Doing Critical Social Justice in Baltimore

Critical Social Justice

“How are you doing?”

It’s a simple enough question, but one that has a stronger implicit meaning this week. Many keep asking me “How are you doing?” pointing their eyes toward the city. I keep asking my friends “How are you doing?” with my mind flying to people dancing at North and Penn encircled by police in riot gear. It’s a simple question, but right now, it’s an important question—an important act of social justice that I want to emphasize, and that I believe is crucial to a Critical Social Justice movement.

By reaching out to one another, asking open-ended questions, and really just caring, we are taking some of the first steps toward activism in this Baltimore Uprising.

Don’t know quite what I’m talking about yet? That’s okay. Here’s a quick run-down: I’m talking about the recent often peaceful, often turbulent release of years upon years of tension in…

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Dear Survivor

As part of our 2015 Take Back The Night post-event, the Women’s Center hosted a “Dear Survivor,” letter writing activity. Inspired by the Dear Survivor Project and the book,  Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence students and UMBC community members were invited to craft their own “Dear Survivor” letter or message. Here’s a sampling from just some of the powerful messages written by UMBC community members.
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UMBC’s Take Back The Night 2015- A Visual Recap

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Thursday, April 16th was UMBC’s 3rd Annual Take Back The Night speak-out and march. We had an amazing turn out and we couldn’t have done it without everyone’s hard work and support!

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We had signs that were made by community members, staff, student organizations, and Greek life!

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Jess and Megan setting up our TBTN Banner!

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Setting up T-shirts for the mini Clothesline Project Display

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Right before the Speak-Out

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Staff member, Yoo-Jin Kang and Peer Health Educator, Kayla Smith, were the student emcees and march leaders this year!

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Community listening to the Speak-Out

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The march made a huge impact on campus.         We were even invited to march through the dining hall!

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IMG_1352 After the Speak-out, the community was invited to hang out together, craft for a cause, and enjoy some lemonade and cookies before leaving the event.

IMG_1547IMG_1550What an awesome night!

Just a reminder for those who might not have been able to attend, there are many resources available to you, both on and off campus.

Here are some links: 

Voices Against Violence

UMBC Counseling Center

UMBC’s Relationship Violence Response and Prevention Program (RVAP)

UMBC’s Title IX Coordinator and Info

Women’s Center at UMBC

I Am

A reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member Bria Hamlet

I’ve got a gap in my front teeth,
I make a mess when I eat,
I’m always late,
I’m hard to date,
I think Eminem is my soulmate

I rock an afro with piercings,
I exaggerate my feelings,
I watch YouTube instead of TV,
I choose to stray from normativity

You’ve just read my spin on Mary Lambert’s song “Secrets.” The melody has been stuck in my head for hours now. She sings about herself, throwing out the good, the obvious, the hidden, and the complicated. She tells us that she doesn’t care how the world perceives her and what they have to say about who she allegedly is.

Girl, I feel that.

I am really, really getting comfortable with no longer explaining myself to everyone. If I didn’t personally harm or wrong you, you get no explanation. I am giving myself permission to wear red lipstick to work, listen to Nickelback and then the Roots on the way, all while sporting a tailored skirt and Converse. Let me live.

BriaAs a Black American woman, I am subjected to harmful and negative stereotypes constantly. If someone isn’t policing my blackness, they’ve surely fixated on my hair. The next target is my complexion, followed by my clothing, and their personal favorite, my diction. I can’t just be Bria, I must be whoever you all think Bria is supposed to be. I am really tired of making everyone else comfortable. I don’t have to make “figuring me out” easy. I’m not easy.

And you, stop being lazy.

The Telling Our Stories project has given the members of the UMBC Women of Color Coalition (myself included) the opportunity to reclaim narratives that were written without them. It has challenged us to think critically about labels and microaggressions. We’ve discussed where these stereotypes come from and then participated in workshops to unearth the true natures of who we are. We are sisters, artists, intellectuals, comedians, introverts, extroverts, and progressives. We are ourselves.

I will now and forever continue to be unapologetically myself.

I’m Bree, the new volunteer of the Women’s Center!

A Virago Vociferates

After many months of calling the Women’s Center my home, this semester,  I felt that I wanted to give back to my community by helping spruce up the new place with my assistance  to the Women’s Center needs. I am already a part of two of the groups sponsored by the Women’s Center: Women of Color Coalition and Critical Social Justice Student Alliance. At the beginning of this Spring semester, I heard about the Women’s Center needed more helping hands with all the semester programming going on and I inquired about what more I could do. Once Jess, the director, and Megan, the coordinator, heard my enthusiasm toward the prospect of volunteering for the center, they put me on board with some different tasks to help reach the campus about the Women’s Center and it’s mission to provide a space and give a voice to those that are marginalized in…

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Wish I could be [seen] in your world

A reflection written my staff member, Yoo-Jin Kang 

As an Asian-American woman, I’ve always struggled with finding people who look like me in the larger media. You see, May is Asian Pacific Islander month, and regrettably, I am not sure who I can expect to be featured during this month because I am so unfamiliar with Asian historical figures and their contributions.

Growing up in the United States education system, I had always learned about other important figures in our country: white presidents (except our current one!), famous white men who made *amazing* contributions to our society, and the few African-American historical figures who were brought up as part of our history lesson, like Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Harriet Tubman. What I didn’t consciously realize for a long time was the lack of Asian representation, across the board, throughout my entire schooling and life. Why was this the case? Could it be that Asian Americans did not make useful or noteworthy contributions or impact to our society? Could it be that the only famous Asian American that I would ever know about would be figure skater Michelle Kwan?!

Of course not.

I can’t help but think about how the paradox of the minority model stereotype  fits into this lack of representation and recognition. This stereotype can be truly harmful because it can create a silencing and minimizing effect on the contributions, successes, and voices of Asian Americans who are “expected to do well” anyway, and so it’s not such a big deal. Growing up,  I couldn’t help but feel a quiet voice that told me that no matter what I did, I would not get recognition for it as a individual person, but would be praised because:

“Oh, you Asian people are so good at _____” or “have always been great at _______.”

Not only was this isolating for me… it also contributed to this liminal feeling I had of not being considered white, but not being labeled as a “person of color.” It took until college for me to realize that I, too, belong, and that my struggles were also worthy of speaking up about.

When I think about television shows and movies, this is where I feel the most isolated from the people who supposedly “represent” me in the media. Often, if I ever saw a character who looked similar to me, I noticed their role often consisted of stereotypical characteristics that only perpetuated already trivializing cultural beliefs.

Often, we seemed to be lumped with characters that had little personality — characters who seemed to serve one purpose: The math/science whiz. The person at the computer/phone navigating directions, while all the other characters were out kicking bad-guy butt. The repressed and studious best friend. The fetishized “oriental” model (often with chopsticks in her hair). Or the person with the broad “Asian” accent who spoke broken English, often seen working at a Chinese restaurant. Even when there was “representation” of an “Asian” character, I couldn’t relate to them at all.

Moreover, the term “Asian” is so broad. As an ethnic group, “Asian” encompasses so many regions, all with many similarities and differences in culture and values, and I can’t help but think that it’s harmful to lump so many different regions with one word, when we don’t recognize and pay attention to our differences. This May, I plan to learn more about not only my heritage, but also about the different cultures and contributions that make up the pan-Asian community. I hope you will join me and I challenge you to also recognize when a character of color, in any form of media, is being used as a trope rather than a valued person. 

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[P.S. I haven’t seen the show yet, but I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews for the new show, “Fresh off the Boat“.                 On one hand, I hear people who love the show because not only are they seeing a family that might look like them, they are also identifying with some of the immigrant and often humorous experiences that are portrayed in the show. On the other hand, I hear about people who highly dislike the show, stating that it fulfills stereotypes about Asian immigrants, specifically with the notion that Jessica Huang (the mother) is a “tiger-mother“. It’s interesting to note that due to the scarcity of representation in our media, we often feel that when we do see people who look like us…we want/ expect them to be perfect. There is a fine balance to be made between respecting and honoring a person’s culture and background, as it influences who they are, and completing erasing a person’s racial identity to make it more accessible for a whiter audience.]