You can’t sit with us! Thoughts on Rachel Dolezal

Featured

In order to talk about the Rachel Dolezal story, I’m going to put a few things aside right at the beginning. I’m not going to make this an article about being “transracial” (whatever that is) or make any comparisons to Caitlin Jenner’s situation. I’m just going to get to the bottom of why this is such a big issue in the first place. because, in reality, despite expert analysis and feedback, it’s all very simple.

Let’s pretend that you formed a group with friends at school. The group started because you have this similarity: you each have heterochromia in your eyes, meaning that none of you have the same eye color for both eyes. For example, Jill has a blue eye and brown eye, and your friend James Bond (the name is quite common) has a green eye and a hazel eye. Not everyone with heterochromia sits with your group at lunch every day, but a lot of them stick together. You like a lot of the same movies, a lot of the same artists and hang out in a lot of the similar place. One day, one member of your group, who we will call, “Rach” is eating her pudding when something flies out of her eye.

CONTACTS!

This entire time she was eating with your group and advocating for its awareness, she was lying-both her eyes are baby blue. They are quite nice eyes now that you see them…but that’s beyond the point. Rach has been lying to you for months. She pretended to be something she wasn’t. Now we wonder, what else was “Rach” lying about?

Trust is what this whole national issue is about. That’s what we should be upset about most in this story. So why do most arguments center around Rachel’s “pretending to be black”? It comes down to appropriation vs. assimilation.

When you arrive in a new environment, work environment, school environment, etc., you are likely to pick up certain work habits. For example, if everyone starts using the word “ZANTHEPE” to refer to an unruly customer, you’ll probably start saying it or at least start thinking about it. As time goes on, you may consciously pick up certain work habits while consciously rejecting all others. This is the process of assimilation into the new culture. You do it actively and passively so that you can survive and thrive in the company. By contrast, let’s say your roommate that works at Burger King starts using your work lingo and slang. One day, they come to the company Kwanzaa party and talk and act as if they worked there and had their experiences. This is seen as appropriation, because this person is pretending to be a part of the culture without having a direct connection.

This is an important distinction that is often missed. Any person of color in America that has been accused of “acting/talking white” knows this. Because they have chosen to take aspects of other cultures in the diverse American melting pot into themselves, they are seen as outsiders in their own respective cultures. Yes, there are some people who take it a bit too far but the large majority are just living the way they want to. There is nothing wrong for a person who does not identify as black to wait for the newest Kendrick Lamar mixtape to drop. In fact, they just have a great taste in music.

Crossing cultural lines and divides is a beautiful thing that we get to do in America. Unfortunately, that decision is not always supported by culture you were born into. That’s why some people are willing to go to extremes to avoid the transition. If you just take on the new culture wholesale by putting in those contacts or changing your skin color, you get to skip all those questioning looks from your culture that say, “Why are going over to that lunch table? You already have us.” It doesn’t make it right. You should be who you want to be despite judgments and criticism. But we all know that the world is not that kind and accepting…yet.

Rachel, you went about this the wrong way. Instead of embracing your identity and black culture simultaneously, you sacrificed one for the other. That lie you held for so long is going to take a while for us to get over. You’re not a bad person…we think. You did all of this because of your love of black culture…we think. You didn’t mean to make light of the culture by appropriating a false identity…we think.
You know…it’s hard to say.

We’ve never met you, Rachel.

Stop Watching

Featured

Over the past week, everyone’s given their opinion about Caitlin Jenner. I’ve heard every opinion under the sun, from informed to ignorant and everything in between. I’m willing to listen to any take on it, but there’s one viewpoint that kept coming up:

Why is this the top news story over everything else? The answer is simple. Keeping up with the Kardashians has an average of a million viewers at its height. A news outlet would miss a huge opportunity for ratings by not talking about Caitlin. Our news, movies and tv are all a product of what we watch and respond to. Even House of Cards exists from pulling together the most viewed shows on Netflix and putting them together. If you want to affect society, you have to be mindful of what you choose to watch.

Or better yet, take action.

Though a bit of a long intro, it all segues to an older poem of mine. Enjoy :).

The Watchman
Watch
Definition:
To act as a spectator
Or to Look on…
5 days.
I am sitting at the bar
A boy with glasses
And no idea how to flirt
Enters with a calzone and a hope
To attract the skinny girl
Bobbing her head to the music.
It doesn’t work.
Laughter ensues from the bar
Like a chorus of hyenas
Drunk hyenas
Who just can’t stop laughing
4 days.
I’m in a subway train car
With no AC
On an 100 degree day
A man
Who has not bathed
Since Obama was elected
Walks through the tight space
Begging for change.
In this sauna of city slickers slipping silently through the subway
Every hand remains frozen
No change today.
3 days.
A stoop in Brooklyn
Where brown paint cracks
On all the steps
A middle aged Spanish woman
Grips my young self lightly
As a gang of middle school students
Literally tear
Through the streets.
Bashing cars
Like they were piñatas
And their grand prize
Was destruction.
It’ll be another half hour
Before we can even go to the corner store.
2 days.
Smoke billows
In the sky
A neverending stream.
On an old grey couch
Made for 3
A family of five sits
Transfixed
On the day’s events
Rolling on the screen
A constant stream of fear
And Uncertainty
It is 2001
And I don’t believe
There’s anything else
On TV today.
1 day.
We were raised
To Watch
Not to see
When all that is needed
Is a warm word
Or a gentle touch.
Made to stare
But to never move.
Built to look past
Not to look at what’s present.
This world rewards watching
With a smile
And a lighter load on your back.
For you it is a simple life
Easygoing
And free
As a breeze on a spring day.
But I want to become a hurricane
Blowing gusts of change
And bearing loads heavier
Then wind was made to carry.
Because if there are no hurricanes
Then the smoke means nothing
But pain
A little boy stays stuck
On his grandmother’s stoop
A homeless man
Perpetually walks into
An uncaring hell
A boy with glasses
Knows no love
But laughter
And a countdown
Never reaches 0 days
Because 5 days
Was already too late.
The day
I become the hurricane
Is coming
I will embrace the storm
Instead of watching it go by.

Quitting Your Adult Job

Featured

At the end of April, I left my old job to pursue a career in theater. Despite that being my driving factor, it was a lot less dramatic than you may think. (see what I did there? :D)

The fact of the matter is, I was fairly comfortable where I was. There was steady pay, room for advancement and the people I worked with were fantastic. Sure I worked long hours during certain times of the year, and there were a few angry phone calls from customers now and then, but nothing unbearable. And that got to me.

Not the phone calls. Once you get enough of those, they all turn into the adult voice from the old Peanuts cartoons. It was the comfort. I wasn’t really taking many risks in my old position. This was partly because of NY State mandates, but even in places where I could take chances, I…wasn’t. It became harder to believe that I was the same person who auditioned for Richard III in college with no “formal” acting experience. Or that I was the same person who staged a relatively new play with primarily feminist themes. Was I even the same person who dared to go out on Cinco De Mayo before starting on my final paper for COMP 200? (A great story for another time) It didn’t feel like it.

I’m not saying that you should leave a position solely because you’ve had to change something about yourself. Every job will expect you to give them your time at the minimum, and make you change some habits. For example, if you’re a teacher you can expect to put a few less pictures of your nights out on facebook. Most people have no problem making that adjustment. But if you feel like the world needs your Saturday night instagram, than you have to seriously consider if teaching is still for you. At the end of the day, you can have all the money and stability in the world. But if you feel like your passion, the very thing you were put on this earth to do is being put aside, then you may always feel like there is something missing in your 9 to 5.

One of my favorite quotes as of late has been from Howard Thurman. He wrote, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I urge anyone reading this to follow that advice…with some reservations.

If your job is the only thing that can keep you financially afloat, then make a long-term plan. First off, chart out steps for saving money for a period where you might not be making anything. If you’re going back to school, consider part-time or online options while still at your current position. This gets you one step closer to doing what you want to do without having a lot of worry about employment. Of course, you can always take the risky option and leave without any prep, but know that you will have to spend some time getting stable before you do what left to do.

Quitting your position can be about job stress, a bad work environment or a bigger check. But I think the best reason to leave is do what truly makes you come alive. It’s not true what they say, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. You’re going to have to work at least one day in your life doing something you don’t love.

The question is: what will you do next?

The Battles In Between

Featured

Recently, I’ve left my job in the pursuit of my passion for the arts. While I’ll talk more about the transition later this week, I can say one thing right away: it’s weird. And I think this goes far beyond leaving your job.

Whether you’re coming off an intense sports season, finishing school or even changing up your work schedule, there’s that feeling like you’re still a part of it all, but also a part of something…entirely different. I believe that the ancient Romans had a word for it: restless. Which so happens to be the name of this poem I wrote. Enjoy.

Restless

I fall
The battle is done.
Our side raises a glorious call
We have won.
My breath now back
I look ahead.
We’ve ended the attack
All our foes are dead.
What is life now
Now that their base has been breached?
We’ve owned up to our vow
The goal has been reached.
Do we seek out another fight,
Put ourselves again to the test?
Or would it be right
To finally rest?
How do we find
Peace at last
When in our mind
The war has not yet passed?