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Brown Girl Lifted

because life @ the intersection is personal & political

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Reflection

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.

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.

 -Aarushi

You Can’t Double Tap The Pain Away (Or How To Move On From Heartbreak in the 21st Century)

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So you broke your heart.

Maybe your whole world just fell apart when bae walked out the door. Or maybe it was a long time coming– and you had to pull the plug on a relationship that was good but not great. (And what even is life if you’re not letting it be great?)

Maybe it never even really started, but you already allocated so many crush resources to it that it still hurts like a bitch.

Beware, Oxytocin

Your hormones made you dumb and it takes forever for it to wear off.

Worse, technology + hormones = bad news.

It’s easier to feel shitty. It’s all fun and games when you’re instagramming the shit out of  your boo, but the pain of untagging is excruciating — and no one deserves that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind shit.

Now more than ever we face endless opportunities in love and jobs. We are also better than ever at turning people into symbols and ghosts, because they never really do go away… They’re always sliding into your DMs or watching your Snapchats, or saying they’re “Interested” in your events.

Here’s how to move on– without getting under someone else.

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1. Talk about it if you need to. Get it all out and into some kind of safe screaming chamber.

Armor yourself with people who wholly accept you, who will sing your praises and make you feel good about yourself, while doing your best to 100% avoid any and all people who may have hurt you, no matter how good-looking or necessary they seem.

We’ve all got that person who makes us feel like a million bucks — maybe that person who always had a crush on you but will never act on it because they know you’re out of their league- or maybe just you two haven’t been hanging out so much since they got really into choir

 NOW IS THAT PERSON’S TIME TO SHINE. Laugh with old friends, and remember this can be enough. Remember that you are enough. You are everything you need in this world. 

2. Keep moving. Immerse yourself in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.

Research shows that many people are happiest when experiencing Flow,” the feeling of being completely and totally focused on an activity.

Find your flow and you won’t want to stop. If you don’t know what those activities are, it’s time to start something new.

Some ideas…

  • Listen to an album that YOU love that doesn’t remind you of anyone. Maybe something that’s been there with you since middle school
  • Write a song, or a story or a poem
  • Text someone you have been feeling bad that you haven’t texted in a while
  • Go to a drum circle or finally try out your talent at an open mic
  • Go on a walk, or a long drive, or an impromptu vacation and take a ton of pictures of yourself, with your hair rippling in the breeze
  • Help someone in need — like that friend we were talking about earlier

3. It’s not like you’re not going to get a tomorrow.

The human capacity for change is infinite. We are adaptable beings. This person or thing that broke your heart does not decide anything about your worth.

Accept the fact that even the most intelligent, good-natured, talented and sexy people experience pain and heartache.

Giphy.

Celebrate that you are free and open for the next opportunity — it’s yours for the taking.

*sends article to past self*


Aarushi (@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.

I think God herself lives within

a woman’s body.

The inherent way beauty resides in

her bones,

holding the potential to recreate.

 

Guided by moonlight, birth and death meet

at the crossroads.

Two ships,

sailing,

within a sea of red.

 

I think about my mother.

And her mother.

About the women before me.

I think about the women after me.

 

(Is there a difference?)

 

I think about coincidences.

The way water travels—

Knowingly.

 

Rain embracing rivers, embracing shorelines,

with a sense of subtle familiarity.

As if, she’s crossed this path before.

 

I think about contradictions.

The way the tide grows, preparing to fall.

The gravity with which we collapse,

only to rise up again, as stardust.

 

The way creation is destruction,

is destruction,

is destruction,

is creation.

 

But this is not a poem about contradictions,

this is a poem about resurrection.

 

 

 

-Nivedita Sharma-

the narrow ledge between sorrow and a blank stare,

just remember:

 

They are offended by your capacity to feel.

They are threatened by the tears cascading down your cheeks.

Tears with the potential to turn into a tsunami,

to break down bridges, to wipe the shoreline clean,

and expose the sharp rocks hidden in the sand.

 

“You are too much,” they say.

Too much for speaking, and too much for crying, and too much for shouting.

You should’ve learned to sit down,

to cross your legs,

to contain your sadness into small boxes.

Didn’t your mother ever teach you to be polite?

To color inside the lines?

Your anger is a fire that must be extinguished.

If it grows too large it just might expose the truth;

it might just burn down this city of lies.

 

 

Don’t let them take your pain and turn it into something cruel.

Don’t let them take your anger and fray the edges, tear the seams,

Reshape it into something else.

They try and paint you as dangerous, as excessive.

Society has taught you to be small, how dare you try and become larger,

try and outgrow the narrow space you have been assigned?

 

They are afraid because they want control.

They want to own you,

every part of you

in its entirety.

 

But they cannot have you.

 

Because you own this anger, this pain.

You own this rage; this sorrow belongs only to you.

The way your blood boils, the way your heart sinks

and your breath thickens and your knees begin to shake.

This is your weapon; hold on to it like a handful of seeds.

No matter how much they ask or how hard they demand, do not give it to them.

For, with these seeds, you are able to grow a garden.

You are able to cultivate strength.

You are able to start a revolution.

 

After all, this vulnerability–this raw and uncensored ability to feel,

is the closest a human being can come to God.


Nivedita Sharma is a daydreamer, avid tea drinker, aspiring writer, frequent people-watcher, and lover of words. She recently graduated from UW Madison with majors in biology and psychology and certificates in gender and women’s studies and global health. Specifically, she is interested in promoting social equity through working on reducing health disparities and focusing on minority and women’s health. Additionally, she strongly believes in the power of sharing and embracing diverse experiences through writing and performance as a method of initiating social change and creating a more inclusive, more beautiful world.

thoughts

Elephants

When I was thirteen years old

I sat at an Olive Garden in upstate new york

My mother’s fiance

was complaining about his nose.

This lumpy broken thing

in the middle of his face

that barely allowed him to breathe

Always ruddy, red, rebelling angrily

at his otherwise pale complexion

His mother agreed.

Silly rugby accident.

Oh, well. Still a handsome man.

Her nose however,

would you look at how big it was?

Nothing delicate about this bridge.

You should see Grandmother Ward,

now that’s a nose to be proud of.

My mother joined in,

examining the slightly larger flare

of her own nostrils with a mirror.

Not enough “elegance,”

she determined.

For the millionth time

another part of her lacked

enough whiteness to be beautiful

I felt the anxiety immediately.

My nostrils are much wider than my mothers

And the complexion of my skin is just

a couple shades darker.

The bridge of my nose is nowhere

near “just short” of elegant.

“Well, I guess I have the worst nose of all!”

Silence.

The missed beat felt like a brick

thrown into the face of my father

His nose, wide and mexican

could not be beautiful

and yet neither of us

had a place at that table

Silence stretched itself

out like a cat

grooming time

At that age I hadn’t yet learned

how to turn shame inward or

how to fashion self hatred out of insecurity.

At that age I still believed

that elephants in rooms

were supposed to be acknowledged,

that we were supposed to be bigger

than our silence.

It wasn’t until years later

that I learned the price of ivory

and understood why everyone

killed their discomfort,

and stuffed its

skeletons into closets.

I want to say that that was the day

I decided never to collect shame

nor bones nor silence

but the truth is I’ve become

an expert at organizing

the things unsaid.

Now my resume reads:

Expert elephant killer.

Well-read in silence

and the spaces between lines.

(Encounters a minimum of 200 elephants a day.)

Professional.

(Never mentions said creatures.)

Skilled.

(Collects, delivers, and organizes bones.)

Secrecy is currency.

We drown rooms in silence,

and those

who remember the elephants

collect their bones.

Our closets are heavy

with what the blind call ivory.

You might call it humanity.

This year I resolve not to confuse the piece for a whole

to recognize the peace in the hole (give me peace in my soul) 

the cavity: negative space left in absence of friends near to heart but far from body

never-quite-replaced by impostors close to body but never meeting eyes

This year I won’t want for someone else to understand me

This year I resolve to protect my best friend, even when she is me

even when her words hit too close to home

lambasting me with lashings

spinning webs of weaponized thought

jumping the myelin bridges in my unguarded still-naive

not-yet-fully-developed

young adult mind

even when my flaws are swallowing me whole

impulses shorting — crack! 

unencumbered by

inhibitions lubed with alcohol

sometimes it’s not safe here

with a heart in swollen pieces

because I cut it up

for reasons I haven’t lived my way to the bottom of yet

This year I will write more and say less

I will want for grey matter — not for grey friendships

I want for grey hairs — but for now I’ll settle for flecks of blonde (because I’m fun)

& I’ll stop spelling gray the British way just because I think it’s classy

Nothing is inherently classy except a good book and a healthy respect for all living kind

This year I won’t confuse a piece for the whole

I think maybe humanity shares a collective soul

else, why would I find something

I want to keep in every person I meet

Even if my mind is trained to categorize and to stereotype

in spite of view

I stubbornly fight for the right to match and to defy

others’ projections/definitions/rising inflections and shady looks

remembering we all have a right to identify ourselves however we choose

& I have that right, too.

There is a part of every person that shines like the sun

There is a part of every person that wants to run

I want to run

to the future

& find my own light

& give only the best pieces of myself to the world

even as the worst parts poke out of the collective soul, thriving like weeds,

surviving generations like those light sleepers and those heavy dreamers — never wiped out by random chance

This year…

I’ll stop asking for permission to be my complete self

I’ll stop taking silence for rejection & I’ll finally buy a bookshelf

I’ll take up space and live my life

converting my potential into kinetics into weaponized love–into light.

I’ll give less of myself to each person, and more of myself to the world

This year I won’t confuse the piece for the whole

This year, I’ll create peace in my soul

-Aarushi Agni

Why I Can’t Do Christmas…

 

For the past month you have likely been barraged by the sights, lights, sounds and smells of what is called “The Christmas Spirit.” You’ve pulled out your ugliest ugly Christmas sweater, and you’re ready to “deck the halls.”

You’ve watched The Grinch and Buddy the Elf about 10 times this month, blasted Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” so loud ya neighbors came knocking (what happened to her voice anyway??), and you’ve decorated your crib to now include a 7 foot tree complete with garland, lights, candy canes, and whatever else y’all use to pimp out trees.

You’ve emptied your wallet in a shopping frenzy for the newest gadgets, and when it’s all over some of you will ponder whether all the stress and expense was really worth it.

Here’s a perspective from one browngirllifted writer who said adios to Christmas once and for all.


**Before I begin, I’d like to issue a disclaimer. I do not hate anyone who chooses to celebrate Christmas, nor do I have any interest in condemning anyone for observing a religious holiday. I simply wish to share my voice.**

I remember what Christmas used to mean to me as a child. Pictures with Santa at the mall, decorating Christmas cookies, sneaking in the basement to get a glimpse of gifts I assumed were for me. Yes, it was all very exciting. Every December I looked forward to getting a chocolate advent calendar just so I could count down the days until Christmas (even though I usually ate them all during the first week). For my family and me, December signified all things Christmas.

Christmas music.

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Christmas programs.

2.

Christmas movies.
3.

Christmas shopping.

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NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 24: Black Friday bargain hunters shop for discounted merchandise at Toys R’ Us, which opened at 9PM Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2011, in New York City. Marking the start of the holiday shopping season, Black Friday is one of retailers’ busiest days of the year. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

Christmas cookies.
5

Christmas outfits

6

Christmas decorations.

7

Everything. Christmas

So how did I, your typical Christmas loving child, say goodbye to “The most wonderful time of the year?”

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Continue reading “Why I Can’t Do Christmas…”

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