“Hello Beastie”: Understanding Black Lives Matter as a White Woman

Since its social media inception, stemmed from the riots addressing the inexplicable killing of young black men by the hand of the police, the Black Lives Matter movement has found residence in some of the most controversial modern dialogues.  Particularly with the recent riots in Charlotte, North Carolina as well as the presidential election results, the movement has once again come to the forefront of social media streams and news headlines. As a young (twenty-five still counts as young, right?) white woman, I struggle to identify my stance towards the Black Lives Matters network. At times I find myself slightly out of place to confidently assert my support of BLM, mostly due to the destruction the riots that are directly and indirectly connected.  Also my support feels out of place because maybe BLM is not my place as a white woman who cannot properly represent the black voice.  However, to promote the counter-cause All Lives Matter in my mind appears completely counterproductive.  

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Therefore, I have attempted to keep my voice neutral, knowing that neutrality does absolutely nothing. Because that’s easier, right? Idly skimming updates about more unnecessary death and destruction. Knowing that something is wrong but not wanting to dive into the beast’s mouth. Because it is too hard to truly contemplate the difficult topics of our modern society, especially when they seemingly don’t affect me. And even worse, what if the outcome of great contemplation results in different beliefs than friends and family?

In the past months, I have truly dove down the societal beastie’s throat and tried to find a way to grasp BLM and find my position or at least emotions. And I think I have come pretty close. So I want to share my epiphany of sorts in order to help others who may also be struggling and attempting to understand. To clarify, my opinions and words should not and will not replace or fill in for those of the black community. If I have not made myself clear enough, I will repeat it again: I am white. Therefore, I cannot and will not preach about racial injustice. What I can do though is open up the conversation, share my own findings, and direct awareness towards the appropriate black-led organizations and articles.

My usual way to comprehend something beyond my own personal experience is to assimilate it to a topic I do understand, which more often than not is The Hunger Games (but that’s a different article). This time though I was able to find a counterpart closer to home, a movement about which I am completely passionate and attempt to claim an active voice.  And no, it is not Harry Potter. But rather, Feminism. That’s right, feminism with a capital “F” —  in a sentence fragment for emphasis.

Here is my analogy, and I believe it to be a good one, not like those vague old-school SAT ones:

Women supporting feminism is to black people supporting Black Lives Matter.

From my research and analysis, what I have come to understand, is that neither feminism nor Black Lives Matter insinuates that one demographic is more significant or greater than another. But rather they attempt to give a necessary voice to historically repressed group(s) of people. Now, I speak more confidently about feminism, not just because of my position as a woman, but also the movement has existed in its modern form for decades. There is more material to understand what has become a diverse and rich culture for women voices. Although BLM’s basis has roots in the resilient historical call for racial equality, it truly is a new and fresh affirmation, only beginning to build layers of diverse, educated, and generational dialogues. Regardless of longevity, I do believe that both causes have similar cores.

The issue most prominent with both feminism and BLM resides in their surface level titles. To those who view themselves as “outsiders” which is mostly men, the world of feminismpro-black seems to inherently exclude the male gender and even worse suggests that women are greater than men.  Undoubtedly there has been a history of those who claim themselves to be feminists but do not truly understand its fundamentals and perpetuate a sense, if not full outcry, of man-hating. I will be frank: This is not feminism. The true basis of feminism is that both genders are equal, which has now extended further into the LGBTQ community. From my understanding this is the same for Black Lives Matter.  The movement is not meant to communicate that black lives are more important than white lives but that they are equally significant and deserve equal voice, treatment, and opportunity.

In order to include all genders, many have suggested that feminism changes its title to something more neutral like “equalism.”  In the past, I thought this was fair. That is made sense. Why not make the name of the movement more inclusive?  Since it does in fact benefit both males and females (If this concept confuses you, look into organizations such as He For She).  However, through careful research and reflection, I realize the issue in this: taking away the “femme” would take away the female voice. It would disregard and overlook the oppression women faced (are still facing) for hundreds of years. Although it does fight to bring equality and acceptance to all, regardless of gender, the word feminism instills the reminder that it was women who recognized the injustice and demanded a change.

This concept connects in terms of the “counter-cause” that has developed due to Black Lives Matter. Of course, I am speaking to “All Lives Matter.” Again, though this seems like a reasonable edit, it overlooks the purpose of the movement. By taking away the “black” it takes away the agency of black voices, which have been silenced throughout history, even in “post-slavery modern” times.  Essentially, ALM is attempting to say “white lives matter.” The All Lives Matter affirmation could be easily compared to the not-so-funny joke that is “Meninist” or “MANism,” which claims its goal is to assure the male gender has equal rights.  Both are a heavy slap in the face to black people and women. No shit white lives matter, and no shit men deserve equality. History has exemplified both of those privileges, over and over again.

Although I do believe some facets of equalism and All Lives Matter desire to communicate equality to all genders and race, they allow others or outsiders to forget the suffering the designated groups endured in order to gain (hopefully one day–because we aren’t there yet) their well-deserved and true equality in society. The original titles for both movements make the privileged demographic feel like the “other” or the outsider, which of course is how women and the black communities have felt for generations. The name is intended to make either men or white people somewhat uncomfortable and recognize their privilege. The aspiration of equality is not meant to insult the privileged groups or to bring about guilt.  But rather to provide recognition of that privilege and hopefully the inspiration to use that privilege to help the other gender, race, social class, human being.

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By the end of all this contemplation of the world’s more controversial topics, I have decided that I do proudly support the Black Lives Matter movement. As a past teacher and current graduate student, I hope to help promote a world of equality. I realize my privilege as a white person, and rather than resting upon its safety, I want to utilize it, which for now will solely exist in cyber-ink and my scratchy voice.

I know I shouldn’t feel the need to add an amendment, especially when I could have just ended this piece with such a beautiful sentiment. However, I feel it is necessary to clarify: although I support the Black Lives Matter, I do not blindly agree with every facet of it.  Just as the case with feminism, there are those who take it too far, which I discussed in terms of “man-hating,” and I do not support them.  With BLM, I do not support the destruction and harm that has occurred during the riots in places such as Ferguson and Charlotte.  Albeit, I do hope to address that violence in a different article in the near future. (And don’t worry, it will definitely include comparisons to The Hunger Games.)

Also, to really just drag this out, here are some articles that helped me better understand the topics I attempted to address. Because this is truthfully as far as my voice should go for now. In terms of racial equally I will attempt to only support organizations and share articles that are led by black voices. And if that alone confuses you, start your research here…

“11 Major Misconceptions about the Black Lives Matter Movement”

“Macklemore’s White Privilege and the Role of White Allies”

“Making Black Lives Matter”

“MacArthur Grant Winner Claudia Rankine on Charlotte: ‘This Violence is Not Accidental'”

“Where is Black Lives Matter Headed?”

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I have made a ‘huge mistake,’ and I do not apologize for it.

(But for some reason, I am going to explain it.)

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In the midst of what could be considered the climbing point of my great teaching career, I have decided to resign my position.  Why?  So I can write and travel.  Ah, I can literally feel the universal sigh. And with that sigh I want to make it clear:  I refuse to be labeled as an aloof millennial who has unrealistic expectations about the world, life, and such matters.  I am a human being who, yes, holds high expectations of the world, its inhabitants, and one in particular, me.  How awful, how lost, how confusing of me to want great things for myself.  To know that I deserve the opportunity to just go for it, whatever it is. To stop plotting myself on the line of appropriate five and ten year plans.  To sense stagnant complacency in my life and demand more.  So as some release a degrading sigh of “Oh, sweetie,” in the same breath I sigh with relief.  I can breathe now.

Before this begins to sounds like a life advice column in which I, a relatively naïve soon-to-be twenty-five year old, hope to provide instructions for how to find happiness and contentment, I will simply clarify: this is not that.  In no way do I feel like I am qualified to dish out a list of things you absolutely must do by a certain age or write in a definite and certain way, thinking my experience belongs to everyone.  In fact, I don’t think anyone has that ability. Even as a teacher, I constantly reconsider the advice I give to my students, upcoming young adults who want my opinions on huge life choices that are sometimes tougher than anything I have endured. Because who the hell am I? A woman in her mid-twenties who has always lived in her hometown, who is convinced one day these two legs will morph into a mermaid tail, who sometimes sleeps on just blankets rather than actually making the bed, who knows more about the politics in Game of Thrones than the current presidential race, who has found a pair of underwear in her pant-leg halfway through the workday (multiple times) and hasn’t even been out of the country (till June 11th – I see you Mexico!).

At this point if you smell something along the lines of middle-upper class privilege, it’s me.  Because this opportunity reeks of it.  Without the financial support my mother has provided my entire life, there is no way I could quit my stable job. I am without loans to pay off and still reap the benefit of minimal bills. Hardly anyone has the ability to take an opportunity like this, which for me is all the more reason to do it. After spending almost my entire life feeling guilty, I finally recognize the ridiculousness in resenting the resources that were passed along to me in order to improve my quality of life.  This again connects to the idea that I am not treating this as an occasion to guide others through their life decisions, since each person’s family, stability, financial, and emotional situation is different.  Someone who has tens of thousands of loans to restitute or a single parent of three itsy-bitsy children should definitely not quit their job. At all. There, that’s my great universal life advice.  You’re welcome. All this being said, it is not as though I won’t be working at all. I will string together some waitressing, tutoring, and babysitting gigs, but in no means will my income be set or stable, a great reflection of myself I think.

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Also, super shout-out to both my parents and close friends who have agreed (willing and not) to help out with my beast of a dog, Hugo, while I go on these adventures. Again, lots of privilege here. I’m marinating in it.

It would probably make the most sense to provide background. Like how I am a high school English teacher and coach at my own alumni school. That I have spent the past decade involved with the same school either as a student or employee. That I never took an education course and had no intention of becoming a teacher until I graduated with my English degree and freaked out after a summer of serving tables, realizing I felt like some of my soul was being sucked out by a dementor.  That the second I took the position, I knew it wasn’t going to be forever. That out of nowhere after almost seven years I broke up with my first and only boyfriend, the love of my life, at the beginning of the most recent school year (still trying to figure that one out).  That I can unapologetically boast that I am damn good at my job (regardless that it takes me two months to grade essays). That during the most questionable and ridiculous time of my life, I received Teacher of the Quarter.IMG_5747  That I currently want to be a student more than a teacher, so I started graduate school last semester to obtain my Master’s in Fine Arts for Creative Writing (again, I can hear the sighs). That I don’t give the time of day to the standardization of education because a good teacher is a good teacher.  That I get teary-eyed thinking about not seeing my students and athletes every single day next year because teenagers are not the demons society characterizes them to be. That I have struggled my whole life when faced with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  But I shouldn’t have to feel the need to build up my resume before everyone to help explain why I resigned my perfectly fine job. To make others recognize the glorious and chaotic turbulence through which my life charges. Yet, there it is, and so goes the world.

So now my life has fallen into a cliché:  that I am trying to “find myself,” whatever that means. But this isn’t some Eat, Pray, Love shit, although that is the allusion people keep referencing when talking to me. I think it makes it easier for them to understand what I am doing, and I resent it. I am not trying to find myself. I have found myself, which is why I am doing this. I am not going through a “stage” that is the result of my break up or hinting towards a quarter-life crisis.  I have spent the last twenty-five years forming and conforming, breaking and molding my personality, expanding and belittling my intelligence, celebrating and apologizing for my life. I am not so cocky that I can claim I am confident in who I am and what I want in my life. That’s a freakin’ joke, which my life seems to be a series of.  (The most recent joke being that I failed the English subset of an education test by three points…Yeah, think about that one). However, I am cocky enough to know I deserve the opportunity to try to figure it out and fail, multiple times, if necessary.

I suppose some people some will blame the lack of work ethic from this millennial generation, the escapism from reading too many books, the lack of realism from my parents telling me I can be or do anything I want if I work hard enough, or the uselessness of my studies in humanities and writing.  I also put the blame on the same points but for slightly different reasons.  I blame my fellow millennials for creating new and interesting jobs every day that inspire me to be more innovative.  I blame Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist for teaching me I need to find my own personal legend.  I blame my mother for raising a strong woman who refuses to settle and my dad for showing me to never take conventionalities too seriously.  And I completely blame my education for forcing me to constantly inspect the human condition, attempting to break down the barriers that separate us.

If this was one of my student’s literary analysis or argumentative research papers, by now I would be banging my head against the table, envious of Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher wanting to write “Are you fucking kidding me?” across the header, because I would be dying over the lack of universal theme or call-to-action.  I have made a claim (kinda) and shown the evidence (maybe), but what is the purpose of it all? What is the reader suppose to take away from my writing?  Well, I have already established that in no way am I offering this up as self-help piece to which I anticipate peers and friends to read and find themselves filled with desire to also quit their jobs. That would actually be terrifying and horrible. Who else is going to support my lifestyle as a struggling writer? (If you haven’t sensed my sarcasm by now, then I lost you a couple paragraphs ago.)  If anything what I am trying to do here, what I have tried to do through my entire and very short teaching career, is help others live the way they envision for themselves.  Just as I despise the standardization of education, I also despise the standardization of living.  Go on your own hero’s journey.  If that means getting married at twenty-two and having a family, awesome. If it’s your desire to take over your family business, embrace that. If you realize you want to change your major, do it – and then do it again if need be. If you want to move to a different country to recreate your life, go for it. And if you want to be an education major and teach the young minds of America, Yes! – There is no career more instantly satisfying and rewarding.  It’s a career I might come back to one day, maybe even in a year.  Who knows? Certainly not me. And certainly nobody else. But until then, I plan on living the life I selfishly desire for myself. For which, I do not and will not apologize.

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The Vicious Circle of Capitol Culture: Is the Capitol becoming a reality, or is our culture becoming a fantasy?

With its final installment just months away, The Hunger Games is joining the ranks of series such as Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, not necessarily by quality or industry but by the sheer fact that everyone seems to know about it. Yes, The Hunger Games has transformed into a cultural phenomenon, one that has not dwindled out of popularity before its timely end (sorry Twilight) and probably won’t even after (which very well could happen to Divergent). Like a sponge, social media has absorbed “the girl on fire” and all that follows her, transforming even the actress who portrays her into Hollywood’s own “girl on fire.” Jennifer Lawrence has transfixed America as its new (quirky yet incredibly lovable) sweetheart, who like her character does not seem to relish being in the limelight.Katniss_interviewdressJLaw_reddress

Left: Katniss in her fiery dress (2010). Right: Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 Golden Globes.

However, beyond its entertaining value, The Hunger Games series offers academic opportunities as well, hence the reason it now appears in classrooms alongside other post-apocalyptic novels. With some fairly light inspection, The Hunger Games brings upon a critical reflection of our modern society, specifically through the people of the Capitol. Whether intentional or not, Collins presents a strong political critique in these novels: overbearing government, lack of privacy, poverty issues. However, what about culturally?

When reading the novels, particularly Catching Fire, readers are entertained as well as disgusted with an inside look of the Capitol’s residents and more importantly their lifestyle. The first novel familiarizes readers with the odd appearance of these lavish people; however, Catching Fire immerses us in the tedious yet shallow culture of the Capitol. When entering the Capitol for their victor’s celebration, Katniss and Peeta are thrown into a whirlpool of humans with neon colored hair, ridiculous and intricate clothing, and even dyed skin. One of the more evocative moments occurs when the Capitol guests explain to the District 12 couple that even when satiated from food, they can continue eating just by drinking a simple liquid that will make them vomit. Once reading or watching Mockingjay, the Capitol’s culture is familiar; however, they still find ways to shock us or make us uncomfortable (hello Tigris!).

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Although the novel presents these oddities with clear imagery, the visual experience offers a different perspective through the lens of the filmmakers. In the 2013 Catching Fire, our (at the time) power couple Katniss and Peeta walk into the Capitol’s aforementioned party, as described in the book. In the film, I was immediately struck by the appearance of the couple, who almost seem as though they are about to walk across any recent red carpet. The same can be said for any of the Capitol guests, including Effie Trinket, who regularly dons outfits that many fashionably inclined women would be willing to enter the Games just to wear. It intrigued me that the filmmakers decided not to take the Capitol clothing above and beyond our own modern couture but made it very accessible (especially compared to other futuristic films like Blade Runner or Back to the Future). However, as I contemplated longer on this idea, I couldn’t help but thinking:  maybe it is the other way around – and our culture is matching up the expectations set by the Capitol. Not so much that The Hunger Games specifically sets the trend, but that fictional worlds, including Hollywood, create inspiration. So the question I put out is: Is the Capitol becoming more of a reality or is our culture becoming a fantasy?

It remains clear that Collins is critiquing our modern culture, which of course translates over to the films. This gives into the universal theme of “art imitating life.” But just as any movie that earns immense popularity, the world of Hollywood begins to influence our own. Thus, “life imitating art.”

JSP_dress Katniss_WeddingDressLeft: Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City movie (2008). Right: Katniss in her own wedding dress for a Catching Fire promotion (2013).

It is a vicious circle.

Now, I will not pretend that this is an original observation that no one else has ever realized. I can’t even claim that this concept is original to The Hunger Games. For decades, novels and movies have been setting the expectation of future generations’ failure in different aspects. However, what makes The Hunger Games different from something like 1984 is that rather than taking years for the society to catch up with the novel, the two are overlapping each other. Orwell’s prediction of talking screens and constantly monitoring cameras didn’t come to reality until almost seventy years after 1984’s publication and around thirty years after the self-titled predicted year. Collin’s trilogy was published within 2010-2012. The movie releases fall between 2012-2015. I can’t help but viewing this year’s Miss. Universe pageant and seeing the Opening Ceremonies, watching Ellen Degeneres and glimpsing Caesar Flickerman in my mind, or even looking at events such as Ferguson without comparing them to the Districts’ uprising (but that’s a different article).

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Left: Ms. Venezula in the 2015 Miss Universe. Right: Effie Trinket in Catching Fire (2013). Which outfit is more over top or outside societal norms, truly?

A simple scroll through Pinterest reveals the drastic transformation in fashion over the past couple years. In the novel Katniss views her stylists as alien due to their brightly colored hair. Although not yet completely acceptable in every setting, brightly colored hair even tye-dyed is becoming more apparent. Even though she was not the true pioneer for the half-shaved head, Natalie Dormer gave new life and publicity to the look for Mockingjay. The same can also be argued for Josh Hutchenson’s comb-over look from Catching Fire. However, with the premier of Catching Fire CoverGirl went beyond these suggestive trends and directly produced a Hunger Games makeup line intending to bring the Panem experience to a new, more personal level. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Paula Kupfer, the Lion’s Gate VP for promotions and consumer products, described how “the exquisite beauty and style in the world of the Capitol is a focal point of this [Catching Fire] film.” She explains that “partnering with an innovative brand like CoverGirl to create an additional layer of beauty storytelling and inspiration for the fans is new territory that we’re delighted to explore.” CapitolCoverGirlcapitol-couture This idea insinuates not only that the Capitol culture is beautiful and worth imitating (and from my previous examples you can see why this makes me queasy) but also that we the public want to be a part of the Capitol society. As though we should look at the Capitol style and desire it. The promotional poster itself even claims “Coming to the Capitol” which of course enforces this idea that we are the Capitol.* Wrtier Emily Asher-Perrin discusses a similar idea in her article “Is the Capitol Couture Line Sending the Wrong Message to Hunger Games Fans?”.  She criticizes the release of the limited line that directly replicates the Capitol’s fashion as potrayed in the films. Again, this promotional directly address us as though we are the upper class Capitol citizens who are just dying to find the perfect outfit to kick off the event of children killing children.

The article reads with a sense of frustration in that Asher-Perrin, along with myself, cannot understand why consumers would want to consume the real Capitol while cheering on a character who fights to destory the fictional culture.

Still, perhaps the way The Hunger Games has infiltrated our culture the most forcefully is through the movies’ more recent promotions and trailers. The advertisements for Mockingjay Part One and Two no longer address us as mere viewers but as though we are citizens of Panem. Mockingjay Part One’s TV trailer of Beetee hacking into a commercial to address us and Part Two’s worldwide billboards of UNITE with the famous three finger salute both call out to us viewers/citizens demanding us to take a side. And looking around at just appearances and culture, I genuinely don’t know which side we would choose…

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“The revolution is about all of us.”

This piece of advertisement proves even more impressive because this iconic salute is deemed as so recognizable that the banner does not even directly state the movie’s title. It is that well known.

This all being said, I am not completely sure what exactly is being said. I find it increasingly entertaining yet altogether haunting that the society Collins so openly critiques and attempts to deflate is becoming something that our culture is striving for now. Why in the fictional world do we condemn the Capitol’s culture but celebrate it within our own?

*It should also be noted that CoverGirl just recently released a Star Wars themed collection. Because who doesn’t want to look like a Stormtrooper, right?
http://www.fastcodesign.com/3049898/covergirl-launches-a-collection-of-star-wars-themed-makeup

Welcome to Salty Words!

“I know of a cure for everything: salt water…in one way or the other. Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea.” –Karen Blixen

Welcome to my blog, Salty Words. With plenty of encouragement, I have decided it was high-tide time I compile my writing into a place where others can enjoy my ideas but more importantly to learn and engage in new and interesting discourse.

In this blog I hope to spark intelligent conversations. I do not intend for this blog to act as my own public diary but for it to be an opportunity to engage in dialogues. So perhaps in a way it may transform into a community’s diary of thoughts, opinions, and insight. As an English major and current English teacher, I love using novels, movies, television, and anything else that is current as vehicles for discussion on some of the potentially coarser parts of the world. I enjoy the description of my blog as salty, because I want it to get a bit uncomfortable in here. I want my thoughts and ideas to be sharp and perhaps a little heated at times in order to impact others. As well as, I simply can’t promise that a curse word or two won’t slip through my revision process as they seem to be so inherent to my language. All this being said, it definitely doesn’t mean there won’t be any articles focused strictly around my obsession with the ocean (ergo the obvious connection to the word salty).

The posts I create for Salty Words may be ideas I have been churning for years, smaller sections of larger articles, collaborations with other interesting minds, or something that just popped into my head and demanded to be released . Usually I am very sure of my writing and observations. However, there will also be times when I end articles with more questions than answers, but that’s where things will get interesting – within those gaps. I just hope all of you can help me fill in these holes.

So, again, welcome to my blog. Let’s start the conversation!