Monthly Archives: January 2014

Invisible Haters and Lovers

I’m sitting behind the register, swiping people into the dining hall when a girl in a recognizable hat gets to the front of the line.
“You,” I think, “You’re the girl who leaves her dishes all over the table without cleaning up after yourself. You know that shouldn’t be my job, right?”

She passes me her card, ignores my “hello”, and takes it back without thanking me. To her, I am nonexistent.
“Bitch,” I think, and then change it to “jerk,” chiding myself for using a word that oppresses women, even inside my own head.

Later on I’m in the dining hall and she’s there, making me stay later to clean up after her, leaving a mess on her table as usual. She isn’t the only one, but she’s one of the few people I recognize. I seriously dislike this girl.

My job involves interacting, if only briefly, with a lot of people, many of whom I’ve started to recognize on campus. The funny thing is that because my job involves serving these people in some way, most of them don’t recognize me. Few people take notice of those who serve them, probably because it enables them to take whatever liberties they want without actually having to think about who they’ll be negatively affecting. At this point I have a hate-list of people who’ve made my life difficult, and half of them don’t know I exist, let alone the fact that someone could have a reason to dislike them. That’s crazy. Even crazier (from my own self-absorbed perspective) is the idea that I’m probably on some random other person’s hate list Right Now, and I won’t know whose it is or why I’m on there unless they decide to tell me about it.

In “A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid talks about how tourists come to Caribbean Islands with misconceptions. They think they’re going to have a wonderful, authentic getaway. They think that their servers and hotel staff are all lovely and kind and attentive. They don’t think that the staff, along with the rest of the island, probably hates them.

It’s so easy to distance yourself from an issue, because your ignorance won’t allow you to see the part you play, either in creating or in perpetuating the problem in the first place. I don’t know where the idea that if you don’t know about something, you aren’t guilty came from, because it’s wrong. No one is completely innocent. Tourists, you’re coming from a place that made these islands economically-dependent on your presence. You represent what screwed them over, and you get to enjoy what most of them can’t, because they’ve been screwed over! Kids in the dining hall, clean up your messes! Your privilege is showing, and not in a good way. White people (plug), you’re the only ones who don’t understand that you’re still benefitting from slavery, and that racism exists to keep you ahead.

I do think it’s possible to be guilty of something without being at fault for it (so everyone who’s about to get up saying that it’s not their fault for how they were born, or what their family wanted to do for’re right). That doesn’t matter, though. The fact remains that somebody’s probably out there right now hating you for something you have no idea about. Kind of an incentive to get informed and start being more respectful of everyone else.

I’d like to apologize to whoever hates me.

* * * * * * * *

To end this on a nicer note, though, I’ll also point out that it’s very probable that someone out there loves you. A couple of my friends have babies, and those mini people are adorable. It’s weird interacting with babies, because unless they really know you, you’ll only be some rando to them no matter how much love you feel for them. They’ll grow up, but if you don’t see them often enough there won’t be an un-awkward way for you to let them know how much you love them, unless you want to be that creepy older person going, “I knew you when you were only this big!” I refuse to be that person.

Anyway, the take-away is that while someone probably hates you, someone also definitely loves you.

I’d like to thank whoever loves me.


I know two phrases in Tshiluba. The first is irrelevant to this post. The second is simple, a greeting.


* * * * * *
“When we say, ‘Moyo,’ it has two meanings,” my dad told me. “First, it means, ‘Hello, how are you.’ But it also means something like ‘connecting between hearts.’ So when you say ‘moyo’ to others, you are seeing how they are doing, and trying to connect to their hearts.”

* * * * * *

I found the idea of heart-to-heart connections really interesting coming from my father, one of the most repressed people I’ve ever met. His model is the main reason I am as repressed as I am today. All of the blatant, caring, sensitivity I exhibit comes from my mom, and the two have created this weird mix of a human who empathizes and likes to talk to others about their feelings, while largely staying quiet about personal matters of her own (that’s me).
Still, I like the idea of my father saying “moyo” to people, his own way of connecting with them. I believe that we all care about each other, and that it’s impossible not to love everyone else in some way.

I also believe that repression can slowly kill one, so this is one of the steps I’m taking to bring myself more fully into life. If you are an outsider reading my blog, you may not like it. It isn’t always happy; it’s often strange; it’s largely personal; and I don’t do a god job condensing my thoughts. I spend too much time policing what I’ll say in real life (for the sake of politeness, or to avoid awkwardness) to do it here, as well.
Now, with this post, we’re going public.

Moyo, everyone!

Frat Throws Racist Party; is Chastised for Instagramming

I’m in the gym, starting off the new semester (somewhat) right on the elliptical machine, trying to distract myself by watching the news. There’s a story (maybe you’ve seen it) about a fraternity in Arizona State that threw an MLK-themed party. Note that the link refers to the jerseys the students are dressed in as “gang attire”.

I was already over the story at “MLK-themed”, but when I saw the watermelon cup, I was done. I turned around to make sure that my friend, who’d come to the gym with me and was on a machine behind me, was also watching. Of course she was.

“This is literally ‘Dear White People’!” I yelled back at her (to be heard over the machines). “Are they serious? How are they serious?” I then realized that we were virtually surrounded by white people on the cardio machines, all of whom swiveled their heads questioningly in my direction. They looked confused, as if they didn’t know whether I was about to make an announcement, or if I was trying to offend them. Guess they hadn’t seen the trailer.

This was wrong on so many levels. The fact that only white people attended (although, what black person would really want to go?); the fact that jerseys, gang signs, and watermelons were the only things anyone could seem to think of in connection with blackness; that this was captioned with #ihaveadream as if THIS is what Martin Luther King Jr. imagined, and that fighting for THIS is what made someone think he deserved to be shot…

Making everything worse, though, were the reporters.

“Oh, this is bad,” they were saying. It is.
“This is really bad.” Tell me about it.
“And these kids, they don’t even know!” Obviously not.
“They’re just stuck in their own little world…” Yeah, their white privilege world.
“…and what they don’t even realize…” Tell ’em! Channel your inner Eli Pope!
“…is that this is seriously going to negatively affect their lives.” …Excuse me?
“Kids today don’t realize that what they put online stays around forever! In a few years, they’re going to have to break out of their world, and employers are going to look at what they’ve been up to, and it’s going to be hard for them to find jobs. Those kids are in for a rude awakening. Now let’s talk about this bungee jumping vine!”

That was literally it.
“Are you kidding me?” I was yelling to my friend again. “Are they really going to talk about the people who did this like they’re victims, and completely skip over the fact that this was racist and wrong? Aaah!” People were looking again, but I did not care.

I know that this has happened before, and it will happen again, but somehow it’s still hard to believe that things like this occur. How are you really going to talk about what happened, not as if it was a blasphemous thing on MLK Day (or offensive on any other day), but as a lesson to kids at home who should be more careful about what they post? It was as if the reporters were shaming the frat, not for what it had done, but for being stupid enough to get caught doing it. That is NOT the kind of rude awakening that should be happening.

You know who had a rude awakening? I did. I realized that if you have power in this country, or anywhere, the worst thing you can receive is bad press. It doesn’t matter if the world finds out you have affluenza, or if the world finds out you’re somewhat racist; as long as you have social power, the worst repercussions you’ll face are your media record. For everyone else who’s dead, dying, or oppressed, well…I don’t know what to say, and reporters clearly won’t waste words on you.

Who are we Helping?

I’ll get briefly personal on behalf of someone else: my uncle. He and my aunt are lucky enough to have jobs that they find meaningful. She’s an artist/small-time actress, and he’s a carpenter. A terrific woodworker, actually. He’s done our kitchen and my parents’ closets, and made us an awesome dining room cabinet. However, it can be expensive to do what you love, and making a living is becoming tighter for him. Recently, my mom had him come over to widen our doors (so we could install a washing machine). It took a lot of work, but at the end he didn’t want to be paid, saying that he’d done it as a favor to family.

Of course, my mother wouldn’t accept this, and repeatedly tried to get him to take money, which he repeatedly refused. Things got really awkward as it became apparent that she was going to cry over his financial situation, and he finally accepted thirty dollars for gas, then got the hell out of our house. She followed to the door, still trying to increase his earnings, and finally watched morosely as he got into his car to drive off.

“Look happier,” I told her, “for him.”
“But I’m not happy,” she told me, “I’m sad!”
“Believe me, everybody knows that,” I said. “But you either need to look happy for him right now, or leave so he can’t see your face. You’re making him feel bad.”
“How?” she asked, defensively. “How??”

What followed was an annoying debate. My mother believed I was attacking her for no reason, and that I was cold-hearted for not jumping on board to help family members in need. How could I not understand how upsetting the situation was? Why wouldn’t I want to help?
“But you aren’t helping. You made everything worse, and you can’t understand that because you’re only thinking of yourself,” I said, then immediately backpedaled to explain myself as a wave of hurt indignation crossed her face.

Her indignation was partially correct. Of course she wasn’t only thinking of herself. The only reason she was upset in the first place was because of someone else’s suffering. The fact that she was near tears over someone else refusing to take her money should have been evidence enough that she was thinking of others, not herself.
But it wasn’t, at least not completely.
My mother gave me my empathic distress. She feels deeply for people and their situations, and is always looking to help others. Unfortunately, along the way she gets so wrapped up in what she imagines they must be feeling, the emotions take over her dealings. Few things will make you feel worse about your situation than having someone cry over it for you, tell you how you must be feeling about it, and openly pity you. The way my mother went about trying to pay my uncle for his work, she made it seem as though we’d been using him purely out of pity, because we felt sorry for the sad man we thought he must be. The longer she pleaded with him, the less it seemed like she actually appreciated his craftsmanship. We all knew her true intentions, but they became irrelevant, and the whole thing was embarrassing (I even left the room, pretending to be ignorant of the situation for his sake). She was too wrapped up in her own emotions to see it.

* * * * * *

I used to think I wanted to join the Peace Corps; to some extent, I still do. I don’t know what I want to do with my life, and because up until recently I’ve placed very little value on my life, I decided to give it value by helping others. I even flirted with the idea of joining the United Nations, until reading too many stories of their peacekeeping troops’ inaction during times of crisis turned me off. The Peace Corps seemed like a better alternative, especially after hearing my mom’s stories from when she was a volunteer. Teaching? Dam projects to create electricity? Actually doing things? I didn’t even bother me to learn that her group got kicked out of their country after one member tried to galvanize citizens against the corruption in their government.

Then I read “To Hell With Good Intentions”, and my entire perception was rocked. It made me examine my mother’s story more closely. Did anyone listen to the guy who spoke against the government? And what happened if they did? A few weeks ago, at least forty people were killed in the DRC after they attempted a coup, with sticks. Everything about that last sentence was wrong.
The Peace Corps was kicked out, yes, and isn’t allowed back. Their foreign (and largely white) privilege protected them from facing any real punishment. They got to go home, feeling good for helping other, less fortunate people, but what did they leave behind?

When I help people, I want it to stick. I don’t want to go somewhere for a couple months or years, ignorantly change other people’s lifestyles in ways that I judge to be correct, and then happily leave everyone behind, struggling to get by with what I’ve left them. I can’t trust my judgement that much, especially as an outsider. Me telling people what they need would not be so different from my mother telling people what they’re feeling; in both cases, the agency is being taken from the supposed subjects, and the focus and power are given to the supposed helper.

It’s not about the helpers. It’s not about what I think will be better, or what I want done immediately. It’s about what’s necessary, possible, and will continue to help people after I’ve gone. Knowing the vice of Helper’s Absorption, how can I avoid it? I guess by trying to go where I know I’m needed, and staying until I know I am not. This would mean leaving the judgement of what’s needed up to the people actually familiar with the situation. It wouldn’t mean ignoring my own moral compass, or shutting out my own ideas and innovations, but I hope it would at least leave agency in the possession of the people who need it the most. Not like this will be some simple thing to do, but I’m determined to do it.
And when I help people, I hope you won’t know about it through me. People who help for the bragging rights are only helping themselves.

Everyone should go read “The Poisonwood Bible”.

Talk about Nothing

As far as I’m concerned, there are two kinds of Nothings to talk about.

The first occurs where you talk without a purpose, with the intent of talking without a purpose. It’s where you are in person, simply enjoying the company of whoever is around you and conversing freely, without feeling any sort of pressure to reach a point or stick to the topic (there is no topic). This Nothing can be wonderful, because you never know where it will end up. Something beautiful can often come from Nothing. Look at Seinfeld. Look at the universe.

Then there is the Nothing that is accidental. It appears in earnest conversation, when someone is talking to some purpose, trying to reach some point. Eventually you listen to yourself and realize the reactions of your conversation partners, or you force yourself to actually pay attention to what your partners are saying, and suddenly you realize, this is Nothing. We think that we’re talking about something important, but we aren’t.

Of the two Nothings, I prefer the first. Occasionally sprinkling some of that beautiful, simple Nothing into the mix of conversation is relaxing and comfortable. Unfortunately, I am more often than not faced with the second type of Nothing, which becomes overwhelmingly disappointing after too much repetition. I’m not saying that I can never tolerate meaningless conversations. Sometimes, especially with new people, I find them amusing, and I can’t even always recognize them at first. But after a while, when the same person hits you with Nothing in every conversation, it gets hard to handle.

I’m starting to recognize the second Nothing in a lot of the conversations in my life. Some of these conversations are easy to cut out, because I can just avoid the people who produce them and be happier. Others are harder, because they’re coming from friends.
Here’s a fact: everyone has troubles in life, and to each of us, our troubles are important. When you’re faced with a troubling situation, you’re supposed to have people you can turn to, to help you through it. If I’m in trouble, I’m turning to my friends. If my friends can’t understand what I’m talking about (despite thinking that they can), whatever “help” they give me will be a whole lot of Nothing. Oftentimes, it won’t even be help at all, but the conversation will somehow be turned to their personal interests and troubles, all of which will start to sound like Nothing to me. Eventually, I won’t want to talk to them at all, despite their somehow being some of my “closest” friends, and them I’m stuck in a tricky situation.

I can still listen to your problems, but I can’t tell you mine. You can see when I’m upset, and your feelings will be hurt as you recognize that I’m purposefully shutting you out of part of my life. What can I tell you, though? I’m sorry, but I don’t want to talk to you because you don’t understand me, and I think that you can be…shallow.

That’s a deep word to call someone, and one that I try to deny myself into avoiding. The problem with “shallow” is that “ignorant” is not far behind it, and once you’ve labeled someone as both shallow and ignorant it gets hard not to minimize their personal experiences. I have just recognized that everyone has their own problems, and I still want to be there for anyone who needs help. I still want to take people seriously, because that’s a respect that everyone deserves but not everyone receives. It’s just harder to do this when I know that (not entirely through anyone’s fault) I am not completely receiving it myself. If the people I go to have Nothing to offer me, I’m almost worse off than I was before (if you haven’t read Why I Go Crazy Sometimes, I’d suggest that you brace yourself and then do it, at least to better understand where I’m coming from).

I don’t want to become some pretentious hipster who condescendingly thinks that everyone is shallow and no one “gets” me, because then I’d be an asshole. Also, I’ve noticed that a lot of hipsters talk about Nothing more than the people they condescend to. Not only would I be an asshole, I’d be a hypocrite. So I have to find a way to still fully appreciate the people in my life, while accepting that some of them will be giving me Nothing, finding the ones who will give me Something, and making sure that I don’t reproduce Nothingness in my own dealings. It looks to be a sad, challenging undertaking, and I’ll probably lose some people along the way. Ideas?

Click (August 2012) – Snap (Present)

Was this actually happening? How could this be real? I looked up from my book. Everything in the world looked blurred, as though someone had put a film in front of a picture.

“I’m just saying I understand,” my cousin was saying. “He killed their relatives, so why shouldn’t they kill his?”
“But a firing squad!” my aunt protested. “”And in public!”
“I’m agreeing with you,” he said, annoyed. “I just understand why they’re doing it. Why shouldn’t they kill them? They want it to be shown.”
“Still,” said my aunt. “A firing squad! An eye for an eye does not work. It’s been proven time and time again.”

How could we really be having this discussion? How could, halfway across the world, people be being lined up and fired upon? Innocent people. It had nothing to do with them. I pictured a little girl, dragged out of bed and pummeled with bullets. Nothing personal, hon, but we’re going to kill you.

I’d already done reports about the rape capital of the world (the DRC) and organized groups to spread awareness about various issues, and I’d done a lot of weeping for humanity. But this extremely surreal moment, hitting me in the beginning of my own grieving process, was an underscore to an extremely debilitating impression: the world is filled with fucked-up people doing fucked-up things, fucking up more people…and repeat, and repeat, until we have created hell. This is hell. I went upstairs and lay on the floor, crying without moving for a very long time.

* * * * * * *


Something I keep recognizing is how it’s so much easier to be bad than to be good, so long as your morals and conscience have been sufficiently warped. It takes so much less energy to be dark than to have light, and not caring about people is an easier, less painful way to face the world and “be successful”. I think there’s a reason people become so self-absorbed when they’re unhappy: it numbs them to what’s outside and what’s happening more than any drug could. That snapshot is from when I was numbed by grief, and while I continue to grieve, I am now actively trying to knock myself into consciousness.

I’m starting a group at my school that’s dedicated to learning about…everything. Anything. I was inspired by reading (most of) the articles my friends and family members would post on Facebook. I love online communities (to an extent). They have their trolls, but they’re also filled with insightful people and so many perspectives. You just have to dig them out of the shallowness and all of a sudden you’re tapping into previously unrecognized resources, using your own brain abilities, making connections to so many things that are happening, both relevant and irrelevant to your life. I think it would be awesome if that could carry over into real life interactions. Conversations, where we start talking about one thing and end up in another subject, but everything is connected and at the end of the day, with the help of various articles and literary references, we’ve all learned things both academically and introspectively.
When I told my friend about what I wanted, she immediately got on board and started setting up a Facebook group and looking into the application to make it a legitimately recognized group on campus. After applying and inviting people, I guess we’re going to be co-presidents?

It’s weird. I think I needed her to show me that with work, ideas in my head can become realities. It’s not like our work is over, because we actually have barely begun. I’m already thinking about how meetings will be run, how we’ll pick and present topics, what sort of key questions will be needed on the side in case we need to stimulate conversation, where we’ll be meeting… it’s a lot. It might not even work. But people, many more people than I’d expected, are into it, and that’s great.

You know what else it’s easy to be? It’s so easy to be ignorant. A big part of numbing yourself is becoming willfully ignorant of what’s happening around you. This will be the opposite of that. This group, this intellectual curiosity club, will be a direct challenge to willful ignorance because it will seek to learn for the sake of learning, with no prompting other than individual motivation. If we can arm ourselves with knowledge; if we can mobilize with consciousness, we will be taking steps against darkness. While it’s true that it takes more effort to create light, it’s also true that a little light can make a powerful difference.

To My “Color-Blind” White Friends who Want to Use the N-Word

Hey guys,

I’d like to start off by making perfectly clear that I am NOT (repeat, not) calling you racist. If you were to use the word against someone, then yeah, that’d be racist. What you’re doing, trying to use it in order to seem cool and “with it” is not racist in my book. Stupid? Sure. Ignorant? Oh, absolutely. But not racist. So now that I’ve cleared that up, could you all maybe stop yelling that I’m racist/being a reverse racist/being a hypocritic racist for asking you not to use a word whose implications you obviously don’t understand, and for pointing out that you have white privilege? Cool.

I’d also like to take a second to point out that all of you yelling at me, asking me questions and then shouting over my answers, insinuating that I’m making everything up, accusing me of trying to make you feel guilty, and then claiming that I’m being oversensitive is a little too ironic for my liking. Even more so when you consider that I have not once raised my voice and have only spoken calmly. I’m well aware of the fact that the second I actually go off on the lot of you I’ll be the angry black person, or the irrational woman of color, and any hope I have of getting you to actually listen to me will be lost. You, on the other hand can default into the rational category regardless of what you’re doing, so long as you have each other for support. Of course what you’re doing isn’t overreacting! After all, I got upset at one word: “nigga”, and asked you not to use it again. You got upset at two words: “white privilege”, and started to shout.

Why is it that a word blatantly used to perpetuate racism is seen as more socially acceptable than the words referring to a racist system? Is it because the word “nigga” can never be used against you, but the privilege you have works for you, and calling you out for having it requires you to deal with some type of responsibility?

“Stop trying to make us feel guilty! I’m not privileged! I have never benefited from my race.” Here’s the beautiful thing about privilege: most people don’t see it unless they don’t have it. This means that if you grow up with consistent treatment, doing consistent activities, everything about your life will be normal to you and it won’t occur to you to think about why the consistencies keep happening. “That’s just the way things are” = Coward’s way out. Why are things that way?
I’m not going to make a list of things your privilege grants you, because no one has time for that, and enough white people have already started that job for you. If you want, read this article, written by a white woman, as well as this one.

“Yeah, well black people have power, too. The president is black!” Listen. Listenlistenlisten.
A black president is in no way indicative of a post-race society. In fact, that we see him as a black president indicates how racially charged our society still is. He has a qualifier in front of his title! None of the other presidents were known as white presidents, because they didn’t have to be. They were normal. But our president is black, which is abnormal, so of course we must bring attention to that, and not be surprised when major news networks accidentally refer to him as Mr. Obama instead of his actual title. By the way, Obama is not even completely black. We see him as black because America apparently still operates under the one-drop mindset (definitely not post-race), and it’s good to have a black role model in what is arguably a position of power. Still, how exactly are POC benefiting more than white people from Obama’s presidency?
Oh, and if you really think that having a black man in office justifies your use of the n-word, you need to overhaul your thinking processes. You wanna say “nigga”? Why don’t you call Obama and ask him if that’s okay?

“But they say it in hip hop, so it is okay.” That is not how things work. You were upset enough when I tried to explain private prisons and couldn’t “condense” enough for you, so I’ll leave it at this. As my sociology class showed me (heyy Robyn Autry!), things that are produced with the purpose of being authentic just, aren’t. And while I (almost) appreciate your playing me the song “Sucka Nigga” by A Tribe Called Quest, you need to understand: it’s NOT ABOUT YOU. Have you actually listened to the lyrics? Or do you just like the song because when you sing along, you get to say “nigga” over fifty times? It’s about a black man who understands why many black people don’t like the use of the word while many others have adopted it, partially as a term of endearment within the black community. Rap Genius actually refers to this as “flipping the word on its racist roots”. However, this is what black people are doing. White people are mentioned in the song using the word in one context. Please re-listen.

“Well, it’s just slang. It’s not fair if everybody else gets to say it and we can’t. Why shouldn’t I get to say it, just because some people are sensitive about it?” First of all, what?
Now moving on: are you really so important and special (and sensitive) that you can’t let people of color — and in this case, specifically black people — have just one thing to themselves? This is white girls getting offended by #blackgirlsrock all over again, except maybe worse.

Black people reclaimed the n-word, as your song points out, to change its meaning. At some point and in some places, the motivating idea of empowerment behind the reclamation got lost in translation. It’s here, I believe, that white people began to see the word as something cool to say again. Non-black privilege (because other POC do this, too) allows you to disconnect the hateful and somewhat recently hopeful pasts connected with “nigga/er”, and see it as something that has no meaning.
Or maybe it’s just more cultural appropriation (oh, I’m sorry, I meant your stylistic choices). You wanna twerk? You wanna wear dashikis, and Native American headdresses, and force slang words that should be said simply, naturally, smoothly, out of your mouth in chipped bursts like they’re on display? There’s doing something to do it, and there’s doing something simply because. There’s doing something because you don’t want to be left out, and doing something because you understand. Simple cultural appropriation is annoying at best. You’re in “unacceptable” territory.

(As a side note, I want to emphasize that I don’t only have a problem with white people using this word. I actually wish that no one used it at all, including black people, because I think there’s been a disconnect within the black community as to why the word was re-appropriated in the first place. Still, I can accept that I’ll have to deal with that. When it comes to non-black POC, however, what are you doing? I know that there are other derogatory names for your races, so why don’t you go re-appropriate those and use them amongst yourselves? If that idea offends you or seems ridiculous, is it a stretch to suggest that some reflection is in order?)

I think now would be a good time to reiterate that I don’t think you’re bad people. Having privilege doesn’t make you bad. I have privilege as a light-skinned person. I know you don’t believe that colorism is a thing, or that people bleach their skin/use skin lighteners in many parts of the world, but it is, and they do. Abusing your privilege, or being deliberately ignorant of it, is what makes you guilty.

Sorry if I’m annoying you. I know it makes our friendship awkward. Honestly though, using what is arguably one of America’s worst racial slurs, especially coming from your lips, and then not expecting to talk about race? That’s white privilege. It bothers you to hear about an oppression that you could indirectly (or directly) be contributing to? Try actually being oppressed by it.

If you really believe the word is so meaningless, I’d suggest not fighting so hard for the right (which you DON’T have) to say it.