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Brown Girl Lifted

because life @ the intersection is personal & political

[Declassified] How To Survive As A POC at a Predominantly White Institution

It’s that time of year again. You start the semester optimistically. After all, you only had to sell non-vital organs to pay for textbooks, move, and sell your soul to gain access to this to the entry-level capitalist machine we know as ‘Higher Education’™*

*no jobs guaranteed!

All the logistics of payment for suffering are in order, but are you really prepared to dive back in?

If you’re feeling unease not caused by the aggressively neutral not-a-smile-but-not-a-frown mouths your classmates flash you when they make eye contact, then continue reading.

  1. Have some ~school colors~ in your closet, better yet, ~~official~~gear.

    royals

Sure, it’s expensive AF and made from sweatshop labor, but SCHOOL SPIRIT is a must-have camouflage against the territorial non-POC–especially on the (not-soccer) football game days, as well as other sportsball events.

Donning “correct” gear—hats, lettered clothing, hell, even those sexy, striped dungarees—is like saying,“I’m with the Mascot,” the head honcho, the Boss of Bosses, the Don Capo Famiglia.

bucky

Know your mascot. Most likely HE is an anthropomorphic omnivore, part-time gang/cult leader of your institution. Wear his likeness on a visible part of your clothing and traipse carefree past tail-gating parties and drunk majority-race classmates– they’ll pass over you like the plagues did for God’s chosen people in ancient Egypt.

  1.  Bring a bottle of pepper spray.

On second thought, bring two. Many of these ((hush)) ‘White’ people are deathly allergic to Spicy. For an even quicker, more disposable getaway, carry a Carolina reaper pepper on you. When the time of use comes, simply break it open in the midst of a menacing stranger. They’re are afraid of anything that isn’t a sweet bell pepper—it works like a charm.

Alternate substitute repellants can include, but are not limited to: good rap music, a basic understanding of actual US history, on hand & ready clap-backs, direct sunlight, and anything they can’t pronounce.

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  1. Create a catchy jingle to help people learn your name.

This can be melodic or rhythmic, whatever is your style. This will entice the Whiteys and bring them onto your side.

It will not only help your peers remember your name, but also (MAYBE?)how to pronounce it correctly.* Remind them once or twice of your jingle during the first week.

After the first week, it’s instant-death penalty. If all White People can memorize the (not-soccer) football and other sportsball chants, they can learn a few fucking syllables to identify you.

If they fail to make the effort of mindlessly being recipient to your uniquely created, Super Bowl commercial-worthy earworm, just make a point to call them by generic, incorrect White People names. Bonus points if the beginning letter isn’t the same.

*Just kidding. They may never pronounce it correctly. Just remember that your name is like, really exotic, and there is one other POC in the class to also keep track of.

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  1.  Being the Token Friend can be a lucrative $ide hu$tle.

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Just as the University likes to Photoshop showcase its diversity on every web page, article, and pamphlet, so do Whiteys.

Having a diverse group of friends on your social media is like shouting to the world that you’re a well-rounded person. White People don’t get the benefits of a Token Friend if they don’t have proof.

You’re in a group photo? Charge ‘em for that shit. Did they make that picture their cover photo? Awesome, charge ‘em double.

They regularly mention your existence to others (“I have an X friend,” or “My X friend says…”)? Make a jar – 25¢, 50¢ per mention. Bam! Instant laundry money. They want you to meet someone else in their life (to prove your existence)? $3 per cameo.

Who needs a part-time job?

By not being White, you’re automatically rare and unique. From there, it’s just simple economics, supply and demand.

 

 

  1.  Do seek out other POC.

    KevinG.gif

Need to commiserate over shared experiences?

Laugh together at the ridiculousness that is the White Supremacist Patriarchy. When someone said something really Racistin class, make eye contact across the room with the only other POC in your discussion.

Can’t subsist on burgers, brats, rabbit salads and “brunch” alone? If you ask your people for help, they will provide; they know where the real food is at.

We may be small in number, but we’re here.

Just remember, you’re not alone.

 


Lauren Jia Gonitzke in love with stories in all their forms and mediums. As a critical and avid consumer of media, Jia is passionate about people who take and interpret, subvert, invert, and transform the original material. She’s a senior majoring in English Creative Writing with certificates in Chinese and Asian American Studies. Jia is a college student, storyteller, global thinker, and Chinese adoptee.

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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.

 

ah, yes – sky blue eyes, a regal nose
short, neat blond hair
he’s a generic boy from the Midwest
attractive in the conventional white boy aesthetic
looks like he could be Captain America
an American GI looking for his war bride
but there’s no war
and my English is probably more smooth than
whatever will tumble from his mouth
after he makes his way across the room
i wonder who he sees –
Suzie Wong, Miss Saigon, Liat
he’s trying for that scene from South Pacific
but this isn’t a movie
and i will not fall into his arms by the end of the night
mysterious, intoxicating, alluring, exotic.
that’s all he wants from me
i am the Orient and he’s seeking my sacred mountains,
wants to conquer my strange, foreign lands
i am the precious lotus, sakura blossom, magnolia flower
that he wants to take home and nurture
but he’ll learn soon enough how to fear me.
when given the choice between flower of the Orient and dragon lady,
always choose dragon lady
dragons are power, strength, feared
fire-breathing
so when he goes in for a smoldering kiss
and cannot handle the heat
you will burn bright, consuming him
whenever given the chance,
incinerate generic white boys
seeking a piece of the East
let there be no more
generic white boys
searching for their Oriental flowers
because there are none
here be dragons.

Lauren Jia Gonitzke in love with stories in all their forms and mediums. As a critical and avid consumer of media, Jia is passionate about people who take and interpret, subvert, invert, and transform the original material. She’s a senior majoring in English Creative Writing with certificates in Chinese and Asian American Studies. Jia is a college student, storyteller, global thinker, and Chinese adoptee.

thoughts

Shakti

These are the lessons they teach you:

mispronounce your name

for the sake of their tongues,

lower your voice, soften your tone

for the sake of their ears,

straighten your hair, lighten your skin, for the sake of their eyes,

dilute yourself, shrink yourself

for the sake of their egos.

But you do not belong to them.

Brown girl, you

belong to Monsoon rains,

and the five rivers of Punjab.

To the countless women who came before you;

women who have worn centuries of resistance and resilience

on their spines.

Women who have walked on fire, raised entire generations, started revolutions and crossed borders.

Women carrying stories so powerful that they can swallow you whole.

Women that live within you, unapologetic and unwavering

in their strength.

So next time anyone makes you feel as if you do not belong,

as if you are anything less

than enough, remember–

you are so much more than enough.

You are whole.

You are more than whole.

It’s nothing short of a miracle,

the way that you are

so much greater,

than the sum of

your parts.

-Nivedita Sharma

Continue reading “Shakti”

I am so in love with learning —

what beautiful concepts illuminate our natural world

what skillful art reflects our inner growth

— on our campus on the isthmus

But I am so deeply shaken —

instances of hate and violence manifest in blatant cruelty

but also in the whispers, the whispers, the whispers

the “I’m-not-racist-buts”

the discomfort

the assumption of understanding divides that feel so great

— on this tiny strip of land betwixt two lakes…

we are packed together like sardines in a can

and you respond to difference with hate?

why do you get off on

hurting those whose throats are already choked up

whose eyes are already tired

have you ever really been tired before?

Growing up in the most racist county in America, I grew a thicker skin.

Today the skin is broken.

Something bubbled over

and burst out of me

Today

tears like a bullet

through layers of sweat and internalized oppression

of thousands of swallowed words and tears and bad moods

stereotypes — oh how i wish they were benign —

etched all over my skin like tattoos

sexualized reactions to my brown body

bolstered by “complimentary” notions of how I defy expectation

I don’t know what people see when they look at me

it is not me

it has never been me

they silenced us before we had the words to notice

that I looked different from my ivory skinned peers

before I was even a spark in my parents’ eyes

there was a conspiracy taking root

built up by holding us back

and down

and under

and behind

and dry

and so hungry

we were too precious to be squandered

too valuable to be left alone

too golden to not be threatening

I am like them

but I don’t like them

I love them

but I don’t like them

I don’t want to give them what they want

I am like them

but I don’t want to give them what they want

I don’t want them to buy and sell parts of me

I don’t want to fake an accent

tell you what caste I’m from like it’s my sun sign

I don’t want to be the only brown person in the yoga class

I keep forgetting when I’m supposed to be a “good sport”

I am too sensitive to live by the rules of this world

I am too poor not to

I have choices, but not many

today I understand why my parents wanted me to be “comfortable”

because when you have money, you can buy back the rights

stolen from you at birth

you can make choices about what worlds you want to live in

& that makes it okay

that makes it okay that you can never change your body

It’s my fucking body,

I didn’t choose it.

I have to live in it,

I have to be here

on this crowded isthmus,

shrouded in the fog

-Aarushi Agni

woman,

with breasts that you measure in “cups” and letters
and you can’t even

remember the size,

and all you know is how they perk or drop in the mirror 

with stretch marks across your thighs that look like you’ve gone to war with lions and

you have won.

remember

that you are both

woman and man

with warrior and Queen 

running and  pumping and

breathing. 

through your veins. 

-Nyesha Lashay

Continue reading “Reminder”

Inheriting America’s violence: an immigrant kid on home and leaving

10407623_1656932877859372_5773064684406291616_nPerhaps this makes me ungrateful, but I know that as america stands today, my citizenship cannot save me. I have been talking with friends about using our american passports to fly somewhere far away where we can make a new home and begin our lives as expats. We will not be known as a refugees, though the state of violence against Black people and Blackness in the u.s. is genocide and has been petitioned to the U.N. as such.

I know that being born into my americanness is a privilege. I did not have to risk death to arrive on u.s. soil, I did not have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in a taxing and never-certain process. Even though there is a place my parents call back home, I do not have to fear harassment and deportation. Still, despite having been born and raised in “the land of the free” I am concerned deeply about death.

I have scrolled past countless articles detailing Black death in america. I have glanced over them and lowered my head. I am exhausted by the news. I worry that I’m silent and yet don’t know what to say about the death abounding, the murders made of hate, so many Black lives taken, so many trans* lives, muslim lives, so many children, elderly, and ill individuals murdered. I have a friend who is very certain of one thing: he is finished with the u.s. and I do not blame him.

Although I’ve dreamt of it, I am less certain than he is when it comes to leaving america behind for good. As the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants I carried a rasta-esque ideal vision of back home. I considered it a place to escape to. I wrote this poem called “abandon” because I thought as Ethiopia stretched her hands to God, she would scoop me up, cradle me in her arms, and keep the u.s. from eating me alive.


In December 2015, I visited Ethiopia for the first time and will spend my whole life reflecting on what my first trip to Ethiopia meant, what every subsequent trip is going to mean. I feel there is so much I cannot say, only having glimpsed a bit of Ethiopia during my four-week stay in the capitol city. I will say, that for all the promised land dreams I had, I always knew, even if vaguely, that Ethiopia has its own violences.

There I was in Ethiopia, loved, cared-for, blessed. Also, undeniably a foreigner and a guest. I went for many reasons and quickly realized I could not be saved from america or my americanness, it was embedded in me. In fact, that I feel refused full citizenship and rights to healthy, happy, and uninhibited survival within the u.s. is part of my americanness because of its history and what was built long before my family ever arrived.


In my father’s house, CNN is always on and when Trayvon Martin was murdered, his face, constantly in the news cycle, became part of our living room, like a portrait. One day, my father said, “he looks like your brother.” This moment of admittance said aloud what I knew to be true the moment I began filling forms and naming myself as I have always felt and been seen, as Black/African american. I knew these dangers could befall our family, no matter our names or our origins, no matter where we came from.

I dropped my head when I read about the tragic loss and violent murders ofTaha, Muhannad, and Adam, three Sudanese american boys who were shot execution style in Fort Worth, Indiana. Though police have said their murders are not a hate crime, the deaths of these three boys are being attributed to racism, anti-Blackness, Islamaphobia. Their lives existed so deeply in targeted intersections it makes sense to suspect a hate crime. While we wait for more information to arrive, a petition for justice exists.The petition demands the Fort Worth, Indiana authorities to conduct an active and thorough investigation.

When I learned they were Sudanese I couldn’t help but think of their parents and if they ever imagined the land of opportunity would eat their children like this. Did their fathers see a young man slain by white fear and think, “he looks like my son?” Afaq Mahmoud, my friend and the cousin of Taha and Muhannad, asked her own questions in a statement that has been shared on the Our Three Brothers Facebook Page: Do you know what it takes to run from war? Do you know what it means to flee from one war zone only to land in another? Do you know what it means to flee to “safety” and have it swallow you whole?


Beyond grief my life consists of archaeology articles and labs, surviving on a white campus, and working to remember Black Joy. In the midst of this all I eagerly await a moment to read something away from my course work. A copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me sits on my bookshelf. I’ve yet to read it but I’ve listened to interviews, I know the reading is required. I know he tells his son, “This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.” I know this to be a truth of my own life — america is my country no matter how I feel about it and no matter where I go.


Hiwot Adilow is a singer-songwriter, poet, and performer. The Philly born daughter of Ethiopian immigrants writes most heavily about Love and the complexity of immigrant Blackness in all its gore and glory. Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Apiary Magazine, Duende Literary, and The Offing. She has also appeared on NPR’s Tell Me More and Wisconsin Public Television. Hiwot is a member of the First Wave Learning Arts Community’s 7th Cohort. She currently at UW-Madison pursuing a degree in Anthropology with a certificate in African Studies.

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.

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