Kristen Johnson

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OP-ED: Black Students Matter

Protesters raise their fists to celebrate Tim Wolfe's resignation during the Concerned Students 1950 protest on Monday, Nov. 9 2015, in Columbia, Mo. (Michael Cali/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)
Protesters raise their fists to celebrate Tim Wolfe’s resignation during the Concerned Students 1950 protest on Monday, Nov. 9 2015, in Columbia, Mo. (Michael Cali/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

When I came to UNC Charlotte my junior year of college, I noticed the obvious thing: diversity. Transferring from an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), I knew I was going to encounter more white people than I probably ever have in my young life. This wasn’t a big deal for me because non-black students and I had all one thing in common: we were students. We all chose to come to this university for different reasons but mainly to learn and to grow in our personal and professional lives.

Right?

Diversity seemed to be the biggest staple word administrators and counselors relied on once I got to UNCC. But after arriving here, I could not help but to notice just how segregated the campus was. Sure the campus is diverse, no doubt. Students from all walks of life and colors infiltrate this school, but that’s just that. There is not much mingling and bonding between the different races of students. You can see the very clear, complicated division here. The way the Student Union becomes full of Black students after a certain time of the night during the Union Takeovers, the lack of black and brown students involved in Pan-Hellenic frats and sororities, how the Stroll and Step Show competitions and the Last Day of Classes celebrations are a “black thing,” how all the Southeast Asian students seem to stick together and how almost all conversations or programs about race are packed with Black students.

The recent events taking place at the University of Missouri further proves the issue of race on Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) is still lingering in the curriculums and classrooms. Just like everywhere else in America. So, the issue is not shocking at Mizzou. The racial issue here at UNC Charlotte during Homecoming was also not shocking. Race has been something swept under the rug of white privilege and coated underneath words like “diversity” and “equality” at PWIs. To some people, there is no issue of racism at universities because it has been fixed: there is one whole department of study dedicated to African American Studies with professors (mostly white) who care about race relations. Racism and discrimination is not ever questioned on campuses like UNCC and Mizzou until something happens and administrators have to deal with it to calm down the angry students of color. The claims of oversensitivity and lies about an issue that “does not exist” from critics of the Mizzou student protestors proves the apathetic attitude towards the voices of oppressed students. Claims like those seem to suggest that the institutional and blatant racism students of color experience schools like Mizzou are not real.

That is troubling.

When students of color decide to raise their voices against a wrongdoing on an institution’s behalf, the act is automatically deemed dangerous. The act threatens the comfortability of privilege and fabrications of diversity on campus and forces undercover racists to face a problem they have been trying to avoid since the institutions first opened its doors to students of color for admission.

What I found to be most striking about the events at Mizzou were the protests led by the student football players. At least 32 Black football players refused to play or practice until the president of the school, Timothy Wolfe, resigned due to his failure in addressing discrimination. The unity and the strength these football players displayed was powerful. The tactic was also very smart. Black men make up about 60 percent of NCAA football teams. Anyone who watches college football knows that many of the NCAA football teams generate millions of dollars to the universities. The boycott to stop playing was a threat to money the football team and school could make. Because of this, the president had to resign and perhaps I am a pessimist, but I am not convinced his resignation had anything to do with his sudden care for the safety of students of color at Mizzou. His resignation, in my opinion, was yet another approach to get the students of color to quiet down.

Regardless, the unwavering strength the black students at Mizzou have displayed to the world in the last week is inspiring. They have reminded everyone that the power of students generates the type of change that will ultimately affect the entire world. This movement at Mizzou is not just a “phase” that will blow over. This movement strives to bring to light the modern displays of racism which students of color everywhere can attest to that still rears itself attempting to restrain their voices and spaces at universities across the country.

I will be honest folks and say that this conversation on race on campus is tiring. As a black female student, I am tired of hearing stories of black students and students of color being treated like the step-children of their universities. The stories of black girls and boys murdered by policeman pain me. The lack of involvement from white students in combating discrimination on and off campus is discouraging.

Where do we go from here? What can I do, what can we do differently that the ones before us have not already tried?

Students should never have to question their lives, safety and value because of their skin color at an institution that promises diversity and fairness.

OP-ED: Standing with Amber Rose

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 28: Model Amber Rose attends the 2015 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for BET)
LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 28: Model Amber Rose attends the 2015 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images for BET)

For the past couple months, I have been following Amber Rose on Instagram. I first noticed her when she dated rapper and future president Kanye West and have since marveled at her bald head and amazing body shape. But lately, she has been doing something that has made me want to be her best friend.

She made some bold statements this summer. From wearing her insults on her outfit at the VMAs, to organizing a call to action for respect for women’s bodies in the form of the Amber Rose Slut Walk, she has made it known that she isn’t here for anyone’s judgement. However, I still can’t help but notice that both men and women are still raising eyebrows, side eying her choices and are criticizing Muva Rose for living her own life.

Too often, Rose has had to make public statements defending the decisions about her body and motherhood. There are so many people who cannot seem to understand women like Rose, their unbothered lifestyles and their comfortability with it all. But Rose always seems to have a golden response to the haters. When the Kardashians came for her about being slutty, she smoothly blew off their comments with ease. When West called her out for being unwholesome, she attacked his manhood with no remorse. When people leave comments about her being an unfit mother on Instagram, she continues to lovingly mother her three year old.

Rose embodies the description of a woman who has complete control and power over her own body. She upsets so many of us because her beliefs and choice to live without validation is threatening.

The very idea that women have the power to do what they want for their own happiness is scary because after all, women should never be given the right to actually live for themselves. Right?

Though you have to agree this is nothing new. No, this calling a woman everything other than her name isn’t new. The act of making a woman feel less than worthy because she makes choices about her own body is nothing new. Women and girls have been subject to what is now known as slut shaming for generations.

In case you do not know, “Slut Shaming” is a form of social disgrace applied to people who are believed to violate traditional expectations for sexual behaviors, mostly applied to women and girls (Wikipedia).

Slut shaming ranges anywhere from calling a girl a “hoe” for kissing a boy to not believing a woman who reports a sexual assault. Shame and the way in which women and girls are treated in society go hand in hand.

I undoubtedly believe that the shaming of women and girls is a learned behavior. The misogynistic culture and lessons (often religious) that are embedded in the minds of young boys and girls effects the way they view gender, worth, and self-respect. Many of us know that when you are taught that purity and piety make one more superior to those who do not exactly fit those constructed descriptions, we begin to look at others differently, leaving room for judgement and even self-loathing.

But the funny thing about self-respect I’ve learned is that it is solely for self. The definition itself is the pride, confidence and honor in an individual’s sole being. It has nothing to do with anyone else nor what other people believe and that little part is what so many people miss. That missed fact is what often drives the division between the slut-shamers and the shamed victims.

No one has a right to tell a woman what she can and cannot do nor what really constitutes as self-respect. No one has the power to deem Rose an unfit mother because she likes to twerk with her booty out. No one has the power to tell a woman how to live any kind of way, except that woman.

The end of 2015 is near and we are still hating women for caring about their own bodies. We are still believing that women and girls who are assaulted were “asking for it.” We are still ostracizing girls who do and laughing at the girls who do not. We are still placing women at the bottom of the society’s totem pole for existing.

I applaud Rose for her efforts to end the culture of slut shaming. Her impact may be small to many, but to those who have experienced the sting of shame for simply living: she is empowering millions.

I am standing with Rose. Her efforts, and those of so many other women and men, to bring recognition to an issue that poisons our society will never go unnoticed.

OP-ED: Miley, what’s good?

Nicki Minaj makes a surprise guest performance with Chris Brown on stage during Powerhouse 2013 at Honda Center on June 22, 2013 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Emmerson/Splash) Pictured: Nicki Minaj Ref: SPL566906  220613   Picture by: Emmerson / Splash News Splash News and Pictures Los Angeles:310-821-2666 New York:212-619-2666 London:	870-934-2666 photodesk@splashnews.com
Nicki Minaj makes a surprise guest performance with Chris Brown on stage during Powerhouse 2013 at Honda Center on June 22, 2013 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Emmerson/Splash)

This past Sunday, MTV aired its annual Video Music Awards. If you tuned in to the show, you probably witnessed all the foolishness from Rebel Wilson’s police brutality jokes to Kayne West’s presidential aspirations. You also probably witnessed the host of the award show, Miley Cyrus fail to bring the show justice.

Overall, the night was a hot mess.

The most memorable moment of the show was when Nicki Minaj called Cyrus out for her interview comments about Minaj. My eyes grew wide in astonishment as Minaj spouted the words, “Miley, what’s good?” I couldn’t believe that on live television, a white female was called out for her blatant racism by one of the most controversial black female MCs.

Finally.

Social media blew up that night and all of a sudden, Minaj and Cyrus were “beefing.” However, this “beef” between Minaj and Cyrus is not really beef at all. That fire from Minaj was years of built up frustration from every black artist that had been snubbed and hardly rewarded for their work.

When Minaj called out Cyrus at the show, she was calling out every white woman who speaks negatively about black women raising their voices against racism. She called out the girls who think it is OK to culturally appropriate and disrespect entire races of people; the girls who are quick to paint Black women as “angry” instead of seeing their own participation in racism. Minaj asked “What’s Good?” to all those who like to curtail conversations on race, suppressing the voices of people of color.

Minaj’s issue with MTV failing to nominate her video for her single Anaconda was not because she was jealous. She was pinpointing an underlying issue of misogyny and race in the music industry. Minaj alluded in her Twitter comments that despite all her fame, the millions of views, the radio repetition of her songs and her diehard fans, her success is still overshadowed by artists with no melanin and half the talent she possesses. Her voice is still disregarded by artists like Cyrus and Taylor Swift who are praised for being mediocre and ignorant.

About three weeks ago the New York Times interviewed Cyrus on hosting the upcoming VMAs. When she was asked about her thoughts on Minaj, she refuted Minaj’s comments stating “If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement. But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it.” She continued to say that Minaj was not a very polite person to begin with.

Cyrus then gave advice to people of color saying, “If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t just make it about yourself.”

Really Hannah Montana?

Her comments about Minaj before the VMAs Sunday night proved Minaj’s point. Cyrus’ privilege allows her to talk about race issues (without knowledge) and still be celebrated, but Minaj and everyone who looks like Minaj, is lectured by white women on how to do race “the right way.” For many white people, that “right way” is speaking on race in a way that does not threaten their privilege or hurt their feelings.

People like Cyrus need not to tell people of color how to talk about race. The idea that people of color need to speak on race from a place of “love and openness” is suppressive and undermines an individual’s right to fight against blatant racism. Oppressed people don’t owe anyone courtesy when they have been obviously wronged.

I want to know what’s really good with people like Cyrus.

I want to know how you can appropriate the culture of a group and fail to boost the group’s social status. You can wear your hair in locs and twerk, but where are you when the people you like to copy are shot dead for existing? Where is your voice and “advice” when these same people you use as props to make yourself more appealing are being oppressed? Where are you when they are criticized for raising their voices?

The amount of backlash Minaj has received and the amount of defense Cyrus has received proves another point: the difference between the treatments of black women and white women in 2015 America. Minaj became an angry black woman while Cyrus was the innocent savior, the true feminist for trying to defuse the situation.

Minaj calling out Cyrus was absolutely necessary. She is not apologizing for wanting to be heard. She is tired of white women dismissing women of color’s presence all while appropriating their language and style, their hair and bodies. She is making it known that marking a person’s marginalization as invisible will not stand any longer.

White supremacy ran rampant through the VMAs last Sunday night. I am sure Minaj could care less about a small Video Music Award, but if you fail to see her argument and the injustice so many artists of color find themselves, you are part of the problem.

So tell me, what’s good?

OP-ED: Celebrities might be likable, but they’re not always the brightest

For years, celebrities have entertained us with the things they say and do. They always seem to make a fool of themselves without trying too hard, and as their adoring fans, we cannot help but to watch them in amazement.

In a recent interview with E! News, child celebrity Raven-Symoné talked about the new Fox show “Empire” starring Terrance Howard and Taraji P. Henson. In a chat about race and the use of the N-word, Symoné shared that she received her DNA results from ancestry.com.

In the interview, she confidently said, “I am from every continent in Africa except for one.”

Wait – what?

Africa is a continent? Which continent in Africa – which is a continent itself – aren’t you from? Enlighten us.

Last year, the former “Cosby Show” actress caused quite a commotion on social media when she told Oprah Winfrey she did not want to be labeled. After coming out about her sexuality, she noted that she didn’t want to be called “gay” or even “African American.”

Please note this is the same actress who compared First Lady Michele Obama’s looks to those of an animal. She positively defended news anchor Rodner Figueroa who compared Obama to a cast member on “Planet of the Apes.”

Figueroa, a Venezuelan-born news anchor and host, was commenting on a viral video of a make-up artist changing his face to match those of notable celebrities, Obama’s face being one.

He said, “Well, watch out, you know that Michele Obama looks like she’s from the cast of ‘Planet of the Apes,’ the movie.”

Figueroa was fired from Univision for the racist comment but Symoné supported him, claiming she did not think he intended to be racist. She noted that all people kind of look like animals anyway.

Granted, Symoné could have possibly gotten confused about the difference between a continent and a country and probably really does think all humans have animal features, but it’s disappointing to see one of my favorite childhood actresses be so out of touch with basic knowledge. Her comments, along with the ones of so many other celebrities, have made me wonder why we even hold celebrities to such high standards.

When we talk about societal issues, such as race or sexism, we think that the most powerful people in our society (celebrities) are supposed to be knowledgeable about these issues. We think they should always know what to say and how to say it, they should know what questions to ask and they should be social activists in their spare time – saving the world with their incredible acts of justice and golden hearts.

But that’s not realistic. Many of our beloved celebrities don’t possess college degrees and take no interest in social activism.

Symoné’s comments might not be commonly expected, but they were not surprising. Perhaps we shouldn’t look to celebrities to give us the answers we are looking for in dialogue about things that actually matter. Perhaps we should just adore them in their aesthetic and be mindful that they may not be the voices we need to be attentive to for intellectual commentary.

OP-ED: Yes, black girls do rock

On April 5, Black Entertainment Television (BET) aired its annual awards show “Black Girls Rock,” hosted by actresses Tracee Ellis Ross and Regina King.

The show first aired in 2010 and is tied to the non-profit organization BLACK GIRLS ROCK! Inc., which was founded in 2006 to empower and mentor the growth, the interests, the self-esteem and the lives of young women of color all while encouraging study and conversation about the ways women of color are portrayed in the media.

Despite my love for the awards show and the organization as a whole, I could not help but feel a sense of resentment. As First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage during the show, she said, “Black girls rock!” and it seemed to upset quite a few people. Some non-black people took to social media, as they did during the airing of the show last year, to speak out in disagreement.

People took to social media upset over Michelle Obama's exclamation that, "Black girls rock!" Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service
People took to social media upset over Michelle Obama’s exclamation that, “Black girls rock!” Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

“She didn’t mention if white girls rocked or not.” “What about all girls?” “I couldn’t imagine Laura Bush saying that!” “This is reverse-racism.” And my favorite, “Why isn’t there a White Girls Rock?”

The reason why it would be outrageous for a “White Girls Rock” program is because white women and girls are “rocking” everywhere. White people dominate entertainment and most of television.

Far too often women of color are left out of the media’s spotlight. There are numerous attempts to limit the ways women of color are viewed in positive images through media and they are effective.

There is no doubt there are controlled images of beauty, intelligence, class and all around inclusiveness within mainstream pop culture. You can type in the words “beautiful women” right now in Google and you will get pages upon pages of white women with blonde or light brown hair and light eyes.

Representation matters. Programs and organizations like “Black Girls Rock” are absolutely necessary.

When attempts are made to praise women and men of color, it is not an attempt to degrade or shame non-people of color. Black Girls Rock doesn’t seek to exclude white women or make them feel less important.

I believe mostly everyone can agree that girls and women of all colors, backgrounds, races and ethnicities are important, but when there are apparent images that bombard us everyday seemingly favoring one certain group of women, there must be some conversation held.

There must be some action taken in order to remind little brown and black girls that even though girls like them are not in every make-up commercial, new romance movie or television sitcom, they matter too. Their skin, their hair, their minds and their bodies are just as beautiful and important.

Why does representation in the media matter so much? Well, researchers estimate that before the age of seventeen, 7 percent of black teen girls will attempt suicide. Black women are criticized for wearing their natural hair. Only 11 percent of the women in the top 100 grossing films in 2014 were black, and 87 percent of runway models are white. Black women are subject to constant reinforced stereotypes that contribute to generalizations and prejudice. In a recent repeat of the “Doll Test,” 47 percent of the young black girls interviewed believed the white dolls (over the black dolls) to be better, smarter and prettier.

The point is obviously missed when people take to social media and express their frustration about something meant to include and appreciate the lives of people of color. Perhaps the anger and hate is saying something about the way America feels about people of color challenging controlled images of beauty and intelligence.

Perhaps people who were angry at Obama for speaking at this award show must have forgotten she is a black woman and a mother of two teenage black girls. For Obama to acknowledge the beauty and importance of women who are constantly shamed for existing speaks volumes.

Her voice resonated through television screens that night stating, “No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you are beautiful. I am so proud of you. My husband, your president, is so proud of you. We have so much hope and dreams for you…I know there are voices that you are not good enough. Each of those doubts was like a test that I either shrink away from or rise to meet. And I decided to rise.”

For those who have ill feelings toward black and brown girls who stand up and embrace their beauty, please continue to be upset. Like Obama and all of the illustrious women who resemble us, we are choosing to rise.

OP-ED: Iggy Azalea is the face of problematic and blatant cultural appropriation in hip hop

Australian born rapper Iggy Azalea invaded our radios last summer with her hit song “Fancy.” As Atlanta rapper T.I.’s protégé, Azalea delivers her raps in a Southern black drawl, uses hip hop slang and twerks in almost all her performances, despite being white and hailing from a rural town on the opposite side of the world.

She has since climbed the hip hop ladder of success and gained four Grammy nominations with the release of her debut album “The New Classic.” Some magazines, blogs and social media users have even crowned her “the queen of hip hop,” discounting the countless number of black women in rap who have achieved what Iggy has and more.

The difference, however, between Azalea and other black women in rap is that Azalea has adopted snippets of black culture to enhance her performance and image, appealing to white America.

Azalea is problematic.

Her flow and style of voice are similar to the styles of many hip hop artists we all love to listen to. Azalea’s imitation style has been perfected and refined since her move to the United States as a teenager.

In addition to her pretty face, Azalea actually has some talent: her ability to act, not her ability to rap. If you saw or heard the infamous interview on “Sway in the Morning,” a radio talk show hosted by former MTV reporter Sway Calloway, you would know this artist is not lyrically gifted. When asked to freestyle by the DJ on the show, she failed. She wouldn’t rap to any “hood beats” and chose to rap a cappella. Her lyrics were not impressive.

In her defense, Azalea has done something awesome. Female hip hop artists in general are subject to sexism and have had to fight harder than men to make it big in this genre. There is no doubt that Azalea has done just that – she stands as more proof that women can be just as successful and talented as men.

But at what cost? Why must we allow artists like her to imitate the work of other successful black female artists? Why are we OK with allowing white women to caricature the stereotypical black woman?

The problem I have with Azalea is not really with Azalea, herself. My problem is with the countless number of times black women have been scrutinized for their aesthetic, their bodies and their appearance rather than for their hip hop talent. Black female rappers are always under fire because they are too showy, too modest, too ethnic or too unattractive. They are often overlooked in discussions about hip hop. Black female artists apparently have to be better than black men, white men and, now, white women in order to get praise within hip hop.

My problem is with the constant whitewashing of hip hop. Much of black America does not listen to Azalea’s music. Her songs aren’t played continuously on “urban” radio stations, and even FunkMaster Flex, one of hip hop’s originators, has called her music trash. But because she is blonde, curvy and can somewhat spit a rhyme or two, this music industry pushes her to the forefront. She has a big butt and a song called “Pu$$y.” That is the perfect recipe for profit and success in a hypersexual, hypersexist marketplace.

My problem is also with the stench of white supremacy in hip hop – a culture that originated from black and brown natives of New York City in the ‘80s. Azalea benefits from white supremacy. This mix of racial privilege and fetish has made black music wildly marketable without black artists in the picture. White people have latched onto white women who twerk, rap and wear Jordans, when black people have been doing just that for years.

Now, I am not trying to argue that this genre has a certain color, but we must remember that an artist should not have to dress and act like a black person to be a successful rapper. If they are talented, and I mean authentically talented, they should not have to use black culture as a commodity to gain popularity – take the Beastie Boys and Eminem, for example.

Azalea needs to represent blackness and black culture right or not do it at all.

OP-ED: Our Selma — The march is not over yet

“Selma,” the 2014 film directed by Ava DuVernay, serves as a visual history lesson about a painful period in American history. The film chronicles the three 1965 marches from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery, Ala. A number of social activists led the marches, including John Lewis and the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This past Saturday, on March 7, America took pause to remember the first march on the same day in 1965 – which is also known as Bloody Sunday. On this day 50 years ago, nearly 600 marchers were subject to beatings, tear gas and violence from Alabama State Troopers on the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. America remembered this first of three marches, all the participants, the martyrs and the ones who died for the right of representation that led to the passage of Voting Rights Act of 1965.

President Obama speaks in Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service
President Obama speaks in Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

For the anniversary, President Obama spoke in Selma on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to remind Americans of the importance of acknowledging history, the importance of voting and the dire need to remember areas like Ferguson. He said, earning a resounding applause, “The march is not over yet.”

“What they did here will reverberate through the ages,” said Obama. “Not because the change they won was preordained, not because their victory was complete, but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible – that love and hope can conquer hate.”

Here is what we know to be true: The fight for basic and equal rights is nothing new. Police brutality is nothing new. Teargased streets and police arresting peaceful protestors is nothing new. Discrimination in the voting process is nothing new.

We have seen all of these things before.

Selma is now. Without a doubt, history is repeating itself, and Americans of this generation are now beginning to see just how far away the Promised Land really is. We have miles to walk before we reach the level of justice that we all seek.

The fact of the matter is, we cannot undo history, but we can rise above its effects and problems it has left. Perhaps the movie “Selma” serves as a blueprint for how Americans can move forward in the future. Marching and protesting and having the conversations about race is beneficial; it allows people to voice their opinions, but the strategy to defeat a system of racism will take much more than just mere discussion.

Young Americans must recognize the value of our history, take what they have learned and apply it to their lives. Young Americans, ripe and ready to take on the world, must remember that black lives matter – that ALL lives matter – and saving lives should be a top priority. Somewhere in our passions, in our aspired professions and future plans, we must fit in an agenda of justice and create a heart that beats for equality.

A large crowd waits to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service
A large crowd waits to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

We must remember that Selma happened in our parents’ and our grandparents’ lifetimes. The same people who directly fought for (and opposed) equal rights 50 years ago are still alive, fighting for the same struggle.

We must remember Ferguson.

We must remember Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride.

We must remember that racism and discrimination are still abundantly present.

We must remember the lessons from our history.

Most importantly, we must remember to vote.

Blood was not shed on that bridge in 1965 for nothing. Americans of all races and colors did not walk miles for the people of this generation to not exercise their right to vote and forget to stand up when that right is threatened.

We all hold a piece of the puzzle that will help solve the recurring issues in our world. We all hold a piece that is bigger than ourselves. No matter how big or small your piece is, we can all make a difference.

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

OP-ED: Students of all races need to tackle racism together

On Oct. 8, something enlightening took place on our humble college campus. Nearly 100 students gathered in McKnight Hall for a program entitled “It Could Have Been Me” to discuss the topic that has been fresh in our conversations for a while now: police brutality.

The Black Student Union (BSU) along with other multicultural and minority student organizations hosted the program. The idea for the program (introduced by BSU Political Affairs Chair Shomari Jones) was essentially to remember the life of Michael Brown, a young African American teenager killed in Ferguson, Mo. and other victims of police brutality in America.

The program was successful, yet something was missing: white students. Aside from members of the Feminist Union or Amnesty International, few white students attended the program and that, my friends, is a problem because the issue of police brutality can potentially affect anyone of any color at any time.

This is not an article attacking white students. This is an article addressing the obvious fact that the majority of white students on campus do not participate nor interact with minority groups on campus. This beautifully diverse campus is still divided in many ways. Granted, names like the Black Student Union and Coalition of 100 Black Women do sound a bit racially exclusive and can make students of other races feel unsure about being an active member. Completely understood.

However, the issue is not the names of the organizations but the fact that the only groups of students who seem to care about the issues of race, discrimination and police brutality are those belonging to minority organizations. Why don’t predominately white student organizations ever have programs or discussions about the current social issues of our world?

Protestors gather together against police brutality. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service
Protestors gather together against police brutality. Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

Here’s the thing – right now, black men and women are being killed in racially explosive incidents. Across the country, there have been videos and reports of African American men and women being dragged out of their cars by police officers, thrown to the ground, pepper sprayed and handcuffed. There is a video of a white police officer in New York strangling a black man, Eric Garner, to death. There are still white people on college campuses dressing in blackface for Halloween and denying black students admission into white Greek organizations.

There is apparent racism throughout our communities, campuses, relationships and our world. This is not a post-racial America, and some people cannot seem to admit that. Perhaps, that is why so few white students participate in discussions on the social issue. If we, the students and future leaders of America, are going to move this country forward and tackle the issue of racial inequality in America, there must be people of all races who are concerned about the race and class issue in America.

Why aren’t people of all colors and classes speaking out? Why are we all not standing in solidarity alongside our fellow classmates of color? Why are we still allowing ignorance to lurk in every building and conversation on campus? Why won’t all students get into the discussions about corrupt police officers, racism and violence?

Colleges serve as the epicenters for enlightenment and social change. This particular college campus has such a rich history that need not be forgotten. From the founding of this school to the founding of the first minority organization here in the late 1960s, UNC Charlotte was built by movers and shakers. Why don’t we do more now to combat the grave issues of our time?

Multicultural organizations on this campus such as the Black Student Union, Amnesty International, Feminist Union, Chinese Club, Spectrum, the NAACP, Trans’port, Young Americans for Liberty, Caribbean Connection, Saudi Student Organization, Collegiate 100 Black Men and others are absolutely necessary at this time. The discussion of race and inequality must begin with college students on campuses, and the conversation must be ongoing.

These words from Martin Luther King, Jr. still hold true today: “The question now is whether America is prepared to do something massively…about the great problem we face in the area of race.”

OP-ED: We should be fighting against misogyny, not shaming women

Gabrielle Union is one of many celebrities whose private photos were leaked onto the Internet. Photo courtesy of MCT Campus
Gabrielle Union is one of many celebrities whose private photos were leaked onto the Internet. Photo courtesy of MCT Campus

The time to stop putting women in the gallows for expressing themselves in a way that makes people uncomfortable is now.

Last month, a number of A-list celebrity women had their nude photos leaked onto websites such as Reddit, TMZ and 4chan. The photos were deleted from the websites, but the pictures went viral. They were posted on people’s Instagram pages, posted on porn sites and even reblogged on Tumblr dashboards across the world.

Among the victims were Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, swimsuit model Kate Upton, actress Kirsten Dunst, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and, most recently, singer Jill Scott and actresses Gabrielle Union and Meagan Good. While the FBI is investigating the celebrities’ cases, they are not investigating the shame and humiliation that follows scandals like this. The critics of the scandal have been out in full force, degrading the women for not being “secret” or “wholesome” in regards to their bodies.

However, celebrity women are not the only ones who experience this shame. Modern women and men who own a cell phone are everyday victims of privacy violations. We saw it first hand when we first got cell phones in middle or high school. A girl takes a picture of her body for her boyfriend, and not long after, the whole school has seen (or heard) what she looks like naked.

However the photo was shared, it got out, and the person in the photo is blamed for taking the picture. Counselors, friends or even parents console the victims with words like, “Well, if you had not taken and sent the picture, none of this would have happened.” While this statement may arguably be true, it is very telling of the way people combat issues of unfairness regarding women: with shame.

Telling women to cover themselves and dress or act a certain way is not solving inequality or misogyny. Our quickness to shame women seems to be easier than combating the reality that women are still very much marginalized and treated as the lesser gender in need of structure and guidance.

Our duties as men, women, teachers, fathers, friends and sisters is not to disgrace girls but to love and accept them, despite their choices, and to organize to combat the blatant sexism in our media outlets, our workplaces, our schools and our homes.

Last December, singer Beyoncé Knowles-Carter released one of the most authoritative songs of her career. The song “Flawless” was featured on her self-titled album Beyoncé and gained international attention not only for its catchy refrain, but also for the statement featured in the middle of the track by Nigerian activist and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The statement on the track was only a snippet from Adichie’s speech “We Should All Be Feminists” in which she says, “We teach girls shame. Close your legs, cover yourself, we make them feel as though being born female they’re already guilty of something…We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”

The profound speech Adichie made speaks volumes about the way women are raised and viewed in every aspect of society. Whether morally or religiously, our views on how women should act, think and speak are shaped and reshaped throughout our lives.

The way in which we treat women is displayed through societal aspects such as music and relationships and especially in our reactions to women who have their nude photos hacked; women who choose to go on more than a few dates with different men; women who have one boyfriend this week and another one the next; women who wear shorts to school on a hot summer day; or women who do not fit into the category of a “good girl.”

The victimization of women is nothing new. The shaming of women is nothing new – nor is the violation of one’s privacy. The fight to end the attacks and sexism is not new either. Somehow that fire – that urgency – has has been muffled and forgotten, but we must be willing to revisit the works of feminists and women’s rights advocates such as Susan B. Anthony and Audre Lorde. We must organize for justice against perpetrators who violate women and their right to choose, their right to be free and their right to be recognized as human beings worthy of respect and love.

The challenge is not to stop taking or sending nude photos. The challenge is that we must trust our own judgment of who is worthy of our privacy. We must respect the privacy of others. We must remember that propelling shame and blaming the victim does more harm than good.

Photo filters distort the way we view ourselves

We all do it. We feel good about ourselves one day and decide to snap nearly 100 selfies, probably deleting all but one. Then, if we have an Instagram account, we post our lovely pictures and wait for the likes.

We want our friends to praise our good looks or someone to post that complimentary emoji with the heart-eyes. Oh, we get so much satisfaction after posting a selfie and getting all the right reactions.

Attention is not always a bad thing to want. We all like when people view us as beautiful.

The question is, do we really need edits and Instagram filters to accomplish this?

Even if you do not use Instagram, you should be aware of the tons of free “selfie-help” apps or the effectiveness of Photoshop. Photo enhancements are used by almost everyone these days. Most of us with smartphones have, at one point or another, taken advantage of the photo editing features.

The millions of Instagram users have tried out numerous filters to enhance their photos, hoping to gain more attention. After all, that is why filters exist, right? We all want people to gawk over our seemingly perfect faces and bodies.

It’s possible Kevin Systrom, the co-creator of Instagram, did not intend for peoples’ self-esteem to be altered through his creation, but it is tempting to argue that photo filters, and the attention they bring, have some effect on the way we view others and ourselves.

According to Sabel Harris of the marketing analytics firm TrackMaven, Instagram filters are not used as often as you would think.

Though the normal setting (which you’ve probably seen with the accompanying “#nofilter”) is the most used, it does not always generate the most attention.

In other words, non-filtered pictures do not get as many likes.

Many of us are not comfortable enough in our own skin to post a picture of ourselves without a filter. Perhaps we do not like our skin blemishes or dark circles. Perhaps we are insecure about our skin tone or the shape of our nose, head or mouth.

Maybe we use filters, not because we don’t like how we look, but because we simply like the effect it has on a photo. It’s possible the lighting was not what we wanted or we wanted a saying on our shirt to stand out.

Whatever the reason, being sure of why we are using filters is key to feeling great about our selfies on social media networks.

Having unlimited access to free filters can make us believe we need them in order to look acceptable for Instagram.

Some of us believe that without a filtered or edited picture, our raw, unrevised selfies are not beautiful enough to be taken seriously on a social network full of unforgiving, judgmental followers and commentators.

Filters are made to provide temporary camouflage for our selfies. As great as it makes a photo appear, a filter cannot hide the way we really feel about ourselves.

Perhaps the availability of so many photo-editing features says something about image in our society and what we deem to be attractive and acceptable.

Overall, the way we view ourselves and others is often brought to light through our social media accounts.

The funny aspect of social media is, you can be as open and as vulnerable as possible, but even that bit of truth can be filtered with the tap of a finger. Perhaps we should commend people who post their shameless selfies on Instagram with the “no filter” caption.