Transcendental: Third Book In Progress

For the past several months, I’ve been working on my third book. In a lot of ways, similar to my first book, it’s been manifesting through journal entries, and this is exactly what I’ve needed to make this story, or series of stories, deeply personal and deeply riveting.

 

I’m having a truth-telling moment as I revisit my past and ultimately realize that what was created in the past is already in formation; there’s no way or no need for me to rebuild what has already happened, and in order for me to move forward, I have to accept this. Otherwise, I’m stuck in this dungeon of reliving the same traumatic experiences over and over again, instead of reaching a place of peace.

 

That’s in essence what my third book is about.

 

At first I thought this would be a self-help book, but the more I write, the more I’m sure it’s a fictional piece that reveals my inner fear and workings, and perhaps the inner fear and workings of others. What’s going on inside of us can feel like a scary place and I want to touch on that, and bring an image to that in a way that a self-help book, at this point in time, might not capture.

 

The general premise follows a character as they go through different layers of fear: Fear of familiarity, loneliness, rejection/not being good enough, etc. Each fear manifests itself in different ways, ways that are equally haunting while also revelatory.

 

I hope to spark discussion around our own internalized fears and the very things that haunt us on a daily basis. The things we push our psyche from fully experiencing because we turn to substances for comfort, or maybe even attach ourselves to the wrong people to love us, or gorge on social media likes and shares to feel valued, or use other addictions as a way to stifle what we truly feel, no matter how unpleasant at the moment.

 

This book in and of itself is a manifesto of my own tribulations and how I’ve hid from the very fears that have created darkness inside of me. How I’ve pushed them away by indulging in other things to take my mind off of the inner turmoil that was occurring. How metaphorically I hid more and more stuff under my bed until I couldn’t sleep anymore, clutter and junk taking up my place of rest. And now it’s time to shed light on those fears. To breathe again. To be at peace and to find stillness.

 

For research, I’m re-reading Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” I’m also reading several works by Kafka, as well as Dante’s “The Inferno,” each giving me more clarity into the darkness of fears internalized, how we work through layers that can create defining moments in our lives. It’s also a chance to explore what can symbolize the imbalance of living at peace with ourselves and obstruct us from experiencing what we need when it happens–the unpleasantness that exists in some moments­–instead of turning from it in search of a better or “happier” feeling.

 

In reality happiness and sadness are only temporary, but peace can be everlasting if we know how to live in the now.

 

This is the narrative I’m working on and who knows how long it will take me to finish, but on this journey I hope to find enlightenment through the grotesqueness of my own demons and live again in a headspace where I feel safe and in alignment with what is.

 

Thank you.

 

 

The Science Behind The Stereotype: Why We Have The Biases We Do And How To Confront Them

(first published on Blavity.com)

Love watermelon and fried Chicken? Have natural rhythm? Always accused of having a bad attitude?

Chances are you’re familiar with some of these stereotypes that often pigeonhole black women and men. You may have even made some of these same assumptions about someone before getting to know him or her.

In a society where racial bias is the foundation of the current divide–which if not attended to, can lead to hostility, fear, and violence–we have to ask ourselves: why do we have certain stereotypes in our head and where do they come from?

Thanks to the media and limited on-screen representation, we are inundated with characteristics that we learn to attach to specific groups of people.

We are typically taught to associate white with positive attributes and black with bad. In result, we subconsciously form mental labels as a pattern or type of bias.

In order to look closely at how we develop these associations, let’s delve into a bit of neuroscience and how the brain works.

Learning is a process that can be carried out by a single neuron exposed to repeated stimuli. The neuron identifies a pattern and responds automatically in anticipation of the pattern continuing.

Simple nervous systems work similarly. Snails, for example, have a system of neurons around their body. If you touch a snail’s feeler multiple times, the snail will learn to ignore your touch within minutes. The snail realizes that the poking is not a threat, so it no longer needs to respond.

Some neural pathways work in the opposite way, where the more you poke, or provoke agitation, the more violently the animal will avoid it. This helps the animal respond better to its environment.

Neurologically, this process of responding to consequences–or lack thereof–is how our brain makes decisions on our behalf. Our brain creates patterns out of the stimuli we receive in order to help us make decisions on the spot.

In the case of race, however, the danger lies in the repeated exposure of these misrepresentations, as well as the failure to question the biased information.

For example, stereotypes will influence our thinking negatively toward certain groups, while favorably towards others, creating exclusion and dangerous power dynamics.

We see this when we look at a black person on-screen who is typecast as a character that is violent, uneducated, or poor. Our brain takes the repeated exposure to these negative portrayals and associates them with violence, lack of education, and poverty.

We may not be conscious of these biases as they are being formed; all we have are the results of our embedded prejudice. In turn, we end up perilously characterizing and endangering people in real life. We see it when adult cops say “threatened” by someone like Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing in the park.

Understanding that our brain likes to form patterns in order to create mental shortcuts is one thing, but the question is how do we start challenging the biases we’ve formed?

By having an open ear to the experiences of others and being willing to entertain new ideas, we can alter our original way of thinking and create an environment where we truly get to learn from one another.

This may require more energy on our part, but until we are able to challenge the labels we’ve learned to associate with others, we’ll never be able to make room for more inclusion or open up to understanding the people around us.

When we identify these biases, we will be in a better position to ask questions in order to confront our beliefs and values.

Are you curious to see if you have any unconscious racial biases? You can take the Harvard Race IAT test here.

Special thanks to Mary Krendel and Dr. Steve L. Robbins for providing the neurological research for this essay.

Superority Complex, White Fear

Superiority Complex

White fear is fragile, yet horrifyingly powerful.

It demands the disrobing of all other cultures while simultaneously hiding behind robes to perpetrate violence.

As a way to reassert dominance, simply utter the word “fear.” By employing this emotion, murder becomes self-defense, terrorism becomes preservation. All else is ancillary. All other lives are secondary.

White police officers can use fear as a motive for shooting and/or killing a black civilian, executing them on the spot without allowing the victim a fair trial. They can escape any punitive action unscathed.

White fear and the need for superiority can be used as a reason to abolish the majority of a civilization–à propos Native Americans–, while cautiously and underhandedly trying to kill the remnants of those who have survived.

White fear can execute those who are peacefully worshiping, like those who are Black and at a church or those who are Muslim and at a mosque, killing many by citing trepidation of race or culture as motivation.

WHITE FEAR ALWAYS SEEMS TO HAVE THE EFFECT OF SOMEONE ELSE DYING AND IN MASS NUMBERS.

Violence can happen over and over again, yet white fear will never equate to terrorism in the way that Islam equates to terrorism, although white fear is violent and rash.

It is instead hailed as a means of justice for those who employ it.

White fear has more privilege than any other life. It is the weapon that should be acknowledged and never trivialized. It is used often and unreasonably, creating disorder as an illusion to reinstate control.

If we eradicate this group of people then we will all be safe, says white fear.

So when they tell you All Lives Matter, do not believe them. All lives matter only when white fear is not in play, which is almost always never.

Be cautious of white fear, it may get you killed one day.

20th Century Women Group Photo

20th Century Women List of Books Mentioned in the Movie

It’s 1979 in Santa Barbara. Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is an impressionable teenager eager for experience and adventure. He’s forever at odds with his strong-willed mother (Annette Bening) who’s determined to understand who he is.

She enlists the help of Abbie (Greta Gerwig), their twenty-something year old ruby-haired housemate, and Julie (Elle Fanning), Jamie’s childhood friend and crush, to help him become a modern man.

Together, these three women, along with William (Billy Crudup) who epitomizes the essence of enlightened masculinity, teaches the lovelorn teen about heartbreak, sexuality, and feminism in an era of punk music and rebellion.

Book List:

Part of the shaping of Jamie’s identity in this emotionally piercing coming-of-age story comes from the books that Abbie gives him from her feminism studies.

And as we grow closer to the other characters, we find that what they read also plays a role in how they’ve come to experience the world and people around them.

Below are books listed throughout the film that Jamie, as well as other characters read in the course of 20th Century Women.

 

  •  Our Bodies Our Selves by Judy Norsigian (read by Jamie and Abbie)
  • Sisterhood is powerful by Various Authors (read by Jamie and Abbie)–
    • “The Politics of Orgasm” (essay) by Susan Lydon
    • “It Hurts to be Alive and Obsolete: The Aging Woman” (essay) by Zoe Moss
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams (read by Dorothea)
  • Forever by Judy Blume (read by Julie)
  • The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck (read by Julie)
Enough With Stop Hand

My Reaction to Being Called the “N-Word”

There are many moments in my life where I have felt oppressed, but being called “nigger” is no longer one of them.

 

Despite the larger bubble of oppression that I have to deal with, there are small things I can do to de-emphasize the power of those who view themselves as more dominant because they are white. This starts by not acknowledging people who call me “nigger.”

 

I’ll begin by confirming that yes, I am still called “nigger.” My Facebook Author page is only one example of a space where people will target me with racial slurs and insults. A post as simple as showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement will elicit hateful comments.

 

Public spaces can also be difficult to navigate. While recently walking to a restaurant, a gentleman yelled as he passed me and another woman of color by that he was tired of seeing monkey niggers.

 

Having hate speech hurled at me or reading words like “stupid fucking nigger” on my social media page can be, for a split second, jarring. However, once I realize that I have the power to not respond, or even remove/disregard comments on online spaces–especially for those who will comment repeatedly in an attempt to draw out an immediate and direct response–I shift from being the victim to the one in control.

 

The word “nigger” initially puts the power in the hands of the person doing the addressing, while the addressee becomes the victim. Whether the person who’s addressed reacts angrily or with distress, the word has taken an effect. This is only natural as calling someone a racial slur is meant to provoke a reaction. For me, however, by not offering a response, I’m taking control of the situation.

 

I’m making a conscious effort to not be reactionary, but instead neutral.

 

As learned in applied behavioral science, this is referred to as the extinction procedure, or preventing a behavior to continue by not acknowledging it.

 

Oftentimes, the extinction procedure is applied to children when they launch into a tantrum or other grandiose behavior with the expectation of provoking a reaction, whether that reaction is negative or positive. When they are not given the attention they desire, the behavior subsides.

 

By not providing the anticipated reaction of being called “nigger” to the person who wishes to ignite confrontation or pain, this eliminates the authority that they had hoped to achieve.

 

Differences in Power: Black vs. White

 

Being called a racial slur is only one form of discrimination that is intended to revoke power of black and brown community members.

 

In fact racial slurs work in tandem with institutionalized racism and even hate crimes, perpetuating a system of oppression. This is why I find it key to start breaking down stratospheres of power and class that Western Culture assigns according to race, by doing something as small as not reacting to hate speech.

 

Statistically, for example, if I have a “black-sounding” name, then I have a lesser chance of getting a job compared to a white counterpart even with the same level of or more experience. Dating is tricky, as black women and men, as well as Asian males are rated as the least attractive thanks in part to harmful tropes and inaccurate stereotypes that regularly play out through fictional television shows and movies. Coupled with the socialization of a white standard of beauty, people who are black are normally misrepresented on screen or locked into specific negative archetypes such as being uneducated, loud and obnoxious, thug-like, and crude.

 

If not for incredibly gifted writers like Shonda Rhimes and her wildly successful television shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” and “Scandal,” the push for normalized television that represents a bevy of races in different archetypes might still be difficult to come by.

 

I’m more likely to be pulled over by police officers for a traffic infraction, killed on the spot, and then later blamed for my death, while a white counterpart can maul the face off of a stranger or kill several members in a community church and live to stand trial.

 

Although there are ample examples I could continue to delve into on how my blackness remains a catalyst for various forms of systemic oppression, there are some who do not believe that minorities or people of color are still oppressed.

 

These people often victim blame or victim shame communities of black and brown members, placing the onus on those who are powerless to reconstruct their lives in a space that’s inherently designed to see them fail.

 

An example of this is through our public education system, where funding is linked to property taxes. In essence, the wealthier you are or the better the neighborhood that you live in, then the higher the quality of education you have access to.

 

Spoiler alert: white Americans hold the majority of the nation’s wealth. Let’s dig deeper into this by first noting the difference between wealth and income. Wealth is the value of one’s total assets minus liabilities whereas income only measures how much a person makes annually.

 

Picture person A who inherits a home worth $1MIL and has an annual income of $70K. Next, picture person B who also has an annual income of $70K but does not own property and may have $30K in debt. Although they are each taking in the same amount of money or income yearly, their wealth or net worth is significantly different.

 

Wealth is in part linked to ownership of property, which is typically passed down through generations and inherited.

 

If we go back in time, ancestors of black Americans struggled to become property owners after being freed from slavery, as rates to acquire land were hiked up for people of color, while cuts were given to those who were white. Essentially, if you were white you could own more property for less.

 

Not as much property was made accessible for black and brown people to own, meaning black and brown people today inherit significantly less, widening the wealth gap.

 

Racism inherently built into the infrastructure of Western culture like the example above, coupled with the pervasive and persistent uses of hate speech, are used to diminish the position of black and brown community members in society.

 

Even words like “nigger” are asserted to demote people of color and to reinforce a sense of superiority to those who are white. This feeds into the stigma that people who are black are subversive and need to be controlled, while reinforcing that people who are white have the power to dominate and restore order.

 

 

The Meaning of Victim-Blaming/Shaming

 

To look at this unbalanced power dynamic further, we can examine other examples of language that is used to manipulate and minimize: victim-blaming/victim-shaming. Commonly used in cases of sexual assault or rape, victim-blaming/shaming is when a perpetuator commits a crime, yet defends their behavior by criminalizing the person they attacked.

 

The perpetrator turns the person they attacked into the criminal. This is terrifyingly effective with rape and sexual assault cases because in society women are both objectified and dehumanized. Once a woman is seen as an object of desire or something to be coveted, then she is no longer viewed as a human being. This makes it easier to justify violence against her.

 

Think of the judge who reprimanded a woman in a rape case by asking her why she couldn’t keep her knees together to prevent the attack. The woman was seen as an object, not a person, ultimately condoning the attack.

 

Similar to how a rapist has the authority to criminalize, or victim-shame/blame the person they target, people of color are often victim-shamed/blamed for the racism and discrimination that they face. This includes the example mentioned earlier relating to housing, public school systems, and the quality of public education available.

 

Black and brown people are often blamed for not being able to pull themselves out of economically debilitating situations, although we often do not have the same access to resources–such as quality public education–to easily achieve the same levels of success as white counterparts.

 

The dehumanization and oppression of black and brown people ultimately leads to victim-shaming/blaming. This then creates a climate to justify violence against people of color, as is the case with the numerous killings of unarmed black and brown people by law enforcement.

 

Empowerment Through Conscious Change

 

Though systemic racism is omnipresent, coming up with a solution to eradicate years of oppression is unlikely without cultural shifts. No matter how small the shift is–look at Kaepernick, who by deciding to kneel during the National Anthem, has inspired others across the country to follow in his lead–there is the opportunity for impact.

 

Thus, while individually I cannot all at once take away from the negativity, hate, and oppression that comes with the word “nigger,” I can choose to no longer give hate speech the power it so inherently desires, and encourage others to do the same. If we all make a conscious effort to rise above the manipulation attempted by hate speech and other victimizing language, we can eventually cause its extinction.

 

Though some might find this easier said than done, I’m confident that as we continue to grow and evolve as a society, the more we’ll realize that hate speech fundamentally lacks any merit, educational clout, and integrity deserving of a reaction. In the end, we can work to eradicate the intention behind racial slurs and cause them to die out along with their presumed power.

 

This alone empowers me to keep fighting, as I learn to unshackle the word “nigger” from my American identity.

 

Taylor Swift Performing Photo from the website The Express Tribune

Here’s What I Wish Taylor Swift Would Really Say As a Feminist

Taylor Swift, known for connecting with fans through her anecdotal songwriting, redefined her image over the past two years with the release of her 2014 album 1989.

No longer penning lyrics that peg her as the underdog as with her song “Mean,” or that convey a sentiment of being an outsider when it comes to love like “You Belong With Me,” she has embraced an attitude that’s all about women’s empowerment.

She openly labels herself as a feminist, and has defined what feminism means to millions of fans. She even makes sure to show support to other women in a male-dominated industry, though there’s been controversy on her flip-flopping on this, especially with her public dig at artist Katy Perry.

Despite her role as feminist, however, the space she occupies as a white woman in the 1% is vastly different than what most women experience day-to-day.

As a fan, I want her to acknowledge this and explore issues of women’s inequality, not only within the realm of the entertainment industry but across the world.

Here are 3 things I wish Taylor Swift would say when it comes to championing women’s rights, while simultaneously acknowledging who she is as a feminist:

1) On Body Image and the Media: “I fit an ideal body type that not a lot of women have. This caters to an unfair standardized image of beauty that not only affects me but people I’m close with. Selena Gomez, for example, was called out for not being thin enough. She did a great job tackling the Internet troll who confronted her. Then there’s Lena Dunham who felt insecure about being on stage with me and models during my 1989 show when I had guest appearances. The group reassured her that she doesn’t have to look like us to feel special or beautiful. This isn’t to say I’m ashamed about my body type; I just want to make sure other women feel comfortable embracing who they are.”

2) On Harassment: “I’ve been harassed by male fans. From the lawsuit I’m dealing with involving a guy who groped me to the time when a gentleman reached for my leg while I was singing ‘Bad Blood’ on stage. This is important for me to address because I know women everywhere are dealing with harassment simply from walking down the street, or in other countries girls and women live in fear of assault daily. It’s never OK for this to happen or for a woman to feel powerless in her own body, and I want to change that.”

3) On Access to Education for Girls Around the World: “I grew up in an environment where my family encouraged me to pursue an education, as well as my dreams. They didn’t treat me differently from my brother. I know girls and women in some countries don’t get that opportunity and are frequently put in dangerous situations when they try to go after their dreams. Look at Malala for example. That’s why I’m a feminist–to make sure all girls have the support and resources they need to pursue what they’re passionate about.”

As a fan of Taylor Swift, I hope one day the pop star will be more open to discuss her experiences and how they relate to those of other women. Whether that means talking about how women around the world all share different, yet relatable, challenges or creating a dialogue on existing women’s issues. Either way, I’m curious to see how Swift grows both as an empowered woman and a self-proclaimed feminist.

Blonde Store Mannequins

Everything But the Girl Next Door: A Black Woman in America

“I am tossed, a grenade harpooned into the streets of Barbie faces. I have a detonation of hair and mutilated features: wide nose, thick lips, and boogie man eyes, deep when they hit the soul. I am enough to be a monster by society’s standards.” –The Willow Tree by Elan Carson

I remember sitting on the floor of my kindergarten classroom, eyeing the creamy light-colored palms on my hands and feet thinking, “I’m part White.” I quickly dismissed my brown-hued flesh, asserting I would later look and be “normal”; I was simply going through a phase.

I’m not sure how at this early of an age I was already aware of race and that if you were White, you possessed a certain authority. Maybe it was the Disney movies I watched on repeat, donning a long terry cloth towel as my pseudo wig to hide my furiously tangled, short hair. Or it could have been the Brady Bunch, and my infatuation with hoping I would turn out like Marcia. Even the television set was turned on in the morning revealing bubbly Suzanne Somers, flashes of blonde hair nurturing my toddler admiration for all things bright and subsequently, “pretty.”

Later, I would grow up to develop social anxiety, depression and an unhealthy complex with my racial identity.

Fast forward from kindergarten to a few years later. I became cognizant that at my predominantly, African-African elementary school, girls of color with longer hair and fairer skin were immensely more favored by peers. These girls would casually shuck out comments on having “mixed Native-American heritage,” while others, including myself, played up their exoticism, while downplaying our own self-identity.

Later, during my high school years, I would hold bitter conversations with my African-American male friends who frequently commented that compared to other ethnicities, women of color simply weren’t desirable to men. We were labeled as loud, ghetto, brazen, uneducated and as a whole, unattractive. Even my father would state that if I had my mother’s complexion, eye color, or hair length—my mother being a woman of mixed heritage–that I would be that much more prettier. I started to let everyone’s words configure and sculpt a visual of myself that was entirely untrue.

I fought to overturn those negative thoughts, finding ways to prove that I was in fact smart, creative, easy-going, well-spoken, and even pretty, all while being Black. I didn’t get far though, as I looked to mainstream White role models Lizzie McGuire, Angela Chase, and even Daria, to distance myself from the stereotypes budding around my African-American heritage.

I tried to reconnect with my roots by reading literature like The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison as well as the soulful, piercingly honest poetry Maya Angelou and Langston Hughes delivered through anthologies. It didn’t hit me until college, though, that maybe I was fighting a losing battle.

After making the long haul from racially segregated Detroit, Michigan to Southern California, I thought I would find solace in what I perceived to be the culturally diverse folds of my new home. Enrolling in a private university, I was apt to join scores of students from different cultural backgrounds. What I found was nearly the complete opposite.

No one could mentally prepare me for the racial jokes, underhanded discrimination, or even unfiltered comments from predominately White students who would occasionally preface their curiosities with “I’ve never seen a Black person before…” I had relocated from one non-racially diverse space to another and this started to take a toll on my psyche.

Before I even graduated, I suffered a complete meltdown. I wasn’t sure how to come to terms with who I was, because I didn’t know where in American society I belonged. I managed to become everything the media had wanted me to be: smart, funny, creative, down-to-earth, all tossed in with a touch of sarcasm. But it would never matter, I realized, after spending one evening with a drunken colleague, who blurted something to the effect of, “You’re such a cool girl. Too bad you aren’t White. If you were you could rule the world.” There it was, spoken aloud.

From that day on, I decided that this battle with my skin color was no longer a “me” problem, as I had diagnosed in the past. It is an everyday dilemma that pulls at each of us. I can still feel it when I experience my guy friends swoon over the girl-next-door charm of Emma Watson, and I realize that twenty years later there still isn’t a mainstream example of her wholesomeness, easy-going, good-natured characteristics packaged into an African-American role available for mainstream consumption. These realizations hurt even more, when I read stories of how women of color from various cultures purchase skin lightening creams in hopes of reaching the pinnacle of America’s standard of beauty.

The truth is, I will never exist as that girl-next-door figure or any other archetype belonging to White women. I am not the “blonde bombshell,” “mysterious brunette,” or even quirky Zooey Deschanel. And I’m OK with that. I’ve decided that being boxed in with a certain stereotype doesn’t allow me the capability to grow and nurture who I am, but to feed an out-of-date machine running on repressed ideals.

Instead of trying to mold my identity into society-appropriated “norms,” I, as a woman of color, have a unique cultural perspective that I get to share with others because of my race, a luxury I’m not sure I would have if I were simply labeled the girl next door. This alone now motivates me to appreciate who am I every day.

Body Love Anthems Playlist

For those who know me, there are roughly a handful of things I’m vehemently passionate about–this is a lie, I’m passionate about way too many things; for the sake of this post I have narrowed it down–: writing, my cat, women’s empowerment, and doughnuts.

These obviously all go hand-in-hand. In my world that means dancing in my living room in my underwear, with my windows open, not caring about what anyone thinks when it comes to my body, all while enjoying a doughnut and the snark of my cat who may or may not be embarrassed by me. I later chronicle this in a haiku or essay.

Body Love is True LoveHow did I become such a confident dame cherishing her lovely lady lumps?

From getting rid of my I-can-fit-into-you-again-wishful-thinking wardrobe from college, finding jeans that celebrate my “American thighs” and small waist…even after they downsize in the dryer (thank you Gap 1969 and Joe’s Jeans), and monitoring how I talk to myself daily, I have finally arrived at what some would call a delusional sense of self, given that I’m not a supermodel. I simply refer to this as a much-needed, daily dose of body love.

Remembering that beauty isn’t limited to an ideal body type that only 5% of women have is important. This is admittedly difficult when we are constantly bombarded with airbrushed, altered photos of women and men who are made to look perfect. That’s when I remind myself that not even the models look like how they are portrayed without the help of Photoshop finessing, make-up, and overall digital sculpting.

In celebration of a new era of women who’s learning how to champion her body just the way it is, here’s my “Body Love Anthems” playlist available via Spotify. DJ, crank it!

P.S. Share some of your favorite body love songs in the comments below if you feel comfortable.

Yours Truly,
Elan M. Carson