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A lot has happened this week, and there’s a lot to talk about.
First off, we need to remember that not all police are bad. I think that’s a lot of the message that we are sending with all this police brutality is that “cops are bad!” and that’s just not entirely correct. It’s highly offensive to perpetuate this stereotype when there are wonderful, awesome cops out there. I know some of them personally. Cops do heroic and courageous things on a daily basis.
Cops also do horrendous things on a daily basis. I’m a defender of cops, of the good cops. It really sucks that the bad ones are giving the good ones a bad name. If you’re a defender of cops, as you should be, STOP trying to defend the asshole ones! Stop trying to justify the suffocation of an innocent man. Stop trying to justify a young man with his whole life ahead of him getting six shots in his back. Just stop! You’re making yourself look like an idiot. You should be mad at these cops for giving the rest a bad name, not justifying their actions as “defense” or whatever you want to call it. Be angry at them as the rest of the world is! Be angry that they’re giving cops a bad rep. Be angry that they’re getting away with it. But, most importantly, be angry that there were innocent, promising lives lost for no reason,
As we’ve seen in the past few weeks, police brutality is getting worse and worse. It needs to change. Another lesson we must learn from this, and we MUST learn it from this, is that racism isn’t dead. It’s alive and well. But we won’t learn. If we didn’t learn from Trayvon Martin, if we don’t learn from the countless statistics about people of color being disadvantaged, if we didn’t learn from the multiple gun violence statistics, we will never learn.
It is easy to ignore racism. It is easy to think that it’s someone else’s problem. It’s easy to pretend that after the civil rights movement ended, so did racism.
But it didn’t, and I think we’re all intelligent enough to know that deep down. Be courageous and fight this fight.
Or, at least, acknowledge that it exists.
“It’s not your fault.”
These are the words Robin Williams says over and over to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.
“It’s not your fault.”
And those are the words I wish I could speak to him now. It’s not his fault.
In my newsfeed, twitter, instagram, Facebook, there has been an outpouring of sympathy and grief over the loss of Robin Williams, as there absolutely should be. He was a hell of an actor and a comedian. He made us laugh until it hurt as Ms. Doubtfire, he made our childhood with classics Flubber and Jumanji, he made us ache and cheer in performances such as Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society, he made us cringe in One Hour Photo.
Everyone’s commenting on this. His legend, his legacy, his fine talent. And we should all celebrate that – we should celebrate that forever. I don’t know if we will ever see such versatile talent like that in our lifetime again. I think I’m going to watch Aladdin when I’m done writing this.
But there’s one thing we’re not talking about – how he went. He committed suicide. Why is no one talking about this? We lost him, and that is so incredibly sad. But why did we lose him? Not to cancer. Not in a car crash. Not heart disease. Suicide. We lost him to depression. We lost him to a disorder that we have multiple cures and solutions for. So why did we lose him?
The answer is not simple, and frankly I don’t know. According to CNN, he was battling “severe depression”. Maybe his meds weren’t working. Maybe he wasn’t on meds. Maybe he wasn’t on the right meds. Maybe his meds weren’t enough.
So many people are speculating, what was going wrong in his life? Why did he feel so sad that he had to kill himself? But those are the wrong questions to ask.
Robin Williams was an incredibly successful man, he had a loving wife and three children. He had it all. I know what it feels like to have everything but feel like nothing. I know how he must have felt, so empty and lonely. I know that point. I know it. I was there before. I wish I could have been there with him, as we all do, to tell him that it gets better. To tell him how dearly he would be missed. It likely would not have made a difference – but I still wish I could have been there.
I’m not a doctor – I don’t know all the answers about depression. I don’t know if this could have been prevented. But I do know this: in 2011, an american died of suicide every 13.3 minutes. I know that it is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. I know that many of these people were unmedicated and even undiagnosed. I know that many of these deaths are preventable.
I know that we don’t take it seriously. I know the subject is taboo. I know that people with depression are told to “cheer up!”, I know that people with mental illness are encouraged to try other things before consulting a psychiatrist – “change your diet!” “change your mind, change your life!”. I know that we’re scared to talk about it. I know that now, people are not talking about how tragically preventable Robin William’s death was.
Why are we so scared to talk about it?
How many acting legends, how many artists, how many singers, how many mothers, how many daughters, how many humans do we have to lose before we start taking mental illness seriously?
Today we lost “an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between”, what else must we lose before we take action? Before we smash the taboo? Before we take it seriously?
“It’s not your fault”.
I think my opinion of Kanye West from before two nights ago was just the same as everyone else’s: he was a less than bright, ignorant jackass with little to no talent. Though I had only heard a couple of his songs, and didn’t know much about his personal life and views, my mind was made up.
I had seen which are probably the two most defining Kanye moments: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” and the infamous “I’ma let you finish” to America’s sweetheart, TSwift.
The “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” line was spoken by Kanye during a segment of the Hurricane Katrina telethon he was hosting alongside Mike Meyers. I confess, I hadn’t watched the whole video up until yesterday. I had only heard the one line. And it sounded pretty shitty to me. As a preface, at the time I was a preteen, and I was also a George W. fan. Yeah. They were dark times. And I guarantee you, times have changed. But even now, as the liberal hippie I am, I can recognize that telling the nation their president didn’t care about an entire race might not have been the classiest, nicest, or correct thing to do. But was the statement completely unwarranted? No. Help didn’t come as soon as it should of (or as soon as it probably would have, if New Orleans had been populated by majority caucasians). I don’t think W has a personal vendetta against black people. I don’t think he “doesn’t care about [them]” as Kanye said. But I can understand how people might infer that from the actions (or lack-thereof) taken by the government at that time. And, if you watch the full video (which I linked to above) Kanye actually makes some pretty profound statements regarding racism and the handling of Katrina by the US government. Kanye apologized in a 2010 for the remarks, saying that “in [his] moment of frustration, [he] didn’t have the grounds to call [Bush] a racist.” He did admit to taking it too far in his frustrated moments, but he is only human. In the 2010 interview with Matt Lauer, I also found Kanye to be pretty genuine in his apology. Maybe a little bit of a jerk, at times, when he chides The Today Show for showing him the clip of George W. Bush before he apologized, but still genuine (if there’s one thing I think we can all agree on about this guy, it’s that he is certainly genuine). He made a mistake in calling someone out so personally when he was angry, but he owned up to that mistake while still bringing light to root issue: America’s still pretty racist (and it has real life effects).
I don’t really have much to say about the incredibly infamous Taylor Swift interruption. It was an asshole move. He did apologize originally, but later redacted that apology. I’m not really sure why he said it or why he took back his apology, but I suppose there’s a part of me that appreciates that he was honest, gave a false apology, and then admitted that he only apologized to get record sales. But there’s a bigger part of me that just thinks this was a dick move and that’s it.
The thing about dick moves though, is everyone has them. And how we interpret them, is very dependent on the race of the perpetrator.
It’s not just dick moves that we interpret differently, either. It’s also felonies. Chris Brown beat Rihanna. And that’s disgusting, please don’t get me wrong here. I am so glad that finally people seem to be disgusted by domestic violence, but I can’t help but wonder why the backlash towards Brown is so much larger than the backlash towards his white counterparts who committed the same crime. White celebrities that have been accused of domestic violence include Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Cage, Mel Gibson…the list goes on and on. Charlie Sheen has been a repeat domestic violence offender, but he still gets jobs. He was arrested for domestic violence during his run on Two and a Half Men, and signed another contract with them after committing the crime. While people might associate Charlie Sheen with crazy, he’s not generally perceived as a woman beater (and many times, he was). Sean Penn tied Madonna to a chair, raped her and beat her with a baseball bat. He won two Oscars after. I’m a feminist, and a former Sean Penn fanatic. I loved him as an actor, and what I knew of his personal views. Like most of America, I had no idea of his abuse towards Madonna until recently. In contrast, Chris Brown’s name is now synonymous with his crime. He is constantly vilified by the press and the public. This sort of response isn’t necessarily unjustified for the crime he committed, but it’s certainly disproportionate next to the responses of the American press and public towards caucasian abusers.
I believe, Kanye, too, is a victim of the harsh lens we look at black celebrities through in America. I’m certain more people hate him than Sean Penn, a man who is guilty of rape and assault.
Two nights ago, when I changed my opinion on Kanye, I was catching up on Keeping Up With the Kardashians (embarrassing–I know. Guilt Pleasure. Bad Habit. Whatever.) I watched the episode where Kim, her mother, and her (and Kanye’s) daughter go to Vienna and encounter racism in a way that they apparently had not before. There are definitely some problems with the episodes handling of the topic. They never acknowledge once that the context of blackface (or the n-word, for that matter) in Austria is so much different than the context in America. Kris Jenner gives an eloquent history of blackface, but neglects to explain that blackface was used to degrade African Americans, not African Austrians. Now, the Austrians should certainly have been more sensitive to the fact that they were in the presence of Americans and they should have been aware of the offensive sting their words could hold to people from America. On the plane back, a woman allegedly yelled horribly offensive things at Kim and North (her daughter) (including: “shut that black baby up!”) and that’s just despicable–I don’t care the context. At the end of the episode Kim reads a rather insightful, well spoken blog entry of hers about racism. During this segment, the show a bit of Kanye speaking about racism at one of his concerts. He was more well spoken and educated in this bit than I ever gave him credit for. I looked up more of his thoughts on race in America online and realized that Kanye wasn’t the “mindless celebrity” I had perceived him to be before. And though I still don’t think he’s a “lyrical genius” as some people claim, I have a lot more respect for him as a person, an artist, and an activist. My hate for him has been transferred to some celebrities more deserving of it (Charlie Sheen, Michael Fassbender, etc.).
I’m not saying it’s not OK to hate Kanye: it is. Hate whoever you want. Kanye has certainly said some cringe-worthy things (such as the implication that Kim K, his then fiance, is more influential than Michelle Obama–barf). I’m just saying before you hate him you should not only examine the double standard in which you judge him by, but you should maybe choose the words you condemn him with more carefully–because “ignorant” and “stupid” shouldn’t be on the list.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a sudden upswing of articles and blog posts about volunteering, voluntourism, and narcissism. The content of many of these articles (though not all) suggests that volunteers who travel to developing countries to help out are doing so for Instagram likes or a nice cover photo.
My reply to that is….really? I traveled to Ghana for over a month, gave up internet (and, by extension Facebook and instagram) entirely (along with communication to anyone but my family), bathed with buckets of water from the river below the town, ate pretty much only starches, taught a class of fifty 3, 4 and 5 year olds every week day, took multiple trips to Hohoe (about an hour from my village) to register one of my students at the Volta School for the Deaf and get her supplies, suffered sever constipation due to lack of certain nutrients in my diet, got ringworm fungus, and had a larvae nest in my back all so that I could get 95 likes on my cover photo (and some more on my profile pictures)?!
Now, I know it sounds like a lot, but it really wasn’t bad. I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. more than any other experience I’ve had. And that’s why I did it. I enjoyed it. I enjoy making a difference, no matter the difficulties. Now, why would anyone question my motives in going to Ghana??
Well, I think people don’t really understand the difference between volunteering and voluntourism. Most websites and articles lump them as the same thing, but I think there’s a very important difference to acknowledge.
I volunteered. The sole purpose of me traveling halfway across the world was so that I could help others. I strongly identified with Compassionate Journeys‘ mission and I wanted to help them pursue their cause; visiting Ghana was a bonus.
Voluntourism, I believe, is different. Voluntourism is when you go on a trip, and on that trip, you happen to visit an orphanage, you stay for a day, two days, and leave. This is harmful because we are treating the orphanage, the poor village, wherever you happened to go, we are treating the poverty that so many people not only experience but live on a day-to-day basis as a tourist attraction. The photos you take with those nameless orphans, while they may be cute, are exploitive. You don’t know their names, you don’t know their stories, you brought them some toys and you think that is your good deed for the year and you’re done. And you got a photo with them. If you are someone who has done this, I’m not questioning your intentions. I’m sure that your motives were pure. I’m sure that you did not go in there intending for the impoverished citizens of whatever village you visited to be reduced to the backdrop of your new profile picture. But in the end, that’s all they are to you.
I posted quite a few photos from Ghana. But they were with my students whom I got to know very well over my time there. My friends posted pictures with Emmanuel, the ground coordinator and our confidant while we were there. We also had pictures with Michael, a student our age, whom we befriended. These pictures were from Emmanuel’s birthday celebration that we all attended. We laughed, we cried, we danced with the subjects of our photos. We forged genuine relationships with them. When I posted photos with them, I was posting photos with Joanna, Paulali (not sure on spelling…), Kofi, Michael, Emmanuel, Joy, Mary, etc… not “orphan child #1 in Africa”.
I understand the other arguments against volunteering abroad are more about how we view ourselves and how the citizens of developing countries view us. I understand that it would be better for help for Ghana to come from within, but right now, it is not. Amanda Christmann Larson, the founder of Compassionate Journeys and someone I deeply admire, said that Compassionate Journeys is striving to give volunteers a better definition of what “helping” means. “For example,” she explained, “it doesn’t mean passing out a suitcase full of happy meal toys, or even t-shirts. Some things people don’t need, and others take away from the local economy. Also, we cannot be part of the forming of the attitude that white people come and give things away. But we can be part of the attitude that volunteers come and help in schools, teach skills that are needed to do better in life, and provide resources and services that give people a hand up instead of a hand out.”
Yes, a hand up instead of a hand out. That is what responsible volunteering is about. Compassionate Journeys volunteers sometimes aid with construction projects, but, for the most part, CJ hires Ghanaians for the building. CJ is currently finishing up a boarding home for rescued child slaves (child slavery is a huge problem in Ghana that the government turns a blind eye to, and the citizens are forced into due to extreme poverty) the house mother and father will be Ghanaian. The house mother and father will be looked up to by the former child slaves, so I think it is very important that they are Ghanaian. You can’t be what you can’t see.
For the most part, volunteers come over to teach English. And that makes sense, because as native English speakers we can offer students skills that their teachers, who are native tribal language speakers, cannot (sidenote: in Ghana, if you want to continue on to even high school, you have to be proficient in English). We are not replacing the Ghanaian teachers, but supplementing certain lessons to enrich students’ learning. Volunteers also come for teacher training to implement some western strategies for maintaining classroom balance. Again, this is not about “white people knowing best” but empowering Ghanaians to do their best.
The one argument I am absolutely sick of hearing is, “there are so many problems in the US! Why not just volunteer here?!” Is no one else sick of this narrative? Absolutely, we have so many issues here in America and I am all for working to solve those issues. But just because we have problems here, doesn’t mean we should ignore issues in the international community. I know that I’m going to sound like a complete hippie here, but borders are so arbitrary. Why are we confined to these lines that men have drawn? Why can’t I leave them to help without being attacked for not looking within these BS, arbitrary lines? We hear this argument for volunteering, we hear it for international aid, we hear it for adoption. “So many American kids need homes!” Yeah, they do. No one can argue with you on that one. And the solution to developing nations’ orphan problem is not to export every orphan to a western country, ideally they could stay with their birth parents or be adopted by a family in their home country. But again, that’s just not how it is working right now. We should all be trying to come up with solutions to reform international adoption, not condemning those who choose it. And it works the same way with international volunteering.
I didn’t go to Ghana for Facebook likes, as you’ve hopefully already inferred. I encourage each and every one of you to volunteer internationally if you have the means and desire to. Going abroad to volunteer is not a requirement to be a good person. You can help from wherever you are, if you don’t have the money to go, or if you are morally opposed, or if you simply would rather help from home. But please, please, don’t use borders or narcissism as an excuse to stay at home and chide people who go abroad to help while simultaneously ignoring the problems developing countries face.
I argue on Facebook too much. Mostly with people who just make bold claims but don’t really know what they’re talking about. I know that I shouldn’t even bother, but I can’t help myself. I’m a fighter. And, as a wise lady once told me “sometimes it’s just better to speak your truth”. The most annoying of the Facebook activists I argue with are the anti-choicers. They literally and I do mean literally have no idea what they are talking about. They eat the rhetoric of the so called “pro-life” movement up and refuse to look at the situation logically, or with facts. I created this blog, in part, so that I could refute these misinformed individuals without personally attacking them (it is so hard not to personally attack someone when they are in favor of stripping you of your reproductive rights).
1. “You’re depriving the world of valuable life.”
Yeah, this argument is completely illogical, and can easily be turned the other way. Women who choose to prevent the pregnancy from going any further could be depriving the world of a valuable person. But they could also be saving the world from an evil dictator or serial killer. Have you ever heard the rumor that Hitler’s mother was going to abort him? This rumor is likely not true, but can you imagine if she had? How many lives (true, human lives. Not collections of cells) would that have saved? Of course, I don’t recommend getting an abortion to anyone just because the fetus inside them could turn out to be a mass murderer, but for that same reason you shouldn’t recommend anyone not get an abortion because there’s a minor chance they could have the next Beethoven or the second coming of Christ inside them. Abortion is a woman’s very personal choice. No one should tell her that she should not abort her pregnancy because she may be “depriving the world of valuable life”, because that could easily be countered with “you could also be saving the world from the next Hitler.”
Secondly, if two unmarried people are getting hot and heavy one night but then decide to abstain from sexual intercourse because it is the
Godly churchly thing to do, are they at fault for not taking the opportunity to “create valuable life”? Shall we condemn them as we condemn women who decide to get abortions and the people who support them?
2. “You need to keep the baby. God doesn’t make mistakes. He has a plan.”
If God doesn’t make mistakes, then what was he doing with The World Wars? Where was he when we went to Iraq? Why are these terrible acts in “his plan”? I completely understand that “without bad, there would be no good.” And sure, there may have been good that came from all of these things (though it would be hard to convince me that it was worth the lives lost), but then what about abortion? If a woman decides to abort, it must have been a part of God’s plan. He doesn’t make mistakes, right?
3. “Life begins at conception.”
At the time one gets a legal abortion, and certainly at the point of conception, the “baby” you’re referring to is simply a collection of cells. Could those cells be considered life? Of course they could be. But if we’re going to consider those cells life, then we’ve got to consider the bacteria living on your kitchen counter “life”, too. Stop using those Lysol wipes!!! You’re killing life!
Do you eat meat? Any animal you eat is certainly more “alive” than the cells inside a woman’s body at the time of abortion. Those animals feel fear and pain at the time they are slaughtered, but you still eat them, don’t you?
The spider, yesterday, on your bathroom sink. Did you spare her life because you value life so much? Isn’t all life equal? No, I’m certain you killed it and didn’t feel a pang of guilt.
Many pro-choice advocates do concede that life begins at conception, depending of what your definition of life is. But some life holds more worth than others. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be eating steak for dinner tonight, would you?
4. “Abortions are traumatic and dangerous for the women receiving them.”
No. Just no. This assertion is just a lie. You are actually “14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live child than from complications of an abortion“. Of course, in this day and age, giving birth is not a risky medical venture. Therefore, from this statistic, you can only infer that abortion is almost risk free. Countless studies, including this one by The University of California, San Francisco, have been done to prove that the number one emotion most women (in this case, a full 90%) feel after an abortion is relief, not trauma. On this issue, anti-choicers (as most), the facts are against you.
5. “There are so many couples out there that want babies. Adoption is the best option!”
I think adoption is a wonderful option for those women who choose it. I plan to adopt myself when I get older. But, we must recognize that over a quarter of a million children enter the US foster system every year. And currently, there are over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted by families. This supremely anti choice website asserts that 1.21 million abortions are performed in the US every year, can you imagine adding over a million children to that foster system? It can barely handle the 250,000 it has now. And, as a side note, all of the adamant, anti-choice crusaders I know, not one of them has adopted a child that doesn’t have a home. I’m sure that there are some wonderful truly pro-life people out there that adopt homeless children, but the number is very small compared to those who think birth is the only way.
Do you get it now, anti-choicers? No, probably not. Because you refuse to listen to anything about abortion that doesn’t come from www dot abortion is wrong dot com. But, I hope at least, this stays with you in the logical corners of your minds when you’re out picketing to take women’s rights away.