Gender Race Inequality

Calling yourself a “woman of color” erases groups of people – so what does it really mean?

“Hi my name is Grace and I identify as a female and Asian-American.”

I am introducing myself for the first time to my “family group.” I am at the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, the largest student conference in the country to address diversity and inclusion within nationally-accredited independent, private schools. My family group is the group of eight or so other students from around the country who will be by my side for the next few days as we explore our identifiers, diversity and inclusion in education, and reflect upon how we can contribute to broader social and racial justice movements.

 I am called to speak as a “woman of color” on my lived experiences at a primarily white, majority upper-middle class, private school. And I think to myself: Could I really have a shared experience with all other women of color? What does “woman of color” really mean?

The first wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1980s was largely centered around white middle-class women. 

One prominent concept from the first wave was universal women, which argued that all women had a similar experience, without taking into consideration cultural and socio-economic differences. The term “women of color” emerged in the 1980s, to address the unique experiences of women based on race, culture, political differences, and socioeconomic status.

More recently, “women of color” or “woman of color” has been used within racial and social justice movements. It is used as an identifier to talk about systemic oppression that is unique to people who identify as both a woman and a person of color. 

Yet the perspectives and lived experiences of women of color vary widely despite all being grouped under this big tent term.

The phrase “women of color” implies that all non-white women have some sort of shared experience because they are of color, which isn’t necessarily true. 

The implication that all people who identify as both a person of color and as a woman have some sort of shared experience brings together have an enormous group of people from a multitude of backgrounds. Further, many women of color feel left out under the big tent of women of color. 

Countless stories of Asian, Latinx, Middle Eastern, and Native American women have built a narrative of exclusion and uncertainty around the term.

Women everywhere experience a multitude of diverse experiences. 

Yet, there are similar patterns of oppression faced by all women on a variety of grounds like sexism in the workplace targeted at women. But when you look further at issues like the wage gap, you’ll see that white women are paid 80 cents to a man’s dollar where black women are only paid 63 cents to the dollar and Latinx women are paid 54 cents to the dollar. 

Clearly, all women experience some form of a wage gap, yet women who identify as a racial minorities experience it to varying degrees. Due to our big tent approach, the term “women of color” fails to recognize the diversity of experience within cultural, socio-economic, religious, and racial backgrounds.

I first became uncomfortable with the term a couple of years ago when reflecting on my own experiences. While I am a woman of color, I also have a lot of unique privileges. 

For example, I got an incredible education going to a private school from kindergarten through 12th grade and am currently studying at a prestigious college. My educational background will give me a higher chance of success. In reflecting on my own privileges, I sometimes don’t feel as if my experiences match that of all other women of color. 

And I don’t feel as if I can speak on behalf of all women of color. Nor do I feel that I should have to.

Instead, I feel that we should highlight how the intersectionality of our identifier ultimately contributes to our everyday lived experiences. Therefore, we must always consider our race, class, and gender and how that affects our perspective on the world. 

The term “women of color” helps us identify two broad aspects of intersectionality, but lacks specificity. To continue the conversation, we must also reflect and speak on our unique privileges and identities.

Despite my reservations, I still identify as a woman of color. 

I recognize that there are problems with the word, yet find it helpful to convey to others my position in society and the perspective that I bring to a conversation based on my identity. 

By understanding both that we have multiple identities within us and that we also broadly share identities with others we can build empathy and understanding. 

And ultimately, our diverse backgrounds and perspectives can build a more inclusive, equal world.

LGBTQIA+ Gender & Identity Life

Becoming an LGBTQ ally meant challenging my own community – and myself

I arrived as a first-year university student with a less-than-basic understanding of the LGBTQ community. I understood that non-straight men and women existed in theory, but the most exposure I had was to a few people I knew in high school. Keep in mind that I finished high school around 15 years ago with no LGBTQ friends. This was mostly due to the fact that I lived in a conservative South Asian Muslim community in Texas, where this was never uttered. I was so sheltered that the concept of a South Asian LGBTQ individual never occurred to me, much less the concept of an ally.

That is until I took one of my favorite classes as an undergraduate, comparative religion.

I was the youngest student in the class. As I struggled to get through readings and writing a higher-level research paper, one woman helped me through it all. Outside of our classwork though, she helped me look deep into my soul to understand what really mattered to me. She influenced me to think more critically and to question double standards and social norms.

As we became closer friends, and she became my life mentor, I asked her to meet up with me at my first Muslim Students’ Association event. I felt hesitation about joining the organization and could use the company in case I wanted to step out. She accepted my invitation and towards the end of the event, the speakers began discussing homosexuality in Islam. I eventually found myself feeling uncomfortable with the view that floated around: there was no space for homosexuality in Islam. I was conflicted because these students from “my community” were clear in their views, but I disagreed in my heart. Suddenly, my friend asked me whether I agreed with this group.

Between trying to fit in with them and answering her question, I decided on the most diplomatic (and indecisive) answer.

I told her that a person’s sexual orientation was between that person and God. It was not up to me to ever judge anyone. What I really meant was that I just was not sure. She then asked me, “Well, what if I was gay? Then what would you say?”

As I took a moment to think, I told her that I would still hold the same view, but that it would never change our friendship.

The next week, after we finished dinner she asked me if I ever noticed anything “different” about her. I could not understand what she was getting at. Finally, after we stopped beating around the bush, she blurted out, “Saba, I am a lesbian. That is what’s different about me. Can’t you tell by the way I act and dress? That is why I asked you that question the other day at the event. How do you feel about it? Will you be like other South Asians at this university who stopped  hanging out with me?”

As I sat silent, I naively responded, “It still does not matter to me!  No, I do not have any plans to ditch our friendship, but just to make sure – you are not attracted to me, right?”

She laughed and said, “No, I am not.  You are definitely not my type.”

As the mood lightened, I again naively asked, “Really?  Wait!  But why?  I am pretty decent looking aren’t I?” Clearly, I was letting my ego immaturely take over, and needed to shut up.  I was grappling with my naivety of not sensing her sexual orientation. In not wanting to make assumptions, I realized I was not engaging too directly with the topic. I could not call myself an ally just yet.

I was lucky that my mentor gave me the opportunity to be a better ally to her, and later to others. My friendship with her continued to grow over my years as an undergraduate, and we talked openly about our love lives. During this time, I did my best to listen rather than offer advice, reactions, or thoughts.  Every conversation with her taught me empathy in its rawest form. For example, she experienced copious levels of stress around belonging to the South Asian community – and to her family. As a heterosexual female, I could never understand her exact experience. While I did not always feel belonging to the South Asian community, I could never even compare my situation to my lesbian mentor because her exclusion was automatic. It was simply on the basis of who she was, but for me, it was purely out of choice.

Nevertheless, the unapologetic confidence she exhibited in who she was during our conversations perhaps benefitted me more than her mentorship. I would venture to say her fearlessness rubbed off on me in ways that I still attribute to her. Not too long ago, someone close to me in my South Asian community came out. I knew of his sexual orientation deep in my heart, but I always knew only he could decide the right time to share this. This time around, I was able to confidently support someone as an ally. I again listened and remembered that my job was to make sure this person belonged – in my life and in this world. 

Race Inequality

This is no conspiracy theory. There’s something shady behind American terrorists.

Terrorism is defined as acts of violence unleashed upon civilians in order to spread fear among the masses. The definition holds no specific criteria for any race, religion, ethnicity or the number of lives lost to be counted as terrorism.

Last month, the Las Vegas mass shooting left 58 dead and became the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. Despite that, it hasn’t been labeled as terrorism, nor was the attacker called a terrorist.

He was white, so naturally, he was a “mentally unstable lone wolf.”

At the end of the same month, a man in Manhattan New York rammed his pickup truck into pedestrians and fired into the crowd a few times before he was taken down. He killed 8 people. In stark contrast to the Vegas incident, this one was promptly labeled as an “act of terror.”  The perpetrator was apparently a brown Muslim man, who was heard chanting Arabic after his vehicular rampage.

Naturally, he was classified as a radical Islamic Terrorist.

Not less than five days later, a 64-year-old white male opened fire into a Baptist Church full during Sunday prayers. More than 26 people were killed, including women, children and the old. This didn’t count as a terrorist incident either. The man was depressed for some time and he decided the best way to deal with it was to kill more than two dozen innocent people in a place of worship.

Why is it that “terrorism” seems to only describe incidents (regardless of lives lost) where the perpetrator is a brown person?

Just as a violent gangster is somehow usually a black person, or a Latino person is the one involved in a drug ring. Why is an equally violent white man always a mentally challenged person, with an unclear motive and a need for a psych evaluation?

Image result for terrorism race and religion statistics kim kardashian
[Image Description: a list of statistics showing the number of Americans killed annually by various reasons, the highest stat being that of “shot by another American”] Source: Pinterest
We say we want to break stereotypes – then why can’t we stop labeling things based on stereotypes?

We also say love has no boundaries or limitations – but so does fear, and so do the means to spread it. Yet we seem to forget that.

We also forget to highlight how much the NRA actually profits from each and every one of these incidents. They help make a dark marketing and sales strategy for ammunition and weaponry, further helped by the lack of gun regulations.

Studies show how the sale of arms spike up right after a violent incident; a supply and demand balance whereby the latter consists of taking innocent lives and the supply being the means to do so.

Doesn’t that sound like a shady scheme?

Image result for gun violence sad
[Image description: a news caricature showing men with the labels “House” and “Senate” bowing before a gun statue that says “NRA” while saying their thoughts and prayers are with the victims] Source: Pinterest
While all the incidents are despicable, the perpetrators are all one thing: terrorists. Marketing a specific religion or ethnicity as the only “American terrorist” is just a way propagate reactionary fear and hatred.

If we can recognize all the different forms hate can take, we can overcome it better and for good. And we can do it together.

USA World News Politics The World

Media outlets who label domestic terrorists as “lone wolves” are hypocritical – and you know why

On October 2nd, 2017, millions woke to learn that a gunman named Stephen Paddock had opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Music Festival the previous night, killing more than 50 concertgoers and injuring over 500 more. 

The massacre has been declared as the largest mass shooting in United States history.

Paddock was found dead by police in his hotel room, where he had stockpiled 10 more rifles.  Reports indicate that he had killed himself before the police entered the room.

The media to no one’s surprise has dubbed him a “lone wolf,” a “crazed lunatic,” and a “psychopath.” Reporters also find it necessary to inform the public that Paddock was a 64-year-old man who lived in a retirement community and had no prior criminal record. But news cycles aren’t calling him exactly what he is: a terrorist. Why not?  

Because he’s yet another white, American mass shooter.

American citizens have been taught by misinformed media outlets and damning political rhetoric to think of “terrorism” as an act that that only brown or black people from the Middle East, Africa, or Asia can commit.  When foreigners or people of color commit crimes that result in mass casualty, the media jumps quickly to brand them as terrorists and works diligently to try and link them to terrorist groups. But this simply isn’t the case with our white, male shooters who are responsible for approximately 64% of America’s deadliest mass shootings.

You saw it when Dylann Roof killed nine African-Americans in a church shooting and was solely categorized mentally ill.

Or when Craig Hicks killed 3 Muslim college grads in Chapel Hill but was chalked up as just another “isolated incident” with no mention of terrorism.

But the Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, who was responsible for the attack at Ariana Grande’s UK concert in May 2017, was immediately picked apart by the press and investigated for potential ties to ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and various other foreign terror groups.

Do you see a pattern that the media seems to willfully ignore here?

White men are not truly held accountable in the ways people of color are, but the existence of white privilege has always been a testament to that. What is perpetually astonishing, the extent that white privilege protects domestic terrorists, like Paddock, who spread fear and carnage from being labeled as such. 

Instead, we’re pandered to by being told that the criminal couldn’t have possibly committed such an atrocious act because the individual went to church or had good attendance in high or saved a cat once. This was just the case with Paddock, whose family members are reportedly stunned and “can’t believe” he would have ever orchestrated this type of horror.

So to summarize, media utilizes white privilege to paint white terrorists as mentally ill or as ideal citizens up until the day they “snap.”

Simultaneously, white privilege demonizes people of color and encourages the media, law enforcement agencies, and the general population to explore every thread of the suspect’s history to try and find some link to foreign terrorism without looking at the more pressing issue: lack of gun regulation and reform.

Media reports didn’t even show pictures of Stephen Paddock until later in the day; choosing first to air photos of his partner, a woman of color named Marilou Danley.  It was her face that millions saw on social media first, though she has since been dismissed as a person of interest.

This overt racial profiling by the media has been a trend since 9/11 and has perpetuated generalized and discriminatory stereotypes and sentiments against people from various religious groups, ethnicity, and races all while keeping the white man safe from bigotry.

But enough is enough.

So, if a white person tells you to avoid politicizing this tragedy then ask them how many more people have to die for those in political power to issue change? If they tell you to refrain from bringing up race, ask them if they’ve ever had to defend their whiteness or their Christian faith to their neighbors, colleagues, strangers, and country after a terrorist attack takes place. Ask them if they have to change the way they dress or only speak a certain language in public to avoid harassment because of media-based stereotypes.

Ask them if they’ve ever received death threats or racial slurs for something they didn’t do.

Stephen Paddock is not a “lone wolf.”

He is not an innocent, retired man whose mind suddenly took a turn for the worst.

He is despicable, he is American and he is a domestic terrorist who took over fifty lives.


Are we hard-wired to be racist?

We’ve all heard the “I don’t see color” remark, and we’ve likely heard arguments against it.

The big problem with the statement is that we do see color, and forgetting that is just hiding the issue, instead of actively working against it. There’s also a scientific component to this.

To begin, let’s think about how we define race. Anthropologists and sociologists have agreed on the fact that race is a social construct. This is because there is so much variation within groups and groups mix together so often that there really there are no clear lines differentiating one person as one race and another person as another. Are there 5 races or 500? The process becomes too messy and doesn’t make any sense.

Then why do we have racial categories?

This is where the science comes in.

The concept of race is essentially emotional, no logic involved. The only reason we have these categories is because we perceive them. We develop emotional responses to people unlike us. It becomes a problem when we let that emotion dictate our behavior.

The debate is where that emotion and the brain structures that provoke that emotion come from.

We know that we have specific brain structures associated with fear, disgust, and, as some researchers propose, prejudice. Such structures include the amygdala, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

That’s no excuse to be racist though. It is also proposed that we have structures involved in suppressing these emotional impulses, like the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the inferior frontal gyrus.

The ACC has been shown to be activated when there is conflict between impulse and deliberate response. In a specific study, it was shown that people who are motivated in controlling their prejudices tend to have greater ACC activity than those who care less about controlling and display more blatant racism.

While it is very likely that there are potential confounding factors in these studies, like the fact that this might be about group identity rather than race, let’s assume their claims are legitimate.

Evolution versus Culture

The evolutionary reasoning is that these structures were advantageous back when people were organized by tribes. It made sense for you to have a fear response towards someone that looked different because they were a legitimate threat. Now, we are just left with the brains of our ancestors in a world that’s not like theirs.

The other side explains it more from a cultural level. Environment can impact biology just as much as biology can impact environment. What if it is just that racist thoughts/behavior molds the brain a specific way and has been happening for so long that it shows up in our minds today?

Or even if this isn’t happening on a societal level, maybe it’s happening in individual development.

What these studies assume is that we live in a world where equality is the moral norm and every person and system strives to reach that norm. In reality, discrimination and bias are encouraged in several spheres of the world. “Normal” might mean a more subtle form of racism.

Evolution and Culture

With that in mind, it might not be that we are born with a fear response ingrained inside us, but that, depending where we develop, our minds actually shape to allow for this lack of resistance against emotional impulse. Like how outgroup-fear is reinforced in tribal groups, today it may be reinforced in a way like telling a racist joke in a classroom and getting laughs. You lower your inhibition and soon enough your brain is impacted by that.

The effects on the brain may just be a reflection of your beliefs and experiences rather than your brain molding your beliefs.

Biology, explained by evolution or not, and culture can also combine. If you have a brain less capable of emotional inhibition, a racist culture may have a bigger impact on your behavior. But whatever the reasoning is, we still all have structures involved in suppressing emotional impulses. Just like someone with an aggression-prone brain does not have an excuse to punch people because it’s “her nature,” someone who has a harder time with emotional inhibition does not have an excuse to be racist.

So … maybe we do have some evolutionary reason to categorize and discriminate other people and maybe we don’t. But what we definitely know is that racism and prejudice is ingrained in our societies. So much so that it actually can shape the way our brains work. Fortunately for us, we’ve actually evolved some pretty great rationalizing brain mechanisms that help us figure out racism is wrong and unfounded. It is our job to evaluate where certain prejudices are coming from culturally and dismantle it within ourselves and our society. After all, we are hard-wired to be rational.

Race Inequality

Will American Girl ever give us a Muslim doll – or will we continue being ignored?

American Girl is a company that makes exactly what the name implies: dolls representing American girls. Unlike other dolls, these ones have stories that represent some part of American history. Kit lives during the Great Depression, Kaya is a Native American girl growing up during the American revolution, Rebecca is a Russian Jewish immigrant living in 1910 America, Josefina is a Mexican girl in Santa Fe as it is still under Mexican rule, and Melody is an African American girl pursuing music during the civil rights era.

What’s most beautiful about these stories is that their characters aren’t solely struggling with identity or the politics of their time. They are girls with specific passions and hobbies, with moments of American history slipping into their lives. The darker parts of American history are there, too, such as European settlement and slavery.

However, there’s a group missing in this lineup of stories: Muslim Americans.

This gap demonstrates the common misconception that Muslims aren’t a part of American history, that we’ve only just recently become a part of American society (or even that we will never be fully American). In actuality, Muslims were some of the first people in this country, with 10-15% of slaves being Muslim. The late 19th and 20th centuries were marked by an influx of Arab Muslims. The members of the Nation of Islam played a big role in the civil rights movement.

So, yeah, Muslims have been here for a while now, and it’s odd American Girl hasn’t taken notice.

Two young Muslim girls – Salwa and Zahra – saw this gap after having read all the American Girl books and decided to confront the company about it. They decided to start a petition requesting the president of the American Girl company to create a Muslim doll.

This would be an economically strategic move for American Girl to take. The U.S. has about 8 million Muslims, and Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion. In 2015, American Muslims spent $1.9 trillion, a number expected to turn into $3 trillion by 2021. It would be advantageous to pay attention to these numbers. Some companies, like Nike for example, are beginning to notice their Muslim customers and are tailoring their products to appeal to the large group. This is the perfect opportunity for American Girl to do the same.

That being said, I also urge American Girl not to blindly follow the new socially-conscious trend companies are taking just to increase sales. I hope they really listen to the stories of American Muslims and research our history because this will impact girls beyond Salwa and Zahra. It will send a message to everyone who doesn’t see herself in the toy aisle too often while also reminding others that Muslims are here, too.

I remember growing up with my own American Girl doll, essentially the toy version of myself. She had brown hair and green eyes, played the flute, loved arts and crafts, and I’m pretty sure had the same shirt as me. I gave this doll a white American name though, didn’t dress her in hijab (even though I got her around the time I started wearing it), and honestly kept any signs of her being Muslim or foreign away from her because that wasn’t what normal dolls were like. Had I seen dolls, poly-pockets, Barbies, anything that really looked like me, this might have been different. I might have been more confident in expressing my faith and culture with my dolls at home or even outside in public. It might have also made the idea of American Muslims more normal to my non-Muslim peers.

To me, the most gripping line of the girls’ petition is this:

“As American girls today, we are fortunate to be successors to a long line of real American girls who were strong, smart, courageous, and even defiant. But lately, it hasn’t always been easy to be strong.”

If there ever was a perfect time to include Muslim girls in our toy stores, it’s now, when even Muslim adults find it hard to be strong. The American Girl legacy is one of passion, unadulterated self-expression, and most importantly, unity amongst all American girls. If the company really wants to stick to that legacy, they need to consider the group that’s been here forever and still struggles to be considered American even today.

Gender & Identity Life

Arabs in America have a messy history. It’s why filling out that ethnicity bubble still confuses everyone.

My story begins with me filling out my information on the Iowa exam, one of those end-of-year national tests for elementary school kids. I figured I’d breeze through it: name, address, school ID…a long pause…ethnicity?

Although Syria is in Asia, filling in that bubble didn’t seem fitting. So I would mark “white” when “other” wasn’t an option. I was confused about which category I fit in.

[bctt tweet=”I was confused about which category I fit in.” username=”wearethetempest”]

So were American judges in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Back then, American race meant either black or white. Before 1952, in order to be granted citizenship at the national level and the accompanying rights, you had to be white. There was nothing specifying “in-between” groups, so courts had to reconsider what “white” meant.

For example, East Asians petitioning for citizenship were deemed “yellow” and not “white,” meaning they were not allowed naturalization.

This simplistic view of race was challenged when, during this time, there was a large influx of Arabs, primarily from Ottoman Syria (modern day Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan), into the United States.

The majority of these “Syrians” were Christians fleeing the Ottoman Empire. So when it came to the aggressive investigation of their whiteness, they appealed to the court with their Christianity (often equated with whiteness) and their homeland’s Biblical significance. This religious heritage separated them from initial Asian labeling, allowing them citizenship.

Thus began the history of white-ifying Arabs.

Citizenship and the legal classification of whiteness did not entirely shield Arabs from discrimination, however. The most significant instance of this was the lynching of Nola Romey, a Syrian-Floridian man, in 1929.

[bctt tweet=”Citizenship did not entirely shield Arabs from discrimination.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The instinctive response to such discrimination was to blend in and hide their “otherness.”

Though there were Arabs who chose to stand by other people of color, the majority went with that instinct. Assimilation for a group that already looked white wasn’t difficult. Strategies included “white-ifying” names (for example, changing “Ali” to “Al”), men shaving beards, women dying hair.

Some even insisted that they weren’t acting white, but were in fact white.

Fast-forward a little bit to the mid-1950s when America was using oil from a collective Arab region that did not yet have a name.

What was once seen as desert wasteland, became a place for the United States to exploit. In order to rationalize this exploitation, they racialized the whole region. Thus, the phrase “Middle East” was first used to apply to this vague and diverse array of land, coupled with stereotypes that gave the U.S. the upper hand.

Later, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act was signed, which allowed all non-Europeans to immigrate to the U.S. and gave nonwhite immigrants the right to pursue citizenship. This new law gave rise to an influx of Arabs from countries with generally less white-passing populations, such as Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan. The more “foreign” you looked, the less capable people thought you were of assimilating.

This meant racializing any Arabs who didn’t fit white American norms while also labeling those who did fit those norms as white.

Selective racialization coupled with the assimilation strategies of Arabs created a dangerous cycle of otherizing Arabs who held onto their culture while promoting conformed whiteness. This makes it harder to fix the problem of having these stereotypes in the first place, and it also makes it more difficult for Arabs to unify and organize together.

[bctt tweet=”Selective racialization created a dangerous cycle.” username=”wearethetempest”]

While the stereotypes of Arabs as violent aggressors existed throughout this time, it wasn’t until 9/11 that they were fully developed into America’s enemy.

9/11 also enforced religious stereotypes.

Presently (as well as at the time), the majority of Arab Americans are Christian. However, Muslims are the fastest growing subset of Arab Americans, with 60 percent of the Arab immigrants since 1965 identifying as Muslim.

As mentioned before, Christian Arabs are seen as more capable of assimilating, and the common assumption of a Muslim-majority Arab American population is a frightening one to those who regard Muslims as enemies of the West.

The words Arab and Muslim became interchangeable in their minds. Islamic terrorists were the same as Arab ones, and if Islam was at odds with the West, so were all Arabs.

These new stereotypes create two reactions: assimilate, as had been previously done, or combat the idea of whiteness and stand in solidarity with other minorities. Younger generations are more likely to do the latter than older generations.

Which leads to a big conversation today: should the next U.S. census (2020) include a Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) option for race/ethnicity?

Currently, MENA citizens are expected to check the “white” category. There have been efforts pushing for the creation of a MENA option since the 1980s, and it could be a huge step forward to recognizing the separate struggles of Arab Americans and allowing for groups to support this demographic.

On the other hand, the efforts in supporting this motion have been going on for 40 years. The timing of its potential approval has caused skepticism among MENA Americans largely because it coincides with a time of increased U.S. surveillance of them. They are afraid this data could help make this surveillance easier.

So even if there is a MENA option, don’t expect all who fall into that category to check it.

As for myself?

My religious identity complicates this issue.

If I took off my hijab, I could likely pass for being white, or at least ethnically ambiguous.

This is the privilege of not being automatically stereotyped that several Arabs (particularly Levantine Arabs) have. I do wear hijab, though, so I am immediately labeled as “other,” and that other usually means both Muslim and Arab. I have clearly Desi hijab-wearing friends who’ve been labeled as Arab because of the assumption that all Muslims are Arab.

Vice versa, I have Arab friends who have been labeled as Muslim.

I recognize the privileges Arabs possess that other minorities do not, but a lot of that privilege is taken away when you are also visibly Muslim.

Taking this history of forced assimilation, a history of colonization in the MENA region, and my own personal battles with stereotypes and hatred, I don’t consider myself white.

[bctt tweet=”I don’t consider myself white.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Whether I would that on something like the U.S. census is a different question, and one I’m not sure I have an answer to. My impulse is to say yes for that little 3rd grader confused on how to classify herself and internalizing this classification, but I realize this might lead to greater harm.

I’d like to think that if a greater harm were to result, we could directly fight this misuse of information and stereotyping.

Yet, I know that is not always how the world works.

Gender & Identity Life

I thought that reclaiming my Indian roots would be easy, but this made it harder than I expected

I like to say that I didn’t grow up Indian.

Not that it makes me happy, but it’s the easiest way to explain the person I am today. So many people ask me why I speak the way I do, why I don’t dress in Indian clothes or watch Bollywood movies. It can be embarrassing to explain that, well, I grew up in a predominantly white culture.

[bctt tweet=”It can be embarrassing to explain that I grew up in a predominantly white way.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I went to a white school, my family was one of the very few Indian families in a largely white neighborhood, and I only had white friends.

And I won’t lie, that made it difficult to connect with Indian culture.

My parents tried as much as they could to surround my sisters and me with our culture. Of course, my mother cooked the most amazing Indian food for us almost every single day. She also took us to family events where we would wear traditional Indian clothing and listen to Indian music. I was even enrolled in Bollywood dance classes for a while, though those didn’t last very long.

But as much as they did for us, I never felt like I was truly Indian. In fact, I got into the habit of denying it whenever anything related to Indian heritage came up.

[bctt tweet=”I never felt like I was truly Indian, to the point where I would flat-out deny it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

In part, the distance I kept from my culture is because of apartheid. Despite what many believe, the kind of racism that existed during apartheid still exists today in South Africa. The state segregation of Indian people from white people made it so that we always felt inferior.

Many people in our community still believe this, and that filters down into the way we speak, eat, dress, act, and even raise our children.

For a long time, I believed that I was inferior to my white friends, so forming meaningful relationships with them was difficult. Beyond that, I was treated differently from everyone else; the token Indian girl.

[bctt tweet=”I believed that I was inferior to my white friends.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When I grew up and entered university, I met incredible mentors who taught me to think of myself differently. I began to understand my life in relation to whiteness, and realized that what I was going through was called the “colonization of the mind.”

I first heard about this while reading Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White MasksThe easiest way to explain it is that colonialism affects the way we understand ourselves as people of color. The result is that I, for example, do not want to associate myself with any kind of Indian culture because I view it as inferior to white culture. This means that I will do whatever I can to act white.

I remember times when I even pretended like I couldn’t handle spicy food.

I mean, really, who was I kidding?

[bctt tweet=”I remember times when I even pretended like I couldn’t handle spicy food.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Learning about the colonization of the mind made me realize what I lacked: a deliberately formed connection to Indian culture.

So I decided to embark on a journey of rediscovery. I would learn where my family comes from, engage more with Indian pop culture, and even start taking Hindi lessons at the temple in my area.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, it’s been a while and I’ve learned a few things. Firstly, it’s much easier to say you’re going to retrace your ancestry than actually doing it. The truth is that it takes time and a family that has at least some inkling of their ancestry. But my family was so poor when they came to South Africa through indentured labor that keeping those connections to the so-called “motherland” wasn’t a priority.

Secondly, I just never felt a connection to Indian pop culture. I tried to watch Bollywood movies and listen to some famous songs, but felt mortified when I couldn’t enjoy them as much as I wanted to. The most I’ve been able to keep up with is sharing relatable clips from Buzzfeed India’s Facebook page.

And as for the Hindi lessons? Well, we’ll leave that for another day.

What I didn’t realize at the beginning of this well-intentioned journey was that it would be emotionally draining. I honestly expected to come out on the other side an Indian culture know-it-all, but instead, I came out feeling even more disconnected than before.

What I had to realize is that maybe I’m not going to like Bollywood movies. Maybe I’m not going to get all the jokes and bond with other Indian people over them. Maybe I’m going to eat a plate of spaghetti bolognese for dinner tonight and fucking love it.

But that doesn’t make me any less Indian. Instead, it just makes me my own version of Indian: Ariana.

Just me.

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.

Tech Now + Beyond

My Playstation 3 saw me through love and heartbreak – and it healed my life

Dear Playstation 3,

Hello, it’s me. I know this is kind of awkward considering how long it’s been, but I want you to know that I’m still here thinking about you. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t remember the fun times we’ve had together and how much they meant to me.

I wanted to write to you to tell you how much I appreciate everything we’ve been through. You’ve given me so much and I never really took the time to tell you that I am grateful.

I know we got off to a rocky start. I didn’t want you at first, I would have rather received an iPhone that Christmas. It was selfish, really. My mom was just trying to give us all a good year, a different year. We’d been struggling for so long and all she wanted was to see us happy.

But when I opened you I felt hesitant. How could I, a quiet Indian girl, ever be comfortable with something like you?

So I gave it a few days, you remember. We glared at each other across the room, knowing that the time had to come where I’d plug you in and discover what you had to offer. Do you remember the first game we played? It was God of War III, right? Damn, that feels like so long ago. Do you remember how I couldn’t get past the first boss? I’m sure you were cringing, wondering exactly what you were in for.

You know, it took us a while but I think I got the hang of it pretty fast. I’d never even played a Playstation before that, but there was something about it that felt so natural. I remember leaning back and forth on the couch, moving my head in the direction of the camera. I must have looked so ridiculous; not much has changed.

I remember the first time I introduced you to Wade.

You remember him, right? Well, we’re getting married now and it’s pretty surreal. I’m only 21 years old, Playstation 3, but I know I’ve found the right person for me. They’re beautiful in every way possible, and I think I owe a lot of our relationship to you.

I never told you but the first presents we ever bought one another were Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time. It’s six years later and we still talk about how much that game meant to us. In between turns, we’d sneak kisses (sorry), hoping it would lead to something more (sorry, again).

And you were there when things weren’t so perfect.

I remember crying, putting you on and watching the blue screen flicker on the wall. I was just coming to terms with my sexuality at the same time that I thought I would lose Wade forever. We were both so young, I don’t think we knew what we were doing.

And you remember her, don’t you? The girl I fell in love with. She was everything to me and when it was over I felt broken. I’d only introduced you to her once or twice, but I know you liked her just as much as I did.

But through all the confusion and heartbreak you were always there. It sounds so dramatic but when I had no one I always knew that I could come home to you. There were days when I would sit in a bathroom stall in school and cry till my eyes felt raw, but I kept the thought of you in mind. I knew that when I got home we could laugh together. I knew you could take me somewhere other than here.

Then university came and, well, so did the Playstation 4.

I know we don’t talk anymore. We don’t go on adventures like we used to. I know you might feel like I just tossed you out but I never forgot what it was like when it was just you and me.

I remember the way it felt playing my first game. I remember showing my mom and dad how to play The Last of Us. I remember looking up articles written by white, cis-heterosexual men and smiling because I knew they could never understand what it was like to be someone like me with something like you.

The truth is you taught me how to love myself. You gave me that sweet childlike innocence and fun that I can only remember experiencing before that man touched me.

You taught me to forget about the world and just be me.

I’ll always appreciate you, Playstation 3. Thank you for showing me that a girl like me with skin like mine and experiences like those can still be happy.



Race The World Inequality

10 incredible political powerhouses breaking barriers and making America better

Are you upset with the orange man in office?  Are you disappointed with the orders his tiny hands are signing?  Me too!  Let’s perk up and check out some inspiring women in politics who are completely badass.

Remember, people, that we are not doomed.  Check out all the wildly fabulous shit these women have accomplished and are continuing to accomplish and know that you are awesome.  The US doesn’t have to stay the way it is right now, and there are women actively trying to right the wrongs.

1. Senator Mazie Hirono 

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This woman is incredible.  She was born in Japan and immigrated to the United States.  She currently serves as a senator for Hawaii. But what is so impressive about Senator Hirono is that she was the Democratic Party’s first female nominee for governor in Hawaii.  She lost, but she is still thankful for the chance to represent women in a powerful office. Hirono credits her success to her mother and her strength to her routes growing up as an immigrant in the United States.

Now, as a senator, she is the first AsianAmerican woman senator and the first woman senator for Hawaii.  Hirono came from the bottom and is literally on top now.

2. Congresswoman Barbara Lee

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Congresswoman Lee is currently in the House for California’s 13th District.  She was a senator previously. This Congresswoman is badass because she is a single mother with two sons and fights to help out Americans.  She was born in a segregated Texas, and focuses on fighting hate crimes. Lee wants to end poverty and fight for LGBT rights.

She is also the first to write and pass the first law in California specifically for women, called the “California Against Women Act.”

3. Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman

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Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman is serving New Jersey’s 12th District in the House.  Coleman serves as the first African American woman to serve New Jersey in the House.

Coleman also served as the first AfricanAmerican woman to be a Majority Leader of the New Jersey General Assembly – and was the first African American woman to serve as the Chair of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

4. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence 

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Congresswoman Lawrence currently serves as the representative for the 13th district in Michigan.  Before that, she was the first African American and first woman to serve as the mayor of Southfield, a town within her current district.

Oh, and while she was mayor, she finished her degree from Central Michigan University.  Now, she is the Senior Whip and Vice Chair of the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.

5. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson 

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Congresswoman Wilson currently serves as the Representative for Florida’s 24th District.  She is an elementary-school-principal-turned-lawmaker.  She is well known for creating the “5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.”  This is a project that works to help students attend college through scholarships.  Called the Voice for the Voiceless, Wilson’s so awesome that she had a cameo on the “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”

Oh, she also has an incredible fashion sense.

6. Congresswoman Gwen Moore

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Congresswoman Gwen Moore serves the 4th Congressional District of Wisconsin.  This incredible woman is fabulous for us – like, really fabulous.

She was the first African-American to represent Wisconsin in Congress.  Then she was the Whip for the Congressional Black Caucus and LGBT Equality Caucus.  She is badass with her work for women’s rights.  Moore fights for women’s health, reproductive freedom, and protections against domestic abuse.

7. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez

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Congresswoman Sánchez currently serves the 38th Congressional District of California. Sánchez is the Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, which makes her the first Latina ever to hold a leadership position in Congress.

She is also well-known for her work on the Committee on Ways and Means, which means that she helps decide taxes and protects Social Security and Medicare. Sánchez is an avid protector of senior citizens’ rights, which is needed now, more than ever before.

8. Congresswoman Karen Bass

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Congresswoman Karen Bass serves the 37th Congressional District of California.

Before Bass entered Congress, she was the first African American woman in the United States to serve this prestigious role in state government. Congresswoman Bass is focused on improving inner cities, as well as improving relations between Africa and the United States.

9. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez

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Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez serves the 7th District of New York in the House. Velazquez is incredible because she was the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the House – then she was chosen as the Ranking Democratic Member for the House Small Business Committee. The development made her the first Latina woman to serve in that role for any House committee.

Velazquez was then made the Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Latina to chair a committee.  She’s kicking ass, taking names and entering leadership roles that are important for our country.

10. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal

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Last but not least, Congresswoman Jayapal currently serves the 7th Congressional District of Washington.  She is the first Indian American in the House ever. And she is the first South Asian American to be elected to State Legislature!

Jayapal was born in India and immigrated to the United States at 16 for college.

Don’t lose hope.  There are still people in power who are kicking ass for the women of the United States.

Race The World Inequality

Society is obsessed with the “Cash Me Ousside” girl for this awful reason

After her appearance on Dr. Phil last September, Danielle Bregoli became an instant meme; catapulting her to internet celebrity status and, along with that, bringing her a flood of verbal abuse and cyberbullying.

While the 13-year-old appeared on the show in an effort to change her behavior, shows like Dr. Phil don’t actually seek to solve guests’ problems. In fact, they specifically aim to do the complete opposite, exploiting guests—particularly women, children, and minorities—and profiting on the media spectacle they become.

Humiliation as Entertainment

Dr. Phil and shows like it belong to a specific sub-set of reality TV, fittingly referred to as shame TV, because their main selling point is providing the audience with schadenfreude, or pleasure taken from the humiliation of others.

Our obsession with the “cash me ousside” girl comes from how funny we think she speaks, that is, her use of Ebonics. Seen in the way “Dr.” Phil himself, with all the faux-compassion and saccharine condensation he can muster, questions whether she even passed the fifth grade on account of her “poor” speaking skills.

On cue, the screen cuts to the audience laughing, and we laugh as they laugh while he continues to make fun of her, deliberately provoking a 13-year-old child in the hopes of better ratings and therefore profit.

But the joke here is that her way of speaking is so wrong she simply must be uneducated. The same argument racists used as “evidence” to discriminate against Black people, claiming their use of Ebonics was surely a sign of lesser intelligence.

The History of Ebonics

Ebonics, formally known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), is a dialect of English with roots that trace back to the regional dialects of Great Britain.

It’s a combination of the words “ebony” and “phonics,” coined in 1973 by social psychologist Dr. Robert Williams.

Due to historical racial bias we’ve learned to discredit AAVE as a valid dialect, despite the fact it comes with its own history and distinct grammar patterns. This can be seen in the way we don’t take Bregoli seriously from the way she speaks.

But not only is discrediting Ebonics as a valid dialect ignorant, it’s dangerous. Exemplified in the way Rachel Jeantel’s testimony in the highly publicized Trayvon Martin trial wasn’t taken seriously.

“Proper English” is a Myth

In white-dominant institutions, when someone doesn’t speak “proper English,” that is, the Eurocentric, Standard American English we often associate with white people, they’re singled out for not following the standard and become a target for racist bullying.

My own accent was undoubtedly influenced by the social pressure to sound more “white,” afraid of becoming the latest victim to the daily and ongoing acts of “casual racism” I witnessed.

Similarly, Bregoli has become the newest victim in a culture that both demeans yet values people like her as entertainment.

While white girls like Bregoli are receiving reality show offers, from production companies seeking to take advantage of the fascination surrounding her “ghetto” accent, many Black people face discrimination for speaking the same way.

But in a society that glamorizes and encourages children, people of color, and women to exploit themselves for money, can we really say that anyone is truly winning?

Challenging and Changing the Status Quo

Standard American English is only considered the standard because it’s a reflection of the current racial power dynamics in this country.

As Everyday Feminism notes, “Whether someone’s speaking in a regional US accent, an accent from another language, or a cultural dialect, we’ve all been taught that there’s a “right” way to say things.”

In order to end linguistic discrimination, one of the most overlooked but nonetheless harmful forms of racism, we must first admit there’s a bias against people who don’t speak Standard English.

Only after accepting it’s a problem and getting through the initial denial, can we begin to work effectively towards getting rid of it and, in its place, start embracing the linguistic diversity of a country which prides itself on being a melting pot. While it likely won’t happen overnight, we can gradually learn to reject our internal biases through self-reflection, patience, discussion, and, maybe most importantly, allowing ourselves the room to make mistakes.