Who Makes Your Snowday Possible?

Daniel Profile Pic    A post by Women’s Center staff member Daniel Willey

Earlier this semester, as I’m sure you all remember, we got hit (bombarded, pelted, buried, whatever) by winter storm Jonas. BWI airport recorded almost 30 inches of snow and the wind blew the icy flakes sideways into drifts best navigated with a harness and rope or a tunneling machine. 

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The sea of snow outside my house in Halethorpe on Sunday

Baltimore shut down the Light Rail, MARC, and buses for almost a week — only the fourth MTA shutdown in the last 40 years. My roommates and I braved the grocery store on Thursday night before the storm hit and it was a nightmare. I thought my mom was just being a mom when she texted to warn me that all the bread was gone. Some impatient man in a business suit chased me away from my parking spot at the Giant by honking his horn repeatedly so he could swoop in and take it. People were getting nasty.

Now, I’m used to this kind of snow.

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Our dog Raven wondering how she’ll ever get out to pee

Having grown up in the mountains in Western Maryland, I’ve seen my fair share of snow and ice storms. But I’ve never experienced it in an urban setting and I’ve definitely never been old enough to be the responsible snow survivor before. It got me really thinking about what it means to have a snow day and how the local and state government reactions to something like Jonas has a lot more to do with social issues and inequality than you might think.

The MTA shutdown is what got me thinking first. If you’ve ever taken a Baltimore City bus you know our transportation system is flaky at best. But you probably also know how many people rely on the MTA every day for school and work and errands and everything else. When it shut down, all those people suddenly lost that essential piece to their everyday goings-on. And sure, the first day or so when nobody could leave their homes anyway may not have mattered. But the people who do the hourly and low-wage jobs that are essential to the running of any city had to get to work on Sunday. And Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday.

The MARC and Light Rail didn’t start back up until Wednesday (on a limited schedule) and even though there were buses on Monday, there weren’t very many and it was a total free-for-all in terms of scheduling for several days. While we UMBC students and many people in office or management or government jobs (positions with salaries and benefits and paid leave) had half a week of snow days, the snow plow and bus drivers, food service workers, maintenance and road workers, hotel staff, emergency responders, retail workers, grocery store clerks, pharmacists, and nurses (and the many many others who rely on pay from every hour they can get their hands on) made the trek to work with basically no transit system.

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Well, she got out but she is not happy about it

And then I thought about my horrible grocery store experience. I thought about the brave souls running the checkout aisles and managing the rapidly depleting inventory. I thought about all the families without cars or living in food deserts who would struggle to get provisions for the coming storm. What about disabled people or older adults who couldn’t hustle to the store and back in time? I thought about the low income families who are unable to spend large amounts of money at once to stockpile supplies or those who had run out of food stamps because it was the end of the month. What about the people whose heat was shut off? Or those living in abandoned houses or their cars or in the tents on MLK Blvd?

When I picked my boyfriend up from work early on Friday (because there was no bus– surprise!) he said, “The people who are running around and freaking out right now are going to be fine.” And he was right. We had the money to stock up on food. We could afford to live in quality, well-maintained housing with good heat and a solid roof. They had plowed out our whole neighborhood by Sunday afternoon. A friend of mine who lives on Guilford Ave a few blocks outside of Station North said the road was plowed a few blocks down from where it connected to North Ave, but then it just ended. There was no dead end, no cars blocking the street, nothing to indicate it would make more sense to stop there than to continue down into the poorer or residential areas down the street. The lines of where plowing happened first and last show a very clear indication of what areas of the city are important and why.

Taking a snow day is a luxury. Getting a snow day means that if you don’t have a salaried position with paid leave, you have to lose pay for lost hours. Sometimes it means making a choice between braving a dangerous commute and earning your next meal — or even just keeping your job (and if there’s no public transportation, the low-income portion of the 30% of Baltimore residents without cars can’t get to work). A snow day is made possible by people who can’t take a snow day.

Getting a snow day can be fun for some students, but many low-income students rely on free school meals. For some students, this is their only steady source of nutrition.

On the Tuesday after the storm, only female Senate members and their female staff showed up to work on Capitol Hill. Proceedings had been postponed until Wednesday, but someone had to be there to make an official motion to postpone the Senate in order for that to happen. Those people were women. Sure, some may have been truly snowed in but, like I said, a snow day is made possible by people who didn’t get one.

The way a city handles a snowstorm is a social justice issue because socio-economic status is a major factor in the health, safety, and well-being of low-income and at-risk populations. So, think about it. What (and who) made your snow day possible?

 

Speak: Knowing a Survivor Without Knowing Their Story

A post written by Women’s Center Director,  Jess Myers

*Content Note: Sexual Violence*

And knowing these statistics and being someone who works on a continual basis with and for survivors of sexual violence, I was shocked and disappointed in myself that it still took me more than half of a novel to realize Melinda, the main character of Speak, was a survivor of sexual assault.
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I picked up Speak on a whim after seeing a picture of its front cover on the online Enoch Pratt library catalog. It was a librarian’s recommendation and it was one of the last books I needed to get through from my pile of winter break readings. Reading the vague synopsis on the inside flap of the book, I began reading what I assumed would be any other young adult novel. What I knew –  Malinda was a 9th grader. She busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Everyone hated her because of that. Consequently, high school was a disaster for her. She had no friends. She stopped doing her homework and cut class. She didn’t have a good relationship with her parents. And, one day, she finally just stopped talking.

I get it. High school can really suck. Being an outsider is awful. Being 13 is awkward and painful and hard to navigate. Been there. Done that. So, with each turn of the page, I became more frustrated with Melinda. She was annoying me. I almost stopped reading the book.

Get it over it, Melinda.

But, for some reason, I kept reading. Melinda left me little clues throughout that led me to understand that she wasn’t sharing her full story. Something was going on with her. Something she was even trying to figure out how to understand. The adults in her life were frustrated with her. Her friends gave up on her. She was a shadow, or at worse, a distraction, to her teachers. Melinda was alone.

Little by little, though, people poked back into Melinda’s life. A strayed friend cautiously begins speaking to Melinda again about their art projects. A teacher gently pushes back on the narrative that Melinda is a bad kid ending one interaction saying, “I think you have a lot to say. I’d like to hear it.” A classmate finds meaning in a history project on suffragettes to push Melinda to consider options outside of remaining silent. And, I too, beckon Melinda. I know something is wrong. I keep reading in an effort to understand Melinda’s story whether she speaks it or not.

In the Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence: Cultivating a Survivor-Responsive Campus workshop we host in the Women’s Center, I start out with a list of statistics related to sexual violence on college campuses. We may probably know the 1 in 5 women will experience attempted or completed sexual assault in her lifetime statistic but what does that really mean? I break it down in UMBC terms. For a campus that has 6,300 women-identified students on its roster, statistically speaking, about 1,200 women students are or will be survivors of sexual violence. This number does not include male survivors, trans survivors, faculty or staff. I know this number is much higher.

We all know survivors of sexual violence whether we know it or not. Survivors of sexual violence are in our classrooms, living in our residence halls, eating next to us at dinner. They are our friends, our classmates, our partners, our studentsLike Melinda, though, they may not feel ready to disclose or come out and share their story with you – or anyone. At least not right away.

And, that’s okay. But, it’s simply not good enough for us to only offer sympathy or change our behaviors around a person once we know their full story. Until I knew Melinda had been raped, I discounted her. In my temptation to stop reading, I turned my back on her. Once I knew her story, though, my heart ached with empathy and I couldn’t get her out of my mind (I am writing this blog, after all). If Melinda was a real person in my life, would my behavior and lack of action reaffirmed her desire to stay silent. Would I have been a safe space for her?

In that same Cultivating a Survivor-Responsive Campus workshop, I share a quote from former Women’s Center director, Dr. Mollie Monahan-Kreishman’s dissertation. It goes,

“The first people who interact with the rape survivor will weave themselves tightly into the fabric of the survivor’s story. Their words will richly color the survivor’s world, no matter if those words were meant to support or demolish.”

Each and every day, on campus, and beyond, all of us are weaving ourselves into the fabric of survivors stories. Our every day actions mean something.  We may support one survivor in a classroom by offering a content note or promoting Take Back the Night. We may demolish a survivor’s experience when we diminish the prevalence of sexual assault, laugh at a rape joke, or give up on a friend who just isn’t the same anymore.

I want to be the person that expresses words and actions that support a survivor whether I know their story or not. I know I’m not alone in this feeling.

So What Can You Do?
(Note: This is not an exhaustive list!!!)

Know UMBC’s campus resources such as the Women’s Center, Voices Against Violence, and Title IX policies 
Read Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence
Listen (and watch) Lady Gaga’s Til It Happens to You
Check out (and support) the Monument Quilt. Their next display is right here in Baltimore on April 9th.
Attend the Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence: Cultivating a Survivor-Responsive Campus workshop. This Women’s Center workshop is offered on a quarterly basis for faculty and staff and once a semester for students. We’ll also happily accept invites to present at department or student org meetings.
Show Up at  UMBC’s Take Back the Night on Thursday, April 14th (stay tuned for details)

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Meet the Spring 2016 Women’s Center Staff!

Get to know the Women’s Center’s Spring 2016 staff — including our newest student staff member, Shira!

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Women’s Center Staff – Spring 2016

Shira Devorah (she/her)
Hi, my name is Shira Devorah. I’m a Gender and Women’s Studies and Psychology double major in my junior year here at UMBC. I’m planning on spending a lot more time in school in order to become a Clinical Psychologist specializing in counseling LGBTQ youth, homeless youth, and transitioning youth. Eventually I would love to come back to a university and teach. ShiraI am a bisexual woman, and LGBTQIA+ issues are my passion. I believe that an intersectional approach to feminist thought and action is vital. I am also a Peer Health educator with University Health Services, and I am interested in conducting research regarding the discrepancies in health education for LGBTQIA+ youth. In my spare time, I love to journal, binge on Netflix, and sing along to musicals. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work here at the Women’s Center! I want to challenge myself to become more involved in feminist activism, here on campus and within the Baltimore community. I would love to continue to learn, grow, and create with every person who takes the time to visit the Women’s Center and participate in the brave conversations happening here.

Meagé Clements (she/her)
Hi! My name is Meagé, and I am a new staff member in the Women’s Center. I am currently a senior studying Psychology and Social Work, as well as a member of UMBC’s Honors College. I am a social work intern at Delrey School, where I will be working with children and adolescents with cerebral palsy, among other physical and intellectual disabilities. After college, I hope to earn my MSW and find a career where I can help marginalized and oppressed people thrive in our society. In addition to being a staff member in UMBC’s Women’s Center, I am a member of Zeta Sigma Chi Multicultural Sorority Inc. In my spare time, I enjoy yoga, reading, listening to music and creative writing.Meagé Profile Pic This semester, I am excited to learn and become more involved in the efforts of the Women’s Center. If you happen to see me in the Women’s Center or around campus, feel free to say hello! I am looking forward to meeting new people and engaging in some thoughtful dialogues!

Carrie Cleveland (she/her)
My name is Carrie. I am BEYOND excited to be starting my last year at UMBC. I will graduate in May with a degree in social work after being in college for ten years. Yep. That is NOT a typo. Ten FREAKING years. See, I have three daughters and they keep me incredibly busy and because of that I decided that part time was the way to be. I think we will all be doing a happy dance when I graduate.

Beyond that, I am involved with the BreakingGround initiative on campus as a member of the Community Program Grant Committee. I also am a member of the Leadership Advisory Committee. I am also super proud to be a Return Women’s Scholar. It was my membership in that group that firstCarrie Profile Pic brought me to the Women’s Center and that has been such a source of support for me as I took the long and windy road to graduation. Other that that, I am a wife, a friend, a chick from New Jersey, a lover off all things pop culture and a huge fan of They Might Be Giants.

MJ Jalloh-JamboriaMJ Profile Pic (they/them)
Hey! I’m MJ Jalloh-Jamboria.  I am currently a Gender/Women Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies (Pathology) double major. My minor is Critical Sexuality. This is my second year at UMBC and my first year as a student stuff member here at the Women’s Center. In addition to that, I am the Director of Events of the Council of Majors/Minors. Finally, I am the Music Director of UMBC’s newest a Capella group, the Culture Chords. I know it may sound like a lot but I enjoy staying busy and contributing to the UMBC community!

My favorite thing to do, besides singing and eating, is to look at how my identities come into play as I interact with the world around me. As a fat, non-binary, first generation West African Immigrant, Muslim person, I have a lot to think about!

Daniel Willey (he/him) 
Hey everyone! My name is Dan and I am a junior GWST major. I joined the Women’s Center staff last year and I am so excited to be back again as the senior staff member. You’ll see me around a lot because I never actually leave the Center. I am the peer facilitator for Spectrum and Rebuilding Manhood, and I’m very involved with the LGBTQIA+ community here. I love answering questions! Daniel Profile PicIf you want to have a discussion about or have questions about gender, sexuality, sexual health, polyamory, fiber crafts, cats, or Steven Universe, I’m your guy! I live by the idea that everyone has the capacity for good and every interaction can be a learning moment. Being at the Women’s Center feels like not only a home away from home, but the place where I have learned how to be the best version of me. I really hope the Center can be these things for everyone, and I do my best to facilitate that here. If you need anything, please ask! I’m very excited to meet you all.

Megan Tagle Adams, Assistant Director (she/her)
I’m an unapologetic feminist and woman of color. I’m not your model minority. Megan Profile PicI’m an introvert. I’m not always angry. I’m Team Nicki. I’m a cat lady. I’m a queer femme. I’m not ashamed of my love of boy bands. I’m an advocate for critical social justice. I’m a picky eater. I’m not a fan of Maryland’s humidity. I’m looking forward to another great year at the Women’s Center! 

Jess Myers, Director (she/her)
Wow-wee, where do I begin?! Today I logged into my LinkedIn account because I got an alert that someone was looking at my profile… who was checking me out?! I had to know. Long story short, I found myself skimming through my profile and was alerted to the fact that I have been Director of the Women’s Center at UMBC for 4 years and 6 months. How lucky am I?! I have learned and grown as a professional, as a feminist, and as a person so much since I first arrived here at UMBC. I have gotten to work with some of UMBC’s brightest and most courageous students. I’ve learned how to insert gifs into emails and how to tweet on the Twitter. I’ve been challenged and held accountable to expand my notions of feminism beyond “white feminism” and to boldly live out my social justice values in Jess Profile Pic 1a critical way. Moreover, I get to work in a place where I am authentically me.

I love being silly. I relish in the opportunity to use Leslie Knope gifs as a mode of communication. I identify as a queer lesbian and deserve medals for my fierceness in spin class. I approach my work from my collegiate background in social work and identify as a student affairs professional. I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., Kingston, Jamaica, and Fort Collins, Colorado but Baltimore is my hometown. It is a city that forever is rooted in my heart and very being. I also really love my introduction from last year and want to share it again (I’m a big fan of also not recreating the wheel!). You’ll find me on here most often blogging through my UMBC Women Who Rocks series and other Women’s Center confessions I like to make public. Basically and most importantly, I love my job… I’m looking forward to a year full of challenges, successes, and learning opportunities!

 

 

 

A Winter Leisure Reading Book Report

A winter lesisure book report compiled by Women’s Center Director, Jess Myers

The winter term is wrapping up and the “spring” semester (and winter storm Jonas) is right around the corner. I’m already mourning what I know will soon be the inevitable dry season of leisure reading which will be replaced by amazing Women’s Center events and programs (plus, let’s be honest, the last season of Parks and Rec is finally on Netflix and Leslie is calling my name). Before that, though, I thought I’d report out on my winter reading list.

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I gave myself few rules to follow as I selected my books for the winter break. I purposely avoided the critical feminist textbooks I have on my reading list and did not seek out books with themes of sexual violence (I’m still recovering from last winter’s reading Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State. Amazing and heartbreaking.). I steered myself in the direction of “light” and “fun,” sought out stories with women positioned as critical characters, and kept to the intentional practice of reading books authored by women or people of color only. I’m already reflecting on the more intentional ways I’ll need to craft my next binge reading session. While most of my winter reads ended up on my list through recommendations from feminist and social justice-orientated friends or podcasts, the end result still produced a very white-centric cast of women authors. This is in contrast to last winter, when I sought out specific authors such as Gay and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and took away a much more intersectional and global perspective through my reading. I’ve (re)learned it’s not good enough to just exclude white male authors when seeking out book recommendations if you’re really looking to expand your perspective beyond stories of whiteness and white supremacy.

So here’s my report (I’ve also included links for the full official summary of each book):

JudyIn the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I was supposed to be a part of a book club and this book was the December read. Long story short, I ended up not going to the discussion but continued reading the book anyways. I had just listened to a podcast about Judy Blume and was feeling disappointed that I never really got into reading her many young adult novels growing up especially after learning more about the ways in which Blume’s books were censored and banned throughout the years due to their portrayals of girls’ bodies, puberty and exploring sexuality. In the Unlikely Event, three planes crash in a small town in New Jersey over the course of just two months in 1952. The story is told from the view of various characters, to include my favorite, young Miri Ammerman. Though the town is experiencing horror, death, and devastation, life does not stop for Miri and many other characters. First loves, big dreams, complex family relationships, and complicated friendships all still ravel and unravel giving Unlikely that classic Blume appeal.
Recommend it? Sure, why not? The Ammerman family’s love and loyalty for each other told through not only a mother-daughter perspective but grandmother-mother-daughter perspective is rich and moving. Just don’t consider it as a read for your next long plane ride – having the story recently in my mind before flying for the holidays made me more anxious than normal about take-off and landing.

station11.PNGStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This came to me by recommendation when I put out an all- call to my Facebook world to send me suggestions for an easy, lighthearted read. The novel spans across decades moving back and forth in time and through the lens of several different characters to tell the story of life after a world-wide flu epidemic causes the collapse of civilization. Ah, yes, another dystopian novel under my belt. And, as with Hunger Games and Divergent, I was drawn to the main female character, Kirsten. When the story was told through her lens, I immediately became more engaged wanting to know more about how she came to survive the flu and life thereafter. While she wasn’t a Katniss or Tris, I admired her knack for survival and defying gender norms and roles in this dystopian world. Moreover, the character of Kirsten moved me into self-reflection and contemplation of my own abilities, determination, and self-reliance.
Recommend it? Yup! Unless you’re already have disconcerting thoughts about the end of the world. The fact that the entire world completely collapsed within days due to a flu virus was unsettling. I also became sick two days after finishing the novel, disappointing myself that I would indeed never be part of the 1% of society to survive and rebuild a new world.

invention of wings.PNGThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
My mom was reading this book while I was reading Judy’s novel. She couldn’t stop raving about it so I picked up my own copy from the library. While I liked the overall story, with its White Savior Complex leanings, I’m going to have to put The Invention of Wings in the same category as The Help. I absolutely enjoyed learning more about Sarah and Angelina Grimke and their work on behalf of the abolition of slavery and the advancement of women’s rights, I didn’t like how Kidd used the Grimke’s family slaves, namely, Handful and Charlotte, to drive the plot and develop the character of Sarah. Unlike The Help, Kidd dives much more into the complexities of race, racism, and the guilt surrounding white privilege, but I was still left with an overall feeling of icky-ness in which white women are given voice and purpose on the backs of women of color.
Recommend it? Eh, maybe, but probably not.

RGB.PNGThe Notorious RGB by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
Loved it! I’m going to law school and clerking for RGB as soon as possible. I adore Ruth! This is a quick read on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg through a feminist lens. The authors also spend a good amount of time giving a feminist (and accessible) context to important Supreme Court cases dealing with gender equity to help share the personal and professional progression of Ginsburg’s life. I loved learning the little nuances of RGB’s life to include her being a night owl, the meaning behind those fancy collars, and her current workout routine. Moreover, I appreciated the ways in which Gingburg’s dedication to building bridges and relationships across differences (i.e. her friendship with Justice Alito) spoke truth to the ways in which I can (and must) do a better job cultivating relationships with both my allies and adversaries. Bonus – Marty and Ruth’s relationship is a gem and gave me all the feels.
Recommend it? Heck yes. “You can’t spell truth without Ruth.” Also for more on how Notorious RGB came to be, check out the tumblr page.

malalaI Am Malala by Malala Yuzafzai with Patricia McCormick
This books has been on my reading list for quite a while. Through NPR, I somewhat followed the story of Malala after she was shot by the Taliban in 2012. Malala’s story is so powerful because she was (IS) so young. Yet, it wasn’t until I read about her experience in her own words, that it really truly sunk in how young she was when she decided to take on the Taliban and fight for girls’ and women’s rights. She was 11 when she first started speaking publicly! Eleven! As I was reading, I kept thinking, how lucky is the world that we’ll hopefully have Malala in it for years and years to come. She’s only just begun (and I need to get my butt in gear)! And, much like The Notorious RGB gave me context to political landscapes, I loved not only learning more about Malala, but also gaining a better understanding of the political and cultural climate of Pakistan surrounding her story.
Recommend it? Absolutely. The library gave me the “young readers edition” so I’m wondering how different it is from the “adult” text. I found it to be an elementary read but inspiring nonetheless. If you’re looking for some hope in the world or simply some personal motivation, this is the book for you.

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts? Though snow is in the forecast this weekend, I’m already looking forward to my spring break reading splurge – what recommendations do you have for me?

 

 

“Are you judged by your name?” ­ On Raven­-Symoné and the Respectability Politics of “Black-Sounding” Names

Since becoming a co-host on the renowned talk show The View, Raven-Symoné has made her fair share of offensive comments, resulting in her receiving a lot of backlash on social media. From her comments about race to her jokes about not hiring “Watermelondrea,” let’s just say Raven has put her foot in her mouth far too many times.

While Raven-Symoné’s comments about “Watermelondrea” may have been for laughs and giggles, there is an unfortunate truth about names and racial biases.This is something that Black people with “Black-sounding” or “ethnic-sounding” names experience every day. According to Marianne Bertrand’s study,  Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?”, applicants with “white-sounding” names were 50% more likely to be called back for an interview than applicants with “Black-sounding” names. Therefore, not only are Black people discriminated against in person, but we also face discrimination on paper.

This notion of racialized names and name discrimination is not only a form of internalized racism, but it has further perpetuated respectability politics. What Raven-Symoné and many others fail to realize is that these “ghetto” names are embedded with meanings and, most importantly, they are an essential part of one’s identity.

Although Raven-Symoné has since “apologized,” her comments about names have caused me to reflect on my own. As a Black woman with a unique name, and, perhaps, even a “Black-sounding name,” I think about my experiences with my name. I think about the micro-aggressive comments, the constant explanations, and the people that refuse to learn how to pronounce it. Where is that from? What does it mean? Or there’s my favorite, I’m never going to say that right. Do you have a nickname? also known as ‘I really don’t want to learn how to pronounce your name, so I’m going to try to find a shortcut.’

Yes, I have a nickname. No, you may not address me by it. My name is a part of me and, in my opinion, anyone who doesn’t care enough to learn it has shown me that they are not invested in me as a person.

I’ve learned that names can be a source of pride and frustration. I remember talking to my mother one day, who also has what may be considered a “Black-sounding” name. She told me about a family member telling her that she should change her name because “no one was going to hire her.” She was honest with me and told me that she contemplated it for a while, but, ultimately, opted for keeping the name she was given. Her name was a part of her identity that she was not willing to part with.

Respectability politics, like the scenario mentioned above, is a phenomenon that has become prevalent in our community. From making fun of a name’s spelling to adopting names or nicknames that are not associated with Blackness, people are feeling the need to police themselves and their names in order to feel accepted. 

I’d be lying if I said I never think about how things would be had I been given a “white-sounding” name. My name wouldn’t delay attendance-taking in class, Starbucks transactions would be much shorter, and I’d finally be able to find a souvenir key chain with my name on it, but it wouldn’t be me. My name has been something that I have taken pride in long before I experienced discrimination because of it. My name has meaning and it’s an important part of my identity and my story. It wouldn’t feel right going by another name because, quite frankly, my name is me.

Instead of shaming people with unique or “Black-sounding” names or policing ourselves, we should learn to embrace the names we were given and the culture embedded in them. Our names are an important part of us, they matter, and so do we.

The Power of Words: The Language Used to Describe People of Color in Activism

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center intern, MJ Jalloh-Jamboria

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This semester I’ve had the privilege of taking Dr. Tammy Henderson’s ‘Black Feminist Thought’ class. I recommend the class to anyone interested in learning the origins and history of black feminism, the claim of black feminist intellect and the way black feminist activism pertains to People of Color (POC) everywhere. Before the semester started, I was super confident that I would do amazing in the class. I didn’t think it would be an easy ‘A’ but I was naive enough to think that I knew enough about black feminist thought, that I could cruise by in the class. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong! We’re only halfway through the semester but a recent experience with a previous high school teacher reminded me of one of the discussions we had in class.

Before continuing, I’d like to examine the word, “militant.” It’s defined as “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.”

Earlier this month I took a trip to visit my favorite teacher at my alma mater, a small high school in Montgomery County, Maryland. Ms. J took one look at my t-shirt (a black shirt with “BLACK LIVES MATTER” written in large multi-colored letters), and immediately we launched into a conversation on the movement and the events which led to the birth of the slogan. I was excited to tell Ms.J about my involvement in local DC and Baltimore activist groups but instead, after about 20 minutes of arguing she ended the conversation with, “Well that is why I simply cannot fully support the black lives matter movement. Goodness MJ, I don’t remember you being this militant.”

At first, I was unsure if her use of the word ‘militant’ was used as a compliment or an insult. Today, I proudly claimed militant as an adjective that accurately describes me. I am more than honored to be equated with activists like Angela Davis and Malcolm X (who are seen as leaders of black militance movements of the 60s and 70s). However in that moment, I realized her use of the word was probably used to discourage me from continuing on with the conversation. I stayed quiet and let the topic go. I soon realized why Ms. J used ‘militant’ to describe my passion.

Whether she meant to or not, Ms. J’s use of the word suddenly made me self-conscious enough to change the topic of our discussion, move on and stay quiet and polite. For the remainder of the day, I was over-aware of the way I shared the specifics of my life with other teachers. I stayed quiet, for fear of sounding like the angry-black-person who was only concerned with oppression and feminism and screaming from a soap box. I stayed quiet because I didn’t want to be read as aggressive. I didn’t want my teachers to feel like I was blaming them in any way (because of their race or other factors) and I especially didn’t want to sound pedantic.

Ms.J’s dismissal of my passion as militance, felt parallel to the way the word ‘terrorist’ was thrown in face of activist movements. For example, think of how quickly we associate violence with Malcolm X. Never forget that the Black Panther’s Party was considered a terrorist group. We’ve been taught that his activist ideology was deep rooted in violence. People forget that his life, and the era in which he lived, was stained with violent acts towards him, his family (his father was killed by white supremacists) and communities of POC everywhere. We fail to examine the systems which pushed him, and fellow activists, to actions which were/are deemed militant and violent. More so, we fail to retell history correctly. X encouraged communities of color to defend themselves against white supremacy “by any means necessary.” I am less than surprised that his activism and ideology (and those of other activists of color) was equated with violence and militance.

From lessons learned in Dr. Henderson’s class and beyond, I understand that militant and violent have always been adjectives associated with POC. Activists (and others who spoke up about the oppressions they faced) have been met with hatred, violence and never ending streams of ignorance. In their strides for equality and equity, POC have been written off whenever they’ve decided to mobilize for change. Accounts of lived experiences from POC are ignored, taken for game and depoliticized. The irony lies in the response of those who then discourage their sense of urgency and/or passion and mistake it for aggression. While anger and other emotions are expected of those who have faced oppression, we instead censor our emotions and attitude towards certain topics so we don’t offend people.

While youthful passion for social justice is extremely warranted, some see it as unnecessary and childish. My excitement for activism shouldn’t be seen as militant or violent. Instead my need for justice should be celebrated and reciprocated! POC shouldn’t be afraid of or turned off to speaking about injustices for fear of seeming aggressive. We should be welcomed with platforms to speak of our experiences with injustice and work together to start revolutions and combat injustice. (Haha, pun intended!)

I’m about to get super cheesy on y’all, so bear with me. One of my favorite quotes is from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: 

Picture description: “Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word “black.” It’s always something degrading, low, and sinister. Look at the word “white.” It’s always something pure, high, clean. Well, I wanna get the language right tonight.”

Similar to MLK, I suppose I also want to get the language right and change the rhetoric. As activists of color and a larger black community, why don’t we change the way words such as militant, anger, aggression and violent are used against us. Let’s reclaim the words so often used to describe us! When someone dismisses us because of our emotions, ask them why they aren’t emotional as well! When discouraged from acts of activism, persevere by any means necessary! When faced with systems of oppression, assemble an army to dismantle every one of those systems!

 

This post is the first of a series on Militance. Stay tuned for some examples of Militant Women to be celebrated over the next couple of weeks!

 

 

A Reflection on Women’s Representation in the Arts

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center intern Julia Gottlieb. 

After reading the Baltimore City Paper’s recent daily Power Rankings, I got to thinking a lot about white women and women of color’s status in the arts. Three weeks ago, UMBC’s Theatre department held their annual New Playwrights Festival, featuring student playwrights.

I attended one night of the Festival, and got to see Elizabeth Ung’s play, a story that on the surface is about a sister and brother surviving in a post-apocalyptic world, but underneath it poses deeper questions of morality and emotional survival. Ung, who is a student of color here at UMBC, explains that she was inspired to write plays after taking a play-writing class through the theater department last semester, saying “[Playwriting] was something that I felt like I always wanted to do, to tell stories. It’s something that I want to do to get my voice out there.” Additionally, her characters are inspired by her everyday experiences and interactions with those around her: “I definitely get a lot from my own experiences, because that’s really the only reliable resource that I can definitely count on. You know, the littlest conversations can inspire dialogue and conflict within the plot.” This is especially important given the severe lack of representation of women of color and their experiences within theater and the arts as a whole.

Here is a helpful infograph to visually show the state of women’s representation in the arts. Even here an intersectional view on this issue is missing, and women of color’s experiences are not represented.

We know that white women have significantly less representation than men in play-writing and in theater overall. Meanwhile, women of color’s voices and experiences are even more underrepresented. Along with this disparity, there is a lack of comprehensive studies that specifically track the numbers of women of color playwrights and directors within theater in both specific cities and across the country. One study finds that of the plays being produced in Washington DC this season, “80% of playwrights are white, 7% are African American, 6% are Latino, 2% are Asian American and 2% are multi-ethnic.” This study gives a sense of the vast disparities that already exist within DC’s theatrical productions. The study’s lack of attention to intersectionality is illustrative of the fundamental problem of representation–the voices of white men and white women have more representation than the voices of women of color. And as long as women of color’s voices are not represented, a vast number of important experiences and viewpoints go ignored and invalidated.

In his piece, Unpacking ‘Diversity’ in Musical Theatre, Michael R. Jackson explains that rather than focusing on fulfilling a diversity quota, theater’s ultimate goal should be “to hold the mirror up to humanity and reflect it back (or distort it) in order to share, person-to-person, what it means to exist in joy and suffering in the world.” Representation matters to me because it affects what stories are being told and who gets to have a place in the world. I want the mirror to reflect an honest view of humanity and its diverse voices.

For example, as someone who identifies as fat (or plus-size if you prefer), the character Rae from the British TV show My Mad Fat Diary was very important to me because I had never seen a larger girl as the main character of a TV show. Seeing someone who looks like me on TV–having the mirror held up to reflect my life and my experiences was so affirming for me and I want everyone to be able to have that experience.

Representation is how we find characters to relate to, take comfort in, and hold up the mirror to and for ourselves. The arts are at a crucial time to make that a reality for more women of color and other underrepresented people.