2017 & The Year of Disruption

“This has single handedly been the worst year of my life,” my mother said. She was sitting on the floor, with piles of boxes covered in wrapping paper with cute, neon colored Santa Claus in a trippy circular pattern. She pulled at the scotch tape and it made a sticky, plastic snap. I was sitting on the bed, looking down at her— but not really. I was a little bit too focused on my phone. When I finally looked up at her she beamed, “but I did just wrap your Christmas present in front of you.” I rolled my eyes.

I thought about her words— the part where she proclaimed that 2016 was just simply the worst. She wasn’t wrong. In some ways, though, I didn’t necessarily think that it was “the absolute worst.” Instead, it was the year of change on a larger scale than most people experience in a decade. This was the year of Trump. Brexit. The Syrian refugee crisis. The year that racism became a real topic in America, and not just a history lesson. This was the year of the woman, yet it wasn’t at the same time. The year of bathrooms. The year of Pulse. The year that nonviolent resistance became something real in my life instead of a sermon on Sunday morning.

But for most Americans looking into the future, with more uncertainty than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, we are caught up in the confliction of Optimism. The truth is, people have told me my entire life that the world will be okay, and yet the only time anything ever gets done is when someone defiantly says, “No.”

“Everything’s not okay.”

Optimism for the sake of being optimistic is more damaging than a healthy cup of cynicism. More damaging in its own right. In uncertain situations, optimism gets in the way of progress. Sometimes things don’t work, but people are too scared to be labeled a “giver-upper” to reevaluate themselves. Buy colorful duct tape, put the system back to together, and it’s all fine.

“Everything is fine.”

And yet- how much better would the world be if it was okay not to be okay?

No one in America has ever earned their rights by being completely optimistic. Yes- they were optimistic in the potential for change—but there is a stark difference between sitting idly on the side of the road, baptizing yourself every morning in false reassurance and recognizing that the world won’t change unless you do. Take Martin Luther King Jr, the only black man in America that all white people seem to love, and look at what he actually preached. Oh yes— the man had a dream. But the only reason that dream was successful was because people were willing to be disruptive. Cynical in the system’s ability to serve them. Optimistic in their own ability to change it. Even today, when a black man kneels on a football field in a statement, the world declares his single act of disruption as too much.

“Why can’t you just be optimistic about things? This will change in time.”

But don’t try to change it yourself.

The women’s rights movement still experiences this. Feminism is a dirty word and a complicated one. The concept of Womanhood is a complexity far beyond the sights of most. Womanhood is inherent on culture. Race. Sexual Orientation. It is often complacent on perspective of men. American feminism forgets our sisters of color still struggling in the trenches in the third world. It ignores the young, female immigrant, trying to follow our happily advertised American dream by criticizing her efforts. It blatantly disrespects the urban poor by refusing to provide sexual education because pretty, blonde women in big houses think that sex is dirty because the men in church said so. I am cynical of the movement, and yet—I am still a feminist. A womanist. Because none of this will change unless people within the movement decide that it is not okay.

So this year, when you’re making your New Year’s resolutions, I encourage you to make this the year of disruption. Correct the man sitting next to you on the airplane. Tell that boy in your 9am math lecture that he’s being a sexist. Bring up the glass ceiling in that job interview. Make that clerk in the grocery store pronounce your ethnic name correctly. Make sure the kids know that this is not alright. Remove your faith in other people’s actions, and instead change them yourself.

And maybe, in all of our cynicism of the world, 2017 will be our year.

 

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How To Live When I Should Have Died

The EMT shook his head. I caught the doubtful look in his eye, but I didn’t know what it meant. Only months later, when my mother was recalling those moments in conversation, would I learn that the ambulance was refusing to transfer me to another ICU because they were afraid I wouldn’t make it there.
“Why do bad things happen to good people?”
I was laying flat on the emergency room table with a temperature of 105.8 and the top number on my blood pressure cuff blinking 52. It was 2015, the day after black Friday- and I wasn’t surprised to be back in the hospital. My sophomore year of high school I’d been diagnosed with an alphabet soup of issues. When I moved I cried. When I laughed my body burned. I woke up in the morning dreaming about going to sleep. Pain was my life.
That moment was different though. To be honest, I don’t think I knew how close I was to death, but I remember thinking to myself that once upon a time I had wondered what it felt like to be on your deathbed. Now I knew.
Today, we know for a fact that somewhere along the line in that ER room the doctor made a decision that saved my life. Along with antibiotics to treat the infection that wasn’t ravaging my system, she gave me steroids. Given that they thought I had a septic bacterial infection, they really shouldn’t have.
Even to this day, I am haunted by that.
Over the course of the next 4 months, my world slid downhill. I lost 30 pounds. Every crevasse of my body was touched by a doctor’s hand and I had more track marks than a heroin addict. There are entire months I don’t remember, but the moments are vivid. Sitting in the shower and screaming because I couldn’t move. Realizing I couldn’t turn a doorknob for the first time. Hating myself for thinking once that if I didn’t wake up the next morning it wouldn’t be so bad. When I looked in the mirror, I was dead.
Then, in April, everything changed. I had my fourth major relapse, and during the hospital stay I was diagnosed with not one, but three autoimmune disorders. It turns out that the macrophages in my body like to eat my internal organs in their free time and previous diagnoses had been slightly off. A month later, the day before high school graduation, I was given a new drug as a last hope. The next day, I woke up, put my feet on the ground, and got my diploma. The second I touched my it, I felt like I won. But I also felt conflicted. All of a sudden, I was faced with living life.
When you don’t think you’re going to make it to senior prom, how do you accept that you’re going to live instead?
Chronic illness is the epitome of taking a casual, Sunday stroll through the shadow of death forever. There is no magical light switch that allows me to take a break when I’m tired or emotionally drained, and even if there was, some days my hands are so bad that I’m not sure I could switch it off if I wanted too. On top of that, the body that I had for 18 years ceased to exist the second I got put on 60 milligrams of Prednisone. I felt ugly and embarrassed by my body. Suddenly, I wasn’t me. I didn’t know who this was.
The Monday after graduation, at 6:30 am, I put on my running shoes for the first time in three years and hopped on my bike. I watched my feet turn the wheels like it was magic and reminded myself that working out would never hurt like having an IV burst in your arm. I made a choice in that moment. That would be the summer I would somehow find my okay.
Part of me decided that the first thing I needed to do was mourn myself for a little while. In my mind, my childhood ended in that ICU room, but I had never gotten the chance to say goodbye. I needed an action to make it official, so I dyed my hair pink and took all of my old pictures of myself out of my room. I looked down at my hands, turned the knob to my bedroom door all by myself, and made a promise. Losing the war wasn’t an option.
I sat down with myself and thought about what I wanted. There was so much I wanted to do. What did I even like? And what was I going to call this? Claiming my disease and my disability was a big milestone. The first time I told the story out loud I sobbed. I looked at my giant, swollen face in the mirror and told myself that it was okay to be scared.
Somehow, it got better after that.
When I finally went to college in August, I wanted to try everything, and for the first time I could. I dyed my hair the shade I’d always dreamed and got in shape. I found makeup. For the first time, when I looked in the mirror, the person looking back was me. I found her.
I fought for her.
Looking back, I understand now why bad things happen to good people. The truth is, I am who I am today because of the worst moment of my life. Good people are made from bad things. Every single needle stick is another reminder that my body is literally trying to eat me, and yet I know that because of it I’m going to get to watch my brother and sister graduate high school. I’m going to be at my best friends wedding and be home for Christmas this year instead of in the Hospital.
I have may almost died, but I found my life.

I Was A Racist. You Probably Are Too.

“Well, I don’t know,” she said. We were sitting in the middle of the library, studying for midterms. I was a senior in high school in the middle of an all white, Ohio town. I knew what she was going to say, but what she said first seemed to excuse it.

“I’m not trying to be racist, but I just don’t feel safe around black men. It’s nothing against them.” She shrugged,”that’s why I never go into Canton alone. You never know.”

I looked up at her for moment, but decided to excuse the behavior. It was an every day occurrence, and a phrase that in my mind meant “well”. She knew what she was saying, and that didn’t make her a bad person? That didn’t mean she was being racist, she just…was.

To be honest, this wasn’t a phrase I thought a lot about until college when the Campus Democrats hosted a Black Lives Matter focused meeting. It was brought up as a talking point, and I remember slinking back in my chair. I thought about the girl in the library. By nodding along like it was fine, I had validated her behavior. That made me just as bad.

In high school, phrases and jokes along these lines weren’t uncommon. I once got in a spat with a friend after telling another girl, the only black girl in our class, about a racist joke that one of the boys had made. The person who made it was furious with me- but only because he had been caught. “That’s not how I am,” he said,” and I can’t believe you told her.”

“Of course, I told her,” I said,”if she can’t be in the room when it’s being made, then how is it okay at all?”

People from my generation are taught about racism in schools like it’s another concept. The 1960s. MLKJ. It’s all over. Racism isn’t real in the United States today- people are equal. From what I’ve seen, for the most part, people are actually fearful of being racist. It’s the “big R word” that no one feels comfortable with. Accusing someone of being a racist is a huge offense today- and yet most people being accused are. It doesn’t matter how many times “I didn’t mean it” and “I’m not like that” are thrown around. You are.

I am too, occasionally. Like I said before, I grew up with jokes like that in school. A group of boys I used to hang out with repeatedly pointed at every black man and said, “LeBron, is that you?”

This isn’t your grandmothers racism. Today, it has nothing to do with signs that say colored, and everything to do with not recognizing the systemic differences that black Americans, Muslims, hispanics, and other people face. Most of the time, it’s not calling someone a “nigger” or a “faggot” but instead talking about how rap music is crude and disgusting while listening to a white man in a big hat talk about having sex in the back of a truck. Racism is not “black schools” and “white schools” but instead socioeconomic difference that determine quality of education. Racism is doing the Lion king with an entirely white cast, at a white school, and then claiming that it’s not cultural appropriation (even though the integrity of theater like the Lion King and Hamilton emphasizes that it’s done with ethnic minorities). Racism is white men claiming victimization when they are called “Racist” instead of simply acknowledging that they were incorrect, or saying that peaceful kneeling in front of the flag is wrong while supporting white, pro-lifers who hold signs with dead baby parts on the side of the road.

Racism is me, letting that girl tell me that black people are dangerous but ending it with “but I’m not racist.”

Abortion and Other Reasons That “Saving the Children” Isn’t A Religious Issue

“God save the children,” she said,”What would your lord a savior say?”

I was standing at a cross walk, downtown Columbus in the middle of November. A woman was standing on the edge of the walkway, right in my line of sight, screaming about saving the unborn children. “What would God do?” She said,”Save the children?”

I didn’t say anything to this woman- mostly, because I wasn’t in the mood to be told that I was a sinner who wants to “kill children.” I hadn’t had enough coffee yet to defend my position.

For most people, abortion is a heated moral issue. On it’s surface, when it’s explained in simple terms, most people would automatically side “pro-life”. It’s an easy moral question for anyone who considers themselves a “moral” person. Killing people is bad- we’re taught that when we’re young. The problem with abortion is that it’s not that simple. The question at the base has nothing to do with being good or moral and “thou shall not kill” and has everything to do with what happens to a person after birth. Yes- “save the children”. The problem with that logic is that by saving the “unborn” you’re not actually saving anyone. You’re really just making it worse.

Let’s be honest- the only people who have time to be angry about unborn babies are the people that can afford to have the time. The educated- who hold themselves above everyone else on the grounds that they are somehow more moral than the rest. “Save the Children,” they say,”because I can afford to be concerned.”

“Adoption is always an option.” But who ever actually adopts?

The truth is, that if you are going to force a woman to carry a child for 9 months,  then refuse to fund low end education in poverty stricken areas and continuously miseducate young men about consent and refuse to provide education to women- then abortion isn’t a religious issue. If you’re not feeding the poor, and you continue to make more poor people by forcing women to bear them, then you don’t get to complain about their morality in your big white picket fence house. Yes- please- upper middle class white America- tell everyone else about morality. Please inform me about how Christians are just so against killing innocent life, because I hate to break it to you, but Christians are some of the worst offenders of killing “the living.” You’ve perpetrated slavery, committed genocide against native peoples, and continue to claim that “all lives matter” while sweeping the systemic racism of minorities under the rug.

So please, tell me again about how Jesus is going to save your soul?

Donald Trump Deserves to Be Person of the Year 

This time last year, gathered around the kitchen, my family and I were making jokes about the Trump campaign. We were among those who believed that a Trump run was an disaster, and I win was impossible. Over the last year, that “joke” became something to take seriously- and a revolutionary campaign. Not only did Donald challenge America, but he changed it. Years from now, 2016 will be remembered as “the” year- the year of Brexit, the Syrian refugee crisis, the Orlando Shooting, Black Lives Matter, and Trump- that perhaps changed it all. Or perhaps didn’t. The last year has been a rush of conversations that the world thought were long over, and a mixture of brand new issues. The concept of a “greater America” is now a realty- but what that means is for the future to tell. Obviously, TIME has chosen other interesting figures- “great” men- like Stalin and Hitler have also gotten the title. Others like “You” and Pope Francis have gotten the cover. So now, all we can do is wait and see which category Trump falls into: great or good.

One thing is for sure- Donald Trump deserves to be person of the year.

 

Color is a Radical Concept

Color is a radical concept in a world that finds comfort in black and white. Shades of grays are pushed aside- if it’s not holy then it’s sinful. If you’re not skinny, then you’re fat. If you’re not white, then you are simply “colored.”

Part of me finds myself sinking back into the little white houses- the ones with the picket fences that the occupants claim are pure American- often forgetting that someone else built them. In classrooms they teach that color is to be ignored- that we are all suddenly blind- or can be taught to be blind.

Teach the children to put on the blindfold. It’ll erase the color.

White wash the identify. If it all looks the same, then we’re all equal.

If I ignore the black then maybe it will go away. Maybe they’ll just become colorless- more like us.

Emotions can serve as a form of color. Whenever the world gets red-hot, the cold, blue people sit back and tell the world that they’re being nonsensical. “Why are you mad?” the blue people say,”there’s nothing wrong in our world.”

“It’s always been blue.”

The world often forgets, though, that without all those different tones of color- all which mean different things to the possessor- that people would rarely hold colorful lives. The world would loose texture. People would loose passion.

I find it ironic that in a world where people tell you to “find yourself” that the very act of doing so is considered so disruptive.

Simply too colorful.

 

 

What is a Womanist?

I absolutely love this article.

The Progress

Photograph of Meigan Medina, "Vibration," courtesy of Brandon Hicks. Photograph of Meigan Medina, “Vibration,” courtesy of Brandon Hicks.

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” – Alice Walker.

 Alice Walker, a poet and activist, who is mostly known for her award-winning book The Color Purple, coined the term Womanist in her 1983 book In Search of Our Mothers’ Garden: Womanist Prose. Walker defined a womanist as “Womanish, the opposite of girlish…Being grown up…A Black Feminist or Feminist of Color…A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non-sexually.  Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.  Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non-sexually”. The complete text of the definition can be seen here.

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Conversations in the Back Seat: Why I Love Uber

The first time I used Uber, I was extremely uncomfortable. It was the first week of my freshman year of college, and I was kind of afraid I would get abducted. Seriously. I’d never lived in the city- and never really been by myself. It sounds odd to me now, but the idea of getting in a random strangers car was intimidating.

Now, I use Uber almost everyday. It’s a major part of my life. Since I don’t have car, it’s my only transportation to work- and I enjoy it. The most enjoyable part is actually the part that I was the most nervous about- I could be in anyones backseat. Living in a city, I’ve experienced more diversity using Uber than I did in years of being in my hometown. From a Puerto Rica Chief with a degree in Marine Biology and a Copyright Lawyer to a Religion PhD from Nigeria and a pediatric surgeon- It’s rarely silent inside an Uber. Some of the best life advise I’ve ever gotten came from an Uber driver.

“You can’t let the stupid stuff control your life,” he said,”It’s just not worth it.”

“Get an education,” she said,”it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.”

Not only is it completely refreshing, but it’s easy to open up when you’ll never see them again. People tell you their most inmate stories and feelings- painful and happy. It’s a real look into what the rest of the world is feeling and why. In the days after the election, I found the most comfort in the random people picking me up.

“It’s not good,” the driver said,”but I can’t hope but be optimistic.”