Freedom Writers (The 2016 Version)

freedom-writersI don’t know how many of you have seen the movie in the title (with Hilary Swank and Patrick Dempsey). The premise according to Google: “A dedicated teacher (Hilary Swank) in a racially divided Los Angeles school has a class of at-risk teenagers deemed incapable of learning. Instead of giving up, she inspires her students to take an interest in their education and planning their future. She assigns reading material that relates to their lives and encourages them all to keep journals.”

There is a scene in the movie in which Hilary discovers a very racially biased drawing (an African American child with big lips) and says “This is how a holocaust happens.” The kids didn’t know what the Holocaust was and that leads to the real meat of the movie.
That moment happened to me in real life Sept 27. And I need to talk about it.

I’m gonna link to the videos of the portion I’m talking about. I’m sorry it’s not one video. The first one is the intro (poor quality) the second one sounds reminiscent of my class discussion today (better quality), the third one is where healing begins (but also is heart breaking-because they are high school kids) (has subtitles). And this video plays into what I need to say.

I walk by thousands of posters every week. They hang on bulletin boards in buildings, outside, on sign posts, everywhere. Flyers, ads, everything. I pay attention to them a little because I hang up some of them (academic ones, on my floor at the department). But most of them I miss because I’m very busy.

My first class this morning, the professor (who I find delightful) burst through and was quite visibly shaken. She mentioned that we were not going to be taking class the direction she’d originally planned and held up these two posters (I’ll explain why I have them when we come to that point in the story).

bs1bs2

These posters didn’t immediately mean anything to me, as I am used to seeing Greco-Roman sculpture (I’ve taken a fair few Art History classes, and Archaeology courses). I thought it was advertising a study abroad or something. DO NOT MAKE MY MISTAKES. The professor was shaking, as she asked if we knew what they meant, who “Identity Europa” was. No one did. And she pulled up the links she’d found this morning to the Twitter feed of the group. I’m going to post the pictures here, because you need to be informed.

I’m posting screenshots because I don’t want to give them any more traffic than is necessary. If I gave you links to these tweets, they would get more views. More views=more validation and that is something I cannot get behind.

This group’s mission, essentially, is to deport anyone from America who isn’t white (read: European). Their targets are obviously people of color, people of Muslim heritage. Less obviously, their targets are members of the SAGA (LGBT) community and other religious minorities. Does this sound familiar? And as if this could be any more shocking, they don’t appear to be Donald Trump supporters.

We spent the entire class period discussing this information, these images and groups. I came away with the following pieces of information. (I’m only going to bring up some highlights-this conversation lasted almost two hours.)

The triangle thing (Twitter profile picture): This is actually coded messaging. The triangle is actually a three armed swastika (used by the Neo-Nazi movement) as a way to identify other fascist/racists without calling it what it is. It is also tied back to the original Nazi movement-because triangles were how prisoners were identified (they were color coded).

Response One: There’s a self-identified Japanese-African-American girl in that class who was also disturbed by this news-and shared that it is things like this that made her mother give her an 8PM curfew (the girl is 20) and she said that her time living in Okinawa was spent being racially profiled, but she feels unsafe in America now. She moved here last year from Japan. Her contribution to this conversation (one of many she had) was that the oppression of the minorities does not need to be a source of shame-it needs to be acknowledged, fixed and then left in the past, where it belongs.

Response Two: There’s a self-identified Mexican-American in that class. He was actually the most insightful person I heard all day. He spoke of how he wanted to sit down and talk with these people-to find out what it was that motivated them to feel this way. His contribution (amongst many) was that if all sides of the argument come to the table with respect, perhaps we will all walk away with a better understanding of the motivations of others.

Response Three: There’s a military man (of 20 years of service) who spoke up as well-about how he fought to defend the ability to speak out, even when others do not agree. (Which I can respect.) But he then compared this movement to BLM (Black Lives Matter) and my respect for him was markedly diminished. His “white male” privilege was mentioned by someone I didn’t see. He also chuckled at these posters-but perhaps it was out of the fact that they are absurd. I don’t find them funny.

Response Four: There’s a blonde girl who sits on the far other side of the room who brought up how “white” isn’t something that belonged to the Greeks or Romans-who were Mediterranean and therefore more olive skinned than the marble they carved. I appreciated this. As the lines between skin colors are muddled more than ever.

Response (Mine): Where is the line? I asked the professor, because I needed to know. I needed to know if I needed to be scared. I brought up that skin color is a very poor indicator of heritage and ethnicity-about how my grandfather was an immigrant from Russia, my grandmother from Poland, I was told as a child that I have native blood, I did a DNA test and I have African blood as well. I’m not Christian. I know multiple languages. I enjoy other cultures deeply. I’m part of the SAGA community. I’m mentally ill. I’m a woman. (I could go on.) Should I be afraid? My brain felt like screaming it. And that is how we learned that not only Muslims and people of color are targeted by this group, but several labels I use to self-identify. Apparently quite a few people in that classroom (my professor included) have things to worry about. We spent a few minutes talking about heritage pride as something that’s acceptable and to be enjoyed. We talked about how identity is something we make for ourselves. We talked about how differing opinions are beautiful-until they disrespect someone else. We discussed fear. But we can’t let fear win. And I’m going to keep on keeping on. Because fear will never win.

This is how a holocaust happens.

Not loudly and with much gusto-but quietly, with covert symbols and language choices. With seemingly harmless posters and images. With hidden meanings, hidden identities and hidden agendas.
This is how a holocaust is prevented. Not with apathy and fear-but with knowledge and openness. With communication and collaboration. With respect and understanding.

So I ripped down the posters I saw hung up, just as my professor had done this morning. I will continue to do so for every single IE poster I see. But I kept two. And I want to tell you why.

I’m not racist. I don’t agree with ANYTHING this movement stands for. I loathe it entirely. I felt like a shitty person carrying around racist, borderline-terrorist propaganda in my bag today.

I have the posters for the same reason that World War II holocaust propaganda is in museums: because people need to be warned, so that history is not repeated. When my children (if I have children) grow up, I need them to know that this is what the dregs of society look like-welcoming and filled with deceit. I need them to know that they need to break apart the messages that they interpret and see the truth. I need them to know the same lesson in the videos I shared up top: what may seem innocent on the surface can be filled with hatred. And hatred will fill a person up with poison until they become lethal to everyone they come in contact with.

So yes, I kept these posters. I will bury them in the back of my closet, away from the light of day until one day in the future I open that box and look back, thankful that these people did not succeed in their endeavors. I will look at these disgraceful posters and remind myself that there are good people in the world, and the darkness will not win. I will keep these pieces of history and one day place them in a museum-right next to other relics of domestic terrorism, racism, bigotry and fear mongering so that generations long after my own will see them and know that if they do not learn from the past, they are doomed to repeat it.

Advertisements

Time and Change

I needed a place to put my thoughts and could think of no better place than a blog-where I do just exactly that. What I have to say today is more on the border of “things which concern me as an almost-careered woman” but could just as easily fall under the category of “I hope I’m just worrying for nothing”.

Woman. Critical thinker. Thinks-for-myself. Pre-lawyer. Advocate for women. Advocate for mental health. Pro-choose your own life path. Makes decisions based on what is best for my family. Pagan. College educated. Pro-diversity. Pro-free speech.

I feel like everything I just listed is coming under attack this election cycle. And it will be under even more scrutiny depending on how this election goes. I’m not going to make this overly political, but this is after all, my blog, and I don’t have to apologize for my own thoughts.

Depending on November, I could face a variety of problems simply for being myself. And that scares me. I was not alive during the internment camps or the racial segregation period. I wasn’t alive during the Holocaust, where Jews, Gypsies, Handicapped individuals and more were taken, tortured and killed for being themselves. But I read about them.

I remember I had a teacher who threatened to send an entire class to detention because none of us knew what a swastika was. I was in 6th grade. You can bet that we had a lesson on it very soon thereafter. And in 7th grade, we had an entire section of our year devoted to WWII and the Holocaust-even built a memorial as a class. And I had a teacher in high school who drilled those events into our heads. And I remember immediately understanding why it was that we needed to know. So we wouldn’t repeat those mistakes and atrocities in our own time.

You cannot single out a group as the source of all your problems and then force them to carry the sentence you have passed on them as an act of retribution. Do you know why? Because you will have to keep singling out groups until everyone is to blame.

There is a presidential candidate right now who has singled out groups. And I am not (yet) in the direct line of fire. I’m still in the indirect (because I am a woman). But how soon will they come knocking at my door because I am poor? Because I am pagan? Because I am opinionated? Because I am any one of the things that I am?

Depending on the election, I may not be able to get a job. No one will take me seriously because I am a woman fighting for the rights of other women-of whom society has deemed not valid because they must be, in some way, guilty as well. My purpose in life will become a joke like that. Not because it will be funny, but because of who I am and who my clients are. And should I get past that initial problem, if I choose to have children, we face a host of problems directly related to my childbearing capabilities, along the lines of maternity leave rights.

Depending on the election, I might not be safe in my own home, and by extension my husband, and any kids we might have. Because we do not go to church, we do not hang crosses at our doorsteps and around our necks. We do not pray in the name of the same faith.

Depending on the election, I might not be safe. I spend a lot of my time now talking about individual liberties and personal decisions as rights of the individual. How long will it be before someone starts coming after not only the businesses and administrators of birth control or abortions, but the people who support them as well? Or the people who have friends who aren’t “white enough”? Or the people who do not fall prey to the garbage they hear on the TVs?

I can’t say that I know where the future is headed. I’m not pompous enough to assume anything. But these thoughts weigh on my mind, keep me up at night (along with just the usual stress about getting into law school in the first place). I’m concerned. And I’m brushing up on my government, that’s for sure. Because I need to know what my rights are and what can be done to keep myself safe if the time comes. It’s a scary place out there, and I hope it doesn’t get scarier.

Role Models and Hope For A Messed Up World

I couldn’t find the words I wanted to say right away, so this post is coming almost a week after the incident, but the concept has been stuck in my head for quite some time. As an individual, I love being a singular version of myself. But I look often for someone else who is also a trailblazer. I wanted to write about why I look for and who I select as a role model for my life. I think it’s important for people, women especially, to have someone who is an upstanding, respectable example of the lives we want to lead. Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people from older stories who could be role models (I frequently look to Joan of Arc, personally). The problem with using people from the past is that things were different. The world was not the same then as it is now, and we need people who are more like us than sword bearing warriors or queens from afar. 
  There is the social media factor, I suppose, which lends itself to a certain realm of role models, some good, some not. But it seems that the news represents best those who are not good role models for the young (and young-ish) people of today. I am of course talking about the celebrities like Nikki Minaj, Lindsey Lohan and to some extent even Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. They all represent the pandemonium of fame and the pit falls thereof. We could also examine outlets like Disney or Matel, who have presented the world with prestigious Barbie, Cinderella, and Ariel (just to name a few). It is these three which are both a great help and a hindrance to young women of today. I want to explore them and then propose my list of four individuals who are better role models for our generation. 

  Barbie: In almost every household you might find her, or a cousin or a friend. She is blonde, brunette, red headed, light skinned, dark skinned. She has had a plethora of jobs, donned an impressive collection of costumes and even manages quite a large variety of accessories. Over the years, people have yelled at her for being too skinny, too unrealistically proportioned and too shallow. I mean, there was even a brief moment in Toy Story 3 where she was introduced to public audiences as a complete and utter bimbo, followed by a weak attempt to reclaim her dignity. But the thing is, she’s too uniform. She has no individualized flaws. No scars, stretch marks, beauty marks, wrinkles, pimples, or really flaws of any kind. Her makeup is always done, she’s always smiling and there is nothing any of us can do about it.

  Cinderella: She’s Disney’s star princess. I mean, who didn’t want to be a princess because of her? She came from rags to riches, found a guy, married Royal and viola. She even had a set of killer shoes. But what does she have as far as personality? She’s got wishes, desire. But she lacks motivation and drive. She “asked for a dress, shoes and a night off”. I get it. But that’s not real life at all. And why do you need a man to provide you with everything? I mean, independence goes a long way. I know in the original story she was a teenager, but isn’t that kind of the point? In her time period, that made her basically an adult, and I know she would have been in need of a man, but this is the 21st century and we don’t need that anymore. Say it with me: I am a strong, independent woman who needs no man, but can have one if I so desire.

  Ariel: With a golden voice and perfect hair, who cares about anything else, right? Wrong. Again, you don’t need a man to be the best woman you can be. The thing is, Sebastian was right. Giving up everything, your soul and life included, just to get a man (or attempt to) is not the way to go. And by this point, wouldn’t you also need to make exceptions for finding the right partner-be it woman or man or just a good friend? As with Cindy, sorry Ariel, but there’s nothing that warrants me looking up to you if you’re going to change everything about yourself for someone else.

So I’ve given you a basic run down of my issues with the above, but I do want to mention that I know these characters are fake, but they are widely distributed and influential. I do not want to come across as impossible to reason with so the last person (it’s actually two people) are fictitious as well. And I also realize that the women I am looking at have flaws. But that’s exactly why I chose them. And I will go over them as well. These are, of course, my own personal opinions and you can take what I say with a grain of salt. I would love to hear your opinions in the comments, as always. So,without further adieu.

Michelle’s List of Role Models for Women of 2015.

  Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo: You might not have heard of this woman, but she is the reason I’m doing this post. Seven days ago, she was sworn in as a judge in New York. She wore a headscarf, because she is Muslim and she was sworn in on the Qur’an. Now, none of this even really seems like anything out of the ordinary. But the amount of hate mail she received for being sworn in on the Qur’an is astounding. This woman vowed to uphold the law, as she has done her entire career. She is an upstanding citizen who was voted into office. I came across this story in my FaceBook news feed because of how many ignorant people are accessing social media to tear her down. You are permitted to swear into office on any holy book and even the constitution of the United States. She has done nothing above and beyond the average expectations I have for a law abiding citizen, but she is my candidate for a role model for the simple fact that she stuck by her faith, even when people threatened her and heckled her about it. She stayed true to herself, even though that path offered great resistance.

  Adele: Let me say that I am a huge fan of Adele. Her voice is so beautiful, and she’s gorgeous. She’s not stick thin, and I love her for it. She says what’s on her mind and once again, stays true to herself. She took time from her career to take care of her baby. We’re almost the same age and that means a great deal to me. Why, you ask? Because she’s proving that not all 20 year olds and 20-somethings are wild and crazy and awful. She’s a credit to our age group. She even works at a record shop. Her flaws? She’ so soulful in her music that she really only sings sad songs. Which isn’t like a huge flaw, but I don’t associate anything other than sad love songs and break up songs with her. 

  Angelina Jolie-Pitt: Did this one take you by surprise? I really thought that this spot would be occupied by many other people, and indeed it could have been, but there are lots of women who could have taken this spot who simply aren’t as well known. And while you are all entitled to have your own individual role modes, for the purposes of this blog, I needed someone visible. She adopts underprivileged kids, she works with charities and organizations, speaks on behalf of underprivileged people to the UN. And on top of that, she preventatively had a mastectomy so that she didn’t have to worry about breast cancer. I mean, that sounds like a very personal thing and she’s known for her body. I remember a lot of people were upset at her for taking charge of her own body, and that is why I commend her for doing it. She did what she had to do so that she could live her life to the fullest. Also in this spot, Emma Watson for similar reasons. 

  

  Molly Hooper/Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I told you I would bring in some fictitious characters. I chose one from my younger adult life and one from my current adult life. So I will start with Buffy. She was a kick-ass teenager who saved the world a lot. And the thing is, that was badk when TV series were filmed with people who looked like teenagers playing teenagers, and incorporated flaws and diversity of character types. Buffy had an attitude, she was impatient and made mistakes. She needed help and asked for it, she complained about life and then grew up and made sacrifices. She represented real teenage life, apart from vampire hunting. And her friends were just as painfully realistic. But they all had a moral code and they represent a lovely era of beautiful story telling.

   Molly Hooper. I have great aspirations to be Molly Hooper. For those of you who do not know who Molly Hooper is, allow me to tell you. The BBC produces a show called Sherlock, based off of Sherlock Homesfrom Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the BBC version, there is a medical examiner by the name of Molly Hooper.  She has an enormous crush on Sherlock, does everything dignified she can to get him to notice her including buy him a present at Christmas. He’s rude about it and she calls him out on his bad behavior. Later in the series, she also tells him he’s throwing away his gifts and that he should apologize for various actions. Sherlock comes to respect her. And she didn’t change herself. She stayed true to her personality and persona, all while being a valuable asset to a team. Honestly, I know that this is all fiction, but really, if I were ever to model myself after someone who never existed in real life, it would be Molly Hooper. If you haven’t watched Sherlock, I HIGHLY recommend it. I can discuss all manner of theories with you. I’m a true and devoted CumberCookie and Sherlockian.

Anyway, this has been my short list about female role models in modern society. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.