Talking to Flawless

She introduced herself with the line, “I’m Flawless.”

This was my very first impression of Allison Julien. It quickly became evident just how amazing Allison is.

From brief conversations to overhearing office chatter, I learned about Allison’s work with We Dream in Black, a campaign to organize and build the leadership capacity of Black domestic workers around the country. As Irene, my supervisor, taught me about the history of NDWA, I learned that Allison was a co-founder of NDWA. From going on outreach sessions to parks with her, I learned how personable Allison is. And from being in the same space as her for about 40 hours a week, I can tell that she is dedicated to, loving towards, and loved by NDWA and those involved with NDWA.

So of course, I grew curious and wanted to learn more about Allison. When the opportunity arose – I asked her for an interview.

And it was pretty inspiring, to say the least.

Allison shared how she felt the need to do more from her first full-time job as a nanny. However, 10 years pasted before she was introduced to domestic worker organizing.

It wasn’t until Ai-jen Poo was doing outreach in the Upper West Side and talked to her, that Allison would formally learn ways she could get involved in fighting for the rights of domestic workers.

She handed me a flyer and started talking to me about workers coming together and at that time they were  fighting for a city bill that they were lobbying for. […] And I was just so excited. It was almost like an angel had fallen out of heaven. […] I had 10 years of questions to ask her. […] I clearly remember her writing the directions on the flyer in a red ink pen. That’s how clear to this day it’s still in my head.

Clearly, learning about domestic worker organizing was a moment for which Allison was waiting.

When I asked Allison about what she saw herself doing in the future, she was pretty sure that she would grow old doing domestic worker organizing, regardless of what that looked like. For her, it was never about the money. After all, she had spent 10 years volunteering with Domestic Workers United (and that was while she was also working full-time as a nanny!) before working full-time with the New York chapter of NDWA.

The interview with Allison was much more than this. But even in the little parts of the interview that I shared here, I gained so much.

Before me was a woman who loves what she does, who is so intent about learning and teaching about organizing domestic workers. Everything she says, everything she does – there was no question that she had really found her calling.

Something about that was so beautiful and inspiring and uplifting.

But like I mentioned before, the interview was much more than this. I was given an hour of Allison’s time and gained so many nuggets of wisdom. The impact this has had on me, and the gratitude that I feel for it, is still too profound for me to try to articulate fully in this lil ol’ blog post… I hope to find a way to express it in the work that I do soon.

A Restorative World

During my first week at Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), my supervisor told me that I would be drafting a “restorative justice” section for the Schools Girls Deserve Toolkit. I eagerly nodded as if I knew what that was, and quickly turned to the internet.

“Restorative justice: is a theory of justice that can be employed both re-actively, in response to conflict and/or crime, and proactively to strengthen community by fostering communication and empathy.  Restorative Justice invites everyone impacted by a conflict and/or crime to develop a shared understanding of both the root causes and the effects. Restorative Justice seeks to address the needs of those who have been harmed, while encouraging those who have caused harm to take responsibility.”


At GGE, we underwent a nearly whole-day restorative justice training. It was definitely important that I practice before I preach. We sat in a circle and had a talking piece. We shared stories of our backgrounds, our values, and our struggles. We talked about what we needed in the office in order to be our best selves, and what people needed to do to allow that to happen. We agreed upon an established a list of shared values that we would guide ourselves with in the office. We broke into smaller groups and shared deeply personal stories through questions. In order to practice true listening, the stories would be followed up by rounds of questions from others that we didn’t answer. The whole day was an incredibly meaningful experience. I better understood my colleagues, knew how I would bring myself into the community, and felt a deep sense of calm and unity.

Last week, we held a restorative justice healing circle at the Moxie reflection dinner in order to address some existing tensions in the group. And boy, was there some tension. One of my roommate and I had been struggling for the last week and weren’t really speaking. Conflict over how to share the space paired with a lack of communication had turned into cold silence between the two of us. This was ridiculous considering we both sincerely like and respect each other. The circle was so necessary for me, but I did not want to admit that. I have a lot of pride and I wasn’t about to let go of it. In a leap of faith, I chose to talk about everything in the circle, and so did my roommate. We discussed the impacts of our actions, how they made us feel, and established rules and values moving forward. Now, a week later, we couldn’t get along any better and we get to be the friends we truly are again. I felt this was a true testament to the impact of restorative justice.

Restorative justice has truly proven itself this summer, and has me thinking about what a restorative world would look like. It would look like reparations and problem solving, rather than punishment and isolation for crime. Like therapy and healing circles rather than suspensions and expulsions. Like agreed upon community values rather than black and white imposed rules. Like communication and growth, rather than fighting and tension. I wondering how I can start to make my world look more like this.

I’m going to start by maintaining the mindset that most people come from a place of good intention, and very different stories. This is a good baseline to have for when conflicts arise. I’m thinking of the rowing team, specifically and how we could benefit from restorative justice practices. We have tried to have (non-restorative) circles to address conflict, but they blew up and actually got worse. I want to hold a circle at the beginning of the year to share what values we hold most important, who we are at our best selves and rowers, and what we need from others to be that, develop shared values, and a plan of action for conflict resolution. I think bringing restorative justice to rowing, a huge part of my life, is a great step towards making the world around me more restorative.

How to Blow Your Mind in 3 Difficult Steps

Coming out of these past couple of weeks, I find myself once again preoccupied by a whirlwind of thoughts. Here are a set of three.

 

I.

First, the readings this week were on the topic of intersectionality–and they were the most confusing and difficult to understand for me so far.  Intersectionality is a topic that I have struggled to understand hearing it under different contexts back on campus as it is only briefly mentioned before the conversation moves on.  Unlike many of my peers it seems, I have never heard the term in a class setting, never had it explicitly defined.  All I knew came from bits and pieces from posters, in snippets of conversation, etc. How problematic is that?  The engineering and many other STEM curricula give so little space for such conversations to occur, and as a result, a large chunk of the student population is just clueless about topics like these.

After discussing the readings in seminar with the other Moxies, I do feel like I have a better understanding of the term, but something still bothers me about it.  I worry that when people normally say the term, they just use it as a broad statement to put a name to their struggle, rather than actually understanding what it means.  I’m not going to lie, if you haven’t noticed, I’m avoiding trying to define the term. I don’t want to give the wrong definition because this just perpetuates the problem.  Yes, you can google a definition, but that doesn’t tell you much about the power of intersectionality, using it as a tool as it is meant to be in human rights movements. Heck, this blogger’s spell-check doesn’t even recognize it as a real word. This might be me just projecting, but I doubt if I went up to anyone on campus (or the street) and asked them what “Intersectionality” meant, they would be able to articulate it.  But maybe that’s because it means different things to different people? But is that ok if it’s being used as a grounding concept at the forefront of their stance?

Literally every one of the Moxie readings has referenced the necessity of some sort of collective movement based on the strength and power people marginalized categories (based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, etc.) truly have rather than on their subjugation.  Intersectionality seems to bring all of this together into one comprehensive idea, and if it was more widely known and understood, I think it potentially could be the answer to all of these questions we’ve been having about how to go about social change.

II.

Another thing that gave me pause for thought this week came after our group visited the Brooklyn Family Defense Practice and heard about what they do and why it’s so important. As we spoke with one of the lawyers, I started thinking about the disparity between the work at the nonprofit where I am interning, Sanctuary for Families, and that of the BFDP.  Sanctuary’s mission is to provide services and resources to victims of domestic violence, while the BFDP represents those accused in such cases, among others.  In theory, I knew that sometimes domestic violence or child neglect cases could be unfounded, and that the accused absolutely deserve representation. But to be honest when I hear “child abuse/neglect,” or similar phrases, I automatically and subconsciously side with the survivor.  And working at Sanctuary, I see so many examples of children and their mothers or fathers that have gone through so much because of all kinds of awful abuse, this mindset was even more wired into me.

It was startling to hear about the work that BFDP does, opening my eyes to the associations people automatically make about such cases.  I know that the work Sanctuary does is a bit different, being a place where survivors themselves come for help while BFDP usually deals with outside reports, but the idea and connotations of the cases are similar.  And I’m conflicted, because on the one hand, people–women and children in particular–struggle so much in getting the help and resources they need to escape their offenders as I see and hear about all the time at Sanctuary, but that doesn’t mean the perpetrator doesn’t deserve to be represented in court.  People want to automatically assume that the person being accused is the bad guy because of all these awful negative connotations, when in reality, often the story is a lot more complicated.  And that story many times isn’t fully heard because of the nature of the accusation, people’s inherent biases, and institutionalized as well as personal discrimination or prejudices.  Without the full story, how can the extent of the issue be determined?

I have discussed with my supervisors how children are affected mentally by all kinds of traumatic experiences, but I never stopped to think about the mental repercussions of what could come after, being put in foster care and separated from their families.   And it’s difficult to judge because how can you ever get the full story?

 

III.

One last thing I want to reflect on has to do with an interaction I had with someone in the grocery store.  My mind being particularly preoccupied that day, in the moment I failed to notice that so much was just wrong and disgusting about what happened.  As I was walking back from using the restroom, some guy stuck out his arm to stop me.

 He has the audacity to just block my way?

He then proceeds to explain how he had seen me pass by earlier, thought I was cute, and that we should go out for “a drink sometime, or maybe rosé? *insert patronizing grin*”

…if only I had stopped him then and there, told him I wasn’t interested, and moved on.  He then proceeded to ask where I was from, and when I said the “South,” he tried to guess the state and the city.

But for some reason–and this came completely unconsciously–I was surprised and horrified to find that I felt like I was obligated to respond to his intrusions. I almost felt bad for turning him down and saying I thought he was too old for me.  But even THEN he kept pressing, trying to get my number, saying we could still go out for “ice cream.”

Oh, everything is ok though, because he assured me, “You can say no if you want, that’s fine.”

I’m not going to go into all the details, but the rest of the interaction was pretty much more of the same, and when my brain finally caught up and I left, I heard his friend CONGRATULATING him with a “good job” (though how he “succeeded” in any way is beyond me.)  And for the next hour I blamed myself for what happened, how dumb I was to stay talking to this rando when I should’ve just said “not interested” from the beginning, from the initial violation of my personal space.  But really there are so many bigger problems at hand, and it’s taken me some time to realize how it all goes back to the same issues we’ve been talking about this entire summer.  Men often feel like they have the right to women, and women often, whether consciously or subconsciously, feel obligated to respond, to meet their needs and desires.  I certainly have never thought of myself as someone who would have this mindset, but there it came out, me feeling bad for turning this guy down.  It really gives you pause for thought.  Even though I logically know I shouldn’t have felt this way, for a time I was overwhelmingly just disappointed in myself, not thinking of something sassy to say, not ending the conversation earlier…But that’s not the point, is it?  Even if I had said something else, done things differently, the problematic nature of the interaction doesn’t change.  I could go on for pages about what I think of this situation, but for the sake of space, I’m going to stop here.  One closing thought:

This isn’t a unique interaction.

It happens all the time.

Why don’t more people see how big of an issue that is?

TBD.

Incompetence. I can attest to the fact that while at Duke this has become something I fear about myself daily. The questions ranging from: Can I do this? To the ever so recent When can I go home? Working at LESGC I have found a home. I have found so many great wonderful people, but alongside that, I’ve found insecurities I didn’t know I had. Working in an environment that is striving for the embitterment of a neighborhood is one of the main things that had drawn me to LESGC. Overall, I didn’t know how much pressure that was. Not LESGC specifically, but from my personal places. I’d somehow given myself this idea that everything had to be perfect and if I messed up one piece the entire project that we’d been working on would fly out of the window.                                                 (literal representation of how I felt)

For most of my time at LESGC I’ve felt nothing but positivity and possibility, but somehow when the times got tough over the last week in some ways more than others I caved. Through it all, I somehow found my footing and climbed out of the trenches that I had fallen into. I think for the most part that was when I figured out that I wasn’t incompetent I was just nervous. During my time in NYC, I’ve been working on this project to secure space and provide programming ideas for a new Community Wellness Center. This center will be such a vital place for people in the LES community and I’m so proud to be aiding its arrival. Upon aiding, I found myself letting the negative thoughts succumb to the things I knew to be true. Somewhere in the mix of focus groups, transcriptions,  and meetings, I lost myself in fear and thoughts of inadequacy. With all my fears it took a couple things to snap me back into reality:

 

  1. Moxie
    1. I will say it once, twice, a million times. These women are my biggest supporters here. I don’t know how Ada and Shannan knew that we would work well together, but dang they sure do know how to pick ‘em. Many times after talking about everything that was going on my fellow Moxies took time to check on me, make sure I was okay, and even offer help. Without their support and courage, I don’t think my “climb up” would have been so good.
  2. Ruthie G. Rochelle
    1. My Queen. My sole reason for what I do. My mommy. My mom is always there encouraging me, giving me bible verses, and praying for me. She knows when something is wrong, I don’t know how maybe it’s a mother thing? Throughout everything, she always has my back, and I love her so much. She pushed me to know that I’m capable, to know that I was chosen for a reason, to know that above all else she believed in me. Sometimes I think what we need with self-assurance is to have the idea that during our slightly dark times of self-doubt someone believes in us.

 

With those two things, I got back into the grind and finished the week strong. I have 3 more weeks in New York, and I want to “finish strong”. The reason I wrote this is because I know sometimes things can pile up and fear can harbor inside, but surround yourself with people who believe in you. You’ll be fine sweetheart. You’re amazing darling and don’t forget it!

Changing an Individualistic, Perfectionist Society 101

Now that the Moxie program is starting to wind down, I’ve decided that we’re gonna take it all the way back to our first pre-departure meeting. Yup, that’s what we’re talking about today.

Before we even arrived in New York, the Moxies had a discussion on how the rise in neoliberalism has created a shift from a communal society to an individualistic one. As a result, perfectionism is at an all time high. As we become more focused on the individual, young people, like myself, feel immense pressure to have the perfect grades, attend high ranked colleges, and be the best at everything we do. Young people often determine their success based on the success of those around them thereby creating a competitive atmosphere to be the most successful. If Lilly gets into a DukeEngage program and then finds out Tommy is interning at Capitol Hill, Lilly suddenly feels like she is missing out because she is comparing herself to her peer. While it is great to hold students up to high expectations, it is not so beneficial in a neoliberalist society, like ours, because we tend to exaggerate these standards to the point where they become nearly impossible. One slip up and it’s the end of the world!

     

 

After completing the article, I was sort of annoyed by the author’s vague resolution. She stated that in order to stray away from individualism, we need to make strides towards “collective values.” I mean….duh…sis… of course. But, what concrete things can we do to alter this success obsessed world we live in?

I might have a few ideas based on my experience here in NYC. These tips may not be helpful for everyone, but I do believe that we should take the time to consider them. In order to strive towards a collective, we need to deconstruct the way we exist in this society and change the way we respond to neoliberal systems. Here’s how:

  1. Embrace the Unfamiliar.

When we visited Choices Women’s Medical Center, Merle asked the Moxies if we thought we were politically engaged. My response was, “Well, I want to be” and the only thing holding me back from claiming this identity was that I felt as though I did not know enough. I explained that there was so much more I needed to know about government and politics in order for me to be truly be politically engaged. But, fact of the matter is, we’ll never really know everything. From discussing how labels can actually inhibit sexual liberation to understanding why empathy is not the gateway to creating change, Moxie continues to open new doors outside what I initially sought coming into the program. It’s like everything we discuss is food for thought & I’m stuffed, but I can’t stop eating. I can’t stop thinking. In order to refrain from perfectionism, we have to understand that we will never be perfect. It is okay to be confused. We don’t and won’t have answers to everything. So don’t be afraid when you are confronted with something new. Be comfortable with being uncomfortable and don’t freak out when things don’t align the way you thought they would.

 

2.  Breathe.

Breathing is a moment where you simply get to be. You get the opportunity to just exist. So, stop thinking about that paper that is due next week for 10 minutes. Stop worrying about the A you really “need” in that class and take a break from thinking about the next internship you “need” to apply for. What we really need is to breathe and by breathe, I am not just referring to the gas exchange that occurs in our lungs. I am suggesting that we do things that help us decompress because life shouldn’t be about stressing all the time. For some people, relaxation means exercising, listening to music, or driving. For me, this means slapping on a face mask and letting it clear my pores as I binge watch crappy episodes of Jersey Shore. Whatever “breathing” is to you, do it. Breathe.

 

3.  Soak Up Your Surroundings.

I’ve always known NYC is “the city that never sleeps,” but living here has made me realize that this city is the epitome of perfectionism. New Yorkers are always on the go and are so focused on what is ahead that they don’t get the chance to appreciate what is here, right now. This constant rush has enhanced the stress I feel and when I am chillin’, I feel more stressed because it feels like I’m not doing anything purposeful. But, we need to realize that we don’t always have to be doing something! This isn’t just a NYC thing, but this is also a common feeling in college. If we aren’t cramming for an exam or writing a 10 page paper then we think we aren’t working hard enough. But, sometimes we need to just live in the moment. The other day, Bianca, Kaili, Laura, and I played a game where we each had to answer questions about ourselves for a full 2 minutes. Even though I was nervous to share, it felt good to be open, honest, and learn about one another. One night, Kaili and I shared a common interest in conspiracy theories and it was so fun to laugh and think about the world’s curiosities and exaggerated ideas. Finally, yesterday, I walked passed this bubble tea spot that I’ve been wanting to try and as tired as I was, I just wanted to go straight home. Instead, I took 5 minutes to buy the Passion Fruit tea and when I tell you it was worth it… oh boy. I didn’t even know I liked Bubble Tea! The point is, there is more to life than work. Don’t let your surroundings just be surroundings. Allow yourself to explore and enjoy them.

While most of these tips seem like they still focus on the individual, I believe that this is a different kind of individual. Rather than constantly focusing on ourselves in comparison to others, we need to understand that we are humans. When we realize life isn’t about being perfect, we will adapt to a particular mindset where we will finally allow ourselves to become more collaborative. I say we because this is something I need to work on too. It takes time and it will be difficult. But, don’t stress. It is possible.

 

E Pluribus Unum– Out of Many, One

I’ve always considered myself an aspiring world-builder. But the world I wanted to build centered around me racing to the top of the world, and then changing it. As the summer progresses, I’m learning more and more how convoluted this idea truly is. I’m starting to realize that competing within these manufactured structures to secure my own position in the system is simply playing into its hands. Now, I’m trying to reframe what changing the world should look like.

E Pluribus Unum

Noun

  • Out of many, one

This term, credited to the Roman writer, Cicero, is said to be about our friends and family. When we connect with and love our family and friends, we make one person out of the many we surround ourselves with. No one can survive alone… and there are many who are crucial to every step of each of our journeys.

This term has been important to the history of the US – where it has been an unofficial motto of our country since the Thirteen Colonies joined together under one nation. But I’m coming to realize that we have lost the sense of this term, and what it truly implores us to do. I think that we don’t understand that every action we take, the words we speak, the activities we engage in are part of a larger structure.

  • Every item of clothing I buy allows me to support the network of global capitalism that then destabilizes less developed countries and causes their women to come to the US to do life long, laborious domestic work simply to provide a just education for their children.
  • Every time I assume my heteronormativity as the norm in conversation, I uphold the idea that sexuality and gender on a spectrum is an inferior position to hold.
  • Every time I have done something risky and gotten away with it because I am a “non-threatening, model minority” I have taken advantage of my position designated to me that subdues other minorities as being less acceptable.
  • Every step I take to advancing my career at a high position will allow these systems to exist and continue their oppression.

I think E pluribus unum captures the sentiment of how our society was supposed to be built. If we truly think of ourselves as connected to each other to the extent that we all contribute to the networks that create the systems of oppression around us, we would be much more deeply troubled by it – and be more driven to reform these systems. We shouldn’t need to hear the stories of individual people and empathize directly with their problems to know that we are complicit and benefitting off of the labor and oppression of those around us and under us. When we start to accept that we are parts of a whole, and that the subjugation of any one part is detrimental to the whole – we will need no other motivation to seek change.

I look around at the people in my life and realize that I would be nothing without them. My parents, my dearest friends, and my fellow Moxies – they are each a crucial part of my own journey. But even more so, those who I may not directly connect with, see, or talk to. These people have all allowed me to live the amazing life I have had the privilege of living. How could I not want to make sure that their lives are just and fair?

Climbing my way to the top of these systems is not something I necessarily desire anymore. Not only does this perpetuate them, but it requires minorities to victimize themselves to gain any empathy and the support of those held above them. Instead, I’m working on not thinking so individualistically and taking steps to stop condoning and preserving the systems around us by keeping in mind that we are always: out of many, one. 

 

“Sometimes Wrong, Never in Doubt”

I came across this quote this week in Complications, a book by Atul Gawande, while reading on my commute to work.  It was referred to in the context of surgeons unwavering decisiveness in the face of uncertainty surrounding the best course of action for patients.  In many aspects of my life, this is how I see myself.  When it comes to studying or executing tasks, I have very clear and laid out plans of action.  When an obstacle interrupts plan A, you move on to plan B and so on and so forth.

However, before this summer, this did not apply to my opinions on anything I deemed political or controversial.  I always doubted myself because I didn’t feel I was educated enough to form an opinion without first doing some research.  When family, friends, or classmates brought up a topic that I did not necessarily have a stance on, I quickly stepped out of the conversation or listened from the sidelines.

Since starting the Moxie program, I have established a background knowledge to begin developing my own thoughts and opinions.  This extends beyond the narrow view of the eight specific topics we discuss during seminars, but I have created a foundation on which to draw from as new topics and situations arise.  For example, with the US-Mexico border crisis unfolding, I felt comfortable forming an opinion that isolated different actors without generalizing good vs evil or making blanket statements ungrounded in historical inequities.

Still though, I have lingering feelings of wondering if my decisions are valid.  Last night, one of my fellow Moxies mentioned sharing a similar feeling around her own opinions.  I hope that as the program begins to wrap up, I can apply my decisive confidence, which I can tap into easily in other realms of my life, to my opinions about politics and controversial topics.  Maybe we can even work together to push each other to articulate our feelings and share our knowledge we have gained from the program, especially back at Duke next year.

So, here’s to making my opinions as strong as my resolve.  I’m sure more often than “sometimes” I will err, but I promise to stop doubting my own thoughts.

Stranger to Friend?

Our group has always had thought-provoking discussions, whether it was at seminar on the readings we have to do for that week or at reflection dinner when we debrief on the various enrichment outings we do. Recently, our conversations have been going far beyond the surface for various reasons.

Being past the half-way mark means that we have had ample time to get to know each other both personally and how each one of us feels about different societal structures. Because of this, people are more inclined to share their opinions in order to grow further. But it’s not only the sharing of ideas that has progressed as time has passed; it’s the bonds that we have made in such a short time.

Prior to departure, Ada and Shannan held several pre-departure meetings that, if I’m being honest, I did not want to attend because of all of the stress that was going on with the semester closing. In hindsight, these meetings were an integral part of forming the community we have.

Looking at a picture of our Moxie group, it’s evident that each one of us comes from not only a different background, but a different part of Duke. One girl is a part of Duke Student Broadcasting. Another is part of an Indian dance group. Two girls are in Panhellenic sororities. One girl is a student-athlete. Some girls are pre-med, while others are studying the humanities. Despite all of these differences, the cohesion our group has is something indescribable.

During one reflection dinner, Ada and Shannan stated that they purposefully picked people who both fit the program, but would bring a new perspective to a group of people. They also chose people whose paths probably would not have crossed had it not been for the program. I can attest that this is both true and one of the things I am most grateful for from this program.

When I received the first email that Ada and Shannan hadn’t blocked us from seeing who else was included, I recognized only a few names from social media. Others I had never heard of in my two years at Duke. Now, I can say that I know each of the Moxies on a deeper level than we started.

We have bonded together at enrichment activities, reflection dinners, and seminar discussions. At points we have all felt like we understood what was being discussed, and at other points we have all felt more confused than when we started. From cooking dinner together to having a face mask night, we have created bonds that would not have been created had it not been for this program.

I also shouldn’t talk about the bonds created in this program without talking about the bonds both our group as a whole and as individuals have built with Ada and Shannan. Both of them have pushed us to grow further not only intellectually, but as human beings in society. They have both supported our opinions and played devil’s advocate for the purpose of growth. They have been present as teachers, mentors, and a listening ear, when needed.

At our last reflection dinner, Laura said that she would host a “reflection dinner” during first semester for everyone to get together again, Ada and Shannan included. If that doesn’t say something about our group dynamic this summer, then I’m not sure what else would.

Ain’t I a [Angry] Black Woman?

 

On June 14th, 2018, I attended the Human Rights Conference for Pride month which was a collaboration between NYC Pride and the SUNY (State University of New York) public school system. It was an enriching gathering of  “activists, artists, educators, journalslists, policymakers, students, and others engaged in LGBTQIA+ human rights around the world.” While I was there, I attended a seminar called “Being Brave Enough to Share Your Story”, presented by Joshunda Sanders, about the importance of elevating the personal-as-political narratives of queer women of color in the LGBTQIA+ Rights movement. Her presentation resonated with me in such a powerful way.

During her seminar, Sanders said that in our capitalistic society “Black women at rest (mentally or emotionally) aren’t considered to be doing enough to advance capitalism.” I was drawn back to a reading titled “Capitalism and Gay Identity” by John D’Emilio. D’Emilio analyzes how in capitalistic society there is essentially a fine line between autonomy and exploitation because people only have control and ownership over their labor. However, people must work to survive in our society, so selling labor becomes a forced circumstance where one is subjected to a diverse capacities of manipulation rather than a free choice. I believe that this line is especially fine for women of color and other marginalized identities due to compounded systems of oppressions. And, personally, I feel like every step I take to find myself, love, or career is a dance between being a token for someone else’s advancement and taking an opportunity to advance myself.

When I look back in history, I see that my “liberation” as a black woman has been an unintended and sometimes unwanted consequences of other social movements. For example, during the civil rights movement, the 14th amendment granted black men  the status and rights of citizenship,which include the right to vote. Similarly, during women’s rights movement, the 19th amendment intended to give white women the right to vote. I don’t believe people intended for those amendments to eventually give black women and other women of color the right to vote. I feel like when it came to the fights for rights, my rights a black woman–not just as a black person or as a woman–were not even a part of the conversations even though women of color contributed a lot of emotional, mental, and physical labor to advancing those social movements. As a results, my freedom and my discrimination is not visible in these movements because people are oblivious to the double burdens that come with being black and a woman as articulated in Sojourner Truth’s speech, Ain’t I a Woman?.

Furthermore, Sanders also said that “Black people don’t have time for writer’s block because there is too much to say.” She advised everyone to share without holding back for fear of backlash. I feel like I have been talking louder and louder to get people to listen, but I didn’t realized that they had me on “mute”. I didn’t realize they saw my scars as sacrifices and my burdens as blemishes to their movements. But, I am tired being expected to play the supporting role in the “White man’s, Black Man’s, White Woman’s, Privileged Person’s” movement. I have to come to learn that my revolution will not be funded, my revolution will not supported, my revolution will not be televised. I need to stop playing the role that world has wrote me. I need to stop waiting for recognition and support to raise my voice. I need to stand on my soapbox and my own platforms to raise it myself. I must continue to be brave enough to tell my story.

Being a Part of the Problem

Last year 82% of the world’s money was made by the top 1%. Gross, right? This is no coincidence, as the rich getting richer is not mutually exclusive with the poor getting poorer. Many of our Moxie discussions center around neoliberalism and it’s all-encompassing effects. A core idea I’ve taken away is that our global neoliberal economy serves as a catalyst for economic prosperity for those who already have wealth. For those who start with close to nothing, we so generously supply the rhetoric of the “American Dream”, near synonymous with the concept of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”.

This concept runs under the assumption that in our free market capitalist economy, all people have an equal opportunity to succeed. This can be reflected in the idea of the “homo-economocus”: that we as humans are capable of rational thought, so all are completely capable of free choice. It also operates under the assumption that all people have full information and options for the decisions they make. Under the logic that humans have both free choice and all available information, the market allows everyone equal opportunity to succeed, so poverty must be a result of a lack of effort. The result of having ideological roots in neoliberalism, which constructs a false equal playing field, while the country is founded in slavery, systemic racism, colonialism, and imperialism, is a neo-feudal economic order.

In order to allow the populations that have been so deeply marginalized throughout U.S. history, a massive overhaul of the systems in place is needed. More realistically, the country at least needs radical reform.  A key aspect of radical reform would be a re-distribution of wealth and political power. This means that those who profit off of our patriarchal, heteronormative, and capitalist economy would need to relinquish some of the tight grasp they hold on global economic and political power. In simple terms, rich, white people (especially cisgendered and heterosexual males) need to be willing to work towards a system that does not perpetually benefit them and marginalize those different from them. This is hard for many reasons, but I will explain two: living in a bubble and socialized greed.

 

And this is where this political rant relates to me, the 1%.

I can personally speak to the bubble and the socialized greed. I grew up on the North Shore of Chicago, a suburban area filled with some of the wealthiest towns in the county. For context, my high school, New Trier, was the basis and inspiration of the movie “Mean Girls”. A $500,000 house is considered small, and the town I lived in (Wilmette), with a shocking $117,526 per year median annual income, was called the “Wilmetto”, as it is considered poorer than the neighboring neighborhoods of the New Trier Township. When I was young, I naively thought that U.S. poverty looked like the smaller houses in my neighborhood. I didn’t know what it actually looked like on the South Side of Chicago, less than an hour away. You didn’t meet anyone openly struggling with financial issues or falling victim to systems of oppression. From the view in the bubble, these problems are easy to ignore. They can very easily become “not my problem”.

Moreover, thanks to free market competition and extensive privatization rooted in neoliberal ideology, the universal objective is to make as much money as possible, creating rampant greed. Under neoliberalism, your value and worth is defined by your current assets and your capacity to earn (thus promoting a whole cascade of evil “isms”). This perpetuates greed and the pattern of valuing one’s wealth over human welfare, and the belief that we are owed every dollar we were born into or given. As a person of privilege, the easy choice is to look the other way and continue to reap the benefits of a flawed system. I know that I did nothing to earn the economic situation I was born into and that the successes in my life have only been possible because of the opportunities I’ve been allotted.

It is necessary and powerful to come to these realizations, but it is not enough. In order to not only fight oppression but to not be a part of the problem, it requires using one’s privilege to help create change. I have constantly grappled with whether it is one’s moral responsibility to use that privilege to do good or if it’s okay to reap the benefits of your wealth. Personally, I feel a duty to use the privilege that I sit on to join the fight against systems of oppression. What I’ve struggled with is the knowledge that the jobs that result in me doing good, may not result in me enjoying the same comforts I’ve had growing up (this is where the greed comes in). My ideal self would be able to completely let go of the idea that happiness necessitates wealth, and fully embrace the knowledge that money is a sociallyconstructed means to happiness. However, I’m 20 years into deeply rooted capitalist socialization that trickles into nearly every aspect of my life.

At my core, I know I would feel an overwhelming guilt if I just sat on my privilege and continued to benefit from it without using it to better the world. I am thankful for my time at Girls for Gender Equity, with Moxie, and in New York to allow me the time and opportunities to see myself and the world around me from a critical and necessary lens.