Grief on the quarter system

It’s Week 1 of sophomore year. I am shopping classes and feeling overwhelmed by the realization that I am no longer a freshman in college. I get a phone call from my mother — she says don’t be alarmed, but granddaddy went to the doctor because the size of a lump on his stomach has grown from a grape to a grapefruit.

Week 2 starts off fine. I drop from 20 units to 16 units because I can’t seem to focus. I’ve joined too many clubs. The grapefruit is now a small football. Mother says not to worry.

Week 3, I wake up at 6 a.m. to pray and cry, because my mother sounds defeated and granddaddy has started chemotherapy. I write three papers, I go to two performances, I give one talk.

Week 4, my mother says things are better. I say hello to granddaddy on the phone. I study for midterms. I go to dance practice, I write a poem and I miss only one lecture.

Week 5, granddaddy dies.

I have a midterm, I have a paper, I have practice, I have talks, and no one seems to understand that I can’t. It’s not that I can’t do it this week, or even I can’t do it next week; I just can’t.

But Stanford and the quarter system don’t have “can’t” in their vocabulary.

Grief does not come with an expiration date. My body and mind do not process pain within the framework of a time span. What I feel does not operate with the courtesy of stopping around Week 9 because of Dead Week and finals. My grief is unconcerned with poetry shows, talks about feminism and assignments that are two weeks overdue. It does not conduct itself like a business; I will not be fine or “better” within 10 working days.

I can’t.

Week 7, I think about taking a leave of absence. A friend of mine reminds me of “how strong I am.” There are talks and protests about state violence, and I feel numb. I cannot chant. I cannot die-in. I cannot fight. People give me their condolences.

Week 8, I tell myself breathing is an act of political warfare. My professors ask for missing assignments. I ask for incompletes. I go home. I weep. I read a poem at a funeral that was supposed to be my final farewell.

Week 9, people ask me if I’m better. I smile. I cry all night.

Week 10, all of my assignments are due. I do them at odd hours between sleep and weeping. I am held all night. I am told to go home for winter break to “heal.”

I have my emptiest Christmas. The grief comes in waves. Taking the quarter off is not an option. People ask for more poems, more talks, more meetings, more papers, more applications. I say I can, but this is a lie.

The rapidity of the quarter systems leaves students feeling exhausted, and on top of that, students do too much. Students are involved in clubs, collectives, fraternities and resume-builders, but I do not remember the last time I witnessed someone ask, “How are you?” and wait for a real answer.

It is always on to the next activity, talk, assignment, happy hour. We do not pause. We do not wait. We do not sit in our feelings, and if we do, we are punished for it by the system. The system gifts us with negative outcomes that add to the hurt. But what hurts even more is that I cannot only blame the quarter system. I must also reflect on the people and the culture. We conduct ourselves like a business. When we check in with peers we ask, “So how is your Week [insert number]?” We are constantly a brand, always a student. We are fake until it feels safe enough to be real.

Do not tell me to go to CAPS as a cure-all, especially when last year there were no Black counselors until spring quarter. Although therapy is an act of self-care I have access to while at Stanford, it does not change the culture around me. Stanford and the quarter system tries to take all of me. That is okay, when I am somewhat okay.

But the grief comes in waves.

It has been a year now. I have adjusted to the loss, but do not cheapen my emotions by asking me if I am “healed.” As if time is the greatest indicator of that. I say no, I quit things, but I still say yes when I need space. I need time. I still join things that take my time. No one dares to ask me about my grief.

Happy Week 7.


Diversity and Hollywood

It was my childhood dream to be an actress.

I knew all of the words to the animated movies “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty,” and I felt like if they made a human version, I could do it better.

It wasn’t until I shared this dream with the type of friend you should never reconnect with in your adult life over Facebook that I realized: Regardless of talent, some people just want a white Cinderella.

I am a film and media studies major because I should have been Cinderella, and there should have been many before Tiana. There should have been more space for me to have aspirations more badass than being a princess, or someone more masculine-presenting.

The diversity question is the problem of the century for Hollywood.

Tensions flared when Nellie Andreeva’s alarmingly off-key article titled, “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings — About Time Or Too Much Of Good Thing” hit the internet on DEADLINE. Andreeva pointed out the increase of “ethnic” castings in television this year, and instead of celebrating a victory for diversity, Andreeva decided to employ an argument just a ridiculous as reverse racism.

That’s right. Just like that article, reverse racism is ridiculous.

While Andreeva was creating a rally cry for privileged white actors and actresses who traditionally and currently dominate Hollywood, it was clapback season over at Salonwith Sonia Saraiya’s concise and spot-on piece titled, “‘Ethnic’ actors aren’t stealing white roles: The racist, clueless backlash to TV’s greatest season begins.”

In Pilot Viruet’s article “Are This Season’s Diverse Shows Ushering in a New Era of Multicultural Television?” Viruet points out how diverse television was in the ’90s with household favorites, such as “Moesha,” “Sister Sister” and “Kenan & Kel.”

I heard Spike Lee put it best when he said, “It seems like every 10 years Hollywood discovers black people.”

As Viruet has pointed out, black shows have done well in the past, but producers have no incentive to keep them around. They see them as flukes, and a white show will do better in that time slot.

Diverse shows are dominating television now with rating success stories, such as “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Empire,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” but if history is any indication, they may not last.

Why are Hollywood and big media companies the arbiters of what we watch? Of what represents us? Diversity to them is not a way of doing entertainment. It is a money maker with an expiration date.

I am not satisfied.

Why are they the only ones to decide which stories are told and untold? Art, film and media shape an entire culture. They introduce us to characters, communities and ways of thinking and being.

The cultural revolution comes before the political revolution.

I love Shonda, I love Cookie, but we need more stories. These black women do not represent the entire gamut of experience for blackness, and there should not be a quota for “ethnic stories.”

Diversity means allowing for more than one story to exist, without falling into a single-story way of thinking. Diversity means telling the truth with love.

Hollywood should be stopped from determining what is our truth as a people. In this new age of media when filmmakers can get started over YouTube, we need to support our creatives. The ones who aren’t backed by hegemonic Hollywood. The ones who are here to tell the truth and do it out of love. Writers Issa Rae and Justin Simien are examples of filmmakers to watch.

The dream is to take film, television, media, news and entertainment as a whole out of the hands of Hollywood and big media corporations. Imagine how beautiful that would be.


Can we not be ‘fake deep?’

In this age of readily accessible memes and Tumblr pictures about love, beauty and liberation, everyone can be “deep.” We can post pictures of the ocean or pensive selfies and caption them with a quote from BrainyQuote and watch the retweets and likes roll. We know how to snap when we hear peer-friendly buzzwords about oppression and we can offer a “mmmmm” when we hear something we really like.

Everyone can be deep. Or at least, we can pretend to be.

The depth turns shallow when nuance is brought to the conversation and oppression is actually interrogated instead of being used as a blanket term to get snaps. Fake deepness has taken over our campus and our movement.

For the first discussion meeting of the Black Feminist Collective, we viewed the video“Fake Deep,” a poem adapted into a visual film written by Cecile Emeke. The poem is witty, provocative and in-your-face about the misogynoir that Black women endure from “fake deep” Black men.

According to the video, a “fake deep” Black man is “worse that your overtly chauvinistic pig.” He is pro-Black, quasi-conscious and pseudo-intellectual, because he is patriarchal, misogynistic and heterosexist. He ignores systemic and institutional obstacles and “quotes reductionist and overly-spiritualized shit like, stop complaining and just be the light you want to see, sis.”

Fake deep exists; we all know this. But when are we going to start being honest and admit that it’s not just men?

A fake-deep man critiques Black women on their clothing, bodies, cooking and reading habits. His tool of oppression is the binary of gender when he denies femme-identified people the space to just live their truth. He expects women to “work, cook, clean, twerk and raise children independently.” He treats women like pieces of art for his viewing and enforces “respectability politic-laced bullshit.”

Sadly, I could have easily written the paragraph above with a different set of pronouns and it would still be just as true. Women can be guilty of the same sentiments. The heteropatriarchy inflicted by men is real, and it is most definitely valid, but how can any true change happen if we are not pushing ourselves on all fronts to not be fake deep?

Can the cis woman show up for the gender-nonconforming? Can able-bodied individuals care about ableism? Can U.S. citizens acknowledge their privilege?  

White-supremacist heteropatriarchy is powerful because it is systemic and adopted by disciples other than those who have access to that embodied identity. This concept of fake deep lives and breathes everywhere, and it brings to mind two questions.

How deep are your ideas about liberation? And if the answer is “not very deep,” are you willing to make adjustments?

The article “DEAR BLACK MEN: You Are Not Pro-Black If You Are Not Pro-Black Women,” by Daniel Johnson, recently gained traction on my social media feed. The article is a callout to Black men who claim to be pro-Black but fall short when it comes to being pro-Black women. The article highlights how Black women always hold it down for Black men, but Black patriarchy prevents reciprocation.

While everyone raved about this piece, my attention was drawn to the last statement of the article: “It is time that pro-Black means pro-Black everybody.” However, the article failed to mention Black queer people, Black trans people or Black gender-norming people.

And I wonder if the people sharing this article read “Black woman” as “Black [respectable] woman.” I wonder if pro-Black still applies to the Black person living in the Section 8 apartment, the Black person with the EBT in their wallet, the Black person doing sex work or the Black person whose degree comes from the University of Life.  

We must go deeper.

We can’t have our liberation be everything as is, but painted Black. For the same reason, our Black feminism cannot be White feminism painted Black. We cannot talk about Black men being fake deep without some personal accountability for our own heteropatriarchy. It is an unlearning process that requires active participation and reflection.

But thank God for Black feminism.

Black feminism is a framework that allows for questioning, growing and contradictions in the dismantling of heterosexist, racist, sexist, classist and capitalist structures. It aims for liberation, and it is always centered on love.

To my Black femmes, I love y’all. But some of us are fake deep. That’s okay, but just know we can’t stay there. We must reject all of the norms and systems that have socialized us to think in the language of the oppressor.

Let’s explore our contradictions. Let’s call each other in. Let’s not accept toxic, impossible standards. Let’s kill the binary. Let’s not cheapen ourselves.

This is our liberation.

Let’s go further. Let’s be deep. Then let’s go deeper.

Forreal. No more of that fake deep.


Taking back the Angry Black Woman

An extremely abbreviated list of some of the things that make me angry:

Misogynoir. Misogyny. Interpersonal racism. Institutional racism. Intergenerational trauma. Sexism. Heterosexism. Murder. Non-intersectional feminism. The school to prison pipeline. Transphobia. White supremacy. Vulturistic capitalism. Pornographic poverty photographs. Belittlement of mental illness. Police brutality. Fetishization. Child abuse. The food-industrial complex. Gun violence. The criminalization of sex work. Colonialism. Slavery. Rape.

These realities are upsetting and contribute to the violence experienced by people, known and unknown, whom I love.

I am angry.

I am an Angry Black Woman.

I am owning the title and assassinating every attempt to use the term against me. For far too long, I have been told and advised to not be “that angry Black woman” and to stop fitting a stereotype. I have borne witness to others hurling the three words “Angry Black Woman” at women like salt to a wound. I have seen powerful women shrink in embarrassment or force a smile. I have seen Black women choose their words carefully and walk on eggshells, because they know that any sign of passion means they are the Angry Black Woman.  

It is time for us to take the Angry Black Woman back.

When used by others as an insult, the controlling image of the Angry Black Woman has caused Black women to feel isolated, humiliated and suffocated for far too long. A controlling image is more than a stereotype. It’s a prophecy everyone is looking for Black women to fulfill; therefore, whenever a Black woman even raises her voice, she automatically is seen as: intimidating, scary, ill-tempered, feisty, wrathful, bitter and ultimately the “Angry Black Woman” who must shrink into her controlling image.

In “Behind the Mask of the Strong Black Woman,” Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant describes controlling images as representations that inform “what is seen and believed about [a marginalized identity] and, when internalized, profoundly [influence] the self-perceptions of the marginalized.”

There are three main controlling images of Black womanhood that were birthed from the minstrel stage: the Sapphire, the Jezebel and the Mammy. The Mammy is the asexual, round, motherly Black woman figure who typically cared for children. The Jezebel was the over-sexualized, un-rapable Black woman whose body was always available for sexual encounters. Lastly, the Sapphire is the Angry Black woman.

The Sapphire is the neck-rolling, finger waving, “ball-crushing” Black woman who is always angry and upset. She has no problem emasculating Black men, and she is never worthy of the protection the construct of womanhood affords.

She the one your non-Black friend is referencing when they snap their finger, twist their neck and say, “Oh-no-you-didn’t.” This reenactment serves as an insult to the Black women whose identity they are choosing to wear in jest. It is a conjuring of the Angry Black Woman that only they can complete without scrutiny.

The conjuring of the Angry Black Woman also occurs in the New York Times article titled “Wrought in Rhimes’s Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’s Latest Tough Heroine,” by Alessandra Stanley.  Stanley opens the piece stating “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

Stanley then continues her piece by accusing Rhimes of creating shows about Angry Black Women, and she glosses over the intentional nuance and complexity of the characters. In fact, Stanley has no idea that she is exhibiting misogynoir when she casts the Black women on screen into a controlling image just because they get angry. They are passionate leading roles, and I wonder if Stanley would have said the same if Rhimes wrote television shows that starred white men.

If the constant insults from entertainment, media and interpersonal relationships were not enough, Black women experience the same scrutiny from members in the Black community. It is one thing when the dominant society polices Black women, but it is another when we begin policing ourselves and policing each other. In a world where Black women experience state violence, communal violence and intimate violence all at the same time, we have a right to be angry.

Our anger reminds us that we are up for the fight and that we are able to fight for ourselves even when there is no one else standing by our sides. Our shared anger validates our experiences and produces community and understanding.

Our anger keeps us going, and we should never have to give it up.

It is time to take back the Angry Black Woman and reappropriate her as a rallying cry.


Stop telling activists what they need to do

“The problem with Stanford activism,” by Neil Chaudhary, caught my attention after sitting in on an informal discussion about the article’s inability to see the positive connections between the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s and the activism occurring on campus today.

After taking the time to read the article myself, I was further convinced that the way the Civil Right’s Movement is taught and retold is used as propaganda to perpetuate  inaction and belittle activists bold enough to continue in the spirit of the movement.

The activism of today is the child of the Civil Rights Movement moderates and conservatives heavily exalt as the model for activism. In fact, dissenters of this movement serve as co-opters of the Civil Rights Movement. They ignore that the Civil Rights Movement lived on the spirits and momentum of agitators and those who would accept nothing but freedom.

Martin Luther King did not always have the support of the moderates or even other activists within the movement. King was only one actor of many who each had their own methods and ideologies about change and liberation. King was often in conversation activists who did just as much if not more for the movement. These key actors were the younger activists involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the legendary Diane Nash.

King was not the only activist invested in the Civil Rights Movement, and he is not the only actor who made change happen. It took a collective effort, and they all did not agree with each other. Additionally, they all did not agree with him.

Like the conversations of today, many thought King was simply going about justice the wrong way.

Allies and opponents included.

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King responded to a white moderate brethren of faith who called his actions “unwise and untimely.” In it, King highlights the fact that methods of action are criticized more than the circumstances that brought them about. In other words, they were worried about how King was responding to injustice, with direct actions and civil disobedience, rather than worrying about the actual injustice, racism and Jim Crow.

“You may well ask ‘Why direct action, why sit-ins, marches, and so forth? Isn’t [dialogue] a better path’….Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue,” King states.

This conversation sounds eerily familiar.

There are always going to be people who disagree with methods and rhetoric, but it is essential to examine the position of those who have so much to say against the actions.

The men who were telling King to wait and to chose other methods did not understand that people were dying.

People are dying.

Communities are in states of emergency fearing death at every traffic stop, and there are people who are policing rhetoric and methods?

Activism is not a monolith. Just as Martin Luther King was critiqued by other activists and advocates, activists today have critiques and opinions about actions. However, there is an understanding of the need for direct action and therefore agitation, and activism is not always clean.

It isn’t always perfect. It isn’t always digestible. It isn’t always for the moderate.

This is why one must not confuse the role of the ally with the role of the activist. The activist is an advocate for the community and the needs and wants of the community they are fighting for come first. The ally tries to make their community care. Each uses their position to accomplish unique work.

It isn’t always the role of the activist to make those who do not understand listen.

The activist puts their community first. The ally can organize their own community and create meaningful dialogue that is useful for their audience.

The activist does not always have to convince communities why their issues are important. They seek the most effective route to change.

King believed that the greatest obstacle on the path to freedom was more than the openly racist White Citizens Council or the Ku Klux Klan. Our admiration for his legacy may dictate which quotes end up in history textbooks, but the reality is that King also called the white moderate out on standing in the way of justice.

“The white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”

Stop telling activists what they need to do.


My claim to Black feminism has nothing to do with you

My debut article for The Daily was titled, “My claim to Black feminism,” where in less than 900 words I argued against imaginary bigots/feminists that I had the right to identify as a disciple to an ideology that made sense of my life.

As if I needed an explanation.

I began the article with a Sojourner Truth quote and not one from my mother.

I sprinkled academic jargon, and I provided some historical evidence to add rhetorical meat. As if I needed a watered-down argument to grant me humanity in the eyes of people who still think I’m racist when I say I am a Black feminist.

To be honest, my claim to Black feminism did not live in that article I wrote a year ago. I’ll boldly assert that my claim to Black feminism lives in every breath I take, because my claim to Black feminism is my claim to life.

I once stated that my introduction to Black feminism came from a white, heterosexual, cisgendered, able-bodied, middle-class man who told me that he looked at everything in his life from a Black feminist lens. He told me that he saw the world through a Black feminist lens because of the language he found in the works of Black feminist writers. The intersectionality, self-love and centering of what he saw as radical justice made sense in what he imagined as a more just, compassionate and desirable future.  

It is horrific and ironic that I envisioned this man as my Black feminism definer. I could not see the value in the existence and life experiences of all of the women around me who do not have a Ph.D.; however, they will always be the most brilliant and resilient professors of my education. I needed an educator dressed in hegemonic legitimacy for me to see the arsenal of knowledge that comes with just living an experience.

I credited him as my works cited, as if I was not granddaughter to Betty. As if I was not sister to B and Litha. As if I was not friend to Measha. As if I did not have the blood of Black women in my veins and their stories on the tip of my tongue.

As if I did not value the knowledge I garnered in 18 years, as if I did not appreciate the cellular memory of 400 years.

My claim to Black feminism was never supposed to be an article to imaginary people to whom I thought I didn’t make sense. My claim to Black feminism just is.

Yes, Black feminism has historical grounding. Yes, Black feminism is rich with brilliant writers and scholars who provided a framework and critical analysis for this school of thought. However, all of that is supplementary to the standpoint knowledge that just being a Black woman brings.

I can write all of my articles about why Black feminism matters, but unless you can feel me on a deeper level — beyond words and scholarly interrogation — you will never understand me.

I’m fine with that. This column is about centering voices and viewpoints counter to the mainstream noise. It’s about learning how to listen, question and change. It’s about valuing the differences between experiences and affirming them.

That is what Black feminism is about.

My truth is valid without being in agreement with those who do not understand. My truth is mine. There is no way I can gift you with a catchphrase or a neatly packaged opinion column on why my claim to Black feminism is worthy.

I shouldn’t have to. There should never be questions of legitimacy around an identity that centers those who have resisted constant oppressive erasure.

I named this column Evolving because that is my truth. Just as Black feminism is my truth.

Welcome to round two.


Self-care is resistance

In the activist community, the word self-care is thrown around in a sea of other buzzwords, like radicaltraumaviolence and patriarchy. The activist culture is so inundated with self-care that I became completely desensitized to friends using it — begging me to subscribe to this abstract, vague idea, and almost meaninglessly scolding me to partake in acts associated with it.

Self-care is any intentional action one takes towards one’s own physical, mental and emotional well-being. Self-care can take on the form of naps, good food, exercise, going to the doctor, stepping back from commitments, reflection, meditation and counseling. In other words, self-care encompasses acts that quintessential Stanford students convince themselves they have little to no time for. I convinced myself that self-care was at the bottom of my priority list until I had no choice but to make it a first concern.

I began Spring quarter withdrawn from my friends, family and everyone who cared about me. I could not write. I could not make it to my meetings, and I could barely make it to class. Everything lacked luster, and nothing really mattered. I felt burdened, like I had no control over my emotions, and I did not understand why.

A concerned friend signed me up on for a session with a counselor as part of the Black community’s initiative to provide Black Counseling and Psychological Services counseling on Stanford’s campus. Since the first session with my therapist, I’ve realized the extent of the stress I have internalized being a Black woman on this campus. When I voice my experiences, thoughts and opinions others threaten, shame and insult me behind the cowardice of anonymity. Between the The Stanford Daily online comment section and Yik Yak posts, I have felt unsafe. This feeling of danger has pervaded and manifested itself as the paralyzing vulnerability I feel walking down the street.

Meeting with a counselor gave me language and affirmation for the gamut of emotions I found myself at a loss for words to express. I was afraid of imaginary bigots, and the emotional toll it took on me was also physical. Seeing a counselor for the first time in my life was my act of self-care. I now am sure that the battle I was engaged in mentally and emotionally just to keep going is not impossible. It is now the only option.

Self-care is not only a form of self-love, it is a form of resistance. Living and surviving in the midst of scrutiny and violence is a radical act. Intentionally caring for your well-being and making attempts to love yourself despite insults and dangers against your being is a radical act. Counseling is giving me the self-awareness of which I was previously ignorant. I did not know I struggled with anxiety. I did not know that there was a reason for the physical and mental abnormalities I had started experiencing as my stress levels rose during the year. I did not know that I was burnt out. I definitely did not know that what I was feeling was not unique; many people on this campus are hurting.

As a Stanford student, I was able to have access to this important component of health, and I even received encouragement to do so. This is a privilege I have at this institution, but I cannot help but wonder if this form of resistance and self-care will become inaccessible to me upon graduation. I have been hearing “there is a stigma in the Black community around mental health” all my life, but there are more factors than stigma at play when it comes to the relationship between Blackness and mental health. Matters of support and access are also pivotal contributors that determine who gets to exercise this form of resistance.

Advocacy and voicing my thoughts are not disappearing from my life, and neither are the anxieties that come with having an intersectional identity. People who do this work must never forget what self-care truly means, and we must practice it. We must hold each other accountable, and we must check in with our communities. At Stanford, we have the privilege of resources that many do not have access to outside of this bubble. It is important to acknowledge this fact for our own well-being while navigating hostile spaces. When we leave here, we must work to make self-care a part of our lives, and strive for self-care implementations for in our home communities who may not have access to other options.

Audre Lorde said, “We were never meant to survive.” It is time to survive, live and resist.


What is your role?

The Cantor Arts Center now has an exhibit titled “Promised Land: The Art of Jacob Lawrence.” Celebrated Black artist Jacob Lawrence was commissioned in 1975 by The Detroit Institute of Arts to remake his 1941 work, “The Legend of John Brown.” Accompanied by a poem written by Robert Hayden, the first Black Poet Laureate of the United States, this set of prints tells the story of John Brown, a White, radical abolitionist who believed he was instructed by God to end the evils of slavery.

Brown liberated slaves from plantations, resulting in a bounty on his head. Despite many who wanted him dead, Brown mobilized and armed a band of committed abolitionists and newly liberated slaves for his final attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Brown was condemned and executed the following day, agitating the country toward Civil War.

John Brown was executed for his revolutionary views, which we celebrate today as evident and apparent to the ideals we now hold true in this country. His contribution was rebellion and disobedience. Through art, Lawrence was able to hold a mirror up to America’s past and tell the truth about radical visionaries: they are unpopular and often seen as extremists. The prints of John Brown by Jacob Lawrence immortalize and romanticize the ongoing struggle of the radicals who are willing to fight for freedom. It is the place of writers and artists to struggle with them and to document their truths.

To be on the side of justice and revolution is a blessing; we must fight on. We must write. We must tweet. We must dance. We must protest. We must sing. We must create. We must dream. We must imagine. We must boycott. We must march. We must agitate. We must celebrate. We must cry. We must teach. We must learn. We must laugh. We must know that the struggle for more freedom includes the John Browns and Jacob Lawrences. We must be the John Browns and Jacob Lawrences.

There is a place for everyone within the movement for freedom. Many have asked me where their place is in the moment for justice, and I believe that only they can answer that for themselves. The options are infinite, and each person is intrinsically valuable. But one must never forget that the movement is built upon the ideology of centering the most vulnerable of us to get to justice. This means not co-opting the language of today’s movement about black lives or making it a watered down version of your own vision of equality. It means centering the most marginalized identities and making their safety and liberation a priority. If proper ideological centering is done, then one is able to plug into the movement with the role they feel they are destined to play, just like John Brown.

Scholar and poet Alysia Harris has a “Figure 8 Theory” that classifies the eight types of activists: the agitator, the connectionist, the organizer, the specialist, the spokesperson, the artist, the scholar and the counselor. These distinct types of activists come with specific skill sets and work in synergy with each other to create a network that can produce a movement.

The agitator takes it to the streets. The connectionist negotiates with places of power. The organizer is the non-reactionary force that brings the pieces together for an action. The specialist has their area of expertise and they know how to problem solve. The artist is honest; they shine a mirror to our faces while creating the world we want through their art. The scholar gifts us with the language and theoretical framework that brings understanding to our world. The counselor takes care of our souls. Each person is vital, and there are many other roles to be filled that are absent from this theory.

I choose to plug in as scholar, writer and artist. Activism and a place in the movement is not a choice. It is a lifestyle and a purpose that I feel is my duty to pay for the ones I live for, and it is an act of self-preservation and self-love. I am a student to the scholars, writers and artists before me in the movements around the world demanding justice. My role is what makes me feel fulfilled, and it is how I will make my contribution.

What is your role?

Jacob Lawrence is one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. He illustrated the Black experience, and through abstraction he gave Blackness form in spaces with relatively few Black faces. He was true to his art and true to his contribution. As agitators, artists, teachers — everyone in their respective places — we all can make a contribution. We can all take part in this movement. We can all live our own truths. We can all become free.


Taking it further

When I heard of Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decision to prosecute the officers involved in the Freddie Gray killing, my heart swelled with pride and awe. I interpreted this bold move as an answer to the cries for justice against police brutality, and I said it was a victory.

I made this claim to my friend as I watched the news report on the television screen, and he said, “This is a victory, but people should be prosecuted if they kill someone. Areal victory would be Freddie Gray still living among us. Death and prosecution should never be all we want.”

I was immediately taken back to the talk I heard by Professor Angela Davis, a prolific philosopher, scholar and prison abolitionist.

“Police violence — racist violence — is part of an economy of violence… [we] can’t adequately address violence by pointing to individual officers and pointing to prosecution. What if Darren Wilson had been prosecuted? What difference would that have made?”

Michael Brown’s body was still left in the street for four hours. Tamir Rice still will not reach 15. Eric Garner’s children still do not have a father. Miriam Carey’s daughter still will not have her mother there for her fifth birthday. Aiyana Jones still won’t experience puberty. Killed at age 92, Kathryn Johnson still will not be able to die a natural death.

While accountability needs to happen, they are still dead, and no prison sentence will bring them back.

In “Women, Culture, and Politics,” Dr. Davis states, “Radical simply means grasping things at the root.” At the very root, violence is embedded in our culture. It is in the movies we watch. The video games we play. The language we speak. We even tell little girls that if a little boy is mean to her and hits her, he likes her.

The violence our culture produces is felt at all levels. In “Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation,” Beth Richie claims that Black women experience violence in the intimate household, from the community, from the media and from the state. Confronting just one of these sectors will not lead to the holistic liberation of Black women. It will aid in some sense, but full liberation takes the acknowledgment of all violence as a problem.

In a similar vein, demanding for the arrest of police officers who kill Black people is a great first step, but it should not be our end goal. We should not be satisfied with putting people in jail when at the end of the day there is still someone missing at birthdays, holidays and Saturday mornings. Our victory will be won when the violence ceases.

So, what does that look like? What does true liberation from violence really mean?

I don’t have an answer because I never knew that was an option. As a student in Davis’ course, I am being pushed to imagine what I want my own liberation to be. As a prison abolitionist, she knows that a world without prisons cannot exist in the state the world is in now. It will take a complete societal transformation, in addition to the disengagement of crime and punishment. She stated, we must demand what we really want through our activism, not just what we think we can get.

I want a world without state-sanctioned killings, not just police officers’ indictments. I want to be able to walk around at night without the the threat of imminent rape, not just the guarantee that my rapist will be prosecuted. I want healing from sexual abuse, not just a trial. I want to be able to imagine what the world would be without prisons because I have faith in the humanity of others. I have faith that the world can be better than this. I have faith that everyone can be taken care of, and given the option to live a life full of freedom.

I will acknowledge this victory of prosecution for now, but after this, I want more. I can only be fine with punishment for death for so long. Davis told me to imagine, and I am trying. I think everyone should do so, too.

I stand in solidarity with Prosecutor Mosby, and I admire her bravery and tenacity. But this lump in my throat tells me, I would rather have Freddie Gray still be alive.


Dialogue isn’t enough

During last Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting, Provost John Etchemendy shared a prepared statement about the importance of dialogue to divisive campus issues. He stated, “The essential feature of dialogue is not monologue times two. The essential feature of dialogue is not speaking but listening, listening with respect and then expressing, in turn, one’s own view with clarity, rather than volume.”

Etchemendy is right about his definition and insight into the parameters of true dialogue. It takes discussion and differing opinions. There are often no answers, and it is understandable if there is a disagreement because of a difference in ideologies or priorities. Dialogue is important for academic discussion and personal and communal growth.

But Etchemendy fails to acknowledge where dialogue falls short.

When two dissenting groups or people engage in dialogue, the conversation is not divorced from the framework of power and privilege in which it takes place. Each group or individual comes in with its own privileges and marginalities. There is always a power struggle. There is always an imbalance of who will actually be valued and heard.

And like Black lives, these stakes matter.

Etchemendy stated, “Whether the issue is Israel and Palestine, sexual assault and due process, investment in fossil fuels, marriage and gay rights, black lives or increasing disparities in wealth, we seem to have lost the ability to engage in true dialogue.”

If we are to talk about these issues without nuance and reduce them to “for” and “against,” we cannot deny that student advocacy groups are looking death and destruction in the eye. Palestinian students have spoken of death. Trans* women of color are being murdered. Sexual assault survivors are fighting. Black people are being executed. And people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are starving.

The stakes are high for people who are screaming for their voices to be heard; dialogue does not communicate urgency. Dialogue is unfair to require of everyone, especially if they feel disempowered by the entity or person with whom they are engaging in dialogue. In the context of Stanford, an institution that represents so much power and privilege, how can dialogue be the be-all and end-all when your students are telling you that they are afraid of death?

When the stakes are low, dialogue seems completely reasonable. Dialogue about philosophy and Shakespeare is great, but dialogue about whether or not black lives matter should never be a discussion because the answer is always yes. Student activism has been trying to bring Stanford into a conversation that has been ongoing since activism against oppressive systems started. This is not about dialogue. This is about joining a struggle concerning justice that Stanford has historically been on the wrong side of until their students push them. Student organizations are doing their best to bring Stanford into this conversation, but Stanford administration and some students have shown apathy.

So, student organizations form coalitions for a chance to band together for a cause and be heard. Coalitions have a clear purpose, and have dialogued amongst themselves in order to be strong and resemble a microcosm of other organizations that exist worldwide. The reason coalitions exist is because there is political support amongst students. When ASSU candidates seek the endorsements of these coalitions, they are saying that they will be thinking about these groups and causes because they see the importance of them. Coalitions have political power because students care what they think and share their beliefs.

For Etchemendy to say, “I am deeply concerned about the outcome of this approach. I would like to ask our students which they would prefer: a senate composed of thoughtful, open-minded students representing the full range of student opinion, or a senate pre-selected to represent a filtered set of beliefs. If the answer is the latter, then I fear we have failed as a university.”

This is insulting not only to coalitions, but to the students who value what these coalitions represent. The Students of Color Coalition, The Queer Coalition at Stanford, Stanford Green Alliance for Innovative Action, and the Stanford First-Generation Low Income Partnerships are coalitions who view the stakes as high. To say that they are not thoughtful open-minded students representing a range of opinions within each coalition is highly offensive. These coalitions represent the causes that are important and pressing to many students, and even within them, there are a range of beliefs. Even among activists, some believe in violence, some believe in peaceful protest. They have the same goal — justice. Coalitions are never monoliths.

Dialogue is fine when there is no urgency and people are ready to listen. The organizations involved in these coalitions have been in conversation and have been trying dialogue for years. Etchemendy’s comments prove that the university administration is out of touch with the conversations that have already been happening on campus and the struggle for justice worldwide. We have already transcended dialogue, and we’re ready for change.


Will Stack misses the point

A video of a young Black man, Will Stack, testifying about his recent traffic stop in Lexington County has now gone viral, especially in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed Black veteran, Walter Scott.

Stack saw it appropriate to record his feelings after a routine, mundane traffic stop by a “Caucasian” officer as an “African African” man. Stack saw it appropriate to point out, fully aware of the Scott incident, that he was in the wrong and he “was about [his] way” after the incident, according to an WIS Television article. He concluded the 2:10 video with color-blind politics and the uncritical, watercolor statement “God doesn’t see color, why should we?”

His privilege to life after an encounter with a police officer while so many cannot say the same is a victory. Any time a Black person is allowed to go “about [their] way” is a blessing in itself. But Stack’s lack of consideration and attempt to erase the narrative of so many others who look like him and will never be allowed to make a video again is an act of violence.

We speak their names:

Amadou Diallo.

Manuel Loggins Jr.

Ronald Madison.

Sean Bell.

Eric Garner.

Tamir Rice.

Michael Brown.

Walter Scott.

Tanisha Anderson.

Yvette Smith.

Miriam Carey.

Shelly Frey.

Darnisha Harris.

Malissa Williams.

Alesia Thomas.

Rekia Boyd.

Tarika Wilson.

Aiyana Jones.

Stack’s life is valuable, but it should not be recognized more than the lives on this grossly abbreviated list of slain Black people. His account should not be the voice of the Black experience, yet it will definitely play a part in the erasure of these names, and the list of names we will never speak.

Stack’s attempt to humanize the police officers is understandable in this time of great discomfort for our country, but the videos of Eric Garner and now Walter Scott will forever be the cultural memory of millennials during this Ferguson moment. The negative reactions received on social media can be interpreted as deeply felt hurt by those who have lost as the result of state violence. The positive reactions show that people want peace, but they do the work of silencing those making radical efforts to create a society where the traffic stops described by Stack are always the case.

The language and phrases that Stack uses in the video are chilling, and hint at his own contradicting beliefs in this fair, utopian society he purports to live in.

Stacks states, “I made sure my hands were on the steering wheel. I made sure to speak politely, as I always do.”

I hear, I know my body is always seen as a threat so I put my hands on the steering wheel to avoid gunshots to my person. I code-switch, so the officer knows that I am not like the stereotypes he is socialized to associate me with.

Stacks continues, “I sat there and I waited and I turned my music down.”

I remember the fate of Jordan Davis, a 17-year old murdered by 45-year old Michael Dunn after Davis refused to turn his music down at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida in 2012.

Stacks states, “…he gave me a warning and I was about my way. Not all officers are crooked or racist.”

I know this fact, and I still take into account those who are crooked and racist, and also those who try not to be crooked and racist but have implicit biases.

Stacks states, “Not all people that get arrested or tasered are innocent victims.”

I feel all people are worthy of life. Extrajudicial killings are not part of our current legal system and never should be. I did not know execution was excusable in any context.

Stacks concludes with, “See people as people… Ignorance has no color… God doesn’t see color, why should we?”

I hear ignorance. I hear ignorance of the acknowledgment that race is a social construct with material consequences that are dealt in blood. I hear the need to cover a serious problem in America that requires attention, care, love and nuance with a blanket statement that does violence to those who will never speak again.

Stacks is “color-blind,” but America is not.


Black girl rushing

As we dive into Inter-Sorority Council (ISC) Recruitment weekend, I would like to take the time to reflect on my experience during recruitment and during my time rushing an ISC organization.

I was definitely the person that everyone thought would never go through with rush. I was coming into my Black Feminist politic and beginning to explore how concepts like Blackness, institutional racism and classism influenced how I navigated the world. Institutionally and even socially speaking, I did not know if ISC organizations would allow me the space to develop. But curiosity and boredom got the best of me, so I started planning outfits.

Recruitment is grueling.

It is hours on your feet with girls you have to pretend you love already in order to get the chance to buy into their friendship. But within this space of empty hair compliments and rather annoying chants, the experience transforms into one of suspended feminism. It is a space for women, created by women and with the intention of meeting women. It is one of the only predominantly White spaces at Stanford, outside of professional ones, that allows for centering the feminine-identified people for purely social events. Women are socially allowed to proclaim they love women, to be affectionate towards women and to not apologize for it.

The space has much potential, but it is repressed because it operates within a classist, hetero-patriarchal system.

I had the chance to meet some of the most thoughtful, reflective people at Stanford as a result of recruitment and rush. I gained friends who were also very honest with me about how problematic it felt to constantly justify their membership in an organization that had aspects that went against their politics.

Last year there was a huge push to make sororities more enticing for low-income participants. ISC does not have a scholarship fund, and aside from the 200+ dollars per quarter that you have to pay there is also an initiation fee that is three times that amount. There is a board called “Standards” that asks you what your financial situation will be like next year and if you have a job to cover the cost of their organization. Your “sisters” will be there to tell you how unfair the high amount is, and someone may even give you the truth about the elusive scholarships. Meanwhile, there will be girls dropping hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on their “littles” who they loved at first sight/conversation.

But people make ways to get around the cost if they really want it. Some save up, some borrow and people help each other out, because at the end of the day it is a community. But I didn’t want it. During your spring quarter, rush members will get to experience a side of Stanford that was previously unavailable.

The frats.

As you finish up your recruitment, fraternities will be picking the cream of the crop for their pledge classes. Sororities and fraternities will link up in a symbolic hetero-patriarchal union and call it social events. Everyone has favorites and everyone has a stereotype. Your “sisters” go into the frat world with you, and for a while, it seems like you are safe from any type of attack. It is empowering to go into parties with a group of women who are all looking out for you and each other, but the fear of attack is still unspoken and always present. Someone may still ask you to come to their room when they know you have had too much to drink.

There is a paradoxical safety and danger when you add Blackness into these dynamics. One, there comes not invisibility, but always being that one Black girl. Many people do not know how to interact with Black people in social settings, so the go-to conversation starter may be a question about whether “your hair is all actually yours.” Or one may hear, “should I hook up with that Black girl?” Race conversations are hard and readily avoided, and philanthropy seemed like an odd vacation from the systemic racism, heterosexism and classism always on your mind, especially in these spaces of privilege.

Some people that I encountered in ISC organizations were truly amazing individuals, but there came a point when we could not relate simply because of the stark differences in the way we navigate the world. And although many wanted me to join the organization because they themselves would create a space inclusive for someone like me, it was never meant for me. I did not want to be a martyr, and I don’t think it would have been the space for me to grow into the person I wanted to become.

An ISC sorority has great potential for those who find acceptance and love within the organization. Especially with its feminist notions. But as I navigate the world has a Black feminist, an ISC organization was not for me. These organizations can be home for many, or alienating for some, although the people that take part may not intentionally try to be so themselves.

Good luck at Rush.


They will not come

The Black Student Union hosted a series of events  centered around Black Women during this year’s Women’s History Month celebration. Award-winning poet Alysia Harris was the artist in residence. She held a workshop, led a discussion and performed a poetry show in honor of the event.

An Intellectual Roundtable was held in co-sponsorship with the Black Community Services Center about the issue of colorism in the black community. The capstone event was colloquium-style and called “Black Women in Academia,” which featured some of the nation’s brilliant women of color. After this series of rich, well-executed events, the Black Student Union’s Women’s History Month Committee closed the series with a photo shoot titled “Different Shades of Beauty.”

Although lackadaisically advertised only a couple of days before its occurrence, the photo shoot had the greatest attendance by women of color of all the events. Held the Sunday before finals from 12pm to 2pm, the turnout was almost triple of that of the Black Women in Academia event held the week before at the exact same time. Black Women in Academia had co-sponsorship from over ten campus organizations and was aggressively publicized to draw crowds to the brilliant lineup of scholars sacrificing their Sunday afternoon to enrich students. The Black Student Union (BSU) has over 80 members, but even its members’ attendance was so low that the BSU could not fill up one full row.

But vanity will always trump substance, so one should not be surprised that the photoshoot had a greater turnout.

When planning events at Stanford, one can always guess which events will be widely attended and which events will not. Events centered around marginalized identities, uncomfortable issues or causes that one can tune out while on Stanford’s manicured campus will be sparsely attended. If there is a big celebrity name or attendance is required there will be a large audience. And if there is some kind of drama, an enticing food option, the event will allow its attendees to be self-congratulatory for their presence or the event will result in Instagram-worthy pictures, then there will most definitely be a large gathering.

Stanford over-programs for a student body that will not show up.

Week after week there are events to go to every night. Flyers are put up. Emails are blasted with catchy or provocative headlines. Money rains down from student budgets and co-sponsorships. Events come, events go. Do not worry if you do not attend because there will always be another event tomorrow night or the day after to serve as penance for your absence.

Students are inundated by so many events that they start to lose value. It doesn’t matter what the great cause is–unless there is the possibility of a new profile picture with a well-know person, count on the same people who always come to the events to be there. They belong to the community and are always supportive.

The over-programming followed by disappointing audience sizes is yet another indicator of Stanford’s privilege. The events with substance that have maybe ten people in the room with a lecturer whose honorarium will not break the bank could be the place for generative learning and nuance. There will be no drama, no getting there early to snag good seats and one can ask the question about white privilege, intersectionality, black feminism and activism that one could not ask in a room full of people.

But that isn’t sexy enough.

Events need to be geared to include an audience that reaches outside the Stanford community. Outreach to the Stanford student body is always a hit or a miss, and many times the hard work and care that goes into the event is not digested by the student body. The desire to educate those who have so many resources at their fingertips is sometimes unhealthy. There are communities right next door that can supplement our events and teach us a great deal. (I apologize if this model is being done; there are so many events happening, it probably got lost somewhere in my email.) Additionally, there are many talented organizations in the Bay with fantastic networks that Stanford students can tap into for event publicizing. This method of outreach will be transformative and give the students who actually show up the opportunity to pop this imaginary Stanford bubble.


Breaking the lens of oppression

Last weekend in a social setting, my body was touched without my consent. I felt confused, vulnerable and unsafe. I confided in my friend who proceeded to call him out. The situation escalated, climaxed in yelling, and ended with an apology from the person. He claimed he did not intend to make me feel violated.

He said he thought I was his other Black, female-identified friend, who is one foot shorter, 2 shades lighter and has different body proportions. And that he didn’t intend to cause me harm. He proceeded to condescendingly imply that I should not have felt the way I felt because he is gay and had no sexual interest in me.

Impact over intent.

Intentions can never be divorced from the impact of one’s actions. Never navigate the world believing that intentions make disagreeable, harmful actions permissible. People who mean well can still hurt others; however in order for the pain to stop there, accountability must disrupt the defensiveness around intentions.

Lack of sexual interest in someone doesn’t protect you from accusation of sexual harassment and abuse. In the situation described above, gay men can take part in misogyny and misogynoir, just as women can internalize sexist or misogynistic practices. Being a gay man does not make it okay for you to touch someone without their consent.

Even within marginalized communities and spaces, oppressive ideologies are present. Circulating on Facebook is a comic strip by Anna Bongiovanni on Everyday Feminism titled: How Misogyny Shows Up in the Queer Community.

One comic illustration reads  “another example of misogyny is when gay men feel it’s ok to touch or grope women.” Coincidentally, the picture displays a seemingly male-identified person smacking the butt of a woman of color. I draw attention to this because intersectionality must never be forgotten in this conversation.

Historic and current notions that surround the politics of my body are never erased based on the identity of who I am interacting with. The claim to no sexual interest does not trump any trauma I have felt in the past around nonconsensual touches to my body. Therefore when you indulge in touching my body without permission, you will never be innocent. You don’t get to wash your hands clean from the problems that your actions embody.

The Black woman’s body has a deep, dark history of being colonized at the hands of men. This history has influenced the lives and agency of Black women today, and the consequences are massive. A study done by the Black Women’s Blueprint revealed that 60 percent of Black women experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Any incident of violating the body of a Black woman is a citation of a history of violence.

This is by no means an attack on gay males, reminiscent of actress Rose McGowan’sinflammatory remarks about “gay men [being] as misogynistic as straight men, if not more so.” I don’t find those remarks constructive or truthful. But I do think that in these situations misogyny displayed by queer men against women, it is indicative of an inherently sexist society.

We are only going to reach freedom from oppression when we stop seeing each other through the lens created by oppression. The person who unintentionally violated my body felt the need to draw the distinction between himself and someone who had sexual interest in me. But he performed the same action. The fact remains that he touched a female body without consent. We cannot seek liberation unless we understand the impact of our actions, regardless of self-identification.

Cis women do not get to practice hate or microaggressions to trans women. Heteronormative Black people do not get a pass. Gay men are not allowed to be misogynistic. Marginalized groups cannot exercise hatred for other oppressed groups and expect to find justice and happiness. The battles against oppression intersect.

We need solidarity, empathy and an understanding of why certain actions, languages and practices hurt people with different identities from our own. Ill-intent should never be the default assumption, but at some point responsibility must be taken for hurtful acts. Everyone has the right to feel safe. No one should take part in another person’s oppression and expect there to be no consequences.


Celebrating black women during Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month was politically proclaimed in 1987. This country finally found it appropriate to acknowledge a group of citizens who have historically been silenced. As participants in Women’s History Month in 2015, let’s stop allowing the erasure and silencing of women who historically were not  deemed worthy to claim womanhood. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us also lift up the voices, contributions and bravery of women in the margins.

Let us lift up women of color.

This Women’s History Month, the Black Student Union is devoting an entire series of events to celebrating and amplifying Black Women’s contributions to art, academia and popular culture. Their mission is to approach Women’s History Month programming with a feminist consciousness in order to build a community of students, scholars, activists and allies. The aim is to provide starting points and names for others to advocate for feminism is their respective spaces. To evoke cultural criticCherrell Brown, the Black Student Union asks: What does it mean to celebrate black womanhood in the face of state violence against black women and men?

A lot.

Because feminism is the vivifying principle of their programming, a basic understanding of the  black women’s epistemology and the intellectual framing of black feminism is essential. Black feminism has a rich history in the United States,beginning in the antebellum period.

Anna Julia Cooper was born to a black mother and a white slavemaster father and is often credited with writing the foundational black feminist text. Her first book, “A Voice from the South,” published in 1892, delineates what many consider the framework for black feminism. Cooper suggested that black women played a special role in the uplift of the black race. The series critically engages with a type of uplift that’s all the more empowering given the context of current events

Though the premise of her argument works within the antiquated framework of the cult of true womanhood, her ruminations on the stakes of black womanhood are timeless. She notably wrote, “Only the BLACK WOMAN can say, ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’”

With this bold assertion, Cooper poignantly articulated intersectionality. This term, coined by contemporary black feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, acknowledges the interconnectedness and nuance of various forms of oppression, domination and discrimination. Crenshaw’s scholarship focuses on the double bind of gender and race. Her analyses of oppression looks at the ways that systemic oppression interacts with multiple aspects of identity.

As Audre Lorde famously stated in her 1982 address to Harvard students for Malcolm X weekend, “There is no single issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Identities overlap. This notion of intersectionality, then, offers a strong foundation for the Black Student Union’s framing of black feminism. They support a worldview that takes a holistic approach to understanding black women at the crux of race, sexuality, gender, and class oppression. The cultural work that black feminism does is often beyond the purview of mainstream feminism, whose range of thought seldom embraces diverse visions of self, community and society.

To put it plainly, black feminism is the demand for justice. The BSU’s celebration of black womanhood through a feminist framework functions as a form of resistance to racism, sexism and heterosexism that have made calculated efforts to disempower black people for centuries.

The events throughout the month are all-inclusive and not only celebrate and uplift, but provide spaces for generative learning. The Black Student Union’s artist in residence, Alysia Harris, will be on campus for a few days in March to lead a discussion on the role of women of color in social movements, teach a poetry writing workshop, and present her critically acclaimed work at “Our Silence Will Not Protect Us: A Night of Poetry with Alysia Harris” on March 5. Black Women in Academia, the capstone event, is a colloquium that gives students the opportunity to hear from some of the nation’s brightest minds and will be held on March 8th. The colloquium features short research presentations, a question and answer session and time to mingle with the academics afterwards.

The closing event will be a photo shoot titled “Different Shades of Beauty” that aims to capture the essence of women. Women’s History Month is a time to uplift and celebrate – especially those on the fringes.


The natural hair community is greater than Dove’s mistakes

In “The Problem with Dove’s ‘Love Your Curls’ Campaign,” Kinsey Clarke convincingly writes about how Dove co-opted the natural hair movement and then undermined the movement by primarily featuring women and girls with looser textures. Clarke stated that white-presenting and mixed-race subjects will receive positive reinforcement for their “good hair,” while girls with kinkier textures will face the most scrutiny.

Clarke’s insight is honest and truthful. From the time of infancy, many Black girls are assessed on a beauty spectrum that is drenched in white beauty politics — whether it is commentary on skin tones, as seen in the documentaries Light Girls and Dark Girls, or emphasis on certain textures of hair being better or more beautiful than others, with looser textures being the most desired. Dove’s exclusion of women with kinkier and tighter textures and curls is to be expected. Even with a Black natural hair movement, there will always be the erasure of blackness by outside corporate forces.

Their incentive as a company to make a commercial about curls is to try to capitalize out of a growing movement spurred by Black women of all textures. They can make dozens of sentimental advertisements with cute kids, and the monetary motivations by behind it all will not change. Dove was not making any efforts to explicitly charter to a textured audience before the movement had an impact. And now after inserting itself into the conversation, they only recreated the oppression the movement was resisting.

The natural hair movement is about acceptance of Black beauty in all shades and hair textures. It purposely ignores the white beauty standards and uplifts black beauty. It includes all of the women featured in the commercial, and it also includes the girls who weren’t featured in the commercial and felt invisible. They need to learn to accept their curls, kinks and naps, too. It took me a while to accept mine.

The beauty of the natural hair movement is that the pioneers and major faces of the movement are aware of the cultural factors at play. This is the reason the movement has been extremely successful thus far, and it is being co-opted because Black people have tremendous buying power. According to the Huffington Post,  the Black hair industry is worth at an estimated $684 million dollars, not including “general market brands, weaves, extensions, wigs, independent beauty supply stores, distributors, e-commerce, styling tools and appliances.” If these figures factored in, the market is estimated to be worth $500 billion. With these figures in mind, it is no surprise that Dove wanted to weigh in.

Furthermore, the natural hair movement took off with the force of Black women entrepreneurs. Natural hair pioneer Lisa Price started the company Carol’s Daughterin her kitchen. Last year, L’Oreal USA acquired the company, and according to CEOFrederic Roze, “Carol’s Daughter possesses an expertise in the multicultural consumer segment, a rapidly expanding market that represents an important growth in the beauty industry.”

The Black dollar has power, and we need to acknowledge it because companies are capitalizing on us. The natural hair movement started without big corporations like Pantene Pro-V, Dove and Suave trying to monopolize off of the buying power of Black women. There are natural hair companies started by Black women who make products that are for women of all textures on the kinky, curly, straight spectrum.

Support those businesses that fully understand the movement and believe that all shades and textures of blackness are beautiful. When Dove misses the mark and makes an advertisement that is not for us, let’s not take it personally. This movement is not about them. This movement has existed without them. This movement can transcend the products and big companies trying to make a profit.

Buy Black natural hair products from companies that care about kinky and curly textures. The market for relaxers, a treatment that chemically makes hair straight, has declined incredibly. The natural hair movement is about acceptance and it is here to stay. The Black natural hair companies have been carrying the natural hair community thus far, providing tools, statin caps, shampoos, conditioners and treatment for natural-haired people of the Diaspora. It was a good move for Dove to try to reach a larger audience of White consumers with curls who aren’t tuned in with the natural hair movement. They need products and acceptance, too. They can find it in our movement, but not at the expense of white beauty standards erasing our kinks and curls in all their glory.


Avoid racial fetishism on Valentine’s Day

Last Valentine’s Day, I entered a committed relationship with myself after a disappointing holiday with a cisgender, heterosexual, white male, who later revealed to me that he could not date me because I was black. He felt that the color of my skin and history of my people would upset his father enough to stop paying his tuition. I’ve told this story to my family, friends and the entire class of 2018 during FACES in order to heal, and the reactions have been mixed.

Some expressed sympathy for him, saying that it’s not his fault that his father is racist. Some have gone as far as to say that this person himself was not racist. A mutual friend offered insight by providing this analogy: “It’s kind of like growing up a conservative Christian and realizing you are gay. You can’t help that you’re gay, but you feel really bad about it because you were taught to believe that it’s wrong.”

You can choose as a white person to not date a person of color because you believe their race is inferior. You can be racist. But don’t pursue people of color because their “deviance” turns you on. The situation still makes me cringe because his beliefs did not stop him from pursuing me like forbidden fruit.

Racial fetishism: The indulgence of people of color by members of the dominant group based on racist notions, discrimination and stereotypes drenched in a history of oppression.

No matter what weak excuses others have to give for my freshman year experience, his actions are unjust. He is at fault, and so especially is his father.  I have no sympathy for racial fetishes. As a black woman, my history of sexual oppression in America cannot be a separated from the interactions I have on this campus.

The three most referenced stereotypes of black women are Mammy, Jezebel and Sapphire. The Mammy, popularly recognized in “Gone with the Wind,” is desexualized, maternal and nurturing to everyone. She was conceived in slavery as the caregiver for her owner’s children. The Jezebel is hyper-sexualized, seductive and always available for sex. She powers the myth, also from slavery, that it is impossible for a black woman to be raped. The Sapphire is “the wise-cracking, balls-crushing, emasculating woman, is usually shown with her hands on her hips and her head thrown back as she lets everyone know she is in charge.”

In the context of all of my interracial interactions on campus, I have been morphed into all three. I expect strangers to confine and categorize me, but am troubled to experience this in friendships and romances. The two that played out the most romantically and infringed upon my safety were the Jezebel and Sapphire. Because of the Jezebel, I’ve had to fight for my right to choice and protect the sacredness of my body. The Sapphire causes others to see me as combative and not worthy of protection and to never take my concerns seriously.

The longing for the imaginary Jezebel is what fueled the desire for my affections in my freshman year romantic interest. That is racism. There is no question about it. Essayist, journalist and activist, s.e. smith sums it up the best:

“Someone who says he (and it is usually a he) ‘prefers’ women of a specific race…[is] viewing certain kinds of women as dateable material on the basis of racial discrimination; and it’s telling that most men with racial ‘preferences’ — which are really racial fetishes — use very racist, stereotypical descriptions when talking about why they ‘prefer’ women of specific races. Asian women are meek, say, or Latinas are fiery, or Black women are exotic and know how to deliver in bed.”

Racial fetishism happens among Stanford students. It happens at parties, in the dorms, and it lives in hookups and comments among friends. It doesn’t only happen among men. Women are guilty of racial fetishism and objectification of men, specifically black men. Racism comes in many forms and a spectrum of degrees. Sexually and romantically, racism is alive and well.

Acknowledge it. Confront it. Don’t do it. Recognize if it is being done to you. And have a fantastic Valentine’s Day.


Sigma Nu tackles too much with not enough time

On Jan. 27, in conjunction with Stanford’s department of Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Sigma Nu held the first event in a speaker series: “Fraternity Engagement with Gender Issues: To Know, To Understand, To Act.” Though I applaud Sigma Nu for joining the conversation about these issues around campus, their event lacked an explicit effort to talk about how class, race, sexuality and privilege play an uncomfortable role in this conversation.

As a Black woman with a brief stint in Greek life and culture, I needed the conversation not to erase the presence of women like me. They  should have specifiedwho they were talking about when they gave general statistics. And to open the discussion to the audience more effectively.

The conversation included wonderful points by scholars brilliant in their own disciplines. Each speaker could have used the entire time to educate the audience, and was given less than 15 minutes. It was too fast and too broad. If this effort is going to be a serious, intentional, and heartfelt one, it cannot be rushed.

Faculty Director of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Christine Min Wotipka talked plainly and clearly about the distinction between sex and gender, and the socialization children experience their entire lives. I appreciated her acknowledgment of an understanding that usually is taken for granted, but wished her presentation could have touched on those who do not conform to gender binaries.

Alec Watts provided a presentation on masculinity, a topic that is not talked about enough — especially without biased pathology. He stated that masculinity can heavily influence men’s emotional and mental health and political beliefs and cause violence against women. And he beautifully explained that masculinity is not innate to men, rather narrowly defined. It is socially harmful, and largely dependent on their background and cultural situation.

Watts elaborated that in order for masculinity to be achieved one has to be male, white, straight, educated, financially successful, physical strong, have high self control, be a leader , unemotional, confident and powerful.

Hold up. Why was this not what the entire hour was about? Statistics and disconnected facts about only two genders will never measure up to the innate human interest in learning about the social construction of one’s own identity.

The assumed identity for every guy in Sigma Nu is one of power. In order to find meaning in a topic, one must see themselves in the subject matter. It must come from someone they believe – often someone who looks like them. Watts was the highlight of the night, offering vital insight to the audience.  It’s always uncomfortable to talk whiteness and masculinity with a crowd of people born into privilege. In my experience, white men get defensive and feel as if their characters are under attack. But this was the perfect opportunity to talk about this identity – and was unfortunately rushed.

At the very core of these issues is the acknowledgement, validation and affirmation of identity. How identity is constructed, policed and perceived intrapersonally and by mainstream society. The presentation lacked a realistic connection to human issues, and specificity.

Pay gap was discussed – with American women making 78 percent of what men make. Yet it failed to mention that the pay gap grows even wider for African American women who make an average of 64 cents to the White man’s dollar. The speakers mentioned that Western psychologists have assumed women refusing sex was a normal part of sexuality for a long time. But for most of the history of this country Black women were considered so sexually deviant that rape to a Black woman’s body was not even possible. What this talk really needed was clarification about which women and which bodies were being discussed.

Each speaker ended their presentation with a call to action; however, if there were men in the room sincerely ready to answer that call, I don’t think they were given enough tools.

To Know. To Understand. To Act. Requires specificity and time. For people who don’t study these issues or don’t experience being marginalized, these topics are monstrous to even begin to think about. I have been feminine, gendered and Black my whole life and I still could have spent hours reflecting on the rich information on each slide.

I’m curious to see if the whole series will follow the same format of the first event. If there will continue to be a glossing over of race, class, sexuality and privilege in the events to come. I felt invisible and unwelcomed as a member of Greek life. This shouldn’t be the case during such important programming.


Empathy through scripture and feminism

I was brought up in a church that was foundationally a hetero-patriarchy. It taught old-time religion, and its own form of oppression. It would be foolish to say that none of those ideas were internalized; it would be foolish to say that I have not come a long way. And it would also be foolish to say that religion is the antithesis to progress. In fact, at its very core, the teachings I learned in the midst of that dysfunction is where I found my politics.

1 Corinthians 12:26 — If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

As the world continues to challenge and disrupt the systems of oppression that work violently against Black, Third World, indigenous, queer, disabled, poor, incarcerated, trans*, disabled, non-binary and female-identified people there is more than ever a need for empathy. I found my empathy locked in scriptures before they were tainted by the hate of the state or man. While there are many ways to unlock empathy that fit the lifestyle and belief system of each individual, without empathy, compassion and love, there will be no progress.

Empathy is the ability to acknowledge, give validation and share in another human being’s life experiences, struggles and emotions. It is the ability to practice love and kindness toward another human being unselfishly  simply because they exist.

So how does empathy work in the framework of Black feminism?

One of the most influential texts of Black feminism is The Combahee River Collective. It states: “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

In this system of oppression and disenfranchisement, “privilege” is created and enforced by not acknowledging the interconnectedness of the struggle  by ignoring empathy. To take away the power of privilege, power must be invoked in those who were taught to have none. Scripture taught me empathy because it gave me a moral compass and spiritual engagement with all people. If someone is suffering then I suffertoo. Black feminism taught me empathy because if Black women are free, then this freedom must include transwomen, queer women, poor women, Third World women and all people on the fringes of society.

Black feminism gave me the framework to base my politics and dreams of tomorrow. Empathy armed me with the love, and compassion that is needed to actually accomplish that and believe it.

So you aren’t a Black feminist and you aren’t religious — how do you learn empathy?

You learn it through people. You learn it through your friends. You learn it by taking the time to hear the stories of the oppressed. You learn it by finding your humanity.

I have given too much of myself by trying to find empathy where capitalism trumps humanity, stereotype trumps real people and hegemony trumps acceptance. When you realize that people are shutting down bridges because every 28 hours they could be murdered by the state and left in the streets for 4.5 hours on display for the entire community to bear witness, then maybe your inconvenience isn’t as dire.

Empathy is not easy nor simply.

In order for empathy to be worth anything, the differences and similarities between yourself and the person you are showing empathy toward must be acknowledged and respected. Suffering is real, and you do not have to have the same identity to acknowledge it or work to eliminate it.

And you must ask the painful question if you take part in their suffering, intentionally or unintentionally, or even benefit from it. Is your language homophobic? Do you take up too much space and make others feel silent? You have to be willing to do the dirty work and really be honest with yourself. You have to be willing to acknowledge your privilege, because if you don’t acknowledge it, you can’t work to destroy it. In a conflict about your privilege between you and someone else, empathy must kill ego.

Last spring quarter, transgender activist and transwoman Laverne Cox spoke in Cemex auditorium. Cis-gender was a term that I did not hear until freshman year on Stanford’s campus. She spoke about her struggles growing up and her triumph in living her truth. She said, “Justice is love in public.”

I have cis-gender privilege. I will never fully understand the hurt, hate and violence she has endured and I will never personally feel that hurt, hate and violence that she has experienced because of her identity. But I can make it my duty to listen, learn, believe, love, show compassion, practice empathy, give acknowledgement of pain and center that voice in my politics.

Everyone is a work in progress. Changed hearts can only come from intentionally empathy and love. The “Welfare Queen” must become the woman without class privilege who just wants to feed, shelter and clothe her child. The “thug” must become the man who is victim to the prison industrial complex just trying to live his life.


This ain’t for you

In “Waging battles on slippery slopes” Derek Ouyang ’15 responds to an article I originally published in The Stanford Daily: “I am a cockblocker: Male privilege and the campus party scene.” The article you are reading now was originally going to be a response to Ouyang’s response that condescendingly belittled my experience and the experiences of many women who choose to participate in the party scene; it was going to be a call for those who agree with his perspective to examine their own privilege.

But — it is not.

Ouyang and others like him who do not have the same identity as me can speculate and make critiques of my argument, but they will never understand the dangers I feel as a Black woman operating in everyday life. As much and he and others like him try to poke holes in arguments of people who are trying to share their stories of survival, they will never truly “get it” because it is not their lived experience. Rather than try to convince people that my experience is valid and that I deserve to feel safe, I have decided quite the opposite.

This ain’t for You.

Audre Lorde is a self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior” who used her pen to illustrate resistance and beauty against racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. One of the most brilliant writers, her work offered insight as to why this article is not a response article to Ouyang. In her essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Lorde acknowledges the beauty of interdependence among allwomen; however, “those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women” can only truly understand the harm of having an identity that is within the margins.

“In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action,” says Lorde. Those on the margins experience the danger and oppression — they know what they are talking about. They truly know how to make society safer.

The Master’s House is the patriarchal, racist, sexist, homophobic framework that society operates in, and Master’s tools are the devices used to enforce oppression. Lorde writes:

What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

From Lorde, we learn that to bring about change that will make me feel safer, I do not need to consult the people who operate in the same framework that is hostile force in my life. Ouyang’s belittling of my experience is expected: People like him are too concerned about proving that my fears aren’t really an issue to fully digest what I have to say.

Whenever a person with an oppressed identity chooses to use words as a voice to speak up about an oppressive experience, and someone who does not relate, cannot relate or will not relate gets ahold of it, the writer runs the risk of offending the reader. People take offense if a writer talks about taking part in systemic and tangible oppression.

Articles about the experiences of people who identify as women, queer, of color, disabled, trans*, low-income or gender non-conforming are not all the time for You.

You: cis-gender, middle-class, White, able-bodied or male. People with identities that are in the margins are always thinking about how to make writings or programs more inclusive. The conversations in meeting rooms tend to always fall back to making everywhere a “safe space,” and one can’t help but wonder if You always try to do the same.

You are the starting point — always the intended audience; everyone else is an afterthought.

When we write about how You hurt us, we often hear back: “This isn’t promoting dialogue and it’s not productive. How do you expect to gain allies? I feel discriminated against.”

Sometimes the goal is not to gain allies and water down hurt so it can be stomached byYou.

Sometimes the goal is to document an experience and give a voice to someone who feels silenced. Everything is not meant for You. Sometimes articles are for people who shared a lived experience with the author.

Justice cannot exist without the focusing on those who have stories of oppression. They are the pathways to redemption because only the people on the fringes of society know what truly needs to be accomplished for a more just world. When retelling their stories, they sometimes aren’t writing for You. Their lives are not for your entertainment. Even if it’s about You, do not silence them by focusing on how their words reflect badly on You.

Lorde offers a concluding note:

Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.

You do not get to tell me how to write about my own experience. This ain’t for You.