It’s On Us… (A BLM Essay)

There is so much to be said and there is so much being said. Lack of efforts are not a good enough excuse ignorance and silence. Black people deserve to live full lives. They deserve to have joy, love, shelter, food, and opportunities… and if you (a non black person) continues to believe that they have the same opportunities as the rest of us, you’re still not listening. You’re still asleep. Policies need to change! We need to ensure protection for black humans.

🙏🏽 Join your city council meetings if you haven’t already done so. 🙏🏽
Policies need to change. We need to protect black people. We need to protect black trans people. We need to protect black women. We need to protect black children.

This painting has gone to a beautiful interracial family who just announced the birth of their first baby. I hope the future is a safe space for her. It is our job to ensure the future of all black children, children of color and queer children. The painting represents the strength, resilience, innocence, and beauty of black girls and women in all kinds of relationships–be it siblings, parents, and friendships. It represents the bonds and communities they create and all the curious and magical ways they continue to uplift themselves.

We don’t deserve them, but they continue to forgive and love us.

Untitled by Christina Xu for Living Artist Project

Christina Xu, is an artist and muralist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been a Living Artist Project Contributing Artist since 2014. Find her work at www.christinaxu.art or follow her on IG @ChristinaXu_.

Sexual Predation in the Workplace

Recently, we have been talking about surviving sexual predation. Because prevention is quite crucial, it is critical for not only the target but the would-be assailant to monitor their behaviors.

In the post #MeToo era, reports show that more men have become afraid of working women, especially alone or in close quarters. However, certain men can take this opportunity to get creative with their ways of relating to women, instead of feeling indicted for being a man.

Creativity is how you combat rape culture.

What is rape culture?

Rape culture is “an environment where sexual assault is normalized and excused in media and popular culture.”  An example of this could be one individual telling another person that they wouldn’t engage with or do a favor for a person unless there was sex involved. Another is pressuring partygoers to drink to release inhibitions, or only promoting employees that you deem sexually attractive while demeaning everyone else. 

One of the more tragic aspects of rape culture is the silence and shaming that both men and women perpetrate against victims who dare to speak up. You may hear things like, “What took her so long?” or “She’s just trying to ruin his life,” or “He just couldn’t handle her, that’s all.” 

Mothers may look away from the children who are being assaulted by a family member. This behavior is a bid to save herself. Employees are often forced to quit because of a hostile environment. This lack of support increases the likelihood of revictimization of the target later on. 

So how do we get creative in our interactions with others? Women often find that there is a premium placed on their level of attractiveness, as perceived by hiring managers, friends, potential suitors, and even the guy who can help her in aisle 5. Her beauty or lack thereof can be a boon or a bane, and it seems there is nothing she can do about it.

Some tips for a healthy workplace

  • If you are a hiring manager, be sure to look at all candidates’ qualifications. 
  • Understand that no one is “asking for it.
  • Look them in the eye. 
  • Ask what their hobbies are and listen actively. 
  • When your new hire begins, do not request that he or she change their style of dress just because you are not attracted to or “agree” with it. If the new hire is doing their job and conforming to the dress code, there is no need for further discussion.
  • Do not make comments about sexual trysts, preferences, or expectations.
  • Honor others’ personal space — this includes personal effects and time spent at the office.
  • Promotions should be meritorious and can triangulate employees when sex is involved.

I’ve Lost the Plot (On the Challenges of Hearing)

I’ve lost the plot, five months into the pandemic. I’m hard of hearing and rely heavily on lip-reading to understand conversations. I’m tired of people telling me that they can’t or won’t accommodate my hearing loss. In this time of social-distancing and mask-wearing it is even more devastating when I cannot lip-read, which accounts for 70-90% of how I’m able to understand anyone speaking to me. 

The casual (+/-callous) dismissal of my inability to access content or communication is painful. The inconvenience of providing captioning in a live video meeting has spotlighted the carelessness of those who can’t be bothered. These people cannot understand the impact on my inability to participate. I’ve been resigned to this for most of my life, but lately, an accumulation of incidents have taken on the tenor of stinging, hornet-like microaggressions. It feels personal in a way that I always ignored or excused before; perhaps in reaction to the ratcheted stress of this mishandled pandemic and the layers of imposed limitations and stressors, singular hornet stings have suddenly coalesced into a swarming nest.

A couple of years ago, I saw the Guggenheim biennial, and the standout work of one artist, Christine Sun Kim, made an immediate, visceral impact. Kim displayed a series of stark, smudged charcoal drawings of acute, obtuse, and right angles titled, Degrees of My Deaf Rage… . The drawings are captioned with the aspects of rage encountered while Deaf. The Obtuse Rage of a video with no closed captions. The Right Rage encountered while working for a graduate degree. The Acute Rage when someone calls instead of texting or emailing. The Cute Rage of accessibility options that don’t coincide with your actual disability.

Le corps humain, structure et fonctions
Edition : Paris : J.-B. Baililère, 1879

It immediately clicked with me. Had I not requested that an agent respond to my email in writing? Was she deficient in reading comprehension? It must be, because she ignored my request, and repeatedly asked me to call her, ignoring my attempts to communicate by email. I was forced to go to LinkedIn and ask the CEO why his representative was unable to accommodate my need to complete a transaction through email instead of a phone call. He conveniently blamed it on the pandemic. Christine Sun Kim did her graduate work at Bard, where I had graduated decades earlier as an undergrad; this tenuous connection served to multiply my appreciation for her work, which precisely pinpointed the welter of emotions seething beneath every. Irritating. Transaction.

But it would be remiss not to discuss the kindnesses I have encountered. When asking for accommodation, I sometimes received it, without further ado, even when it created an extraordinary amount of work and effort, like the podcaster Laura Joyce Davis of Shelter in Place who transcribed hours of interviews she made with writers of a book that I edited. She was willing to help create a connection with unerring grace; she lived up to her commitment to communicate with others. 

A post office clerk was compassionate and kind to me when I told him I was hard of hearing and could not hear him through his mask. He waved a friendly greeting; he wrote me a note to convey information. It was the tiniest of gestures, but it made me feel understood in a way that I haven’t felt understood for a long time. It was the opposite of microaggression. It was microkindness, or microcompassion–the impact of which is not to be dismissed for its apparent smallness.

In many situations, it is not an intentional slight when someone can’t or won’t accommodate my request, and I try to extend the benefit of the doubt when appropriate. I have many privileges in my life: I’m white, educated, and economically stable; these privileges have caused me to reflect on whether I must call out situations related to my partial deafness. And I think I must, to make people aware, so they can extend kindness rather than disregard to those whom they consider other—whatever the situation may be that would require understanding and awareness—whether it is systemic racism and sexism, gender identity awareness, ableism, ageism … the Karmic Compass turns like the wheel of fate; although it may seem self-serving, awareness of others may help shift the balance in your favor. As you put kindness into the world, goodly intent both uplifts others and reflects back upon you.

~Karyn Kloumann, Founder of Nauset Press

Detail “Still Life with Bevier Pots” by Adrienne Cacitti for Living Artist Project

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 6

Homeschool Education

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbpreston

As we near what would be the start of the school year in the new reality of coronavirus and the possibility in some states of another quarantine, more and more school districts will be opting for a distance learning education model for the first few months at least. Though difficult, students older than 8 who have access to the technology, will encounter similar curriculum and assignments that they would have had in a in class setting. But what about students in early childhood education age groups? How can distance learning be effective for preschool or daycare aged students? What can parents do to ensure that their younger students still have the most effective learning environment possible in this unique situation?

The first thing to know is that children under 6 learn best through play. This is the natural way that all children learn. Through exploration of their environment and hands on experience, children in this age group are introduced to the fundamentals of the world around them. Crucial to the development at this stage in the child’s education is the opportunity to learn from play. 

This can be made more complicated than it need be, but really everything a child does during their day is an opportunity to learn from their experiences. Playing with toys like blocks in the form of shapes teaches young students the differences between the shapes, and what shapes can be stacked and which shapes do not fit together. They learn about momentum and instability when stacking blocks too high. On the playground they learn that climbing to the top of the jungle gym is easier using the steps rather than the slide. Interacting with other children teaches them how to take turns and share and to communicate. The magnetic alphabet teaches students to differentiate between upper and lowercase and to recognize letters.

As a parent, providing the tools for your child to learn during this time does not have to be expensive or complicated. Pebbles, sticks, leaves, books, toys, water, can all become valuable tools in the early education of a child. One example is to write a number on a piece of paper and have the child hold up the amount of objects that match the number. The most important thing is that the activity be fun, because the students will learn something that you intend them to learn, and something that you were not expecting them to learn. Kids have shown higher abilities to retain information when the learning is centered around a fun activity.

It is also important to have some easy to use workbooks for math and writing, but it should not be the basis for their learning, because they are so young it is important that they associate learning with fun or interesting rather than boredom or force. The workbooks should be utilized in association with play. Let them decide how they work in it, where they want to start in the book, and how they want to interact with it. 

Finally, it is suggested that students get outdoors as much as possible, and the distance learning scenario allows for more exploration than ever before. Take students to libraries, go to parks and playgrounds, if there is nature somewhere in walking distance allow students to explore it as often as possible. Everything that the young student experiences during this time in their life is a learning opportunity and easily enriched through play and exploration of new environments. 

(I) Early Childhood Education Series Pt. 5

Emotion Words

@prestonwb Will Preston @wbprest0n

How can parents help their child understand and express their emotions in healthy and constructive ways? First by assigning a name to the emotion the child is feeling, and encouraging conversation about what they are feeling. With a vocabulary for emotions the child now has a tool for exploring and understanding their feelings. Second by giving children the chance to determine what they are feeling and what someone else may be feeling. Third by pointing out the variety of reactions to their feelings available to them, and this can be reinforced by the parent with their own experiences in dealing with their emotions in the form of stories that serve as examples for how to react to emotions and feelings. Fourth by utilizing friends and family as examples for the child to see different ways to react to emotions.

When naming emotions it is important to use a name that is easily understandable for the child. This can be done while watching kids television shows or movies, or reading children books. The child can point out what emotion the character is feeling and how they reacted to it. Also utilizing the actual events that are taking place in their lives as examples and teaching moments for the child to identify their own emotion. If they felt sad yesterday due to some event, talk to them about what they felt and why, and have them assign a name to it. These are the beginning steps of building their vocabulary around their feelings and connecting them to their experiences. 

Communicating with the child on the possible responses available to them when experiencing emotions is vital to developing their understanding and their relationship to their feelings. The more that the child can be responsible for their own strategies for dealing with emotions the better. They should come up with how they will handle their feelings. Then parents should discuss with the child the positive and negative responses to emotions. When the child uses inappropriate expression when dealing with an emotion the parent should present healthy alternative strategies to the child that can help them with future similar situations. It is important that the child experience the negative response as a way of emphasizing why the positive response is preferred.

When children choose to talk about their feelings it is important that they be met with positivity and encouragement. Clear instruction as to what the child did right and what the child did wrong will encourage them to communicate about their feelings and feel comfortable coming to the parent for future discussions and development of their understanding. It is important that the time and space for these conversations be daily and predictable. During dinner, or game time, when the child is open to engagement on these types of topics. Throughout the day things will happen that provide topics for conversations surrounding emotions and feelings and every opportunity should be utilized to practice discussing how they felt about their day and how they should respond.

It is important that when the child is emotionally charged, that these conversations do not take place. The child should be calm and at ease when discussing their feelings and strategies for dealing with and responding to their emotions. They should associate these communications with parents as positive experiences, rather than as negative experiences attached to discipline for misbehaving. After the tantrum or emotionally charged situation, and the child is calm and ready to receive information in a positive form, the strategies above can be utilized to help the child analyze the situation, their emotions around it, and how they responded. Part 6 next week will center around emotional governance.

Barriers to Black Voter Turnout in 2020

While discussion continues about law enforcement and its practices, other factors make this year a very critical one for Black voters. Here are some things to consider on the way to the polls come November:

Proper Allocation of Resources

Redlining, a term popularized in the 1960s by American sociologist John McKnight, has been long practiced in the United States. It has kept Black people away from the voter ballot and has dismissed their concerns. What makes redlining particularly painful to voters is the fact that it perpetuates generational wealth, medical, and food disparities, and those areas deemed “unsafe” 80 years ago are still low to middle-income today

Less money means more voter suppression and less political reach through lobbying and other means. While there are some well-heeled Black people in the United States, Black people as a class do not have wealth that is on par with other groups.

Imbalanced Use of the Census

Another example of this institutionalized segregation — illustrated in Christian Farias’ 2019 article Is There Racist Intent Behind The Census Citizenship Question? — wherein Farias explores how the ethnicity and citizenship information is gathered by the Census and used. 

Everyone is supposed to count, but that hasn’t always proved to be a positive experience. Because of this and other factors, there is public distrust of the Census Bureau, as the Census has been historically used to funnel resources away from areas that happened to have high populations of Black people. 

Health Concerns

Media discourse around COVID-19 threatens to discourage the use of voter participation as a way of biological redlining. With COVID disproportionally affecting Black people, voters have to remain engaged in political conversation, distancing or not. The rub here is that many constituents expect this to happen but will not respond accordingly. 

So what can we do to be prepared for months coming ahead? Some simple steps are:

  • Start or join a healthcare sharing group.
  • Find out more about the Census.
  • Research ways to become financially literate, or if you already are, share that knowledge with those in your community.

Why I Support Black Lives Matter (Youth Speak Out Series)

2020 has been a rough year for everyone, but change is happening. The passing of George Floyd, a black man brutally murdered by a police officer by the name of Derek Chauvin. This sparked the outburst for the protests of Black Lives Matter (BLM) with sayings of “Defund the Police” or “I can’t breathe.” Police brutality has been going on for years and has unfortunately been targeted toward the black community.  

Innocent black citizens across the world have been murdered by the people who are sworn to “protect and serve” their country. Protests have hit the streets, as of now, all 50 states have protested Black Lives Matter, and it is still happening today. For people saying “If someone breaks into your house, who are you going to call if you defund or abolish the police?” We aren’t saying defund or abolish the police to get rid of police as a whole, but to change the cement and the base of what the police force is built on. Back in the Civil War, the police force was a “slave patrol” and had every intention to find, capture, and return escaped slaves to their masters. Sometimes it went as far as killing slaves. Yes, we may call 911 for a missing person, domestic violence, etc., but we expect someone that only needs six months of training, a high school diploma and has a lethal weapon with NO de-escalation training to help us? There’s bound to be some sort of problem.  

There is also a saying, for the other side that Blue Lives Matter, but I, personally do not believe that saying. In Black Lives Matter, the black community is born with their skin color, and could/is afraid of them getting killed because of the color of their skin, instead with Blue Lives Matter, cops aren’t born with anything that could make them be afraid of anything. They are given a blue uniform, putting them in Blue Lives Matter. It’s unfair for people to turn around and say Blue Lives Matter if police can’t get killed due to the color of their skin. Yes, police could be afraid of their daily job, putting their lives in danger, but they signed up for it. They knew what they were going into. If you look down on the other races, why abuse your power and go out of your way to kill an innocent person due to the color of their skin? 

 A person I am about to talk about was killed by the color of his skin. Elijah Mcclain, say his name. Elijah was killed in August of last year but his case is just now opening back up. Elijah was 24 when he was killed by police. Elijah would stop by his local pet adoption center and would play the violin for the cats so they could fall asleep. One night, he was walking home. He was wearing a ski mask, and dancing/listening to music. A neighbor called the police, and had said they didn’t think that Elijah was doing anything suspicious, but to just check up on him. That didn’t end well, as Elijah was held down as paramedics injected an overdose of ketamine, a medication used to sedate someone. Elijah is one of the hundreds, of thousands, of black people killed by police. I feel horrible for Elijah and his family, Elijah probably had a better heart than me but was killed for the color of his skin.

So, in light of recent events, I hold my fist up high and will scream Black Lives Matter as loud as I can, so police brutality, and racism as a whole can end. There are plenty ways you can help support the movement. You can protest, sign petitions, and donate to cooperation’s that will help with the movement, and discuss the movement with friends and family. 2020 is a tough time, but we will get through this united.  

Black Lives Matter. 

About Rachel O.

Hello! I am Rachel. I am a young person who seeks to see change in the world through my writing. Although I aspire to be an actress on Broadway, I still love to write and love to inspire and create worlds of my imagination through my writing. I am very excited about this, as it is all very new and exciting for me, as it can help me grow and form into a strong independent person in the future.
Image from Taylor Madu

The Forest for The Trees: Shifting Perceptions of Black Cannabis Use

In light of the recent events surrounding police brutality and the contact that law enforcement makes with Black people, it is critical to consider the disproportionate sentencing and treatment of Blacks as a result of minor offenses involving small amounts of drugs, namely cannabis.

On May 1, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act. This legislative action effectively initiated concentrated punitive force in low income, high crime areas that happened to be populated by the Black community. Soon after, researchers, psychologists, and legal professionals began to notice the number and nature of arrests skyrocketed past those in Caucasian communities for similar offenses.

In response, states across the country have taken steps to decriminalize marijuana possession. For example, on November 4, 2018, the state of Massachusetts passed a bill to allow cannabis possession in small amounts. However, the ACLU has found that the changes in regulation have not made sufficient impact in changing arrest rates — Black people are still 3.64 times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites.

What could be generating the gap between the two demographics? Harvard anthropologist Jason Silverstein asserts that a failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities. Cannabis is widely known to alleviate various medical ailments. In his study, Silverstein concludes that both Black and white people seem to think that Black people feel less pain. 

This sentiment is crucial when considering the verbiage used when describing the so-called “War On Drugs” in Black neighborhoods versus the “opioid epidemic” in white communities. This difference in perception means white offenders can more readily build a life after being in the legal system while Blacks have more difficulty when they leave.

Some states are at the forefront of change. Colorado has already taken action to grant pardons for cannabis convictions. Such convictions can interfere in achieving important milestones such as leases, mortgages, and jobs.

Pushes for empathy and investigation of the long-term effects of inequitable arrests can inform ways of creating a more even playing field in terms of economic equity for Blacks.

Racism is Bad for White People, Too

Events in the last month or so have helped a whole new bunch of white folks understand the systemic and structural nature of racism in our society. I hear this in the conversations I’m having with other white folks, like me. I also see it in social media and op-eds and commentaries. Less and less do white folks attribute racism to “a few bad apples”; more and more we recognize the ways we benefit and black people and other people of color are penalized by the policies, practices, and procedures in all our institutions. All our systems — justice, education, health care, politics, just to name a few – were set up to benefit white people at the expense of people of color.

This understanding is an important step in dismantling these structures, but it is not enough. Another crucial step is for white people to recognize the often unacknowledged ways that we, too, suffer from the disease of racism.

Here’s an example:

You may have seen lists of ways that white people benefit from white privilege and by contrast the ways that people of color do not. One of the most famous was written by Peggy McIntosh. I want to call attention to #25 in her list: “If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.”

This is something I’ve heard many people of color talk about. For example, if they don’t get a job, they ask themselves, “Did I not get it because I’m a person of color?” If a cop pulls them over, or if a store security guard asks to see the contents of their bag, or if a host at a restaurant seats them at an undesirable table, or if a person on the street doesn’t greet them, or if someone gives them the side-eye, or if people in a waiting room who appear to have arrived after them get called before them – the list goes on and on for insults large and small. Some of these actions profoundly affect people’s lives and livelihoods, while others are microaggressions that contribute to an overall environment of hostility. Each leaves a question in their minds about whether or not racism played a role.

This constant questioning constitutes an undermining of people’s confidence. It adds stress to their lives, a continuous undertone of ambiguity and uncertainty about why negative interactions occur – was it random or was it intentional or was it unintended, but still ultimately motivated by implicit racism?

White people do not have to ask this question in the same way. Instead of the uncertainty of a negative episode or situation, white people suffer the uncertainty of a positive episode or situation.

This means that, as a white person, I have to now turn the question on myself in positive situations. Every time I was hired or not pulled over or smiled at or greeted or given a prime table at a restaurant or anything else positive, I have to ask, “Did I earn that, or was that just because I am white?”

For white people this question pulls at the mythology of American meritocracy, which says we are a nation of boot strap pullers and hard workers who deserve everything we get because we earned every bit. Racism calls all that into question. Maybe I have my job and house and reputation and everything else, not because I worked for them, but because I was simply born white.

In this way, racism insidiously causes a similar insecurity in all of us. None of us know if we are treated the way we are because of our character and qualities, or because of our skin tone. The difference, of course, is that white people with that insecurity have the option of putting people of color “in their place” as a way of saying, “Even if deep down I’m not sure why I have what I have, at least I’m better than them.” In other words, racism reinforces itself in a cycle of oppression that gives white people a false sense of our superiority – and we have to prove and protect it, again and again, in a fight with our own psyche that we can never win.

Racism is a societal and structural disease that we all suffer from, and we are all less for it. When white people recognize the ways that racism hurts us, too, we can begin to let go of the power and the privilege in the knowledge that we, and everyone else, will be better off. We can find the will and the ways to stop the cycle and end racism.

IMG_0563

Art by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

Tone Deaf: On Not Silencing Black Women

For this week’s post, I had planned to talk about the discussion between the rappers J.Cole and NoName, and share some insights I had on the whole dynamic. As I began to write, I began to think that the endeavor was incomplete and unfair. It was so because J. Cole is but one man, and this is an obstacle for the whole Black community.

So I am always woefully befuddled when Black women — in all of our intelligence, wit, and tenacity — are silenced. There are some men and women that police our tones, cross our boundaries, and dismiss our concerns.

Dismissal of Concerns

I was an avid hip-hop fan for many years. As a young woman, I was aware of the charged lyrics, and like many female fans, struggled to grapple with what those messages meant for my self-esteem, self-image. In maturity, I was lucky enough to meet some of the faces that I idolized, and on the whole, they were not what their personas projected at all. Some of them had families; many of them were thoughtful and well-spoken.

I’d had an acquaintance who was a promoter. He had worked in the industry, and one day I’d had an idea that was bubbling within for many months at that point — a hip hop benefit concert. At the time, that idea was quite popular, but in this case, there was one problem.

The concert was for rape victims, primarily women.

I watched his face morph from excitement to reluctance in about ten seconds flat. The lesson I’d learned at that moment is that women, particularly Black women, are expected to offer others support, but we are not allowed to ask for or demand reciprocity. This was before the MeToo movement, but the same inability to honor and respond to the concerns of Black women persists.

Those who we petition often demand that we do so in a docile, even sexual manner to “soften the blow.” Often it makes me want to ask these individuals if they think that our rapists, killers, and oppressors try to soften the blow. This is why tone policing comes across as ludicrous, at best. If your house is on fire, you are going to scream for everyone to evacuate. It wouldn’t matter who was comfortable with your message. It would be truth. You would not “wait your turn.”

Waiting Your Turn

Another challenge with waiting our turn as Black women are that it is rarely ever our turn to speak. As the world rightfully became incensed over George Floyd’s death, other names are mentioned less like Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, and Renisha McBride, although they are no less important. When Black women build momentum around the causes that are dearest to them, the language, mannerisms, strategy, and execution are often co-opted by others, most often without credit, for movements exclusive of Black women.

Black women need to continue to speak up on a day-to-day basis on matters like disparities in pharmaceutical treatments of cancer and other illnesses that plague the Black community. We require tutoring assistance for us or our children in school, live in food deserts, have restricted access to potable water in addition to other needs, and we can’t turn the volume down.

However, we need every voice — especially those of Black men — to join ours, just as we have lent our voices for their concerns.

Every time a Black woman dies in labor, it is our turn to speak up.