When I think about women, the first person that I think about is my mother. As a young woman, in old video tapes. Complaining about making dinner. Me; laying on her stomach, watching TV comfortably on her bed.
Then my grandmother; painting oil on canvas. My sister; reading her favorite book. I think about my three cousins; playing cards and screaming at my brother “play faster!”
I think about the girls on my dorm room floor. Loud. Obnoxious. Colorful. So much of everything; all at once. I think about the woman that cleans the halls in my dormitory. The woman that makes my coffee at Starbucks. The woman that sits on the sidewalk brooding over a cigarette like a dragon with the eyes of a child. I think about the women who scream at me as I pass on the street about ‘saving the children’ and the ones that paint themselves with their own choice. Sometimes I think about the girls you never think about. You never want too. Becuase it’s too horrible.
If you ask any woman on the street what ‘womanhood’ actually means, you will never quite find the same answer — and yet you will at the same time. You’ll get the nervous laugh. Period jokes. Sex. Marriage. Kids; the decision to not have them. Every culture, religion, and race have something different that proclaims “this is what a woman is” for the whole wide world to see.
And yet, Womanhood isn’t definitive. It’s flexible but tougher than leather. It is so much and nothing at all. That’s the beauty of it all. Out of a sea of faces, somehow, we all look the same. We all want the same things. Happiness. Freedom. Sucess (whatever that means for you). It’s the way that we choose to get there, from our pasts to the present, and the events of our lives that make us different.
That’s really what it’s all about.
The Women’s March on Washington is about difference. It’s about accepting all women of size, shape, and color — but also recognizing that it is about being the same. There is so much to womanhood. The definition truly lies in being absolutely everything; all at once.
Out of Many, One.
“Have you heard from them?”
I clanked my fork on the table and it fell off the corner of my plate. I was struggling to hide my irritation. I knew what was coming.
“Dr. Iel-Eeliki should have called by now,”
I looked at my father and corrected my doctors name — a Pakistani immigrant. My father giggled like a child, said it incorrectly again, and continued eating.
That’s when I left the dinner table.
Over the course of the last two years, this doctor — this man — had spent hours studying literature just to keep me alive. Yet, my father couldn’t even take a couple of seconds to learn how to say his name.
This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Growing up, I constantly listened while my white classmates mocked and butchered black, hispanic, and other ethnic names.
“Who would go through the pain of childbirth for 9 months just to name the baby Laquisha?”
“Why would you name your child Mohammad? This is America.”
“Your name is Pablo what?”
“How am I supposed to pronounce that?”
There is power in a name. Whether we like it or not, it is one of the most important identifiers in our lives. Entire brands are built on million dollar names like Kardashian and Trump. Barack Obama has been accused of links to terrorism just for having the middle name Hussein. When the newest Disney princess, Moana, proclaims in the movie“I am Moana” she is not simply claiming herself. She is claiming the weight and importance of her culture.
I am Kathryn Poe.
Think about that.
I understand that names are difficult — I myself am terrible at pronunciation — but they are important. Names are representative of culture and family history. When an ethnic name is ‘dumbed down’ for an American speaker, something beautiful is lost. American culture should absorb, not reject, diversity in every form. How can we argue that we, as a society, provide fair representation if we can’t even try to get a name right?
“It’s just too hard.”
Racism is a subtle beast.
If Tomi Lahren can call out Seal on Twitter for mispronouncing her name and get the full support of conservative America, then I expect them to defend Laquisha too.
“THIS IS A HATE CRIME!”
I read, scrolling through Twitter when I should have been in bed. I had been watching videos of baby otters for about 15 minutes, and I was starting to transition into puppies when the headline first caught my attention.
I was automatically interested, and it didn’t take me very long to find more information about it online as details developed. I watched videos and read the information in horror, and followed the story as it developed into the next day. Automatically, I agreed that what was done, was in fact, a hate crime. It was horrific and an act of violence that should certainly be labeled as such. But as I read the comments, and followed the hashtag as it developed on Twitter, I also noticed another common trend.
The incident was quickly labeled by some online as more proof of what some refer to as ‘reverse racism’ and that the oppression of white America. The ‘violence’ of movements like #BlackLivesMatter. This, of course, isn’t the first publicized incident of violence against white Americans. After the election, a video surfaced of a man being forced out of his car and beaten for apparently supporting Donald Trump. In the days following the incident, it was constantly brought up to me in conversation whenever I spoke with dismay about the apparent rise in violence against minorities after the election.
“They’re attacking us too. There’s violence on both sides.”
This is true. No one is arguing that there have not been punches thrown on both sides of the isle. However, there’s a couple of important points to consider before jumping onto the ‘reverse racism’ bandwagon and claiming that this justifies the existence of white oppression.
Simply: violent action is not inherently oppressive. Sometime’s violence is violence. Sometimes it’s violence against the perceived oppressor. Oppression is the action of constant harm to a minority, or the ability to put restrictions in place that limit the actions or ability of a people. The truth is that no white man in America can ever say that he was kicked out of a job, home, or religious institution for being white. Yes — in today’s world, it’s easy to feel like White people are constantly being demonized. Yes — ugly stereotypes exist about Trump voters. But the objective of a racial discrimination is discrimination against of those who do not hold power and maintaining the power of those that do. Simple. Violence against those who are perceived to hold power can not be racism for that simple fact. It is also not an oppressive action if the people being acted against are apart of what is traditionally the elite or more fortunate.
In the end, what happened to that young man was wrong and disturbing. He was an innocent victim of a hate crime targeted at a white person. But white America is far from oppressed — and that’s not going to change anytime soon.
“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.
“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.”