Call It What It Is: White Supremacy

24 Feb

AWW White SupremacyThe other day, a friend proofread an article I was about to publish. When she came across the words, “white fear,” she underlined it and suggested that “white supremacy” would have been more appropriate in that specific sentence.

“Nope! You’re only allowed one usage of “white supremacy” every four articles,” I told her, as a sort of joke that I was serious about. “Otherwise, you start sounding like some type of extremist.”

For those of us that need a reminder, white supremacy is the belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior to people from all other racial groups, especially black people, and are therefore rightfully the dominant group in any society (according to Dictionary.com). Culture critic Chauncy DeVega breaks it down even further in 10 Things Everyone Should Know about White Supremacy.

The term “white supremacy” tends to make people uncomfortable, including me. While reading bell hooks’ Black Looks: Race and Representation, I found myself squirming at the amount of times “white supremacy” came up on just one of the pages in the book. She isn’t shy about calling things like she sees them. After several chapters, I’d adjusted to the recurring use of the phrase, but that did not impact how often I felt comfortable using it in my own writing. I mean, bell hooks is bell hooks, renowned feminist, social activist, scholar, and author of more than 30 books. I, in comparison, am a culture-critic peon, who clings to her bylines and hopes one day to accomplish even half of hooks’ achievements.

Previously I believed that if you’re not bell hooks, when you say “white supremacy” too often, then you risk sounding like those communists who show up at Occupy and #BlackLivesMatter protests to talk about the need to overthrow our capitalist society. As soon as the word “communism” falls from their lips, many people begin to roll their eyes and ignore the person.

I did not want those reactions to happen to my writing. So as not to be labeled an extremist, I’ve been avoiding frequent use of “white supremacy.”

However, Ms. Say What’s Real, my alter/inner-ego, whom I channel whenever I need to be totally honest in a difficult situation, has been calling me out on my bullshit.

I realize that sugar coating my argument or purposely not using certain words means that I sometimes gloss over important issues. And not calling things what they are makes me part of a problem that plagues our society.

I can’t pretend white supremacy is hidden under the rug when the it’s bi-products, the school to prison pipeline, racial profiling and more, are damaging to communities of color.

So it’s about time I start calling it what it is.

Fellow writers and bloggers…are there any terms or subjects you feel uncomfortable including in your writing?

 

P.S. – Check out 10 Things Everyone Should Know about White Supremacy.  It’ll answer all your questions about why discussions about white supremacy are still very relevant in today’s society.

Photo courtesy of shoehorn99 via Flikr.

Uncovering Black History in a Seemingly White Nation

17 Feb

MammyOn a jog one morning through the streets of Buenos Aires, where I’d been studying abroad, I caught a glimpse of a small black figure in the window of a bakery. I stopped and stared into the window for a while, until one of the workers in the shop came to see what the problem was. I couldn’t explain it to her, because I didn’t think she would have fully understood my feelings of shock and disappointment about the figure. Other than the two I’d traveled to Buenos Aires with, that ceramic mammy was the only black face I’d seen in weeks.

A month after my mammy sighting at the bakery in Belgrano, a small middle class neighborhood in the city, I found another one in La Boca, a lower class neighborhood with the popular tourist attraction Caminito, which is known for its brightly colored buildings and association with Tango music history. In an old house that doubled as a museum, a non-black friend of mine said, “Look Shae, there’s you.” I turned in the direction her finger was pointing to find a life-size mammy statue standing just under a clothes line.

It bothered me that the mammy, which sparks much controversy and points directly to our nation’s racist past and present, is one of few images of black people in plain view in Buenos Aires. Yet, the figurines acted as another form of proof of black presence and influence on Argentine culture.

Though hidden, Argentina is saturated with cultural influences from the African diaspora. Visit Caminito or any milonga (a dance hall for Tango) on any night of the week, and you will find many people dancing Tango, a dance largely influenced by African slaves in the country. Walk through the famous outdoor market, the Recoletta fair, on a Sunday afternoon, and watch men dressed in white performing Brazilian-style capoeira, a martial dance created by Angolan-Brazilian slaves. On any Thursday morning, stop by Plaza de Mayo, the plaza located in front of the famous Casada Rosada, where the nation’s president works, and watch the mothers of los Desaparecidos (the Disappeared) march to remind their country of a time when their government kidnapped, tortured, and killed their loved ones. The mothers march under an image that many black feminist scholars associate with the “dark feminine” Black Madonna.

Sadly, this is a history and influence that many Argentines are extremely unaware of. I asked nearly every Argentine I met why there so few black people in their country. The replies usually fell into three main answers: There were never any black people in Argentina, they all died of yellow fever in the 1870’s or they all died in wars against Paraguay or Britain. Of the many tours I took through the “Paris of South America” during my year abroad, none of my guides spoke of the presence of blacks in Argentina.

Knowing that Buenos Aires was a major slave port and that many countries that imported slaves in the past currently have a visible black population, it was strange to find so few people of African descent walking down the streets of the capital city. Actually, the locals were pretty shocked to see me in their hometown. Normally, they stared relentlessly, touched or kissed my skin or asked if I was from Brazil.

Their reactions to my skin color and the lack of blackness in the country left me thinking: Why the hell is this country so whitewashed? Who were the Afro-Argentines of the past? And where are they now?

Buenos Aires isn’t the only country with a hidden African past. Other countries such as Mexico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are known to have found Negroid skeletons dating back to B.C.E. There are plenty of countries overseas that have African influence due to African exploration, international trade and slavery. Sometimes, that history has to be intentionally sought out, as it may not be always be taught in schools and is not common knowledge.

For travelers of color who seek to find more information on black history throughout the African diaspora, here are a few ways to uncover what has been buried or ignored:

Ask everyone you meet

Sometimes information from the locals and stories from friends can point you into the right direction. My academic professors didn’t talk much about African influences on their country, but my tango professor did. Because of all the myths about tango originating in Europe, she wanted us to get it right. She taught us how tango was formed, including its influences from black Argentines. Asking the people around me gave me a general since of the common beliefs about black history in the area. Comparing it with scholarly works helped me to figure out what was possible and what didn’t make sense.

Look for alternative narratives, including myths

Because I knew that some of my friends’ answers about Afro-Argentine history were blatantly wrong, I had to search even further. Online articles and books pointed to myths that the first president was partially black. While many scholars did not prove this to be true, as calling someone mixed race in those days could have also been a political slur, the myth and its alternative point to clues of how black people were viewed after slavery was abolished. Scholarly texts online, books and news articles can fill gaps in knowledge and understanding. Additionally, finding a black advocacy group, like Africa Vive in Argentina, can help piece together information about the current status of black people in the country.

Find out what the country borrowed from other cultures

It may be easier to look to the country’s arts for a link to its African roots. The types of music the people listen to, the popular styles of dance, the clothing they wear and other subtleties can give hints and clues to additional cultural influences.

Good luck!

Happy Black History Month and #BlackFutureMonth

Photo courtesy of Richard Elzey via Flckr.

7 Useful Apps That’ll Motivate You to Follow Your Dreams

20 Jan

APP1You don’t need to put down your iPhone in to make moves toward your goals. With the right apps, you can accomplish a lot with the little time on your hands.

I’ve been pretty productive these past few months—writing articles, going to school, working full-time, and having lots of fun (all key parts to following my dream to become a magazine editor and an influential blogger). The apps below are all ones that I personally use and have been keeping me on track. All of them are free and a few have paid, yet inexpensive upgrades.

1. MotivationApp 7

Need a personal cheerleader? Motivation gives you uplifting quotes throughout your day. You can turn on its notifications so they pop up on your phone every now and then. It’s also good for people who are obsessed with tweeting positive quotes (guilty—follow me anyway). Everyone needs a little optimism in their life; this app is perfect for that.

2. Balanced

APP3This is the app for the type of person who gets a high from checking things off their to-do list (coincidentally, it’s my favorite app on this list and I use it every day. I even bought the paid upgrade). With this app, you create a list of things you want to do daily, weekly, monthly, and/or yearly. The app will tell you, based on how many times you want to do a certain task, how long it’s been since you’ve done the task and it’ll tell you when you need to do it again. When you swipe right, a bell rings and words of encouragement like “way to go” flash on the screen. Eventually, you’ll become like Pavlov’s dogs (and me) and live for the sound of that motivating bell.

 

3. Evernote

Good for phones and computers, evernote keeps all of your notes and ideas organized. The notes sync so you can access them from anywhere. It’s especially great for writers.

 4. TransformApp 11

This app is like Motivation for the spiritual warrior. It has one daily quote and a related assignment of “awareness practice” to transform your life. Sometimes I do the assignments with my meditation, but I usually just use the app for the inspirational quote.

5. SleepzZz

SleepzZz is a REM sleep timer to make sure you wake up feeling refreshed. Great for people who need to rise early to get things done in the morning (or just to get out of bed). It’s been helping me rise at 6am every morning to write articles and blog posts before I head off to work.

6. Take a Break

App 12This app will help you calm down when you’re feeling stressed. It’s a meditation app that’ll play music or sounds of rain, the ocean, or a stream while you relax. There’s also an option for a guided meditation lead by a woman with a soothing voice. A similar app called “Calm,” which pretty much does the same thing. I use both when I really need a break.

 

 

7. Yelp

Sometimes all you need is a change of scenery in order to be productive. Get out of your house or usual work space (because you’re probably distracted there anyway) and find a new coffee shop. Being surrounded by others who are also working, studying, writing a novel, applying for jobs, etc., can be motivating.

Have any apps you recommend? Drop them in the comment box or share your favorites on AWW’s Facebook page.

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