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Ambiguous in america: passing, microaggressions and self-identification

Lena Madison

As a follow-up to my last post on being racially ambiguous, I'm going to expand on some of the nuances of being mixed in America. I can't claim my experience is the same as others who are mixed, so I'm speaking solely from my personal experience. Some may relate, while some may not when it comes to passing, microaggressions and self-identification. Regardless, it's interesting for anyone who enjoys gaining perspectives on race.

I've grown up checking three boxes on census forms: White, Black, and Native American. 

My mother's grandparent’s emigrated from Germany in the early 20th century. They came to America to escape the sociopolitical climate that eventually lead to WWII. My dad's grandparents were part of the Great Migration north from southern Louisiana to Chicago. His grandmother was Choctaw Indian, while his grandfather was born to black sharecroppers. According to family history, my great-grandfather was a business owner who did not head north out of his own volition. Instead, the KKK burned his housing development, effectively destroying his business. BTW, my great-grandpa rebuilt his business in Chicago.

Since I was a child, people have often projected their racial curiosities, insecurities and over-all cultural in-competencies onto me. Many have experienced this phenomenon. Below you will find a list of microaggressions I've personally experienced from all shades of people:

  • If I am just with my mother or my father, people are sometimes surprised when I call them mom or dad.
  • My blonde mother was frequently asked if I was actually her child. Heaven forbid a child doesn't phenotypically "match" their parent.
  • I've been asked if my father is still in the picture once someone finds out he is black (he is very much so in the picture). 
  • Once a professor at Notre Dame told me that, “It must be hard to be mixed. It’s probably confusing. You are an edge person like me.”
  • A black friend of mine in college once said, “White women are just a phase for black men,” which definitely rubbed me the wrong way since I don’t see my mother and father's marriage as a phase.
  • I have been told that if my dad was really my dad that I would be darker.
  • Sometime when someone is trying to understand why I look the way I look, they will ask me, “What nationality are you?” I can't help but giggle and say that I'm American.

Even when taking the instances above into account, I have passed as white; I do pass as white; and I will pass as white. I would need my fingers AND toes to count the amount of times someone who is white has said something blatantly racist about minorities at large. I hit them with “I’m half black” right before I watch their problematic, racialized view crumble. While in college, an acquaintance asked me about my hair texture and type. I turned my head vaguely perplexed and told the person that my dad is black if that helps answer their question. Queue the absolute melt down. This person had their head between their hands like it was going to explode. They said they couldn’t believe it because I “didn’t act black" and I didn't "look" that black. Our relationship was rocky from that point on to say the very least. Self-identification is confidence in the face of microaggressions to a certain extent.

During a university political identity course, I was asked how I self-identify. I surprised myself when I said that I'm an American who doesn't exactly identify as white, but I do identify as a minority, that I definitely identify as mixed, and I don't entirely identify as black. If someone is going absolutely make me choose, then I identify as black more so than I do as white. I think the main sticking point to my self-identification is that I will always identify as a minority. Since I do often pass as "white enough," I don't identify as black right off the bat because others generally don't identify me as so. That's what it means to be ambiguous in America--balancing your self-identification with others perceptions. I have to take how others perceive me into account, but only as a way to explain the complexities of race. For instance, I sometimes wonder if I should call myself a WOC or if I should call myself anything at all. It's good to ponder and wonder but at the end of the day, I profoundly and intrinsically make sense to myself and that is enough. I'm me and that is my power.

When I identify as mixed, I feel I am personally taking a step toward the America that I desire--one that allows for identities outside of the wildly inflexible racial binary. I dream of an America where inclusion for everyone is a national priority and multicultural backgrounds are understood. I hope to do my part in building that understanding by sharing my experience. As Yara says, "I've been blessed with this cool heritage."

Ambiguous in America: What are you?

Lena Madison

I am an edge person. My mom is transparently white due to her Germanic heritage and my dad has brown skin with red undertones due to his African American, Choctaw heritage. While I maintain an understanding of various groups, I do not maintain a solid identity with any given group. My racial ambiguity allows me to slip in and out of different races/ethnicities without consequences - whether I want to or not. My tan, light complexion, golden curly hair and light green eyes throw people for a loop everyday.

My sister Jade (in the pink) and me (in the orange), ambiguous and magic as ever.

My sister Jade (in the pink) and me (in the orange), ambiguous and magic as ever.

My racial and/or ethnic identity has always been something others bring up to me. Sometimes I receive the broad question, “What are you?,” like it truly matters that I'm classified. Sometimes people ask me about my nationality as a pathway into what my race is and I just say I’m American and wait for them to ask the right question (if they must know and have a lick of sense). As much as I confuse people, I do not share the projected perplexities of others about myself.

Somewhere in American circa 2000

Somewhere in American circa 2000

Racialization is America’s obsession. It has been since the time of colonization. As described in How Race Survived, “in the Middle Ages skin color would have provoked nothing more than mild curiosity.” However, this changed even though “African laborers sometimes worked for a term of service alongside similarly indentured Europeans”. Eventually, legislation was introduced to separate the poor Africans from the poor Europeans to diminish their chances of successfully rebelling against the wealthy. Few people know this reasoning propagated Maryland and Virginia outlawing interracial sex in the early 1660s. As mentioned in Race: The Power of an Illusion, the controlling majority has used racialization as a way to categorize others as naturally “indignant” in order to maintain societal power structures.

I’ve been called a mutt, a hybrid, or reminded that I would have been a house slave if I were born 150 years ago. (Yes, the last one is a jaw dropper. Did I mention that non-consensual rape was also a part of that picture?). People have told me I should be confused and like I said earlier…I’m not. I actually always thought being able to fill in three bubbles—like my parents taught me— before standardized tests was awesome. Why wouldn’t I want to be able to fill in more bubbles than anyone else?

Am I confused as to who I am? No. Am I conscious of the way others perceive me? Absolutely, because as noted above, I never know if someone is going to call me exotic, confused or a mutt next. I’m not your or anyone’s tragic mulatto. I’m a proud mixed woman with a pocket full of magic because I decide who I am.

The economic power of self-love

Lena Madison

In the United States, we have recently seen a push for self-love on social media, TV shows and other outlets.

Huff Post, Psychology Today and Bustle, among others, are reminding us to love ourselves completely. On a micro-scale, the realization and practice of self-love in day-to-day life through healthy eating, meditation, moderate exercise and affirmations (i.e. I'm a bad bitch, I have an abundant cash flow, My eyebrows slay, etc.) will never let you down.

Personally, my self-love is pouring over after years of cultivating it. Now, the businesswoman in me wonders, what are the economic impacts of my self-love in a world and economy that are built upon tearing me down?

To illustrate my point, I turn to the natural hair movement as an example of self-love and poppin’ curls disrupting the economy.  You can no longer walk down the block of any given city without seeing a black woman or man rocking their natural, swirling, curly crowns. We see perms are no longer the norm and natural hair products are being added to store shelves everyday. This hair care shift is not only a beautiful, political embrace of our bodies, but it demonstrates the economic staying power that self-love offers. The 500 billion dollar Black hair care industry is changing radically due to something that’s always been preached and rarely practiced—that thing we call self-motha-effin-love.

What industry will self-love rock next?

I foresee more harmful beauty practices going adios, one of those practices being skin-lightening. Currently, Global Industry Analysts, Inc. projects the global market for the skin lightening industry will reach $23 billion this year. Within the US alone, people are paying $10 billion a year to be lighter as explored in Bill Duke's documentary 'Light Girls,' which turns the spotlight on colorism and the profit made on convincing magically melanin people that they are lacking.

Besides the obvious risks factors associated with applying bleach to skin, the nuances of racial hierarchy and preferences are pronounced through the practice. We can look to celebrities like Beyoncé, Lil Kim, Michael Jackson, Sammy Sosa and Keri Hilson who are suspected of, if not flat out known to have practiced skin bleaching techniques. What gives? Does adhering to whiteness give a person more prominence or security? I'll let you answer that question for yourself.

What can we do?

Be a self-love advocate for yourself and for others with these small, everyday practices:

  • Support companies that sell you on loving yourself authentically

  • Tell others that you like them in their natural state

  • Do a no make-up Monday everyone now and then

  • Support skin products that don't promise to lighten, but promise to make your already perfect skin tone glow

  • Remind yourself and others that you are fearfully and wonderfully made

  • Don’t tear down another person's body type or hair texture

  • Cheer yourself on—even when you’re feeling low

  • LOVE YO SELF & TREAT YO SELF

Will a "majority-minority" America end racism?

Lena Madison

CNN: Protesters hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2012

CNN: Protesters hold signs in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2012

The Census Bureau projects that by the 2040s the United States will become a “majority-minority” nation, in which no racial group makes up more than half of the population. A look into America’s public school classrooms works as tangible evidence to support the Census Bureau’s findings. As of 2014, children of color became the new majority within the public school system. Additionally, in 370 counties across 36 states and the District of Columbia, non-Hispanic whites accounted for less than half the population as of July 2015. Regardless, the prospect of a “majority-minority” nation does not mean issues of race will cease to exist.

Within a more racially and ethnically diverse nation, a wide array of situations may develop—some might skew positive, while others may skew negative. Since the idea of a “majority-minority” nation comes from census data, we must remember that racial group classification is flawed. As Professor Richard Alba of City University of New York said, “The census suffers from binary thinking…some people are both, majority and minority.” While the census allows for self-identification, it’s the Census Bureau—not the respondent—that decides each person’s racial category in some situations. For example, if a child has a white parent and a black parent, or if the child's parents identify themselves as white but do not check the box for "not Hispanic or Latino," the child is categorized as a minority. Race will become even less palpable and more of what it is: an imaginary classification system of blurred lines.

Different situations may ensue in a “majority-minority” nation concerning race and racism. The most ideal, but also unlikely, is that racial minorities band together to achieve equal political recognition and representation. In this America, diversity is embraced and discrimination is exiled. The crux of this idyllic situation lies within the fact that we cannot assume all racial minorities have the same interests or start with the same advantage and/or disadvantages. Even within an America that "believes in diversity", racial advocates will still need to serve as holistic educators for the privileged and champions for the disadvantaged.

The next possible—and what I believe most likely situation—is that the racial hierarchy is simply reformulated and those minorities who are believed to be "white enough" climb, while those who are historically disadvantaged or currently marginalized stay put. This could really happen. In 19th and 20th century Irish and Italian immigrants endured trial, tribulation and racial and ethnic based discrimination, but are now considered white in sociopolitical sense. African Americans have not received the same social uplift. Why?

The last and most frightening scenario, is that the racial hierarchy doesn’t evolve or budge. While many public schools are now “majority-minority” systems, we must also remember that white children are over-represented in tuition based, private schools. A “majority-minority” population does not mean that educational opportunities and economic power follow. As Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution stated, “It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries…I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that”. A browner America will not suddenly be a diverse utopia of social mobility. It might even bring a further rise in white identity politics and populism as we saw in the 2016 Presidential Elections. In this scenario, we will need racial advocacy more than ever to combat both subvert and overt racism.

Even in a “majority-minority” America, racial advocates will still be a necessity. We need advocates to educate themselves and others about oppression, discrimination, privilege and other social justice issues, and combat these issues on a personal level. We need advocates to confront individuals and groups who disparage others by using language that negatively targets any facet of another’s identity. We need advocates who provide a safe and confidential environment for persons from underrepresented populations in schools and the work place. We need advocates who fight for legal change and inclusive public policy that addresses social issues surrounding racial discrimination.

"see the problem with y'all males is..."

Lindsay Young

Now that my title has weeded out the weak; good morning, good afternoon, good night. I’m here to talk about these Twitter Niggas.

Now that my title has weeded out the weak; good morning, good afternoon, good night. I’m here to talk about these Twitter Niggas.

Every social network speaks its own language, and it seems Twitter’s mother tongue has always been shit-talking. One would think that Black Twitter at the very least would serve as a safe haven from all the ignorance. But alas, whose voice booms loudest over the crowd? Black men.

To quote one of my favorite people in the world, Kai Davis, “I love Black men. But I love Black men enough to hold them accountable.” I personally will go to bat in defense of Black men on a number of topics, often times bending my own morality to make room to excuse some of their behaviors. However, when I say Twitter Nigga, I am referring to a very specific demographic of Black men that exists in the murky depths of Black Twitter, waiting to pounce any time a Black girl sneezes too loud.

Not long ago, a debate was sparked on Twitter about whether or not it’s appropriate to take a date to Red Lobster.  It originated from a tweet by a Black woman implying that she would not be satisfied with a man taking her on a date to Red Lobster. Now mind you, I myself am always down to fuck up some cheddar bay biscuits under any circumstances. But the backlash that followed had an interesting undertone.  Twitter Niggas came from far and wide to humble this woman for asserting her preference in the type of man that she dates. Had she no manners? Had she not known to be grateful for any and all things bestowed upon her by the almighty Twitter Nigga? Had she not learned that she is worth exactly one basket of biscuits? Questions that needed answers.

If you don’t want Red Lobster? Do you girl. Time and time again, I have seen men, particularly Black men, belittle and berate Black women on Twitter.  Even when addressing us without an ounce of respect, we are expected to be grateful for being acknowledged at all. They have even dubbed Black women that dare speak in defense of themselves, “Shea butter Twitter.” And of course, they do this thing:

“See the problem with y’all females is…”

“Listen up ladies...”

“If women would just…”

Corny. Tired. Ashy.

You may read the above and think “Hmmm, that’s not so bad. Black men are entitled to their opinions, and it sounds like they are just trying to help!” But here’s the kicker: Who asked? Who EVER asks? And why must yours ALWAYS be louder than mine?

My problem with the opinions of Twitter Niggas is that they are largely unsolicited, asserted as fact, and almost always insulting. Men have been brought up in a world that has them believe the sun does not rise or set without their say-so. Anything that points to the contrary is treated as blasphemy. This manifests in the way they speak their minds, especially when talking to or about women. Refuse their advances? You’re a hoe. Assert yourself? You’re a bitch. Have a preference in anything? You’re ungrateful. It seems there is no way of pleasing a Twitter Nigga outside of laying down flat and inviting him to walk all over your face. But I, my friend, have found the cure.

Laugh. Hard and often.

I used to raise my blood pressure scrolling through the ignorance of Twitter Niggas, wanting to bite my phone in half at all the trash they spoke over the voices of Black women. Now? They are my favorite jokes. I take power from them every time I close the app, drink water, moisturize my scalp, and hold fast to my own opinions with or without their approval. I will not bend to the whim of somebody who is at their most powerful when trying to step on me in 140 characters. I commend anybody that has the patience to clap back, you are necessary and I am your biggest fan. But to Twitter Niggas everywhere, I say this:

The Problem with Y’all Males is, you're not my problem. 

Images: GIPHY & Twitter

paying homage to Congresswoman "Auntie" Maxine Waters

Gabrielle Hickmon

"Can I help you? What do you want?," said Congresswoman Maxine Waters on January 16th, days before the inauguration of Donald Trump and minutes after being briefed on the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. In that moment, that press conference, the current iteration of Congresswoman Maxine Waters was born. 

 
 

Keyword there being current iteration because Rep. Waters is not new to politics on the national stage. She is the longest serving Black female member of Congress having been first elected to the House of Representatives in 1990. 1990! Congresswoman Waters has been in the House longer than I have been alive so it bothers me to see her painted as a millennial hero with no real context or discussion around her larger contributions to American politics, the Democratic Party, Congressional Black Caucus, and causes of freedom or social justice more broadly. 

Congresswoman Maxine Waters is more than just your Auntie, even if she is okay with us millennials calling her that. And while I understand the importance of riding a wave and that my generation is fickle, I think it's incredibly important that we pay homage. Homage to not only what Rep. Waters is doing in our current moment with her deep and publicly facing anti-Trumpism, but also homage to all that she's done throughout her time in public service. She's more than a meme, viral video, or the latest face to put on a tshirt (though I will buy yours if it's cute enough). She is a national treasure - has been, and forever will be. So, put some respeck on her name. Put some respeck on her voting record. Put some respeck on her years served. 

Whether securing the largest divestment of state pension funds from South Africa in California, founding community based organizations and dealing with the aftermath of the Rodney King riots in 1992, serving on the Democratic National Committee (since 1980), expanding access to healthcare or resisting the war in Iraq, Congresswoman Maxine Waters has seen it all and been around the political block a few times.  

She was with Coretta Scott King shooting in the gym y'all. Coretta Scott King!

Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

I am not saying any of this to deny her power in our current political climate. But I am saying it so that we millennials will know who we are dealing with and show due respect. Rep. Waters is not new to this, she is true to this and we all would do well to glean from her lessons of sticking it out through administration changes, dangerous rhetoric, and all the other nonsense a life in politics, a life dedicated to helping our communities, country and the world brings. 

Yes, we do need to impeach Trump. Yes, the FBI director has no credibility. And yes, I love the way Auntie Maxine responds, engages, and deals with all the madness that has ensued since election night last November. She is a beacon of hope in a bleak moment for a dazed and confused Democratic Party. She is a shining light and example of what living your values out loud looks like. 

But, she always has been. I remember hearing about Congresswoman Maxine Waters as a kid watching the news or discussing politics with my dad. So, I just do not want our current love for her to make this powerhouse of a woman into the latest joke, marketing ploy, or nothing more than a meme. I don't trust the media with our superwoman and so we have to do the work of protecting and honoring her ourselves. I'm worried that like Bill O'Reilly attempted to do, the media will come for her. I don't like the images they often use to depict her. And deep down, in my heart of hearts, I don't want her to come to be seen as nothing more than another angry or incensed Black woman - even though she has everything to be upset about. 

Irregardless, if we don't make sure she's good, I know Auntie Maxine will because like so many Black women before her and so many who will come after her, she's a strong Black woman and cannot be intimidated. Meme's, articles, rallies, or not, I'm thankful to have this woman with a backbone and voice in office. Black women, we're always doing that saving America thing. 

International politics, white knuckles and Midterms 2018

Lena Madison

The Independent

The Independent

Last night I gripped my iPad so hard my knuckles turned white. I slowly scrolled through the Apple News app. The headlines were filled with President Trump’s overly simplistic phrases and platitudes such as, “the situation is more complicated than I thought” and “North Korea will be taken care of,” which came moments after the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in our arsenal on Afghanistan.

I have all of the words and feelings to express my concern, yet I simultaneously feel mute and numbed to the violence. Will there be retaliation of some sort?

What’s happening in our world?

Within the last week, the Trump Administration launched a barrage of missile strikes against Syrian government targets in retaliation for the chemical attack on Syrian civilians that killed at least 80 and injured many more. Just days after, a U.S. drone struck and killed at least 18 members of a friendly, allied Syrian force this week called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by mistake. This has been qualified as the largest blunder against friendly allies made during the war on the "Islamic State."

The civilians. The children.  The freedom fighters. The casualties of war.

On Thursday, the US Air Force dropped the ‘mother of all bombs” on an ISIS target in Afghanistan, which costs taxpayers $16 million dollars (yet, the United States cannot afford public programing including but not limited to the arts, education, environmental preservation, children aid programs, Meals on Wheels for the elderly or CLEAN WATER IN FLINT, MI).

According to US officials the bomb killed 36 ISIS fighters without a single civilian casualty.  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) questioned the civilian casualty numbers while also calling on President Trump to consult Congress before taking further military action. At this point, President Trump has turned over military decision making to the military branch itself, and then authorizes their choices. 

This is a condensed, simplistic overview of what’s going on in just one corner of the world. It’s difficult to reconcile what’s occurring on the international stage when you’re sitting in a privileged, cozy corner of the world thousands of miles away from distant lands riddled with the foreign concept of war.

The question that is never satisfyingly answered crawls into my mental space: What can I do?

Right now, I can write and I can question and I can help make a plan to make a slice of the world better.

I then ask myself the following:

  • Who benefits from the various facets of war?
  • Does bombing help more than it hurts or hurt more than it helps in the long run?
  • What would need to be true for there to be peace between the “Islamic State” and the Western world.  Is it naive to think that’s possible at this point? Probably.
  • What are solutions and what can my role be within solutions?

I don’t have many answers yet, but I do have one answer, and it doesn’t include instant gratification.

It’s Midterms 2018. We have to be out there. We have to organize. We have to push for peaceful resolution and mediation within our communities. We can do this by bringing the good fight back to basics and giving regular people like you and I a voice. Grassroots level communities can collectively fuel any given candidate. Long story short, the organizing around candidates for placement in higher governmental leadership positions continues to push the voice of the "little" people because the leadership ideally would be a "little" person once victory is secured. It seems simplistic, but the work is hard. With your voice, you can be a small piece to the puzzle of resolution and solution.

To help whomever needs it, and also for myself, I will create a 2018 Midterms Guide, so that we can start preparing before the 2018 calendar even hits. 

I’m still gripping the iPad. My knuckles still hurt.

Now you're in the Sunken Place Ben...

Gabrielle Hickmon

 
 

Yesterday, Dr. Ben Carson, the newly appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) called African slaves immigrants. In the video above, you can hear him waxing on poetically about how those immigrants who crossed the Atlantic in the bottom of slave ships came here and worked really hard because they had a dream that their children might one day be able to experience the prosperity of this land. Two things. One, why do people always have to evoke Dr. King in their nonsense? Two, the only good sounding thing about what he said was literally how he sounded saying it. 

Here's the thing, immigration requires some semblance of choice and whether they were captured by Europeans or sold into slavery as prisoners of war by an African tribe, the African slaves who were brought to the New World through the Transatlantic Slave Trade, had no say, no choice in the matter. 

What makes Sec. Dr. Carson's comments so interesting is that they engage the sunken place (thank you Jordan Peele for giving us the perfect phrase to describe Black folks who cape for white people from here on out) on multiple levels. 

His slaves as immigrants argument is nothing new. America has been trying to create the narrative that slavery wasn't what it was since the founding of the country because the USA cannot be the land of the opportunity and equality it purports to be and yet have as deep a stain of slavery on its national conscious. The American experiment rests on erasing the evils of slavery and essentializing the humanity of Black people so that the 450 years of harm done to us become no problem. If slaves were immigrants or well fed and taken care of or stupid and primitive, then what Europeans and later Americans subjected those individuals to becomes "okay." It becomes allowable because they were just doing the work of helping this disadvantaged population reap "the prosperity of the land." 

And while this narrative has existed throughout American history, it is especially poignant as we live through the first days of the Trump administration after experiencing an election that openly conjured fear, hate, and bigotry. Carson and others like him are only able to see immigrants humanity in the context of the United States obsession with meritocracy - the idea that everything one earns or doesn't earn is based upon their own merit and work ethic. This narrative erases the humanity of not only immigrants, but most every American. It refuses to allow for systemic analysis and prohibits one from seeing the value of coming to America in human terms - if you of course believe there is value in immigrating here in the first place. 

However, for all his postulating that America is this land of opportunity, Carson sure is going right along with Trump's attempts to limit who has access to the "prosperity of the land." His comments also show a deep ignorance of the Black experience and ways in which slavery, Jim Crow, and other traumas experienced by Black people over time and in the present affected Black history, affect Black todays, and will affect Black futures. 

Though white supremacy and hegemony do not need marginalized groups to buy into their theories to predicate and propagate, it works to their advantage when those disadvantaged by their theories, pedagogies, and polices play along. White supremacy, neo-liberalism, capitalism, meritocracy, and hegemony require the pacification of those they harm because if we are pacified then we pose no threat. Meritocracy wins when one harmed by its ideology views the world through its gaze instead of calling bullshit on the ways it essentializes and erases not only their lived experience, but the lived experiences of others. Ben Carson upheld all that is wrong with the narratives about America, slavery, and immigration through his comments. He let hegemony win. 

If you've seen Get Out, then you know that Ben is in the sunken place. A piece of me wonders if existing there makes life easier for someone like Ben - if it helps him reconcile with himself and how he turned on his people. It makes me nervous for what he will do as Secretary of HUD, an area of government that he as a surgeon surely knows nothing about. It demonstrates how powerful and pervasive the desire for access to the privileges that come with whiteness are. 

Either way, I hope he gets out for both his sake and ours. I'm sure the ancestors can work something out in terms of forgiveness. Any volunteers to flash him? 

Image: GIPHY

Image: GIPHY

P.S. Slaves were not immigrants. Immigrants have value outside of and without capitalism. Just wanted to make that explicitly clear in case you missed it. 

On Global Citizenship, Donald Trump, & the Myth of American exceptionalism.

Gabrielle Hickmon

This week, Donald Trump, who unfortunately is President of the United States, instituted a Muslim ban via executive order. He also went forward with another atrocious campaign promise by ordering a wall be built beween the US-Mexico border. Week 1. 

Since the election and more recently the subsequent inauguration of Donald Trump which officially began his reign of terror, I have wondered, what my role in resistance to his policies and values is. I've also been critically reflecting on how I both benefit from and am oppressed by the institution that is America.  

I'm a Black, straight, educated, cis-gendered woman. My social position is not a walk in the park, but it's not exactly the bottom of the barrel either - if I'm being honest. There are a myriad of ways that my race, gender, and sometimes class serve to disadvantage and marginalize me. But there are also ways in which those same identifiers privilege me. Being straight? Damn sure privileges me. Having an elite education? Absolutely a privilege. Being a cis-gendered woman? A privilege. 

But you know what might be the biggest privilege of them all? Being an American (whatever that means + this land was stolen, but bear with me here).  No matter what else, I am an American citizen and for all of America's both good and bad, that means something both in America and on the larger world stage.  

The events of the first week of Trump's administration have made me realize the myth and power of American exceptionalism in deeper ways. I can buy a flight to anywhere in the world and know that I'll be let back into the country no problem. I do not have to worry about being deported. Visiting most countries doesn't require a getting a visa before arrival. And being an American abroad? That always speaks before being Black, or a woman. Always lends itself to protection. Always commands a certain level of both intrigue, maybe disgust, but ultimately, "respect."  

American exceptionalism: the idea that America is the greatest country on Earth. That it is America's duty to intervene in international affairs wherever we see fit and as our best interests are served. That America can do and has done no wrong on the world stage. It's a myth. 

But it's damn sure a myth I and every other American has ultimately benefitted from in some way, shape, or form. And it's time that we, Americans, acknowledge not only the myth of American exceptionalism, but that we do away with all the other myths that result from it, particularly as they pertain to our engagement with the rest of the world as Americans.

The topic of the 21st century seems to be globalization and global citizenship. Before the recent waves of nationalism and populism washed over the "Western" world, borders were becoming non-existent, trade was free (not necessarily fair), and technology was making it easier than ever to reach the other side of the world - whether by plane or internet connection. So I can see why people may have thought that they were or could become a global citizen. But honestly, truly? I'm here to call bullshit on all of that.  

Americans, whether at home or abroad, cannot be and are not global citizens. We cannot shed both the good and especially the bad that our country has done on the world stage. We cannot deny the privileges that being an American affords us at home and abroad. To do so is to act as if ones experience in the world is the same no matter where one comes from. To do so is to be ahistorical. To do so is to live and perpetuate a lie.  

Global citizenship doesn't exist because everyone doesn't have access to it. It's a Western, if not an American concept. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we shouldn't strive to understand and engage across difference. But, I am saying that, empathizing or even sympathizing with the plight of someone else doesn't mean that you occupy their shoes all of a sudden. It doesn't mean that you cease to be who you are - that the privileges and disprivileges associated with your body no longer exist tangibly or metaphysically. That's not how it works and it's damn sure not something Americans get to claim access to.  

Care deeply about the problems of our time. Figure out what resistance looks like for you and then fight back. But don't let practicing a politics of solidarity morph into a politics of erasure or cooptation.  You can advocate for policies that don't marginalize other groups without attempting to take them on as your own. Until we can all have a conversation about the myths, powers, and privileges that come with being an American, then well, no one, here or abroad will truly be a global citizen. No one will be free. And no matter who is President, the rights and freedoms of all, except maybe white men of course, will be up for grabs. 

Photo: Scott Lynch  

FUBU in the age of Donald Trump

Gabrielle Hickmon

In case you somehow live under a rock and missed it, last Friday, the gates of hell opened and Donald Trump was inaugurated President of the United States. And to no surprise, prior to the inauguration, a whole bunch of Black, Uncle Tom ass celebrities were lining up to get what they hope will be a piece of the pie by cozying up to the orange man that is now our president. 
 
Kanye West. 
Steve Harvey. 
Chrisette Michelle.
The list goes on... 

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My problem with these folks engagement with Donald Trump is not on a personal level. Kanye, Steve, and Chrisette can do what they want as private individuals. Why they would choose to engage with our orange President I will never understand, but that is beside the point.

No, my problem lies in the painting of their engagement as something the entire Black community is behind. As if we exist as a monolith and only engage in group think. As if we asked them to be our representatives and need them to speak for us or try to "bring us together." As if we have anything worth coming together for with a man whose campaign was openly bigoted, referred to us as THE Blacks or THE African-Americans and made no real effort to learn about or engage with the issues that matter to us. Remember, we're going to return to a state of law and order in this country. In no universe does that lend itself to good things for Black people.  

Here's the thing, we don't need one off voices and people trying to be the charismatic leader of movements and moments of resistance over the course of the next four years. Especially if people have no clue what they're talking about. Plus, singular, often male, charismatic leaders get shot.

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 No, what we need is collective leadership, a collective agenda, and to get on the same page. We've got to stop acting like giving or rescinding invites to the cookout is all we have to offer and start utilizing our collective power. 

That means we've got to collectively decide what kind of America we want to live in. We can't be free until we all are so we've got to care not only about about racism, but patriarchy. Patriarchy, and sexuality. Sexuality and environmental racism/degradation. Environmental racism/degradation and every other -ISM or societal problem that oppressors or marginalizes people. We must practice intersectional politics and be willing to tear down some of the very systems that both benefit and marginalize us at the same time. We've got to care about it all because freedom must be won for everyone for it to really mean anything.  

We've got to do the work of making our voices heard - both on and offline. We have to call our Congresspeople and stage protests. We need to learn how the political system works and ways we can make it work in our best interest. We've got to understand that local and state politics matter - in many cases, more than federal elections. As the states, go, so will the country, the Supreme Court, and Congress. We've got to cancel celebrities who misrepresent our goals, aims, and desires. We have to account for the variations of Blackness and do our best to love each other anyway because hate is too strong of a burden to bear.

We have to listen to Black women. Because, well, I'm just going to say it, we have been right all along. We seem to be the demographic group in this country that consistently has some sense.  

But ultimately, we have to be willing to speak and do the work for ourselves, that way, we'll be able to repeat it as necessary and make sure that history takes appropriate notes. 

"It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win. 
We must love and support each other. 
We have nothing to lose but our chains."  - Assata Shakur 
 
Here's to getting free - together, or not at all. 

 

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama...

Gabrielle Hickmon

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama, 

You don't know me, but I feel like I've known you since 2004 when your husband first became a fixture in our nation's consciousness. Then, we got even better acquainted in 2006 during your husband's run for President. Though we may have met through then Senator Obama, he was not the reason I fell for you. 

No, since the day we met, I have been captivated by your grace, awed by your beauty, and struck by your intelligence. I immediately thought, "I want to be like you when I grow up." A partner in a top law firm and graduate of some of the best schools in the country. But more importantly, a woman with a large life who appeared to enjoy even the difficult parts of it.

My heart broke when you were lambasted on the campaign trail and made to be nothing more than an "Angry Black Woman" like so many who came before you. As if Black women in America don't have good reason to be angry. As if you and your feelings, not America the ideology and institution were the problem. But if I'm being honest, I don't know that I ever believed you were actually upset. It always just seemed to me like you weren't sure if you wanted the job of First Lady. Any sane person should've been be able to understand the hesitation. Unfortunately though, we're not always dealing with people who will understand us. 

For the past 8 years, I have watched you fulfill the duties of First Lady with impeccable class and strength. Truly breathing life into the statement, "When they go low, we go high." From the outside looking in, you never got caught up in the splendor of it all. Part of why you resonate so much with America, with me, is because you embody a true spirit of authenticity. You're still Michelle from the Southside and that connects with people. 

That connects with me. You are a walking lesson in always being true to oneself and ones values. A lesson in not getting caught up in the ways of the world. A lesson in using ones voice in service of ones  vision and hopefully doing some good. A lesson in pursuing ones education and career wholeheartedly and again, hopefully doing some good. In putting family first. In never losing sight of what actually matters in life. In finding your equal and loving them with your whole heart. In having it all. 

For this little Black girl, with huge dreams, you are a constant reminder that any and everything is possible - if I work hard, reach higher, and believe.  

Thank You.  

Image: Vogue  

#SaveACA

Gabrielle Hickmon

In case you didn't know, last night at 1 am, fifty-one Senators voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. These Senators voted to repeal the ACA without having a plan to replace it - meaning they are offering no new legislation that would bridge the gap between what they're taking away or replace parts of the law they feel are problematic. Republican Senators claim they will offer new legislation to replace parts of the law by the end of the month, but given how the Hill works, a deadline of January 27th (that was internally set by Republicans) is highly unlikely to be reached. 

Republicans of course feel that they are simply following through on campaign promises and justify this action by saying that in certain states and places the cost of healthcare premiums were skyrocketing - which is not untrue. However, to simply take away healthcare coverage from 20+ million people with no plan to replace it is reprehensible.  

Here are 7 things we love about the Affordable Care Act and actions you can take to let the Republican controlled Congress know you want Obamacare to stay the law.  

1. It made birth control free or drastically reduced the cost.
2. You cannot be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition.
3. You cannot be charged more based on your health status or gender. 
4. There are no annual or lifetime limits on healthcare. 
5. The Health Insurance Marketplace allows shoppers to compare health plans that meet minimum coverage standards and include all new rights + protections. 
6. Dependents can stay on parents/guardians health plans longer - until age 26. 
7. Grave improvements to women's health care - like access to more free preventative treatments and screenings.  

If you're as pissed at the Republicans as we are, call your Senators and Representatives no matter their party leaning and express your frustration. Go to the Senate and House websites, find your Senators/Reps name and state/DC office number, and then call them. Here's a simple script we found via Kelsey Fuller's Twitter. 

Twitter via @kelseyfuller_

Twitter via @kelseyfuller_

Pro tip from someone who interned on Capitol Hill - call YOUR Reps/Senators only. Once you mention that you're not in someone's district/state, the intern who is answering your phone call, will likely stop listening to you/recording your call because that is what you're instructed to do.

Jam YOUR Reps/Senators phone lines. Make your voice heard.
Elections aren't the only time when politics matters or that it's important to get involved. 
Our "democracy" is going to require our action often over the next few years.
We must be prepared to engage. 
Let's all do our part to Save the ACA. 

Image: PopularResistance  

a finalsSZN survival guide

Gabrielle Hickmon

If you like me are in graduate school or are still in undergrad, then this post is for you. Let me just say though, for the record, that finals in grad school are way worse than anything undergrad ever threw at me. Yes, I know that makes sense because it's grad school - it should be harder. Makes sense, but annoying nonetheless.

1. Make a Plan 

I know, you're thinking, "Make a plan can't be her great advice can it?" Guess what. It is. Here's the thing. Finals week is like when you first get to school. You have work to do but it all feels like its looming far off until its the night before an exam/paper is due and you have no clue what the hell you need to study, where to get research for your paper, or how you're going to save your GPA. Hence the make a plan. When are your assignments due? How many pages? What citation style do you need to use? Who can you collaborate on a study guide with? Do you need to go to office hours to talk ask some last minute questions and get your face in front of your professor one more time? 

Exactly. Know not only when your finals are due, but what it's going to take to knock them out of the park. 

2. Schedule, Schedule, Schedule

If you're like me, you like to use finals week to start binge watching a new show because procrastination. Hell, I shouldn't even be writing this blog post right now. But, procrastination. This is why a schedule is extremely important. I'm all for Netflix or binge watching Insecure, but you can't lose a whole day doing so. One of my favorite finals week tips/tricks is to schedule every hour of my day. Literally, every hour. I schedule when I'll wake up, shower, get dressed, go to the gym, head to the library, eat, binge watch my favorite show, and even take Twitter breaks. Now, might seem futile or a little (lot) OCD, but it helps! Even if you don't stick to the schedule event by event, you what? HAVE A PLAN for your time that serves as a starting place for managing it effectively. 

3. Take care of yourself

I know, you have a meeting, work, 2 papers due on the same day with an exam the next day after, and still want to manage to come up for air so there's no time for sleep, food, and making sure you don't get sick. WRONG. The worst thing you could do to yourself would be to fall ill during the busiest time of your semester. An all-nighter won't be necessary if you work your plan and stick to your schedule. You won't forget to eat if you schedule it + call bae and have them order you some food. You can still see your friends if you meet for dinner or schedule a study break all at the same time. Finals SZN doesn't have to have you feeling a mess sis.

4. Look your best to perform your best

I could never get with the whole disheveled sweats look during finals (when I was outside of my room I mean). Research shows that we often perform our best when we look our best. That means that finals SZN is not the time to let yourself go. Do your hair. Put on some makeup. Wear that outfit that makes you feel smart, pretty, sexy, confident or any other positive emotion. Then go kick those exams and papers asses. 

5. Keep everything in perspective 

No one has asked me about my undergraduate GPA since graduating - except of course my Master's program in my application. That's because in the "real world" people care that you know what you're talking about and have the skills necessary to play whatever role you're in. Do your best, but know that you are, always have been, and always will be, more than your GPA. 

Good luck!

the problem with empowerment

Gabrielle Hickmon

Let me preface this piece by saying that I am a feminist. I believe in the political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. I'm here for equal pay, know that intersectionality is a thing, and believe in the empowerment of women (among other "feminist issues"). 

However, empowerment as it is often conceived and conceptualized today is problematic. 

Earlier this week, Mic ran an article about a reimagined Girl's Life cover. One that took what was deemed to be a disappointing cover and improved it - made it empowering for girls by making it more educational, instead of being rooted in "unattainable standards" that girls and women are often subjected to. The change was sparked by the comparison of two magazine covers (see below). 

I don't think anyone could argue that the differences in content between these two covers is okay. There is absolutely no reason why the boys' magazine should be full of career advice while the girls' magazine is focused on relationships, waking up pretty, and fashion. I think we also can all agree that representation, as well as, the messages portrayed by the media matter. They have a profound impact on what people, in this case young girls' and boys', believe about themselves, feel they can achieve and decide to deem important. So, I commend the creation of another cover for girls. A cover that discussed career options, how to be healthy, and community service (see below). 

Souce: Katherine Young

Souce: Katherine Young

But, I'm left wondering, how come when it comes to the empowerment of women and girls, things often seem to operate in a binary that actually doesn't leave many options open for women and girls. Why does a magazine cover have to be completely about ones career/academic/health/community service options or solely focused on fashion/relationships/friendship? 

Why can't we promote both?

As a young girl, I grew up reading plenty of magazines with covers just like the one on the left. And I turned out to be better than just fine. Granted, my parents probably supplemented my reading with other materials and/or those magazines had more to them than met the eye. Regardless, I ended up attending some of the best universities in this country. I also fully understand the importance of dressing for my body type and what constitutes a "good" kiss.

Isn't that a good thing? 

I worry that by promoting and perpetuating this binary, we teach girls that they have to be one or the other, completely career-minded, or seemingly vapid because what, they have an interest in fashion or how to be a good best friend?

The reality is that life, especially as a woman is full of grey areas. Nothing is black and white. We would do well as a society to teach our girls how to navigate that spectrum. To teach them that it's okay to care about what they wear to work as much as they care about how they perform on the job. Also, boys should not and do not get a pass here. Their magazines should teach them how to treat women and interact with society around them. Grooming is just as important for boys as it is for little girls'. Also, I mean, I love a man in a well tailored suit and feel like we should teach them the importance of dressing well early.

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.” - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I get it. But, I guess what I'm saying is, we should be teaching our girls that they can do both. Because if we don't, aren't we still "shrinking them"? Boxing them in? Not allowing them to be their full selves? 

We should be teach girls that being well-rounded is a good thing. That they can be smart and pretty. That they ARE smart and pretty and that one is no more important than the other. And, we should not let our boys' off the hook. They should be well-rounded too.

Sounds to me, like both magazines and society at large has some work to do. 

Images: Mic

we should all be...

Gabrielle Hickmon

There's been a lot of headassery taking place in the world, but especially the media lately. Let's start with Cam Newton, formerly one of the blackest NFL quarterbacks acting like Colin Kaepernick's National Anthem Protest is incredulous and the way that people react to his "antics" on the field isn't racism. Because as quoted in GQ, "We're beyond that as a nation."
That being race. Which, we are by no means beyond as a nation. 

Then, you've got Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Kardashian proclaiming to not be feminists. As if being a feminist, meaning someone that believes in equality of the sexes is a bad thing. Don't get me wrong, I know that FEMINISM is a dirty word for some. I just don't see it that way. And, it kills me when women with a platform speak against feminism or reject the label while at the same time seeming to describe exactly what feminism is and stands for at its core. 

SJP believes in equal pay for women and equality but wouldn't call herself a feminist because she's tired of "separation." Kim Kardashian, one of the most body positive, MILF, do what I want and screw what you think about it, women of this day and age rejects being called a feminist because she too is tired of labels. 

Both of these women believe in equality of the sexes. Both of them believe in women. Both of them wouldn't call themselves a feminist. 

H E A D A S S E R Y

Dior SS '17, Photo: Who What Wear

Dior SS '17, Photo: Who What Wear

We should all be feminists. We should all be anti-racists, anti-white supremacists, anti-classists, anti-whatever other ism's exist. But, beyond what causes you choose to identify with and fight for, we should all be committed to naming the highs and lows, problems and triumphs that we see within society. And, we should be committed to taking a stand for the causes we believe in and proudly wearing whatever label that brings.

Women, and men, but ladies especially, you should be feminists. The best thing about feminism is that while it does advocate for equality of the sexes, it's really all about opening up doors, channels, and pathways to enable women to make choices. Whether you choose to be in the boardroom or to stay at home is up to you. But, you should have the freedom of opportunity and equality to make that choice. That's what feminism is all about. 

Everyone, but especially Black people. You should be anti-white supremacists meaning anti-white supremacy. It does the whole movement a disservice when Cam Newton and those in positions like him deny the urgency of now. Deny that we're being killed in the streets. Deny that race is still an issue and that Black folks are fighting for their very lives right now. You should be committed to the struggle. 

We should all be whatever we choose to at the end of the day. 
I'd argue that means we should all be feminists and anti-racists at the very least. 
But, if we can't do that, we should all at least claim our causes and the labels that come with them. You know, name and own our ish. 

Don't Call me a Blogger

Gabrielle Hickmon

I've been reflecting a lot on language lately. And, the above question came to me this Tuesday morning around 6 am, fresh out of bed, pre-gym, pre-meditation, pre-everything. 

Why do we call ourselves bloggers and not writers? What's the psychology behind that?
Blame it on grad school. I'm questioning everything these days. 
Why do we call ourselves bloggers and not writers? What's the psychology behind that?
The better question is probably, is their a distinction between a blogger and a writer and if so, what is it + where does it come from? 
I think there is.

I am not a blogger. I am a writer who has a blog. A writer who WRITES on a blog. My blog is the medium. The writing is the action. Therefore, I'm a writer. However, every person with a blog isn't a writer. Every person with a blog isn't a writer. 

In today's oversaturated blogging market, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the milk, quality from quantity. Some people with blogs are simply bloggers.  And then there are writers with blogs. People who pour their heart out onto pages of the internet and share their opinion on the issues, how they're dealing with that rough breakup, or their innermost thoughts and observations about the world around them. Those are the writers. Those are the people who are in it for more than the money, social media fame, or career climbing. They're in it to write - no matter who reads, who engages, and definitely no matter how many likes or retweets they get. 

Don't get me wrong. Being paid for your passions is the wave. But I'm not interested in your social media highlight reel. I want to see who you really are. I want to know what you really think. I want to know how you got through that shitty year and if the sun actually does come out tomorrow. I want to read articles and think pieces that not only show that the writer has thought about the subject, but that probe me to think about XYZ celebrity, political moment, or article of clothing in a manner that I might not have before. I want to explore more of the world through your work. 

And I think that is what writers with blogs do. We leave it all on the page. Publish the piece that leaves us feeling vulnerable and maybe even afraid because we know that someone out there might need to read it. Click tweet to share our story with the world because we know that if we don't tell it, no one else will. Agonize over what phrase sounds right or what title truly speaks to what we did here, what we left here for people to engage with for all of eternity. 

This is not to say that we won't write listicles or put out content that isn't dripped in our souls every now and then. (Hello, it happens here on The Reign XY. It's also not to say that type of content isn't valuable or useful in it's own right). Because I mean, bearing if not our soul, at least our thoughts and feelings, consistently for the internet is not an easy feat. Sometimes it means alienating family members, writing about past/present/future lovers and exposing pieces of ourself that we ourselves didn't even know existed. Pieces we probably would have rather kept hidden. 

It is wearing our heart on our sleeve - or our screens. It is joy, sorrow, stress, and life all wrapped up into one. It is working and writing to move the needle, progress the conversation, propel society forward. It is not just a hobby. It is how we exist in the world. It is writing because we can't not write. Writing because it keeps us sane. Writing because it is how we process. Writing because all we know is words strung together on pages that somehow, someway help us make sense of it all.

So, please don't call me a blogger. For, 

every writer can be a blogger. 
but, every blogger can't be a writer. 


which are you?

every writer can be a blogger. but, every blogger can’t be a writer.

U.S. Department of State's, #EnglishForAll, neo-colonialism or innovation?

Gabrielle Hickmon

In case you missed it, yesterday the U.S. State Department and Peace Corps announced the launch of “English For All”, a new program that will highlight the U.S. government’s commitment to helping people around the world learn English. 

Upon seeing tweets about the announcement, I was a bit conflicted. I personally have taught English abroad and am aware of the so called “benefits” it can provide to students and communities. But, I’m also acutely aware of the ways that the spread of Eurocentric languages has contributed to or even caused the loss of local dialects, cultures, and customs. During the colonial era, language was a tool of the oppressor. Students in colonial schools were taught the language of their colonizer. It’s important to note that the British, French, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and other colonizers were not asking the peoples they colonized if they wanted to learn their language. It was forced on them because their language was a tool colonizers could use to extend their domination and exploitation of the colony. 

Students in colonial schools were taught enough English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese to benefit their oppressor. Enough to enable them to serve in low-level bureaucratic positions that would provide manpower behind the colonial occupation. But, they were not taught enough of the language to advance beyond a very low glass-ceiling. In effect, this language education, that promised and promises to provide opportunities for advancement, left colonized states and communities without an identity or with an identity that was constructed somewhere in-between their indigenous ideals and the colonizer’s beliefs about them. 

This history is why I am wary of this new push for #EnglishForAll. I cannot deny that speaking English might increase an individuals chance to study in the US or get a “good” job. But, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the pervasiveness and spread of Eurocentric languages because of colonialism and conquest by European powers before World War II and U.S. imperialism since, created the “need” for English around the world in the first place. 

English is only the “language of innovation” because Eurocentrism and the belief that West is right, are the dominant socio-political ideologies of the day. But, what good is the spread of English, as a way to unite humanity if it costs us indigenous knowledge, language, and culture? Who is really benefitting and are we willing to cut our losses? 

As an American and a graduate student in the field of International Educational Development, I have benefitted from the spread of the English language. It makes it easier for me to travel abroad and profess that I am a “global citizen.” But, we’ve had 60 years of development and centuries of the spreading of English and other Eurocentric languages, to what end? Is the world any better than we found it? Have we ended poverty and eradicated HIV/AIDS? Are more girls able to simply learn? 

None of these are questions I personally have the answer to. But, I think we, especially Americans, should all commit ourselves to making sure that history does not repeat itself — that we are not simply neo-colonialsts or neo-imperialists. And that in our efforts to engage with the world around us to create ties that bind our shared humanity, we still allow for a globally connected society that leaves space for people to keep the language and culture that is their own. 

3 things for work that you didn't even know you needed

Gabrielle Hickmon

I was in a meeting today when a man complimented me on my handshake. Now, my handshake is pretty firm, but it dawned on me today that men don't compliment men on their handshakes and a whole host of other things in the workplace. So, working girl, here are three things you didn't know you needed to succeed in the workplace - and yes, a firm handshake is number one. 

Firm handshake

In eighth grade, I went to engineering summer camp at the University of Michigan. In addition to taking classes on AutoCad, Calculus, and trying to figure out how the Egyptians built the pyramids, I took a professional development class. In this class I was first introduced to the idea of a firm handshake. Prior to this class, I had no clue that my handshake was flimsy or that you could even shake a hand wrong. 

Now, the key to a good handshake is the grip. You want your inner thumb to touch that of the hand you are shaking. Don't rest your hand lightly in theirs like a princess. Once your inner thumbs touch you want to firmly wrap your other fingers around the other persons palm and shake strongly up and down. Don't let your wrist wobble. Keep your shake firm and strong. 

Just don't be like me and OD shake Big Tigga's hand in the club. Time and place ladies, time and place. 

Elevator Speech

Enter in engineering camp at U of M again and the same professional development class. Again, I learned what an elevator speech was. Now, I'm sure there is a technical definition, but I think of it as a synopsis of who you are, what you do, what you're looking for, and possible benefit for whoever you're speaking to, that can be shared with someone in 30 seconds to 1 minute, or as long as the average elevator ride is. 

Here's mine: Hi, I'm Gabrielle Hickmon a Masters student at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education studying International Educational Development. I co-founded The Reign XY, a women's empowerment lifestyle blog that creates media for millennial women, but especially millennial women of color. We write about everything from relationships, to traveling, to politics and style. I'm looking for insight into social media marketing and SEO. Because ultimately, my goal is to grow The Reign XY and continue inspiring and uplifting my generation's women. 

Confidence (DUH)

Studies show that women only apply for jobs when they believe themselves to be 100% qualified, whereas men apply when they are only 60% qualified (HBR). Initially, it was believed that this statistic was due to women not having confidence in their abilities. And while I'm sure this happens often, I mean, I know I have experienced it, further data has shown that it might be due to a belief that qualifications listed on a job posting are required. Essentially meaning that women are less likely than men to try and finesse their way into a position based upon the skills and qualifications they do have if they don't meet 100% of what's listed on the job notice. 

Women are socialized to follow the rules. This makes women less likely to apply anyway or get creative when it comes to marketing our skills and abilities. But here's the thing, it's not on us to tell ourselves no. And, we have every right to be as innovative in how we pitch ourselves to potential employers. We need to believe less in the rules, and more in ourselves. We need to apply for whatever job we think we want and believe that we could do. We need to propose big ideas, especially when we don't think that anyone will go for them. 

In the 21st century, getting ahead often has more to do with how you market yourself, what ideas you put forth, and who you know than anything else. Our degrees and skills might get us in the door, but we're going to be stuck at our cubicle on the first floor if we don't buck up and put ourselves out there. 

Always apply anyway. Always do it anyway. 

Unlikely Teachers: 7 Lessons from Kim Kardashian West

Gabrielle Hickmon

Love them or hate them, you can't deny that thanks to Kris Jenner, the Kardashian clan, specifically Kim Kardashian has built an empire from a sex tape. Kimberly Kardashian West took her 15 minutes of fame, or shame depending upon how you look at it and capitalized in a way no one did before or has done since. Granted, the family had the reality show before the tape came out (unless I'm remembering wrong) and her father being OJ's lawyer helped, but none of that ensured fame or staying power. And boy oh boy, has Kim stuck. I mean, this woman went from being Paris Hilton's assistant, to covering Vogue, marrying Kanye, and captivating the tech world amongst so many other things. Politics and some appropriation issues aside, there are lessons to be learned from Kim Kardashian and the whole Kardashian/Jenner clan about capitalizing on your moment, working hard, and staying relevant - even if that means reinventing yourself.  

7. DON'T BE AFRIAD TO REINVENT YOURSELF

Kim Kardashian has been/is a reality star, business woman, model, mother, and wife. It's safe to say that she has worn and wears many hats. I personally think she switches them to fit her fancy. What did Kim know about the tech world before Kim Kardashian Hollywood? Probably not that much, but she learned and made $45 million dollars off that game. I know I played. 

6. PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL

Kim, really all of the Kardashians have OCD. From the looks of their reality show, their homes are always impeccable and no detail is missed. This is important - especially in business. Kim approves every look for her game and website. Details matter and in life and business, paying attention to them is a major key. 

5. ALWAYS FOLLOW THROUGH

This one I got from Kris. She freaks out anytime anyone in her family is late and never lets her kids back out of an engagement. Do the things you say you're going to do because "if you don't no one will ever hire you again." Following through is how you build and keep your credibility. And, we all know credibility matters. 

Unlikely Teachers: 7 Lessons from Kim Kardashian West

4. A LITTLE SHOCK EVERY NOW AND THEN ISN'T A BAD THING

Kim has never actually broken the internet because well, it isn't breakable, but she's no stranger to shock value. She knows how to get our attention and uses this power to capitalize. We don't have to like her, but we're for sure going to hear about whatever it was that she did. People don't have to like you as long as they KNOW you. If people KNOW you, you can use that. 

3. ANYTHING, WELL NOT REALLY ANYTHING, BUT A LOT OF THINGS CAN BE MADE INTO A BUSINESS OR PROFITS.

A selfie book? A cookbook? Kim is a master at taking the things we laugh at or make fun of her for (i.e. her selfie obsession and "Soul Food Sundays") and laughing all the way to the bank. What do people know you for? Whether it's positive or laughable, how can you use it? How can you turn a so called weakness into a strength? Into something useful for you?

2. IN LIFE AND IN BUSINESS, ALWAYS OWN UP TO WHO YOU ARE + WHAT YOU'VE DONE

Depending upon who you ask, the Kardashians/Jenners don't have the best reputation and they go through/do a lot of crap. But, they pretty much always own up to it. Kylie, God bless her, owned up to getting her lips filled. Honesty, or in this case, being comfortable enough in your own skin to walk around in it proudly is important. 

1. FAMILY ALWAYS COMES FIRST

No matter what is going on in their world, the Kardashians are a ride or die family. They stick by each other and always put family before business. If that's not admirable, I'm not sure what is. 

Apply these lessons and maybe one day you too can have it all, might want to skip the sex tape part though, unless that's your style of course. 

P.S. Kim also teaches us to never settle in love and that you can never go wrong in a monochrome look.