Jewish People and Black People Share Intergenerational Trauma, Which Makes Black Lives Matter a Jewish Issue, too.

When I was a kid, I accidentally wore my Jewish star necklace in a passport photo. My mom didn’t notice until after the photo was taken. That’s the first time I remember being told that some people hate Jews just for being Jews, and some countries would not let me in or out if they knew. Luckily, the passport photo was small enough that the necklace wasn’t visible.

MOTHER WITH BABIES, 1974, ROMAN HALTER

When I first started dating I asked my mom, “do I have to only date Jews?” Her response was that she’ll share what her mother told her: I didn’t have to only date Jews, but 6 million Jews died for being Jewish, which means Jewish family members were taken too soon. If I marry a Jewish person and have Jewish children, I would be doing a mitzvah (good deed.)

In High School, a classmate made a fake myspace profile of me named “Ingrid Jewburger” and talked about turning me into smoke. My family wasn’t surprised that someone could put that evil into the world and explained that this was a lesson about being cautious.

The Jews, collectively, have been in pain. In 2018, a gunman opened fire on the congregation at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 Jews while they were praying on Shabbos. The act of terror didn’t surprise me or start a new fear for me. Rather, it confirmed a fear that my ancestors had warned me about. It confirmed a fear that the Jewish people have always been training for. As anti semitism continues to rise in the US, many Jews have been asking themselves “will I know when it’s time to run?” and “Have I learned enough from my ancestors about what to look for?”

Just as my parents had explained to me, I find myself explaining to my convert husband to make sure our passports are always up to date and to do our best to have emergency money tucked away. This planning is a trauma response triggered by the intergenerational trauma that holocaust surviving grandparents passed on to their children, and which was then passed on to their grandchildren.

Two nights a year, we gather around a table with our family and read a story about when Jews were slaves in Egypt. We recline with comfort and cushions while taking stock of our privilege. There are so many stories that include “and they tried to kill the Jews.” That’s the knowledge that we carry with us wherever we go. Crises where Jews were enslaved or forced to flee their homes have been traced back for over 2000 years, and Jewish tradition influences us to continuously remember and reflect on the tragedies and oppression our people have survived. Our traditions frame our history as resilient.

Learning about the trauma we inherit from our parents and grandparents teaches values in anti-bigotry because it exposes us to the fact that even small acts of anti semitism can have dangerous systematic implications. There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, which translates to “repair the world.” Tikkun Olam is the motivation behind much of Jewish giving and social activism, because responsibility is on both the Jewish individual and on the Jewish people as a unified community to do good for this world. Along that same logic, Jewish people can’t be separated from the bad behavior of individual Jews. There’s an understanding among Jewish communities that when one Jewish person acts badly, it creates risk for hatred of all Jews. Just look back at the scandal of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. His crimes served as a “lighting-rod for anti-semitism,” fueling harmful stereotypes that date back to biblical times, encouraging “acceptable” Jewish bias. Our actions speak on behalf of many and have lasting impact, so we must work to be good to the world so the world sees the Jewish people as good.

Image by Adam Garvey

16 year old, Adam Garvey, understands Tikkun Olam as a direct call to support Black Lives Matter because “standing up against injustice is a huge part of Jewish values.” Garvey understands that policy change and being vocal against bigotry is positive representation of Jewish core beliefs. He’s using his statement “Tikkun Olam means Black Lives Matter” to raise funds for the NAACP.

As protests soar across the US (and the world,) it’s undeniable that white consciousness of racial injustice is growing. The similarities between Black trauma and Jewish trauma are palpable. Black people demand we Say Their Names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade as they mourn over the same sentiment that Jews have expressed, that they’re not surprised but rather tired and rightfully angry.

In Jewish history, numbers hold symbolic value. Romans destroyed a Jewish temple and the oil menorah burnt miraculously for eight nights. Jews wandered the desert displaced for 40 years. Six million Jews were tortured and murdered during a holocaust, creating a need for the word “genocide.”

The history of racism against Black people has some astounding numbers, too. 246 years of slavery in America. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Black mothers are 3.2 times more likely to die during childbirth than white mothers. Jews can be racist against other Jews, too. In Israel, 90% of Ethiopian Jewish youth convicted by the court were sentenced to imprisonment, compared to one-third of other Jewish youth. Racial Trauma plagues a community when they have to gather statistical data about their race being systematically and lethally oppressed to prove theres is a national and system-wide problem, while simultaneously having to demand to be treated as a person and not a number. Monnica T. Williams, PhD, ABPP says racial trauma is the reason why people of color have a higher rate of PTSD than white Americans.

The fear Jews hold is internalized because our intergenerational trauma has trained us that we always need to exercise a degree of censorship on our Jewishness, to protect us from possible anti semitism. It’s as little as knowing I shouldn’t wear a star of David necklace in a passport photo and the thought that if the wrong person knew we were Jewish, they might come after us, too.

The keyword in knowing that Jews experience oppression differently than Black people is “too,” as we are reminded every day that Black lives are stolen at a disproportionate rate while white Jews benefit from our privilege. Our own internalized fear makes racial injustice feel so personal, especially if you’re a Black Jewish person who has to navigate the fear of anti semitism, racial injustice at a national scale, AND micro-aggressions from your own Jewish community. Addressing these differences are instrumental within activism for policy change because they afford white Jews privilege that can be used to uplift Black people, which includes Black Jews. We may all share similar fears about white supremacy, but we have unequal power in social agency.

Judaism could be considered a religion and a culture, with a geopolitical force. Diaspora (which Black people have also experienced in their history,) created a racially diverse Jewish people, which has made the Jewish community torn on whether anti semitism is racism. Intergenerational oppression has occurred differently for Jewish people than Black people and other people of color, as many of us are able to walk in public without being detected as Jews. At the same time the media was quick to blame Jewish people for the spread of Covid, someone explained to me, “I didn’t know you were Jewish! You don’t look Jewish!”

Jewish people can be riddled with fear, planning for the next time we have to run from something, and yet so many of my friends have told me they’d like to be Jewish. I find myself repeatedly explaining to my convert husband that we need to have exit strategies, just in case. While Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song plays for laughs sandwiched between sets of a dozen Christmas jingles: “All Jewish people are funny and rich!” with no recognition that there’s lifelong planning to feel safe as a proud Jew in the world.

When I first saw white people sharing the compassionate quote, “I understand that I’ll never understand, but I stand with you,” I felt like I did have some understanding. After some self-reflection, I recognized that though I was taught to be alert for signs of anti semitism, it doesn’t compare to a black mother training her black child how to talk to those who protect and serve not to shoot you for existing.

I can acknowledge my privilege and that I benefit from racism as a white person, while also understanding that as a Jewish person, I experience forms of oppression.

Many well-meaning Pittsburghers shared a Pittsburgh Strong Jewish graphic after the Tree of Life shooting, yet I’m still meeting people who think I’m the first Jewish person they’ve ever met. It makes me wonder, is anti semitism less of a threat than racism or is the violence labeled less as a hate crime because who knows the face of a Jew? I’m still trying to understand this phenomena, but I think it speaks to a level of privilege that allows me to censor my Judaism to protect me from the dangers of anti semitism.

We have a reoccurring joke in my house: When examining the Torah or Jewish history, the Jews are always being hunted. “What a surprise!” one of us will exclaim. “Haman wanted all the Jews dead!” I can understand that there’s no humor in a sarcastic joke like that for Black people, when white Jewish people have a dark history of minstrel shows and blackface. Though Jewish and Black people have experienced similar crises and oppression, white Jews have to own up that we’ve used our privilege to keep Black people down in social equity.

At the height of my fear in 2018, I wrote “There are times where the world seems so small, but in these times of crisis it feels gigantic. It feels scary and unpredictable. Each time someone sings a song of peace or a Jew leaves their house even though they’re scared, the world gets smaller and more comfortable again.”

For Black people mourning lives that shouldn’t have been taken, there is no place proven to be safe for them. They’re pulled from their cars, held down and suffocated in the streets, and shot while they’re sleeping in bed.

For Jews, we call on our ancestors to teach us how to stay safe.
Molly S. Castelloe Ph.D. says, “Transgenerational transmissions take on life in our in dreams, in acting out, in ““life lessons”” given in turns of phrase and taught us by our family. Discovering transmission means coming to know and tell a larger narrative, one from the preceding generation.” We read the Torah or listen to our grandparents for experiences on how to protect ourselves when people come for us. Black crisis is happening right now, in front of our eyes, relentlessly for more than 400 years. While our plight has similar themes from diaspora to micro-aggression, it is not the same. They’re not holding life lessons from their parents and looking out for a possibly dangerous white person that they may encounter. Hundreds of years of consistent community crises at a universal, unconditional level means that there are no trustworthy white people.

Internalized and intergenerational trauma gives Jewish people the unique ability to transfer our learned coping to lift up Black folks. Since Jews have experienced similar community violence and oppression across generations, we have the tools to educate white people about racism so that Black people don’t have to carry that labor. We have an understanding of mourning the result of large-scale hatred, so we can hold space and take on some of the work. All the while, we must recognize that Black people who are also Jewish carry the weight of thousands of years of this trauma, without specific hashtag activism to support support them.

White Jews owe black people reparations because we’ve had a hand in racism and have benefited from it. White Jews should be a source of compassion and a proponent of social change in support of all Black people with direct donations, emotional energy, and sharing the intergenerational healing we’ve learned from our story-telling traditions. Tikkun Olam DOES mean that not only do Black Lives Matter, but that any other viewpoint is against Jewish ethics and therefore, a Jewish issue.

Watering the Roses in Times of Crisis

Art by Lee Anna Fitzgerald

Archiving Rose Water Magazine was a tough decision in 2017. One of the motivating reasons we decided to archive our content and break from publishing new things was because our mission got messy as our country turned into a parody of itself. In 2017, it felt like our choices were to be an anti-Tr*mp reporting machine or pump out feminist playlists, and neither felt like it did anything but send waves into an echo chamber. So, with 4 years of viral articles, power-fueled art, and quippy feminist thought: we shut down new submissions so we didn’t erase our impressive legacy.

There have been many reminders since 2017 that our words have carried real weight. Speaking for myself, I know my knowledge has been forever enriched by our diverse writers and artists. Our articles and creations are still being shared as people discovering feminism that they connect with for the first time.

But some things have changed.

Things have changed for us because some things have remained exactly the same. Rose Water Magazine has always been proud to hold an anti-racist, intersectional feminist stance. Though, without new work being published, it feels like we’re looking away from the growing white-nationalist sentiment that’s insidious in America’s systems.

We were privileged to be able to step away from the project when our voices were tired of being carried on their own.

While the idea of opening up submissions again had floated to the forefront of my mind several times, no calling seemed as pertinent as the effort to support the protests for racial justice happening in cities all over the US. I could share articles we’ve written from years ago that address racism and police brutality, but it feels like an empty gesture not to be active in anti-racism.

I’ve been reminded this Spring season that roses can be almost completely destroyed, but with a little watering and attention, they will bloom beautifully with resilience. Our magazine, once bursting with feminist content, has been silent for too long. It’s time to water the roses for seeds of change to grow.

We will not be complacent when faced white supremacy. We will not turn our eyes from blatant or micro aggression. By using the power of words and art, we aim to take on the energy to recognize and educate on the many -isms that continue to plague our world.

Our contributors believe in new waves of feminism, which includes discourse on racism, body autonomy, rape culture, fat politics, and inclusive trans positive and sex positive women’s empowerment. As introduced in the 4th wave, Rose Water Magazine understands that the internet and social media is a prime component in sharing discourse and inspiring change.

In June 2020, we are declaring a new commitment as we begin publishing again:

We will donate all proceeds to featured organizations and charities that uplift and support marginalized people. The goal is to make a donation every month to a different organization. You can nominate a charity or org by emailing their info to RoseWaterMag@gmail.com.

For the month of June, we will be donating all our proceeds from ad revenue and direct donations to Black Visions Collective. Black Visions Collective is a black, trans, and queer-led organization that is dedicated to creating long-term change, with a focus on black liberation and healing.

It’s necessary to amplify black, brown, indigenous, trans, and gay voices. It’s necessary to amplify the work of marginalized groups.

Rose Water Magazine is dedicated to sharing diverse art. We are committed to being intersectional. Our goal is to make lasting change and to create a directory of educational work that leaves an empowering impact on our path.

Join us by contributing written work and art. You can submit work by emailing RoseWaterMag@gmail.com

Support us and feminist causes by donating. All proceeds will be shared with featured feminist orgs and charities. You can donate via PayPal by clicking here.

Diversity in a Virtual Universe

There were two occasions in high school where I was received an invitation to a party – both being last minute pity offerings via Facebook Events. I appreciated the inclusion nonetheless, and also, the fact that they were costume parties. Although the idea of social shindigs themselves instilled me with a great deal of anxiety, the opportunity to dress absurdly ultimately won me over.

To the first of them, I dressed as the Joker, and received a number of comments about how I should’ve dressed Harley Quinn and been “hot-scary” rather than “just plain scary”. Needless to say, I rolled my eyes so far back in my head that I could see my brain cells dying. I got a lot of ocular exercise, if nothing else.

Not a great start, but I tried again.

On the other occasion, I dressed as Scooby Doo. A kid who was seemingly wearing casual clothes told me I would’ve been so much cuter as Daphne. This was frustrating. Everyone (who’ll listen) knows my Scooby Doo character preferences are ranked as follows: Scooby, Velma, Shaggy, Daphne, the Mystery Machine, Scrappy, Old Man Jenkins, and Fred (look, he’s a sweet goof, he just needs to find the words to describe a girl without being disrespectful). I am open to critique of my costumes, but this needs to be constructive, and I’d prefer it coming from someone who has made their own cosplay attempt too. With that in mind, I asked the kid what he was dressed as, and he told me he was Alan Wake. I bit my lip to stifle some ugly laughing. It made sense. Of course he was.

For those who don’t know, Alan Wake is the eponymous hero of a series of horror games. He is one of the most bland, archetypal video game protagonists ever – and he’s certainly not lacking in some stiff competition there. He is, just casually, a famous author. He wears jeans. He is white. He has brown hair and a short, scruffy beard. His wife, Alice, is a blonde photographer whose interests include her husband and his novels. Alan Wake is the imaginative equivalent to the experience of eating a giant hard-boiled egg, as its dry, black-tinged yolk clogs your throat with vague discomfort and an overwhelming, slow-moving blandness.

Video game diversity leaves a lot to be desired, which is somewhat odd considering the medium – after all, if a character can be an alien, a robot, a domestic dog, a square, a slice of bread or a metaphysical concept, is it so crazy that they could sometimes be a woman of colour? Dare I dream?

Gender diversity in the industry itself is improving, but still leaves much to be desired in becoming a safer and welcoming field for women to participate in. At least progress is being made here – unfortunately, game development has a long way to go in regards to racial inclusiveness. It is largely a Westernized and masculinized industry, but it shouldn’t have to be. Eventually, games should be as socially modern as they are technologically. Slowly, but surely… please, please, surely.

For those who adore video games, and those who may have shied away but are interested to dip their toes in, here are a couple of picks for games with interesting protagonists who exist far beyond the realm of Alan Wake’s cookie cutter nightmares:

Broken Age

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Broken Age is a story-driven adventure game, with two interlocking tales and separate protagonists to switch between. I enjoyed this unique feature, as sometimes point-and-click games can lose their novelty the first time you get stuck, so having two perspectives assisted with maintaining a sense of progression. The game is artistically delightful, and this is showcased by the variety of landscapes and fantasy elements of its universe. I particularly loved playing as Vella, a young woman of colour who is offered as a ritualistic sacrifice to the monster that has historically been calling the shots on her village. She, of course, resolves to destroy the beast instead. The premise itself is quite classic, but the game brings enough original twists and turns to make it worthwhile nonetheless. While Shay, her male protagonist counterpart, is a likeable character, I find that Vella specifically shines with her loving but strong-willed nature.

Undertale

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Undertale is a character-rich game with progressive sensibilities in the relationships and personalities depicted. Although the gameplay is a throwback to old RPGs, it is revitalised by the influence of player choices – the game differs based on whether it is played as a pacifist, anarchist, or a happy medium between the two. The dialogue is also sincerely funny: I’m talkin’ puns! While it does not overtly push a feminist agenda (unlike myself, let’s be honest), Undertale is refreshing in the way it normalises its own diversity: female characters are not tokenized, non-heteronormative romantic feelings are commonplace, and our protagonist, Frisk, is non-binary and/or androgynous. Simply by rejecting male or straight as the default way of existence, the social narrative of the game feels a little less prescribed. Undertale leaves space for the player to bring their own interpretation, and subverts the argument that representation is a form of pandering or politicising. Rather than the developers of this game asking, “why should we have female or non-binary characters?” it feels like they’ve simply asked “why not?”.

Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor

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This is a game of dichotomies. Trash and treasure. Hope and hopelessness. Vibrant and plain. Busy and mundane. Alien and familiar. Individual and society. Haze and clarity. The Janitor, described as a girlbeast, is an enigmatic protagonist who reflects the unique but humble way we each play bystander to the worlds of others, while simply trying to survive our own. It is not climactic in any sense, but is nonetheless compelling to play with a focus on exploration, existence and emotion. It possesses enough intrigue and personal connection to feel invested in, and even touches on some of the complexities of depression and gender dysphoria.

Fran Bow

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Fran is a girl with a mental illness. Just like me. But also, not. Not at all. She is institutionalised within the hellscape of reality and perception, an experience that entails both an uncomfortable familiarity and a chaotic terror about it. The game, and our hero, are equally unsettling. Despite this, Fran retains some of the endearing and youthful qualities which humanise her. In a game tackling themes of mental illness, it is crucial to establish depth of character and ensure Fran is not a reductive token of “insanity”, but is also engaging to play. The world around her is explicit, darkly humorous, and changes as she self-medicates. It is a point-and-click, but is full of puzzles and minigames which add extra depth to the gameplay.

Dex

dex-rainy-alleyDex is a woman of resistance in a futuristic world, where she is persecuted as a cyborg by a powerful network of governments and corporations. Sound familiar? No, it is not the political climate of 2017 so far, it is a humble video game! The setting holds all the elements to a classic cyberpunk tale – a city bleak but for neon fringing; a focus on advanced technologies, run-ins with hackers, and artificial intelligence; a downtrodden, low quality of life. The community is diverse and intriguing, and the gameplay incorporates elements of a platformer, an RPG, a side-scroller, and a beat ‘em up brawler.

Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)

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Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (I Am Not Alone) is an aesthetically beautiful game about a young Native American girl, Nuna, and her Fox, as they try to save their home from a powerful blizzard. The gameplay takes the style of a platformer with some puzzle elements, particularly in how both characters must be navigated in tandem. The collectibles in this game unlock educational insights into various aspects of Alaskan Inuit culture and folklore, which I find to be a creative way to utilize video gaming as an informative and connective tool. The premise of this game and its focus on Native peoples is a unique strength. It’s also near impossible not to adore Nuna and her gorgeous animal friend.

Gone Home

largeGone Home is a bit of an oldie but definitely a goodie. It was created by a group inclusive of female developers, features a female protagonist, and also incorporates Sapphic relationships. Lots of ticks there for social progressivity, but it is also genuinely fun to play! It’s got a rad 90s nostalgia feel, and a healthy dose of mystery. It plays as an unfolding story that is masquerading as a suspense game. While you begin by searching for a what, as is often the assumption, you eventually come to focus more on the why of your discoveries. This game also subverts the idea of who the protagonist is – I felt that I (the player) was not necessarily the main character, but rather felt more connected to the characters we never interact with, but delve intimately into the lives of. Gone Home reinforces gaming as an immersive and interactive means of telling stories regardless of genre.

Transistor

Our protagonist, Red, is a renowned but controversial singer, left voiceless and with no choice but to fight a corrupt world wielding the weapon that it intended to use to destroy her. The transistor is a unique article which absorbs the consciousness and knowledge of all it vanquishes. It also serves as Red’s ally and narrator to the game. Transistor is visually stunning, and like Supergiant’s previous popular title, Bastion, it offers a melodic soundtrack produced by Darren Korb and featuring vocals by Ashley Lynn Barrett. This ties in nicely with the tale of music as a form of social and political capital, and contributes to a highly-developed gameworld experience.

Sunset

Sunset, like Gone Home, is a game where storytelling is uncovered through exploration and context. We play as Angela, who has needed to take up a housekeeping job in 1970s Latin American during a time of political tumult. There is a civil war, and through Angela’s unique perspective we are immersed into the world of the bystander – of conflict, of wealth, and of class systems. The world outside suffers as Angela watches from the creature comforts of a high rise, albeit as a housekeeper and not a resident. She is between worlds, and this premise allows for greater depth in the developing the plot and the connection between she and her employer. The gameplay itself is simple, but I appreciate the unfolding of the story and how it is incorporated into everyday existence.

 

So, there you have it, for now. Some games to play for when you’re not in the mood to play as some dead-eyed white dude with a bland romantic subtext involving his female equivalent. I hope you enjoy them – they are all available on Steam, which frequently offers sales and discounts. Get gaming!

I am not sorry for the comments I made about Alan Wake.

Transition

God, I hate change. There is just something inside of me that clenches whenever the word is mentioned. I get this mental image of myself as a small child throwing myself face down on the carpet, beating my fists and screaming. And yet, there is an equal part of myself that firmly believes that change is good for me, that it is life-affirming and somehow some mystical change will propel my life forward, making it all so much better.

A New Year, in this respect, always sort of tickles me. We talk so much about change: throughout the year we seek to change policies, politics, societal attitudes, educational curriculums, equality laws, fantastical big advancements that could make huge strides for humanity around us, and yet, come January 1st, we all keep saying the same old things. Cliches about gym memberships, new diets, old diets, new ways to save money are often resolutions we made many years ago and yet still haven’t found a way to actually include in our regular lives. Because we really don’t change too much, in either our actions or our words. And that’s okay. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule and some people thrive on change – living through one new adventure to the next, trying one craze after another, that is what works best. Perhaps in this circumstance, their change would be to just do one thing and not change. Patterns, no matter how they are shaped, are comfortable. Change is not.

The only thing I find comfort in is the cliche of change. I find hope in the changes we all keep striving for on a daily basis and I find camaraderie in the fresh turn of a New Year, a calendar we have constructed to make sense of our world, a return or sorts to a new beginning of yet another spin around the sun. There is something truly special in a universal recognition of the one day of the year signaling a change for the whole world, on a date that itself never changes. We may change how we look, how we act, how we speak and how we smell, but we shall consistently be a sum of our parts. We can change, but never too much.

However, I worry that our desire and drive for change can leave us feeling uninspired and dissatisfied with the lives we currently lead. That we may be holding ourselves back by not letting go of past selves, past loves, past habits that were as comfortable as your grandmother’s old armchair. That when we focus on what we don’t have yet (equal pay), or what we could lose (LGBTQ rights), we lose sight of the great gains we have made (same-sex marriage) and we don’t necessarily recognize the great achievements we have accomplished. The ideal would be to do both, to celebrate our accomplishments as stepping stones towards our almighty goals. But I wonder if that feels a little too farfetched at the moment because as a society, the journey ahead of us is told to be so treacherous, so full of land mines and probable calamity that it can make our great achievements seem small. Those landmark historical arguments we won, that at the time felt like we’d surmounted Everest, can feel like molehills in comparison. And that feeling of dissatisfaction, of reviewing something you were so proud of and realizing you’ve got to keep doing it every day, all day, can push you to the point of despair. If we’re dissatisfied personally, we’re often dissatisfied politically; but it’s very hard to fight either when you’re holding this hurt deep within your person. How do we fight every day, all day, if we don’t feel that our fight has been good enough? And we’re wrong; our fight has been fantastic, but it’s hard and that light at the end of the tunnel keeps dancing just a little bit further on.

I still struggle with change. I might charge into battle tomorrow morning demanding that men’s mental health needs to be championed, that consent from all parties irrespective of gender needs to be respected and that I consider it my basic human right to be able to walk home without feeling afraid – gigantic changes I want to happen in society and the way we educate ourselves, as well as others . Yet, the thought of replacing my car from one that’s currently hemorrhaging money to one that isn’t  – a clear change that makes life better for me – makes me want to vomit. I like my routine, and I like what I know. I like my comfort zone, and whilst I want something better and bigger for society at large, the change required to make my comfort zone more comfortable in the long-run feels too big. I think it’s because it’s so personal, and it’s on me; changing my car isn’t a decision I can ask a focus group to make for me. I wonder too where this fits with self-care, and the aversions we can feel to self-care that are often based on self-worth, only we don’t wish to acknowledge it. At this point in my life, driving a very nice ‘old banger’ fits my identity. It’s my first car, the one I’ve driven down windy country lanes, since I was eighteen, from high school to university to postgrad. It’s carried me through three different cities and three different eras of my life. While everything else around me has changed, my car hasn’t. I wonder if I feel that maybe I don’t deserve that change yet; if I swap it for a younger, sportier model, something that feels slightly more grown-up and dependable, do I think I can also make that leap in my feelings of self-worth? Do I deserve this change? Have I earned it? Can I live up to it?

Change is a wonderful equalizer, if not for the strong feelings it seems to stir and the decisions it seems to enforce upon us. We must either stand against the tide or bow to it. Personally and politically, 2017 signifies a great deal of tension and shift. Personally, I will finally finish my seven-year university career in May. Politically, the UK should be exiting the EU this year and with the uncertainties of Scottish Parliament being willing to move with this, my Scottish home could feel compromised. My passport will become something of a museum relic, with the title of ‘European Union’ no longer valid. I can’t even begin to contemplate America’s next hundred days. The changes that will applied due to democracy at home and in my second home (my treasured academic home) will bring personal and political changes to everyone. All identities (and self-worth) may feel shifted, altered or even unhinged by this change.

When I first began working on this theme of change, it was December and, trying to convince myself that upgrading my car would be a good thing, I began to believe that change was the thing that would save the world – that a Trump Presidency and Brexit would be horrific, but that their “change” could be the catalyst to make us shout louder, to reassess what it is that we want and what exactly we’re fighting for. That the change could be the making of us. As I struggle to remember how the buttons differ in my new car, and consistently stall the start/stop transmission, I’m also aware of how much of a fight one has to make to transition. How it’s a constant, daily thought pattern that must be almost reprogrammed. And I think of the Women’s Marches all over the world and hope that we can fly our flags and wave our banners daily, no matter how tiring and frustrating it may feel.

As we enter 2017, uncertain of just how much the world could change in the next hundred minutes, never mind the next hundred days, I wonder how we might transition next.

 

How Nightline Saved Me

Nightline Awareness Week runs this year from the 14th-20th November. This annual national campaign  seeks to raise awareness of the student-run, student-led Nightline services. These non-directory information and listening services offer anonymous and confidential peer-support (without advice) and are managed on University campuses all over the UK and Republic Of Ireland via phone lines, Instant Messaging, Text Messaging, Email and Skype.  Nightline Awareness Week celebrates the students who strive to keep these services open 7 nights a week during their host University term-times.

University Mental Health comes under relentless fire as we continue to battle student suicide, self-harm, and rising levels of mental illness amid funding cuts and other priorities. The importance of breaking down the barriers that surround these taboo subjects remains as paramount as ever, and the determination required to stand up and tackle these obstacles can seem insurmountable. This is evermore so true in today’s political climate. With Trump and Brexit reigning, the importance of standing true to our own beliefs, of tackling the bitter-tasting and ever-pervasive fear surrounding us head on is now key to our survival.

I first heard of Nightline whilst attending a University Open Day before leaving high school. There was a huge banner flying over one of the Student Unions; it was of the brightest blue and it seemed to wave so welcomingly at me. I couldn’t wait for a chance to sign up. It wasn’t until my second year when I finally got to apply. I was living in a house that terrified me, watching someone I cared about self-medicate away daylight,  desperately looking for a moment that would allow my voice to count for something.
In this desperation, I sought to make a difference somewhere, to someone. If I couldn’t save this friend, there must be someone out there I could save; somebody I could be of use to.

The basic listening skills that I learnt as part of my local service team, the hours I spent on that hotline after dark, the camaraderie I felt working belonging to that team; those experiences are priceless. I learnt to listen in a way that could be empowering to my speaker. I learnt that being able to talk openly about deepest fears without a restriction of judgement is a skill of immense strength, and something humanity will always need.  The thrill of doing something you believe to be so incredibly worthwhile made all those sleepless nights addictive. I’ve since worked on other hotlines, in other countries, with differing core values and differing policies, but nothing has ever come close to working with those hard-working twenty-somethings, who believe they have the power to change the world. That drive, that passion, that absolute loyalty to the cause is hard-earned and thoroughly  deserved; this team is out saving the world every night! Their work is making humanity just that little bit kinder. Their listening ears and empathetic responses are opening worlds of possibilities that may never have been seen before.

I’ve been thinking recently about a publicity night I ran a few years ago. It was the last night out before Christmas and we’d taken the mascot and a handful of volunteers to the most popular club with the stickiest of carpets (everyone has one). I’d just managed to retrieve our kidnapped mascot and had helped to barter for the head back with some sweets the Christian Union were handing out. I was beginning to question every life choice that had led me into this situation, when I could have been out dancing with my friends, or — even better — been at home in my pjs with hot chocolate and a Disney movie.
I ended up outside in the smoking area, trying to raise morale with our mascot when I was barrelled into by a complete stranger who threw her arms around me, collapsed into tears and shouted “Nightline saved my life, thank you!”
Suddenly, every life choice made sense.
The truth is, Nightline has seen me from that terrified 19-year-old who just wanted to make a difference all the way through to the 25-year-old trainee psychotherapist who is still convinced that one day she will save the world; one day she will make that difference. Every job I’ve had since training has always seemed to come back to that one decision. My late-application for my place on my Counselling and Psychotherapy course was fueled and supported by the hotline work I’d been involved with. I channel the confidence I gained working on hotlines every time I step through that Therapist Office door and sit in the chair that monitors the clock. It’s that confidence and the belief in those skills learned that has taken me back through the doors of a University Counselling Service this time as a service provider, instead of a service user. For me, it all began with Nightline.
And I am reminded that it’s alright to want to save the world, it’s alright to save just one person, and it’s really alright if the one person I save is me.
 nlaw-short-poster

To follow the Nightline Awareness Week Campaign, please follow the Tagboard, found here: https://tagboard.com/NLBreakTheSilence/search

If you would like to learn more about the work Nightline does and to find a Nightline service in your area, please follow this link: http://www.nightline.ac.uk

Image credit: Nightline Association

Stop Asking Me to Dry Your White Tears

It has been a rough two weeks. Like, hide-in-my-bed-and-never-leave two weeks. America has chosen a known white supremacist to be president. This cannot be real life. But it is. And we are all trying to deal with the trauma and pain that this election has created. I love that there have been multiple community gatherings to express the fear, anxiety and next steps that will need to be taken to ensure safety.

But I don’t like what those spaces have continued to support, which is inherently white supremacy. When white people enter spaces like this, they often take up way too much space to talk about how they are individually affected, ignoring the black and brown voices in the room. Then they end up crying and expect those same people to continue to hold emotional space for them.

During my weekly staff meeting at work, white people took up so much space to cry and talk about their feelings, completely ignoring the real and continuous trauma that black and brown people are experiencing. Through their intentions to be a ‘good white ally’, they effectively silenced the voices most affected (one of those voices being my own). It immediately turned into a space for white people to feel guilty, instead of holding safe space for our black and brown employees.

Let’s make something clear: black and brown people with multiple intersections of identities are the ones who will be the most affected. Not white people.

I need white people to stop crying and instead, hold space for us. I need white people to realize that they are not the only people in the room suffering and that many people are legitimately afraid for their lives and for their families. I really need white people to do better and stop re-traumatizing us by expecting the most affected to hold emotional space for those who caused us to arrive here in the first place. This is because of you and your ancestors – white people – and ya’ll need to get it together. If I am expected to represent the entire Latinx community, then I am going to do the same for white people: 53% of white women voted for Trump, and I am holding white people entirely accountable for this obvious fuck-up.

I do not have time to hear you cry about sad you are. I do not have the energy to console you after all your friends voted for Trump. I am still dealing with my own ancestral trauma, which started the day Columbus landed on the island of Borinken. We have been dealing with this shit for centuries, and now you, white people, are just waking up.

It’s about damn time.

So please, do me a favor: dry your white tears, get your white friends together, and support the black and brown people who have already been doing this work for years. We’ve been waiting for you to do your part. Ya’ll just need to take the first step.

Gray

It’s a grey, heavy day,

not quite warm

but not yet raining,

uncertain.

A few drops fall,

one by one,

across your back,

past your cheek

and the curve of your hand,

The wind picks up,

swirling dead leaves,

left over from winter.

It howls through trees

and surrounds bright tulips.

They stand tall and proud,

hopeful and lively.

The wind shoots them down,

pulling off brilliant petals,

which now lay still,

circling skinny forlorn stems,

nothing left.

I’m walking in a park,

beneath a steel grey sky,

hear police sirens in the wind

and wonder

what tulip is being shaken down

next.

Speak Up?

social-media-connecting-the-world

There is no doubt that the internet and social media are powerful tools. It is also important to remember that the internet and social media (in particular) are relatively new. While some people are finding fame and fortune within the confines of blogs and videos, others are still struggling to figure out exactly how social media can be used effectively.  Now, more than ever it seems, people have become especially vocal about their beliefs, which is a good thing. Now more than ever before people can share information, provide insightful commentary, and bring light to many issues facing today’s people.  But what happens to those who don’t choose to share their opinions as much as others? Is the idea that we should all scream our opinions out into the void to raise awareness or should we start putting our money where our mouth is? It is important to both speak out against issues and act on those beliefs.

One of the most recent examples of this was the vocality of many people choosing to stand with Ke$ha over her dispute with Dr. Luke and Sony. Swift’s PR team announced she would be donating money to Ke$ha. Taylor, herself, mentioned nothing about the case. Demi Lovato took issue with this move and called Taylor Swift out for only donating money and not speaking out against Sony, Dr. Luke, or sexual assault.  

This is one of the few instances where you will see me agreeing (I don’t know if you can call it agreeing since Taylor never said anything about anything) with Ms. Swift. I think that we need to stop just talking (to a certain extent) and start acting.

This is not to say that vocal advocacy isn’t important or affective, quite the contrary. It’s incredibly important – I’m doing it right now. I just don’t believe everyone has to make a declarative statement on every issue. If someone doesn’t want to speak on something and decides instead, to donate, whether that be money or time, that should be enough.

Often, I feel like the internet is just another one of the many club meetings that I would attend in high school in order to plan various activities on campus. We would plan on accomplishing something, but somehow, would always end up arguing over how to accomplish our goals. One person would think this is the best way, another person would say something different. This would go on for what felt like hours. We would argue with each other about courses of action until eventually, we would all end up saying the same thing. And yet, the volume didn’t go down. People would yell out pointed statements at each other when everyone whole-heartedly agreed. Eventually we would run out of time, having neither planned nor accomplished any of our goals. At what point do we agree that not everyone has to go around in a circle using different words to say the same thing?

I don’t need Taylor Swift to say she stands with Ke$ha. I don’t need Beyonce to say #BlackLivesMatter. Their actions did that for them .

In no way am I trying to say everyone should leave their homes to spend hours helping the causes they believe in. I understand not everyone is able to and getting the word out for an issue is also a great thing to do. But, I am wondering why we attack those who don’t speak up, but just show their support through action. Both are needed to accomplish a goal. We say education is the best tool, but it is exactly that, a tool to make the change we need. We need both to accomplish our goals.

Split The Bill Fairly – Using Affirmative Fractions

A new app called Equipay that was recently presented at a Comedy Hack Day in San Francisco promises to help you fairly split the bill when you’re out with friends— using gender and racial income inequality. How exactly? Using “affirmative fractions” (and real Bureau of Labor Statistics data). Even though the app is meant as a joke, team member Luna Malbroux explained that the app is meant as a social commentary, which will hopefully help start a conversation between friends.

Equipay offers options to input your race and a sliding scale between male and female genders. “We acknowledge that gender is a spectrum,” said Lambroux as she presented the app. When splitting the bill, a diversity tracker keeps tabs on your friends, who may fit into the ‘Oscar’ category, ‘San Francisco startup’ or even ‘college brochure.’ If the payer doesn’t like the total, they can “protest,” at which point the app will ask for an excuse. Options include, “I pulled myself up from by bootstraps,” “I’m aware of my privilege” and “this isn’t an issue anymore.” But, the app will argue with you. If your friend group is not so diverse (read: white), the app has a solution for that too.

Equipay wound up winning the Comedy Hack. Best part? It will actually be made into an app. Coming soon.

What’s so refreshing about this is that it uses comedy to educate people in a way that’s empowering. “You can reach people a lot quicker through comedy,” said Malbroux, “because their defenses are down.”

Kesha: A Bridge to Truth

*Trigger Warning: descriptions of sexual abuse

On Friday, February 19th, a New York judge denied pop singer Kesha’s injunction against former music producer Dr. Luke. Part of an ongoing legal battle since October 2014, Kesha is suing Lukasz Gottwald, known as “Dr. Luke,” for a decade of sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse, which allegedly began when she was just a teenager and left high school to begin a music career in Los Angeles.

The injunction would have made it possible for Kesha to continue recording with Sony, but not with Kemosabe Records (Dr. Luke’s label). Kesha’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, had originally asked for the injunction because her career had been hold for a while (since the lawsuit began) and, if she didn’t return to record soon, her career could be irreparably damaged. NY Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich denied the injunction, saying,“You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry.” Because Dr. Luke had invested 60 million dollars in her career and had agreed to allow her to let her record without his involvement, the judge stated that this decimated her argument, adding, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.”

Sony has refused to produce her music unless she agreed to work with Dr. Luke. Thanks to the judge’s decision, Kesha will be required to continue working with the music producer. However, Sony and Dr. Luke have argued that the agreement allows her to create more records without Dr. Luke’s input or presence in the studio, while maintaining her original contract. In their eyes, that should be good enough for her.

kesha

When Kesha first began her lawsuit, Dr. Luke responded with a counter lawsuit, saying that the singer was just trying to extort him in order to get out of her contract and defame him. Dr. Luke has worked with other big names in the past, including Katy Perry, Britney Spears and Kelly Clarkson. Kesha said that during their ten-year relationship, she allegedly suffered a number of incidents. In one occasion, he made her snort a substance before getting on a plane, where he then assaulted her while in the air. Another time, he drugged her with GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, known as a date rape drug) and she woke up hours later in his bed, naked with no memory of what had occurred.

Dr. Luke has denied all charges of sexual abuse and says that Kesha is suing because she is frustrated with her stalled career. “His attorneys have argued that Kesha’s claims came too late and are too vague, the harm is overstated and that she’s not likely to prevail on her discrimination, harassment and hate crime claims nor beat his ones for allegedly breaching a contract and committing defamation.”

In an Instagram post on February 18th, Kesha wrote, “I have nothing left to hide. I did this because the truth was eating away my soul and killing me from the inside. this is not just for me. this is for every woman, every human who has ever been abused. sexually. emotionally. mentally. I had to tell the truth. so the outcome will be what it will be. there’s nothing left I can do. it’s just so scary to have zero control in your fate. but this is my path this life for whatever reason.”

Kesha’s fans have been publicly behind her every step of the way. After the judge’s decisions, fans and fellow musicians, including Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Lorde and Lady Gaga, posted messages of support using the hashtag “FreeKesha.” Even Taylor Swift is stepping up, by donating $250,000 to Kesha to help her with any of her financial needs.

Since the decision, Kesha made a public statement saying, “”All I ever wanted was to be able to make music without being afraid, scared, or abused,” Kesha wrote. “This case has never been about a renegotiation of my record contract – it was never about getting a bigger, or a better deal. This is about being free from my abuser. I would be willing to work with Sony if they do the right thing and break all ties that bind me to my abuser.”

The fact that this story is only now just making major headlines is astonishing. Firstly, why, after almost a year and a half, are people only now starting to pay attention? Secondly, what kind of judge—yet alone human being—would decide that a working relationship in which the employer regularly abuses their employee must be maintained?

Taking away Lukasz Gottwald’s rights and allowing Kesha to break her contract with him would acknowledge that this was overlooked, damaging not only his reputation, but Sony’s as well. Sony doesn’t want to dirty its hands trying to save Kesha. It seems that Shirley Kornreich has decided that when a famous music producer invests in you, you’re supposed to be grateful. Sure, he may try to take advantage of you, but because he spent his time and money on you, continuing to work with him, rather than trying to pull away to salvage the rest of your career and peace of mind, is “the commercially sound thing to do.”

This isn’t an isolated incident. There are the many women who have come forward as victims of sexual assault by Bill Cosby, the numerous victims, including Amber Coffman (of Dirty Projectors), accusing music publicist, Heathcliff Berru of sexual harassment,  the story of R. Kelly preying on teenage girls that broke 17 years ago, not to mention Jackie Fox’s (of the Runaways) heartwrenching story involving her manager, Kim Fowley. The music industry is rampant with cases of men in power taking advantage of female musicians. Most recently, Michael Gira of the experimental rock band, Swans, was accused of sexual assault by singer-songwriter Larkin Grimm. Grimm described Gira as her “beloved, trusted mentor, really my guru.” Lady Gaga’s Oscar performance that spoke to her own experience of being raped, early on in her career, is the latest of these many stories. But it may not be the end, unfortunately.

Why are male producers and musicians given a pass when it comes to these situations? What this and other stories like this have in common is that they all involve a man in power. Is it the fame, reputation and prestige that they carry? The fact that because they’re producing quality work, they should be respected, no matter their actions? We can’t keep idolizing these perpetrators for the fame if they aren’t good people at heart. The Hollywood world has become a strange universe, where we analyze everything from what celebrities eat, to what they wear, how they do their hair or even how they’re “just like us!” Somewhere along the line, we forget that they are just people, just like us. Just because someone (especially a man) is creating brilliant work, doesn’t mean that they can treat people however they want. We need to make the personal political and vice versa. Kesha’s story matters. Larkin Grimm’s story matters. The stories of the women who are sexually assaulted every day matter. We need to stop saying, “Yeah, what he did was awful, but he’s such a good musician/producer/artist though…”

By allowing women in the spotlight to have their stories heard and considered part of a much bigger problematic trend, we open the gateway towards preventing future assaults. If a white musician like Kesha can have her experience as a victim of sexual abuse be negated, imagine how much harder it must be for women of color. As the journalist who broke the story of R. Kelly’s sexual assault stated, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.” By allowing Kesha’s story to be heard and have her experiences be considered important, not just be a “part of the industry,” it gives other women hope. The fact that Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and many others are stepping forward to support Kesha is a step in the right direction. Let’s learn from this and try to be an ally for victims, let them tell their stories and allow them to be validated, not shut down.