I am racist, and so are you.

Dave:

Well written… Well said.

Originally posted on Being Shadoan:

And the sooner we both acknowledge this, the sooner we can begin to address the problem. So let’s talk.

“Wait just a minute here, Rachel. You’re like, the least racist person I know. You’re always sharing stuff about race and racism. You couldn’t possibly be racist.”

Here’s the deal. Racism isn’t just guys in white robes and Paula Deen shouting racial slurs. Racism is subtle, racism is insidious, and our culture is so deeply steeped in it that it’s impossible to grow up in the US and not be racist. It’s a kind of brainwashing: a set of default configuration files that come with the culture. It’s a filter, built up from birth, that alters our perception of the world. (Literally–racial bias makes people see weapons that aren’t there.) Racism isn’t just conscious actions; it’s judgements that happen so fast that we may not even be aware of…

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Hip Hop Breaks Silence on Mental Health: Pharoahe Monch’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Dave:

Very, very interesting…

Originally posted on Nursing Clio:

While some hip hop artists and groups  have addressed the issue of healthy eating, few have tackled mental health. Hip hop’s distant relationship with mental health should not be surprising, as many African Americans have considered issues such as depression, suicide, and other mental and psychiatric ailments taboo.  Last month, the suicide of For Brown Girls‘ creator and blogger, Karyn Washington, served as a reminder of the enduring silence of African American depression sufferers. Washington’s death provoked conversations among black members of the media about mental health. Coincidentally, rapper Pharoahe Monch released his fourth album—Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—a week after Washington’s passing.  In the album, Monch highlights the intersections of the stresses of inner city life, drug use, suicide, and the structural and cultural barriers to pursuing mental health care. PTSD just might serve as the perfect opening to a conversation on African…

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4 Years after Haiti’s Quake

On this 4th anniversary of the earthquake that killed so many and devastated many more, I’m wondering what is the current state of the country since then.  Noting the events that have passed since the earthquake in 2010, it’s a painful reality that things in the country may not be any better than they were 4 years ago.

January of 2010 saw the toughest earthquake to hit the region in, well, ever.  And though there are several improvements to the infrastructure since (such as the Toussaint Louverture airport, which is said to have undergone some significant change for the better, as well as various different commercial buildings and schools in Port-Au-Prince, which are said to be more withstanding of earthquakes in the future), the list of troubles and issues continues to grow.

In October of that same year, there was a reported outbreak of cholera, which has continued to plague the people and complicate relief efforts for the aid workers and sympathizers in the country.  CDC reported in October 2013 that since the outbreak of the disease, over 684,000 cases have been reported in the country, of which over 8,000 cases resulted in death.  Approximately 381,000 of those cases reported are or were hospitalized.

In May of 2012, my heart lifted when I heard that gold was found in the northern part of the country that was estimated to be in value of about 20 billion dollars.  On the come down of hearing this, my first question was, to quote Baldwin in The Departed,“Qui Bono?”  Who will benefit from this finding?  Who found this gold?

My fears were validated when I found out that foreign mining companies Newmont (USA) and Eurasian (Canada) were involved in the overall mining of the land and resources, of which gold was not the only find.  It was also noted that silver and copper were found as well.  It was noted that years have seen companies coming in and extracting resources from the land, and providing little support to the country afterwards.

Currently, things are at a standstill with regard to the current state of the gold resources in Haiti and mining efforts.  The contracts with the mining companies were said to have been ceased, which I hope is true in the real world sense.  My hope is that the right course of action is taken going forward, one that places the people and the country first.

Then came September 2013.  Where Haitian descendants in the Dominican Republic had their citizenship revoked, a decision that continues to be upheld by the government.  To be stripped of your ability to call home home.  This is the fight and current issue of the day, and I follow with a feeling of anger, sadness, and exhaustion.  When will it get better for Haitians?

When will Haitians be relieved of their constant stream of tribulations?  Haitians on the island experience so much pain that it almost reads like the early stages of receiving a blessing in disguise.  My only question is, where’s the bottom?

As an American of Haitian descent, I understand that I may not be the best voice of the frustration of the people.  My family is well adjusted here.  Mother works in medicine.  My father’s an engineer.  My sisters and I are all educated.  This goes for most of my family in the states, and even for some that still live in Haiti.  My frustration in tone speaks to my wanting to see better for my family.  All of my family.  Growing up, I didn’t have it easy.  Part of that was because of my being of  Haitian descent.  There is so much to be proud of in the people who fought to be free, and actually broke free.  The problem is that since the country’s seen its freedom, there’s been nothing but trouble.  Corruption, poverty, violence, collusion, and all sorts of things that present the country as God-forsaken.

I don’t believe that the country is done though.  There is a valuable resource on the land that can never be forgotten…  The people.  Through the quakes, diseases, displacements, corruption, crime, pain, and turmoil, the people demonstrate resolve to persevere and make it.  I cried when I saw the people in the streets singing after the earthquake four years ago, not because of how sad it was (it was extremely sad), but because of their finding collective strength through their voices in unison.  The sound and sight were bittersweet, and touched me very deeply.

I have family in NJ that frequently go back on their own to help the sick and displaced, who’ve helped to ensure medical care to people in need, connecting with parts of the country where needs are ignored.  I feel that in addition to the people of Haiti, who prove invaluable to the country’s being what it is, the generations of Haitians born outside of the country can be part of the next step for the country’s story for progress.  The fight is in linking with other outside supports and bringing attention, resources, and energy back to the land in order to change things for the better.  Through connection with other Haitians in the United States, a network of educated and self aware individuals can build a supportive presence for the country’s people that will help in fighting the problems that continue to make progress in the country the steep uphill climb that it currently is.  I say that as Haitian Americans look at the problems there together, we need to connect and collectively reach to make the solutions more realistic and long lasting.  Take my hand, and I’ll take the next one’s.

 

Ani Difranco: A Bold Step Back

Ani Difranco’s cancellation of the retreat to be held at Nottoway Plantation raised some questions in my head.  Not the obvious questions, which have already gone through the waves of Internet sites and flooded twitter, questions like “what was she thinking?” or “how did she allow this to get that far?”  In my thinking about the situation and being a creative person myself I asked, “what if she did have the retreat there?”

Ani Difranco is one of our generation’s storytellers, who through her medium of song and word chose to make noise that spoke a voice for many unheard, and underappreciated voices.  Her history with music and society is actually one of the main reasons for the public outrage with this scenario in the first place.  Musicians and artists like Difranco don’t become who they are by doing the predictable, being predictable.  They push us.  They challenge us.  Challenge us to think harder, longer, and more deeply about a lot of the very ideas that we hold dear and use to inform our identities.

I read her response to the public outcry, and noted that she seemed to be relatively controlled in her remorse for initially choosing this location for her retreat. Part of me feels that the move to host the retreat there may have brought something that people often aren’t ready for, on either side of the coin.  Definitely not the Nottoway crowd.  Imagine that in a place that now is used for hosting weddings and high-class events, with a profound odor of old money resonating throughout the place, you have a group of artists there.  Not only do you have artists, creative minds who may stand against everything that is represented by this place, but they’re all under the creative consult of a well known “fire starter”, who now brings more attention to the idea that some proverbial party has just been crashed.  What kinds of energies would flow through these writers knowing that they are there, considering the fact that their writing is taking place on a plantation?  I’d be very interested to know what their observations and thoughts about the place could stimulate in writing songs, poetry, or other creative works.

Ani never says so directly, but the concept of the setting being “a participant” in the retreat seems like a hint at what she really wanted: the chance to get writers to speak their creativity from a place that is more emotionally charged.  It seems like, in a way, she was trying to set stage for some context and percolating to take place, which could help with energizing people to create. 

Being as I don’t know the people that paid to attend, I can only assume that they were all minds that are familiar with Ms. Difranco’s social history, and had some aspiration to create some noise for themselves.  The concept of creating a forum to inspire people to be motivated to discuss and even write compelling material is harder than just getting a well known artist and having them tell you where to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  The act of creation involves soul searching, sometimes searching deep within painful memories and coming into contact with your emotional responses to pain, suffering, and oppression.  In today’s society, I feel that a lot of that connection with self is lost.

Though it may be a hard sell to say that the idea was a good one, I feel that the concept shouldn’t be totally written off.  The plantation still exists.  If people aren’t going to affect change in a way that gets rid of places like this all together, then maybe infiltrating them and creating new ways to turn their existence into a plus for all is the next best thing, or maybe even the best thing (if you can’t beat em, subvert em).

I don’t propose to know how best to do either.  However, I do feel that the arts are very good for providing us with the means to influence change and revise meanings of things once seen as offensive (considering the controversy over the younger black generation’s gratuitous use of the word “nigger”, which has become regarded more as an interpersonal term of endearment).  That point is just as controversial and has a lot of strong arguments on both sides.  My point is that we should keep our ears open to the other side on this one.

Serene Autumn

Beautiful irony in the blanket of serene I find in the coming of fall:
The most pleasant of breaths given from The Creator,
The refined aging of my home’s trees.
The perfectly made bed of leaves on the ground that colored my childhood memories.
Beautifully ironic that the coming of the cold can inspire inner warmth,
Softer sunshines illustrate The Majestic nature of all that is.
Beautifully ironic that many hear the call of autumn to embrace their lovers, for the cold is Coming.
It is the calm before the snow storms, the canvass with which The Divine Artist displays His calligraphy.
I marvel at His handwritings…

Testament

I make “shahada” with a deed,
Every act is a recital of the holiest of prayers for man to read.
I give my heart and interest all in The Creator,
A truth is spoken louder with behavior.
My daily prayer is my “shahada”,
Speaking the wisdom of submission is a part of it; submission’s is the heart of it.
Submission’s at the start of it – The most fulfilling of relation to The Guardian;
A love He wills to start again -
If ever I depart from Him:
My “shahada” is my statement that my all is Him;
A statement made by all good men.
A testament to audience – I make my statement in accordance with his law;
And my actions: The enforcement.

Fork in the Road

A couple of years ago, August 1st, 2011, I had started my first fast for the month of Ramadan.  I had embraced Islam a few days before, and was very enthusiastic about taking part in one of the most significant annual customs in the year for Muslims.  Going into this month, I had many questions, particularly around my transition from Christian understanding to one more expanded and appreciative of Islam.  How was I going to adjust?  How I would face many of the struggles with changing my faith personally, living in the Western, post 9/11 world?  More importantly, how do I know that this is not just a phase, one where I embrace this new version of faith out of a desire to take part in something meaningful and exciting, but then abandon it once I feel like I’ve got a grasp on it, or that I’ve grown unchallenged by the beliefs and way of life?

This self exploration led me to thinking about the general relationship that Muslims maintain with their faith, their lives, and God (Allah).  Islam has been steadily increasing in followers across the world, and it doesn’t seem like those who embrace the faith have slowed or stalled at all.  One of my best friends since high school was born a Muslim.  He is a very studious and well learned young man, his journey of confirmation lead him to different sects within the religion (namely, the African American focused Nation of Islam, and Sufi Islam.  He was born into orthodox Sunni Islam).  He did study the differences between Shia and Sunni Islam, and has always been open to hearing different Imams and scholars speak on the “deen.”  I’ve come to see his journey, and even my own as a necessary part of finding one’s identity within religion, even if the religion is one that they are born into.  In America, many young men and women find themselves learning to question their own customs and practices, as they’re exposed to so many different walks of life that teach us to see broader than the worlds we come from.  With the increased level of multiculturalism in the world, this is a blessing that many have come to know.

This however can lead to the denouncing or leaving of one’s own tradition or culture for another that seems to speak more to the identity of one’s sense of self.  This definitely was the case for me with Christianity.  I needed to find answers to many of the  questions I had regarding some of the teachings within the faith, specifically with the way Jesus Christ (Peace be upon him) was regarded, and how the sacrifice of “The Lamb” removed my sins, and purified all my behaviors (even the ones I hadn’t committed yet).

Upon learning that Islam regarded Jesus as a prophet of God, who is esteemed in the same light as Abraham, Moses, Noah, and Muhammad (Peace be upon them all), I felt that the religion was one I definitely needed to learn more about.  Through my understanding of the pillars of Islam (The importance of belief in only One God, keeping up with prayer, alms giving, fasting, and making the holy pilgrimage to Mecca if possible) I started to see the religion as a way for me to make a stronger, more lasting relationship with God.  A relationship where I wouldn’t be as distracted by questions as I was before.

I’ve spoken with different Muslims, and many young members do have a fairly good grasp of the history and teachings.  Many even have the entire Qur’an memorized.  My friend and I had a dialogue about several different questions that can lead to having a hard time staying true to Islam.  We explored a particularly difficult question that often leads to challenges in one’s faith that can be very hard to overcome.  That question is the challenge posed by skeptics, and often comes up in college conversations: Why keep faith in a world that is so full of misery?

This kind of conversation has lead to many people having issue with the notion of God’s very existence.  There is a need to comprehend our misery in the world, and to have a map or compass to steer ourselves through many of the issues that we find ourselves having to stumble through in our daily lives.  But where do these struggles come from?  Does it come from God, or does human action cause some of these issues that we deal with today?  When it comes to direct conflicts between people (i.e., wars, poverty, domestic problems, etc.) it can seem like misery in the world comes from people for the most part.  Even in some cases of natural disasters, we can say that some of this can be the effect of our own doing (Global warming leading to increased incidents of storms, deregulation of climate, as well as other ecological effects that lead to more devastating weather response).

But what about the innocent victims of many of these situations, who suffer tirelessly all the while seeking the assistance of God?  How could The Protector allow for such suffering to exist on a level for so many who rely on Him?  This is a difficult challenge to speak to, as we in our limited knowledge can never understand the processes or thinking of God.  I realized in exploring this conversation with my friend that the need for answers to ALL questions may lead us to doubtful conclusions, as we can not prove everything we believe (the notion of Resurrection, or an Afterlife).

Many of our questions can also come from the perspective of someone trying to level God, which can never be accomplished, in my opinion.  We will never understand everything, so how do you maintain a strong sense of direction and faith through all the questions?  It is a strenuous discourse, facing questions regarding faith or freedom from religion.  But what I find holding me is the question “What if there is a life after death?”

Who is in a position in this life to confirm/deny anything about what happens next?  And to make decisions based on conjecture can lead to dangerous, unethical, and selfish behaviors, which in turn contribute in ways we may not always directly link to worldly ills (Over consumption of goods leading to problems with world resources, causing the suffering of populations in poor countries, etc.), but play a part in the current state of the world as is.

I guess through looking at this question, what I really wanted to know was this: how will my own faith carry me through the struggles posed by the questions of time?  My journey is going to lead me to many different challenges, but through it all, I must choose faith.  Our freedom to decide is due to God’s being benevolent to us all.  Should we keep our focus on the message of the reminders (The Prophets, peace be upon them all), we will always be mindful of the signs that keep us affirmed in our faith.  That is what makes a believer, and also what keeps one.  The striving is a continuous act, and a self made decision to persevere.  The reward is only gained after we’ve spent our lives striving.

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