On Being the “Angry Black Woman”

I always strive to be an activist, but I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where I have felt that I actually am an activist. I always think that whatever I do isn’t enough. I am in constant fear that I will always be called out, told how wrong I am, that I am so far into academics that I could never be a revolutionary.
My life revolves around race. I’m majoring in African American Studies, and I write this blog. I go to rallies, to marches, and constantly have discussions that others wouldn’t think about having. But I know that even with all that, it isn’t enough. What I want to do is dissect that feeling, and hopefully find a way to mute that somewhat.
As I grew up, I watched as my family crossed into lower middle class. for a long time, we were comfortable, we had everything we could ever want or need, and I never once had a worry about having enough money for my education. The rate my parents were going, I was expecting a car on my sixteenth birthday, and I knew exactly how I wanted it to be customized. My father would always talk about finishing up his payments toward our first house, and then going on and buying four more, enough for me and my siblings. We weren’t rich by any means, but we certainly weren’t poor. It was a good time, and I think that I’m always going to remember it as the golden era. This was the time where I was educated on racism, but I was naïve and I definitely believed that I wasn’t affected by it during this time. I had a whole bunch of friends, I was in the Gifted and Talented program, and I felt like I was free from the fates of the girls who died from the Birmingham bombs, and I felt that Rosa Parks had helped get rid of all the racism. I was in a bubble of innocence, and I know that my parents could have easily popped that bubble. I thank them for giving me that precious time to be a child, in spite of me being in such a hurry to grow up.
I can remember the first time I realized I was not valued as a black woman. It was in high school. I went to a different high school, a charter school, at the insistence of my mother that it would get me to college. I was one of then three black girls in my class. Most of the students were Hispanic or Latino, and there were a few Asian students, I believe one was from Taiwan, and I can’t remember where the other girl came from. But I remember upon arriving at my high school that I was out of place. Most of these students went to middle school together, and they already had their friend groups. So I expected to be able to fit into one group, that maybe one of them would accept me. But that was far from the case. I was the weird black girl who should have acted ghetto but acted like una gringa instead. I was dubbed the outcast, and I remember those lunches I spent eating by myself. It seemed that everyone wanted to be friends with the exotic Asian girls and the basketball- playing black guys, but us black girls were not welcome. We took up too much of their space simply by being there, and they made that known.
I found my solace in the upperclassmen that took me in. One of the upperclassmen was a black woman. She was loud, she was fun, she spoke her mind, and above all, she was unapologetic. I was fascinated with her. How much space she allowed herself to take up while feeling at ease with it was something that I had never seen before in my entire life. I was always the quiet girl, the girl who would have all the right answers but would be terrified to raise her hand to actually say them. I was the girl who had so much to say, but didn’t think she was valued enough to ever say them. And here she was, being as loud as she can be, and not giving a single care in the world about what someone was going to think or say about her. She was bold, she was fierce, and I wanted so much to be able to do the same.
Throughout high school, I remained the quiet girl, the girl who didn’t fit. The girl who was too white to be black and too black to be white. I was everything; in-between, and nothing all at the same time. I wanted so badly to be able to speak up and say what I want to, but was always quieted with the stereotypical, “You’re just angry.” and “You need to quit being so emotional.” Something I noticed all the time was the way the other girls in my class would have something to say to me, yet they never wanted to actually be an adult and talk things out. I was young, yet I felt so old. I was on a completely different level. While these students were worried about whether they were going to get the latest iPhone, I was wondering if I could make it to graduation, if I was going to live to see that day. My life was spent watching after my siblings while my mom went to the laundromat or to go grocery shopping. It wasn’t an easy life, nor was it unique.
Coming to college, I feel that knowing that I was in a completely different state where no one at all knew me gave me the strength to come into my own. I found myself empowered by placing myself in groups that I knew would give me as much as I put into them. And going into freshman year in the wake of the Ferguson protests, I knew that as a black female student, my life would not be the same, nor could I sit around and wait for something to happen to me.
Throwing myself into writing, reading, and putting it out has been one of the most powerful things for me. It feels nice, to have created my own platform to say what I need to say, what I want to say, without being interrupted or stopped or belittled. This is my place where I can speak for myself, where I can highlight the people who I see doing the work and what type of work needs to be done. This is the place for me to let loose and let out everything apologetically.
So sure, maybe I may sound angry. But at least I have my own space and every right in the world to be.
-JW
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Teaching Others and Taking Responsibility

 So yesterday, I talked a little bit about the things going on at Duke, and I ended it by saying that students of color don’t owe it to anyone to teach others who are culturally and racially unaware. But in the day and age of the internet and expanding information, what exactly what does this mean? Just how much should we give, and how much is too much?
 Let me premise this by stating, and understanding: I do not know everything there is to know about what I write about. Including myself. And not to be philosophical, but I probably won’t get to a point where I will understand anything completely. But when I talk about race things that relate to race, I am educating myself. That’s why I created this blog. To document my education, and to share it with other people. This is like my academic diary; sometimes is makes me feel enlightened, other times, I feel like I’m carrying a gigantic load that will never be lifted. For better or worse, it’s me, and it motivates me to learn more, and to share more. But while I am on my journey, I face people all the time demanding that I take time and tell explain to them my sources and how it makes sense. While I do try and cite my sources when I can, a lot of this information is found in books in the library, online, or my personal experience. While it is simple to do a few searches online or physically at the library for books and articles, there are some things that aren’t available through those mediums.
 My theory is that this is what white people demand that I teach them. Because I can bring the books and the articles to them and make them more accessible, but there is still so much that is demanded of me. Partly, I feel that it may be due to the inherent laziness that comes as a product of the modern education system, where people are used to having a teacher tell them everything they need to know, and for their job to be nothing else other than memorizing information and regurgitating it upon demand. This is the issue that we have today. We have people who are educated in the sense that they are able spit out information, whether its true or not. While this is good for standardized testing, it does nothing for actually retaining information that you will need later in life in order to socialize or get around in life without being insensitive. I can’t speak about other countries, but the U.S. is one of those places where we pride ourselves being so worldly and aware. But the sad thing is that many Americans are completely unaware of other cultures and history. The continental U.S. is smack dab in the middle of Canada and Mexico, yet the most students learn of these places are Canadian bacon and somberos. we lack the cultural knowledge that other countries gain when going through their education, yet we insist that we know it all.
 Another aspect of this is that the education system was built with white people in mind, not those of color. There used to be so many universities and educations from empires cultivated by Asians, by Arabs, by Africans, and more. The golden age of many of these eastern countries was what helped out Europe, yet the modern education is designed to cater to those who fit into the sphere of whiteness. There have been new studies coming out that find that students of color learn differently than white students, making the American system so one sided. So unconsciously, white students have become accustomed to having the upper hand in academia. This makes it difficult to accept that there are some things that they won’t be able to know first hand, and must rely on the Othered to tell it to them.
 So where is it that we can expect people to take responsibility? Most people cling to the innocence that younger people naturally hold, and it should be savored, as that is the only time they are going to be granted so much time to learn and grow on their own. But once we begin having discussions about preparing these kids for the real word, we must now start preparing them in other ways. If we were to have a more inclusive education system, that would eliminate blatant aggressions to those who are Othered.
 Teaching others about things you can’t learn is school is a very tricky task. As human beings, we must understand that because not everyone comes from the same background, not everyone has the same education. Therefore, open discussions are welcome amongst diverse groups, in hopes of bringing different perspectives to light. However, it becomes harmful when in an open discussion, the Othered much teach their oppressors. This is a very blatant display of white privilege. This benefits the oppressors at the expense of the Othered. In order to have a healthy dialogue, you cannot expect people to reopen the wounds of their experiences so that the oppressors have more understanding. This leads to the conclusion that no matter how hard we try, oppressors are never going to be able to empathize completely with those who are Othered.
 When having discussions about race and culture and how it affects our lives, it is everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to be aware of what goes on. Those people of color who do speak up do not simply come with their own personal experience, though they could and their points would still be valid. We go and we read, we throw ourselves into both sides of the conversation, in order to gain a holistic viewpoint. I can’t speak for other people, I don’t go in hoping to find the worst. I go in hoping to find an explanation for why things are the way they are. No one wakes up wanting to be oppressed. Those who are oppressed go through life every day facing things that those who fit into the sphere of whiteness do not because they have that privilege. But instead of it being a blame thing, it becomes a responsibility. Sure, I know that your family doesn’t own slaves now, and some didn’t own slaves back then. But it is because you are born with white skin that you benefit from the effects of slavery regardless. I’m not asking you to hate yourself or your culture, but to come to the table and understand that we all play a role in this, not just the oppressed. The oppressed aren’t going to be able to come up with a solution to all these issues by themselves, because they weren’t the creators of it. They play a part of it, but it is also up to the creators to have this dialogue and come together so that we actually can process this brutal history and be able to move on.
-JW

Why Don’t Black Lives Matter at Duke?

Graduating from Duke continues to be one of the most challenging goals for me to complete. I know that being here is an amazing opportunity that many students don’t have the ability to partake in, and understanding that I could very easily have been working at McDonald’s full time keeps me humble and motivated to finish. My love for academics has always been nuanced, but a love nonetheless. Unfortunately, while academically I have a wonderful opportunity that I aim to take full advantage of everyday, emotionally and mentally, I continue to feel drained, and I wonder each day how people can continue to explain to me that I have escaped the grasp of racism because my people are not being lynched anymore (and btw, they actually still are).
On Friday morning, my newsfeed was once again flooded with another demonstration on how little Duke cares for the diversity it brings in. We are hosting one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and on a flyer that was put up to advertise it, the word ‘black’ was crossed out and it was replaced by ‘white; no niggers.’ And the university remained silent.
This is the second racially charged event that we have had in the past week. The previous weekend, an Asian student heard students screaming racist slurs like “fucking chinks.” However, while these are both horrific and unacceptable, only one has been treated as such. When posted onto the “All Duke” Facebook page, when the young woman posted about it, though there of course was some backlash from it, but her post received over 1000 likes and a bunch of comments saying that they support. Which is well deserved, and it should have been handled like this, at the base level. However, this incident, directed at black students, was used as another way to hate against black students.
“You’re just overreacting!” “I don’t see race.” “It’s just an isolated incident.”
All these and more were heard throughout campus. And though it didn’t surprise nor shock me, it left me with a renewed sense of frustration toward the type of experience I have been forced to receive at this institution. Racism is far from new, especially to me and my peers of color, we experience it everyday, in different levels, and for the most random reasons. Microaggressions, macroaggressions, blatant racism, white supremacy. It’s all here, and we’ve been aware of it for a very long time. Yet on prestigious campuses, while they aim to bring in minorities for diversity, they don’t aim to aide them in any emotional way after. College is what you make it, and going into it with a positive outlook is key, but when you are constantly assaulted by the continued violence that serves the system of white supremacy, you are constantly struggling to determine just how worth a prestigious degree is.
College is meant for education, which is the primary reason I chose to come to Duke. But as capitalists, we also understand that the brand name of Duke and other prestigious schools carry a lot of weight in our society. We expect ourselves to achieve the best to make the connections we need in order to get ahead in the financial hierarchy of America. You can certainly do that without the brand name of an Ivy or near-Ivy, but it does help, when looking at the basis.
But college is also supposed to be somewhere that you can find comfort in. That’s why it is called your alma mater. Soul mate. sure, it will be difficult, and you’re going to be spending a lot of late nights and early mornings wishing you could get some more sleep. But you’re also going to make some friends, go to events, have fun. You get to do the things you were afraid of in high school, and hope that your parents won’t kill you when you go home. It’s that time where you figure out how much you like your style you’ve been rocking for the past four years, and if you really want to be with that one person you were all hung up over. College is talked about in clichés because it happens so much, people aren’t quite sure how to describe it. But unfortunately, that isn’t the case for every student.
Seeing the word “Nigger” scrawled out as casually as you would have signed your name, whether you want it to or not, has an impact as a person of color. Coming from the education I received in Texas, racism was never a non issue. But at least everyone knew what was going on. To see Nigger scrawled there, after crossing out black and putting “white,” should have sparked some type of outrage coming from the university as a whole, not just those people of color. But the sad fact is that the university doesn’t really care to react, because it is just as racist as the person who wrote it. We live in a society where we so obviously support white supremacy, yet only address it behind secured doors. It’s not supposed to be talked about loudly. It’s one of those things you talk about quietly and in small pieces, away from big brother. Yet we wonder why racism is still a big issue in the US, in the world.
For some students, this is a game. It’s “graffiti,” not connected to what really goes on at Duke. These students are so privileged, they expect everyone else to live in the same comfortable bubble as they do, to have the same fun experience of being at Duke as they do. But that can’t happen. “Nigger” is not a casual word you throw around, even if you are from a different country. As a global population, there is so much anti-blackness, there’s an equivalent for that in nearly every language. We are only mere decades from the riots, from integration, from Jim Crow. This didn’t happen so distantly. Yet we expect for people of color to “suck it up” and to move on. The system of white supremacy allows for many people to not have to think about it in such a way.
I am not mad by this instance. I’ve become so desensitized to this, it’s sad. But instead of asking me and students like me to not complain, you are asking for us to aide to your comfort, and not make them have to actually look at the way we live. We aren’t responsible for teaching you why this is wrong, and we deserve a decent experience just as much as our white counterparts. Equality is important, but justice must accompany it in order for it to mean anything.
-JW

Understanding The Relationship between Black People and the Police

I never thought this had to be explained, because I assumed that everyone would have some kind of basic understanding about what happens. Of course, this isn’t the first time my naïveté has led me to hope for the best. Optimistically, that would be my thought, that people would have a general understanding of what happens to the black community, not just in America, but throughout the world. Unfortunately, despite the stories we continue to see, I still have people question why I get so passionate and upset when I see more instances of police brutality and instances of racism. This is nothing new by far, and the origins date as far back as before slavery.

Continue reading Understanding The Relationship between Black People and the Police

Natural Hair Chronicles: Twist Fails and Wash Time

Hey all! So this is so late, but I have redone my hair and I thought I would walk you all through it. This is currently my tenth month completely natural, and I spent the year before transitioning before clipping off my relaxed ends. Now, I am loving my hair more and more each day and am waiting patiently to get to my goal of mid-black length, and also focusing on keeping my hair moisturized and healthy. My hair used to be so long, and I know with time and care I can get it back to that length once again.
So first, before I could do anything to my hair, I had to take out my previous braids which were literally hanging onto my hair desperately. That took about two hours.
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Next, I carefully went through and did a quick dry detangle before getting to the washing. I was rather happy to see that I had a lot less hair breakage than I do with other braiding extensions. I know with microbraids it was a little wearing on my kitchen area, and with yarn, I haven’t lost any of my edges.
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Then, I started my washing routine. Like many naturalistas, I am a bit of a product junkie, but I am starting to come up with my key favorites. The products I used this time were a few favorites mixed with products I’m still on the fence about. Coconut oil and jojoba have so far been really helping my hair, and they definitely help soothe itching in those later stages of wearing extensions (you know that Itch).
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I was pleasantly surprised to see that my hair actually was noticeably longer, and I am starting to feel a bit better. I wanted to be at the length I was pre chop come my year mark, and I hadn’t been actively checking, so it was nice to make note of that. I feel like if I thought about it too much, I would obsess over how long my hair was every single day. Nowadays, I focus on defining my curls.
Once I finished and put in oils and leave-in conditioner, I sat down with my computer, some food, and the yarn that I pre-cut, and got right into work in front of my mirror. I split this part up into two days, over Saturday and Sunday morning. I think it took me less time this time around because I made bigger sections and I knew what I was doing, so my fingers had started to put the quick braiding to muscle memory. I had plenty of yarn to spare.
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I finished at about 11:30 am on Sunday morning, and spent the rest of that time sealing the ends of my hair. Unfortunately my lighter ran out before  finished, and I got too lazy to go get another one (the struggle), so I still have unsealed ends, but they blend in pretty well.
Braiding my hair, the entire process, took about 12 hours, including taking my hair out and washing. That was definitely shorter than the first time I did it. I think a big part of it was pre-cutting the yarn. It was really tedious cutting the skeins myself, but I do feel it was worth it, because I didn’t have to stop between braids and cut more.
I said I was going to do yarn twists, but that was a complete and total fail. I have no idea what I did, and out of sheer mental exhaustion, I went back to braiding. But maybe next time I can sit down and figure out the twists part of it. We’ll see.
I plan to do a length check around my year mark. I’ll blow out my hair and see wear it’s at. Until the, I will continue on using my yarn. Everyone always talks about finding the right protective style for you, and I think this is the one for me. It’s light, it’s easy to install, and I don’t think about it once I’ve put it in. I don’t have to worry about getting it wet, and I can still do things the same way.
What are your favorite protective styles? Do you have a desired hair length you’re working toward? What are your favorite natural hair products?
-JW

Progressive Passive Aggression in Race Discussions

At my university, we often come together to discuss race. Be it formal or informal, race discussions always come to fruition. And how could they not? Race is something that makes up our way of live, is the basis or social hierarchy and so much more. Race has become integral to how we interact, what we think, and what we decide to do. Yet, in these discussions, even in the presence of white people, they still manage to be left out of the conversation. This is not because people of color don’t attempt to include white people. It’s actually quite the opposite. The last time I had a legitimate race conversation with a white person, I was practically dying from happiness because they wanted to listen without shutting me down. People of color certainly are not excluding white people from these conversation. I’ve come to realize that white people exclude themselves from the conversation. It’s a little messy, but I have started to form some thoughts for why this occurs.
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When we talk about oppression, we talk in terms of the oppressed. And that is definitely needed, especially as these voices have been silenced throughout history, and it continues today. But when we talk about oppression, the voices of the oppressors rarely are heard. This is for a few reasons. The most obvious being that they have the privilege to opt out of these conversations. With whiteness comes the ability to not have to see race or participate in active race situations, because they are not confronted with the harmful side of this parasitic relationship. People of color, on the other hand, often have to deal with negativity pertaining to the oppression of their races and cultures. It becomes something of an anomaly of seeing a white person at an event for people of color, and this is due to their ability to remain silent, to “allow for the conversation to happen.” But this allowance, without putting forth any input, along with their silence when dealing with racism or oppression coming from their white peers, colleagues, family, and friends. This is what I call progressive passive aggression.
I often get this passive aggression when talking about Bernie Sanders. As President Obama’s campaign starts drawing to a close, we are starting to see which candidate is coming out to be the strongest politician. On the democratic side, despite media pushing Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders is actually the candidate who is the strongest politically, thus far. Despite that, the idea of me voting for Bernie Sanders is still me voting for the lesser of two evils. While many people are shouting to the rooftops about “our savior,” I hold my many reservations, and place Bernie Sanders under just as much scrutiny as I do with the other candidates. But when I bring up my reservations about Bernie Sanders, especially to my white friends who identify as liberal, they immediately get quiet. “Well, to each their own,” I would hear, or, “I don’t think it’s my place to get an opinion.” Yet in everything else about Bernie Sanders, they are just salivating waiting to get everything out. You cannot have a holistic, intelligent dialogue without there being to sides equally brought into the situation. A healthy dialogue needs both sides in order to continue and bring about new thoughts.
When talking about race, many white people I come into contact with love to shy away from it. They would much rather listen, and sit back. Which isn’t completely negative. Listening is certainly a big part of this, especially if you have intentions of seeking allyship. But listening cannot be the entirety. Listening to people of color having discussions about race and expecting something good to come of it without your help is racist. As the oppressor, though you personally did not create this system, you benefit from it, and have a responsibility to provide your thoughts, your views, as they are just as valid. Hearing both sides is what makes progress. Though it may not seem like it, by allowing yourself to check out of the conversation, you subconsciously let people know that you expect them to teach you, as your privilege allows for. Privilege is sneaky, as I have said before, and while it isn’t always conscious and purposeful, it still has negative effects and needs to be taken care of.
If you go to an event, be it a discussion or a rally, and do nothing but watch, the only one benefitting out of this is you. As a white person, you gain, while these people who are working to make these events continue to happen lose out. Your views on race are still needed because by looking at information through less of a biased view, and it aides your growth in understanding. Allyship does not mean coasting through, and it very subtly assumes that you know more or are better, thus bringing on a power dynamic.
So next time you go to someone and chastise someone who doesn’t agree with a presidential candidate, instead of protesting that they should agree, take a look at everything overall and see what are possible nuances that you can call out and create dialogue with.
-JW

Looking at Prisoners in a New Light

The idea of prison and those who are in prison has long ago been written off by society. We see all prisoners as criminals, and give almost no concern for what they go through in the depths of prison. We live in a country where we are told to trust the justice system completely and blindly, and most of us do, because we have no idea there is a reason to mistrust this justice system. We assume, with a sad naïveté, that through the system of checks and balances and regulation, that the justice system has no other choice but to be fair and balanced. Unfortunately, in the realm of realism, that is far from how our justice system works, and instead of allowing the perpetuation of stereotypes of who these prisoners are, it’s time that we dissected who they really are, and why this system has gone so askew.
Prison is where we send offenders to be once they have committed a crime. It is punishment for what they have done, as well as a site for rehabilitation. Prison, in its foundation was meant for war prisoners, captured in battle. These prisoners still had some type of rights, and after a certain amount of time, some of them would be released.
U.S. prisons have always been shaky. They, too, used to capture war prisoners, and through that, they would gain free and cheap servants. They figured out a way to exploit these captured people in order to use them for work that they desperately needed when the use of indentured servants began to die out. This was utilized in the early days of the colonies, and it was later replaced by the system of American chattel slavery.
Slavery began in the 1600s and lasted until the late 1800s with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. with that came the reignited need for the free and cheap labor in order to keep the remaining plantations and areas functioning. Thus, there was a loophole built into the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery and indentured servitude, except as punishment for a crime. This rule was utilized all throughout the former Confederacy and even the Union areas, and targeted former black slaves. They used a heightened sense of policing for black people and other minorities and they were arrested for seemingly minor charges. This practice has not only continued, but has evolved and expanded over time.
Today, mostly minorities make up the prison population, despite the fact that people of all races commit crimes at about the same rate. This is the gist of the system of mass incarceration. Many of these offenders are in for a long time for nonviolent crimes, such as possession of marijuana. And committing crimes are not acceptable in this society with rules, the things that make these crimes are starting to change. A lot of these drugs that are currently forbidden come from the Clinton administration when he made the War on Drugs such a big part of society. This War on Drugs was used to perpetuate the stereotype of minorities using drugs, while when looking at the data, once again, people of all races and cultures use drugs at around the same rate.
Now, I am certainly not saying that there aren’t any people who deserve to go to prison. There are many who do. But the way we generalize all the prisoners and reduce them to the lowest criminals is really harmful and counter productive. These prisoners are sent to prison to be rehabilitated so that they can come out into society and not make any more offenses. Yet someone’s status as a prisoner brands them permanently as a social pariah. We continue to judge these people, while not providing any services to aide them both in and out of prison. We believe these people of being monsters, while at the same automatically passing judgement.
The society we live in says that these people put these people in these situations and therefore deserve these terrible conditions. We dehumanize these prisoners and see them as less than us, and less deserving of the right of freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
Prisoners are human, too, and they don’t start out as criminals. In fact many of them actually aren’t. They start as your brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt, cousin, friend. They have lives too, they have families and feelings, and desires and goals. Instead of automatically dehumanizing prisoners, let’s take a look at the more nuanced side of the situation and not necessarily take the government’s word.
-JW

Frequently Asked Questions: College Edition

I am now a sophomore at Duke University, and I know that this is the prime time for finishing college applications and sending them out. Many people already are set on where they want to go, while others are on the fence. College is a big decision, and choosing the right one can be life changing. So I have decided to go through a few frequently asked questions with hopes to help this stressful time and make it a little bit easier.

  1. What should I look for in a college or university? Many students go for the prestige, trying for the big names, like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and so forth. These are some amazing schools, but keep in mind that the brand name isn’t everything. You need to find somewhere that is going to fit you. Think about things you like to do. Find the places that offer classes or groups that involve them. Try and visit your top campuses if at all possible (some schools do offer some type of aid to get you there if you can’t afford it). I know for me, while the big group tours were fun with friends, I had to walk around the campus on my own in order to get a more authentic feel. I needed something that allowed me to breathe and feel comfortable. Look not only for their academic reviews, but look for their teacher reviews for classes you might want to take. I’d recommend the site ratemyprofessor.com for that. Look at student testimonies, and talk to current students. Look for the place where you feel like not only will you enjoy, you will be challenged.

                                                                                                                                

  1. Should I take up a roommate freshman year, and if I do, should I select one or go with randomized? A lot of college counselors will vehemently encourage you to take up a freshman year for the sake of getting to know your peers and interacting. I’m not going to. Everyone is different, and come from different backgrounds. I went with a random roommate and while she was nice, we didn’t really click well and she ended up moving out in the second month of our second semester (not due to any drama whatsoever). I found out that I loved being on my own, and not only did it give me room to find out my own study habits and work better, but it allowed me to realized that my cleaning habits were not where I wanted them to be, and that I really needed to get my stuff together. However, I come from a large family and am used to never getting alone time, so any time to myself is amazing. This year I live in a section on campus, and I chose my roommate, so it’s a lot better than my old roommate, but that was after a lot communication about what we expected of each other. It’s not perfect still, but we are in agreement most of the time, so that works.

 

  1. Should I go with the major that makes good money, or should I choose a major based on my desires and interests? This seems like an easy question, but it is often clouded by judgement from parents, teachers, friends, and more. This especially comes into play when parents are helping out with tuition. They may feel like now you owe it to them to go and take up a major that is known to make a lot of money upon graduation. You need to go ahead and do what you feel is best for you, even if you know you are capable of the major that you’re being pushed to do. If you’re going to a college that is appropriately challenging you, any major you take up will be challenging enough. And you’re spending four difficult years anyway, so why take up an extra burden to please anyone? In addition, your major doesn’t stick you in certain jobs. It gives you access to some, but your major is only a small part of what your future career will be looking for.

 

 

  1. What about food plans? Will I go hungry? Food was definitely a big part of where I wanted to go, as I’m a foodie. I needed somewhere that I knew I was going to have good things to eat. This actually isn’t something I would worry about too much. I have always had the smallest meal plan because that’s what my financial aid will cover, and even when I ran out, I had friends who were willing to help me out, and there were a ton of events where I could score free food, in my dorm, with my RA, with my faculty advisor, and just around campus. Finding free food will become second nature for you, so I would go with what’s best for you.

 

  1. If I change my major in freshman year, will I get behind? Despite the fear of something going terribly astray in freshman year, changing your major this year is actually not a big deal. As a freshman, many people come in with no experience in the major they are thinking of. You’re going to have to take some classes and figure things out. Many colleges and universities actually require that you wait to formally decide on your major. This will help you get some of your basic requirements out of the way. College is at least a four year stint; some people finish faster, some a little later. Go at your own pace. You are the one finishing for you, taking in the information you need.

 

 

  1. How hard is it? I’d love to tell you that if you maneuver college life enough, it’ll be easy, but I refuse to lie. College and university, if done correctly, are meant to be difficult. They extend past the common core teachings that are solely given to students in America, and they are a time of questioning. This is the time where you can question your teacher, but it also means you have something to back your thoughts with. I read so much for class it isn’t even funny. But it makes for a more engaging class time and it allows for you to use the information for future discussions or assignments. College will be a lot of studying, but it will certainly be rewarding when you make it through.

 

  1. How do I deal with being homesick? This was definitely something I struggled with when I first got to Duke. I come from a big family, with my youngest siblings being under the age of five, and leaving them was really tough because I knew that I was going to miss out on some of their growing up. I utilize Skype and phone calls, because they definitely help. Calling them and letting them know that I miss them and love them is nice. My parents are very nice about letting me go halfway across the country, but we still talk almost every day, at least for a little bit. I just got back from visiting them for the first time since my graduation, so it was definitely a big help. You’re going to miss family and friends, but college is definitely going to be a blast if you make it work.

 

 

  1. Should I bring all my things, or just pack light? It depends on where you’re going. If you plan on going to school within thirty minutes of where you live, I would say pack light, because it will definitely help with move in. You can always go back and get more if you need it. If you come from far away like me, you generally have to bring more because you aren’t going to be able to come back home as easily. Some students wait until getting to the city you are going to be in for college or university in order to safe space. That was not financially best for me, so I ended up filling up the entire back of my grandfather’s truck, and it was hell unloading it in the afternoon heat of the summer with no AC. Usually in between the school years, you can find cheap storage with your friends to make things easier, that way you won’t have to take everything back and forth with you.

 

  1. How will I make new friends? This sounds like a common fear for many incoming freshman, but again, I wouldn’t worry. I came in with a few friends from the invitational I had come to at Duke when I found out that I got in. A lot of people also go to Duke Blue Devil Days, which allows prospective freshman to see if the university is a good fit for them. There are events like that for other schools, so look out for them and ask for financial help from the college or university if you need it. For Duke, all the freshman live on East campus for the first year so that they get to know each other. I know not every school does this, though, so don’t be afraid to go out and get involved in groups and hang out with classmates. Your friends will fall in line.

 

 

  1. How do I balance school and fun? This is something I am constantly working at but have yet to master. Duke is a fun place, full of parties and events, but it is crazy difficult, and you are not going to make it without studying unless you are some type of certified genius. I tend to make study time also fun by hanging out with friends while studying, which may backfire sometimes, but actually works rather well because they are the ones who can trash talk me enough into working harder (I run on sarcasm and trash talk). You have to find your study zone and take breaks. Study hard, get ahead, take breaks, have fun. If you have big projects spread it out across a few days. Having some type of planner is key. Overworking yourself is never fun, and you set yourself up for burning out, which can really hurt you. Take some time for yourself, plan things out, and let things happen.

So I hope this was helpful. I may do answer more if people have any more questions, because I know there are so many more questions than that. Let me know what college you’re thinking of or went to, and leave any advice you want to give for students looking to apply to schools.

-JW

Don’t Costume Our Cultures

As Halloween comes up, those who celebrate are planning out their outfits, making sure they’re party ready. But just how ready are we? October 31st is the one day a year that college students can truly let loose and be whatever they want without having to worry about someone passing judgement. But when these costumes cross cultural lines, it becomes not only disrespectful, but hazardous to those who actually belong to the culture.

Have you ever seen someone dressed in an “American Indian” costume with the feather headdress and the cute little beads and thought you might want to try that out? Have you been at that party where people walk around in sombreros because they’re Mexican? Do you know anyone who has ever darkened their skin tone for the night in order to look a little more “ethnic”? If any of these resound with you even somewhat, then you may have witnessed cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the temporary adoption or use of elements of one culture as a largely negative phenomenon. It comes in multiple forms, and often those who practice it are in positions of power that they themselves cannot realize.

But why are costumes such as these so offensive?

Racial stereotypes and slurs have are constantly changing and have always been up for debate. This is the land of the free, and thus everyone is granted their freedom of speech and expression, but this has not always been the case. In the beginnings of our country, not all people were free. It started with men with property, leading on to men without property, and so on and so forth. But people of color have only recently in American history have gained the same privilege. People of color weren’t even considered people, and due to long-held xenophobia, they were not only socially ostracized, but considered the same level as animals and made to work with no rights. Indigenous Americans had their land invaded, were infected with diseases, forced to work, and still not given basic rights. And it goes the same way for indigenous Mexicans. Asian people who came into America weren’t given the same opportunities as other people and scraped by to find jobs. These people, though they do have rights now, inherently have less of a voice than the white population. This part of the foundation of the white privilege that allows for these appropriations to take place.

Race and culture are different things, but they are much related to one another. One’s culture is the thing they cling to in times of hardship, in fun events, and simply because. Culture is more than just consumerism in any account. Culture is how we come to realize who we are. It’s more than just the food one eats, the clothes one wears, and the things they say. It’s the way you know that you have a community where you can feel at home, even if you don’t know everyone. That old spiritual that you and your friends make fun of because it sounds exaggerated? It was sung in the fields by the slaves who worked day in and day out in hopes of getting themselves a better part of the scraps of hog for the next big event. The way people have certain names that may make you giggle? They were adapted by those in hopes of a better life, or at least for a better opportunity for life.

If you really feel the need to do so, think of who you are hurting. Just because something may not be blatant doesn’t mean it is racist. By wearing these costumes and acting as if they are acceptable, you continue to perpetuate privilege while metaphorically spitting in the face of those who don’t have power to fight back. You allow yourself to be a walking stereotype for a night, continuing the subconscious messages that you have gained inherently throughout your life, and then at the end of the day, you get to take it off. It is impossible for one to empathize with the amount of oppression one has faced, especially in one night. The appropriation of culture for the night is a mocking of one’s struggles, diminishing them to nothing more than a caricature, while you retain your status as a well-rounded person. You get to retain your ability to be different, to be an individual while reducing entire peoples to tropes used to further push them down.

It is perfectly possible to dress up as someone from a different culture without appropriating one’s culture. It may take some research and looking, but as adults, one should at least have a basic understanding of what costume they are wearing anyway. So go ahead, be Kanye West, or Jane the Virgin, or Agent May from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But if you have to step near any type of costume that contains the words “ethnic,” or “tribal,” or find yourself easing toward some paint, stop, take a look, and assess the way you look on October 31st this year.

Understanding Everyone’s Responsibility

When I write, or even just talking with friends and acquaintances about issues relating to race, I am told sometimes that I sound as if I have no role in the systems that I talk about, even going as far as to say that I believe I am above because I go to Duke and can read. Learning how I come across to certain people allows me to gain perspective and it gives me the ability to reflect and see if there is anything I can do to change how I spread information.

First and foremost, this is not meant to be the all-knowing site of information. What I write or say is based on research and experience, but in no way is my information exhaustive. My information can be interpreted in different ways, and does not always only applies to black issues. I love holding discussions and that’s why I’ve started this blog, with hopes to get people talking about things that don’t always come up in mainstream media. People are welcome to come back with information, data, and their experiences in order to come up with a better understanding for what goes on in our world and why.

Moving from there, it’s still important to understand that the systems of oppression that I bring up are very real, and no matter how much you attempt to tell me that your experiences have never been something where race has made a significant impact on your life, I am not going to accept those arguments. While I do enjoy seeing different perspectives, I am not going to entertain that while I know that I have experienced much more than what one wishes to diminish my life to.  White supremacy, patriarchy, queerphobia, misogyny, anti-blackness, xenophobia. All of these have a place in our lives, regardless of your awareness to it. To take things and claim that one’s experiences are only a minimal thing only proves that much more that these systems are not only in place, but are working. We have been taught incorrectly at school that everyone has a fair shot if they just worked hard, and later on, learning that you are part of something that disadvantages others is very jarring, and understanding that no one gets out unscathed is a big part of moving forward and creating an environment where we can build and actually start the process of moving on. So I have compiled a few things to say in response to those who believe that privilege is not a thing and that they aren’t involved.

  • Everyone Plays a Role: Nobody is without some kind of responsibility in this mess. Everyone plays a part in how we interact with one another. That does not mean that those of power have the ability to blame those who are oppressed for their state of being. They are in situations due to long term power dynamics being unequal, thus granting those who are privileged to get ahead to the point where it isn’t possible to catch up immediately without radically changing the way things are.
  • Taking Responsibility does NOT mean Feeling Guilt: Often when having discussions with those who are privileged, the first defense mechanism used is to try to deflect the situation back onto the oppressed, often by exclaiming how the oppressed calls on them to feel guilty and how they don’t deserve to feel guilty for something they “didn’t do.” Not only do they completely ignore the role that they play in these systems, they put the blame onto the oppressed, which doesn’t make sense due to the aforementioned skewed power dynamics. Taking responsibility understanding that you are in a position of power and that you have to work to not only come to understand why and how these systems exist, but to actively fight it and spread information onto others as you see fit
  • This is Not a Trend: Often times, I get people claiming that the Black Lives Matter Movement is just a trend, and that anyone who supports any type of social activism for oppressed people are simply jumping on a trend. This is not true, and it assumes that people weren’t doing anything for these injustices in the past. The difference is now we can highlight these acts through means of social media and technology in general, and they become something we can easily point it out. Coming into consciousness of the things that are going on isn’t a trend. It’s something that we should be happy that we have more people who can fight the good fight and that we have more minds working to think of a possible solution.
  • Responsibility Means More than Just a Hashtag: When discussing social justice, it’s often a question of who actually is doing something. I consider myself to be an activist, but I know that simply putting out content isn’t the only way that I can contribute. I go out to hear speakers, gain different perspectives, go to marches and rallies, and try to get involved with the community. I do what I know I have the capacity to do. I also understand that my activism is not just a every other day when there’s a trending event. Activism means fighting for revolution, and one cannot just make that fighting something on a “whenever you feel like it” schedule. Activism is a full time thing, not just a hashtag movement. Hashtagging is good as you raise awareness, but there is so much more to do than that, and if you really wish to have things change, you need to be doing what you can to make that change possible.

This is something I will probably add on to from time to time, but these are definitely things that need to be addressed. Understanding privilege is certainly not an simple thing, but we can make it easier by cutting out pointless conversations. Privilege means that your voice has a chance to be heard, and when talking to the oppressed, you need to understand that the time they get to speak with you is a fraction of what you say, and you shouldn’t waste it by asking redundant and extraneous questions. Cutting out tedious and repetitive arguments allows for us to go deeper than the surface of race and its impact.

-JW