Growth

IMG_0491My church back home met in a stadium we rented out every week. It was roomy and dirty and kind of like a maze, but it felt like home. Starting in middle school, I developed a group of friends that were dorky and kind and saw the world the same way I did. It was around this time that I started journaling, writing about the conflicts in my small world and the endless faith that I had. This church reached out to kids, did community outreach, hosted a musical and huge summer camp every year, and created a huge impact in Houston. Along with my campus, there were five others that followed one pastor’s lead. We were a mega church, though small for Texas standards. It was big and a little bit loud but it was home. 

I went into high school with a faith that could move mountains. I had so much hope and sincere belief that made the bad days not feel too terrible. I tried my very best to be kind and selfless, but I wasn’t very good about doing it for the right reasons. I took a little too much pride in my reputation, and saw my value as the amount of friends I had invited to church. I still had a strong connection to God, a feeling and knowledge that gave me hope and peace. But I started to realize what I might be doing wrong. 

This sort of awakening came with my dirty descent into liberalism. My opinions broadened, and I started asking more questions about what my parents believed and why. I realized that I lived in a sort of echo chamber where I wasn’t hearing a lot of perspectives. I heard from people who lived in nice neighborhoods and went to church every weekend and went on mission trips to Haiti and Belize and China. I looked up to them, but I started to realize how small my worldview was. I couldn’t imagine someone being content without having a relationship with God, or even someone cool with blatantly breaking the Bible’s rules. With my sort of feminist journey, I started to see the different perspectives around me. There were people who had been hurt by churches, even my church specifically, and I started finding friends willing to talk and question my beliefs. I was interested in the change, but it did come as a sort of challenge. If my perspective was widening, was I betraying the person I wanted to be? 

The easy answer is of course not. Seeing how other people see things, how others deal with faith and conflict and confusion, was so intriguing to me. I started getting hit with new trials. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and saw my friends around me struggling in school and life in general. It was so hard to continue the sort of blissful feel-good outlook I had before.  I still had my faith but it was harder to uphold. 

With that change came my sort of liberal struggle. I would bring my best friend to church and realize that this place, my home, was not without flaws. Their teaching methods started to grate on me, and the endless appeal to young people in a very outdated way stopped being endearing. 

The final step back was at camp, where I was a counselor for six middle school girls. I was a senior, and I had really planted myself in a worldview about education, equality and acceptance. The very first message of camp took place in a huge room with a stage in the center. They had a cool band, and games, and the energy level was high. The head pastor started teaching and the crowd was silent, the first time 600 middle schoolers could be tamed in millennia. I listened to the man that had taught me since I was the age of the kids with me, and fell into his smooth southern drawl. His lesson was about sin, how everyone does it, but he offered the solution of forgiveness through Christ. The problem was what he presented as sin. In a room full of young, impressionable kids, he put lying and bullying on the same plane as “gender confusion” and self harm. Instead of offering help, or a discussion about how to speak to God about these things, he just told them they were wrong. Of course, they could be saved, there was hope, but only if they could erase their sexuality or mental illness. 

We went back to the room afterwards and I had a sick feeling in my stomach, not sure what I could say to these girls without ranting against the pastor I was supposed to respect. Funnily enough, one of the girls brought it up. She was a little confused, so we talked about what he meant and how maybe, this man didn’t know everything after all. We talked about trusting God, and prayer and being kind to others, tackled racism and being kind to LGBTQ people, and had the most constructive conversation I could remember. 

In that time of what felt like loss of a home, I found hope. I realized that of my love for God was non negotiable for me, but I could find a new home. These kids, despite hateful messages, were kind and listened to new perspectives already. I could be like them. 

I’m going to a new church now where I feel more comfortable being myself. I see hope in the new pastor, in my recent journal entries, and in my new bible study. Past me, who was closed-minded and definitely not a feminist, probably wouldn’t love where I ended up. She is an important part of me, and so is my faith, but I’ve realized that I can still grow and change and live a liberal and progressive life while still loving God.


Amanda Donovan

Graphic Designer, What the F Magazine

On Activism, Allyhood, and Trump

dear_congress

Early last year, photos of my good friend’s birthday party were posted on Facebookone that I had to miss, as I had been sick. Wanting to fully indulge my feelings of #FOMO and a reprieve from discrete math homework, I clicked through them. One photo had a comment. My friend had said something to the effect of, “Omg, why are my eyes so Asian in all these pictures?”

My heartbeat quickened. I reread her words again and again.

(For what it’s worth: what I heard, what I understood, from her words was that Asian eyes are and have been seen as undesirable. Intentionally or notand I do not believe she intended to hurt me, but nonethelessshe drew on a history of upholding whiteness as the single barometer for beauty, a barometer that I myself learned to use early on. I have hated my eyes for awhilemono-lidded, without so much as a single crease, framed by short and sparse eyelashes. I am still unlearning this hatred. I know what the expectations are. And even as I know that these expectations come from a place of exclusion and xenophobia, I also know all the ways I fail to meet them.)

So, I went back to discrete math. I kept losing my train of thought, though, and thinking back to my friend’s words. I returned to the comment periodically, to see if anyone had responded. A couple iterations into this exercise, it dawned on me that it might be up to me to say something. It seemed important that someone acknowledge the comment, the harmful message of it.

My heart raced again as I flipped through various responses in my head. I worried about coming off as angry, as irrational, as hostile, as being that person. Eventually I settled on something exceedingly simple: “there’s nothing wrong with asian eyes :-).”

I sent it with the constricted feeling in my chest that occurs every time I send a risky text.

My comment received support in the form of ‘likes’ from various friends; relief flooded through me. A conversation occurred, my friend deleted her comment. But I also wondered: why hadn’t anyone else spoken up? I brought up the comment with another friend and she responded, “Yeah, it was terrible, I didn’t even want to think about it.” I was struck with how it had been hard, impossible, for me not to think about it. And yet my own first reaction, too, was to try to ignore iteven in a situation like this, with the lowest of stakes, where the only action I really took was saying something.

Look: this is not about trauma. This is not about moral superiority. This is not about creating villains. But allyhood is more than agreeing that oppression is bad; it requires action.

***

I thought about this again after November 8th.

Wellfirst, I cried on and off for about a week, thinking about the little girls who had just seen misogyny prevail, the bigots who had just had seen their racism and xenophobia affirmed. And then I thought about myself. In all likelihood, I will basically be “fine” under a Trump Administration (unless the nuclear codes are used, or we become an increasingly authoritarian state, or the healthcare industry collapses, in which case most all of us will not be fine) (also, you know, global warming). Yes, I identify as a woman of color, but I am cisgender and heterosexual, among other privileges: a culture that insists I am somehow a “model minority,” an education at this very university, a relatively securely middle-class family.

So, I thought about allyhooda privilege in itself. I thought about my own tendencies to wait and see what happens rather than immediately push for action, my own instincts of being aggressively non-confrontational. I have slipped up with my words, I have made non-constructive and sloppy arguments, and then I have all too often been silent.

Activism is not any more necessary now than it was before the inauguration of our new president; things were far from perfect then, too. But for some, the past election has certainly put a spotlight on the necessity of activism. Though the arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, this bending does not happen passively. The fact is, in the meantime, injustice continuesnot everything ends up “just fine” for everyone.

***

I saw Junot Díaz last week; he spoke about his own activism and art and politics. During the question and answer session, two (honestly, two, this happened twice) white cishet boys asked him how they, carrying the privilege of being white and being men, could help dismantle oppression. Díaz’s answers had two main themes: looking inward at what you yourself must unlearn, and vigilance. Our education system rarely equips us with the tools to examine our own internalized misogyny, heteronormativity, racism, all the ways we ourselves are oppressors. And it is so easy to regress. It is all too easy to ignore a problem which does not impact you. I was especially struck when Díaz said, “You don’t transcend hegemonic narratives—you manage them.” (The point about backsliding was made painfully clear by an old white man, who asked Díaz why the left was so “obsessed” with race, who insisted white supremacy was clearly “a fantasy,” who felt it necessary to defend this with the claim that he had “fought for civil rights” in the 60s.)

In the podcast Welcome to Night Vale, someone recently said, “Love is a lifetime of decisions.” I believe activism, too, is about a lifetime of decisions. Deciding to constantly, systematically confront your own biases, learn from others, invest in others. Deciding to examine the impacts of your (in)actions, deciding to take action.

I have been thinking about what actions I can takemust takebeyond sharing articles on Facebook (although I personally believe I have excellent taste in articles). I am putting thought into how the sign I brought to Women’s March on Lansing, with the slogan “MY PUSSY, MY CHOICE,” was not inclusive of all women. Inspired by the Parks and Recreation episode where Leslie Knope picks up her phone and says, “Dear Congress, it’s Leslie again,” I have put my elected representatives in my phonebook (Mike Bishop, WYA). I plan to devote more time to volunteering for political campaigns, not just in 2020, but in 2018, in 2017. I look forward to reading widely and deeply, having conversations which make me uncomfortable, listening to voices which have been marginalized, showing up for people whose oppressions may be different from my own, speaking out.

***

Here are a few tweets, podcasts, and articles that I have found helpful in thinking about intersectionality, activism, choices, and optimism:

@KHandozo, “Low arrest numbers aren’t proof that the women’s marches were virtuous. They’re proof of a different mode of policing.” (Thread)

@KandyLanae, “There are white Mizzou alumni all down my timeline at marches across the country who stayed silent about racism on their own campus.”

@nikkealexis, “Where.The.Fuck.Have Y’all. Been?…It takes white women feeling personally scared to turn out these crowds…Remember…you came late.”

The Ezra Klein Show, Ta-Nehisi Coates: “There’s not gonna be a happy ending to this story”

Call Your Girlfriend, #72: Giving and Gifting

Fresh Air, How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “My President Was Black,” The Atlantic

Vann R. Newkirk II, “Sometimes There Are More Important Goals Than Civility,” The Atlantic

“The only form of productive debate that people of color can engage in, it seems, is the gentle persuasion of white people who may or may not hold retrograde views. That advice is of course probably most appealing to white Americans, for whom the social cost of being called racist may loom larger than the effects of racism itself.”

Toni Morrison, “No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” The Nation


Erica Liao

Art Director, What the F Magazine

What the F am I listening to? 10 podcasts for a feminist winter break!

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I’m basically just a stereotype of myself at this point, but whatever. It’s almost been a year since I wrote 9 Podcast Recommendations, and now I’m back with 10 fresh new recommendations of podcast episodes. Whether you need something to listen to for the trip home, while you’re cleaning out your room, or for whatever fun winter shenanigans you happen to be up to, here are some of the best podcasts of the past year.

 

  1. Call Your Girlfriend, #72: Giving and Gifting
    In this podcast, two kickass women, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, talk pop culture, politics, and shine theory (aka, women shine brighter when they support one another). Love, love, love the discussion in this episode on privilege, activism, and allyhood. Aminatou and Ann also talk about how supporting women does not mean blanket approval of everything women do (cc: Taylor Swift), but rather investing in each other – and sometimes that investment is constructive criticism.
  2. NPR Politics, Covering 2016 As a Muslim
    Usually, this podcast is a rundown of the latest political news. But in this episode, Asma Khalid, who reported on demographics for the 2016 election, reflects on her experiences as a visibly Muslim woman on the campaign trail. She discusses the extra work she had to perform, her identity as a midwesterner, and how the tokenization of her identity can be just as hurtful as stereotyping. (Also, things that warm my heart: this photo of her with Sam Sanders at the White House.)
  3. Another Round, #73: New Studio, Who Dis (with Janet Mock) & #72: Water Protectors and Fear Allerton
    Heben Nigantu and Tracy Clayton talk pop culture, race, gender, mental health, and squirrels in the podcast Another Round. Episode 73 is a landmark episode because – after a long separation – Heben and Tracy are finally together in the stude again! Also, they talk to the brilliant Janet Mock about her new film, The Trans List. Episode 72 is another great one – they talk to Dr. Adrienne Keene about Standing Rock and #NoDAPL, and hear stories from people there on the ground.
  4. In the Thick, Will History Absolve Fidel Castro?
    This is a political podcast, brought to you specifically by journalists of color. As someone not particularly well-versed in Cuban history, I appreciated the context and multiple perspectives Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela provided on the death of Fidel Castro.
  5. 2 Dope Queens, #23: That Time I Had Sex With The Rock
    Jessica Williams (of The Daily Show) and Phoebe Robinson (author of You Can’t Touch My Hair) host this comedy podcast that more often than not features stories about race, sex, and Bono. I can’t pick a favorite from this past season, but definitely entertaining is this episode, which features – well – a (fictional) story about having sex with The Rock. #YQY!
  6. Sooo Many White Guys, #8: Phoebe and Roxane Gay Toast to the Good Life
    Phoebe Robinson (also of 2 Dope Queens) interviews artists who aren’t White Guys in this intimate and funny podcast. Again, all of them are good – but #8 features Roxane Gay, and you can’t go wrong with that.
  7. Planet Money, The New Telenovela
    This podcast features stories about economics, but this episode in particular looks at the woman who revolutionized telenovelas. And yes – they mention Jane the Virgin.
  8. Code Switch, Asian American Letter on Behalf of Black Lives
    Another podcast specifically brought to you by journalists of color, about race in America. In this episode, Shereen Marisol Meraji and Kat Chow spoke with Christina Xu about her crowd-sourced project, Letters for Black Lives, which is a resource for AAPI/immigrant children to talk to their parents, families, and communities about #BLM. There are letters in 20+ languages as well as some which are tailored to specific communities, all addressing anti-Black police brutality. (An aside: as a Chinese American woman myself, this episode fucked me up and made me cry at work.)
  9. More Perfect, The Imperfect Plaintiff
    If you’re interested in the Supreme Court, you should listen to all of More Perfect. This episode in particular, though, dives into some of the history behind landmark affirmative action and LGBTQ rights court cases.
  10. The Longest Shortest Time, #99: When Grace Lin Realized She Was Chinese & #88: W. Kamau Bell Talks to His Mom About Sex
    This is a podcast about parenting, but it’s not necessarily for parents. In #99, a thoughtful dialogue about identity and Asian American and PoC representation in literature. Also, some discussion on a question I’ve thought a lot about: how do you introduce your kid to your Chinese heritage, especially when you yourself can barely speak Chinese? (Also, how do you talk to your kid about identity? Race?) In #88, as the episode title describes, comedian W. Kamau Bell (you might know him from United Shades of America) has a frank, funny, and insightful discussion with his mom about her sex life while she was raising him as a single mother.

(By the way – also have sex on the mind? Submissions are open for Issue 11: The Sex Issue. We want your thoughts on sex, sexual health, sex ed, or sexuality! Email whatthefmagazine@gmail.com!)


Erica Liao

Art Director, What the F Magazine

The Leftovers of Labels: The intersection of who I am and who you think I am

sadie-1

It’s a three-dimensional, geometric world out there.

Yet, too often I’m whittled down to a two-dimensional representation that isn’t fitting, or fitting enough.

In my mind, when we as a society simplify and categorize ourselves for the sake of ease, we get trapped inside the categories imposed upon us, but we don’t fit. It’s like we’re living creatures imprisoned, stuck inside a cage too small to hold us, with limbs protruding from between the latticework of metal.

Psychologically, it’s natural for humans to give labels, to assign categories, to use order (and sometimes hierarchy, ew) to make sense out of the insane entropy of everything. But the way I see it, labels kill complexity. It’s too easy to rely on labels and forget people are more. And I know it’s not revolutionary or interesting to say that we as humans are complex, blah blah blah, we’ve heard it before. But allow me to remind you: we are more than our labels. We are more than the box we check on sexuality, race, religion, gender, and so on and so forth.

Now, I don’t mean that we shouldn’t embrace our identities, but let’s be okay with existing outside of them when they don’t do us justice. Let’s be okay with being somewhere in between. We are more than our identities, even the intersection of them. Let us love our identities, but let’s not get trapped inside of them.

The reason I bring this up is because I’m a Latina woman, technically. I’m a member of a vibrant culture that is different in so many ways from the American culture I’ve been raised in. In that way, I’m indisputably Latina. Every summer of my life, I spend three months at a home away from home, surrounded by aunts, cousins, grandparents, nieces, hammocks, and sunlight. That’s a fourth of my year, every year, and a fourth of my life in Brazil. It’s where my mom is from, and it’s a place I have so much love and pride for. For Brazil I possess a patriotism that I admittedly don’t have for the United States, as much as I love it here, too.

I’m only half Brazilian by blood, on my mom’s side, but I’m infinitely more connected to my Brazilian side than my dad’s side. Because of this, I’ve never even called my dad “Dad” or “Father”–he’s Papai to me. And yet, I wonder if being half is enough. I am passing white. People who don’t know me don’t know I’m Brazilian, and they have no way of knowing by my appearance. I’ve never gotten discriminated for my Latinx background by strangers. People who do know my background have sometimes asked ignorant questions about whether or not Brazilians are all naked indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest, whether all Brazilian women go topless at beaches, and other sexualizations, objectifications, and gross generalizations of Brazilians in general, but I’m somewhat distanced from that. I’m quite aware of who I am to those that ask me these questions. To them, I’m someone who can report on the realities of Brazil, rather than a “true” Brazilian who would or could be offended by anything like the inappropriate fetishization of “sultry” South American women. Simply put, to them, I’m white.

With all this ricocheting in my mind, I can’t help but wonder if the crude stereotypes can be as hurtful to me as they are to my mother, for instance. How can they be, when to others I’m an intermediary, naught but a typical American with special and juicy insight?

Granted, I am defined by myself my identity is internal and self-constructed. But the fact remains that my own perception of myself can’t help but be informed by what others perceive me as. When others don’t perceive me as Brazilian, am I as Brazilian as those natural born, or with distinctive accents or characteristics that display their origins?

Complicating the issue further, I speak Portuguese and not Spanish. An important facet of what ties most of the Latinx community together is a common language, which I lack. I can’t help but feel like the word Latina doesn’t apply to me, it’s a lie, because I think that I’m not like others that share the name. It’s hard to consider myself a Latina woman when I’m not of Spanish heritage. Although it’s not strictly correct, Latina is nearly synonymous with Hispanic in our culture. But I’m not Hispanic.

I’m Brazilian, so you tell me, should I check the box that says Latina/Hispanic? Or should I check that ambiguous category of other? I’m not that either, but it might be closer to the truth.

I don’t know whether I mean it when I say I’m Latina. I don’t know if I should be allowed the label, and if I am allowed it whether I feel true to it.

But, I mean this:

I’m going to find out. In the meantime, I’ll remember that it’s okay to be a three-dimensional person outside of two dimensional categories. It’s my sincere hope that you will do the same.

Until then, tchao meus amores.

Bye my loves.


Sadie Quinn

Staff Writer, What the F Magazine

University of Michigan, Class of 2019

B.S. Biochemistry and B.A. Comparative Literature


Image credit to NY Times, Pablo Declán