Brown Girl Lifted

because life @ the intersection is personal & political

How writing for a newspaper taught me how to be fearless

Founded 25 years ago, Simpson Street Free Press is a paper made by young people on the South side of Madison.

Amber Walker wrote about Simpson Street in a recent article in The Cap Times:

Simpson Street Free Press started as a free monthly newspaper in the Broadway-Simpson neighborhood on Madison’s south side, just south of Lake Monona, in 1992. Six students from La Follette High School — Keysha McCann, Tammy Washington, Tasha Bell, Patricia Bell, Dee Graham and Tomiko Osbey — wanted a platform for teens to share their thoughts and combat what they saw as negative stereotypes and incomplete coverage about their neighborhood in the mainstream media.

Fannie Mims, president of the now defunct Broadway-Simpson neighborhood association (now called the Bridge-Lakepoint-Waunona neighborhood) and Kramer, a resident and volunteer, served as adult editors for the fledgling paper. They helped the teens hone their voices as they wrote about violence, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse and other issues that were important to them.

By 1998, Simpson Street welcomed teens from all over Madison to write for the paper. Through donations, Kramer and Mims were able to pay students modest stipends for their work, which continues today.

I first heard about Simpson Street Free Press when my middle school librarian handed me its hard-copy newspaper. The Free Press looked like the other newspapers on display, but it was filled with stories written by kids my age who looked kind of like me.

I was bright, but had issues focusing at school. But those issues tended to dissolve when I was allowed to be creative. After starting my own little newsletter in fifth grade, I already fancied myself a newspaper girl; but the school paper at my middle school was shut down due to budget cuts and lack of interest.

I talked with a guidance counselor about how I could get involved in another way. This most-unhelpful counselor did less than the bare minimum. She suggested I talk to some student I didn’t really know about how to get involved. It was middle school, and I gave up.

Later, in high school, I overheard a boy in my English class making fun of the school newspaper for which I proudly wrote and occasionally edited. He told me in no uncertain terms that one of the school newspapers I worked on was “trash.”

I wanted to dismiss what he had to say, but he had a point. There was barely any editorial review. It was maybe a bit self-congratulatory. I pressed him for insights on who the hell he thought he was to expect so much out of a high school paper; he turned around and told me that he took part in a real newsroom experience.

I’m like, Okay, so tell me where it is.

A swath of hardcopy issues of Simpson Street Free Press over the years. Photo Credit: Claire Miller

People describe Simpson Street as a sparkling gem on the South Side of Madison, but it’s more than that. Rather, it’s a mirror of the sometimes-unsung bright young minds that make up Dane County and its surrounding areas.

For me, it was a place where my writing talent was recognized, nurtured, and held to very high standards. Rigor and creative freedom coexisted. Staff writers—that’s what they called us—were valued for what knowledge, perspective, brilliance we already brought to the table. I felt respected, and because of that, I grew.

“It’s fun to have something going on in the gym for sports, but we need more academics for our kids,” Adams said. “When it came down to getting him that material (for school) I had to run to Simpson Street Free Press for it.”

—Jewel Adams, as interviewed by Amber C. Walker

At SSFP, my work mattered and meant something to people. I had never been in an environment where my intellect and weirdness could combine to create a generative discussion, or to help someone learn a concept. With these high standards in place, I became a much better writer, and in turn, a much better reader and editor. Without realizing it, I had become a leader.

Multiple rounds of edits from their peers and adults encourage students to refine their craft. The idea is if students are invested in turning in their best work for the paper, that commitment to excellence will benefit them in all of their classes.

This notion is what brought Jewel Adams to the Free Press’ door over eight years ago. A longtime south side resident, Adams remembers Simpson Street kids “always had books in their hands,” and she was impressed by their professionalism. Students clock in and out each day and carry business cards.

Adams said her son, a talented athlete, struggled in math but lacked the confidence to ask for help. She said Simpson Street was one of the only after-school programs in the neighborhood she could find with an academic focus.  

“It’s fun to have something going on in the gym for sports, but we need more academics for our kids,” Adams said. “When it came down to getting him that material (for school) I had to run to Simpson Street Free Press for it.”

Aarushi and Luis 3Eight years later, it’s summer of 2017 and I’m one of the editors who does these ‘multiple rounds.’ I work with all kinds of students, customizing my lesson plans to their interests and learning styles, and I’ve also become a little bit of an expert on out-of-school time literature. I can recite the mission statement in my sleep. I have spoken and written publicly to reporters, elected officials, citizens, and parents, representing the Free Press.

When I started at the Free Press, I was scared to death of “networking” with people, and truth be told, I’m still sometimes terrified, but I know how to do it, and I do it everyday.

Today I’m in New York, pursuing a Master in Fine Arts in Writing and Activism. It’s the most populous city in the United States—or so I wrote in my postcard to the students.

Geography is an ongoing lesson plan at the Free Press, maps adorning the walls of the newly-expanded Monona newsroom. Jim Kramer, the organization’s executive director calls maps “learning portals.” We find them particularly helpful when working with students, who (like me) are more responsive to visual stimuli, when taking in information.

New York is the perfect place for someone like me—a writer, musician, stand-up comic, who considers herself an activist. When I started at the Free Press, I was scared to death of “networking” with people, and truth be told, I’m still sometimes terrified, but I know how to do it, and I do it everyday.

The other day, I checked my Brooklyn mailbox on the way to a show, and found a large envelope in the mail— a new issue of the Free Press!— filled with fresh articles in English and in Spanish, about big, smart, important topics like Geography, Space Science, Energy and the Environment, and a beautiful editorial about representation of people of color in literature that I assigned while working closely with a brilliant middle-schooler named Kadjata Bah.

kadjata bah article
Imagine my joy at seeing this in print! Read it here in the online publication.

Reading through the paper, I remembered the first time I read the paper in my middle school library. Reading it, I experienced the kind of joy you can only get from learning something new, and understanding the world a little better.

The work that has come out of SSFP is academic, it’s rigorous and it’s radical.

That first year I worked at the Free Press, I looked up to people like my friend, Jonah, who had ripped apart my school newspaper, and never shied away from a fun, interesting metaphor if it stuck with people. We traded work and improved each other’s stuff.

I met editors, like Sisi Chen, who could improve a piece of writing I thought was perfect.  These same editors pushed me to share my own ideas. It was always scary, but I found that speaking up and sharing my work always felt better than not sharing it. And it got easier when other people shared, too.

Empowerment is contagious. And with this new-found empowerment, my true potential to be an effective leader in my community started to unlock. I began to see sharing not just as something I was afraid to do, but as something I couldn’t afford not to do. This continues to make all the difference.

when we speak
“a litany for survival,” by Audre Lorde, as quoted in Talking Back by bell hooks

I am so thankful to Jim Kramer, Jonah Huang, Deidre Green, Mckenna Kohlenberg, Taylor Kilgore, Ben Reddersen, Gloria Gonzalez, Claire Miller, Adaeze Okoli, Ashley Crawford, Brianna Wilson, Andrea Gilmore-Bykovskyi, Sisi Chen, Darlinne Kambwa and everyone else at Simpson Street who believed in me, sharpened me, and turned me into the sort of person who believes in herself.

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Aarushi Agni (@aarushifire) is a Brooklyn-based writer, stand-up comic and musician, hailing from Madison, WI. She eavesdrops on conversations about medicine and public policy. As a comic, she’s opened for lovely people such as Aparna Nancherla, Jackie Kashian and Maggie Faris. For the last four years, she has produced and performed within Yoni Ki Baat, a yearly monologue showcase celebrating the intersectional stories of women of color. She’s also a singer/songwriter, frontperson of several bands, including Tin Can DiamondsShe founded Brown Girl Lifted in 2015.

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Anupama Bhattacharya is a student and a researcher. Her research analyzes bias in evaluation of leaders in STEM fields in order to fight against health disparities in Medicine due to lack of diverse leadership. She studies Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science with hopes ofworking towards a reality where healthcare is more broadly accessible and applicable for all. Anupama is an artist and creator. She is a talented indian classical dancer, painter, sculptor, jewelry maker and sewist. Anupama is working to analyze herself and her reality based in ancient Indian literature to decolonialize her perspective.

Molly Tobin is a student of English and Media Studies at Scripps College in Claremont, CA. While being on Youtube for upward of three years now with a book review blog, they have started dabbling in Video Art as a way to tell stories. They are interested in exploring documentary media and short films in their future endeavors. However, their ultimate goal is to go into the book publishing industry and work towards diversifying the works that are published, especially in young adult and children’s literature.
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BROWN & FEARLESS: Talking Web Series, Keyboard Activism and Playwriting with Eliana Pipes. 

Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first edition of Brown & Fearless. There are so many powerful people doing beautiful things with their creativity and making the world a better place to be brown. And I want to interview them!  Enjoy reading about Eliana, and be sure to watch her series (at And if you’re in New York, check out her play at The Fire This Time Festival ( until February 5th!

Playwright, filmmaker, and actress, Eliana Pipes is also someting else— an activist.

A student at Columbia, Pipes directed, wrote, and acted in a web series, Meet Me @The Clinic, a workplace comedy about two very different young women, Dia and Nina, who begin volunteering at
a free women’s health clinic not unlike Planned Parenthood. The two find common ground while assembling free condom gift bags, folding pamphlets, and dealing with the occasional protester.

img_0119In a political reality wherein clinics like these are in real danger of having their doors closed, Meet Me @ The Clinic is a fun-size workplace comedy that is equal parts awkward and heartfelt.

The drama of the show is grounded by the strikingly honest portrayal of its two leads. Dia, played by Pipes is a YouTube star, whose brand of activism is the creation of informative online videos about social justice topics. Dia’s friend, Nina, played by the series’ co-creator Victoria Tamez, struggles with her political support of women’s reproductive rights as it chafes against her church’s conservative pro-life view.

After I stumbled across— and consequently binge-watched—Pipes’ web show, we sat down for a video-chat about life as brown artists and writers.

Meet Me @ The Clinic plays heartstrings, while maintaining a light-hearted tone. The material is joke-dense, seamlessly serving character and theme. Even though the world consists of only a few sets, it feels lived-in. Its humor serves its message, which helps, because sometimes the message hits you over the head, or is plainly spoken. The opening sequence of the show features Dia running away from her bus stop to avoid an interrogation about what languages she speaks. What The Clinic loses in subtlety is made up in authenticity — the audience gets a real snapshot of Dia and Nina’s lives.

Conversations about family planning are conversations wrapped up in life, potential, womanhood, and faith. These conversations are as high stakes as they are funny.

We see the world through the eyes of our two main characters, and with them, we feel the tug of political forces on their private lives. Dramatic beats are bookended by bizarre, dreamlike sequences spotlighting kooky characters.. These vignettes are often satirical glimpses of mainstream racist culture. Even as Dia and Nina play with condom packets, fight about glitter, and learn how to explain and teach about birth control, neither is ever able to let go of their political reality— a fact that distinguishes them from the other clinic volunteers. Conversations about family planning are conversations wrapped up in life, potential, womanhood, and faith. These conversations are as high stakes as they are funny.


In Episode 3, “Ay Dios Mio/Oh My God,” we see into Dia’s process. We watch  as she wrestles with the awkwardness and discomfort of using ss her limited Spanish vocabulary to create a web-video that will reach an audience often  marginalized in their access to unbiased family planning intel— Latina women. She’s well-intentioned, if a bit out of her depth. In a fun sequence, we see Dia in her rolling desk chair trying desperately to not sound stupid in Spanish, her emotional state no doubt mirroring the feelings invoked when trying to receive medical care in a different language. Eventually, Dia powers through her discomfort, in order to lessen someone else’s. This scene pays off when we see the successful finished product through the eyes of Nina, who watches the clip at the bus stop. Someone next to her asks, “Oh my god, is that Dia Ryland? Is she doing videos in Spanish now?!” Nina quickly loses her smile when the apparently non-Latinx  bus-stopgirl cuts her off to tell her that Spanish “is the language of my people,” and proceeds to list off her few favorite Spanish words (“Perro! Gusta! Punta… is something people have said to me….” ) for Nina’s approval. Small victory comes with a side of microaggression.

Small victory comes with a side of microaggression.

Without judging its characters for their differing points of view, The Clinic delivers nuanced messages about personhood, humanity, and the need for better sex ed. But rather than serving up its messages in neat little packages à la—oh I dunno, an educational social justice YouTube channel— it gives you questions to chew on. What’s the point of online activism if you can’t see its impact on your community? How are you supposed to know if the guy you’re on a date with works at Upworthy? How do you explain how to use condoms without accidentally making a gesture that makes people picture gentalia?

Walking the Walk and Keyboard Activism

In an establishing scene, Dia is revealed to be a YouTube star with over a million followers— a fact that tends to impress people for about one second. Dia is humbled further whenever she talks to her sister, a grassroots organizer, who asserts that online activism is not “walking the walk.”

It’s clear that at least some of Dia’s motivation in taking a job at a women’s health clinic is to feel more connected to what her sister might call “real change.” It’s not clear whether the audience is supposed to side with Dia or her sister in this debate.

theclinicToday, we see activism take many online forms, from copy-and-paste status alerts containing desperate instructions, to checking in at Standing Rock, to live videos of political events and literal warfare, to 160-character death notes. Like her character, Pipes has made several videos in service of social justice

“So…?” I waggled my eyebrows and badgered Pipes to tell me where she sits on the debate between clicktivism and on-the-streets activism.

“[On-the-streets activism] is not accessible to everyone. Not everyone comes from a circumstance where they can be vocally radical. Not everyone can devote the time and mental energy, and not everyone can be a community organizer. I think that keyboard activism does have a place, but also education is a huge part of it. It’s hard to have a conversation when people aren’t even working with the same vocabulary,” said Pipes.

“These keyboard activists are the reason you can look it up. There’s definitely a place for keyboard activism. There are people who genuinely have their minds changed. I got my sex ed from  [Youtube sex educator] Laci Green.”

“I got my sex ed from Laci Green.”

In addition to this meta look at the impact of web content beyond browser windows, The Clinic also gets into the meaty intersection of what it means to be a pro-choice Catholic, and how terrible you can manage to be while still volunteering your time to help people.

Finding Home On-Screen

While watching the show, as a woman of color, I found some home in it. I have known so many brown women whom I believe to be protagonists in their own stories. Even though we are nearly invisible in the media, I am lucky that I have had exposure to incredible brown women who have taught me to see and seize my own potential and power. Much of my time is dedicated to creating a mental playlist of Brown excellence, surrounding myself with the examples that prove the idea that we are greater than the stereotypes foisted upon us. As much as I know I’m not alone in this, I know it’s not a norm.

Despite curating my own media space resplendent with brown role models—my friends, my mother, photos on Facebook, the Snapchat stories, old family wedding albums, Bend it Like Beckham—there is something vaguely revolutionary about seeing two brown women Bechdel the shit out of an on-screen project. It’s kind of remarkable for a TV show to have more than one person of color, let alone woman of color, let alone women of color, let alone letting those women of color have storylines that don’t completely whitewash their experiences. It feels like steps forward. It feels like representation. It feels like a counter narrative.

I was struggling to find the words to express this weird feeling I was having. The show was so good. In its simplicity, it hit so many beats that resonated with me.

I finally settled for, “Your show couldn’t have been written by white people.”

That’s the highest compliment I’ve ever received,” Pipes joked.

I finally settled for, “Your show couldn’t have been written by white people.”

“So like, how dare you?” I asked, maybe trying to parody the way that women of color are always interviewed after accomplishing something grand.

“I don’t know,” she said, “Blind ambition?”

“I mean, is this just like a thing that all kids from California do?”

The City of Angels

The sage-for-her-age Los Angeles native has achieved high levels of success for someone who is all of twenty.

Pipes credits her Los Angeles upbringing for the early start she got in writing.

“LA is responsible for everything good that’s ever happened to me,” said Pipes.  Pipes attended an underfunded elementary school visited by No Child Left Behind outreach programs, including the Young Storytellers Foundation and Sony.

“When I was 8 years old, this organization assigned me a mentor, and every Wednesday helped me write a play — I had a little play at the end of 9 weeks. It was performed on our school stage by local actors.”

In addition to having written, directed and produced a web series, Pipes has also had several of her original plays staged.

Last year, her play “To Serve Butter,” was produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre at LA’s Atwater Village Theater. The play’s meta-narrative about acting touches on interpersonal race relations in a world where a Southern chef casts black actors in her re-enactment of her family’s plantation past.

Another of her works, “Stiletto Envy,” is currently featured at the New York Fire This Time festival, held at Kraine Theater on 84 E 4th Street. The festival, dedicated to giving a glimpse of the multitudes of different Black experiences in America, will also feature a live screening of Meet Me @ The Clinic in its entirety on February

On The Clinic, Dia is often accosted by strangers, who question her about her ethnic makeup. Neither Dia nor the show ever explicitly answers the question, though Pipes will. Like her character, Pipes doesn’t mind being confusing to other people, but tries to stop herself from thinking of her identity in terms of numbers.

“I try not to say the percentages. I’m black, white and Puerto Rican. [Being mixed] forces you to cut yourself, which no person should have to do. It is difficult to navigate.”

Pipes auditioned for, and got into, to an arts high school that required its students to dress in all black for its evening theatre classes. It was here that she met the co-creator of Meet Me @ The Clinic, Victoria Tamez. Both 19, the two were inspired by Issa Ray, and her work on the web series Awkward Black Girl, now an HBO series. The two spontaneously came up with the idea for a workplace drama, after exchanging stories about volunteer experiences.

“I volunteered at Planned Parenthood, and I was talking about that real-life thing and it spun into the idea of the show. I knew how much of it was mundane work so the arcs were very character driven,” said Pipes.

“We wanted [our characters] to start off hating each other. We wanted to make it about the friendship, the relationship with the two women. Not a boy, or a crisis, but a strong female friendship growing.”

After ten days, Pipes had completed the script. The show, it turns out, was a labor of love, put together by a rag-tag team of young actors, previous drama teachers donating their time (keep an eye out for the hilarious pro-life protester), and freelance producers like Allie Hunter, who Pipes credits for her expert scheduling abilities, and video editor, Spencer Slovic. While working full-time, Pipes and Tamez filmed for a month, mostly on weekends. During the production, Pipes and Tamez made concerted efforts to make their cast diverse. In their 35-person crew, 23 were female, and 15 of that number were females of color.

clinicproduction.jpgThe Clinic was filmed for free in various locations, including the Western Justice Center, where Pipes had worked.

“We had no budget. No funding. Not a dime. We’d buy pizzas for the big group days, to be like thank you,” said Pipes, smiling. “This show came together because of a lot of kindness.”

Kindness can be a radical act.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Brown & Fearless. Be sure to follow the Brown Girl Lifted Facebook page.

 Aarushi Agni(@aarushifire) does stand-up, sings in the Madison-based band, Tin Can Diamonds, and produces for public radio. She founded Brown Girl Lifted in 2015.

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“Holy Shit, That’s Me” – Aarushi Agni


You may have noticed if you are a woman, a person of color, or a woman of color, we are constantly being gaslighted by the media. For example, not all people of color only date other people of color – also, no one keeps their bra on during sex. And even though there are so many ways to be beautiful, many of us grow up with the narrative that only small white women deserve love and empowerment. In her piece entitled “Holy Shit, That’s Me” Aarushi Agni talks about trying to find herself in the American cultural world, and learning to trust her own experiences instead of the messaging.

Continue reading ““Holy Shit, That’s Me” – Aarushi Agni”

I’m a first generation African American. Not an African-American, but an African American. My parents were the first members of my family to arrive in America.  Although I am by every legal definition an “African-American” man, I don’t fit the social and behavioral molds Black people fit in the American cultural imagination.  According to others, I don’t act like “black.” This has at times made me feel as if I was standing on a racial periphery. Certain parts of the black culture simply don’t apply to me.

Even though I don’t consider the history of African-Americans to be my own, learning how they were treated in the United States was fascinating and appalling. It disgusted me that a group of people so marginalized were forced into building up the very systems that sought to oppress them. After empathizing with that painful history, I started to step inside the periphery.
I am shaken and puzzled by the use of one of the most controversial and infamous words in American English—“nigger.”

This was a word that has many meanings: property, worthless, animal, object, inhuman, garbage, criminal, prey; it was and is still used to keep the proverbial boot on the necks of black men, women, and children. In contrast, decades ago some members of the black community turned the word into a term of endearment. The modified term nigga also has many meanings: buddy, friend, brother, cool guy, understanding guy, trusted individual. So now we there are two words with very different meanings. In regards to my experiences and racial identity, I never fully stepped into the center of the black perimeter until those words were used to describe me.

Oddly enough, that was the moment that I truly felt “black.”

I remember in elementary school, my friend, Omar who fit the stereotypical black mold addressed me as “my nigga.” Without fully understanding the term, I felt accepted. I was proud to be acknowledged as black. After this experience, I found myself using the word frequently to describe myself and my friends, not knowing the entire time that I was swinging a double-edged sword.
Years later, near the end of my senior year, I invited one of my newer friends to go with my group of friends to our senior prom. My newer friend was a Southeast Asian who was very open-minded and loved all cultures, and respected the urban and black cultures. When I picked her up from her aunt’s house, she told me it was very important that I not be seen by any members of her family. The week after prom, she told me that her aunt had seen me and told her father, who told her, “Not to hang around dirty niggers because they could be selling drugs.”
Before I heard her repeat those words, I had always considered the word nigger offensive, but I’d always brushed it off as a relic used by incompetent, uneducated, bigoted, stubborn white people. It wasn’t until that label was slapped on me that I felt it. And it stung like hell. And oddly enough, that was the moment that I truly felt “black.”

So what does “being black” mean for people like me?

I was born in the United States, but spent two of my formative years in West Africa. I returned at the age of four and knowing only my Ivorian culture. I’ve always known what it means to be African—proud, moral, and strong.
Being African American is harder to make sense of, but I am beginning to understand what it means for me. Being black means having resilience—possessing both the same stature and fortitude as cockroach for centuries. Being black means being precarious. One word, one action, one misstep and everything can be taken from you by those who are waiting for you to fall back on old stereotypes. Being black means being ambitious. Although society sometimes says otherwise; no man is born wanting to be a slave, and many who have been denied success want their place at the top. Lastly, being black means being fragmented—broken but not destroyed.

On a daily basis, African-Americans have their images shattered and put back together again—by celebrities, by real-life experiences, and by that big bad wolf we call the media. When I was first called “a nigger,”I realized that in someone else’s mind I fit the mold: jobless, violent, incompetent, and short-sided. Funny thing is, I didn’t fit any of those descriptions, and although I was angry, my dark sense of humor couldn’t help itself. I had had my image broken, and felt the urge to piece it back together by, well, being myself. I suddenly needed to sway a person I’d never met and would probably never meet against his own prejudices, just like many African-Americans are forced to do each day, especially with that cancerous word still floating around. A relationship in which one party is working to appease another party who lacks any concern for the former’s well-being, improvement, or any suffering caused by them. Do you know what to call a relationship like that? Slavery.

Being black means being precarious. One word, one action, one misstep and everything can be taken from you– by those who are waiting for you to fall back on old stereotypes. Being black means being ambitious. Although society sometimes says otherwise; no man is born wanting to be a slave, and many who have been denied success want their place at the top. Lastly, being black means being fragmented—broken but not destroyed.

Now that that uncomfortable conversation is over, how about we answer a question that it could’ve lead to: what does it mean to be white?

The derivation of man-made ideology and cultural practices is fascinating, isn’t it? While keeping in mind that the allegorical polarity between black and white is often pulled into real life, we still don’t understand that this is very dangerous. Or, we’ve been warned but we just don’t care.

It might surprise some folks to know that the word “white” is used as somewhat of a slur against people of color. Since elementary school, I’ve heard my black friends use it to describe another person of color, usually with an annoyed, impressed, or comical tone: “He looks so white!”

In high school, one of my oldest friends, Tasha once described her first impression of me. It started out as flattering….”I remember thinking that you looked cute–but then you opened your mouth and started talking so that went away.”

Confused, I asked her why, to which she responded, “You sounded so white. You used all these big proper words; you sounded like Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince.”Other than feeling a little self-conscious, I didn’t know how to respond to her. She did however, make a point of saying “That’s how you’re gonna be!” whenever we watched the Fresh Prince and the Uncle Phil character came on-screen.
As a slur, the word “white” has several forms and implied synonyms: boujie, uppity, oreo, Uncle-Tom, etc. All of these words are meant to describe a person of color who aspires to be proper, intelligent, graceful, and eloquent. These traits are included in white stereotypes, and aren’t negative. But despite both “black” and “white” traits being built on inaccurate assumptions, anyone who steps outside of the racial perimeter can sometimes be singled out and ridiculed.

“You sounded so white. You used all these big proper words; you sounded like Uncle Phil from the Fresh Prince.”

Being white is sometimes seen as the polar opposite of being black, and it keeps both “races” from learning more about one another, leaving little room to be malleable. I’ve been called white several times by my peers because of my interests in stereotypical “white” culture and my lack of knowledge concerning “black” culture. Something as simple as liking the band Linkin Park or not having seen the movie Friday was started an orchestra of sneers and gasps of misbelief. There are times when being called white cuts deeper than any other insult, and why? Because without warning, you can once again find yourself in that lonely void I call the racial periphery.

Nigger and “white” should’ve never existed, but somehow we’re too proud to let go of them. Despite all of our talk about acceptance, tolerance, and the ‘melting pot,’ some parts of our society hold on to words that allow room for distinction. All Americans are entitled to “liberty and justice for all” but has the dream been fulfilled?

Speech is used to keep people in chains that they don’t have the key to.

Speech is used to keep people in chains that they don’t have the key to. Do we like the word nigger? Many Americans would say no. But if we took away the word and replaced it with something less painful to describe African-Americans…say “ghetto,” the two words would possess the same implied meaning. Is it fun to use the word “white” to make fun of our black peers? I can only speak for myself but yes it is or has been. Do I and other blacks like that that word is associated with mostly positive traits? A number of us would say no.

Yes, we are bound by the words we use to describe each other due to the historical and societal implications of those words. But the sweet, dark irony of it is that we choose to accept those implications. We choose to accept that nigger is black and black is bad. We choose to accept that goodness is whiteness and therefore goodness is bad. So then, as citizens of the world, I believe we’re left with two options when it comes to these slurs: redefine them or forget them.

Eleazar Wawa is an African who also happens to be an American, who appreciates and honors his identities the best he can. Wawa dedicates his professional life to mentoring, teaching, and encouraging kids so they can create their own paths in life. While he doesn’t currently call himself a ‘social justice crusader’ at this point, we’ll see what the future holds.

Just a Bad Joke

Dave_Chappelle_(cropped)Dave Chappelle tells a rape joke and my boyfriend stifles a laugh
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I feel my face turn red
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my memory finds the midnight my friend called me sobbing & suicidal & unsafe
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my boyfriend laughs
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I remember finding out that my friend raped eight women
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I wonder how many of my friends have raped my friends
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and it gets harder to breathe
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I remember being told I couldn’t sleep over at my friend’s house because her dad tried to rape my mom
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and the men in the theatre slap their knees while cackling
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I am nine years old dreading pool days because my friend’s dad stares at me and winks
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and the entire theatre roars in laughter
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I don’t dare wear a swimsuit for over a decade
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my little brother learns to laugh when my sister is abused
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and I know I can never have a daughter
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and the men in the theatre look monstrously happy
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and my boyfriend laughs
Dave Chappelle tells another rape joke and everyone laughs
Dave Chappelle tells a rape joke and I wonder if I am ever ever ever safe

-Bet-Zua Jimenez

I am a half Iranian girl who just so happened to be born in the United States of America. Just a poll – are you ok with me being here because I have my Polish/German mother’s light skin and my father’s dark hair instead of his Middle Eastern year round tan and my mom’s sandy brown locks? Are you ok with me being here because even though my father was raised Muslim, I was raised Catholic – thank God I was lucky enough to be trained in the ways of an “appropriate” religion even though its teachings have also been used to kill and enslave others for hundreds of years.


Are you okay with me being here if I don’t get the privilege of knowing hundreds of family members that live overseas because they are not allowed to come to my homeland – those that have tried have experienced humiliation, racism, been detained, strip searched and held at a border for months. At least kids in high school were upfront about their fears when they would ask me if my father wore a turban, wanted to bomb American or carried a gun.


Did you know when I cover up my hair with a scarf in the winter the outline of my face looks like my Anty Maryam’s and my eyes are a perfect match for my Muslim Grandmother who passed away years ago. My heart hurts for my people who are being marginalized and stereotyped as “dangerous” for their religious beliefs. I am even further conflicted that because of one tiny choice made by my father years ago and sheer luck – I am allowed the privilege of acceptance and ambiguity in the United States.


I am literally crying with relief that my American-Iranian father did not choose to visit his homeland at this time – but there are many who are living in this nightmare right now with their parent, spouse or friends trapped in a shitty airport.


Here are some things I never thought I would have to explain, but apparently I do: Americans can also be Muslims, being Muslim does not mean you hate America, there are Americans who (shocker) do not LOOK Muslim but are, there are Americans who look “white”, who are Muslim, there are Americans who are not practicing Muslims who have family members who are that they love very much, there are people who look Middle Eastern that are NOT Muslim.


An “us” vs. “them” mentality is what leads to genocide, holocausts and hate crime. If you want to marginalize Muslims, then please count me as one of “them.” I easily could have been.


Katrina Simyab is a lifestyle blogger, event designer and storyteller. She blogs at Inspo and Co. While she loves to travel (especially to anywhere with year-round warm weather), she currently calls Middleton, WI her home. She is obsessed with finding new experiences, brilliant things, and interesting brands that she can share with her readers. A pretty pusher and brave babe, Katrina loves to keep it real, using her social media to share her personal experiences. She lives to explore all the little things that make life lovely while inspiring others to live beautifully and with bold honesty.

2017 is about breaking cycles of oppression in our own communities

How to create a system of oppression: 
-Create a set of standards members of a targeted group can never meet.

-Institutionalize them.

-Discredit/discard anyone who seeks out change. Call them over-emotional, ugly or stupid. Use their “flaws” to undermine their point. This serves the dual purpose of gas lighting the individual and deflecting attention away from their potentially convincing or revolutionary testimony.

-Pit members of marginalized groups against each other, so they are competing for the same opportunities, or believe that they are. Create structural barriers to participation in groups, so they feel isolated. If you’re lucky, they will police themselves, and each other.

-Be nice, but not kind. Insist this is how things are, and oh, well. Fail to notice institutional errors or believe they are biologically predetermined or in keeping with romanticized tradition.

This happens on all sides, in every political system. It’s exclusionary and cyclical. No one is immune. We are all responsible.

Breaking the cycle of oppression, one at a time

If 2016 was about realizing how far we are from one another, then 2017 is about accountability and empathy. It’s about integrity. There is so much to be done, and it is on all of us to slay these demons even as they seem to grow ever-more heads.

Let us not be demotivated by our past “failures,” for the kind actions of our past are investments for which we haven’t yet seen dividends. The tides of change are slow but strong, as we all know; they have turned so many times, even within a short lifetime–such is the joy of exponential growth.

In many ways, I am powerless. But today I am privileged with purpose. I have made a pledge to check in with myself often, and I invite anyone else who feels comfortable to check in, too.

Ask yourself these difficult questions, “How I am I empowering the people I know? WHO am I empowering, and who am I disempowering?” and “Am I comfortable with that?”

It is so hard to fight an oppressive system from within, but so many problems could be evaded or solved by better awareness of the self and others. Sometimes we feel paralyzed to change our lives because of our idealism and search for perfection, but real happiness springs from doing good work more consistently. Be kinder to others–and in so doing, add value to your own self-concept.

Loving yourself more fully enables you to love others more easily. And in amassing powerful, radical love for each other and our selves, we become stronger in our fight to dismantle systems of oppression and make the world better for people who live here.

I paint a lovely picture here, but love can be back-breaking and soul-crushing work, too. That’s why it’s so, so important to be kind to one another. That’s what I think, anyway. Thanks for reading.


i bubble up into spurts of happy

when i’m surrounded by women who make me feel powerful

not only for my beauty

for my intelligence

for my worth

for my entire being

and i can say, “i am enough” with full confidence

what a gift they’ve given me

the gift of seeing myself and all that i am

-Varshaya Visvanathan

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