all women who bravely take part in war and fight for their countries – those who survive, those who lose their lives in the middle of it all, and those whose struggles stay with till the end of time.

Vianne is abused at the hands of a Nazi officer and is left impregnated with a child who’ll always be a painful reminder of the past, of war, of the enemy. Vianne’s story resonates with many women who are violated during war.

Isabelle walks into the unknown and puts her life in danger. She leaves behind her name, her story, her life. She makes a mark in the world. She fights. And she wins. She speaks her mind, defies the Germans, makes this war her own. Her story resonates with women who refuse to back down. 

Vianne and Isabelle are real women. They aren’t merely characters of Hannah’s imagination. They’re true people, they’re stories that we often forget.

Get The Nightingale here for $12.23.

Want more book recommendations? Check out our first ever global Reading Challenge!

Policy Inequality

The Holocaust isn’t the only genocide that Germany needs to be held accountable for

When you think of a German-led genocide in the twentieth century, the Holocaust may come to mind. In all its ugliness, the Holocaust constituted a series of inhumane living conditions, brutal medical experiments, and other truly, truly horrific crimes against humanity. However, this also fits the description of the Herero-Nama genocide, which took place in German-occupied South-West Africa, now Namibia.

Unlike Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, the Herero and Nama people have not received reparations from Germany. You may have never heard of it, either. I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago either. This lack of recognition and education about the Herero-Nama genocide, unfortunately, seems commonplace in the West.

So, what happened? In January 1904, the Herero and Nama people attempted to lead a rebellion to overthrow German colonial powers twenty years after German colonized the region. Unfortunately, their attempts to gain sovereignty over their land were unsuccessful, and the Germans responded with intense violence. Thousands of Herero and Nama people were subsequently taken from their homes and shot. Those who survived this initial slaughter escaped into the Namib Desert, where German forces guarded its borders and trapped survivors. This genocide “resulted in the annihilation of approximately 80 [percent] of the Herero people and 50 [percent] of the Nama people.”

The German government has since apologized for the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama people, but descendants of survivors have yet to see any financial compensation or the return of land.

The colonial legacy left behind by the German colonizers in Namibia is blatant. German is still recognized as a national language. White Namibians, the descendants of German colonizers, control 90 percent of the country’s land. Efforts by black Namibians to gain control of land where their ancestors lived before nearly being wiped out under German colonial rule have been unfruitful.

The experiences of the Herero and Nama people should be enough to receive reparations, including receiving control back over their ancestors’ land. The 1985 United Nations Whitaker Report on Genocide established that the atrocities committed against the Herero and Nama people at the beginning of the twentieth century qualifies as genocide, just like the Holocaust. Why, 40 years later, hasn’t Germany taken measures to adequately address this genocide when they often take responsibility for their crimes during World War II? 

Germany has given several lackluster excuses for its inability to provide reparations. The German government argued that because they had led development projects in and gave aid to Namibia, they would not need to give reparations.  The real reason, though, maybe attributed to implicit racial biases.  Predominantly white German leaders may have been quick to give reparations and apologize for the brutality of the Nazis because it affected white people living in Europe and conditionally white Jews. When it comes to violence on black and brown bodies in Africa, however, it’s a different story.

Herero and Nama people have continued to fight to receive reparations from Germany despite Germany’s reluctance to even entertain giving reparations. In 2018, a U.S. court heard the case from descendants of survivors of this genocide. They sued Germany for financial “reparations akin to those Jewish Holocaust survivors received after World War II” and for direct negotiations with Germany on how to figure out how to “reckon with colonial-era atrocities.” Unfortunately, in March 2019, a  U.S. judge dismissed this lawsuit, saying that “Germany was immune from claims by descendants of the Herero and Nama tribes.” On May 7 2019, however, lawyers representing the Herero and Nama Plaintiffs in New York filed a motion U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to have their case reviewed again.

Despite this setback, the Herero and Nama people have scored some victories in their quest to receive justice. In 2018, Germany returned the skulls of Herero-Nama genocide victims, (which were initially sent to Germany to conduct research on the racial superiority of white Europeans) back to Namibia. This success shows that the activism by Herero and Nama people to receive justice for genocide victims and survivors is working.

The Herero and Nama people deserve reparations for the genocide that their ancestors survived. Germany’s extremely delayed recognition of returning the skulls of genocide victims and even recognizing this genocide, alongside their refusal to give reparations, shows that we cannot expect them to reckon with the Herero-Nama genocide for the sake of doing the right thing. The activism that the descendants of survivors of the Herero-Nama genocide have done in an attempt to receive reparations deserves more international recognition and should not be in vain.

Note: A lawyer representing the Herero and Nama people in New York reached out to the writer after the publication of this article with information about the U.S. Court of Appeals filing. 

World News The World

Petition to put the first ethnic minority on British currency grows

The UK is currently looking for portraits of historical British icons for their currency redesign. The announcement from the Bank of England was made in late 2018 and has ignited campaigns for those deemed worthy of the spot.

Petition by political blog Guido Fawkes backed former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to be the face of the note, whereas, the physicist Stephen Hawking was also nominated.

Amongst these familiar figures are many unknown names and faces recommended for the honor is Noor Inayat Khan, the Muslim spy from India who spied for Britain during World War II. The petition to put the children’s book author turned spy on the banknote gained the support of feminist activist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez and Sayeeda Warsi, first Muslim woman to serve in British Cabinet.

Despite the recent push to put Khan on the note, her story is relatively forgotten in history.

Descending from the legendary 18th century King of Mysore Tipu Sultan, Khan’s upbringing was one of pacifism. Gifted in poetry and music, she studied child psychology and music and wrote children’s books in Paris, France.

Her military career began when her family fled to the UK after France surrendered to the Nazis in the 1940s. Here, Khan made the decision to sign up for the Women’s Auxillary Air Force. Soon after, she joined the espionage organization, Special Operations Executive (SOE).

She would become the first female radio operator to infiltrate occupied France in 1943 under the code name ‘Madeline’. Khan proved her effectiveness and skill in her field, refusing to abandon the most dangerous position in France when SS soldiers began to crack down on French Resistance groups, which she spied for, too.

However, only three months into her operation, she was betrayed by a Frenchwoman who turned her to the Germans. Interrogations and torture proved futile for Khan, as she refused to give any information. Her silence earned her a “highly dangerous” classification and she was transferred to Germany.

In 1944, after 10 months of starvation and torture, she moved with four other women to the Dachau concentration camp, where they were executed. Her last words were ‘Liberte’.

Despite her courage and heroism, she has become a footnote in history. 

Khan received the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre from the UK and France posthumously after the war ended. In 2012, a bronze bust was dedicated to her in London, close to her former home. This was a step in acknowledging her contributions almost 70 years after her death.

Khan was one of three women to join the SOE and the only one who died during active service. Yet, she was sidelined, despite her sacrifice for Britain, a country that was suspicious and critical of her father’s close relations with Indian freedom fighters. 

To this day, her story is relatively unknown. The recent campaign to have her portrait on British currency has again highlighted her bravery. Yet, many people still do not know who she is. Learning and reading about her has made me appreciate her and her sacrifice so much more. I can only hope for the same for others. 

Khan deserves all the honor of any wartime hero. She is an example of the greatness Muslim women have and will always achieve. And in a country where nationalist and anti-Islamic sentiment is still rife, her story is an example of the importance of remembering Muslim women.

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Food & Drinks Life

My dad’s cooking let me explore the world and relive his experiences

When you think of exploring the world, what comes to mind may be traveling. While I have been fortunate to be able to travel, I have explored the world in other ways. Mainly, I have explored the world through my dad’s cooking.

I’ve had a close relationship with my dad for most of my life. The biggest thing that we have in common is our love of food. My dad’s an amazing cook. Meanwhile, I cannot cook to save my life.  Ok, maybe some pasta, but that’s it. I have always appreciated his cooking and the stories that accompanied them.

My dad has had the opportunity to live in many different countries. He tried to immerse himself in their cultures. This includes their food. He was born in Switzerland and has since lived in Germany, England, Bangladesh, Holland, Canada and now the United States. He has had the opportunity to travel to even more countries for work, like China and Cuba.

While my dad lived in various countries in the world, he told me that he tried his best to assimilate and learn from each culture. For my dad, a major foodie like myself, this meant eating and learning to make their cuisine.

I was born in Canada, and by this point, my dad had lived in Germany, England, Bangladesh, and Holland. I grew up eating food and delicacies that can be considered to be traditional food from all these countries, from naan to raclette to sauerkraut.  While it was great on its own to be able to eat a wide variety of food, my dad’s enthusiasm also led me to appreciate these foods.

Every meal that I ate for dinner was a feast in my dad’s eyes. I did not understand why he had this approach when I was younger. This likely came from his joy in remembering the countries that he lived in and the experiences that he had. In a way, I have been able to explore my dad’s life through his cooking.

His cuisine also allowed me to learn about my Swiss-French heritage. My dad, being from the French part of Switzerland, loved any meal that involved cheese. This led to us having raclette or fondue for dinner. During these meals, my dad would talk about the times when he would go up to the mountains with his church when he was younger. These involved mundane stories about card games. While boring, it gave me insight into parts of my dad’s life before I was born.

I will likely not have the opportunity to travel and live in as many places as my dad due to health reasons. Honestly, this is a major source of frustration. I’ve always wanted to travel the world and live in an endless number of countries. For the specific condition I have, there are only 70-something doctors who treat it in the world. And most of them are in the United States.

My dad’s health did not impact his ability to move. To be honest, I’m a bit jealous. But I will take his love of cuisine and culture with me as I continue on to various phases of my life. Food is an important part of culture, and I hope to be able to see and experience as many cultures as I can.

History Race Inequality

Hey America, the Confederates lost the war. It’s time to start celebrating the right people.

Harriet Tubman is finally recognized in Baltimore – and America clings to racism instead

Recently, a Confederate site in Baltimore called Wyman Park Dell, has been rededicated to honor Harriet Tubman. The Confederate statues of both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee were removed, and the park has now been renamed Harriet Tubman Grove in honor of the 105th anniversary of her death. 

What ensued feels like déjà vu.

It was a little over a year ago when the horror of Charlottesville occurred. We saw the clash of racist neo-nazis and protesters fighting for equality in America; this event would become a pivotal one for our current political and racial divide in America. The whole debacle started because neo-nazis were angry over the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the infamous Confederate soldier, from Emancipation Park. It didn’t make sense for a person fighting against the emancipation of slaves to be honored in a park about emancipation (but maybe that’s just me).

The parallels between this event and Charlottesville are creepy, to say the least. A common denominator? Riots. Don’t forget – Baltimore experienced massive riots in 2015 as a result of police brutality and the wrongful homicide of Freddie Gray.

The rededication of Harriet Tubman Grove has once again sparked conversations about the removal of Confederate monuments around the U.S. (the South in particular). Personally, I’m very excited to see these statues taken down, and people on the right side of history finally getting the honor they deserve. It’s completely ludicrous that these monuments even existed. The Confederates lost the war – and still, America has the audacity to glorify them and claim that racism no longer exists. If you think about it logically, it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense.

confused tituss burgess GIF by The Late Late Show with James Corden
[Image description: Man jumps back in confusion and shock]
Psychology today explains how symbols affect the subconscious. Powerful symbols (like the statue of a racist!) “[can] convey a complete thought, concept, or ideal without the use of words to describe it.” So basically, no matter how many words people may say to deny it, these symbols that carry a history of racism are conveying the message that they are still perpetuating the same dangerous message of subservience. 

The neo-nazis don’t really care about this, however, and despite their hateful rhetoric, we need to continue to knock down these symbols. When you compare America and the horrors of slavery to Germany and the holocaust – both horrible stains on each countries reputation – Germany has handled things a lot differently than the U.S. They destroyed all symbols of the Nazis. There are no monuments to Hitler or his most famous and ruthless generals because Germany is actually sorry for what it did and wants to atone for its egregious mistakes.

America, on the other hand, is proving that it isn’t sorry for what it did to black people and continues to deny and try to erase its past. When has covering up the truth ever bode well in history? Literally never. If America had handled this right the first time, we could’ve avoided the constant tantrums of people who worry about the “erasure of American history.”  

What was done to slaves and what is continuing to be done to African Americans will never be forgotten, but knocking down these monuments is the first step in apologizing for those mistakes. And there’s something just so sweet and satisfying about black people being honored and standing on the earth that a racist was knocked down from.

Race The World Inequality

Stop complaining about “dividing” the Women’s March and listen.

If you are a white person who has never protested before the Women’s March last Saturday, first of all, welcome to the resistance, second, I hope you are ready to listen. Not to me, of course, but to the chorus of people who have raised their voices and shared how the march made them feel inferior, forgotten and angry. It is crucial that we learn to pay attention and take action to do better going forward.

Veterans of feminist organizing know that our movement in its vastness has major rifts, but those do not have to divide us gong forward. Civil rights activist Bernice Reagan Johnson once said, “If you’re not uncomfortable, your coalition is too small.”

White people need to sit in our discomfort,  we need become used to it. One of the great flaws of white feminism is an unwillingness to face the uncomfortable truth that even our feminism is destructive to minorities in the coalition.

People who did not have to take the time to explain how they felt and why have come out about their experiences in the wake of the march. So while the high of Saturday is fresh in our minds, we need to hear and then amplify these perspectives. In order for the movement to become stronger, white feminists must be willing to abandon our illusions of unity and understand that our silence has consequences for many of the people we marched with.

Here are the reflections that have most moved me so far. This first piece was published on I have seen so much commentary about the way police interacted with women at the march, but this managed to capture the frustration and disgust so many felt.

Women’s March On Washington: To White Women Who Were Allowed To Resist While We Survived Passive Racism

“It is white women who are not questioned when they take to the streets in cities all over the country, by the hundreds of thousands. It is white women who can scream, “Fuck Trump” and “it is our duty to FIGHT” while police officers look on in mild amusement.”

“I realize somewhere between being pushed into a trash can by an oblivious “Nasty Woman,” and being racially profiled by an elderly feminist, that white women marched yesterday for themselves alone.”

This next thread is the most informative and wholly discomforting thing I have read in a very long time. Keep going through the thread, it takes a while but is extremely worthwhile- the sheer mental and emotional labour that this represents is staggering.  For more, she also recommends spending some time in the #nativetruth tag.

And lastly, this piece on Mic, on the transphobic and cisnormative effect of having so many images and slogans centered around female genitalia.

How the Women’s March’s “genital-based” feminism isolated the transgender community

“I believe there’s a lot of inequality that has to do with genitals — that’s not something you can separate from the feminist movement,” Lejeck said. “But I feel like I’ve tried to get involved in feminism and there’s always been a blockade there for trans women.”

The debate around the women’s march, even from the very beginning, has highlighted the factions in contemporary feminism that have existed for decades. The entire event was formed through a negotiation with the arms of this movement which are in conflict.

They went so far as to discourage speakers from using the words “intersectional feminism,” and I understand why. Of course, the leaders of this movement hoped that somehow they could avoid the inevitable internal debate. Maybe they hoped no one would point out the hypocrisy of huge numbers of white people showing up when as far as anyone can tell, they have until now chosen to stay home when the time came to protect black, immigrant, trans or indigenous lives. They were wrong, though, and this movement is better for it.

As an ally, I was quietly uneasy right up until it was time to march. I struggled to define it in terms that were appropriately inclusive. I eventually realized that with any movement this big, all we can do is show up where we are and be ready to grow. I made my sign and I covered it in my heroes. Sylvia Rivera laughed alongside Maya Angelou and Nawal el Sadaawi. I arrived with an expression of intersectional feminism that reflected where I am in my journey.

I marched in Germany, so my experience was firstly one of solidarity with other Americans. Because our march was a confluence of foreign nationals, expats and local activists, I felt that there was an understanding that we were there to learn from each other. Maybe I was wrong. After a couple of speakers took the stage after our march, the crowd thinned significantly. By the time Furat Abdulle took the stage to perform a heart-stopping spoken word poem, the crowd had diminished from over 2,000 people to a small group huddled around the stage.

After that, maybe 20 of us held hands and sang a spiritual guided by two African American women who I wished the whole crowd could have seen. White Germans have a pre-occupation with gospel music and it probably would have been useful for them to see a side of black music that isn’t presented for white enjoyment the way gospel is here.

I was disappointed that so many people left in the middle of a thoughtful program full of voices that we never hear. Poetry isn’t as thrilling as marching maybe, but it seemed to me that this is what our sister march was about- connecting with local activists who we would otherwise never encounter, and that was pretty disheartening.

The World

How my first-world problems sparked the activist in me

Growing up as a teenager in the West meant living with “first world problems.” The biggest struggle I had in high school was the lack of a cell phone. It was enough to make me feel like I was poor. I guess the list just grew as I grew. Now it’s a car, house, and a $100k job.

Really, it’s just too easy to be ungrateful and unhappy when you have so much. I read a Global Happiness Report two years back stating poor people are happier than those who are wealthy. Countries such as Indonesia, India, Mexico, and Brazil were rated happier than Western nations.

Although I love being Canadian and can say I am happy to be here… I honestly feel that people back home (for me, it’s Pakistan) are happier and more carefree. Perhaps it’s because they hug more, don’t live to work, or just spend more quality time with each other. However, Pakistan is essentially a country with one race. Canada is multicultural, so perhaps it’s the lack of connection and understanding between cultures and races. Either way, the lack of happiness can be fairly evident in the populace of the West in general. 

I’ve often been told by others that I shouldn’t speak of my first-world problems.  They tell me: “everyone goes through a hard time. The idea of first-world problems makes people feel guilty about their own issues.” Well there’s no doubt that everyone goes through tough times – that’s life. My beef with first-world problems is how they isolate us from greater world issues, which are our problems too. We have become self-centered and ignorant. 

Take the Syrian Refugee crisis. The biggest refugee crisis since World War 2 is happening as you read this. Yet, the debate taking place in several governments around the world is whether or not to accept any of the displaced. Is being human a choice? Arguments such as “we lack adequate resources” are absurd. We have plenty of space in numerous countries around the world. Sure, it takes effort, and there will be a need for education and aid in settlement and integration, but in the end, refugees are human beings. They are perfectly capable of giving back to a society that gives to them.

Take Germany and Canada, for example. They did a great thing by accepting refugees. The German economy is looking to be in great shape, as productivity is excellent and Europe’s problems have kept its currency at a reasonable level. Germany did a good deed and they will benefit greatly from it in a few years. Canada, on the other hand is currently going through a recession, but they also understand refugees will help boost their economy.

But, even in Canada (“the most tolerant place on Earth”), accepting 35,000 refugees didn’t come without negativity and racism. There have been numerous hate crimes against Syrian refugees that have taken place. From physical attacks, bullying in school and workplaces, to graffiti, anti-refugee feelings have shown up across the nation.

So how do you tackle the ignorance? The answer is simple: education.

There have been all kinds of attempts to do this, be it through fundraising talks, dinners, or peaceful demonstrations. However, all these attempts involve other people speaking on their behalf. The impassioned activist speaking for the small child, the mother, the hardworking father. While these are great – and absolutely necessary – I want to see something different. I want refugees speak for themselves.

The #ICameAsARefugee (linked) does just that. By highlighting six different refugees who came to Canada, the campaign gives them the power to tell their own stories. Giving refugees the power to speak for themselves flips the narrative of the “submissive, needy refugee” on its head. That’s the thing – in order to understand the struggles of refugees, you have to understand just how hard they work to contribute to our society.

It really doesn’t take much to be educated about the world around you. Sometimes it just takes a heartfelt conversation with an open heart. And though first world problems may not be as severe as others, you can still feel hurt. And hurt, I’ve found, is the best of teachers. For it wasn’t until I was hurt, that I started thinking about others and what they must be going through, making me humble and wanting to help.