To India with Christmas

Reuniting with my Indian host family 10 years later, and bringing my mom with me.

Ten years ago my parents gave me an incredible gift of participating in an exchange program to live with a family in India, and host another girl my same age from that family in our San Diegan home. Cheyenne and Sneha at Bhushi dam falls Her name was Sneha, and we were both 19.  She came and stayed with us for a month and a half in our home in San Diego from a major city in Maharastra, India famous for education. I then flew back with her and lived for a month and a half with her and her family there in Pune.  I have never known a more generous family.  Sneha, her sister Shweta, and their little brother Yash (who I think was about 9 at the time) treated me like a long lost sister, and their parents, who I called Ai & Baba (Marathi for mamma & papa) treated me like their daughter.  Baba took me on a week long train trip up through the country, visiting incredible sites, including Red Fort and the Taj Mahal, which he had not even yet seen.  They taught me not only how to eat roti and dal correctly, and how to get 6 people into a 3 seater rickshaw, but they taught me about patience, open heartedness, and trust.  Living in another country, even if it is only just a month, was a vital experience to getting out of my head and not taking myself too seriously.

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For Chistmas this year I went back to India to attend the youngest daughter, Shweta’s wedding and celebrate with the family.  But this time I made sure to bring my mom with me.  Yash is now a young man, and Sneha is married with a little 10 month old. Shweta’s wedding was to be on December 26th and so my mom and I flew together knowing that this would be the most unforgettable Christmas of our lives.  Leading up to this grandest of any event I’ve ever seen was a series of wedding events, each greater and grander than the next.  I laughed as every day the family would tell me that there was nothing special planned, only to find that 30+ community or family members came over nearly every night with good food, music, and chatter.  By the 24th when the “official” events began, my mom and I were already exhausted, and my mom had gone through a series of blows to her health, but were wide eyed and eager for the literal fireworks that the wedding was sure to end with.

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This was by far the most brilliant Christmas I had ever had, and I am so grateful to have gotten to experience it with my mom. It was a blessing to have someone to share the impossibility of some of the sites, to have someone to talk to when the rest of the room was a flurry of Marathi, and a familiar hand to squeeze when we feared for our lives in the backseat of a rickshaw in rush hour. I am forever grateful for this family who, with total trust, took me into their home and family as one of their own and ensured that I was loved, celebrated, protected, included, and respected. I could not have asked for a more generous family to stay with, and I am forever grateful for this incredible experience of being behind the scenes with the Sawases and my mom, and the gift of being able to see the changes in the family, city, and country after ten years.

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Introducing: my fired clay air plant necklaces!

Hi everybody!

Just letting you know that I have a whole new item up in the shop!

Check them out here

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Posted in Behind the Scenes | 2 Comments

Products by Deconstruction Crafts (and a special discount just for you)

Hand etched designs and mason jar homesteading kits by Deconstruction Crafts Over the past year I’ve been creating my own line of products made sustainably and locally for replacing the disposable items in our lives.  Grab a hand etched mason jar, and a variety of mason jar lids, from adult sippy tops to chalkboard tops to sprouting screens.  My sprouting and nutmilk kit is especially popular, as are my etched mason mugs.  Take a look and support artisan small businesses!

Use the coupon code blogfriend2014 at checkout from my online store and get $2 off of your purchase of $10 or more through to March 2015.

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A need for speed

speedy lifestyleOver the past year I’ve been noticing the cultural addiction to speed around me, and my own personal relationship to speed and stress.

For as far back as I can remember, I have admired and longed to be the person that is so busy, so overbooked, that every minute is more valuable than gold.  Feeling productive was maintained through being able to complete more than one project at a time and juggling my attention in multiple directions. Feeling productive was about being efficient, able to calculate each minute of the day to forward commitments, no matter how tight and/or multiple these overlaps became. Breakfast needs to be mobile, cars need to have blue tooth, bathroom breaks are considered networking opportunities, and even over-the-phone meetings.  Trips to the water-cooler became simultaneous political strategies, and leaving work on time was only acceptable if there was something else awaiting your attention elsewhere.  Collapsing into bed was my sign that I was pushing myself to live a bigger fuller life, that I was contributing something that was necessary and needed me and only me to do it. Running about multitasking was my que that I was on the right track, and my time, and therefor I was valuable.

But I’m starting to see this line of thinking as being a lot like modern factory logic. The concern for product, for faster, cheaper, more efficient methods of producing lends itself to the conveyor belt system, and it doesn’t belong in my mind as a way for me to treat myself or my body. Being “productive” (as we know it today) is a Capitalist invention, and is sustained through us each seeking self worth. If time is money, and I work more efficiently, and I am completely necessary for the success of xyz… then I am valuable.  What if we could shake ourselves out of this perspective and know that we are inherently valueable, not because of how many meetings we can crank out, or how many products we can manufacture…

Lucy Conveyor BeltCombine the factory-esque understanding of value, and our own internal anxieties around self worth, and then bring in the American Way “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” attraction, and we have a nation filled with overworked, under valued, lone wolfs with crippling self esteem that don’t ask for help.  I count myself in those numbers. When I feel unproductive, I feel depressed. My output is directly connected somehow to my happiness.  When friends of mine leave their jobs and move to Hawaii, or travel the world, I wonder if they can be fulfilled, or if they are using their skills to contribute to the world. When I lost my job, I slid into a depression. Going from non-stop management to suddenly sitting at peace in my backyard was shocking, and I suddenly started to doubt my worth. As I’ve been realizing that the need for speed is a social construction, I’ve been actively breaking down as much as I can of my assumptions of time, value, and productivity.  I’ve been taking care of myself, and doing what I love.  Staying present with my projects has been a challenge to re-train myself in.  I sit at the pottery wheel, trying to stay focused just on that clay, speeding through my fingers, but I inevitably start to think about my to-do list and the clay collapses without my full attention and care.  I see the importance of relishing each moment, not forcing tasks into submission to fit like sardines into a schedule. I wonder, that if we work to reverse our need for speed, and cherish each moment, that we can stop searching for the end of the race, and be fulfilled now (not when the work is done– which it never is).

After now almost a year it is still hard to allow myself to feel worthy while staying present. I have been actively working to re-imagine what being “productive” feels like, and how I truly value my work, and my gifts to the world.

Over the past month I’ve been looking for a job in the Bay Area that serves my need to work outside my home, and help me dive back into my activist roots.  For the last three weeks I’ve been working with a powerful, passionate, and intelligent woman and her non-profit, serving local communities of color through environmental sustainability and health reform advocacy work. Every time I hear more about what they are doing and what they are committed to, I get goose bumps.

But as suspected, I am coming face to face with my old friend, speed.  We have all contributed to the expectation for speed at any cost.  We have enabled Capitalist structures to imbed themselves into our psyche so far that we are hurting ourselves to move faster. We treat ourselves and others like machines, and even work through the pain when we break down.  Yes, we are needed, and vital to whichever projects we are working on… but not stopping, and not asking for help is unworkable, and only threatens the very work we so dedicate ourselves to. If we fall out (get sick, step away…) and the work we do falls and dies, then we did not set ourselves up for success.  We set ourselves up for dependency.

Photography by Kim Olsen

Photography by Kim Olsen

This is the story of what I’ve been seeing with this organization that I am working for right now.  The leader is so passionate, and yet has created a one-woman show where everything that progresses in the work of the organization necessitates her involvement. She has not trained and empowered leadership outside of herself, or handed off tasks to others, but rather has worked herself into becoming the heart and soul of the organization, with it unable to move an inch if she were to leave. It’s a dependency that I know all too well, and know that it doesn’t end well.

We all need each other’s help, and we all need to remember that sometimes our egos can run the show and demand more from us than necessary, just because we need to feel worthy and valuable within a culture founded in corporate greed and high rates of production.

We are valuable, the work we do is valuable, and we just need to slow down to see it.

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Accordion mayhem and the handcar circus

Sonoma County is pretty darn cool. My last two weekends have been filled with two of my favorite festivals, both in Sonoma County: The Accordion Festival and the Wunderkammer Festival.

Every year my friends Josh and Erik and I (and oftentimes our +1s) make our way to Cotati, CA… a tiny town that explodes every August for their famous festival.

I’ve been meeting them in Cotati for six years now for the festival (see last year’s post), and Josh and Erik are two years ahead of me.  We all talk proudly of our six and eight years at the festival, like it was a true challenge to bring ourselves there every year. But the truth is… accordions rock! I don’t know where else there is such a committedly strange and ecclectic collection of fans than the accordion clan. May you be in your crinoline and dancing shoes to head into the polka tent, throwing quarters into the hat of Accordion Apocalypse punk Skyler Fell, bouncing around to the infectious beat of Tex-Mex border accordion of La Familia Peña-Govea, or raising your pint to the Irish pub songs of Culann’s Hounds, you’re bound to find something that pushes your buttons.

Last weekend I met my family at what was previously called the Handcar Regatta in Santa Rosa, CA for what might be my third or fourth year attending.

The Wunderkammer Festival (formerly the Handcar Regatta) is a steam punk styled event that promotes engineering marvels, eccentric fashion and artistry, and a dash of homesteading and lots ingenuity. In years prior there were fermentation demos, DIY crafty booths, gorgeous turn of the century styled clothing, and incredible machines racing down the abandoned tracks in Santa Rosa.  This year it was a bit smaller, as it seems to be turning over to new folks with a new name. The event is always my favorite excuse to dress up and people watch, and the races will always give you someone to root for as well.  Here’s some shots I took from the event last weekend.

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All in all though, these are two of my favorite festivals (beats the San Diego County Fair, Garlic Festival, and more in my book). There’s something just enthralling about a festival that focuses so intensely on what I always thought was a small subject. But that’s where the real juice is.  That’s where all the most interesting and committed people are. You can check out what happening near you here.

What’s your favorite festival?

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Get That You Matter

Photography by Lupen Grainne. Click image for website.

Photography by Lupen Grainne. Click image for website.

It is my firm belief that what’s in the way of worldwide change-making, is a misunderstanding of our vital importance as individuals.  Each of us has let go of our responsibility, for our impact on the world. If we could all just see how much of a difference we make on the world, already, and how intimately connected we are to all things and all other people… perhaps we would live our lives with more intention and care.

You must admit, that you left a literal footprint in the soil the other day. Your compression of that earth gave just the right amount of necessary pressure for that seedling to sprout up.  You must admit, that the person that you smiled at on the street the other day, was having a rough day, and finally got some human connection they’ve been thirsty for. You must admit, that the soap that you bought from the store last month, had been touched by dozens of people in the process of it’s making, each being paid for their service, each supported by that income. Think of the tip that you left the other day, that the server could then use to pay for their own impactful purchases. Where is your dollar now?

Artwork by Cutiepie Companie. Click the image to go to their website.

Artwork by Cutiepie Company. Click the image to go to their website.

These are just your daily acts.  Admit that you left that footprint; admit that you connect with people daily; admit that you vote with your dollars; that you support others financially, emotionally, intellectually with your own completely unique perspective that only you have. The more that you take responsibility for your greatness, for your impact, for your vital contributions, the more you can simultaneously step up and live a bigger life founded in worthiness and self-love, and to step outside of yourself further and make each and everything you do with your life be something that you are foundationally committed to.  Get that you matter. Get that you are one in billions, yes, that you are one in a line of others, and you are one completely complex, totally unique, and necessary connection in the infinite tapestry that keeps growing. Consider that you touch everything in countless ways that you cannot even see, that your life reverberates and echos across others’ lives in ways that they cannot express.

Thank you to the algae, that fed the fish that I am eating. Thank you to the miner that pulled the clay from the mountain that became my bowl. Thank you to the woman who brought her dog with her to the coffee shop and brightened my day. Thank you to the receptionist at the veterinarian, who welcomed me so genuinely. Thank you to my readers, who help me keep feeling the need to write authentically and often, and help me process my thoughts and feelings. You matter, so much more than you will ever admit to.

I get to work with an incredible company, whose vision is just this.

Get That You Matter.

“Our mission is to inspire, inform and ignite individuals everywhere to remember who we all really are and to get that we matter so we can make our greatest contributions to the world.”

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Recommendations for Passionate Equality Activists

After watching this heartbreaking dialogue between drag superstar, Sharon Needles (Aaron Coady) and anti-racism activists Maura and Enakai Ciseaux, I feel pulled to share my suggestions for anyone confronting someone else on their isms (racism, sexism, classism, cisexism, ableism, homophobia… ). Being a strong anti-racism advocate, and a fan of the show, Rupaul’s Drag Race, I can see that both sides of this disagreement could have taken responsibility for this breakdown in communication. The following is directed to activists approaching someone, my next blog will be for people being approached by activists.

At 14:30 Coady shares his feelings after the discussion:

“It’s never a dialogue, it’s always me being literally barked at until I am succumbed to my knees until I say whatever it is the fuck they want me to say. So that’s why I’m not going to say it [apologize publicly]. You’re not going to bark at me to say something that I’m not even sure about. I’m not sure about anything.”

This (I think, oftentimes) is how people feel after being approached by activists.  It’s important to realize the failure of such a conversation when the person just feels attacked (whether they change their behavior or not or issue a public apology or not). In this statement I can see that Coady/Sharon is not acting out of understanding, but out of following the perceived governing order and possibly furthering his belief that he’s not understood, and that activists are not to be trusted.

First, I’d like to remind us all, that people who have been oppressed throughout their lives, who are told that their very existence is wrong, are allowed to be angry, are obviously going to fight back.  Emotion and resistance has always been necessary in activism. I am inspired by Maura and Enakai’s determination and willingness to have this conversation at all.  These conversations are always hard, and for activists who take on leadership in such a way, it is very personal. What I share here are opportunities to shift the conversation, from a tug of war of “who has the power”, to a true dialogue where both parties can learn and grow from the experience.  In this type of conversation, I believe that the person being approached has a chance to truly transform, not just get censored or feel attacked, and the people holding them accountable have the opportunity to be truly heard. 

SharonNeedlesProtest

What I have noticed recently, has been a divide and miscommunication where activists are not the teachers they are meant to be, but are instead seen as attackers.  I share here some thoughts that I hope will help activists who are holding someone accountable for their actions/words contributing to oppression:

  1. First and formost, I believe that the most powerful means of holding someone accountable for their actions, is to not come to them to punish them, or demand an apology, its to get them to see their impact, and take responsibility (resulting in a genuine apology). To come to them with a “you’re better than this” and “this isn’t you” approach I believe is more powerful and more of an invitation than “you’re wrong”, or “you’re the oppressor” approach.
  2. No one wants to see themselves as evil or wrong.  Your work is to help this person recognize their mistake, and the way that their actions/words have impacted you and others, not that they are an inherently bad person. They will likely either fight you or crumble (not learn or change themselves) if your aim is to prove that they are a  ________ist person.
  3. Ask them what their intentions were in the action, and then let them know how it actually impacted you/others or contributed to systems of oppression instead. Know that their intentions might very well have been true and heartfelt, but that the way that it landed was not (like throwing a ball and missing the mark and hitting a window instead). It is possible to have good intentions, but not have seen the viewpoint that you see. This of course does not let them off the hook “oh, well… you didn’t mean to… so…. ” but more like, “Great. I appreciate hearing that you meant no harm. And… I am hurt, others are hurt, and what you did was hurtful. Over here, I didn’t feel safe or celebrated, I felt attacked and treated as an other/outsider to be feared. I want you to know that your words and actions directly contributed to a wider system of oppression, as well as personally affected me.” From there you can work with them to see how their intention could have better played out. If you care about their intention, then they feel heard, supported, and likely more willing to be intentional with future actions.
  4. Try your best to tone down your “don’t do this” messages. In this conversation between Maura, Enakai and Coady/Sharon, the activists gave a list of don’ts, refuted Coady/Sharon’s explanation of his intentions with his actions/words, then demanded that he figure out what to “do”.  Most people will liken this to an authority hand slap and will resist it. Support them in directing them into a healthy change, not censor them. Work with them to find solutions, not expect them to create it by themselves after you’ve torn down all of their previous contributions.
  5. Listen to them. If you don’t listen, then you are inviting their resistance to listening to you. It is already difficult to speak on such issues, don’t give them another reason to blow you off. The biggest example of this is at 8:43 – 9:50 in the video. If you don’t listen to them (within reason) then it’s not a conversation, then it’s just you attacking them. They will defend themselves, this is the nature of an attack. I know that people with privilege (and I hold myself to this too) are notorious for talking over marginalized people. In this case, it might be good to set up the conversation in the beginning by letting them know that this is often the case and request that they keep this in mind throughout the conversation. Bringing their attention to this in the beginning (as a means to set up the conversation powerfully) allows them to take that in while they formulate their thoughts and speak consciously.
  6. Don’t completely disregard their contributions to society or even to the cause that you fight for. At the very least, they created something to bite into, something specific to address, that lit a fire in you. Listen to their intention. (see :40 seconds into the video above).
  7. Treat them as a human being. If you don’t care about them, then they might have less cause to care about you or see themselves as really mattering. (see :50 seconds into the video and again 8:43 – 9:50).  They do matter.  Their words impact you and others. This is why you are having this conversation.
  8. Allow yourself to be moved by their sharing. If you come to understand a piece of what they are saying and it’s true for you, then allow that. This shouldn’t be a two-sided black/white argument… if it is, then the discussion isn’t a conversation, but a tug of war over who “wins”. In the video, Coady/Sharon explains his intention with Nazi uniforms and shows the transgressive elements of his performance. In response Enakai returns essentially saying well, these have been outed as racist, so too bad. (see 2:35 minutes into the video). Also, see the follow up video (below) with Enakai below at 1:00 to hear how he allowed himself to be moved. Remember that everyone’s natural pull is to justify their own perspectives (that means you too). With both parties doing this, the conversation will go nowhere. Lean against that natural sway that you have and you will be able to get into their world more, and move something deeper in both of you. 
  9. Accept their apology while also forwarding the conversation. Accepting their personal apology does not mean that the conversation is over, or that they are forgiven and all is well, but allows them to contribute to the conversation and not just defend themselves. If it is a heartfelt apology (to you personally, or to a wider audience), to reject it can make them feel like their hands are tied. At this point in the conversation (5:20), Coady has been told “You hurt others, you are marked as the racist, don’t ever use those costumes or those words, we don’t accept your apology here.” He has very little to offer and can feel dominated.
  10. Don’t throw them off the side of the ship and expect them to swim. At (8:40) one point Maura asks “where will you go from here” and to someone who has just been given a list of “don’t”s, Coady doesn’t know where to go.  It’s great to have them create the new path for themselves, but I believe that it needs to come with some guidance. An example of this is: “I hear from you that your intention with this action was to ______, how else can we accomplish this?”
  11. Enroll them as to why the public apology is so important (don’t just demand one). I believe that most people who are asked to give an apology are not interested in admitting to making a mistake, and activists see the public apology as a sort of trophy for winning or losing after the action. A public apology is an opportunity for that person to share with their followers what they’ve learned, and share what their true intention was. It’s a way to educate their following on this important issue and dispel beliefs that they are a ____ist person, but a person that made a mistake that they were blind to. If they issue a truly genuine and heartfelt apology, this lesson is now shared with all of their die-hard fans, who can also learn to break up their assumptions and question their own privileges.

These are some of the points that I was particularly lit up with as I watched this video. Do you have more thoughts/recommendations? Coming soon is another post for people people approached by activists, which I hope will also provide tools for people who are on the other side of this dialogue.

Where in your life did you participate in a challenging conversation where you or the other person was being held accountable for something? What made it especially difficult? What did you learn from it?

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Camping with Dad and Marlene

Last weekend Brian and I drove down to lake Shaver (outside of Fresno) to meet my dad and his wife Marlene for a three night camping trip at Camp Edison. The campgrounds were gorgeous, well maintained, and pretty damn cushy:  store on premises, pizza deliveries, power outlets and wifi (what?!). Anyways, enjoy our adventures below:

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One pot meal: farmers market style

Since the beginning of April I’ve made a commitment to not shop at any grocery store that depends on conventional or ambiguously “natural” (not organic) products. It arose out of my frustration with Whole Foods caving into Monsanto this year, suspected because 2/3rds of their revenue is tied into conventional products, and thus their dependency on corporations like Monsanto. More and more I’ve come to stay away from nation-wide (and definitely international) chains and companies, and focused more and more on the local.

And you can’t get more local than your farmers market.

Food is something that you buy most often, and it’s the most intimate thing you use as a consumer (sans medication). It’s also where your power as a consumer is the highest. Since my boycott started in April, I’ve pulled $1k that I would have normally been investing into Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl grocery, and it’s been instead going to Rainbow Grocery, The Natural Grocery Co., the Ecology Center, and local farmers.  Buying organic means that I have that certification that I can trust, and know that 1) the product isn’t covered in poisons 2) the workers didn’t need to inhale poisons 3) the seeds weren’t Genetically Modified 4) the animals were treated well enough that they didn’t have to be kept alive through their abuse with antibiotics 5) the soil/atmosphere surrounding the farm or factory isn’t leaching poisons

It’s the nature of capitalism, that the corporation evolves like a virus, and although they have person-status, they have no consciousness or conscience. The evolution of a corporation demands growth, and growth and profit (at all costs) against competitors. I highly recommend the documentary, Food Inc. (available free online here) to learn more about how the food industry has drastically changed over the last fifty years. I’ve come to trust larger companies less and less, although there are definitely a few good national and international companies that I’m sure are up to great things. The bigger the company, the more skeptical I am. It’s my own internal bias that helps me go for the local brands as much as I can, and I’m happy to say- it’s been working out wonderfully!

Photo by The Naked Rose

Every time I go to the farmers market it’s like a festival. The colors, the smells, the music, the people… little kids running around, samples of half a dozen different flavors of strawberries (who knew?!)… I get to talk with (oftentimes) one of the very farmers who grew that crop, and get to look forward to each change in produce and each variation on local veggies. For instance, dry farmed tomatos are to-die-for! Gottacheckthoseout this season!

So I bring you, this delicious seasonal recipe that I created last night for dinner. It was a major hit, and was pretty inexpensive while being completely from the farmers market (except for the salt and pepper) and all made in one pot. Enjoy!

Juicy Kale & Sausage Rice

Time: 1.5 hours        Serves: 3        Value: $9.02

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Ingredients:

  • 3 carrots (chopped)
  • 1 medium onion (chopped)
  • 4 stalks of celery (chopped)
  • 1 Tbs worth of garlic (minced)
  • 2 Italian sausages (whole)
  • 1 bunch of dino kale (de-stemmed & chopped)
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper

Instructions:

  1. Put your dutch oven on medium-high heat and coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil.
  2. Throw in the chopped onion, celery, and carrots, stir once, and let it cook till the bottoms of them have slightly browned (you’re making mirepoix!)
  3. Place the two whole sausages directly on the bottom of the pan in the middle of your mirepoix mix and let cook on both sides for about 2 minutes each side. Throw in your minced garlic, then mix up the whole mess of deliciousness and cover and let cook for an additional 7 minutes.
  4. Take out the sausages and let cool on your cutting board while you pour 4 cups of water into your mirepoix. Bring it to boil. Meanwhile, cut up your sausages.
  5. Once the broth is boiling, add your salt, pepper, and rice.
  6. Cover and let it cook through (about 30-40 minutes) until there’s maybe 2 cups worth of liquid still hanging around inside. Add your chopped kale, and the sliced sausages to the mix, and stir.
  7. Let cook for another 5-10 minutes, test that your rice is ready, then serve!
Posted in DIY, Recipes, Subversion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Battling up against my privilege

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson

girl looks out car passenger windowWhen I was a teenager I lived out in “the sticks” (as we called it). It was a thirty minute curve hugging cliff drive from the nearest stop light or public building. Getting my drivers license was imperative to being able to go anywhere, and yet I held out as long as I could to get it.  I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I knew that cars were one of the most common causes of deaths and I was terrified to get behind the wheel and become the source of pain to someone else. I was so fearful of it that I held out as long as I could until my parents demanded it of me.

I share this because I keep getting stuck in this loop of opportunity and worry and this same mentality affects me today. I was talking with my dear friend, with whom we have an uncanny parallel of life experiences, emotional reactions, and passions. She was wanting to talk over what her career trajectories might be and was feeling some anxiety about it, which of course is exactly what I’m going through too, and I suspect a lot of 20-somethings right now. She was sharing (with real joy and passion in her voice) her dreams to work with underprivileged youth and to work in higher education. She kept circling back from sheer passion and excitement to guilt and worry.  The education system in California is struggling, and higher education is becoming less and less valued and less and less accessible. First generation kids, and marginalized students struggle through the beurocratic system more than ever, and she wants to be that support for those that brave it, to help them on their path to grow and find themselves. “But then I’m just another one of those White cis ablebodied women” she lamented. And I knew what she meant. This is what I am always battling with. It’s the same fear that kept me from getting my drivers license.

She and I, are both scared to step up into leadership, because it can hurts others.  We critique how dominated the institution of higher education is by centralized/privileged identities (and other institutions/industries). We live in a culture that glorifies and yet naturalizes Whiteness, healthy bodies, middle to upper class status, heterosexuality, citizenship, and cisgendered bodies. That means that any industry that is dominated by those identities is valued and celebrated. Higher Education is one of those, and my friend and I are (totally justifiably) worry about how our very presence is damaging to efforts to turn that around.

Yet, this line of thinking is dangerous to all of us. It’s by the nature of our very being (just BEING White, or just BEING ablebodied) makes us a threat. What I have always done in response to this reality is to deactivate myself and try not to contribute at all. Whereas I see this as totally legitimate and true (that our very presence as White cis ablebodied women is contributing to the oppressive system), our silence and self-deactivation when we are passionate about turning it around is even worse.

I recommended a song to my friend that really spoke to me in this regard, “A Wake” by Macklemore (see above) to which she replied, “I’ve stopped listening to him because of the criques of his content being nothing new, but only glorified because of his whiteness“, which totally struck me! You’re right. Macklemore isn’t the first rapper to talk about LGBT issues or celebrate difference. That doesn’t delegitimize his contribution. We shouldn’t stop listening to him because someone else without his privilege said it before him. Now that we’ve realized this, lets find and listen to all of it! (get a sampling below)

(That’s a playlist, but it seems to not be auto playing. Go down the full rabbit-hole here)

Sitting on the sidelinesAnd yes, we (as a society) don’t listen to marginalized people, or allow them to step up to the mic as we do for White cisgendered heterosexual people. That’s the nature of oppression.  I argue that we need to realize the inequality and grow bigger, not shrink up and listen to none of it. This is the distinction that I’m learning: My job isn’t to sit in the corner and deactivate myself so that marginalized people can get up to the mic. That’s not working. We all need allies. My work is to sing my heart out at the mic and support the building of a culture that invites oppressed people onto the stage more and more. It means that I actively listen to and cheer those that take up their own mics, and sit down when needed to allow room for others. Spending my whole life sitting out means that I’m missing the performance all together, that I’m not supporting those people all throughout, and that my own lessons, experience, and passions are being lost. It means that I’m taking my bag full of privilege, and spending my whole life trying to lose it instead of stepping up with it, exposing it, and using it to forward something.

It is vital that I be able to look at my privilege in the face. Instead of running away from it, or trying to lose it, it’s more important for me to come face to face with it and not argue with it or try to diminish it. Whenever I am confronted by someone about my privilege, I make my mistake/assumption mean that I am a bad person, not, that I learned this behavior and its something that I can fix/change. My heartbreak in these interactions debilitizes me and I just wish that they wouldn’t be so upset. But they have a complete right to be angry (of course!) As Karnythia says to those wanting to be a good ally (from Angry Black Woman) “Don’t expect your feelings to be a priority in a discussion about X issue. Oftentimes people get off onto the tone argument because their feelings are hurt by the way a message was delivered. If you stand on someone’s foot and they tell you to get off? The correct response is not “Ask nicely” when you were in the wrong in the first place.”

This is an art quilt that I created regarding this subject.

This is an art quilt that I created regarding this subject.

I should never expect that coming to terms with my privilege is going to be easy. People who have spent their whole lives having to defend themselves for who they are are allowed to be upset. It’s my job to not fight that anger, but to look at my privilege and take responsibility, not to shrivel up and try to ignore it because it hurts. Finally, I constantly need to remind myself that oppression is a system, that we have all been so trained in, so submerged in, that we oftentimes don’t know any other way, and in the seat of privilege, it’s become so natural that it’s invisible to us. When I wore my hair in dreadlocks, or am attracted to trending patterns marked as “tribal”, I’m not personally attacking anyone or even aware of the damage that I do. But when I listen to others and learn how it perpetuates the colonialization of brown people via appropriation, my job is to listen and stop, not to decide that I’m a horrible person. It’s not necessarily about you, and that you (as a person) are wrong, but more that it’s what you thought was true, what you’ve been taught that’s hurting others. It’s not about me, but it’s up to me. Does that make sense? I didn’t carve this path, but I’m perpetuating it and hurting others by staying on it. You can’t step outside of the system, so my deactivating of myself and being quiet only keeps that path going. I also have a lot to share regarding appropriation (but that’s for another blog down the line). So there’s a discussion that I can contribute to on this. I have a voice on this, but my job as an ally is to actively listen to others, allow space for others, while also stepping up, not sit on my hands.

Here’s some great resources that I find talk about privilege in a healthy way:

  1. First, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege (classic, put into video form)
  2. How to Be a Good Ally (video)
  3. And here’s more great ally resources/advice on Angry Black Woman (as referenced above)
  4. Louie CK’s great standup on privilege (video). Seeing Privilege as a Gift. Being transparent about privilege.

What are your thoughts? How do you navigate your dreams within the context of a broken and unfair system?

More on my  thoughts on participating in the system here (and more on my quilt!)

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