Are Safe Spaces Only For White Students?

“We just really want this to be a safe space.” I often find myself listening to a skinny, white musician or writer start off an event with those words. Ironically, the majority of the students in the audience or on the dance floor are usually straight, white males.

These pseudo-safe spaces extend far beyond my own university, and are particularly common at liberal arts colleges. From my friends at Bard who can wear dirty clothes without fear of being arrested, to my friends at Kenyon who think it’s trendy to be a farmer. It’s clear that some students at colleges are trying painfully hard to be inclusive, without realizing their initiatives completely ignore people of color.

Many white students I’ve talked to from USC, UC Berkeley, Kenyon College and other prestigious universities do not realize why media has taken the time to make fun of the phrase “safe spaces.” Forget the ridiculous claims that we are coddled. A lot of people are making fun of “safe spaces” because they aren’t actually safe.

“Safe space” has essentially become a synonym for “a place for confused white kids to talk and sing about their feelings.” However, when a black or brown person – especially a woman – talks or sings about her feelings in a non-stereotypical manner (i.e. outside of spoken word), the crowd gets tense or uncomfortable, and the scene is no longer a safe space for the majority. It’s almost more offensive to be told that these alternative music events, literary collectives and pseudo-alternative sororities (co-ops) are safe spaces, because it gives people of color like myself a false inkling of hope that maybe, just maybe, we will really be accepted around the white kids.

The worst offenders are the pseudo-alternative fraternities and sororities, also known as co-ops. Visit that famous co-op at Berkeley or that not so famous co-op at USC, and you’ll get free wine and mediocre pot brownies, and even a dance to one of your favorite middle school jams. The people will smile at you and remember you apart from other (artsy) brown or black people. But the desperation in the sea of white look-a-likes sporting jean on jean and openly talking about their queerness reminds you of the white carbon copies who live just a few blocks away on fraternity row.

So, the white musicians and poets and dancers might have found their safe spaces. But if students want to see further development of collegiate artistic and political communities, then they must learn to look outside the white gaze. Like any movement, the fight for counter-culture spaces will not be successful unless it is intersectional. Until then, students should not refer to predominately white: events, literary collectives and alternative housing, as “safe spaces for everyone.”

Recapping Janelle Monáe’s Peaceful Police Brutality Protest In L.A.

On August 14th, singer/song-writer Janelle Monáe went on The Today Show to perform some of her latest hits like ‘Q.U.E.E.N.‘ and ‘Tightrope‘. After she sang ‘Tightrope’, the artist took a moment to speak about police brutality.

“Yes Lord! God bless America! God bless all the lost lives to police brutality. We want white America to know that we stand tall today. We want black America to know we stand tall today.” 

The last words she said before getting cut off were “we will not be silenced.”

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, a NBC network source said “the show went to a hard commercial break at the end of the song ‘Tightrope,’ which ran a couple of minutes over time.” The network wants to assure viewers that the show was cut off as a result of “the “hard commercial break at the same time every day.”

It’s hard to believe the artist was accidentally cut off, seeing that she had just performed “Hell You Talm Bout,” a call and response about police brutality, two days before she appeared on The Today Show.

KTLA reported that Janelle Monáe and Wondaland members have “have made appearances in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, where they were joined Monday by the mother of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who was found hanging in a Texas jail after being stopped and violently arrested for failing to signal.”

At her show in Philadelphia, the singer told the audience:

“We have been devastated by the police brutality. We have been devastated, devastated, by the abusing of power. We want you to know that Wondaland is for the people. And when we see something, we gon’ say something.” 

On August 21st, Janelle Monáe, Jidenna and members of Wondaland records performed “Hell you Talm Bout” in Hollywood, CA.  The Stop Mass Incarceration Southern California Network hosted the event, and invited relatives of victims to police brutality like: Ernesto Flores, Johnny Anderson, Dante Jordan, Dante Parker, and Carey Smith-Viramontes.

After a press conference, the artists performed “Hell You Talm Bout” as they marched with a crowd of peaceful protesters. Captain Peter A. Zarcone of the LAPD Hollywood division walked behind the protesters. 6 officers rode bikes alongside him, 6 police cars patrolled the area, and over 20 LAPD officers were present.

One protester stood in the back and filmed officers with an ACLU app “to make sure they knew they were being watched.” The artists walked in the front of the crowd and most of the protesters carried signs.

The crowd marched from the corner of Hollywood and Highland to the LAPD Hollywood headquarters located at 1358 Wilcox Avenue. When the group reached headquarters, a protester held a microphone and led the group in a call and response chant.

“It is our duty to fight for freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We have nothing to lose, but our chains.”

As the march came to a close, the artists quickly got into a black suburban parked across the street from police headquarters. Officers slowly followed protesters as they walked back to the Hollywood and Highland area. When asked what law gives police the right to follow protesters, one officer said, “No law.”

Even though the march blocked traffic on Wilcox, no arrests were made from 2-3:30 pm. When the LAPD Hollywood division was contacted, no officers were available to comment.

Sharing This Article Won’t End Racism

In the past week, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the “I, Too, Am USC” campaign. “I, Too, Am USC” was created to highlight individual experiences of students who identify as minorities at the University of Southern California. It was modeled after the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign that began in March of 2014.

In regards to the “I, Too, Am USC” facebook page, a member of the USC College Republicans says, “I don’t think I have ever seen a dumber page.” A snapshot of the comment was uploaded to the “I, Too, Am USC” page last week, and was originally posted in the USC College Republicans private facebook group.

Other members of the USC College Republicans agree. Another student says, “this is getting ridiculous. You’d think these minorities live under ISIS or something.”

On a separate post, the president of the USC Native American Student Assembly defends the commentators. She says, “I think the page is stupid. The ‘I, Too, Am USC’ page that is.”

The USC College Republicans conversation wasn’t the only instance of racial shaming amongst USC students this week. Only 3 days after members of the USC College Republicans mocked “I, Too, Am USC,” photos from USC Phi Psi Fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority’s “Medieval Times and Buster Rhymes” exchange surfaced.

The party took place on April 2nd, but photos only recently surfaced after an anonymous student felt uncomfortable with one of the photo captions “University of South Central.” The student shared several photos with members of the “I, Too, Am USC” campaign. The photos show a blonde girl wearing cornrows and a grill, along with two boys sporting chains and matching jerseys that belong to a black athlete.

This behavior is nothing new at USC, considering the fact that there have been several instances in which USC fraternities and sororities have openly mocked: Navajo, Mexican, and African-American culture. Unlike other university administrators, USC President Max Nikias tends to remain silent when it comes to instances of racism on campus.

Instead, the Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath often addresses these issues on behalf of the entire student body. Sampath released a statement in response to recent comments made by members of the USC College Republicans. She says the “I, Too, Am USC Campaign” is necessary because it “further reinforces the need for…extended safe spaces for marginalized communities.” As much as the “I, Too, Am USC” facebook page has created a dialogue about instances of racism on campus, it hasn’t caused the relationship between the majority and underrepresented groups to change.

Even though USC students are constantly reminded to be: faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, and ambitious, so many students do not have the courage to include underrepresented students in what they call “the Trojan family.” Like the students who mock and fetishize brown bodies, it is clear that President Nikias doesn’t care that students of color have been: beat up by the LAPD, escorted to class by the USC Department of Public Safety, and historically ostracized by members of USC Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils.

Underrepresented students at USC should not simply ask for respect from an institution that pretends to treat them fairly. They cannot expect the institution to respect brown bodies when its administration strives to preserve an elitist notion of the Trojan family. Minority students must do more than sharing photos from “I, Too, Am USC” every time something racist happens on frat row. Sharing articles and memes about microaggressions is not enough to change race relations on campus.

Underrepresented students at USC need to take further action in order to demand respect from student government and the administration, or else real change will never come.

This post was originally shared as a Buzzed Community post. Read it here.

You’re Pretty, For A Black Girl

“My dick really isn’t attracted to black girls.”

I tried to explain how his comment could come off as a tad bit racist.

“Well, it’s just that I don’t usually like girls like you.”

“You mean, you usually like girls with blonde hair and blue eyes?”

“Well, yeah.”

No, this conversation wasn’t with John Mayer. It was with a caucasian male in a fraternity, one of my peers at USC.

I cried that night on my two-mile walk home from “frat row.” I cried the next day. Ok, I cried for countless nights. Not because I was sad about some guy, or because he claimed he “wasn’t interested.”I cried because I was disappointed that American Eurocentric culture still produces people who fear challenging what they have been taught. I had already experienced so much racism from both white and black people, and at the time, I felt raceless.

According to sociologists Sarah Spell and Valero Bacak, hookup culture is heavily influenced by societal beliefs surrounding race and ethnicity. Both authors claim that white men and women have more opportunities for hookups than minority individuals, and set the standard for who to pursue when hooking up.

However, this isn’t always a bad thing for African-Americans. Because of stereotypes about specific genders and races, white men and women often find it exciting to hook up with people of different races. This is also a distinction that doesn’t end simply with the line between white and black: because of historical relationships between house and field slaves, African-Americans with lighter skin are still viewed as more attractive than darker skinned African-Americans.

Black women, in particular, have been categorized as hyper-sexualized “jezebels,” an image which sometimes makes white men find it thrilling to hook up with black women.

I set out to find out what my fellow college students think about hooking up with people outside their own race. A Caucasian, male USC student from Portland, Oregon, remarked,

“I do find it exciting for the sole reason that it’s different. People of different ethnicities have different builds/looks and it’s exciting to have sexual variety. I don’t think it’s because of the ‘taboo,’ but I could be subconsciously enjoying that: who knows.”

In contrast, an African-American female at Duke University, noted that she usually hook ups with guys within her race, and even specified that she prefers “lighter skinned black guys with light eyes.”

It is clear that racism between white and black Americans is prevalent in hookup culture, however this prejudice definitely goes both ways. Most of my own black female friends and family members feel uncomfortable dating white men, and prefer to date black men to avoid seemingly uncomfortable cultural differences. I once asked my father if he had ever kissed a white woman. He responded with:

“No. Why would I?”

His attitude is a perfect example of the collective attitude many African-Americans carry, especially black women. While it seems that many black men are willing to hook up with white women, white men may be less popular because of the racial trauma associated with their sexual dominance over black women during slavery.

A white power structure that I learned to fear through watching and listening to my parents, grandparents, other family members and friends recall stories in which white men had “ruined everything.” But being the rebel I was as a child, and still am as a young adult, I chose to challenge one of the heaviest paradigms I’d received from my parents: that white will always be different than black.

So, I did not give up on that frat boy until he would tell me the truth, until he would admit that he had been attracted to me, a black woman. Only a week after he made the “my dick isn’t attracted to black girls” comment, I marched into the frat house and found him.

“Admit it! Admit!” I shouted repeatedly. He knew I wasn’t leaving until he said it.

“Ok, Ok. I admit it. I did like you. Why can’t this just be about how I was attracted to you?”

And even though he finally asked the question that I wanted to hear, the question I needed to hear, I realized his attraction to me didn’t really matter.

It would never fully be about someone’s attraction to just me. I would always just be “pretty- for a black girl.”

His inability to admit he had liked me, simply because of skin color, spoke against women of color, and presented us as a problem in society because we disrupt a perfect social image.

His behavior left me with deep feelings of racial shame: it wasn’t that my individual character wasn’t good enough for him, but my people, my heritage, my color were just too inferior for someone like him.

I will probably struggle with finding a life partner who understands that race is one of the most important aspects in the continuing formation of my identity, but I will not settle for someone who sees me as something new and exciting because of my blackness. This guy feared change and made the conscious choice to live by the prejudices and supremacist attitudes that once defined his ancestors, and still reside in specific cultural contexts across the world.

But that does not change the fact that their color-blind racism is still racism, and that women of color, while we will never be white, will always be beautiful.

This piece was originally published via Neon Tommy.

Check All That Apply

According to the 2010 census data, “more than 9 million people in the U.S. identified themselves as being two or more races, up from about 6.8 million in 2000.”
At five years old, I learned it is an insult to ask an African-American person if they are part white. If your features suggest that you have African ancestry, then you are African-American. If you do not value the black American legacy before all other parts of your culture, you become a representation of betrayal to “your people.”

Although the one-drop rule was used to differentiate between black and white Americans in the Jim Crow south, African-Americans still use this rule to identify who is African-American and who is not. Because of affirmative action, the one-drop rule has aided individuals in the college process. Many students have done research on their ancestral histories to simply check off the most ethnic-looking boxes, although they have never known anyone in their family who can identify with a minority group. I had peers in high school who would research their Native American ancestors and apply as American Indian, and even knew families that suddenly identified as Hispanic by adding accents to their last names.

Recently, questions surrounding adding a “mixed” box to standardized tests has sparked interest among academics, tests makers and, most importantly, mixed students.

The New York Times article ”Mixed-Race Students Wonder How Many Boxes to Check,” included an interview with a half-Sudanese, half Russian 18-year old female. Aia Sarycheva, 18, stated,

“The thing I want to convey is that I didn’t check the box because it would give me some sort of admissions boost. I checked black, along with white, because that is who I am.”

My closest friend in high school came from a Sicilian-American father and African-American mother, and only checked off the “Black/African-American/Caribbean” box on her standardized tests and applications for schools. The college process is just one of many examples where biracial persons may feel compelled to “pick a side” of their cultural identity. In 1903, Pan-Africanist scholar, W.E.B. Dubois, coined a term, which perfectly conveys the feelings my friend experienced surrounding her double identity. He described such “double consciousness” as:

“This sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, —an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

When I took my first standardized test, I was asked to “Check all races that apply.” Although I am black, I found myself struggling – because I am often mistaken for mixed, or called “the really white black girl.”

The first thing most of my peers notice about me is that I do not use the vernacular, although I am African-American. One of my peers at the UC Berkeley Summer Writing Workshop told me his first thoughts about me were:

“Oh. There’s a black girl in the class. If she is ghetto, this could be really interesting.”

“Oh. There’s a black girl in the class. If she is ghetto, this could be really interesting.” (Maya Richard-Craven, Neon Tommy)
“Oh. There’s a black girl in the class. If she is ghetto, this could be really interesting.” (Maya Richard-Craven, Neon Tommy)
I tend to disappoint new acquaintances once they discover I can afford certain privileges, like worrying about diet and exercise, and even stress over the pressures of coming from an incredibly intellectual “Stanford Family.” These privileges often exclude me from being “able to hang” with working-class black people and sometimes intimidate students who “have never met a black person like me” before.
Regardless, my skin is still brown, and my ancestors still faced extreme prejudice, so while befriending and dating outside of my own race, I still tend to feel like the “token black girl.” It becomes lonely when most of my friends just don’t understand the daily expectations that come with being a part of a culture that is so focused on overcoming oppression. I’ve noticed that, depending on a biracial individual’s appearance, he or she may be treated as if they are either white or black. And at times, I feel as though my family’s financial success and access to education are equated with whiteness.

Despite the fact that I come from predominately African ancestry, the shame and fears I experience as a response to racial prejudice seem identical to many of my biracial peers. Because African-Americans highly value memory and tradition, I have been encouraged to solely identify with my African-American ancestry, “fully entrench myself” in the black community at USC and to make sure I always have “black girlfriends.”

But I can’t forget that I, too, am French, English and 1/32 Native American, meaning my father can legally live in a reservation or tribe. I may be predominately African-American, but the bond that exists between peoples in a race does not simply come down to heritage and ancestry.

I will always identify as the daughter of two African-American professionals, who have instilled me with a deep sense of pride and understanding for African-American traditions and customs. People do ask me, “what race are you?” which can be extremely offensive, because most of these people suggest that “I’m just so white” or “don’t look very black.” I hate admitting that I do identify more with the experiences of my biracial and white peers, mainly because I am from an affluent, white suburb and have only attended private schools.

But, before anything, I am human. A human who identifies with countless cultures, ranging from the Creative Non-Fiction community to 80s Indie culture. But when asked “what race are you?” I will always answer “African-American.” Though my blackness does not define who I am, it is what I come from.

This piece was originally published via Neon Tommy. Read her previous installment on youth & race issues, “You’re Pretty For A Black Girl.”

A Trich-y Situation

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, trichotillomania is defined as “the medical term for severe hair pulling.” In 1889 French dermatologist, François Henri Hallopeau, first coined the term after witnessing a boy pull out patches of his own head hair. Trichotillomania stems from the Greek prefixes: thrix (hair), tillein (to pull) and mania (madness).
Hair pulling is a misunderstood and understudied psychological compulsion that is said to affect a recorded four percent of people and 1.2 percent of Americans today. As many as one in 100 Americans suffer from trichotillomania, and the disorder is four times more likely to affect women than men.

However, those numbers are probably much higher, because most people do not just openly admit they pull their hair, and may suffer in secret for years.

Symptoms of trichotillomania include and are not limited to: twisting hair, practicing self-injury, balding or patching of hair, bowel blockage from eating hair, depression and anxiety.

Trichotillomania or “trich” is usually noticeable, and in serious cases, results in bald spots, alopecia or complete hair loss. People with trich feel a sense of relief or thrill when pulling their hair and may “get so lost” in these feelings that they may not even notice when they are picking. For those battling trich, the sensation drawn from pulling a hair feels better than anything else.

While speaking with ABC News, trichotillomania specialist Dr. Nancy Keuthen noted that individuals who suffer from trich, “may spend hours in front of a mirror in these very odd postures trying to locate that one hair that they know is there that they feel doesn’t belong.”

Although there is no known cause or cure for “the hair pulling disorder,” psychologists have identified specific causes and risk factors associated with trich. In 2013, the Mayo Foundation for Medical Health named family history, age, gender, negative emotions, positive reinforcement and other disorders as the primary risk factors for trichotillomania. Many people who pull their hair are also compulsive about other things, like weight or nail biting, or suffer from other disorders, such as Depression or Anorexia.

The severity of Trich can range from occasionally pulling a few eyelashes every few weeks to pulling off every single hair on one’s body. Some young children with trichotillomania are mistaken for cancer patients and wear bandannas or sashes to hide their patchy or bald scalps.

Because most people begin pulling their hair between the ages of 11 and 13, it can be extremely stressful to deal with “feeling, seeming or looking different” during the early stages of adolescence. Children with noticeable cases of trich may also suffer from extreme social anxiety, bullying or may feel a need to over compensate in other areas to make up for not representing typical standards of beauty.

Those who are deemed “the mild cases” are encouraged to use creams and make-up tricks to hide their disorder. There are “eyebrow specialists” at make up stores like Sephora and MAC who will specifically help clients, promising to “have them back to normal” with eyebrow pencils, toners and creams in countless colors and shades.

Sufferers who pull below the waist may have an easier time hiding their disorder, but feel a deeper sense of shame when it comes to admitting their problem, especially when they find romantic partners.

Because methods of self-injury like skin and hair pulling are often perceived as “bad habits,” individuals who resort to these coping mechanisms do not seek help or realize that these “habits” usually stem from deeply rooted, psychological issues.

The shame associated with having trich is heavily influenced by the media, particularly the modeling and film industries, which have transformed hair and body image into the characteristics that define standards of beauty and femininity today.

But the most horrifying part of dealing with trich is the realization that one’s family and friends may feel more shame and embarrassment about the “problem” than the actual individual suffering from the disorder.

Because trich usually develops in early adolescence, friends of hair-pullers may care about social status or seeming cool during elementary and middle school. This may cause certain friends to exclude the individual with trich because he or she doesn’t seem to attract “the right kind of attention” if their hair is clearly missing.

When the issue is addressed at home, hair pullers are likely to be pressured to “just stop” pulling by a Type-A parent or over-protective sibling. What may seem like support or encouragement from parents and siblings comes off as harassment to the individual with Trich, and is likely to create a negative feedback loop. For example, each time the hair puller is told to hide his or her disorder, it is likely that the hair puller will pick even more to cope with the pain of being misunderstood or shamed for having trich.

There are many reasons why individuals with trich are taught to mask their disorder, but all of them contribute to the development of a never-ending, internal domino effect. A cycle that is likely to cause the hair puller to live with the weight of high social anxiety, fear of intimacy and, in some cases, the fixed belief that they do not deserve love, due to the fact that “they do not feel or seem like every one else.”

This piece was originally published via Neon Tommy. Read it here.

What Makes Asian-American Men ‘Undateable?’

Several studies have found Asian-American males to be the “least desirable” bachelors, a trend that may be exacerbated by a seeming across-the-board preference for dating Asian-American women by men of all races. The term Asian-American, in this case, covers a broad ethnic spectrum, including, but not limited to: “people who have origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand and Vietnam.”

Men who are considered Asian-American do not encounter all of the same cultural biases simply because their ancestors came from the same side of the world. However, many eastern Asian nations have tumultuous political and economic histories with the United States. As early as 1882, American leaders implemented nationwide laws that excluded Chinese laborers from entering the United States. At the turn of the century, this fear of “Mongolian peoples” became widely referred to as “Yellow Peril.”

In 1942, Japanese-Americans were placed in internment camps across the country. As a young girl I was shocked to find out that the mall I honestly believed was a magical kingdom, had formerly been a military internment center, and the gaudy racetrack beside it once held hundreds of Japanese-Americans captive during World War II. Two more American wars with east Asian nations would follow in Korea and Vietnam, which only served to revamp public distrust in the region and in Asian-American men.

In the article “Are Asian Men Undateable?,” Jubin Kwon notes that, “Women think we have a masculinity that’s maligned and marginalized. There’s also this idea of relative invisibility, but that applies to all Asian-Americans.”

The emasculating conception of Asian-American men contradicts 20th century American perceptions of Chinese men as hard-working, economic competitors, and Japanese men as malicious, undercover spies.After speaking with my peers and watching academic interviews, I noticed that most people stated the primary stereotype they associate with Asian men is the myth that Asian men have smaller genitalia than men in other racial and ethnic groups.

Scholars also frequently mentioned the lack of representation of Asian-American men in romantic comedies and lead roles on television series, unless they are cast as crime-fighting karate masters, business owners or goofy sidekicks.

No matter the time period, it seems we, as Americans, continue to allow stereotypes to define our perceptions of Asian-American men, and to justify our racial preferences accordingly.Because American society has been incredibly Eurocentric for hundreds of years, the image of the white male is still romanticized. As a result, groups who have consistently threatened white male elitism are portrayed as unattractive. For many minority individuals, there is a pressure to assimilate oneself to what scholars call “the white gaze.” With the choice to assimilate comes the choice to surrender, to give up a part of yourself, your people, to “divorce your ethnicity” out of a deeply rooted sense of racial-shame.

As Cho explained that something about his Asian heritage left him feeling inherently unattractive, part of the “undateable” phenomenon may come from an unwillingness to conform to white culture’s expectations of someone as an Asian man in America. A similar “undateable” label has been applied to black women, who are statistically less likely to date outside of their race and more likely to be single.

But I think it is more desirable to have the strength to hold onto the memories, the places and the people who have contributed to what it really means to feel a sense “of otherness” in America, and to still be able to say, “I am beautiful, and so is my history.”

This article was originally published Via Neon Tommy. Read it here.