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.

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