Celebrities Gender Race Inequality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coronavirus Policy Inequality

South Africa’s military-patrolled lockdown conjures up Apartheid aggression

Imagine it is 1952 in South Africa. A Black woman is hired as a domestic worker for measly pay by a white family. Every day she travels on foot from her township home to her employee’s home in an affluent suburb. One day, however, she forgets her ‘dompas’. A familiar police officer dressed in blue stops her close to her destination. He demands the paperwork that she does not have on her. “He should know me though,” she thinks to herself, “I’ve travelled this path every day for the past few years.” There is no further discussion. He merely grabs her by the arm and throws her to the ground while screaming slurs. A van pulls up and she is flung inside the back of it. She is arrested for being Black in a white space.

These stories seemed like exaggerated creative tales of a time long past. Apartheid is at times spoken about as if it happened centuries ago. Yet, the democracy I currently live in is only 26 years old. In the age of COVID-19, it is an unfortunate fact that we are hearing reports of the occurrence of similar police brutality. The circumstances are different – elitism, instead of racism, is the spurring factor. However, the underlying aggression faced during apartheid is now resurfacing (or perhaps was always present but is now more blatant than ever).

South Africa is currently in a military-patrolled lock down to slow the spread of COVID-19. It began on Thursday, 26 March 2020 at 23:59 and was intended to last for three weeks. It has since been extended for another two weeks, then reduced to a level 4 lockdown as of the 1st of May, with certain restrictions loosened such as the allowance of food deliveries. The South African National Defence Force and the South African Police Service have been deployed to patrol the streets to enforce the rules of this lock down. With this decision, the government inadvertently reintroduced apartheid aggression within the public.

As reported by UN News, the Director of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation for the UN Human Rights Office, Georgette Gagnon, has spoken out against South Africa’s “heavy-handed” and “highly militarised” security response to the virus: “We’ve received reports of disproportionate use of force by security officers, particularly in poor and informal settlements,” she said. “Rubber bullets, tear gas, water guns and whips have been used to enforce social distancing in shopping lines…and outside their homes.”

During apartheid, in keeping with their agenda of racial segregation, there was a formation of ‘townships’ – a section of society allocated for the residence of people of color located a distance away from white areas. The entire non-white urban population was forced to live in townships through the enforcement of the Group Areas Act of 1950. If a person of color was found in a white area without a ‘dompas’ (a document proving that a person was a worker needed in a white area),  severe punishments such as beatings and imprisonment were carried out.

This system of housing carried over into post-apartheid South Africa. Many poverty-stricken people (55% as of 2015 according to SA’s Poverty Trends in South Africa report), due to generational poverty, continue to live in these townships. And with 79% of the population comprised of black people, townships mainly house this race group. Thus, this becomes a calculated move to separate poor black people from rich white people.

In the age of Covid-19, this national lockdown has called for the public to remain indoors. But this is not as simple for township residents as it is for others. Townships consist of small, unhygienic, and architecturally poor infrastructure. Large families physically cannot quarantine themselves in small spaces. Furthermore, many of these families’ incomes have been stripped due to the closing of businesses. With people starving, the idea of them leaving their homes in search of food is not an unrealistic one.

This rehashing of apartheid aggression through police brutality appears when people leave their homes. Once again, economic injustices sustain social injustices. There have been multiple reports on how police brutality is on the rise during this unsettling time in our lives. As reported by IOL, “According to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) statistics, there have been two deaths in police custody…The stats also indicated that there were 11 cases of discharging an official firearm and 14 cases of torture, assault and corruption. There is also one case of rape by a police official.”

Such a case illustrating police brutality is that of Collins Khosa. He was a resident of the township of Alexandra in Johannesburg, who was beaten to death by soldiers in April 2020 during the lockdown. Khosa’s life partner explained that the now-deceased victim was not breaking any lockdown regulations when soldiers confronted him for drinking an alcoholic beverage in his own yard. He was subsequently assaulted while officers of the Johannesburg Metro Police Department (JMPD) stood by and “facilitated” the soldiers’ assault on Khosa, according to court papers. He later died in his bed as a result of blunt force trauma.

It is an inconvenient truth for many South Africans to face, however, the feeling of apartness between citizens of our country still lingers even after 26 years of democracy. Whether it be due to racism, sexism or elitism, South Africa faces many socio-political issues that arise due to a system of segregation that has yet to be dismantled.

Tech Policy Now + Beyond Inequality

Online education has revealed the painful truth behind South Africa’s digital divide

On 16 March 2020, I begrudgingly woke up on the morning after President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation regarding the spread of COVID-19 within South Africa. I was running around the room preparing myself to leave to campus for the day until my phone started going wild with notifications. Speculations that the university would be closing were soon confirmed by the institution. Our vacation period was moved up, and all students living in university-provided accommodation had to vacate within the next few days. With such little notice, many students found themselves stranded. 

A week later, on 23 March 2020, President Ramaphosa announced that South Africa would be entering a 21-day military patrolled lockdown in an attempt to flatten the curve. Since then, it was announced on 9 April 2020 that the lockdown would be extended for another 14 days. Universities and schools decided to keep their doors closed while online education took center stage, and suddenly the reality of South Africa’s digital divide became a rather pressing issue. While most students were preparing for online classes, those who found themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, however, did not have the luxury of partaking in such classes.

According to Stats SA’s Poverty Trends in South Africa report, as of 2015, 55% of the population is living below the upper-bound poverty line in South Africa. This means that they are unable to purchase both adequate food and non-food items. Statistics such as these bring forth the question of how would poverty-stricken South Africans be able to effectively participate in online learning without the infrastructure or support to do so? As I sit here typing on my laptop with a roof over my head, food in the fridge and a stable WIFI connection, I am very aware of the fact that many of my peers do not have the same privileges.

The solution for effective online learning in South Africa is not as simple as providing computers to access online learning material. Many live in small, cramped and unhygienic spaces with little to no water or electricity. I attend a university where the majority of the student body live in university-provided accommodation with resources such as food, electricity, water, WIFI, heating and sanitation facilities. The university also usually provides all students access to libraries and computer labs. Thus, universities have become a safe haven for many students who do not have the same resources in their respective households. With the lockdown, these favorable conditions for learning have been stripped away from these students.

Students without these conducive home conditions face the difficult decision of seeking other accommodation, away from loved ones, in order to effectively continue their studies. Many students who receive funding are forced to use the money on groceries and other home essentials for their families, rather than purchase laptops or data. Such domestic issues seem to not be at the forefront of concerns for academic institutions.

Their focus appears to be digital-oriented. The University of Cape Town has provided laptops to all students on financial aid. The University of Witwatersrand established a Mobile Computing Bank, which will enable qualifying students to loan basic devices from the bank. Rhodes University has conducted an extensive survey on students’ capability to engage remote/online teaching and learning. They have ordered laptops which “will not be cost-free, but will be made available to students who need them for online education on a financed arrangement.” Furthermore, they plan to deliver printed study packs to students who are not able to make use of online facilities, and acknowledge that they have a “moral obligation to ensure that no student will be disadvantaged by the delivery of teaching and learning using online systems.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is making me, and I am sure other South Africans too, painfully aware of these inequalities now more than ever. The mere fact that we are being told to wash our hands to slow the spread of the virus, yet have no water to do so is a testament to how ill-prepared we are, as a developing nation, to handle such an issue. It is a social justice imperative for the privileged to help those that need it. However, I, as an average citizen, feel overwhelmed and incapable of making a lasting difference. Especially in a time where leaving one’s house to share resources puts them and those around them at risk. 

Thus, the government and the various academic institutions within the country need to make a proactive effort in helping students in need during this time. Solutions already adopted by the University of Witwatersrand include pre-loading devices with the required learning resources before being delivered via the South African Post Office to students who need it and arranging with telecommunications service providers to zero-rate its library and learning management sites. Other universities should either follow suit or suspend all academic activity. Without our leaders doing something, we risk stunting the growth of our future workforce. 


Colorism in South Africa tore away at my self-esteem

In 2019, Oscar-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, referred to colorism as the “daughter of racism”. With this simple but poignant statement, Nyong’o summarized an often overlooked form of discrimination: darker people in many racial and ethnic groups are seen as lesser than their lighter counterparts. Her particular use of the word ‘daughter’ could allude to the idea that women suffer from this discrimination more than men – a notion I agree with.

The closer you are to whiteness, the better.

The word ‘colorism’ was first publicly used by author and activist Alice Walker. She defined it as, “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” Its roots are widely agreed upon: colonization and white supremacy. These led to the introduction and adoption of a Eurocentric beauty hegemony by communities of color; the closer you are to whiteness, whether it be having straighter hair, lighter eyes, or fairer skin, the better.

As a South African Indian who was raised in an Indian community, I have had my fair share of encounters with colorism. A country previously colonized by Europeans, South Africa has a long and sordid relationship with racism. Hence, other forms of bigotry were sidelined in popular discussion.  But being brought up in a same-race community, racism was never really the issue. Instead of judging me for my race, people took to judging me for my skin tone.

In my little brown bubble of Tongaat, a town that was built by the first Indian settlers who were brought to work in the sugarcane plantations, colorism was a subtle tool used to oppress the dark and glorify the fair. In my experience, the main perpetrators of this form of discrimination were older women or ‘Indian aunties’ as the stereotype calls for. I was constantly told (by women I barely knew) to use fairness creams or to avoid staying in the sun for too long. Ironically, many of these women were also considered dark-skinned women.

European “norms” have lingered in our societies and have taken away from various cultures’ own values of beauty for far too long.

The Association of Black Psychologists has labeled colorism as a form of internalized racism, the process whereby ethnic minorities absorb the racism of dominant ethnic groups to their own detriment. This phenomenon of internalization was clearly present here.  Reinforced over generations, it was now a part of the social lenses we viewed our world through.

What made it worse was having an older sister who was taller, thinner, and lighter than me – a direct (and personal) point of comparison. People in our age range were not largely complicit in such discrimination, but when they were, it was blatant. In high school, my sister and I had an unwanted joint nickname, “Top Deck”, referring to a Cadbury chocolate which had a bottom layer of milk chocolate and a top layer of white chocolate.

[Image description: Two girls, the one on the left with a darker skin tone than the one on the right, sit smiling together.]

Older people were more subtle in their deliveries. “You’re very beautiful,” my grandmother would say to my sister. “So slim and tall, and such fair skin. ..You’re pretty too!”, she’d say as I walked past. There was no escaping it – I was objectively shorter, fatter, and darker than my sister. It dawned on me that to many, I was automatically less attractive than my sister due to those factors. And because they thought it, they thought that I thought it too. But I didn’t…until then.

Colorism can largely be considered a feminist issue in the wider context of our patriarchal world. Women already have certain beauty standards forced upon them – shave your entire body but have voluminous hair on your head and wear makeup to “enhance your natural beauty” – but not too much or you are “falsely advertising”! Even my sister, praised for being tall, was often told not to get too tall “or else boys will feel intimidated and won’t marry you”.

Colorism is only one example from a very long list of criticisms allocated to the female body. Through arbitrary social constructs, women are conditioned to tie their self-worth to their level of attractiveness. What I saw occur in my town were efforts to become lighter (an attribute synonymous to being more sexually desirable) in the hopes of one day having a man choose you as a wife.

European “norms” have lingered in our societies and have taken away from various cultures’ own values of beauty for far too long. I have not been back to my home town for three years now. I can only hope that some progress has been made and that women are allowed to feel comfortable in their skin, no matter the shade.

Movie Reviews Bollywood Movies Pop Culture

Here’s why I finally lost my undying obsession for DDLJ

“Go, Simran, go. Live your life.”

These iconic words, spoken at the climax of the 1995 Bollywood classic Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (DDLJ), never failed to make me tear up as a teenager.

DDLJ is the story of Raj Malhotra (Shah Rukh Khan/SRK) and Simran Singh (Kajol) who both reside in the UK and fall in love on a trip across Europe.

They cannot marry, however, because Simran’s father has already decided she will marry Kuljeet Singh (Parmeet Sethi), his friend’s son, whom she has never met. Rahul then pretends to be Kuljeet’s friend and crashes Simran’s wedding preparations to try and win her family over.

I fell in love with DDLJ as a child.

I adored Raj and Simran. I admired Kajol’s unibrow. I recited the dialogues alongside the characters. Most importantly, I treasured the romance. Nothing could be purer than Raj’s love for Simran and what he was willing to do to win her father over.

On the face of it, DDLJ is the perfect rom-com. It presents an unlikely pair – opposites who attract and fall deeply in love – only for a parent to tear them apart. It makes you root for them and cheer out loud when they finally do unite at the end. Like millions of other girls, I also wanted a Raj who would be willing to fight the world to be with me.

Nothing could be purer than Raj’s love for Simran and what he was willing to do to win her father over.

However, as I grew older, rewatching it made me uncomfortable, and it took me some time to realize why.

Raj, it turns out, is the flag-bearer of the creepy guys you see at a store whom you avoid eye contact with because you know they’ll start following you around. He dangled Simran’s bra in her face five seconds after meeting her, and then kept pestering her even when she clearly told him, multiple times, she was not interested in talking to him.

Raj also lied to her about them sleeping together. After all, what girl doesn’t find it hilarious when she wakes up, disoriented, next to a stranger who jokes about sleeping together when she was too inebriated to remember anything?

Worse, when Simran starts to cry upon hearing this, he goes on a rant about how he couldn’t even imagine doing that to her because he knows that honor (chastity) means everything to a Hindustani girl.

What I despise more than Raj’s behavior is that like most Bollywood movies, DDLJ places Simran entirely at the mercy of the men in her life. Her father decided she is to marry a stranger, and before this happens she has to beg him to let her travel across Europe for one last hurrah.

Then, when she returns from a trip equivalent to the last meal, she is punished for doing something deeply unforgivable in her culture – falling in love.

Simran’s own fight and refusal do not produce any results.

As punishment, her wedding is moved up and she is taken to a village in India where her future husband lives. This is a man neither she nor her father has ever met. This is also a man shown to be an alpha male with no intention of staying loyal to Simran. Yet, the preparations continue.

Her future became dependent on Raj and his decision on whether she’s worth fighting for. Simran’s own fight and refusal do not produce any results.

The other women in the film also exist along the periphery. Simran’s mother supports her but is helpless because the only will that matters is that of her father. Simran’s sister teases her about Raj and helps facilitate their forbidden romance.

Simran’s aunt is there only for comic relief due to a potential romance with Raj’s single father. Worst of all, Kuljeet’s sister Preeti exists only as the punchline to a joke that is not funny. She falls in love with Raj who happily leads her along to hide his relationship with Simran.

Meanwhile, the decision to fight for Simran, our signature damsel in distress, is what makes Raj the hero. Thus, DDLJ takes a movie designed for female audiences, as rom coms are famous for, and makes it entirely about a man and his fight while the women are shown holding no agency over their lives. This only reinforces how marginalized brown women are in our real lives.

The movie is yet another reminder that the men in our life, be it our boyfriends or our fathers, are our priority.

The entire movie is a battle between the egos of two men. And like most Bollywood movies, the romance here would not be complete without the man literally fighting for love. Ironically, this aggression plays a role in convincing Simran’s father of Raj’s undying love.

What made me uncomfortable with DDLJ’s “romance” was, ultimately, that Simran had no choice. The grand gesture at the end of DDLJ is Simran’s father letting her hand go, telling her to live her life, only for her to immediately clasp onto the hand of another man.

DDLJ is not a bad movie. I would go to the extent of calling it a pretty good movie. It’s funny, emotional, and really panders to the Indian diaspora at the expense of the British (something the anti-colonialist in me appreciates).

The movie is yet another reminder that the men in our life, be it our boyfriends or our fathers, are our priority.

However, I don’t rewatch it for the romance because it reminds me of something deeply abhorrent in our culture; that we as women hold no agency over our lives, but especially over our love lives.

We are all Simran, begging our fathers to let us be free once before they marry us off to whoever they decide is suitable. We are all Simran as she pleads with her father to let her go; to let go of our hands and our lives. We are all Simran, now tied to another man, as our ambitions and dreams remain nameless and unimportant, all secondary to the concept of marriage and men.

I used to wish for a Raj. After rewatching the movie, I now only wish to be Raj, if only to have the agency of going wherever I want and marrying whoever I want (if I want), the way I know I could never do as Simran.

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Health Care Health Wellness

Here’s how to actually be supportive to your friend with bipolar disorder

Lately, most of my heartbreak has come from lost friendships, some of which I still haven’t gotten any closure from. In part, this is because I have bipolar disorder.

In the time that has passed, I’ve come to realize that I deserved better. I deserved to be surrounded by people who accepted me as I am and so do you.

There have been many situations where I have found myself among my friends, experiencing an episode — either depressive or manic — and felt completely alone in my suffering when a few acts of kindness could have made a huge difference.

1. Acceptance

: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.
[Image description: A girl sitting and looking out of a window.] Via Unsplash
Regardless of whether someone is a lover or a friend, don’t ever assume that they can be fixed. They are not a broken tailgate or a leaking engine.

The assumption that a person can or needs to be fixed can destroy your relationship with them.

This is because people cannot simply ‘snap out of it’. This is because they are not doing it to themselves: it is happening to them.

2. Compromise

Two girls talking
[Image description: Two girls talking.] Voa Unsplash
Someone’s mental illness is not about you unless you are abusing them.

So, expecting someone with a bipolar disorder to meet you at your physical, emotional and mental level is unrealistic. This is why you have to be the one who meets them halfway.

If a person cannot come to you, then you come to them, if a person during mania episode wants to jump off a bridge or out of a window, then suggest bungee jumping or skydiving.

At the end of the day, it is about finding a compromise.       

3. Improvise

Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset
[Image description: Two women sitting on a rooftop while watching sunset.] Via Unsplash
Improvising is very important. There will be times when the notion of order and routine falls out the window and all you can do is wait it out. In those moments, it’s best to simply be there for someone.

Sometimes, you’ll need to take it one day at a time, and if one day is too much then take it one hour at a time.

And if that feels like too much for them, go moment by moment because sometimes, you simply need to hold them through the pain.

4. Don’t retaliate

A girl sitting down, looking sad.
[Image description: A girl sitting down, looking sad.] Via Unsplash
When someone is having a panic/anxiety attack, that is not the time to psychoanalyze them. That is not the time to pull out the receipts of all the times that you were unsatisfied with their behavior.

Simply telling someone to calm down is redundant because that person is already doing everything in their power to calm down.

So sometimes, if you can’t cope, the best thing you can do for them is to call someone they trust. Getting someone a bottle or a glass of water can be helpful regardless of the fact that it might not resolve the panic/anxiety attack.

5. Be patient

Two boys hugging in a bar.
[Image description: Two boys hugging in a bar.] Via Unsplash
People who have compulsive behaviors and various tics exhibit (tap toeing, pen clicking, thigh rubbing, pacing) ways to expel anxiety.

While these might be irritable and distracting to a normal person, rather than simply pointing out your annoyance, something you can do is provide the person with alternate forms of expression.

For example, if a person is pacing, you can both go for a walk; if a person is clicking a pen, you can give them paper to write on.

6. Be responsible

A man and woman playing at a foosball table.
[Image description: A man and woman playing at a foosball table.] VIa Unsplash
Social anxiety is real. It isn’t when someone is being rude, or when someone has poor manners. If you have a friend that does have social anxiety, you’ll have to compromise. If you’re inviting them to a party, you have two responsibilities that you must uphold; the first is to respect the people they choose to interact with and the people they choose not to interact with.

And the next is to respect and accept when they want to leave and ensure they get home safely. Allow your friend to gravitate towards people that they find interesting.

Another option is to bring along games or cards, that way if they don’t want to interact but are interested in the games they can play them.

All relationships are hard work. While the representation of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder still has a long way to go, accepting the people among us for who they are, and helping them out goes a long way.

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USA LGBTQIA+ 2020 Elections Policy Inequality

Dear Ellen Degeneres, the time to be nice in politics has long passed

On the first weekend of October 2019,  there was a football game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Packers. The cameras captured the game, the roars of the crowd and the celebrities that were in a stadium suite. This in itself is nothing unusual.  Yet spotted in these photos were none other than Ellen Degeneres and Portia De Rossi, seated alongside George W Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, laughing and smiling. There were immediate comments, mostly ones expressing disappointment. As Ellen, herself said on her TV show as a response to the uproar,  “why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?” 

She continued in her usual sunny manner to remind the audience in front of her and those of us watching at home that she’s friends with lots of people who don’t share the same beliefs that she does. She ended the segment by stating that it’s important to be nice and kind to everyone. Not just those that share our beliefs.  

Everything that Ellen said in that short segment in response to the bewilderment and disappointment online is what has made Ellen…well Ellen. She was the woman who taught middle belt America that lesbians are not monsters or “strange girls from the city.” But instead that they are every woman and everywhere. In doing so, she weathered many a difficult storm including the cancellation of her TV sitcom.

George Bush, on the other hand, built a considerable part of his political base on being anti-LGBTQ.  By refusing to classify crimes against gay people as hate crimes and standing firm on agreement on a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. In the context of the performative “uh shucks, we’re all one and the same,” that has made her so successful, being friendly with George Bush makes sense. Ellen’s kindness as she’s shown over and over again extends to everyone, even when it makes her look stupid. 

Thankfully, the world has changed profoundly since Ellen became a household name in 1997. In our society today, unfettered and more importantly uncritical niceness is not seen as a virtue.

As Laura Bradley said in Vanity Fair, “when one person has historically believed other people should not have the same basic rights as another, it’s hard to treat these differences as benign—especially when that person once exercised their power to help make their beliefs a reality.

3 layers Face Mask Virus protection

We simply cannot afford to continue to rehabilitate the image of a person that invaded Iraq. Or trampled on our civil liberties (ahem, Patriot Act),  or his terrible response to Hurricane Katrina and a plethora of other issues.

The presidency of Donald Trump has been one of the best things to happen to George Bush’s image.  Charming interviews with Jimmy Kimmel and appearances on Ellen’s day time show haven’t hurt either.

Neither has the much-discussed friendship between him and Michelle Obama. Respectability politics have shown us that George Bush is a nice man; charming, even, but it doesn’t absolve him of his crime.

But being nice and being polite is not the same thing as being good and just. Plenty of racist and homophones have the best manners, but it doesn’t mean anything. This is what Ellen and many moderate boomers can’t seem to grasp in the waves of criticism of their actions.

Not one person expected Ellen to remove herself from that box in a dramatic fashion. Instead, her dissenters were asking her the value in elevating a run of the mill exchange with a famously anti-gay and very pro-torture Republican leader.  What do we gain painting this encounter like some sort of Kumbaya or come to Jesus’ moment?

This encounter can be a learning moment if we let it. Not just for Ellen but for ourselves.  Too many of us focus on surface-level politeness and cordiality. It’s the first thing we are taught as children. And to a degree, it’s necessary for civil society (in fact it can make your career). But what we really need in order to create a just society is goodness. It is honesty and the ability to hold people and ourselves accountable.

Ellen had the opportunity to approach the criticism of her and Bush being (seemingly) bosom buddies differently.  If Ellen is so committed to being kind, maybe she should be a bit kinder to the most vulnerable in our society. Not the person who aided in making them so in the first place. 

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Mind Culture Wellness Life

My friend died by suicide. I wish someone had listened to her.

Trigger Warning: Mentions of depression and verbal abuse.


Asha* was a beautiful, ambitious young girl with the brightest smile. She told very bad jokes, to be honest, but she had a laugh so contagious, that you couldn’t help but laugh at them with her. If she was a color, she’d be yellow.

She was THAT kind of person.

A few weeks after her 21st birthday, Asha died. I remember so vividly the moment that my parents gave me this devastating news. There was silence in the room; the grief was palpable. I had so many questions. How? We had just spoken a few days ago when I wished her a happy birthday.

The story of Asha is real. I knew her. Maybe you know an Asha of your own.  Or maybe Asha’s story resonates with that of your own.

It turns out that she had depression, and had been hiding it for years.

Initially, she was hesitant to opt for treatment, but as her pain grew and it started to devour more and more of her body, she decided to seek help.

Her cry for help was met with the following statements:

  • Stop being dramatic!
  • You’re going to go see a psychiatrist? What will people say?
  • Won’t you be humiliated? You can’t just be going around saying you have a mental illness! What if people start treating you differently?
  • Ugh, me too man. Sometimes I feel like I have depression too. But then I distract myself and think positive thoughts and I feel better. Have you tried that?
  • You’re so beautiful and intelligent! How can someone like you have depression?
  • You’re too smart to have depression! I mean look at you! You have straight A’s and such a promising future!
  • Trust me you don’t have depression. Just don’t think about it. The more you think about it, the more you will believe you have it.
  • Honestly, I went through the same thing and I prayed about it and look at me now! I’m completely cured. I didn’t even need therapy.
  • Are you sure you have depression? You look fine!
  • You have depression because you’re too distant from faith. You should really consider becoming more religious. You should go see a priest.

All Asha got was advice. Lots of it. What Asha didn’t get was help or support to find a solution to her suffering. Her cries for help went unnoticed, all while she was clenching on to dear life, gasping for air whilst under a crushing weight, with not even a sliver of hope in sight.

Asha had been fighting an internal battle with depression for so long. Her cry for help was the only one she had left in her. It was her last fight to stay alive.

Asha died. Though it gives me peace in believing that maybe she’s in a better place, a place without the pain, it wrenches my soul knowing she died a long, miserable death full of anguish. This lethal disease took her life.

And yes, I’m fully allowed to call it a disease, as psychiatrists have called it that as a result of research.

This news was met with statements like:

  • She died because she was weak! She should have been stronger.
  • She just died? But she had such a promising future!
  • I think people like her just want attention.
  • She didn’t even think about her family? How selfish.
  • I have depression too and I’m fine! And my depression is way worse than her’s.

This is not a competition.

How completely nonsensical would these statements seem if Asha didn’t die of depression, but rather died from cancer? People would be perhaps more empathetic and significantly less judgemental. Depression is a disease that is not cancerous, in theory but is still malignant. It is agonizing and noxious.

This lethal disease took her life.

This disease has taken the lives of millions of people. The most loved and cherished people. People with a laugh so infectious that it veils their internal wars and Asha was no exception. No one is immune to it. Like cancer, depression also has biological instigators, often requiring immediate medical attention rather than a simple dose of “cheer up!”

Mental illnesses are real.

The story of Asha is real. I knew her. Maybe you know an Asha of your own.  Or maybe Asha’s story resonates with that of your own.

How many more Ashas do we have to know before we make a change? I don’t want Asha to become yet another statistic.

I don’t want you to have known an Asha of your own, who became a victim of this disease.

We need to be there for each other. We need to check up on one another. We need to remove the stigma that exists around speaking up and seeking professional help.

This disease has taken the lives of millions of people. The most loved and cherished people.

We need to work towards creating a safe environment in which people who are suffering can vocalize their struggles and their voices are heard with empathy and sensitivity. We need to recognize and acknowledge someone’s cry for help because it might have taken a lot of courage, and it might be the only will to fight left in them.

We must do better. We need to do better.

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*The names in this article have been changed to protect those involved. 

Policy Inequality

Why the International Criminal Court being under attack matters

The International Criminal Court is not an institution that crops up in casual conversation, even in conversations about politics. When it does come up, it is never pleasant. And why would it be? The task given to this institution is not an envious one.

The ICC investigates and charges individuals who have committed crimes against humanity.  The ICC was created by the Rome Statute a treaty brought forth by the United Nations but operates independently. The ICC is often seen as “the court of last resort.” Due to this, the court system usually sees the worst of what humanity has to offer, legally speaking.

So it’s safe to say this isn’t dinner party talk.

However, the International Criminal Court is one of the few institutions that can hold powerful people accountable. Without it, Charles Taylor the infamous president of Liberia and feared war criminal might still be living in exile. For many victims of human rights abuses, entities like the International Criminal Court remain the only place where they have a chance of getting justice.

The countries that are still recovering from civil wars, coups and foreign intervention in their political processes are in the nascent stages of rebuilding their homes. This means that the branches of government such as the legislative and judiciary may not be fully equipped in making sure the perpetrators of such violence are held accountable.

Additionally, it may be dangerous to hold such trials in the country of the accused in question. Lack of government infrastructure, fear for people’s safety and tenous peacebuilding all combine to drive home how important the ICC is. This is why the court being threatened by one of the most powerful countries in the world, is of grave consequence. Before John Bolton’s unceremonious departure from Trump’s cabinet, he gave a strongly worded speech threatening sanctions and labeled the ICC “illegitimate.”

Subsequently, the US imposed visa bans on all ICC personnel and staff involved in the investigation of US citizens.

This isn’t the first time the ICC has suffered from attempts to delegitimize it. Last year, President Duterte of the Philippines said that the country had given the notice to withdraw from the ICC. Burundi also withdrew in 2017, becoming the first country that has done so.

Naturally, the United States condemnation of the ICC has garnered the most attention. An important question is, what caused it? It may be due to current investigations into the conduct of American personnel in Afghanistan. Moreover, an investigation may be in the works regarding Palestine which would include the conduct of Israeli officials. The US and Israel have a long and mutually beneficial allyship that may be threatened by this.

It is important to note that the countries that have sought to attack or unnecessarily criticize the ICC in recent years have all been accused of grave crimes themselves.

President Duterte’s inhumane war on drugs has left thousands dead and made headlines around the world. Burundi’s security forces have carried out widespread human rights abuses such as abductions and beatings. The United States unnecessary and damaging war in Afghanistan and generally dangerous foreign policy continues to be felt.

All of these countries and their leaders have something to protect.

Namely, the political establishment and access to power. They have no interest in ensuring the ones that have been hurt the most by their policies and actions receive the protection they deserve. The ICC stands as an impartial organization that is not beholden to any government. For many, it is the last or only chance they have at having their voices heard.

There is something so moving about victims of war and human rights abuses coming face to face with their perpetrators in court to hold them accountable. They have the chance to explain what happened to them, their children and their country. The ICC gives these victims a platform for their voices to be heard and for justice to be served.

We cannot let those who would attempt to bully or intimidate the members of the court from doing their job in protecting human rights laws. Without the ICC countless more crimes will continue to go unchecked, and then what kind of world will we live in? There so much hate and pain in the world, we cannot stand down.

Editor's Picks

Best of The Tempest 2019: Social Justice & News

I think we can all agree that 2019 has been a hell of a year and politically – it has been draining.

We are now in the time of information overload. There is so much happening everywhere in the world, so much that deserves to be spoken about that can actually be accessed incredibly easily. But I’m not sure our minds were created to be able to take in everything, to have a stance on everything, all the time – it’s exhausting.

Nevertheless, 2019 has been one of the most important years because, in the face of all the bad, there has been so much room for good, so much space to share stories that may have been lost in previous years, so much room to grow as individuals and to educate ourselves about the world we live in.

Here are some of the most important stories of 2019.

1. The Holocaust isn’t the only genocide that Germany needs to be held accountable for by Julia Métraux

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

The Holocaust is undoubtedly one of the one worst things that could have happened, however, unknown to many – it isn’t the only genocide that has occurred, not even in Germany. Julia explores the horrors that the Herero and Nama people endured in Germany so that they aren’t forgotten and hopefully one day will receive the reparations they deserve.

2. An art installation in Pakistan about police brutality faces censorship by Sabreena Memon

An art installation in Pakistan about police brutality faces censorship

Sabreena explores the intricate relationship that Pakistan has with Censorship by discussing an art installation named the Killing Fields of Karachi. This piece touches on important topics such as the effects of censorship and the importance of art as a means to start essential discussions.

3. In conversation with Aysha Baqir on her novel Beyond the Fields by Shehrbano Naqvi

In conversation with Aysha Baqir on her novel Beyond the Fields

Shehrbano talks to Aysha Baqir about her novel Beyond the Fields, a story based in Pakistan that touches on issues such as gender-based violence and justice. It is fascinating to understand what drove the author to write this incredible tale and what points she found most important to shed light on. This article is a great introduction to what is undoubtedly an amazing book.

4. We have to stop ignoring this massive Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy by Kari J

We have to stop ignoring this massive Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy

Kari lays out the facts of the Jeffrey Epstein issue step by step so that it is easy to understand one of the biggest conspiracies of the year. She urges sexual assault victims to continue to speak up, despite the many who aim to silence them.

5. It’s about time we see eating disorders as social justice issues by Meg Leach

It’s about time we see eating disorders as social justice issues

In this piece, Meg sheds some light on why in particular sizeism and diet culture contribute towards eating disorders and what we need to do to combat it. I’ve seen this topic discussed in so many ways but I feel like this article is a fresh take with a discussion around the causes, the impact, and the barriers to recovery.

6. This is the bitter truth behind your cup of tea by Iman Saleem

This is the bitter truth behind your cup of tea

We all love a good cup of tea, it’s prominent in many cultures and a staple in so many homes. But like most of the things we consume, how often do we really think about how it is made? Iman explores the struggles of the estate workers in Sri Lanka and the methods they are using to try and gain better wages and treatment. This is a great insight into a too little talked about subject.

7. #AmINext: we need to talk about femicide in South Africa by Erin de Kock

#AmINext: we need to talk about femicide in South Africa

The issue of femicide in South Africa is sadly not a new occurrence; this year the case of Uyinene Mrwetyana bought it back into the spotlight. Erin explores the question on everyone’s mind – Am I next? A fair question in a country where a woman is murdered every three hours.

8. Why the London dream is over by Sharlene Gandhi

Why the London dream is over

Sharlene looks into why people are leaving cities and focuses on London in particular. Looking at the near non-existent work-life balance, financial aspects and even climate issues, we can understand why more people are leaving London than moving to it.

9. We have to stop making straight celebrities our gay icons by Federica Bocco

We have to stop making straight celebrities our gay icons

While the relationship between music and the LGBTQ+ community is a historic one, Federica asks some important questions of who our icons should be. Without bashing allies, it is important to note that we can acknowledge and appreciate music by straight celebrities when supporting the cause, but not to forget to lift up and empower LGBTQ+ artists themselves.

So comes an end to a year that we will all remember for so many years to come.

Here is to 2020 – a year we hope is filled with goodness and justice.

TV Shows Pop Culture Interviews

Golden Globe winner Ramy Youssef on disrupting Hollywood’s Muslim stereotypes – and what really keeps him going

First-generation Muslim American Ramy Youssef isn’t your typical actor. He’s made waves by taking home a Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy or musical television series, for his role in the Hulu series Ramy.

As the co-creator and star of Ramy, 28-year-old Egyptian-American actor, and stand-up comedian Youssef set out to tell stories about a kid from an immigrant family who wants to hold on to his culture. He based the main character on his own experiences growing up in suburban New Jersey as a Muslim who considers himself religious.

I felt like a lot of narratives I saw [of] first-generation children…or anyone from a strong faith background was watching them kind of try to erase where they come from.”

“It shows someone engaging with their faith in an honest way. I felt like a lot of narratives I saw [of] first-generation children…or anyone from a strong faith background was watching them kind of try to erase where they come from and distance themselves from the tension of their parents and culture,” Youssef said in an interview with The Tempest. “I wanted to make something that reflected my experience. [That experience saw me] trying to honestly engage and identify with my background, but still asking questions about it.”

With a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Ramy is built around Ramy Hassan, played by Youssef, a Muslim unsure of what type of Muslim he is or ought to be. The show breaks stigmas and barriers in the Muslim community by addressing topics like sex and dating in Islam, as well as post 9/11 feels.

During our interview with Youssef, we discussed Muslim American representation in the media, his character and spoke of the importance of diverse and authentic representation in the entertainment industry.

The show’s trailer premiered in March, racking up more than 5.6 million views on Youtube. Muslims, in particular, have reacted strongly, with many feeling represented, while others criticized the show’s portrayal of American Muslims and the absence of Muslim women.

Youssef acknowledges the critiques, explaining that Ramy isn’t meant to represent all Muslims. “[As Muslims,] we take a burden on to try to represent everybody and that’s not fair, that’s not something other creators have to do in the same way. It’s important to tell the most specific story to you, don’t worry about any of the feedback or blowback because your job is to actually make something that you can grow from.”

When it came to the importance of representation, particularly the media’s often inaccurate and harsh portrayals of Muslims, Youssef explained his thought process while developing the show. As an Arab-Muslim, he represented the identity he could best depict.

“This is just one piece of representation. This is a small slice of an Arab Muslim family, most Muslims in America don’t even fall under that category,” Youssef said. “Most Muslims in America are Black, while many are South Asian. So this isn’t an antidote to a 24-hour news cycle or years of propaganda and war literature on Muslims. It’s simply just one piece of the puzzle.” 

According to Youssef, there are a lot of differences between the Ramy he plays and his real life. He spoke about the family in the show as compared to his own and described how in real life he has a creative outlet to express himself, whereas Ramy, the character, does not.

“This isn’t an antidote to a 24-hour news cycle or years of propaganda and war literature on Muslims. It’s simply just one piece of the puzzle.” 

“This character, this family talks a little less to each other and this character has less of an outlet so he’s more stuck. But the thing that I really love about this character and something that really resonates with me in real life is that when he has a problem or when he’s trying to figure himself out or get the best version of himself he prays,” Youssef said.

“He turns to God. That is where he goes, that is how he feels comfortable expressing himself and trying to figure himself out. This was something that was really important for me to put out there and that I wanted to have seen,” he added.

Youssef aims to depict the reality of Muslims in his show. He wants the audience to see that Muslims have the same problems, values, and desires other Americans do. 

[Image Description: Three men, Youssef, left, with Mohammed Amer and Dave Merheje, are seated in prayer, while Youssef looks up and to the sky.] Via Barbara Nitke/Hulu
[Image Description: Three men, Youssef, left, with Mohammed Amer and Dave Merheje, are seated in prayer, while Youssef looks up and to the sky.] Via Barbara Nitke/Hulu

“I want the audience to see that Muslims have vulnerabilities. I want them [the audience] to take a look at the types of problems that this family and character face and understand that our problems are very much like anybody else problems.”

Through this show, Youssef hopes to recontextualize words and spaces, while also demystifying the tropes about how Muslims are and operate. “When you hear ‘Allahu Akhbar’ in America it means something violent, but when you watch this show, you realize that is something people say when they are looking to find a calm moment- when they are looking to reflect, just an act of worship that is tied to being a human.”

“Dehumanization here is what’s most important. Anything else is just very specific to this story and not really indicative of anything more than that,” he added.

When asked about the advice he would give to fellow Muslim Americans seeking to follow in his career path, Youssef spoke of the importance of taking risks.

“Try to pray and drink a lot of water.”

“Take risks, don’t be worried about the feedback that you may or may not get. Just know, that if you’re young and want to be something, you just have to be as authentic as you can. Be yourself,” Youseff said.

He finished his advice off with a practical note: “Try to pray and drink a lot of water.”

The first season of Ramy is available on Hulu. Earlier this year, the network announced that the show had been renewed for a second season.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Politics The World Inequality

Law students are using their skills to challenge the Trump administration

The Martin Luther King Junior Law School at the University of California, Davis is one of the few law schools in the country to prepare students to practice immigration law. There is an on-campus immigration law clinic there and the students receive real-life opportunities to gain experience in the immigration field. According to the immigration law clinic’s website, supervising attorneys guide the students, “to research and develop legal arguments, collect facts, write trial briefs, and prepare clients and witnesses. The students also prepare federal court challenges to conditions of confinement and custody and represent clients before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with cutting-edge appellate representation.”

Most of the students that participate in the immigration law clinic are given opportunities to defend immigrants that face detainment for unlawful entry. Some students even participate in challenging unjust executive orders signed by the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.

One of the major cases that students from the University of Davis School of Law immigration clinic made an impact on is Singh v. Holder. Law students from the University of California, Davis give testimony to defend Mr. Singh. Mr. Singh was in jail for about four years because of a minor felony regarding his immigration status.  Students challenged the due process violations and their efforts swayed the judge

In 2017, when Donald Trump signed the travel ban executive orders, law students from the immigration clinic commuted to San Francisco International Airport to represent the incoming travelers impacted by the ban. President Donald Trump ordered I.C.E. raids and the incarceration of many migrants causing separation and strife. Students and faculty from the immigration law clinic were at the forefront of the crisis lending a helping hand.

Currently, students from the immigration clinic travel mostly around the state of California to different detention centers to interview migrant children. They collect testimonies and evidence to help reunite them with their families and gain better care. Students document the horrid experiences and conditions that the children experience in these detention centers.

In February, I had the opportunity to hear Holly Cooper, the Co-Director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis speak at the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, CA. She spoke about the Flores Settlement which the immigration law clinic supports. The Flores Settlement Agreement requires the government to release children from immigration detention centers back to their families within 20 days and it requires the government to give the migrant children a certain quality of life.  No more kids cramped in cages without their basic needs being met.

As of September, the Trump Administration planned to nullify the Flores Settlement Agreement which makes immigration law more important now than ever. Although impeachment proceedings have begun, our current President has shown that he has no regard for human life. As a result, it is important to advocate for human rights. By treating people with dignity and respect when coming into the United States, we are truly the land of the free.