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_.

Supporting Survivors in the Black Community

So this horrible event happened to you, and your world has been flipped upside down. You don’t know who to turn to, and in some cases, if you were to speak up, the person “supporting” you would just make you interact with your perpetrator or dismiss you altogether.

Reporting sexual assault requires a strength that many survivors don’t have. This is usually due to the experience and the stigmas that are applied to the survivor. These stigmas make it that much harder to speak up, and those that speak up carry a considerable burden. For many, this expectation is a deterrent, and for every Black woman that reports what happened to her, 15 Black women do not.

Here are some facts concerning sexual assault as it manifests in the Black community:

For those that live in low-income communities, the correlation between assaults — particularly assaults with a weapon — increases. These attacks have historically been a way to silence and suppress Black women, and by extension, Black men. While Hollywood tends to portray these transgressions in a sensational manner, such as the stranger who breaks into your home, the truth is a bit more mundane. Often, assailants are people that the victim knows, such as a parent, sibling, or a romantic partner. 

Sometimes, drugs and alcohol are introduced as a way to relax the target’s boundaries. Assailants are often adept at assessing whether the mark exhibits traits of anxiety or people-pleasing, and will often use gaps in power as a way to gain control of the interaction. This includes promises of food, money, popularity, protection, preferential treatment, or some other perceived need.   

A small toolkit for survivors and supporters

Listen. If you are a supporter, center the survivor, and if the event happened to you, listen to your feelings. Our justice system is ill-equipped to handle these cases. Please keep that in mind as you ask the survivor why they didn’t report. Reach out to programs that assist survivors in their healing. Understand that healing is not a straight line, but cyclical — be gentle and don’t push. Exercise, counseling, art and crying are all very helpful.

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

8 Tips to Cultivating Consistently Strong Allyship

Read the news from many media outlets, or purchase anything at all, you may find political commentators and businesses stating their support of the Black community in light of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others. On one hand, one can be filled with hope that we can stand in solidarity against racism, sexism, and police brutality, but on the other, there are so many questions that arise.

One, in particular, is: Why do the same pundits struggle with being as vocal about the quotidian challenges that disproportionately face the black community? We face a higher maternal death rate, unjust treatment in the penal system, the discrepancy in generational wealth, and more daily. What are you doing to be a consistent ally?

But what does ‘being an ally’ mean? Does it mean that you as a business owner say that you stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement while not doing much else to alleviate injustices that Black and other underrepresented people face?

I hope that it means something else. Here are some ideas of what I think it might mean:

  • Correct others on stereotypes, misconceptions, and prejudices even when a member of the group you are defending is not present. It also means accepting correction from members of the party whom you are trying to advocate.
  • Hold space for opinions, emotions, grievances, and experiences that are not your own, without trying to invalidate or minimize the importance of them.
  • Offer full redress to those being harmed, and being fully transparent about your expectations concerning interactions — business and otherwise — with others. An example of this is realizing that certain rules and regulations in various institutions borne of one culture may muzzle the concerns and wishes of another, without making excuses about it.
  • Honor the ingenuity, business-savvy, beauty, and other traits of a group by extending proper compensation, protection of intellectual rights, and historical consideration as others.
  • Be self-motivated to become informed on the social mores, particular cultural practices, psychology, history, economics, and other facets of a particular population that have an impact on the role the group has in mainstream society. It means realizing that even though the group may be a “minority,” it is still a heterogeneous demographic that holds various ideologies by different factions within it.
  • Resist aggression and micro-aggression s through your behavior: ask yourself if you have to see, touch, say, hear, or otherwise assuage your curiosity or fear about an individual at that person’s expense. An example of this is calling the police on a person who has done nothing wrong, or “asking” to occupy personal space in a way that makes the person uncomfortable.
  • Understand that the law is not always just. For example, many citizens do not know that Miranda rights are not required to be read in every situation. In a similar vein, the law is not always applied reasonably, as studies have shown that darker-skinned defendants tend to receive more unfair treatment during processing and harsher sentencing when tried.
  • Do away with political cognitive dissonance: Our collective legislative and political workload increases when supposed allies vote for a candidate whose policies are known to unjustly target disadvantaged groups while espousing beliefs that everyone should be treated equally.
While this is not an exhaustive list, these are stepping stones to being an ally, which is a full-time job. Being an ally is a full-time job because when you are a member of a disadvantaged group, the barriers that must be overcome are present on a day-to-day basis.

Hero Worship for Activists: “A Conversation with Anita Hill”

I am a woman of many heroes, men and women of character, substance and integrity. I admire and emulate them. It is in my nature to seek out traits such as fortitude and compassion in my community. My list of heroes is long and not limited by perimeters such as distance, time, gender or race, for although I idealize simple attributes; these principles are not easy to live by. My heroes are people whose actions demonstrate superior courage and discernment, people whose lives are exemplary because of their persistent vision to transform society for the better. When I experience difficulty, I look to my heroes for the strength required to endure and stand in the face of oppression and to carry on with my work. Today I honor Dr. Anita Hill, who rises into the foreground of my legion of inspiring soldiers.

Like many, I have been asked with whom I would dine given a choice. In the process of pursuing my formal education, I have written many essays on the topic. I have photos of my heroes around my home, reminders of my highest ideals. I draw courage from these immortal mortals. To me, even the dead ones are alive. But I have shaken her hand. I put my arm around the honorable and steadfast, Dr. Anita Hill, Esquire. Dr. Hill did not disappoint. She was everything I had imagined and witnessed beginning in 1991 when she faced the entire US Senate for the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. She testified about the former direct superior, who systematically sexually harassed her in the course of the workday.

This was a pivotal moment in women’s history. I was riveted to the TV, watching the testimony with millions of people. It was a formative experience to witness another highly intelligent black woman, stand in truth while powerful men attempted to revise, denounce and silence her. She was a courageous older sister, leading the way. For me, she was no less than a Joan of Arc. Her poise was monumental, her eloquence, sanguine. Dr. Hill, spoke of what other women have waited a decades to discuss. She demanded accountability, whether or not it was granted is irrelevant.

As movements like Black Lives Matter and Me Too gain momentum, it helps to recognize the warriors that have established a pathway to transforming society. There is strength in numbers. There is power in speaking when the world attempts to silence, to act when society coerces submission. Witness the lives of Audre Lorde, Dr. King and John Brown. They all knew this. Anita Hill knows it, still.

The legacy of people like Dr. Hill creates a bridge that reinforces and delineates the struggles of women and people of color in society. Their work illustrates that We are not alone. The reveal that we are not the first to endure, to resist or to speak truth to those with power and authority. When we work to create a just society, we walk in the footsteps of these giants.

Recognizing that Dr. Hill is capable of telling her own story, I share those of her ideas that address the ways in which we can harness the efforts of our predecessors to affect lasting change. According to Dr. Hill, by recognizing and always mentioning two or more factors like race, gender, age and class allows us to see the invisible intersectionality any issue. There are layered issues impacting an individual grappling with harassment, discrimination or systemic oppression. By acknowledging the overlapping nature of these experiences we begin to address the true work required to transform society into a just system in which all people can thrive. It is time, according to Hill, to modify our conversations about sex to include intent, consent and expectations. I agree, and I also see this as one of the biggest hurdles to change, since so many people are afraid to have candid conversations about their needs, desires and expectations in general. Women, in particular, often have difficulty negotiating salaries, speaking up in meetings and setting boundaries in their personal lives. We are simply not taught to assert ourselves in these ways.

Yet, we must engage in this reform work if we are to give our sons and daughters the tools they need to grow into accomplished and confident citizens. We must learn and teach each other that no one has the right to abuse another person, regardless of their legal status, educational level or gender. It matters little what form the abuse takes. We need to have a zero tolerance for abuse, for inflicting it on others, for allowing it to be enacted with impunity. We must hold uncompromising standards that permit all people to thrive—whether they are children, elders, women or under our direct supervision.

No one has the right to abuse another person.

Beyond being enamored with the image and ideal of Dr. Hill, she is actually a woman of true substance. Her personal achievements and education make her a paragon for anyone in need of a hero. It is no small feat to persist for a lifetime when men insist upon your silence—when society attempts to enforce a standard smallness and mediocrity. Anita Hill moves beyond these projections into the space of the warrior, where she stands as a paladin for truth and light. When I introduced myself to Dr. Anita Hill at Autodesk for the Level Playing Field Institute fundraiser, she admonished me to pay my gifts forward to the next generation. I assured her that I am. I have been. I will.

This is what it is like to meet one’s hero: She charges you with the highest expectations possible.

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Dr. Guadamuz and Dr. Anita Hill at Autodesk March 9, 2018  at a Fundraiser for                            Level Playing Field Institute

 

Modeling Courage: Colin Kaepernick’s Walk in the Footsteps of Great Civil Rights Agitators

Two years ago when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the National Anthem, there was a lot of disgust expressed by fans and opposers. Complaints ranged from bigots’ scathing label of “uppity negro” to the more benign statements such as, “There’s a time and place for everything,” meaning, “Not now.” These were nearly the same words that were used to try to quiet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and delay the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the issue of protesting on an NFL field, for any reason, is a matter of national debate, and a very timely one, given the state of our democracy. Most of this dispute comes down to race—the artificial categories designed to separate people and create a thinly veiled caste system in our society. None of this is new. Humankind has always been engaged in this brutal struggle for power. Fortunately, history has shown that the challengers to tyrannical rule often win though they don’t often reap the rewards in their lifetimes.

 

The story of Colin Kaepernick is so profoundly similar to the biblical tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that, for me, it is an inevitable comparison. In brief, King Nebuchadnezzar builds a huge golden idol and commands that when the music plays, everyone should fall prostrate before it and carry on with a spectacle. As with any self-adoring tyrant, the king imposes consequences for disobedience. He commands, “whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:5-6). More concerning than the king’s edict is the response of his people: Like good Nazis, residents lined up to make sure none of the perverted rules were broken. Luckily, these concerned citizens reported Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the authorizes for not bending a knee at the appointed time, requiring the king to kick up the heat in the inferno, looking to make an example of the three men. (If this is beginning to sound familiar, you are paying attention.) Here’s where the miracle happens: Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego’s lives are saved though the lives of the soldiers who deliver them to their fate are not.

 

Okay, so maybe Kaepernick is not being thrown into a literal fire, but dismissing and preventing him from working in the NFL is equally severe punishment for kneeling when the authorities insist one stand. This is the strength of fear: It teaches other NFL players, and mere mortals, to comply or suffer a similar destiny. Kaepernick, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an unflinching conviction to stand apart for the sake of their beliefs. They did so even at the risk of great peril because the rules were unethical and wicked, and they made a conscientious choice to challenge the status quo.

 

This familiar rhetoric of oppression—appeals based on rewards, coercion and/or threats of violence are eerily similar to the current language of our president against Kaepernick and anyone else with a differing opinion. Essentially, Colin Kaepernick’s broken heart would not allow him to stand during the anthem. Wishing to protest gun violence against black men by leveraging his fame, visibility and power for the sake of others, Kaepernick silently bowed his head. His is a sacred endeavor worth our admiration and support, because what he does, he does for all of us. If sports leagues begin to fire black men for defiance, as the president and several other powerful figures suggest, we are witnessing a new form of discrimination and punitive blackballing; these are simply new methods of coercion and intimidation, designed to keep people from living with integrity and exercising their right to free speech. Were it not for Kaepernick’s courage, which was above all a deep compassionate wail against the extraordinary violence meted out to black men all over the country, we would simply go on, anesthetized to the plight of an entire segment of the population. Instead, the nation is discussing the issue every week, for hours.

mural136a
“Mural 136a” by Will Schmitz for Living Artist Project

At last, more NFL athletes are beginning to speak up. They seem to be reacting more to the attempts of the president to silence non-violent, peaceful protest than to Kaepernick’s original stance for social justice. Nonetheless, their actions serve as a show of solidarity and support for freedom. They seem to say that they are protesting because they are free. This is the life breath of America: Liberty. Throughout history, individuals like Colin Kaepernick have stepped into the bright light of public scrutiny in order to bring about change. Kaepernick’s necessary anti-collusion lawsuit seeks to reform the NFL’s ability to stifle a player’s individual ability to thrive. This is important for numerous black men, who wish to participate freely in sports and other forms of civic engagement without experiencing monetary repercussions. Let’s not make the mistake of minimizing the situation. Kaepernick’s case is clearly as much a civil rights case as Plessy v. Fergusson, Roe v. Wade or numerous other important cases that have been heard in the past century.

Without key individuals stepping forward to demand justice, the courts have historically remained deaf to cases that have later had far-reaching beneficial consequences for future generations. That’s why Colin Kaepernick’s early and consistent non-violent protest to relentless police aggression and fatal force against black men is of vital importance to our future as an open democracy. Like any visionary, imagining a better world, the bravery employed by Colin Kaepernick in using his body on the front lines of transformation is critical to altering our current trajectory. Kaepernick is using his status, voice and position to further the cause of justice. The ripples of his actions we are only beginning to feel.