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_.

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

The Importance of Early Learning: Early Childhood Education Series (Pt. 1)

Society is vastly different today than it was a mere six months ago. Many of the habits and creature comforts, the structures and routines that constituted the lifestyles of a large percentage of Americans have been altered or done away with completely, if not indefinitely, then at least temporarily. These changes have caused disruptions to everyday life, and services that have been taken for granted or overlooked in the past must now be reassessed and refocused on, for the health and well being of individuals in our community but for society as a whole. One such service is early childhood education.

The most crucial time in the development of a human being is this section of life between birth and the first years of public school. However I would extend this as far back as the first trimester of pregnancy. It is in the womb where early childhood education truly begins. The importance of prenatal care cannot be stressed enough in the early development of a child. This includes but is not limited to: seeing a healthcare professional as early on in the process as possible, eating a healthy diet which includes iron and protein, taking prenatal vitamins with folic acids,  maintaining regular exercise, staying away from drugs and alcohol, and drinking plenty of water. Also if possible, having a tranquil and calm environment in which the baby is growing can go a long way in the cognitive and emotional development of the child. Activities such as meditation, soothing music, and reading to the baby can all help to provide stability and bring the baby smoothly into a world that is unstable.

Once the baby is born, the early childhood education begins in earnest. This is the period where the child will undergo the most accelerated stage of physical maturation and cognitive evolution. In the life of a human being these years mark the most accelerated phase in the growth of the brain and so it is crucial that these years be effective in shaping the development and quality of the child’s future as an adolescent and beyond. There are key categories and milestones that serve as the foundation of a successful early childhood education that this ongoing series will highlight and focus on. The categories are: Social Skills, Self-Esteem, Perception of the World, Moral Outlook, and Cognitive Skills. The milestones are greater in number so I will highlight those as they come up.

Before that I would like to discuss some numbers. These numbers come from a variety of sources including, the CDC, the Learning Policy Institute, the National Center for Education Statistics, UNICEF, the National Institute for Early Education Research and the U.S. Department of Education. According to the numbers, about 28% or 1.4 Million four-year-olds were enrolled in a state funded preschool program last year. 54% of pre-kindergarten aged African-American children were enrolled in some kind of state funded preschool program. This is important because children who are enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program for at least one year are more equipped with the tools necessary to develop critical skills needed to succeed in school and have lower percentages of grade repeats or drop outs. 

Source: nces.ed.gov

The other half of the story is that in the fall of their kindergarten year, children who received either no pre-kindergarten care or home based pre-kindergarten care scored lower on assessments of reading, mathematics, and cognitive flexibility than those children who received pre-kindergarten program based care. Early childhood education is a tool whose core goal is to enhance the quality of access and relationship to academic and social behavioral outcomes, but this is only a first step in the process of developing healthier people in the hopes of improving our communities and society at large. Due to the shifting societal reality much of this work must take place in our communities and on a grassroots level and we must work together to educate one another on best practices for the development of our children and a healthy and safe environment for us all. This discussion will continue in Part 2 of this ongoing series.

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.