For the Black Girls Who Have Been Labeled as Mean, Bitter, or Angry for Simply Existing: Why Serena Williams’ Demand for an Apology Resonates with Black Women.

Two weeks into my first college job, my white female supervisor pulled me aside and had a talk with me asking if everything was “okay” because she claimed I had an attitude since starting the job.

I think she gave me that label because I was quiet. Shy. And not very bubbly or friendly with her. Which is something it seemed like she wanted. That talk really shook me. I went home and cried because I thought I was going to get fired.

She owes me an apology.

This interaction I had with that supervisor at eighteen years old exemplifies that as Black girls and women, we are not even allowed to mind our business without someone placing a label on us.

This is why Serena’s demand for an apology is so important and necessary.

Laugh if you will, but watching Serena demand an apology from someone who was abusing his position over her, in a racist and sexist manner actually brought tears to my eyes. Not because the specific situation was particularly compelling. I mean, losing your cool or becoming frustrated during a sporting event is not rare. It’s quite common actually. She did what many athletes do when they get unfair calls so that in and of itself isn’t what moved me.

What moved me was how eerily familiar that frustration in her voice was. It reminded me of all the times I was unfairly labeled as having an attitude or being mean but kept quiet because I did not want to perpetuate the “angry Black girl” stereotype. It felt like Serena’s demand wasn’t just for her at that moment but for all of the Black girls that have been unfairly labeled as mean, bitter, or angry for simply existing.

Even when just doing our jobs, or minding our business, its almost like we have to put on a face to make others around us feel comfortable. I’ve realized that now, as a 26-year-old young professional, in all of my workplaces I have unknowing put on a more “pleasant” demeanor because people often label me being reserved as me being mean or mad. These fake pleasantries often consist of forcing myself to smile and chat with or exchange pleasantries with people I don’t really feel like talking to.

We live in a society that vilifies Black women, and particularly those of us with darker skin. We are often disparagingly labeled as mean or angry even when anger is an appropriate response to a situation.

Thank you, Serena, for being brave and courageous enough to call it out. We love and appreciate you.

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VMI Football Players Call Out Racist Costumes on Campus

Several football players and cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) are facing backlash from their classmates for publically expressing disappointment when a racist costume won a Halloween contest held on campus.

The costume the players expressed concern over included several students dressed up to portray the “Trump Wall” while others were dressed up as “Cholos.” The wall itself contained the words “No Cholos” written on the side. In a video published on twitter, several students are overheard yelling “No Cholos” while others are laughing in amusement.

A VMI football player, who also happens to my brother, publicly expressed his disappointment in the costumes on Twitter.

 

 

My brother’s post sparked some pretty strong and even threatening reactions from classmates and even parents. Many expressed their desire to have him and other football players disciplined for publicly addressing the issue and “embarrassing the school.” Others went as far to say that they would boycott football games and that the football program should come to an end. Unsurprisingly, the football players that spoke out are the ones that make up the very small minority of black kids on campus. 

Many of the student comments and reactions to the post came anonymously from a social media platform called Jodel, while the parents took to the comments section of several Facebook status’ to air out their true feelings. Now I know what you all are thinking, “Nyajuok, you never read the comments section… but yall, this concerned my baby brother; I was definitely going to read the comments section.” As to be expected, I left the comments section wanting to pull up and/or send some strongly worded direct messages to folks racist parents but I had to sit back and look at the big picture of the situation. Auntie Michelle did say, when they go low, we go high. 

Many of the comments expressed the sentiments of this one from an anonymous user that says, “So can we turn our backs to the football team on the game on the 11th? And Start examining their records a little closer? ** cough HC stuff**.”

Another student says, “Honestly why do we even have a football team? They recruit literally THE WORST rats, act super entitled and like they own the place, and then do nothing but embarrass us on the field. There are exceptions, but for the most part what a waste.”

**A point of clarification, as a part of the schools approach to discipline and throughout its history, all of the first year students on VMI’s campus are referred to as rats, even before they integrated or let women attend. That threw me off too.

One other anonymous user was even less articulate in expressing his feelings and simply stated, “Deng is a faggot” on the anonymous platform.

Below are screenshots of the actual anonymous statements.

One might think “Wow kids today are really this intolerant? I thought we were coming so far with race relations.” Well, that might be the case but when you see the very public facebook comments by many of the parents and alumni of the university, you will very clearly understand why none of the students of color on VMI’s campus were surprised by the conduct and the subsequent reaction to the controversy. Many of these comments from the “adults” were even more hateful and disgusting than those of the students who were hiding behind the wall of an anonymous platform. One VMI mother by the name of Julie Foster went so far as to compare my baby brother and his teammates to animals stating, “The three agitators of all this mess are all football players….this needs to be dealt with swiftly and powerfully. The animals don’t get to run the zoo.

Now I’ve got some choice words for Ms. Foster but I will keep those private. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one who shared this mindset. Many other parents and alumni called for the football players to be disciplined rather than the students who wore the racist costume.

 

This latest incident involving the racial climate and athletes just goes to show how this country views black athletes in particular.  Collegiate and pro athletes in this country are viewed as nothing more than mere entertainment by the majority. Once an athlete expresses or even hints at the notion that they are a living and breathing human with thoughts, ideas, emotions and opinions, they are immediately told to shut up and stay in their place. This is made very obvious by the fact that Colin Kaepernick is still unemployed and the fact that my brother and his teammates are reduced to “animals” by the parents of some of their “brothers” and fellow corp members.

The only thing more disappointing than the reaction by students and parents is the official response by the university. On November 2nd, the university published a short response to the matter on its Facebook page.

“During the Halloween festivities this past week, a costume portraying “Trump’s Wall” with an inscribed derogatory term was in poor taste and demonstrated a lack of appreciation that it was offensive. This matter raises the issue of civility in both the initial presentation of the costume and in the reaction and counter reaction it has engendered. This lack of civility is inappropriate and does not represent the values of the Institute. As members of the VMI community, we should and will hold ourselves to a higher standard. The VMI leadership does not tolerate this type of behavior and is addressing the matter with the Corps of Cadets.”

The official response by VMI was one paragraph in length and after reading it a few times I came to the conclusion that it said nothing to address the actual issue at hand. It’s obvious that the higher-ups knew they had to respond to the matter but they clearly didn’t want to use language that would upset the donor base by being “politically correct.” The post by the university seems to express some of the same tones as Trump’s response to Charlottesville when he said people were wrong on “both sides” of the issue. 

Amnesty International: Give A Home Event Recap

This afternoon, I was blessed with an opportunity to link up with my brother Emmanuel Jal, a Nuer spoken word and hip-hop artist, to enjoy a concert series that included Ed Sheeran and others to raise awareness about the global refugee crisis.

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Emmanuel, alongside Holly Branson, was in DC hosting an event put together by Amnesty International and Sofar Sounds, entitled #GiveAHome. The event, as described by the organizations is “Massive global concert series will show solidarity with refugees.”

This event put together over 300 live shows in over 60 countries featuring established and brand new artists. The concerts were hosted in peoples homes all over the goal with the idea in mind that refugees deserve somewhere to call home when they are forced to leave their homes due to varying factors such as war, famine, or natural disasters. “Music and art have always been powerful partners to the cause of justice because they share an ability to stir something deep within us. They help us to look beyond borders and see what unites us” says Salil Shetty the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Music and art have always been powerful partners to the cause of justice because they share an ability to stir something deep within us. They help us to look beyond borders and see what unites us” says Salil Shetty the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

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Amnesty International is a global organization that campaigns and raises awareness for various human rights issues. The organization’s website describes the organization as “a global movement of more than 7 million people who take injustice personally. We are campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.”

In looking for a creative way to raise awareness about the global refugee crises that currently affects over 22 million people, Amnesty International partnered with Sofar Sounds to bring together artists, musicians, and creatives all over the world to put together this one of a kind concert series. SoFar Sounds is an events company that puts together “secret gigs and intimate concerts”  based on the idea that the best way to enjoy music in a respectful and intimate setting.

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The DC concert this afternoon started by an amazing spoken word piece by Emmanuel and he was followed by Ed Sheeran.

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Emmanuel, a former child soldier from our native South Sudan,  is an amazingly talented artist, actor, author, and activist. “Through unbelievable struggles, Emmanuel managed to survive and go on to emerge as a recording artist, achieving worldwide acclaim for his unique style of hip hop with its message of peace and reconciliation born out of his personal experiences.”

Below is a TedTalk he did a few years back so you can hear him tell his story.

I Stand With DREAMERs.

So recently, Trump made another “I can’t believe he did that shit” Presidential decision. On Tuesday, Trump and his administration announced that they would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was started under the Obama administration. DACA is a program that provides almost 800,000 young people an avenue to obtain State IDs, work permits, and protection from deportation. Like many government programs, there are many requirements before a young person can qualify for DACA.

So, why does Trump calling an end to DACA matter? What does the end of DACA mean for all of those young people? Why does that matter to all of us?

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Well for beginners, this means these young people are no longer safe from deportation. This means that anyone who is in the system and received their documents under the DACA program are going to live in anxiety and fear. Imagine the thoughts running through their minds. First, they revealed their undocumented status with a promise that they would be safe from deportation. They have additionally had to go through rigorous background checks and paid fees to gain their status. Now, they may be forced to leave their schools, jobs, and military posts if Congress does not act.

There are many capitalistic and economic arguments being made about how much money the US economy will lose if Congress does not act but that is beyond the scope of this blog. While I find those arguments valid and I completely understand why folks choose to lead the discussion based on them, I chose to focus on the moral and human aspect of the whole issue.

While I find this Trump decision, like all Trump decisions, unbelievably problematic and moronic, as an immigrant and as a refugee, this specifically resonates with me.

So, while I refuse to push the idea and agenda that the US is a perfect country and that it’s great for everyone, I do recognize that there are certain opportunities here that do not exist elsewhere due to varying historical factors. For example, many of the home countries that DACA recipients come from are dealing with various economic and human rights abuses. Many of their families are literally fleeing their home, their comfort zones, and their families to survive survive.

One thing I need to people to understand is that when a parent makes the decision to leave everything they know to start a new life in a foreign country, it is not because they plan on going there to “take jobs”. That decision is based on their humanistic desire to survive and provide opportunities for their children. This understanding is something I heard over and over growing up. When my parents decided to get in line for the refugee camps and later decided to get on a plane to a place they had never even seen pictures of, it was because their backs were against the ropes. All they knew was that whatever they were about to embark on, in this new country had to be better than the hunger, famine, and violence they were facing back home.

These same thoughts, I imagine, are the same thoughts that crossed the minds of the parents of the DREAMERS. They simply wanted better for their children. They wanted their children to have opportunities they never had. They wanted to literally save their children’s lives. So, when the DREAM act was passed and their children were able to qualify for DACA and attend school and gain legal employment, their decision was worth it.

So, not only should we care about what this Trump decision means to the individual DREAMERS, we need to think about what this does to families.

And once we’re done thinking about all of the terrible implications this decision has, we then need to act. There are many ways to show that you stand with DREAMERs.

Below is a link to a Huff Post Article that outlines how you can make an impact by contacting the White House and Congress and by using your social media platforms to have your voice heard.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/daca-has-ended-you-are-outraged-heres-what-you-can_us_59ae4bd7e4b0c50640cd619e

Continue reading “I Stand With DREAMERs.”