Monday, January 18, 2016

Thank you, Nina Simone

For a really long time, I was able to live with the belief that racism against black people was largely a problem of the past. I was raised by two educated, socially conscious people who made a point to teach me about slavery, and the civil rights movement, and I always thought I had a good understanding of the history of race relations in North America. But I very much thought that's what it was-history. We were taught that racism was not acceptable, and I assumed that was how everyone thought. As a white person I was able to maintain that belief for years. That's what privilege is, really: the ability to remain ignorant to oppression. The people who are experiencing the oppression don't get that option.

Over time, and especially in the past few years, I have come to realize that racism against black people remains a major issue. Yes, there have been the high profile killings of black people at the hands of authorities, the community uprisings in the wake of these deaths, the hard to ignore stats on rates of black male incarceration in the United States. But what has really gotten to me is the reaction to these types of stories from people around me. With my own eyes and ears I have seen and heard disgusting, hateful, blatantly racist commentary that I thought we had left in a bygone era. And on the other side, I have heard black people speak on how racism continues to affect them personally. One woman I met through a volunteer organization expressed that she directly felt some sort of racism every day. Every single day.

I've thought for a long time about how I could speak up about racism against black people, and I've been really hesitant to do so. Not because I'm afraid of what racist white people might think, but because I just don't really know how to be a good white ally. Racism is not MY experience. I see it, but I don't know what it feels like. I don't know exactly what needs to be done. I don't know what words need to be said.

The thing about being an ally though is that you have to remember that it's not about YOU. So I stopped thinking about how I could be there for black people, and thought I'd tell you instead about all the times that black people have been there for me.

I can be a bit of a loner. I spend a lot of time at home reading books, watching movies and listening to music. Many of the artists, authors, actors and musicians who I spend that time with are black people. People I look up to, people who have taught me a lot. People who matter.

Just a few of the black people who have been there for me:

Nina Simone: One of the most powerful voices that music has ever heard. This woman has carried me through my greatest heartaches, toughest disappointments, and saddest days.
 Listen to: "Do What You Gotta Do," "You've Got to Learn," "Here Comes the Sun"

Sistah Souljah: When I read her first novel "The Coldest Winter Ever" I remember feeling like I had never read anything like that before. I felt immersed in a world so unlike my own. In interviews she is incredibly articulate, while at the same time keeping her message clear and accessible. Sistah Souljah inspires me to use my own voice, and has directly influenced me to write like I talk.
 Read: "The Coldest Winter Ever," "Midnight; A Gangster Love Story"
Watch: Sistah Souljah on Larry King Live(old interview) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSU0z7-7fcY

KRS-One: Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone. One of my favourite voices in hip-hop. He continually reminds us to question existing power structures, and to keep our minds sharp. I have been especially moved by his views of the accessibility of education-something I also feel strongly about. "You should never have to pay for education again. That's the beginning of every revolution."

Listen: To any KRS-One tracks.
Watch: KRS-One speaking on corporate culture, education and hip hop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QU3RyWIJAPg

 Dave Chappelle: I think comedy is one of the best ways to get people's attention, and so often, comedy is funny because it's true. Dave Chappelle deserves huge credit for making me laugh, but also making me think...that racism is still very much alive. You know when people ask, if you could have dinner with any three people, dead or alive, who would they be? Dave would be one of my three.

Watch: Just one of many hilarious-and truthful-clips from Dave Chappelle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ3dk6KAvQM

Azie Faison: You might not have heard of Azie Faison, but if you've seen the movie Paid in Full, then you know at least part of his story. Azie was a major drug dealer in Harlem in the 1980s. After being shot 9 times in a home robbery, he retired from drug dealing and has since made it his mission to steer kids away from the path he once chose. I am slightly obsessed with NYC, and I always have an interest in hearing lesser told stories of the city's history. I also think it's important to hear the stories of people who do things like sell drugs for a living-because often I think people go down that path because that's what they see as being their most likely way to make some money and have a good life. They haven't been given better options.

Watch: Paid in Full, Azie Faison/Alpo Martinez/Rich Porter Documentary https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZeDGgIuXDA
Read: Game Over; The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler by Azie Faison with Agyei Tyehimba

Jackie Aina: I don't watch a lot of makeup gurus on YouTube anymore. But Jackie Aina is one of the few that I still check up on. She is yes, a successful YouTube beauty guru, but she's also a US Army Veteran, and a funny, strong intelligent person-and that all shines in her videos. She's an incredible example that you don't have to fit into ANYONE'S expectations of what a woman should be. Her YouTube cover page states that she is "changing the standard of beauty, one tutorial at a time"-and I think she's doing an amazing job.

 Watch: This video that SPOKE to me this holiday season https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzCdM6Fe_4A

Lauryn Hill: Lauryn Hill is a Queen. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is probably my favourite album of time and I have turned to her music countless times, especially when I have been facing struggles. Her music has always been there for me.


"And so it goes that I never meant to hurt you
Couldn't stay but I never meant to desert you
Whole lot of things that I just had to work through
Time to heal and restore my self worth too
Confrontation of my fears and anxiety
Cried a whole lot of years I suffered quietly
And though it may have taken years I can finally
Tell you that you were always on my mind"
-From "Lose Myself" by Lauryn Hill (from the Surf's Up soundtrack)-every word of this song gets me right in the heart.

Listen: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

That's just a few of the black men and women who have, in various ways, been there for me. I could go on and on.  Malcolm X(Read The Autobiography of Malcolm X), Tupac, Rakim, and countless other hip-hop artists that make up a huge portion of the music I listen to. And today especially Martin Luther King Junior. I have to ask myself, if I can admire, respect, love and even sometimes try to emulate these people, how can I not listen to what they are saying? Because every single one of these people has spoken out about racism. They aren't just providing me with entertainment, they are contributing to my education. I see the struggle and I wish I could knew what I could do to help

So no, I don't really know how to be a white ally. But I do know how to say thank you.

Thank you.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Internet has made me Stupid and Lazy

I used to feel smart.

Actually, I used to feel like my intelligence was the best thing about me. I have never felt awesome about how I look, and I've never really felt like I fit in or felt cool with other people. But I managed to maintain a decent level of self esteem anyway, because I felt like I had a good brain. I always did well in school, I liked to read and write, and I felt like I could usually contribute to intellectual conversations. Sometimes I even had good ideas of my own.

Proof that I was smart at something as recently as 1994

I don't really feel like that anymore. My brain feels shallow and foggy.  I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I am addicted to social media. I can admit that. I think in sentences, not paragraphs. I know the headline, but not the full story. I have a hard time paying attention to anything for very long. I forget how to spell things. I feel like something in my brain has gone numb, and that really scares me. Sometimes I find myself losing full hours scrolling through funny memes on Instagram, or just switching between Facebook and Instagram and not really thinking about anything at all. I've read enough futuristic dystopian novels to know that that's what the end of humanity looks like. Everyone looking at their screens and technology instead of paying attention to what's actually going in the world. The placated masses.
My favourite book
I feel bad that I've become stupid. But in a way, getting likes and comments on Facebook and Instagram has temporarily, artificially satisfied my need to actually accomplish anything. I think it's pretty obvious that we are seeking some sort of validation through the things we post on social media. But validation of what? When I'm putting so much thought into cultivating an online persona, what effect does it have on me in the real world? If you're constantly putting yourself out there, when are you taking the time to refill, learn something new, figure out what matters to you outside of getting likes on your selfie?

I think there's more to it than vanity though. What are we really trying to accomplish by sharing so much on the internet? I think that Facebook, Instagram, etc. give us this illusion of being connected to one another. But we're actually often reaching for this connection from a place of loneliness, having lost our sense of community and really becoming very disconnected from one another, because we've substituted our phones for real human interaction. We post pictures of things we like, quotes that inspire us and articles that matter to us because we are desperate just for someone to know who we are. Do you see me? Do you understand me? The collection of likes are somehow supposed to replace a real human connection, but they always miss the mark.

One of the most rewarding experiences I've had in the past few years was when I was going through training to volunteer at a sexual assault centre. In our training sessions we sat in a big circle, and everyone got a chance to talk and everyone else listened. We covered some really heavy topics, like racism, homophobia, abuse and suicide. We didn't always agree on everything, but that was ok. It was one of the only times in my life that I've had a chance to sit with REAL people in a REAL space and talk about things that mattered to all of us. The best part was that we weren't just shooting the shit for the sake of hearing our own voices. Everything we were talking about was leading up to actually doing something to help people. On social media, we constantly post articles and argue about various issues, but what's the point? Where is the action connected to these things we supposedly care so much about?  In theory, I love that there is a public forum where everyone can have a voice-that's so democratic! But in practice it's a total mess. Everyone is yelling and no one is listening, and nothing is getting done.

 I've had enough. I'm tired of feeling stupid and numb. I'm not quitting social media anytime soon. But I've made a rule for myself. As soon as I find that I am scrolling through Instagram or Facebook aimlessly, I need to put my phone down and pick up a book and read, or pick up a pen and write.
From @sonny5ideup on Instagram
 In the past month I have read five books and written dozens of pages of my own thoughts (I'm relieved to find that I am still capable of thought). I already feel like maybe I haven't completely destroyed my brain. Maybe one day I can even feel smart again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Writing

Last month I found myself in a pretty dark place after laying in bed for too long re-watching Bojack Horseman and scrolling through the Facebook page "Nihilist Memes". If you are familiar with either one of those things you might be able to imagine the type of mood I was in. You know, just sitting in a dark room staring at the time on my phone, waiting for the eternal nothingness to swallow me because nothing means anything.

No.

Yikes, I know. But don't worry. Fortunately-or unfortunately-the nothingness was taking wayyyy too long to show up, and thanks to the internet, my attention span is about 3 seconds long. I decided I could wait no longer, and nursed myself out of my short lived existential crisis by reading inspirational quotes via Instagram accounts like "mindsetofgreatness" "purplebuddhaproject" and "leannrimes". I even brought my friends along on my spiritual journey by posting a few of my favourite inspirational quotes on my own Instagram account. Come, walk with me.

But even though I had climbed out of the black hole in my mind, I had to ask myself, was this really because of cartoon horse and a bunch of memes? Or could the crushing weight of meaninglessness be coming from somewhere else? And I had to admit to myself that it's been some time since I have really felt happy. Or I think the better word is fulfilled, because I definitely have had moments of happiness.

It's not that things have been terrible. If you asked me what's the worst thing that has ever happened to me, I don't think I'd be able to come up with an answer, because nothing really that bad has ever happened to me. I just don't feel like I'm doing anything that gives me any sense of purpose. I don't think I've always felt like that, so I asked myself, at what point in my life did I feel the most fulfilled?

The answer came easily. The best I have felt about what I was "doing with my life" is when I was writing, and sharing my writing on a regular basis. I used to write in my blog weekly. My entries would usually get only a hundred or so views, which was cool with me. Once in a while, someone would actually reach out and tell me that something I had written had resonated with them, and I think that might actually be the coolest thing I have ever felt in my life. Not because of the idea of praise(although that's nice). But because writing is something that I love doing, and to connect with someone over something that feels real to you is a pretty good way to feel like maybe some things means something.

I'm not sure why I stopped writing and sharing my writing with people. I think part of me just let life get me down-like who do I think I am, putting my thoughts out there like people are supposed to care? I got afraid that people would think I was full of myself, daring to put my work out there. I think that's something that holds a lot of people back from doing things that make them happy. Fear of judgement. But there's a lot of great quotes on Instagram that will tell you to live your dreams. And Lemmy just died!!! We owe it to him to live life by our own terms.

Via @unspirational on Instagram

Are you guys ready to hear my dream? My dream is to confidently call myself a writer. Not to say "I like writing" or "I've written a few things"-I'm a writer. I've been writing a lot lately, and not sharing it with anyone. I don't think this blog is going to be where I realize my dreams. But I do really enjoy the feeling of interacting with people through writing(mostly because I feel painfully awkward interacting in the real world), and I've been writing every day lately, so maybe some of my thoughts will make it to the outside world, at least to my friends on Facebook. I've got a lot to say, and I'm very motivated to get it all down.

That is, until the next season of Bojack Horseman comes out on Netflix.

Thanks for reading. xo.