We The People (spoken word)

Listen

If you close your eyes and listen with your heart

you will feel the change that wants to come

“We are in this together”

Yet ‘together’ still excludes some

 

Connect

Allow yourself to be affected

by those who have walked different paths

Through time we’ve met progress

No longer do we divide

by the colour of our skin

yet it’s known within

that true change takes – longer than this

 

Evolve

The earth is moving, forwards

She’s not waiting anymore

This place

of the ‘one’

and the ‘many’,

we have been here too long

Familiarity becomes complicity

to a politics which might help me – but not you

She calls for us to carve on

Evolution

And this is our revolution

 

On Declaring Your Ethnicity

In the process of applying for jobs this past year, I’ve filled out a lot of Equal Opportunities Monitoring Forms. These forms ask you to declare the basic categorisable information about you as a person: gender, sexual orientation, date of birth, religious affiliation, disability, and ethnicity.

I declare as ‘white’. I have white skin, and my bloodline is nearly 3/4 European. But I’m also 1/4 Mexican. I get that from my Grandpa and it’s a part of me that I am quite proud of. My Grandpa died when I was 7 years old so I didn’t get to know him very well, but I do know that he was a hard-working, caring family man. He didn’t come from a lot of money but worked his way up through college and two careers, succeeding in a society filled with white privilege.

After my blog post Informing My American Identity; My Experience of White Privilege and The Choice to be an Ally my Grandma shared with me some of my Grandpa’s experiences that I didn’t know about. The fact that he faced discrimination and shame about the colour of his skin and background. The fact that he worried that his wife and children would be discriminated against when people saw their last name, Valdez.

My sense of self/identity has undeniably been influenced by this figure in my life. But I am far removed from the adversities and challenges he faced. I have difficulty in comprehending that the difference in my appearance to my Grandpa’s is something that gives me privileges that he didn’t have. That makes me sad. (And ironically looking more Mexican is something I’ve always wished for.)

I would love for him to know that rather than being ashamed or discriminated against, I am proud to share his last name and I want to connect to his culture. I think having these mixtures are interesting and beautiful.

So as I’m filling out these forms I wonder if I’m not licensed to declare that part of me – because I don’t look dark-skinned? I have a cousin who is 3/4 White-European and 1/4 Persian who is much darker than me and even more so than her mom who is 1/2 Persian. Will she face more discrimination in her life, while being the same percentage ‘non-white’ that I am? Or on the other hand will she have more pride and confidence in declaring her non-white heritage, while I am doubted for saying I’m part Mexican?

Talking about the way genes pan out is a whole other conversation which I can’t pretend to be informed on. But what I do know is that this categorisation of our ethnicities based on our colouring/parents can limit how we identify and is perhaps becoming out-dated. I know the practical reasons these forms exist and for simplicity’s sake, yes I am ‘white’. But ethnicity, race, nationality, citizenship, culture, background… these categories are over-lapping anyway. How do you categorise yourself if you aren’t distinctly one thing?

Hailey Holl-Valdez. White ‘Other’: White skin, European heritage (mainly German), American born, American-British dual Citizenship,  1/4 Mexican.

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This blog post was written before my post Embracing Shifting Identities – however given the timing of the EU Referendum and my visit to the talk on Identity in Britain Today I decided to post this one as a follow-up to that discussion.

Embracing Shifting Identities

I recently attended a talk on Identity in Britain Today at the Barbican. A panel of professionals discussed the notion of ‘identity’ in modern Britain from a range of viewpoints:  that of a social artist, a psychoanalyst, a reader in international politics and a journalist. Each member was uniquely situated in the hybrid-limbo of ‘British-other’ (with which I identify). The discussion was timely given the EU Referendum which will take place on June 23rd, 2016.

In one week’s time UK Citizens will be voting on whether to remain part of the European Union or to leave it. As someone who migrated to the UK and eventually became a citizen, who enjoyed living in Barcelona and the possibility to live in other European countries (current benefits of my UK citizenship), my vote to remain is a no brainer.

This post is not a discussion of the arguments for/against leaving the EU. If you are interested in the facts and stats I will link a couple resources I have read below. What I do want to discuss are the psycho-social processes relating to identity that are going on right now.

For the longest time the white Western identity has dominated global hierarchy. This status was unchallenged, and people benefitting were either ignorant or careless about the resultant inequalities (some still are – those desperately fighting to hold on).

Globalisation, new technologies, and raised efforts for diversity & equality all began to de-construct and criticise the social strata. Things are shifting towards a more equal state, and as a result we increasingly witness extreme expressions of threat and prejudice from the ‘dominant’ subject against the ‘other(s)’.

What we are seeing in potential ‘leave’ voters is the response to a threat to their sense of British identity.  The more things modernise and diversify the harder it may become to have a secure sense of who you are in this world.

Are you the American because your accent sounds it, no matter how little time you’ve actually spent living in the US? Are you American-Mexican because your bloodline says so, even if you are very white? Are you infinitely the Columbian despite European citizenship and residency? Are you the Swiss before you are American because you were born there but grew up in the US? Are you the Nigerian before British, even though you were born and live in the UK? Are you dual? Are you mixed?

Are we all mixed? – This is something I will come back to in another post. But the bottom line is, I can understand that it is difficult to define yourself when there are many options – and that this could feel threatening and confusing. (It could also be exciting if you are like me – but more on that later)

During the talk Kannan Navaratnem (a psychoanalyst) drew a distinction between our sense of self and our identity. The former is an internal relationship we have with ourselves, something that we develop privately. Our ‘true self’ may reveal over time and in our most spontaneous moments. The latter develops in response to external relationships and may change in different contexts. We use language and categories to describe our identities: gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, culture, nation. etc.

This self categorisation leads to distinctions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, inclusion and exclusion. But an identity crisis occurs when there is movement of ‘them’ to ‘us’, yet ‘we’ want to stay distinct from ‘them’, or ‘they’ want to stay distinct from ‘us’, and the ‘original we’ are a united ‘we’ in our oneness from ‘them’, despite having true differences from ‘each other’,  although ‘we all’ reside in the same place. And so on…

In relation to the EU Referendum, if we consider identity as something moulded and influenced by external contexts, we can see how the ‘British’ identity will shift significantly when its union with 27 other countries remains or disappates. Not only will the rights of individuals change, the global status of the nation will shift conceptually and practically.

What is truly interesting is acknowledging “[i]dentity [as] a process” (Claudia Aradau, Reader in International Politics). It is fluid and not entirely within the individual’s control – even the words you use to describe your own identity will shift in meaning and be subjective according to who you describe yourself to. And the words you use to describe your identity were in fact taught to you for use, not originally conceived of by yourself.

On the other hand, our sense of self is more individual and subjective. This sense of ‘being’ is developed naturally and reflects whatever makes you feel like you. And when your prescribed identity feels threatened you can tap back into this sense of self and feel secure.

And surely the stronger our conviction in our true selves, the less threatened we feel by shifting rhetoric and events out of our control?

It may be too late to suggest this to any Brexit voters – but I do think it’s positive for everyone to have an understanding of what’s truly at play here.

Going forwards, to embrace shifting identities and go with the flow is a much more relaxed and open way of forming who you are. And in my perspective the more experiences and influences I have in my perception of myself, the more interesting really!

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The discussions at the panel and thoughts I had afterwards reminded me of my post Informing My American Identity; My Experience of White Privilege and The Choice to be an Ally in which I challenge the notion of an ‘American’ identity when individual citizens are treated differently dependent on their skin colour. Check this out if you haven’t already!

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Sources:

Identity in Britain Today Panel Talk at the Barbican, London, UK. June 14 2016. Panelists: Claudia Aradau, Reader in International Politics; Kannan Navaratnem, psychoanalyst; Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi, reporter and writer; and Marianne Holm Hansen, artist; and Orlagh Woods, chair.

Chris Bryant Reminds David Cameron His Cabinet are Children of ‘Bunch of Migrants’

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/01/28/david-cameron-chris-bryant-bunch-of-migrants-question-mps-heritage_n_9097614.html

Live Referendum News from the BBC

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-politics-36454645

Stronger In Website

http://www.strongerin.co.uk

Parliament UK Website re. History of EU

http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/tradeindustry/importexport/overview/europe/

Who Are We? And Why Does It Matter in the 21st Century? by Gary Younge a Discussion by Sarfraz Manzoor, May 29 2010.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/may/29/gary-younge-who-are

What I Eat in a Day – Ideas for World Meat Free Day

Monday June 13th is World Meat Free Day. Never heard of it before? Nor me until it popped up on Facebook a few minutes ago… I’m glad it did because it gave me impetus to write a “What I eat in a day” sort of post – with meal and snack suggestions to take you through an entire day meat free. I’m a vegetarian so meat isn’t part of my diet anyway, some of these recipes will have dairy in though. If you are a meat eater interested in giving yourself the challenge to go a day entirely without, these are yummy, healthy recipes you should try! This post comes in advance so you can go stock up your kitchen with ingredients and get ready for Monday.

Breakfast

I am one of those people who gets up and eats within 30 minutes, I never used to be this way but over the years my body has been trained to be hungry in the morning which I think is a good thing. My typical breakfast is oatmeal with some fruits/seeds/nuts.

While boiling some oats in a saucepan, chop up some dates, prunes, raisins (whatever you like) and throw them in to stew a bit while the oats cook. Once finished, I like to add some chopped nuts (my favourites in oatmeal are almonds and pecans), and a sprinkle of chia seeds and flax seeds. Then top it off with some almond milk, and add cinnamon if you like it extra sweet! Yum yum.

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Snack 

I eat multiple times a day, my metabolism is fast so I pretty much am munching on something every couple of hours. In the mornings I love to have a smoothie as a snack if there’s time or you can prepare it before going to work/uni and bring it with you. Into my smoothies go: frozen berries, banana, kale or spinach, chia seeds, hemp protein powder, a bit of organic natural yogurt and some water. Blend it all up for a healthy refreshing snack!

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Lunch

I’m not a huge fan of lunch, and often find it difficult to come up with healthy, diverse ideas day to day. I normally end up having a mezze or assortment of different little things that compliment each other. For example: one piece of wholemeal pita bread, houmous (I am yet to make my own but this is something I plan to do sometime!), some raw veggies, and maybe a few slices of cheddar or mozzarella cheese.

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Snack

I like to have dried or fresh fruit and nuts as snacks. Pistachio and cashew nuts are good for munching on, as are dried apricots or prunes, or a combo like an apple with peanut butter!

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Dinner

One of my favourite go to meals is fajitas! Super simple, all I do is sauté onion and bell pepper, once softened add in mushrooms, season with some salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili (fresh or powder) and cilantro (coriander), add in a tin of chopped tomatoes (continue to season sauce if needed) and some kidney beans. Add a little lemon or lime to the mix. Simmer for a while to let the beans and veg fully soak up the flavours. Heat up some tortillas, and tuck the filling inside with some cheddar cheese sprinkled on top. Delicioso.

This is something both of my brothers will eat despite being huge meat eaters – so that must mean it’s truly scrumptious 😉 It’s also easy to reheat and have the next day for lunch or dinner.

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Hope these recipes are enjoyed. If anyone goes Meat Free on Monday with their own concoctions feel free to share!

Peace.

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Sources

World Meat Free Day website

http://www.worldmeatfreeday.com/why-get-involved/

Meredith Leigh on being an ethical meat consumer

http://civileats.com/2016/05/27/how-a-former-vegetarian-became-a-butcher-and-ethical-meat-advocate/

 

 

 

 

Staying Woke

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Stay Woke; The Black Lives Matter Movement is a documentary which aired recently on BET: The Truth Series. It takes us back through prominent instances of police violence against black Americans from the last few years (with a focus mainly on males), and the community created in response. For those who don’t know the #BlackLivesMatter movement was initiated in response to the 2012 jury ruling to acquit George Zimmerman of his crime and to posthumously place Trayvon Martin on trial for his own murder.

Most people recognise the well known victims of similar violence which has occurred in the past few years. Many are aware of the hyper aggressive, military interactions of police officers with citizens (footage in the documentary brings us back to the use of riot gear, tear gas & tanks  in response to protestors in Ferguson, Baltimore, etc.) I’m not sure how many are aware of the stark dehumanisation and demonisation of black Americans at the core of the judicial system.  The system that deems perpetrators of violence against black Americans blameless. I am especially concerned with this treatment of black American youths, a group that I’ve worked with in the past couple years.

The Essence of Innocence; Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children (an article from the 2014 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) discusses how characteristics such as ‘innocence’ and ‘the need for protection’ are often stripped from black youths in both police and public perception. This is a crucial piece in understanding the psychology behind these interactions.

“If human childhood affords strong protections against harsh, adult-like treatment, then in contexts where children are dehumanised, those children can be treated with adult severity…[The] dehumanisation of Black children might conflict with perceptions of children as needing protection.” (Goff, et al. 2014: 527)

Through a series of social studies it was found that when presented with imagery of black, white and latino youths associated with a felony, participants overestimated the ages of  black felony suspects to a greater degree than white or latino felony suspects (Goff, et al. 2014: 531) It was also found that the older a youth was estimated to be, the more culpable they would be held.

“Because Black felony suspects were seen as 4.53 years older than they actually were, this would mean that boys would be misperceived as legal adults at roughly the age of 13 and a half.” (Goff, et al. 2014: 532)

This psychology applies to the jury’s decisions in cases of violence against black Americans. They certainly do not come from a protective place towards these victims, even if they are of youthful status. Watching the documentary made me come back to this article; it succeeded in its purpose to keep me ‘woke’ on these issues.

It also showed me the collective that has been formed during this movement, which didn’t halt after the riots. A number of people contributed their narrative and opinions to the documentary, including historians, activists, artists, and the co-founders of #BlackLivesMatter. The use of social media is highlighted as a key tool for communication and connection between people on the ground, witnessing and protesting against these atrocities. This tool should continue to be used, especially as an informant to people who don’t experience or notice this issue in their daily lives. The message I really came away with was what Brittany Packnett said towards the end:

“It is about our children. Our community. It is about ‘Stay Woke’…Now that you have been exposed, now that you have become aware of issues of police violence in our community I need you to stay aware. I need you to behave like you are aware, right, I need you to stay woke. Get woke and stay woke.” (Brittany Packnett, Activist & Educator, in Stay Woke; the Black Lives Matter Movement Documentary)

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Note: This post was constructed prior to the sexual assault charges against 20 year old Brock Turner which resulted in a six month jail sentence and probation. I don’t want to directly compare criminal cases because I can’t pretend to have the knowledge of the justice system to do so. However Judge Aaron Perksy’s direct dismissal of the prosecutors’ recommendation of six years in prison and his statement that prison would “have a severe impact on [Turner]” (while undoubtedly true, as it would on pretty much anyone) brings something very important to the discussion above.

Due to the young age and no prior convictions of the perpetrator, the judge is coming from a protective place. These actions reflect the opinion of sociologist Michael Kimmel who says: “for middle-class White males, the period of time when boys are not held fully responsible for their actions can extend well into their late 20s.” (Goff, et al. 2014: 541). This directly contrasts with imposed societal expectations and stereotypes of black youths. We are seeing institutionalised racism, not accidental mistakes and discrepancies in disparate judicial treatment.

In light of the above, I cannot stress this any more: it is not enough to simply acknowledge these issues. There’s a responsibility as humans looking after each other to carry these concerns through into actions. Discussions. Reading. Sharing. Pledges. Protesting (peacefully 😉 ). Innovation… It is the time to get woke and stay woke.

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Sources & Things to Check Out:

BET: The Truth Series, Stay Woke; the Black Lives Matter Movement aired on BET 05/26/2016.

http://www.bet.com/video/news/national/2016/stay-woke-behind-the-black-lives-matter-movement-full-show.html

Jesse Williams, actor and activist on ‘stay woke’

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jesse-williams-stay-woke-documentary-black-lives-matter_us_5739516ee4b077d4d6f3688a

Goff, P.A., Jackson, M.C., Di Leone B.A., DiTomasso, N.A., Culotta, C.M. (Authors) 2014, The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 106, No. 4, pp 526-545.

Black Lives Matter Movement

http://blacklivesmatter.com

Devin Allen, a Baltimore based Photographer (Photographer of TIME Magazine Cover Image, May 11 2015, see above).

https://www.instagram.com/bydvnlln/

Campaign Zero, a resource for mapping statistics related to police violence in the US and proposals for policy changes.

http://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision

Guardian news on Brock Turner’s case.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/02/stanford-swimmer-sexual-assault-brock-allen-turner-palo-alto