May I have your attention?

This title probably draws readers in, but how do I make them continue reading instead of just scrolling away?  Usually, I just write whatever flows to my mind, but as I get more serious about writing, I want to employ a true writing style.  To create an effective introduction, I must first analyze its components, from which I will draw on Michelle Alexander’s, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”.  Many people have praised this book for its captivity and ability to engage many readers into a more profound discussion of racist rhetoric, so what better piece of literature to draw on?

Her very first paragraph is an anecdote that is written in choppy sentences.  The anecdote itself showed just how related the Old Jim Crow is to the New Jim Crow.  To me, the choppy sentences symbolize just how simple the concept is to understand…if one chooses to listen.  She goes into more detail for those who don’t quite grasp the concept from the first paragraph, but then she connects it with a personal story.  Alexander describes how she did not even understand the concept when it was presented to her, but how she had to learn and develop her own understanding by working around the system for a bit.  This makes it more relatable for the reader…by “it”, I mean the notion of a continuously evolving system.  Activists tend to reminisce about our “coming to social consciousness” journeys, and because this personal account of Alexander’s “coming to social consciousness” was laid out, we [activists] do not tend to feel as pressured to engage in competition with who became “woke” first.  As this book was made for activists (among other communities) to read, it serves to remind us that social awakening is a process, not a one-stop-shop.

Alexander engages the reader after this by carefully slipping in her thesis: “Mass incarceration in the United States had, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.”  This is only reached on page four, yet to me, this also signals the urgency of the issue.  It is so forthright that the reader is left yearning for more because we want to see if she can handle and prove such bold accusations.  Also, from the perspective of an activist, I agree with her statement, but before reading her argument, I did not know how to exactly lay out the argument for the opposition.  I am much better prepared to relay the urgency of recognizing this problematic system after reading the facts that support this thesis.  Page thirteen is where Alexander begins her persuasion that the reader has the capacity to address the issue by initiating a conversations around the language of caste.  She compares this framework of language to that of Number 45.  Most of the readers, I assume, can make the connection between the two because we have all been affected by it, and activists have been analyzing how Number 45 actually acquired the most coveted position of power.  This shows the readers our own capacity to fight against the rhetoric of Number 45 by educating those brainwashed by it; if we understand it and can analyze it, we can expose its contradictions to society.

Although she calls into questions some activists’ way of fighting on the front line, what are we doing if we never question ourselves?  Yes, it is imperative to be confident, but if we are too blinded by our confidence to keep ourselves challenged, there would be no such thing as learning.  Without learning, the concept of improvement would have never been conceived.  Some activists may interpret this as Alexander’s way of alienating them, but they could look at it as a way to draw closer to other activists for more support.  To provide a holistic view of the problem without making it seem hard to solve, Alexander writes that the goal is to “cultivate an ethic of genuine care, compassion, and concern for ever human being — of every class, race, and nationality — within our nation’s borders” because if that does not happen, the collapse of mass incarceration will not equate to the death of racial caste in the United States.  Basically, if we do not dismantle the system already in place, we will be stuck feeding it until we die.  We, as activists, just have to find a way to squeeze the lemonade out of those lemons and ignite the revolution.

GWU Diversity Summit 2017

On Wednesday, March 29th, 2017, The George Washington University hosted its second annual Diversity Summit.  The purpose of this was to shed light on the forgotten and silenced communities on the collegiate level and to question whether GWU is just diverse…or is it actually inclusive?  The set-up was a conference starting at 8:00am and going on until 9:00pm, with different workshops all throughout the day.

I consider myself to be an activist, revolutionary, etc., but most of my knowledge extends to racial and gender accounts and theories.  In order to be more inclusive and intersectional, I need to educate myself on other communities such as the LGBTQ+ community.  In order to strengthen my allyship to said community, I planned on attending the “Allyship 2.0: More than ‘Understanding’ the ‘Coming Out’ Process” workshop.  Unfortunately, due to previously arranged commitments, I was unable to attend that specific workshop.  Instead, I went to the “Voices of Muslim Women” panel from 8:00pm – 8:50pm because I wanted to learn more about Western Feminism vs. Eastern Feminism.  {The White community has just now started recognizing that Intersectional Feminism is a ~necessary~ concept, but many have yet to recognize the differences between Western Feminism and Eastern Feminism…according to my observations.}   This is of interest to me because many times I have found myself in situations where I have to combat notions of Muslim women being oppressed by wearing a hijab.  I elaborate on how wearing hijab is not required, it is a choice, misogyny is everywhere, culture is separate from religion, and how the hijab is empowering to those who wear it.   I think to make my argument more effective, I need to understand how it is empowering to the women who unwaveringly show their identity through the hijab.  Who better to ask than a Muslim woman herself?

The two women on the panel were Wardah Khalid and Mona Eldadah.  After the group panel ended, I went up to them to ask my question.  I wanted to get a more personal answer, so I did not want to ask in front of the whole audience.  Upon approaching them and introducing myself, I said, “When I try to defend the dignity of Muslims, I often want to explain to the opposition that the hijab can be empowering.  However, I want more concrete experiences to draw on, so how does the hijab make you two specifically feel empowered?” {In future encounters where I have to rely on this argument, I will let the opposition know that they are not the spokeswomen for all hijabis, instead two personal accounts I have come across.}

Wardah Khalid said what empowers her is that when she enters the room, people know what she is about.  No one has to question her identity or is surprised when they find out that she has certain beliefs concerning religion.  She is so proud to be a Muslim woman, and she wants people to recognize that the hijab is part of her identity, and it is not going to leave her identity.  Mona Eldadah said she grew up just like many girls today: the standard idea of female empowerment is to expose yourself to males for self-gratification.  She wants to be an example of how yes, that can be empowering to some women, but it does not have to be the only way of female empowerment.  She mentioned how many girls feel like they have to wear a two-piece at the beach, and if they don’t they will not feel as attractive as the other females.  From wearing the hijab, she has learned to develop confidence from her modesty, not necessarily from what body parts she shows to the public.  Neither of them condemns women who do not wear hijab – Muslim or non-Muslim.  In fact, they explained to me the intersection between females and “Islamic character”.  They said they have seen females who are Muslim act in ways that make them think, “Girl what are you doing? Why are you representing Islam in this disrespectful way?”; they have also seen non-Muslim females who act in a position of “good character” according to Islam.

Wardah Khalid and Mona Eldadah were so well-spoken, and I hope they stay confident in their Muslim identities.  I also hope that they will be able to speak at more events like this so that more people can be exposed to Muslims, normalizing their identity and character without judgments and generalizations impeding that.

Service at the LAYC, cont.

As mentioned previously, I volunteer at the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC.  When I first visited the LAYC, I did not know whether I belonged or not.  I personally did not feel out of place because growing up, most of the people I chose to surround myself with were either Black or Latino; however, I was too worried about whether I was infiltrating a safe space.  Because this community organization aims to support the youth of minority communities, namely young latino youth, I felt like an intruder.  I have had to take a step back and assess the White Savior Complex that I might be perpetuating.  I had to ask myself, “Why would these youth want your help when you come from the community that has kept them contained to social marginalization?”  This has led me to remain in a headspace of, “Speak only when spoken to [or when told to translate]”.

This has led me to remain in a headspace of, “Speak only when spoken to [or when told to translate]”.  I recall from my earlier blog that I thought “time is the best solution” and that after a few weeks go by, the students would hopefully have become more accustomed to my presence.  Honestly, I think these students are accustomed to my presence, but I think they do question my role.  This is where I have become my greatest obstacle:  because I am so worried about not perpetuating the White Savior Complex, I do not interact as much as I should, which in turn leads to the students not being as receptive to me, which then causes everyone to feel a looming presence of awkwardness.  The last session I went to (March 31st, 2017), I did not say anything at all.  Part of me was relieved because I did not have to stress over whether the students would judge my Spanish or not.  (Being completely fluent in a language other than your native one still comes with not being confident at all times because not only do you feel the immense pressure of proving people that you are fluent, but you feel like the native speakers will pick apart every syllable of your spoken word.)  On the other hand, I still felt really useless. Why did I come all the way here to not do anything?  I know I demonstrated my dedication by showing up, but overall, I have just created so much anxiety for myself with my own perception of my “gringa” presence.  After all of this is said and done, I then think to myself, “You speak Spanish fluently with no accent.  Maybe this changes their perception of your character.  Give them and yourself the benefit of the doubt.”  (One can see how I overthink myself into some pretty dragged out situations…)

I still have not asked any of the staff or students how they feel about my “gringa” presence.  Again, this is my fault because I just try to get in and get out.  In these last few weeks of volunteering, I have a goal to ask the staff more about their views on diversity, inclusion, safe space, and how they perceive me.  Maybe I can finally get some clarity and peace within myself for five seconds.