Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Why protestors in Ferguson have got to do better

Underneath a "Season's Greetings" sign, fire and chaos were rampant. Oh, the irony. But local shops in Ferguson are not the only things that were set fire to Monday night. Hopes, visions of change, and a homegrown community were also set ablaze. 

A grand jury’s verdict released Monday revealed that there would be no indictment for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown to death.

It isn’t the first case like this we’ve seen. Sadly, it probably won’t be the last. With the American justice system providing visible favoritism for white, male police officers, this is just the middle of a long, tragic phenomenon.

Watching the announcement last night, so many things came to mind.

Today on CBC’s Metro Morning, a freelance journalist named Desmond Cole was spoken to. He was on his way to Ferguson, Missouri.

When asked what he was going there for, he said it was to “bring the story home.” He had been covering it from a far and wanted to go to the direct site of where this was all unfolding. He said he wanted to speak to the people who had been there for months, affected by this endless cycle of disposability in young, black men’s lives. He wanted to see what the police officers looked like, how they were conducting themselves. He just wanted to be there.

But he said something that a lot of people need to be aware of:

“Young, black male lives are in danger,” he said, “if a police officer sees you and perceives you as a threat.”

The media has constantly portrayed young black males as the suspects, the suspects and the victims of shootings of “black on black” crime. But as Cole highlighted, instead of focusing on what needs to be done at this point, people are focusing on the very well justified, but in my eyes, seemingly misplaced, anger of black people.

They condemn the rioting, they condemn the looting, they condemn the fires, but Cole posed a question to these people:

“What other choice do these people feel they have?”

Still, I find myself in a blend of emotions.

I feel disappointed in the handling of the verdict. The riots, the fires, the looting, it’s all just a big spectacle that removes the spotlight from where it desperately needs to be right now, and that is change.

I feel sorry for the Brown family who has continuously asked on behalf of themselves and on behalf of their late son for peace, but still for protest.

And I feel angry.

As a protestor, if I fought for months and months to bring attention to something and not one thing was done, I’d be heartbroken. If, just years after watching the death of Trayvon Martin go unpunished, only to see another young black man die at the hands of an officer, white or black, I’d be crushed.

I look around and do not see leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. that can provide a single, solidary voice of the people. I do not see the same love he had in his fight against hatred. I just see the disappointment, the sorrow, and the anger. I see this sad spectacle that lay at the end of decades and decades of racially-charged inequalities and disregard for justice.

The protestors have to do better because it is clear that we have no one else to depend on. The government has failed us. The justice system has failed us. Barack Obama denied that there is any racial favouritism in the policing of the world's most powerful nation. We are all we have. 

Ultimately, there needs to be more organization in these protests. You can wreak havoc for days but yesterday it was revealed to the world that all the efforts from August until then had not changed much, if anything at all.

There is such passion right now, and if that could just be redirected to create the change we need right now, Michael Brown’s death would not have been in vain.

One protestor told Fox news last night:

“This is exactly what they want.”

It reminded me of the schoolyard bully who got enjoyment from seeing their victim get flustered and overcome with emotion. Sometimes, the best way to fight a bully is to refuse to surrender to their expectations. It is to redirect your anger to your work. Remember your goal, and get past them, someway, somehow.

As much as I may think I understand the anger, the truth is, no one except the civilians, the victims, the Trayvon Martins, the Tracy Martins and the Sabrina Fultons, the Michael Browns, the Michael Brown Seniors and the Lesley McSpaddens, and the many before, and the many to come of the world truly understand.

But the one thing I do understand about anger is the potential for change it can create.

I urge you to fight this fight the right way. I urge you to demand and pursue the necessary changes. But most of all I urge you not to give up. Because without the people fighting this fight, there will be more injustices ahead.

If you want to light fire to something, let it be your cause

Monday, 17 November 2014

Why the black couple on "Married at First Sight" never made it

It came down to three couples; Doug Hehner and Jamie Otis, Jason Carrion and Courtney Hendrix and Monet Bell and Vaughn Copeland.

The premise of the show is exactly as it sounds. It’s kind of like love at first sight, but instead, it’s marriage at first sight. As in, the first time you see your spouse is when you get to the altar.

Crazy, right?

Their fate lay in the hands of sexologists, psychologists and spiritual leaders who matched them up on things like personality traits. For the sole black couple on the show, they thought collectively that their prioritization of traditional gender roles was important in helping them sustain a healthy and successful relationship.

Monet Bell, a 33-year-old project manager from New York is a go-getter. She is considered by both the experts and her ex-husband, Vaughn Copeland, 30, an alpha female.

Copeland, a field service technician, also believes himself to be an alpha male.

So why didn’t they work?

To start, Bell admitted that she did not believe she fit Copeland’s “ideal” woman, who he described as an Alicia Keys or Paula Patton kind of girl. She considered herself, “brown” and “extremely curvy” and unlike them in general.

This was an issue that the other two women surely didn't have.

Despite Copeland specifically asking for a black woman, her insecurities persisted. Copeland had dated women of other races but intended to marry and start a family with a “woman of colour”. He said he knew the negative portrayals of black women in the media were not true, and wanted to find himself a black woman who was “sweet, caring” and who “catered to her man.”

Because that’s what black women are known for, right? According to that Destiny’s Child song from 2000-what?

Then, there was the work ethic that, according to Bell, he lacked.

In one episode in particular, Bell told Copeland that she didn’t think he was established as a man. It had an immediate and recurring impact on Copeland, who felt emasculated by the remark, despite considering himself hard-working.

Bell went on the show, hoping to find a man who was like her father, who had passed four years before the show aired. She hoped for a man that did the “leg work”; a man that was able to put the pieces in place to get to the next level, or however she described it on the show’s reunion.

Another thing she described was how Copeland would tell his mother about all the issues they had. He depicted her unfairly as he would discuss the argument, but not her apologies.

Copeland really came across as a mama’s boy. He enjoyed home-cooked meals. But for a woman that works as hard as Bell did, maybe it was just too much.

It all seemed to be too much. For him and for her.

In an interview with Essence, Bell was asked when she knew it wasn’t going to work. Her response?

“It really wasn't clear until the end during the last week. He and I got to a place where we realized we weren’t a match. I really fought as long as I could for it to last. Five weeks wasn't enough time for us to be able to really asses each other especially seeing that we were arguing most of the time. I wonder what would have happened if there were no cameras.”

Fighting as long as you can for something to last takes a lot longer than a month, six months, and even a year, especially for people who are looking for love, and I mean really looking. Why would you not devote a little more time to making your legal marriage work with someone you’ve already admitted there is a connection with? Especially if part of the problem is the mystery of wondering the functionality of your relationship without the cameras?

This speaks volumes about the idea of disposability in black culture and especially black relationships. Why are we not fighting harder for things we want and prioritize in our lives?

Bell, during the reunion show, said: “We knew how to have sex,” as opposed to knowing how to communicate, openly, honestly, and nicely.

The black couple was the only couple to consummate their marriage very quickly after they said their vows, as in, the night of. While there has been some discussion as to whether they believed this had something to do with their divorce, they hadn’t really concluded.

But why were they the only ones to have sex?

Did the quick beginning of their sexual relationship have anything to do with the over-sexualization of both women and men in black culture and music? Not saying that they weren’t naturally attracted to each other...but the other couples were too. (Okay maybe not at first; Jamie winced at Doug the first time she saw him), but the only couple to have sex on their wedding night?

And they divorced?

In the same Essence interview Bell also stated that she now knows they should have spent more time working on a friendship instead of trying to be a married couple.

So while the couple failed, the important thing to note is that the couple was also failed.

Compare their relationships to the others and you’ll see one commonality: a weakness, a wound; bandaged by the partner.

In Doug and Jamie’s relationship, there was room for him to be the hero. Otis had come from a troubled family. She took custody of her younger siblings at age 19 and was looking for a safe haven in Doug and his family, and she found it.

In Hendrix and Carrion’s relationship, his mother was terminally ill and it allowed Hendrix to present a softer, more empathetic side that comforted Carrion. She wanted to show his mother that her son was in good hands before she passed; the care that he actually came to depend on. There was room for her to be the hero.

But why, in the black relationship, was there so much pride on both ends that they couldn’t come together in love?

It’s the same thing we see in everyday life in black culture that inhibits too many of us from having real, loving, healthy and advancing relationships. But aside from the components of their divorce that they are at fault for, there were a lot of external matters as well.

The couple was failed by the experts, who saw two black people and thought, “Yeah, they’d probably be a good match.” They took a look at the fact that they both valued traditional gender roles, were pretty well established and didn’t see the potential for disaster.  

Sadly, the all-white cast of experts were seemingly oblivious to the tumultuous history of gender roles that have persisted throughout black history, and very much played an impact in the collapse of this relationship.

The couple was failed by the portrayal of men and women like themselves in the media, who they so desperately tried to appear differently than. Bell admitted to putting her best effort into appearing bubbly and kind to combat the negative media image of black women that sometimes appear cold and stern, only to be called that anyway by the audience and Copeland himself.

Copeland, who’s job as a field service technician needed to be in a better position at the age of 30. Instead, he needed to be aggressive and assertive and he needed to make more money, be the one to make the decisions and the money and pay the bills.

The stakes were so much higher for them. Why did they have the idea that they needed more to survive than the other couples did?

Hehner was living with his parents at the time of the show and for Otis for goodness sakes! And for her, that was alright. They made do. Can you imagine Bell’s reaction if on top of him already not being “good” enough, he was living with his parents?

Behind doors one through three, there were straight losses for this couple. Bell didn’t want to be the kind of wife that Copeland wanted. And Copeland, by nature, wasn’t the type of man that Bell was looking for.

When all the couples reunited, Hendrix made a remarkable statement:

“A relationship is when your partner stands up for you when you need them the most.”

So why couldn’t they stand up for each other?

Well, they were too busy standing up for themselves.

Copeland was trying endlessly to defend himself and his masculinity from the stereotypical portrayal of the black man as lazy, incapable, dependent on the woman figure in his life, screwed whether it’s his mother or his wife. The lesser of two evils.

Bell was trying to make sure she didn’t come across as the typical black woman; emotionless, cold, and incapable of giving or receiving love. Despite having little complaints about the production of the show and how it portrayed her, she is adamant that she is different than the woman that was shown on film. They were enemies long before they knew it, and finding love in the midst of the battlefield of white television/entertainment was a seemingly impossible task.

Essentially, there were and are too many double standards, complexities, tragic legacies, and self-identity issues for this couple in particular to ever have succeeded within the context of a social experiment like this.

How many black couples have come out of shows like The Bachelor? Let me simplify. Has there ever even been a black bachelor? A black bachelorette? These experts tried. That's for sure. But it's kind of like what I got whenever I went to a white hair salon. They did things to my hair that worked for their hair, oblivious, despite the obvious, that my hair was different. What works in your hair, in your relationships, might not, and in this case, did not work for us.

So much for science never being wrong.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Jian Ghomeshi: We're not done with you yet

Scandal-plagued radio host Jian Ghomeshi was becoming an international star

Over the weekend, my friends and I celebrated Halloween together. Before we got to the event, my friend’s boyfriend said to me:

“I’m going to harass you tonight. I hope your boyfriend isn’t coming.”

It was easy for me to laugh this off and pay it no mind. He was probably only joking. I knew my boyfriend was arriving at the party shortly after me, so it wouldn’t be a problem. Besides, he didn’t mean it right?

But what if he did?

And what if my boyfriend didn’t show up?

Why did he think he could harass me only if my boyfriend didn’t show up?

Do I tell my friend he said this?

Will she think I’m doing something to attract him?

If I confront him, will he think I’m being too sensitive?

A bunch of questions arose, but for some reason, I didn’t say anything. Not to him. Not to her. And not to my boyfriend.

If I couldn’t speak out about a small and simple issue like this, imagine how Jian Ghomeshi’s victims feel.

As I continued to read articles regarding the scandal, I couldn’t help but feel like there is a huge dismissal of sexual harassment, large and small scale.

The dictionary defines harassment as “(typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.” But frankly, this happens more often than we are even trained to recognize. And as this scandal erupted, I hope people realized how untrained we are to fight these instances and provide support for the victims.

It’s always hard for me to negotiate my feelings when situations like this arise because I never know how to feel. Not as a journalist, not as a minority, and not as a woman.

But when I picked up the Toronto Star on Monday and read an article that embodied everything I had been feeling inside, I knew I wasn’t alone.

Jia Junaid writes in an article called “Coming face to face with my unexpected biases” about how she realized her own biases when the story first broke. The lawyer and human rights activist, despite considering herself a supporter of women’s rights and even a survivor of a violent sexual experience, took Ghomeshi’s side at first.

She really did believe it was a “jilted ex-girlfriend”, and doubted her credibility. As she did when more anonymous women came forward, refusing to attach their name to their claim.

It wasn’t until a lawyer and author, Reva Seth, and an actress, Lucy DeCoutere, came forward, that she started to doubt his innocence.

I too felt this way. I refused to believe a personal role model of mine; someone who's radio show I waited around for, lusting after his interviewing techniques, had been this person described by the women.

But I was able to trace exactly where my lack of belief in the claims came from. Besides the invisible lines tracing back to the construction of our society and all the flaws that shape our views, I was biased because I read his post first. He manipulated me in a much milder way than he had these women, but still, used his personality to put in our minds that he was the victim.

In his post, he begins by mentioning the loss of his father. He describes the grief and difficulty of this time in his life. As if the women, too afraid, embarrassed, and terrified that they have to step forward anonymously aren’t having a difficult time either.

Junaid goes on to talk about how problematic it can be when people, like her and I, are more likely to believe a lawyer and an actress because they have good careers and likely have money, than we are to believe women who cannot attach their names to their experiences with Ghomeshi.

She says, “I was part of the problem.”

I think over the course of the next few months a lot of people will be making this revelation. We will realize that whether we are men, women, teens or elderly, we have, at some point, been part of the problem and the reason more women don’t come forward.

The best thing that has come out of this situation is the discussion that it has started internationally. And this is a conversation that has to continue on, which is why I write this post weeks after the issue arose, and days after the very article that inspired it was published.

Because it’s up to everyone to keep talking about it. To make sure that the victims aren’t just forgotten and done away with like the missing plane or the missing girls.

We forget things at a heartbreakingly fast pace. But the way that these women must remember their experiences on a daily basis is the way we have to remember the reality and severity of the problem.

More importantly though, we cannot be a part of it. And it is a very hard thing to do when our society is structured in a way that makes it so easy to not even see how our behaviors, responses, or feelings about things might be a problem.

But in the same way that after spending so much time in the dark you can train your eyes to see things, let’s start to see the behaviors and the responses and the feelings that are problematic. Let’s talk about them and correct them.

And let’s find our way to the light. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

What's the Deal with Slutty Costumes and Halloween?

Remember that scene in Mean Girls where Lindsay Lohan walks into the Halloween party dressed as a zombie bride/ex-wife?

In the movie, the only thing more surprising than the scare factor of her costume was that it was not slutty. At all.

She says something really remarkable that highlights a crazy phenomenon in our society:

“In the regular world, Halloween is when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy. In girl world, Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.”

So how did Halloween go from dressing up as our favorite superheroes or fairy tale princesses to dressing up as the sluttiest possible thing we can get our hands on?

And more importantly, why?

TV producer and host Glenn Beck has joined forces with a group to fight the sexualization of Halloween costumes. On his show, The Glenn Beck Program, he spoke with a panel of women to discuss the consequences of gendering young boys and girls so early.

“I think one of the things that we see, Glenn, is that boys are able to run and play with their costumes, and with girls it’s about looking cute,” one of the panel members said.

You see this in the image above with the female and male lumberjacks. The man could actually pass as someone who could cut a tree down at any given time. The woman is not only dressed unrealistically-who goes into the woods like that?-but posed in a way where it is about her being a model rather than a lumberjack. 

The pressure for women to prioritize vanity in everyday life has remained unchanged. But during Halloween, it’s hard to miss the absence of appropriate clothing on women and the hyper-sexualization of rather normal costume ideas.

“That’s why I love Halloween! Because of all the slutty costumes. Slutty zombies, slutty police officers and slutty firefighters…” a coworker said to me when I discussed this blog post with him.

His words highlight the problematic attitude revolving the issue. You might be a lifesaving firefighter, but your sexuality comes first. You might be a heroic policewoman, but your sexuality comes first.

It also illustrates the exact expectation for women. But one thing that needs to be looked at is whether women succumb to it because of the pressure or by choice.

Truthfully, we live in a society where women, particularly young women, are being bombarded with the importance of appearance: what is hot and what is not. Young girls are growing up in a society that strictly revolves around rating the attractiveness of their outward appearance.

Take lip injections for example.  the newest phenomenon as of late due to Kylie Jenner’s recent ‘lip job’. Teenage girls are now under the impression that full lips equate to beauty. But who is setting this standard? And better yet: why are women allowing this standard of beauty to be set?

We are the ones who hold the bar, and we are the ones in control of how high or low we want to raise it – while you can hell as sure wear anything you please this Halloween, perhaps take into account whether or not you allow yourself to become a sexualized object.

The overjoyed reaction from most males this holiday seems to stem from the sexualization of the female body, not about what they are wearing, but rather what’s under it (and before you lash out, note I wrote “most” not “all” males).

I’d rather not be subjected to sexualization this Halloween, just as much as I don’t appreciate having my outward appearance rated by the opposite sex.

Because despite the popular trend of pricing females as “dimes”, we are priceless.

Maybe Lindsay Lohan had a point. The competition between females to constantly outdo each other is a sad reality we face daily. But if this “girl world” we’re living in is now functioning on our ability to “outslut” each other to fulfill the expectations set by men, we have some serious rethinking to do. 

This blog post featured a special guest and friend of mine, Samantha Turchan. Check her out at http://www.samturchan.com

Sunday, 26 October 2014

39 Reasons to Love Fall!

I've scratched just about everything off of my fall to do list. I picked pumpkins, I drank hot apple cider, I went on a nature walk and I took photos of the beautiful fall foliage. 

Sure, I'm not too happy about the sad reality of winter's soon arrival. But considering we're in that short-lived period where everything is really beautiful, I thought I'd take advantage of it. I was lucky enough to capture the following stills at the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. If you've never been there, I suggest you go and enjoy the summer farmer's markets (in the summer, obviously), take some photos, or just forget you're in the city for a while. 

I sure did.

 (I love this one! Totally worth almost breaking my neck standing under a willow tree to get the shot)

Monday, 20 October 2014

Why Young People Need to Vote Next Week. And Always.

Four years ago, I walked into Lucy Maud Montgomery Public School and placed my first vote ever.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t my first vote ever. I had voted for my prom queen, school president, the grade reps, even though I was on that ballot every year except grade eleven because I was the youngest person ever to get the Public Relations position-oops, I digress.

This vote was way more serious than any of that, though. I was voting for who would run our city, or at least play a large part in the running of our city.

Since then, I haven’t stopped voting. Even though this is only the second opportunity to do so, I have made sure that I take part in all elections as a voter. More importantly, though, I have made sure to educate myself on each candidate’s platform so that I vote for who’s vision is best aligned with my own, and better yet-my needs.

So you can only imagine how heart-broken I am when I try to indulge in conversations with people my age who have either no idea who they’re voting for, no idea who is even running, and no idea what each candidate stands for.

Today, while driving home and listening to CBC radio like no other 22-year-old in their right mind, I heard an interesting story about the mayoral election happening in Winnipeg. Although I highly doubt it has been much less fascinating than the circus of events we’ve got going on at City Hall, I was still intrigued by what I heard.

Winnipeg has one of the largest Aboriginal populations in the region in Canada, and for the first time, a First Nations female candidate is running for mayor. This has changed the context of the elections, and voting completely.

The leader of a grassroots campaign called Winnipeg Indigenous Rock the Vote says that with a First Nations candidate, other candidates are now paying more attention to the needs of the voters. And since such a large amount of them are First Nations, the overall feel of this election is unlike any other election she’s seen.

Someone with even the slightest understanding of the struggles faced by First Nations people in Canada will know how much of a milestone it is for them to finally have a voice, a representative, and some well-deserved attention from political figures.

This got me thinking. If it took this long for:

     a)   candidates to finally place a value on the votes of First Nations
     b)  First Nations to actually have enough hope that things will change that they do get up and vote
     c)   a First Nations female candidate to run for mayor

How long are young Torontonians going to wait?

Because last time I checked, Ontario universities have the highest tuition in all of Canada. Plus, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to find jobs even after forking out nearly $7,000 a year to get that degree.

So I vote.

I vote because I matter. I vote because I care. I vote because I was lucky enough to be born into a democratic society where I can actually write a name down on a ballot and have it count for something.

And you should vote too.

Because you matter. And because you really should care. And because the more young people that vote, the more attention we will draw from politicians to the issues that we face, the issues that we know all too well about.

You have exactly one week to decide on a candidate. Visit http://www.toronto.ca to get the full list of mayoral, councilor, and school trustee candidates. Visit their websites, see what their about, but more importantly, find out what you’re about.

You’d be surprised what you can learn about yourself.