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Oh, The Irony

By: Flora Oliveira

“My body my choice,” a statement institutionally oppressed women use when fighting for their bodily autonomy, has recently been engulfed into the bigoted riots against the shelter in place orders. Twitter has wonderfully given name to the delinquent white women at the forefront of this idiotic engulfment of ‘my body my choice.” The names for these white supremacist troglodytes range from Karens to Susans to Beckys. The KKKarens all over the US have unironically displayed why the phrase “my body, my choice” is important in the times of COVID. Those most vulnerable to the disease have not only seriously questioned the state of mind of the KKKarens but have also been very vocal that the “my body, my choice” movement applies to not wanting to be viciously infected with COVID. Especially not when it’s due to another person’s delusional interpretation of systematic oppression. 

Even before COVID KKKarens compromised the health of Black and Brown people through gentrification, racial profiling, and who can forget their role in colonialism? So what do we do now? We surely cannot let these women run around invading stores without masks, rioting in big groups, or collaborating with anti-vaxxers right? But the truth is, the only time the state steps in is when the advocates are Black, Brown, or of the working class. 

So why do they understand the use of “my body, my choice” only when it’s convenient? Aside from being the most skilled of appropriators, white women do not acknowledge their privilege. Acknowledgment of privilege could be the solution to saving generations of minorities. Privilege is like superglue, no one wants to be caught with it plastered all over their bodies, but once it’s on, you can’t ever get it off. Just to be extra clear, in this case, the superglue is you blinding whiteness, you don’t want it, but we’d love to see you try to rip it off. 

 The fault is not all that of white women, though. America’s systems were created directly through the use of white supremacy. Moving from a country and colonizing other humans is not excusable because God came to you in a wet dream. Do not get me wrong here, God isn’t the problem, it’s your idealization that God has specifically given you, and ancestors a free pass to murder indigenous, Black, and Brown people. And also the way yall used missions to trap, murder, and subdue minorities too. 

Through centuries of continued violence, Asians, Black folk, Latinx communities, and now Hispanics have all been at the forefront of violence and entrapment. Who hasn’t? The answer: white people. Once again, the reason for that goes back to colonization. Your far removed ancestors are not deities, they are not Wiccan goddesses, they are not souls of those once oppressed. Your American ancestors were either Konfederates, in the KKK, or like you, are still, directly complicit in white supremacy. This is why you’ve continuously been granted a free pass, even when your meaningless, and outright delinquent filled riots against the shelter in place piss everyone off. 

You don’t get shot down while running in your neighborhood (Ahmaud Arbery), you don’t get framed, manipulated, or imprisoned for a rape you didn’t commit when you were 14-15 (Kevin Richardson, 14, Raymond Santana, 14, Antron McCray, 15, Yusef Salaam, 15, and 16-year-old Korey Wise), you don’t face capital punishment for smoking pot (literally any Black person ever), you don’t get “accidentally” murdered by police or SWAT while you sleep in your own home (Aiyana Jones and Breonna Taylor). You don’t get killed for being trans while Black  (Tony McDaid). You don’t get killed for a “counterfeit” 20 dollar bill (George Floyd). You don’t suffer at the hands of ICE or racist doctors.

 You, as a white privileged person, don’t suffer for just being a minority. That whiteness grants you the privilege to not suffer when you approach police armed with an automatic weapon all in the name of protesting shelter in place. That whiteness grants you tear gas-free, brutality free, and most of all, a murder free time when expressing your 1st amendment right. 

Go ahead, continue “enhancing” your natural beauty by filling your lips, ass, and hips, placing in weaves, spreading that thick layer of melatonin imitating spray, and using AAVE but at the end of the night remember who can take it all off and who can’t. Now to close with the wise words of Angela Davis: To all you white “freedom fighters”, “in a racist society, it is not enough to be nonracist, we must be anti-racist.”

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Congregation vs. Segregation

By: Flora Oliveira

Segregation (noun):

Seg·re·ga·tion | /ˌseɡrəˈɡāSH(ə)n/

Definition of Segregation:

The enforced separation of different racial groups in a country, community, or establishment.

vs.

Congregation (noun):

con·​gre·​ga·​tion | \ ˌkäŋ-gri-ˈgā-shən\

Definition of Congregation:

An assembly of persons : gathering especially : an assembly of persons met for worship and religious instruction

With social media, fast fashion, and the surge of (yt) wealth, black culture is appropriated, challenged, and misconstrued. There are countless examples of the disenfranchisement of black culture but more recently, I encountered a video which disparaged the crowd. Much like at your high schools’ afterparty to prom, the crowd was dancing. Except unlike most of yall’s prom, all but a few invitees weren’t black. 

I say invitees here, to clearly distinguish the spatial relation present. This dance floor exemplified a safe space for black individuals. Regardless of the new forms of dancing, this space was similar to black dance floors years, even decades, before it. All events had the same goal of providing a space that prioritized black culture and black safety, in a congregated-like environment. 

Now, as I provided above, the definition of congregation delineates from that of segregation, but I stand here challenging this very definition of congregation as well. I believe that in this era of safe spaces [you can look at why safe spaces are important and what they are here or here], congregation has a slightly different meaning. A contemporary example of congregation can be seen in college campuses through the use of safe space for those alike. Safe spaces have flourished mainly on campuses, while congregation in a general sense has existed within the black community for some time. Congregation, or the idea of congregating, has always been familiar to black culture through local black restaurants, hair salons/barber shops, certain neighbors’ homes, churches, or even neighborhood recreational spaces (e.g. YMCA). Although a new trend to the media and campuses, safe spaces take distinct features of racial congregation— being that safe spaces provide a space for people alike to gain support, advocacy, and resources in their daily lives. During times of segregation and the never ending abuse, you could find a friendly home, or local business where you were guaranteed mutual understanding, support, and love. Black culture has always implemented these spaces into their daily lives, and by welcoming non-black people in, we are taking leaps of faith. Although appreciation for our culture is welcomed, appropriation and disenfranchisement is often what we get with some invitees.

The reason I bring this up is because recently, a YouTuber, who I will not credit (due to his avid entitlement and demonization of black culture), posted a video of a party whose attendees were mostly black. This YouTuber entered a black space, and unleashed judgement and microaggressions all in the name of fame. Now, if coming into a black space, terming it r*chet, then going viral, and gaining something from it isn’t appropriation, I guess I don’t know what is. 


Regardless, the point here is not about this Youtuber’s gross use of derogatory language that further marginalizes black folk, it is what came after: the terming of congregation (i.e. the party) as segregation, which then morphed into a justification of the guest’s language. Non-black commentators and viewers continuously justified derogatory terms used against the black crowd, because to the comentors, black people’s “self-segregation” was enough evidence of being “behind the times”, or not yet developed (mentally, physically, economically, etc.)**. Not only is this comparison of self-segregation and congregation used on HBCUs, it is used on several forms of black congregations to deter from the fact that POC needs safe spaces even in 2020. This argument of congregation being self-segregation is flawed, anti-black, and skews the perspective from the real conversation that needs to be had: POC need safe spaces and those are found through congregating.

For those who aren’t getting it still: congregation isn’t just a religious gathering, it is a gathering of people who share commonality (whether through religious, political, cultural, etc views). Congregation of black people protects the integrity of perspectives, culture, and image. With a world that is constantly challenging black lives comes the need for congregation (now known as safe spaces in colleges). Congregation provides a unique set of benefits such as a communal space where you (hopefully) won’t get shot for being black, where you can have fun and (hopefully) not get imprisoned for being black, and where you can avoid random judgemental, racist, and ignorant people. Living in 2020 while black, and honestly, living in any time period, anywhere, while black, means constant discrimation and fear.

It is already challenging to maintain these congregated spaces which protect our blackness, but now, we also have to deal with this new age of influencers coming into them and persecuting our norms for ‘clout’. The erroneous argument that safe spaces are acts of segregation — although clearly driven by ignorance, directly correlates congregation and segregation. So, let me be very clear, since y’all don’t seem to know what segregation is. 

Segregation is a forced and violent separation of people based on race, nationality, and/or ethnicity. This forced segregation is most blatantly* exemplified when discussing any time frame in the US before 1964, when segregation was legal. Black and brown bodies were heavily policed through segregatory laws, such as the Jim Crow laws, which legally allowed black and brown bodies to be treated, seen, and talked about as lesser than white bodies. Although legally, segregation came to an end, it is very well known that the systems, which govern our daily lives, have racist ideologies implemented into them. These ideologies create conditions which always prioritize white lives over black lives. 

By congregating, black people can support one another, and attempt to avoid the inequity which they would otherwise face outside of these spaces. Now, when non-black people come into our spaces and bring the same ideologies that do us harm, that is when we, as a black community,  must make clear that they are guests in our black, congregated space. Being a guest does not mean you can disparage, disenfranchise, or continue to misconstrue black culture, because the invitation can be revoked as quickly as it was given.  

*I asterisked blatantly because, to this day there is blatant racism happening around the world, but most people who use this argument refuse to see racism as anything other than the times of Jim Crow or more presently, the KKK. 

**This is the denial of coevalness or in other words: “a way of seeing the world in which various contemporary societies are interpreted as literally living in a different historical epoch”- Johannes Fabian

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THAT Conversation

By: Flora Oliveira

On Sunday, January 26 2020, Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old, Gianna Bryant, were pronounced dead after a fatal helicopter accident. The tragic news struck the internet and several media outlets in an untimely fashion. Due to the prominence of Kobe Bryant’s skills on the court, the news media jumped to publish their articles. 

After a whirlwind of updates, the news was official— Gianna and Kobe had both passed, along with several other crew members, friends, and others whose names were yet to be regarded. 9 people total in the helicopter crash. With their deaths, almost all of the sports-watching world began posting their love and support for Kobe, eager to jump on the romanticization train.

With the same response following OJ Simpson’s conviction, XXXtentacion, Kobe Bryant, R. Kelly, I feel the need to have THAT conversation; the discussion about how our society negates black, trans, and working class women to be a field of enlightenment for men.  

In 2003, a 19 year old hotel employee filed a police report that stated Kobe Bryant had raped her. A working class women had to face the backlash of the very famous abuser denying even having sex with her. Later in the case, Kobe revealed he “may” have mistaken the encounter as consensual. Although enthusiastic consent can be hard to interpret for some, verbally asking for consent is an option. This is why many see the fault in Kobe’s apology. One which he claimed he misinterpreted consent. This confusion on consent shouldn’t be taken lightly— if you are not clear on if the situation is consensual, then there should be an immediate stop of the “unclear” interaction. Kobe’s case highlights an important fault in the “no means no” usage. Although no means no, “only yes means yes” is not directly implied. Without a clear no or yes, the response should be to end the interaction. Yet Kobe continued, only to apologize for his confusion after the fact, almost as if the abuse done to the victim was a misunderstanding. 

Regardless of the technicalities of how to give or not give consent, rape is about power. If Kobe truly wanted a consensual encounter, the age-power dynamic would have been assessed. Kobe at 24, sought out a 19 year old worker. Not only was she 19, but the victim was also on the clock. Another power dynamic (class/capitalism-power dynamic), one which allowed Kobe to feel as if he was free to say or do anything because the 19 year old worker had to comply to a certain extent to uphold her job. The class/capitalism-power dynamic upholds the standard that workers must please those who are multi millionaires, especially if they are guests of your job because if you do not please them, it would reflect in loss of that job. 
Kobe’s victimizing apology, which to some, seemed to come from good intentions, formulated in the claims of his year being “incredibly difficult.” He followed up by debating the fact that the victim’s pain and experience must have been awful “too”(The Nation).

I dont know about you, but I wouldn’t have to rape someone to know that they would suffer the effects of it. Not only does his apology defy the purpose of apologizing, but it demonstrates the lack of respect towards women’s bodies. Not to mention the fact that the apology was not voluntary, but instead the victim insisted it was done as a form of reparation (The Nation). 

With fans, abusers, and all of society constantly silencing rape victims to excuse another man’s “growth”, we are telling women that their bodies, their safety, and their bodily autonomy is lesser than to that of the man’s choices. Our society, and our black community specifically, needs to recognize that not only has systemic oppression divided us among ourselves, but colonialism has also infringed its patriarchal standards on our women. Our women not only face the lashes of racism and abuse, but we also face the outcome of that violence being translated into a belittling story of our perpetrators’ growth. We, as a community, must ask ourselves: What does classifying rape as a “mistake” do to our women, and more importantly, the victims? Why are valuing an abuser’s career, over the women’s very real life?

Having this discussion is extremely important because not only was the rape disregarded then, it still is. With the media romanticizing their so-called “hero,” they show the failure to prioritize women’s bodies. The lack of consideration for women begins and ends with rape culture, and unfortunately the past few weeks have been awful for survivors who have  continued to listen to their peers’ “declarations of love” for yet another abuser.

With Black History Month here, our priority should and needs to be: elevating the community. We can’t do this without going out of our way to systematically change how we treat black, trans, and immigrant women. We must grow, learn, read, and question the things that seem “natural”. That being said, I think it’s important to clarify that our bodies are not educational tools, our bodies are not learning grounds. We aren’t here to educate you, we aren’t here for you to violate. We aren’t here for you to grow from, and we sure as hell aren’t here for you to abuse.

*BM are not the only perpetrators, other races rape too. The myth of the BM being a rapist is detrimental to BM and is often just a perpetuation of racist stereotypes; read Angela Davis, The Myth of the Black Rapist

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Abuse of Women in Athletics

By: Flora Oliveira

Let me set the stage:

Imagine four people sharing two lanes…

Not the big, spacious lanes you drive on, but the ones on a bright, red, 400 meter track. 

At practice, sharing lanes to run together was our usual routine; our group, accustomed to one another, shared swift strides to make time trials. You can imagine our surprise when one of my teammates and I collided and ate… shit. Now, this isn’t a story about me succumbing to some injury and being lucky to overcome it, this centers an overarching problem of injustice in athletics. After tumbling to the floor and painfully developing a major concussion (which cost me a month), I was told I was faking it. As if getting up immediately after blacking out, proceeding to jumble my words, and blabbering on in confusion was not emotionally daunting enough, my coach’s (let’s say coach X) first remark was, “maybe it’s not your body, maybe you just need glasses so you can see.” This was not the first comment about my vision, but alas, common with concussions, there I was crying uncontrollably in front of the one person that warned us not to show emotions on HIS track. With a quick “don’t be so emotional” jab and a “go home,” my teammate and I quickly got help from our trainer and left. 

Don’t get me wrong, his words, as horrible as they are, are not individual. This is the reflection of a system designed to break women* athletes. Recently, Mary Cain collaborated with Lindsay Crouse and New York Times, to expose the harsh coaching tactics of one of the biggest athletic companies—Nike. Not only does Nike abuse and capitalize off women in sweatshops overseas, they also destroy the bodies and lives of young women athletes in the US. 

Mary Cain, once the fastest woman alive, was recruited by Alberto Salazar, a Nike endorsed coach, who, as she states, “physically and emotionally abused” her at the age of sixteen and on. The all male led staff, became obsessed with Cain’s weight, forcing her extreme decline in health. Disturbingly enough, Cain’s story is not an uncommon one.

As I spoke with one of my fellow teammates, I received the same response. Jaleah Calvillo further emphasized that women athletes everywhere were mistreated and somehow, no one was listening. Calvillo, shared her story with Instagram on Friday. She, like many other athletes, was told to lose weight. The infatuation with controlling women’s bodies for profit was nothing new to Calvillo. She too had been told that carbs were just another obstacle on her way to success. Followed by a year of malnutrition and 4-inch tear in one of her quad’s, the blame for her injuries was put on her “undesirable” weight. Striving to meet coach X’s desired look, she began intaking as little as “1,200-1,800 calories a day while practicing three times a day,” causing many more injuries in Calvillo’s junior and senior years. 

After six academic years with coach X’s reigning commands for us to “stop eating white bread they make your arms look bready” or comments on like “she has wide birthing hips, that’s why she runs like that”, or “fat don’t fly” — the overwhelming amount of reports about coach X were finally unignorable. Like many of the other coaches, he too was besotted by the weight of his athletes. His words, although intangible, only reiterated a variety of  physical requirements he made mandatory for his athletes, including skinfold tests, and “suggested” eating habits.

After years of conducting body fat tests, endorsing malnutrition, causing injuries, mentally abusing and harassing athletes, coach X’s repercussion was … retirement. A repeated decision which still salvaged our world renowned coach X’s reputation at yet another college. This decision to allow retirement was made before at previous institutions, and it cost many more women athletes’ careers and health. The toxicity of this culture does not only pertain to the standards set by the coaches, staff, or administrations’ reluctance to step in, but the toxicity also manifests when coaches implement shame further isolating athletes from each other. Lack of support or community in such an environment can be detrimental to the mental and physical health of athletes and in turn, their voices were stifled. After Calvillo’s recent Instagram post, she realized how many other women, on her very own team, were going through similar situations. Although each faced similar struggles they felt alone. These women suffered in a system that claimed to protect, educate, and guide them.

NY Times shared a great piece about Mary Cain who struggled under the pressure of a culture created by Nike, but what about all the other women athletes going through the same thing? How was this same culture created in non-sponsored athletics (i.e non-olympic level athletics)? Like most questions, there isn’t a clean cut answer. Of course the coaches, staff, and administrators are at fault for their part in causing and allowing the suffering of women, but without a patriarchal system that affirms these actions, such overarching problems of injustice in athletics , the perpetrators would have faced effective repercussions.  Collegiate athletics is no different from Olympic, amateur, or junior athletics; all are run under the same patriarchal system that assigns standards for women’s bodies– especially for black, queer, and POC bodies. This same culture affecting Nike athletes can be seen everywhere, and we must consider the fact that internal politics play a disturbingly big part in the lack of adequate preventative measures.

 On all levels of athletics, capitalizing on  athletes’ bodies is evident, but when do institutions begin to prioritize the actual person instead of the profit they bring in? Despite all of the women who spoke of their experiences, the institutions continued to focus on their profits, silence women’s voices by concealing the institution’s wrongdoings, and continued to support men like coach X before even acknowledging the effects of these actions. Still, with lack of adequate rules and repercussions to avoid coaches like coach X, we must ask: when will internal evaluations be conducted in order to prevent a recurrence? Such institutions,  which prioritize profit must be carefully examined. Events like those experienced by Calvillo, Mary Cain, and many other countless testimonies, are not isolated occurrences. The capitalist nature of these institutions/systems lead to the welcoming of such damaging perpetrators. The very systems these athletes are recruited by, present a set of circumstances no women should face– one which deeply reflects the gendered effects of colonialism. By sharing these women’s stories we can begin to understand the change that must come. Tons of women who have shared their similar, seemingly isolated, stories. I believe there must be an immediate call for preventive measures, reexamination of the prioritization of misogynists’ job, and a fundamental change in our gendered system.

Contributors: Jaleah Calvillo, Shelby Hightower, Rochelle Nadreau, and other anonymous athletes  

Disclaimer: The initial version of this article was published with the term “womxn” but I have come to learn this term evades connecting trans women to their identity as women. Since then, the article was updated. I want to emphasize that my use of the term “women” includes nonbinary folk, intersex folk, and all folk who are oppressed by the patriarchy and/or face misogyny.