April 11, 2011

Reflections; Beauty, the Death Penalty, Japan and Universally Unique

Reflections from Wanny
Am I really Beautiful?

Today, for the first time I attended a R.I.S.E meeting on campus. As I walked to Duffy I saw the rush of women of color walking in the same direction. An image that is rare at Stonehill College. Walking into a room full of people who looked like me was relieving. Every time I walk into a meeting or a classroom at this school I mentally unconsciously prepare myself for being the only person of color sitting in that room. Today, I didn’t have to do that and it felt amazing. I wasn’t alone in my insecurities, thoughts and I wasn’t alone in a room. We spoke about relationships in general and then specifically at Stonehill. As the conversation progressed I began to think about my beliefs and thoughts before I got to Stonehill and how they have changed now that I have been here for two years.

Everyone has their own insecurities regardless of how beautiful those around you think you are. Before Stonehill I was so accustomed to the meaning of beautiful being long black curly hair, big brown eyes, curvaceous, brown skin, full of life and being able to rock your sweats while still somehow looking irresistibly stunning. When I got to Stonehill that all changed. I noticed that around here beautiful meant you were a size 3 with blonde hair, a pair of blue eyes. Of course the lighter your skin is the better and looking picture ready everyday even on Sunday is a must. All of the sudden I no longer felt beautiful, in fact I felt like I was the complete opposite. My hair was far from straight, there were no specks of green or blue in these eyes and I haven’t fit into a size three since freshmen year of high school. It was extremely difficult to continue being the confident, strong young lady I had always been.

It’s a difficult transition to go through when you think you are alone in how you feel. It’s also a difficult concept to grasp if you don’t truly believe your natural beauty. Having sex does not mean you are any more beautiful than that girl standing next to at the club. Having a man by your side doesn’t prove that either. Being beautiful is all about you. I realized that I had begun to give in to this society’s ideals as a cause of being in a new environment. I have never been one to follow anyone else’s rules or cave into peer-pressure, let alone let what others thought affect how I saw myself as a person. If I did not stop and remind myself of whom I was and what I believed in, I would have never believed I was beautiful again. But I did remind myself and I stood in front of that mirror everyday embracing every stretch mark, curve, pigment of color and texture of hair I saw. No relationship, no man, nobody can ever be the cause of your beauty. You are beautiful because you are you.

So, yes, I really am beautiful.

Reflections from Astopheline
Death Penalty Abolished in Illinois

On March 09 2011, Illinois became the fourth state in the last four years to abolish the death penalty. This was a big step for the state as the death penalty has always been a controversial topic in our country. Some people support the punishment for different reasons, including that prisoners cost our government system a lot money. On the other hand, other people are against the punishment because innocent people are sometimes executed. Some individuals also think that the punishment is too severe no matter what crime was committed. The penalty can sometimes seem ineffective because it does not really change anything as well. For instance, sentencing someone to death for committing murder does not really make the situation any better. However, there are cases when the murder victims’ families support a death penalty for the killers, and their wishes should be respected if they suit the situation. At the end of the day, these families are the ones that are affected by the loss of a loved one. At the same time, one cannot ignore the possibility of executing an innocent person, and this is what complicates the death penalty subject. In addition, there is the cost burden prisons put to our system, and with no death penalty there comes more life in prison. There is not a clear cut when it comes to this topic. In a few words, the death penalty generates heated arguments, and either side always seems to have justifiable arguments.

Reflection from Chauncey
Disaster Overseas

The recent nuclear and natural catastrophes have raised numerous questions about Japan’s sustainability. Trade is a big concern for Japan and its partners. Japan’s economy is characterized by industrial development producing cars, steel, electronics and other mass produced imports in exchange for raw materials and other natural resources the country lacks. The power used from the reactors is no longer in service and the economic implications for Japan are troubling. In addition, Japanese residents are in panic, rushing to markets for bottled water in Tokyo while others are starving from food shortages in coastal areas such as in Ayukawahama. Japan is in great need and those with the resources, time and wealth should contribute to organizations collecting donations and supplies. Also awareness of the issue can spark selflessness, either amongst friends or family. The world will continue to watch Japan from a safe distance. Much prayer goes out to the individuals suffering.

Reflections from Randall
Uniquely Me, Universally Us
Several weeks ago, I attended a program sponsored by the Hip-Hop Club which featured Kilusan Bautista. Currently based in New York, Kilusan is a highly respected actor, director, educator, cultural writer and community organizer. His production entitled “Universal Filipino,” touches on themes ranging from drug addiction to “identity politics.” Kilusan, whose stage name means “movement,” depicted very vivid experiences living as a Filipino-American through Hip-Hop Theater, spoken word, and martial arts. His story, though uniquely his, had many universal components to it.

Kilusan’s performance caused me to reflect on multiple aspects of my own upbringing. Specifically, he reminded me that even seemingly insignificant phenomena in our lives play a role in how we develop our identities. Often times, we run so fast in life that we forget about those who were walking alongside of us. We minimize the magnitude of experiences (both negative and positive), events, and people that shaped and continue to shape who we are as person. If we take the time to pause and reflect on life, we can even trace certain characteristics back to our cultural traditions and values practiced in our households. However, what resonated with me the most came during the question and answer section of Kilusan’s performance. When discussing his purpose and motivation for his work he referred to his “sweat…as self-work.” It made me really think about the fact that we all have to bear the weight of loss, struggle, despair, and insecurity. However, as we “unpack” many of us find ourselves adopting a victim’s mentality; a mindset that creates an expectation that things will always go wrong. It is a very crippling complex, which leaves many feeling powerless and vulnerable. As Kilusan can attest, the solution is self-empowerment; embracing one’s circumstances then reclaiming and exercising your ability to choose how you respond to them. According to author and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

As Kilusan put it, we must figure out how to “turn your experiences into power.” However, I believe many people (myself included) struggle with discovering what power looks like for them. For Kilusan, uses various art forms to not only share his experiences, but to empower others along the way. I believe that an individual’s purpose in life is as unique as the circumstances by which they realize it. The medium through which I share my experiences is “uniquely me.” However, the project of turning them into power, thus creating purpose in life, is “universally us.” Power is progress. Power is growth. Power is freedom.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Viktor Frankl

Reflections: Light Skinned Girls; Homophobia in Hip Hop

Each month, we highlight some of the reflective posts of our work study students. Unedited, they blog about observations, experiences and thoughts about diversity in their lives as seen through their lenses.

Reflection from Ariel:
To Put It Lightly

Lately I’ve seen a lot of these ridiculous pages on Facebook and I’m not quite sure what to make of it. I’m talking about the racy ones entitled “I <3 Light Skinned Girls!” and “Light Skinned Girls Are the Best.” Don’t even ask me how I found these pages but trust me it wasn’t out of vanity and let’s just say I was appalled by what I found on them. Basically they are just continuing to repeat very popular stereotypes of light skinned/mixed-race women: Exotic, Identical. Artificial, and Superficial. The majority of these pages interestingly enough are posted by men who feel the need to put up risqué pictures of famous women such as Meaghan Good and Rosa Acosta who only share one thing in common, light skin. Men find that attractive for apparently all the wrong reasons and it apparently infuriates others to start petty hate groups such as “Light Skinned Girls Are Evil.”

As a light skinned young woman I always feel as if I always have to be conscious of what I say around people when it comes to talking about my appearance in terms of my skin tone. Sometimes I feel that I cannot say I like my completion because then people will take it the wrong way. I may sound cliché but beauty really does come in all different shades. I’m just trying to embrace my own. Can’t we just all get along? In our society why do we attribute skin in the first place to non tangible concepts such as a person’s worth, intelligence and especially to beauty?

You can’t escape it. Our American culture has been infested with superficial messages which indirectly hit us from other avenues such as music. The first example that pops into my head is Lil Wayne’s song which debuted in 2009 entitled “Every Girl.” When you watch the music video which has an array of women who represent different ethnicities, body types and skin tones one would assume the lyrics would be just as diverse. Sorry to get your hopes up for those who haven’t listened to the song yet but the first words that come out of his mouth are, “Uh, I like a long hair thick red-bone.” But then again the song is talking about men who are trying to sleep with practically every girl in the world, not praising all of the women in the world.

This concept, however, goes way back, way before for people were practicing colorism on public forums. Even further back before southern rappers were first praising redbones, yellow bones and light bights. To a time where “paper bag tests” and “comb tests” was serious business, determining ones fate or existence. It is something that is so deeply rooted in our subconscious that we have forgotten where it derives. Something that wasn’t even started by the African American community but by a force that attempted to divide us as a people: white supremacy.

Reflection from Astopheline:
Homophobia in Hip-Hop

The offensive language in Hip-Hop music has always been the reason I do not listen to it. This genre is known for objectification of women of color, homophobia, and racial slurs in its lyrics, and this has kept a lot of people from listen to it. Although it is important to point out that there are some Hip-Hop artists who do not use any of the items mentioned above in their music, the overwhelmingly majority uses them. This aspect of Hip-Hop has contributed to the decline in its sales and banning of certain albums from various stores. Out of the offensive items that are common in this genre; “homophobia” is the most frowned upon and has greatly impacted the decline of Hip-Hop. As 50 cent states; it is becoming clear that if Hip-Hop artists want to maintain their careers they have to accept and respect the LGBT community regardless of their personal feelings. This approach should benefit everyone involved; because the artists will get to maintain their successes, and the LGBT community will no longer face torment from these artists. No one is asking Hip-Hop artists to feel a certain way about the LGBT community issues, rather their music should not be a source of agony for this community. This is a country that supports free speech, but the speech should not contain elements that hurt another human being to his/her core. Therefore, it is important that more Hip-Hop artists gain 50 cent’s understanding on this issue.