As we enter a New Year [hopefully, sober (see what I did there? Made a joke about drinking in order to connect with you good folks who’ll be busy sinning tonight *tsk tsk*)] it’s important to remember that the previous 365 days don’t simply wash away. As much as we want to believe it, none of us start off on Jan. 1 with a clean slate.
It may sound depressing, but a foolish man is the one who suddenly thinks what they did on Dec. 31 doesn’t count, or what they did way back on Jan. 1. Reason why I bring this up is to formulate a larger point about the past, and that is: We cannot keep forgetting, otherwise we will always have to re-learn the hard way. Like Faulkner said, ‘the past is not even past.’
See that picture I uploaded (Image from Google by the way)? That’s now an infamous image of police in Ferguson overreacting as usual to protests. Honestly, I don’t even know if that guy in the blueish shirt was a protester. Heck, he might’ve been some guy trying to get to work and was instantly, held up by a dozen armed goons. Regardless, we cannot forget images like this. We just can’t afford to. Neither should we forget Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Rekia Boyd, and so many countless others crushed by the Holy Trinity of evil: Capitalism, Racism, and Patriarchy.
Think about history this way if it’s not clear to you: The way the police treated the black residents of Ferguson had been going on for decades. It just didn’t spring up in 2015. The seeds had been planted long, long ago. And generally, the way the police and the armed wings of the U.S. have treated groups like Native Americans connect to how they treat them and similar groups now. Isn’t a surprise that the National Guard is brought in to bring “law and order” into predominantly black and brown neighborhoods, while mostly white students at Penn State rioted too and nothing happened there? Or that Clive Bundy was able to round up his gang of armed thugs and literally aim their rifles on federal marshals and nothing happen? As oppose to the countless incidences of someone like Sarah Circle Bear being left to die in a jail? Think about it. As much as you want to believe that what happened before suddenly doesn’t matter, the system won’t let you. And it’s up to you not to let the system forget either.
Melissa didn’t say a single word during the car ride from the apartment she shared with Subhash in Elizabeth, New Jersey to Subhash’s family’s home an hour away in East Brunswick.
Subhash, who was driving, kept playing with the radio, flipping between news and mainstream rap. Melissa thought of plugging in her IPOD into the stereo, keen on filling the empty space with Run the Jewels instead, but decided against it, not wanting to lose focus on what was ahead of them that night.
The house was in a typically suburban community, with at least one tree in front of every home, and people walking outside without locking their doors.
Melissa and Subhash were born and raised in East Brunswick, or E.B. for short. They knew one another other in high-school but started considering each as an option to sleep with during their days at Rutgers, where they both majored in Political Science and gazed into each other’s eyes while organizing rallies outside the university cafeteria.
“Are you ready?” Subhash asked once he parked in the driveway.
Melissa looked over at the house, its windows all bright with light, and seeing shadows behind the curtains.
“I’ll make sure to grab the dessert,” she said and took the apple pie they bought from a store nearby.
As they walked upto the front door, they could hear the laughter and the music from inside. They took deep breaths, and knocked. One of Subhash’s cousins answered, and instantly, the laughter, and even the music from the radio stopped.
Everyone, including the cousin, looked at Melissa and Subhash standing in the doorway. Melissa made sure to keep smiling, even though she knew that the night wouldn’t be any different from all the others.
She handed the pie to the cousin, greeted those she knew, such as Subhash’s aunts and uncles, and after forcing small talk, took a plate of food and headed outside to the backyard, where she spent the majority of the party alone, dipping her naan into the chicken tika gravy, and watching the lights from the other houses start to glow.
. . .
Melissa, after a year, wondered why she kept trying. She really did. After all, she was well-educated, had a good job, was able to share expenses, and kept goals in life, such as one day owning a business in graphic design/advertising. She described it as Mad Men, but without the rampant sexism. Of course, she understood that the problem wasn’t her character. Heck, it wasn’t even about her obsession with comic books, which she knew she’d have to manage, some day.
Nope. It was none of those things just mentioned.
The reason why Subhash’s family felt so uncomfortable to include her in the family pictures, Facebook threads, and party invitations was about something she had no real control over.
“I’m not a racist,” the eldest of Subhash’s uncles began to say while in the living room with all the other men, “but, I hope you’re not thinking of marrying her…?
Subhash sat across the uncle, and picked at the food on his plate.
“Marriage isn’t a big issue for us yet,” Subhash replied.
“Good! Cause again, I’m not a racist but you should marry someone who’s pretty,” the uncle continued, as everyone else stared at their food.
Melissa, by then, had come back inside to get a glass of water and after hearing the voices in the living room, stopped to listen from the corner.
“If I do feel like marrying her, I will,” Subhash said.
“Listen, I understand you’ve spent a lot of time with her, and she seems like a nice person, but she comes from a people that don’t share our values. I see them all the time when I work in New York, having kids before marriage, cheating on their husbands, taking drugs.”
Subhash looked up from his plate. “Her name is Melissa, and you’ve known her for years,” he said.
The uncle nodded. He admitted that Melissa was a good person.
“But she’s still a black,” he explained, as if it were a mental condition, “and blacks don’t understand Indian values.”
Subhash didn’t wait for anything else to be said. He tossed the rest of the food into the nearest trash, and minutes later, him and Melissa were in their car, heading back to their apartment.
“I told you it would be a bad idea,” Subhash repeated while behind the wheel.
“What was our other option? To ignore your family?” Melissa said.
“Who cares about them anyway?”
“I do. I still believe they can change if they get to know me.”
“It’s been years. Forget them.”
“Well, in that case, let’s get married.”
Melissa glanced over when Subhash didn’t immediately reply.
She watched, as he kept his eyes focused on the road.
“We need to first get our house in order,” Subhash finally said, citing the debt they were in, and bringing up once more Melissa’s comic book collection and in turn, Melissa mentioning Subhash’s overspending on lottery tickets and his investments in friends’ failed businesses.
They talked and talked, as other cars passed them on the highway.
“Experts say the storm will hit the east coast with a force not seen in decades,” said the news anchor on the radio.
But neither Melissa nor Subhash heard him while they argued, not even hearing the name that forecasters had given the storm: Sandy.
. . .
Melissa and Subhash lived in a busy apartment complex, just a few blocks from where they would take the train to their jobs in Manhattan early each morning. That week, they followed their routines, waking up when it was still cold, taking showers while coffee brewed, and heading off to work along with countless others still picking off the crust from their eyes. Each night, they’d eat dinner, discuss their days and fall asleep after an hour or two of watching shows on their tablet.
On the outside, they looked like any other pairing of young professionals. However, just like most couples and families who lived in the building, they were surviving from paycheck to paycheck. Both of them were drowning in student debt, and as the months dragged on, they begun to fall further and further behind in their bills. Eventually, the only mail they got was letters from creditors.
. . .
Melissa and Subhash tried to keep themselves financially afloat, either working part-time over the weekends, saving up what they could by only eating turkey and cheese sandwiches everyday for lunch, and even asking for more shifts.
Melissa was getting ready to work overtime one afternoon when she received a phone call from Subhash.
“Are you at your desk?” he asked.
“Where else would I be?” she replied. “Did something happen?”
Melissa waited with her phone against her ear, hearing Subhash still on the other line. She stopped typing with her other hand and repeated the question.
“Did something happen?”
Subhash sighed. “We’ve been evicted,” he said.
Melissa sat up in her seat. “What are you talking about?” she said.
Subhash explained that there was an eviction notice on their door and the locks had been changed. He took out all they had in their savings (which was enough for three months rent) and tried paying off the landlady, but she told him they needed to go down to the company headquarters.
“Oh,” Melissa replied. “Are they located in Newark?”
“No,” Subhash said, “they’re down near Cape May…”
“What the heck? That’s in southern New Jersey. That’s hours away!”
“I know, but she told me that the offices are open 24/7.”
“So what? Do we just drive down there?”
“We have no other choice. We can’t just wait and let things get worse.”
“What about the storm?”
“It’s all hype. That’s what these weather forecasters do.”
“Okay. I’ll head back as soon as I can.”
“No,” Subhash told her. “I’ll pick you up from work.”
Melissa understood, and went to the bathroom. When Subhash arrived, she got the call, and rushed down. Once she got in, they took off onto the Garden State Parkway, where cars were packed in, and no one was moving, even an inch. There was nothing good on the radio. Subhash asked Melissa about her day, and she asked about his.
. . .
Rain drops began to fall while they were still on the highway.
“It’s all hype,” Subhash repeated, as he maneuvered them onto the local roads instead.
“I don’t get it,” Melissa replied, as they drove through town after town, “by what you’re saying, this is some sort of conspiracy done by weathermen…”
Subhash shrugged, and turned up the radio, with more Drake echoing inside.
Melissa winced. She turned to the window. Shopping malls faded into the distance, replaced by small shops, including liquor stores. Cities mutated into suburbs.
They drove all the way to the shore, where the rain grew heavier, but the roads were empty. They even began to joke with one another, as before. Confederate flags hung from some homes along the way, and they imagined the kind of person who would live inside them.
“Probably the kind of idiot who frisks someone in a bookstore.”
“Wait, did that actually happen to you?”
“Yep. A while ago. But I still remember that hag’s hands all over me.”
“Where was this? This is insane.”
“It was at a bookstore in Metuchen. I walked in and the lady working there kept asking me what was in my pockets, so she pulled me aside and went through them.”
Melissa burst out laughing. “She probably wanted some of that Indian meat all for herself!” she said.
Subhash was smiling. “She was so wrinkly,” he said.
“She could’ve been your sugar mama!” Melissa continued to laugh.
For a few more miles, the road was theirs, and neither of them seemed to care much about the rain anymore, even though it was picking up pace.
However, while half-way down the shore, traffic reappeared, blocking their way. Thousands of cars filled up the lanes. To their left were the homes along the shore and the ocean waves crashing against the rocks and sometimes, making it over.
Subhash told Melissa to rest since she might be driving the rest of the way. She leaned back, and closed her eyes.
. . .
When Subhash and Melissa officially started dating, they hung out in downtown New Brunswick, before the city was gentrified and every inch of was covered in yogurt shops and hookah.
Melissa, back then, wasn’t entirely sure what Subhash’s ethnicity was. She understood he was South Asian (not Arab like she once thought), but still unclear of where his parents came from. She figured out from bits and pieces that Subhash’s family was originally from West Bengal in India. She heard of Bangladesh but never knew what West Bengal was (later, she would google and find out more information). She asked Subhash if she was the first black girl he dated, and he admitted she was, but quickly added, that his family didn’t teach him to be prejudiced, and that all he wanted was someone who he could talk to and share new ideas with.
Her own parents didn’t know much about Subhash, apart from what Melissa told them over the phone. Both her parents had moved to the west coast to work as professors, and they too had many questions about Subhash’s background, and warned Melissa against thinking everything would be ideal. Melissa would tell them she had control of the situation.
The first time she met Subhash’s parents was after graduation, at their home in Montclair, again surrounded by trees and other random foliage. Subhash’s parents shook hands with her, smiled at what she said, and asked her questions about what she wanted to do with her life. It was a pleasant conversation. On the way back home, however, Subhash explained to Melissa that his parents still wanted the rest of the family to also accept her, otherwise, the matter would be complicated. Melissa agreed, thinking it was a reasonable request. And so, she met everyone else at a family picnic, where no one spoke to her, and just stared whenever she’d go to the main table for some of the Indian food available. Sometimes, a child would walk up to her and ask her about her hair, and why it was so thick. She’d force a smile and ask their names, but they’d always giggle and run away.
Melissa told her parents she had a good time at the gathering, and after hanging up, Subhash took her out for ice cream, and they didn’t say much to each other for the rest of the evening, and just looked up at the moon, as their tongues lapped up the chocolate and vanilla on their cones.
. . .
She heard screaming. Her eyes flung open, like shades. People were running past them. Melissa sat up, and heard loud crashing, so she turned to where the noises were coming from and saw the giant waves tumbling over the rocks. She saw the summer homes all destroyed, left in heaps of sticks.
Subhash was still behind the wheel, and honking.
“These idiots,” he muttered, “all they have to do is continue driving and we will be fine.”
Melissa ignored him, as the giant waves grew larger and larger.
“We have to go,” Melissa said.
Subhash cursed at the other drivers.
Melissa turned to him, and with her eyes wide, she yelled, “We have to get out!”
She grabbed his arm. He broke free and instead, told her they couldn’t leave.
“This is all we have!” he said.
“Doesn’t matter!” she yelled, and when Subhash still didn’t react, she lunged into the backseat, grabbed the backpack filled with the rent money and also tossing in some granola bars and whatever she could find. She tumbled out. Water was rising around her. Subhash lifted her to her feet, and they ran.
Hundreds of others were already heading up the hill, glancing behind to see their cars soon submerged.
. . .
After running till their legs were sore and muscles ached, all of the people, as if somehow connected telepathically, all slowed to a walk. They plodded through neighborhoods of abandoned homes falling apart way before the flood. Signs reading FORECLOSURE stuck out from front lawns.
Everyone kept going for another five miles. It was getting cold. People started shivering. A tall woman in front of Subhash and Melissa asked the person next to her where the shelters were.
The other person was also a woman, although much shorter and with broader shoulders. She said she wasn’t sure.
Subhash and Melissa, who were in the back of the group, checked their phones for directions, but their batteries were dead. After they passed another row of empty houses, Subhash took Melissa by the hand and led her onto the sidewalk.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Subhash let go of her hand and tried to open the window of one of the houses. It wouldn’t budge. He looked around and picked up a rock. He waited until the crowd of people was beginning to fade in the distance before he threw it through the window, shattering the glass.
Melissa stood in silence, as Subhash, using his sleeves, carefully cleared off the remnants, and hopped inside.
He turned and reached out for her. She hesitated. The wind grew colder against the skin. She took his hand finally, and jumped through.
. . .
It didn’t matter that Langston Hughes wrote about the Indian struggle for freedom in his poems.
It didn’t matter that Indian leaders like B.R. Ambedkar identified with African-Americans’ fight for freedom as a cause every lover of liberty should believe in.
Heck, it didn’t even matter that Dr. King went to India and that Malcolm X expressed solidarity with all people of color around the world, especially those on the Indian subcontinent.
What was so odd and perplexing was that many Indians and Indian-Americans that Melissa got to know through Subhash greatly admired men such as Dr. King and President Obama. She knew many who voted for the president and who hated republicans and their policies.
And yet, whenever she’d go to the Hindu temple with Subhash, all the other worshippers, most of whom were Indian, would stare and not say a word as she’d walk to the front and sit down on the floor to listen to the priest. In contrast, she remembered another member of the temple who brought his white girlfriend with him. At first, the white woman experienced the same level of hostility, but on that same day, she also received advice from the Indian women, even the older ones, on how to pray, and what to do when the priest spoke to her.
Melissa learned everything on her own, since Subhash also knew very little of his family’s faith.
Subhash stopped going to the temple after an older man looked at Melissa and said something in Bengali. Subhash confronted him, and before it escalated, he backed off, and told Melissa they were leaving instead. Weeks later, Subhash tried explaining what happened to his family but they blamed Melissa and that was the first time they also spoke to her directly, telling her that society was built in such a way that sometimes, things were out of their control.
The discussion was held at the family home. Melissa told them respectfully she would take what they said in consideration and continued to from a cup of water. Subhash stayed with her for the night, since no one else spoke to them afterwards.
. . .
“One day, we could own a house like this.”
“Maybe. But not along the shore.”
“In East Brunswick?” Melissa asked.
“No,” Subhash answered.
The house was two floors. It had a living room and two bathrooms, and there was no furniture left inside.
Subhash and Melissa sat on the floor, resting their heads against the wall, and eating granola bars.
Subhash explained they could wait for a boat to come and rescue them.
But by morning, the water had risen, flooding the streets and engulfing the cars that were left behind.
“We could swim.”
“Not possible. There are downed power lines everywhere. Plus, the water is crawling with disease.”
“That’s true. But we need to move quick.”
Melissa nodded and looked out the window, searching for a way out.
Suddenly, there was a man yelling from the house across the street.
“You stupid bitch!” he bellowed, and pushed open the door, dragging a woman by her hair. He dragged her down the front steps and close to the water.
Subhash yelled for the man to stop. The man looked up, and the woman was crying. The man glared and yelled back for them to mind their own business.
Melissa fumbled for an idea. She quickly held up her phone.
“Go ahead!” she said, “We got all this on video!”
The man kept glaring, and stood absolutely still.
Finally, the man let go of the woman’s hair and rushed back inside, slamming the door behind him.
Melissa breathed a sigh of relief.
“I thought your phone was dead…” Subhash whispered.
“It is,” Melissa whispered back.
She called out to the woman, asking if she was okay.
The woman rubbed the back of her head and stumbled to her feet. Her hair was long and covered her face. She edged closer to the water. Melissa warned her not to go in.
The woman peered into the water’s surface and stood over it.
. . .
Melissa and Subhash decided to jump from porch to porch, and climb along the rails. They made it downtown, where they could walk on the streets again. They went to the supermarket to gather more supplies. There were hundreds of others there too, bumping against each other, shoving items into bags.
Melissa spotted the tall woman she saw before, and asked if she knew of any shelter nearby. The woman shrugged, and continued to pour cereal into her purse.
Fortunately, Subhash found out there were buses up ahead, a few miles away. They immediately began walking again, eating and heading further up the hill. It was night when they finally reached a stretch of road where there were buses and people waiting in line to get on.
A person who was standing in front of them, after Melissa asked him what was going on, told her that the buses were taking them to Atlantic City, where people could transfer.
Melissa was worried. She asked the man if they couldn’t somehow avoid Atlantic City. Subhash, however, told her not to worry.
“We’ll be in and out, okay?” he said.
The ride was an hour long, and Melissa grabbed Subhash’s hand when they stepped off. The plan was to simply transfer to another bus, but Subhash said he needed to pee. Melissa followed him and waited outside the restroom.
The casinos were still open. The evacuation hadn’t yet fully taken place and many people seemed to be in denial, dressed up in their finest jewelry and apparel, going from table to table and gambling away their investments.
Large groups of men exited the bathroom every few moments. They streamed out, zipping up their flies in a hurry. Melissa squinted into the crowd. The minutes clicked by, and she didn’t see any sign of Subhash.
Her legs grew tired. She went inside the restroom. Covering her face from the stench of dehydrated piss, she looked through each stall. It was all empty, except for the men standing and staring at her from the urinals. After checking everywhere, her eyes grew wide, and she immediately rushed out. She ran to the casino portion of the hotel, dodging people in her way. She hopped on a table, and people yelled and threatened to call security.
“Black bitch,” a woman muttered.
Melissa ignored them, and ran to the end of the floor, where there was a crowd of people surrounding the blackjack table.
“Big money, big money,” Subhash muttered, biting his nails, as the black ball popped in and out of the whirling numbers.
Melissa fought through the crowd.
“What are you doing?” she yelled, and grabbed his arm.
The crowd booed.
“Babe, just listen, I can win us five months rent!” he said.
Melissa looked at the stack of chips that were on the table.
“Oh my god…” she murmured.
She lunged for the chips. Security grabbed her. Subhash tried to push them away. But they took him by the neck, and dragged them both outside.
“Wait!” Subhash yelled, as he tried to get past them and inside the hotel, “my chips are still in there!”
But the two security guards stood in his way and didn’t move. Subhash, after feebly trying to push though, stopped and with slumped shoulders, looked over at Melissa.
She was fixing her shirt, and glaring at the ground.
He sighed, and tried to talk to her, telling her he still had enough for two months.
“I’m sure we’ll be okay,” he said, and took her hand.
She didn’t stop glaring.
They finally took a bus further south, and Melissa gazed out the window as Subhash kept holding her hand and talking, mentioning how everyone on the bus looked constipated. But Subhash became quiet too once it was only his voice being heard inside.
The main headquarters for the leasing office was in a small town, which was empty of people. The headquarters was the only place open and the largest structure around. It was three stories tall and looked like a warehouse. But inside, it had the appearance of a local bank, with lines of people waiting to be called and tellers behind glass.
Melissa explained their situation to one of the women working that day.
“We have what we have because of the storm,” Melissa said.
The teller told them they had rules in place for a reason, and Melissa, with Subhash standing in silence, replied that they could pay a bit extra for the next few months too.
Subhash turned to her, and the teller lifted her head from the packs of money.
Melissa made sure to smile but to also look pensive and serious.
The teller accepted the deal and handed them the special key that would get them inside their apartment.
Melissa thanked her and rushed outside, with Subhash trailing behind.
“How are we going to pay extra?” he asked once he caught up.
“I have stuff I need to sell,” she said, “comic books that I don’t read anymore.”
Subhash paused. They stood at the bus stop.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
Melissa watched the road. “What choice do I have?” she said, and craned her neck to see the next bus coming in. She could still smell the ocean.
. . .
The bus back home took them from the local roads and onto the turnpike. Subhash had stopped talking too. However, when the bus made a detour into East Brunswick for passengers who lived in the area, he immediately took Melissa by the hand and led her outside. Melissa asked what was going on, but he smiled at her, as they made their way into the nearby courthouse.
Subhash greeted one of the employees at the front desk and asked if anyone was available to officiate a wedding.
The woman smiled and explained the kind of paperwork they would need.
“Awesome! We’ll be back!” he exclaimed and they took a cab to Rahway, where Subhash immediately began rummaging through their apartment once they got in, gathering all the necessary forms and I.D.
Melissa simply stepped inside, and looked around. She saw the boxes of comic books in every corner. She saw the blots on their ceiling from broken water pipes. The trash was filled to the brim with ripped up lottery tickets.
Once Subhash entered the room again from their hallway closet, papers in hand and beaming, she smiled as well, but also walked forward, and peered into his eyes.
“Honey,” she said, “let’s get our house in order first, okay?”
The smile on Subhash’s face slowly vanished.
“Let’s organize everything and open up an account on craigslist and start getting rid of what we don’t need,” she explained.
Subhash didn’t turn away.
“And then we can go to the courthouse?” he asked.
She smiled until he smiled, adding, “First, let’s get some work done before the rest of the storm hits us.”
“I’ll start right away,” he said, and after a quick shower, he packed up the boxes and labeled them, as Melissa sat on the computer and opened the account.
. . .
At one of the family gatherings they went to, right after they graduated from Rutgers and announced their relationship to everyone they knew, they spent the evening sitting by themselves on the living room couch. Most of Subhash’s relatives kept on talking in their own little groups, and eating, and sometimes, glancing at Melissa from the corner of their eye.
Subhash greeted the people he knew, especially cousins, but then decided to sit next to Melissa on the couch, handing her a plate of food as well.
She asked him why the rice was yellow, and if the lamb was spicy.
He answered, and they ate together.
“This is nice,” he said, as he used his hands to mush the rice and gravy.
She arched an eyebrow at him.
He saw her expression and smiled.
“Considering the circumstances, this is the best we can do,” he explained, and since Melissa wouldn’t stop looking at him, he asked her if she liked the food.
“Of course, I do,” she said, also mixing up the rice with the sauce from the lamb, “This isn’t my first time eating Indian food.”
Subhash couldn’t stop smiling. And Melissa finished everything on her plate, even though she didn’t like to eat so much usually.
They stayed on the couch, talking, and holding hands, imagining themselves away from everyone, very much in control.
On this day, Dec. 29, 1890, 300 Lakota men, women, and children were massacred by U.S. troops of the 7th Cavalry. They were surrounded in their village and mowed down by gunfire.
As detailed in a commission done a year after the killings took place, no one was spared.
“There was a woman with an infant in her arms who was killed as she almost touched the flag of truce, and the women and children of course were strewn all along the circular village until they were dispatched. Right near the flag of truce a mother was shot down with her infant; the child not knowing that its mother was dead was still nursing, and that especially was a very sad sight. The women as they were fleeing with their babes were killed together, shot right through, and the women who were very heavy with child were also killed. All the Indians fled in these three directions, and after most all of them had been killed a cry was made that all those who were not killed wounded should come forth and they would be safe. Little boys who were not wounded came out of their places of refuge, and as soon as they came in sight a number of soldiers surrounded them and butchered them there.”
What happened in Wounded Knee, South Dakota was the final stages of European domination of formerly Indian land.
When people say, men like Trump, are anti-American, and their brand of fascism should be compared to Hitler and Mussolini, it’s short-sighted. We should not compare our demagogues to those beyond our shores, for the U.S., time and time again in how its laws and colonialism treated the native peoples prove that fascism, white supremacy, and terrorism are very much the American way.
Peering over a cloud,
What’s going on?
People are upset.
I see my face…what’s happening?
Remember what I told you when you first came here?
Yes. You said I’m not home anymore.
And what else?
That I’m far, far away. But, I’m still confused. I still can’t remember a lot…
Tell me what you remember.
My mom. My sister. I was outside. I heard a voice.
Then I was here. I…I don’t know…Every time I look below, all my memories get scrambled. I miss my mom. I miss everyone. But I’m not crying. It’s all these feelings stuck in my chest.
That’s okay. That’s what everyone goes through. You will get used to it.
I can see my mom crying…am I the problem? Did I cause this?
Listen. There are things happening that are beyond our control, even mine.
Can you do something? I don’t like seeing my mom like that.
Don’t worry. There are people who will stop the tears, who will help her. Okay?
Okay…but can I tell you something?
Sometimes, I get scared. Sometimes, I see a flash, and I see myself alone.
You are safe.
Yet, I cannot, and will not watch any more movies of his in the theater, cause I know if he’s involved, that means he’s either the lead, or the movie itself is composed of men and women who look like him: white, white, white as fuuuuuuckkk.
I wondered whether to express how I felt poetically or through an allegory, to keep it classy.
Instead, I’ve decided to be blunt.
I will no longer be paying to see movies that star white Americans or for that matter, that place white faces on a pedestal.
And yes, that includes the following:
The Big Short
In the Heart of the Sea
Actually, pretty much 99.99% of all movies made by Hollywood since the dawn of cinema (a.k.a. when Matt Damon awoke from his slumber to grace us with his mayo presence).
I tried. I really did.
I do feel some affinity toward movies like The Big Short even, since they do talk about the horrible things that U.S. banks did to the average person, but my god, every, single, person is a white guy: from Steve Carrell being Steve Carrell to Brad (I produced 12 Years a Slave) Pitt wearing a wig (?). Okay, again, this isn’t about Carrell or Pitt. I actually like their work and they seem like decent folks. But what I’m sick of is how little has changed in Hollywood and in mainstream cinema over the years.
Think about it.
The first film technically was Birth of a Nation. In case you don’t know, it was basically a movie about the “heroic” white mobs (KKK) fighting off black men who wanted white women…
That was the fucking story.
And even to this day, they still have awards based on that film.
So am I surprised that a full century later, and decades after movies like Gone With the Wind, we still have amazing actresses like Viola Davis playing maids…?
The sad thing is I’m not.
Not at all.
But what I am is sickened, and frustrated, and most of all, up to here with acquiescence.
Don’t get me wrong folks, I enjoy movies and I will still watch Place Beyond the Pines, but just not renting it. I’ll just wait when it comes back on the TV.
And since the holidays are upon us, including upcoming New Year’s, I implore all of you to join me, to stop feeding our money to an industry that doesn’t give a damn about representing all groups of people.
Just watch something, anything, that’s different.
May I suggest Chi-Raq (although to be honest, the sexual politics of it concern me…) or even Star Wars?
Better yet, go out with friends and watch an Indie flick. They are out there. Trust me.
In the meantime, do not buy those overpriced bags of popcorn while heading into something like the Revenant where you’ll just spend 90 minutes watching a white dude kill another white dude and then to avenge some other white dude, he’ll be roaming the forests, killing more dudes, including Native people.
Fuck. That. Shit.
Leo. You’re my boy. But, this is it.
In all seriousness, the country’s demographics are changing. Little brown and black kids growing up need to know that people who look like them matter, that their stories are fascinating too.
And if we want men of color, and women of color on the screen, portrayed as nuanced human beings, we have to do what we were taught to do in a capitalist society, and that is talk with our money.
Sandra Bland. Rekia Boyd. Sarah Lee Circle Bear. These are some of the victims of state violence, their bodies crushed under the patriarchal and white supremacist regime of the United States of America.
Their personal stories shed light on the shameful nature of the U.S., how it continues to chew up and spit out women, and people of color. Yet, Bland, Boyd, and Bear have yet to garner major mainstream feminist or liberal reaction. Instead, they are made into moments (if lucky) for the news to dissect until moving onto discussions of Donald Trump’s hair, or perhaps for certain bleeding hearts to mention over plates of Asian fusion. Ultimately, Bland and others like her, risk being expunged from the mainstream feminist narrative altogether.
With the rise of the so-called third wave, many who consider themselves part of the feminist movement continue their search for successes anywhere they can. In the process, figures such as Carly Fiorina and Marissa Mayer are held up as examples of strong, independent women, who embody the principles of feminism. Women CEOs, women directors and writers of Hollywood, and women in seats of power, are depicted often in magazine and on TV, and are more widely accepted as norms. Even some feminists believe that the use of the term “sexism” by modern conservatives is proof “that feminism was not only far from dead but was in a state of growth.” Somehow, the fact that there are more women leading corporations, and even those who are conservatives (women and men included) admitting there is sexism in our society has been a win for the movement.
I agree that feminism remains a viable force, but such examples of “enlightened” behavior by conservative women and men should not be perceived as progress nor is the acceptance of women at elite institutions and Fortune 500 companies, but should serve as a warning that feminism, at this very moment, is at risk of being co-opted by the status quo, similar to what has happened to the civil rights movement and the LGBT fight for equality. Like Bland, Boyd, and Bear, the necessary elements of feminism that are both radical and visionary are being subsumed by convenient thinking.
THE SYMBOLIC AS INSPIRATIONAL
It was Nov. 4, 2008, when Senator Barack Obama became President of the United States. The scene took place on a stage in Chicago, where Obama and his family waved to a crowd of roaring supporters.
I was an undergrad then, my eyes focused on the TV screen in my dorm. I couldn’t believe what was happening so I called a friend, and we gushed over all the possibilities that were before us now. As two South Asian-Americans, we saw a vision of ourselves that night.
I understood how it felt to see someone who looks like you, talks like you, and even walks like you, become a success. Whenever I think back to instances when our family was called “terrorists” in broad daylight, or the times our home was vandalized, images of people like Obama steered me away from a sense of hopelessness and despair.
It is rational for feminists, especially young girls, to look up to someone. “For symbols are entwined with identity. They lead people to choose one identity over another, and they are emitted after the choice, like little radio waves, reinforcing that choice, setting the stage for others, and reaching out to influence other people, who will then change their identity…and so forth.”
Just imagine a young girl growing up in New Jersey, someone who’s been teased at school for being too nerdy and who can’t connect to even members of her own family. Just picture her reading a biography of Hillary Clinton for a class project, or maybe even Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel alone. She finds meaning and a guiding light in women who are excellent at what they do.
But there are limits.
For example, I am not able to muster that same feeling of awe that I have for Obama for someone like a Bobby Jindal. They may share the same shade, but when I do a simple pro and con list in my head, it’s obvious that Jindal’s negative affects for people of color overwhelm the positives.
The same can be said of Sandberg, Fiorina, and Palin.
Therefore, does it matter if someone who is part of the corporate hierarchy and power structure uses phrases such as “feminism” and “sexism”? Or does it matter more how he or she helps to paper over the racism, sexism, and homophobia that pervades our society by being the poster-child of so-called progress?
Because of feminism, women’s (and men’s) lives have vastly improved. From suffrage to improving equality under the law, it’s been women with big ideas who’ve sacrificed on the front lines for all of us.
Yet, their work is far from over.
According to the recent Global Gender Gap Report, the “global average full-time salary for a working woman currently stands at $11,102 a year, just over half of the working man’s average salary of $20,554.” The United States ranked 28th in the world in terms of equal pay. Women are barely represented in the upper echelons of the corporate hierarchy. In fact, there has been focus on this lack of diversity by business leaders such as Sandberg, who’s promoted research that shows this gender-gap that seems to expand as employees are promoted from entry-level positions onto executive.  Oftentimes, women are simply left behind and not given the same opportunities to move up.
According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), which is an anti-sexual violence organization, 1 out of 6 U.S. women have “been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.” In fact, “27.2 percent of female college seniors reported that, since entering college, they had experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact — anything from touching to rape — carried out by incapacitation, usually due to alcohol or drugs, or by force. Nearly half of those, 13.5 percent, had experienced penetration, attempted penetration or oral sex.”
In terms of political power, the 114th Congress is 80 percent male in both the house and the senate. And after the Republicans took over, fewer women were leading committees.
Reproductive rights, including the access to safe abortions and birth-control, has also been a victim of what I’d like to describe as the “one-step forward, two steps back” approach that’s been a part of the American social and political climate since its founding. Yes, having an abortion s might be more accepted than decades ago, when Roe v. Wade was even decided. And of course, younger women and more men understand the importance of having more than just one abortion clinic in a state, and for health insurance to cover expenses for birth control, despite condemnation from right-leaning religious institutions. Still, abortion rights remain a contentious issue and one that is perceived by conservatives as morally wrong and which requires stringent regulation and condemnation. Men on the political right are often the ones who have led the attack on reproductive rights, from bombing abortion clinics to even murdering doctors. Conservative men in power continue to make organizations like Planned Parenthood, who provide affordable access to birth control and healthcare for lower-income women, the target of their rage (I could go Freudian on the reasons why but I resist).
Every month, there’s a hearing in Congress about how abortion equates to murder and that the women who go to clinics are tricked. When I was a reporter in D.C., I also had the dubious honor of sitting in for one of these hearings. This time, it was about Congress deciding to limit abortions in the nation’s capital. Locals were upset because A) D.C. doesn’t have any real representation and so these politicians are from outside the region, and B) D.C. is a more liberal area and access to abortion is synonymous with healthcare and dignity. I was placed in the section reserved for journalists, and jotted down notes for my article, as one by one, opinions were delivered on how awful abortion were and how risky it can be for the fetus, which to them, was alive and able to feel pain. The person in charge of the hearing was Trent Franks, a representative from Arizona. He and his colleagues were all men.
Since 2010, over 280 restrictive laws on abortion were passed, reducing the number of clinics available to women who need them. In Texas, for instance, half of its abortion clinics were shut down since 2012, decreasing from 41 to only 20.  Even in states where abortion is legal, there are limits on the number of months or weeks when a woman can decide to have one, and places where it’s actively discouraged. 
WHO NEEDS ENEMIES WHEN YOU HAVE FRIENDS LIKE THESE
As I’ve mentioned, it’s been mostly conservative men who’ve been obsessed over controlling women’s bodies, and who’ve always been against the so-called feminization of American culture. It’s been men who’ve controlled the national discussion, who’ve been at the locus of power when it comes to what views are seen as legitimate or not. It’s been men who’ve decided that sexual assault in the military is not a problem that merits real change in legislation. It’s been the men in corporations who’ve expanded their wealth and influence, causing communities to crumble because of their growing selfishness. And it’s been men who’ve sown divisions all across the globe, based on such things as race, class, and religion.
The U.S. itself was officially founded by men. They called it a democracy, without giving the right to vote to women. Even when the right was finally achieved in the early 1900s, not all women could enjoy it. Women were also constantly denied their full acceptance in a patriarchal society that saw them as property, as objects to maneuver. What women wanted was simple: to work outside the home, to go to college, to achieve the American Dream. Over time, such things began to be achieved. Feminism pushed forward the need for substantive reform to allow women the same access to resources as men.
Now, we live in an age where women are CEOs of major companies like Pepsi, where women are in the leading roles for TV shows and even directors of big-budget movies. We live in a society that has women running for the highest political office in both major political parties. Yet, certain voices are constantly being hidden. Certain women and their needs are marked as unnecessary.
So, here lies the problem: Feminism is being replaced with a generic, apolitical version of itself, a version that accepts women who are helping to shore up the status quo instead of encouraging radical and necessary change.
Here we bring back the young girl from New Jersey. For the sake of specificity (and because I hate imagining an issue without context), let’s say she grew up in East Brunswick. East Brunswick, like most suburbs in the state, especially those in central and the northern parts, is quintessentially Americana: homes that look the same, a shopping mall where to drop off your angsty teen, and random trees between intersections and roads that all seem to cross into one another. Also, in order to make this more human and less academic, we can give this young girl a name: Naima.
Now, Naima’s dad is an architect, who commutes into Manhattan for his job, and her mom works part-time as an accountant. Mostly, once Naima was born, her mother stayed home to take care of her. Their lives were like everyone else’s in the neighborhood, weekdays filled with school assignments and family dinners, and weekends mostly for shopping for groceries and perhaps an occasional outing at one of the other larger shopping malls in the area or to a park.
As mentioned, Naima felt different. She felt estranged. She had friends at school, those who liked to read as much as she did, and who enjoyed spending hours at the library. She also liked the usual things that any young person cares about, such as gaining the attention of their crush, watching movies and making jokes, and trying not to stumble in the school hallway and make an ass of herself. But even though Naima did a very good job of trying not to embarrass herself in front of her peers, she still felt distance from them.
Naima’s mom is an influence. Her mother taught Naima to be self-reliant. Her father did the same, although he forbade Naima from going on dates until she was 18. Regardless, Naima made it through high-school to attend Rutgers. At the start of her new experience of living on her own, she’s felt alone once more. While in larger crowds, she wore a smile, and tried to keep up with the conversation. But nothing seemed worthwhile. Nothing seemed real to her just yet. But that all began to change as she took political science courses and her professors assigned her books she’d never heard of. She would read them from front to back in a matter of hours. Sometimes, she kept reading even when her bus passed her stop. It didn’t matter. She was beginning to feel a connection.
She also started to pick up new words that she hadn’t previously expanded on, such as “feminist.” She already knew about Hillary Clinton. After all, she was on the debate team at her school, and knew about world issues. Yet, now, she’s reading about the former Secretary of State, and discovers other women too, who helped define their generations. It was 2015, and for every Democratic debate, Naima was in front of the TV, keeping mental notes at every word uttered by Clinton to the crowd.
The excitement was real for Naima. Her mind and body were changed. She visits home and talks about all the new stuff she’s learning to her parents. They always encouraged her to be who she was and were always proud so they listen. But of course, they sometimes don’t react the way that Naima wants. Her father, for instance, was often worried about his job, and even her mother seemed to care more about the neighbors.
“It’s terrible what’s happening to this generation,” her mother would usually say after providing another example of doomed youth.
Naima’s father would nod, and use his fork to gather the spinach.
Naima herself, however, would glare at her plate, but wouldn’t say a word.
By the end of her first semester, Naima began to volunteer at clinics that provided healthcare services to women in New Brunswick. She began to meet people unlike her, people who didn’t grow up with everything they needed. New Brunswick itself had changed, according to the many patients who’d come in. They’d talk about the gentrification that was taking place, the new hookah shops and frozen yogurt places that replaced old businesses, the sudden influx of outsiders who never suffered through the worst times but were now enjoying the city’s revival.
Naima still watched the debates when she could, but most of her time was taken up by volunteering and class. Also, it was the words of the women at the clinic which echoed in her head instead of someone like Clinton’s. Soon, Naima heard about another woman whose now in the national spotlight for what critics described as a winning performance in the latest Republican debates. That person’s name was Carly Fiorina.
Naima was never a Republican. Her parents and friends weren’t liberals either but strong Democrats. She tried to understand the appeal of Fiorina. She watched the latest Republican debate on YouTube, and paid extra attention to whatever Fiorina had to say. Admittedly, Naima felt some energy and pride seeing a woman on stage, able to hold her own against the men. But those feelings begin to fade. Fiorina derided Planned Parenthood and declared that they needed to be defunded. Naima topped the video and stared at the image of Fiorina. All Naima could think about were the women at the clinic. Naima decided to return to reading for class, but like a bit of sunlight in the early morning, her thoughts began to expand. Over the next couple of weeks, she retraced her intellectual steps. She read more about Susan B. Anthony. She learned about how early suffragists were against citizenship for black Americans. She was not startled by this. She had some clue. As a person of color (her mom was black American and her father was a child of Haitian immigrants) she knew that she was treated differently based on how she looked. Memories of her time in high-school sometimes blinded her when she’d watch a video of yet another black man or woman gunned down by the police. She remembered the other students, especially the white ones (and their Asian friends), who’d tell her she wasn’t “really black” or that she was going to have kids by the end of high-school.
Naima isn’t confused or distant like before. Instead, she asked for suggestions about what else to read by her professors, and they’d start listing names of people she heard of but never bothered to check out. One of her mentors, Professor Chatterjee, who expected everyone to call her with the full pronunciation (No Anglo shortcuts, as she would say), shared with Naima a list of books by people named Audre Lorde, and Kimberle Crenshaw. She dove into the pages, like a fish returning to the sea.
Fiorina was a fading image. So was Condoleezza Rice. So was Lena Dunham (Naima tried to watch the show but ended up switching over to an episode of Daredevil on Netflix). Naima was working more at the clinic, and as she was completing her requirements at school, she decided to also join other organizations on-campus, including those that dealt with race and class oppression.
At dinner, one night, while Naima was visiting her parents over Thanksgiving break, her mom was telling them about the new secretary at their job.
“She was dressed so oddly, just nothing she wore made sense,” her mom said, “and the way she talked was weird. No class. Absolutely none.”
Naima tried not to interrupt. She played with her beans instead. But every minute that passed by increased her level of discomfort.
Finally, she couldn’t keep it in.
“Was she black?” Naima asked.
Her mom arched an eyebrow. “Why does that matter?”
Naima explained that maybe the woman couldn’t afford better clothes, or grew up someplace where such codes of etiquette were different for her.
“Honey, your dad and I grew up in the worst parts of Brooklyn, and we always learned how to talk and act respectfully,” Naima’s mother said. “This woman is lost. She needs manners.”
“But why are you so concerned about how she’s dressed? Would you do the same if she was a man?”
“I don’t know what you’re trying to say. This is someone at work. You don’t even know her.”
“Neither do you…”
“Naima,” her father exclaimed.
“What’s going on?” her father asked.
“What do you mean?” Naima replied.
“Your father and I are concerned about you lately,” her mother added. “You’re always out now.”
“I’m at the clinic…”
“We know about the protests you’ve been doing.”
“Why are you changing the subject?” Naima said.
“I’m not changing anything,” her mother answered. “We’re just worried that you’re getting distracted from your main goal.”
“We don’t want you to jeopardize your chances at law school,” her father said.
Naima lowered her head, her eyes still narrowed.
“Maybe I don’t want to go to law school,” she mumbled.
“Excuse me?” her mother said.
Naima glared at her mom, and repeated what she said, causing both her parents to exchange glances over the table.
Naima’s mother took a deep breath.
“What about becoming strong and independent? Like Sandberg?” her mother said.
“Sandberg’s advice is dumb,” Naima said. “It only works for white women like her.”
“We know…but, if you work hard, anything is possible…”
“But for what? For whom? Mom…if I become a lawyer, I’ll probably end up doing corporate law to pay for the debt I’d be in and end up like everyone else…”
“Being successful? What’s wrong with that?”
“No, dad. Being another bourgeoisie parasite. The problems in our country are big. The country is the problem actually.”
“What about Hillary Clinton?”
“She’s an imperialist.”
“Wait, you love her…”
“I still…I dunno…I mean, I don’t like her like I did.”
“But what about having a career?”
“You can write books, and become famous and —”
The room was silent.
Her parents just stared.
Naima knew she was on thin-ice. Her parents were not used to this but neither were they immune.
She composed herself, and told them, “Do you know what it’s like growing up here for me? Do you know what’s it’s like to be in a classroom and people are making watermelon jokes or that the only time you get to read about people who look like you is when you learn about slavery? Do you know what that’s like? To be stuck there.”
Her parents had no reaction. Naima got up, apologized, and went up to her room, where she was surrounded by posters of Hillary Clinton smiling on a stage.
YOUR WORLD IS ENDING
Ultimately, nothing in the U.S. changes unless enough people are willing to sacrifice. Women wouldn’t have gained the right to vote, unless they stood up in front of crowds of angry men and demanded to be heard. Black Americans wouldn’t have earned chances at freedom if it weren’t for all those who put themselves between their communities and the police. LGBT community wouldn’t have reached its level of current mainstream acceptance unless for the bricks thrown at Stonewall. People took political stances. They weren’t just interested in fighting for tolerance or acceptance. They were fighting for their existence.
The civil rights movement, for example, was an ongoing struggle since the day black men and women were made to work in the fields. They weren’t slaves from Africa. They were Africans turned into slaves. It was a political project, one that sought to condition them to become instruments of labor. But even then, there were always revolts. Political awakenings took place, where black men and women understood that the way they were living wasn’t just painful and traumatic, but wrong, and unjustified.
The movement for civil and political rights would have moments in the spotlight, and it would experience lulls as well. But there was never a time when no one was speaking out or trying to raise the consciousness. Most importantly, as certainly more black Americans found jobs in the industrialized north and parts in the west, they formed coalitions. Labor groups that were once against allowing black men to join began to change their strategy, and view black Americans as allies. Most importantly, leading American thinkers, such as W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright, articulated the compounding effects of class, race, and U.S. imperialism abroad (Hughes even wrote poems in support of Indian independence from the British).
What soon became the Black Popular Front formed: “a powerful social movement sparked by the alchemy of laborites, civil rights activists, progressive New Dealers, and black and white radicals, some of whom were associated with the Communist party.” The Popular Front even “encouraged labor feminism, a multiclass, union-oriented strand within the women’s movement in which black women played a central role. Women joined the labor movement in record numbers in the 1940s, and by the end of the decade they had moved into leadership positions.” Similar to the revolts that happened earlier, black and brown people weren’t satisfied with adapting themselves for a system that was built to devalue who they really were. As opposed to how we’re taught in school about the civil rights era, there was much organizing that happened before mainstream acceptance and radical thought and belief that maintained its momentum through the darkest times. Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a proponent of taking care of the poor, and educated those who’d listen about the hypocrisy of a nation that stole land from Native Americans and handed it over to its white immigrants. Dr. King and his contemporaries were against the war in Vietnam, and in favor of government providing housing, food, and healthcare for its people. Ending discrimination didn’t just mean putting a stop to racial threat but also lifting up the black consciousness and increasing political power.
As Jacquelyn Dowd Hall writes in her seminal work, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” which traces the radical origins of the movement and how it was mollified by powerful liberal and conservative forces: “There was, moreover, nothing minimalist about dismantling Jim Crow, a system built as much on economic exploitation as on de jure and de factor spatial separation. In the minds of movement activists, integration was never about ‘racial mingling’ or ‘merely sitting next to whites in school,’ as it is sometimes caricatured now. Nor did it imply assimilation into static white-defined institutions, however, much whites assumed it did. True integration was and is an expansive and radical goal, not an ending or abolition of something that once was—the legal separation of bodies by race—but a process of transforming institutions and building an equitable, democratic, multiracial, and multiethnic society.”
Eventually, the Cold War paranoia took over the American mainstream. Powerful men such as J. Edgar Hoover utilized that fear over Soviet espionage. Suddenly, civil rights figures were tapped, and socialist and leftist organizations were driven underground through intimidation and divide and conquer tactics. Those who simply criticized the American systems of capitalism, racism, and overall, discrimination were portrayed as anti-patriotic. They were condemned by the public, and often, forced into exile.
Paradoxically, the same conservatives, the Buckleys of the political class, who were against the civil rights movement and supported segregation, were now professing their love for a colorblind society. After Dr. King was assassinated, after Fred Hampton was murdered by the police, after the Black Panthers were torn apart by COINTELPRO, and other people of color who were activists experienced more repression, the conservatives who were in power all along, proclaimed the U.S. was post-race. To them, the fall of Jim Crow, the ability for some black Americans to win elections, for more to vote and become part of everyday mainstream life, was proof that all was well, and the good guys won. Bull Connor was now a villain for kids to learn, like the bogeyman, and Dr. King and others like him were watching down from heaven with wide smiling faces at this sudden utopia.
Phrases like “color-blind” were now used by the conservative and even the liberal mainstream to condemn programs such as affirmative action as reverse racism. The common explanation for this would be: It’s racist to take race/ethnicity into consideration. Everyone should be judged by their merits. By the 80s, Ronald Reagan became President, and championed the delusion that the U.S. was a land of plenty for all. While saying welfare queens from one corner of his mouth, he encouraged Americans to think of themselves as members of the greatest country on earth. Whites picked up these cues and believed the Republicans as the party for them while the Democrats were seen as representing the interests of black Americans. All this while the American establishment felt it matured past the problems of race.
A post-racial society was brought up again after Barack Obama was elected. Those who believed this held up examples of people of color who were now business owners, hedge fund managers, and who were part of the upper class who could send their kids to the best private schools and Ivy League institutions, who’ve made it to the promised land of the upwardly. Any reform was more or less about diversity, about more people of color in boardrooms, about more people of color in positions of power, about more people of color leading the army, managing the U.S. system of governance and control. Immigrants of color also arrived for what they deemed a better life in the U.S. South Asians, East Asians, Arabs, and Persians. They all flocked to the so-called city on the hill for their own chance at a house and a middle class life. Growing up in a South Asian American household, I was taught that what mattered most was becoming a success, which often meant financial. My parents were different. They were the only ones who encouraged me to be a writer and to do what I wanted. Yet, everyone else in our community guided their sons and daughters to keep their head down, to not question how things are.
Up until the recent student protests and the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, the conversation on racial justice was centered on the apolitical ends of diversifying seats of power and not necessarily questioning the system we would be helping to promote and maintain. Similar things have happened to the LGBT movement. Although Stonewall is credited for being the spark for what would become the modern LGBT struggle, much of its real history has been wiped out from public consciousness. Instead of learning about the trans women, and those of color who threw the first bricks at police in response to their abuse and intimidation, we are left with the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD putting forth image after image of happy and smiling gay men and women, most of whom are white. All they want is access to the American Dream.
Before moving forward, I want to make it abundantly clear: I am not trying to be the next Adolph Reed. I am not interested in punching down and claiming that “identity politics” has ruined us, that somehow the lesbian woman who wants to have her narrative included in the political narrative is somehow at fault for why some social movements and communities haven’t achieved real material change in their everyday lives. First of all, I know that identity politics is just codeword for detractors to use when they really want to say, “those pesky black and brown and gay people who want us to reconsider that maybe Marxism isn’t always the answer.” Second, I do not believe that groups that have been marginalized suddenly have all the power in terms of deciding what’s crucial for the Left to focus on or not. That is ludicrous and plays into the hands of the white elite that control our national and academic discourse. Those who are quick to condemn “identity politics” for allowing groups of people to feel satisfied with marginal representation and gains should worry more about why they feel so viscerally against anyone who disagrees with them, and remind themselves that for someone who hasn’t had much, even owning a TV to view their President, means the world, and that too must be respected. As the great Gloria Anzaldua said: “Many women and men of color do not want to have any dealings with white people. It takes too much time and energy to explain to the downwardly mobile, white middle-class women that it’s okay for us to want to own ‘possessions,’ never had any nice furniture on our dirt floors or ‘luxuries’ like washing machines.” 
As much as we can say that class and material gains need to be seen and felt by the people outside our own intellectual bubbles, the dominant narrative and conservative thought are the real problem. This is a discussion meant for those of us who want to see more people of color, more women from all backgrounds, and those with different sexual orientations and religious faiths to steer us back into what can improve all our lives, not appease the white conservative discourse that threatens to consume us. This is for those of us who want to witness the old world dead and new one born in its place.
WOMEN WHO CURSE WHILE IN POLITE COMPANY
Feminism, like civil rights and the LGBT struggle for freedom, is at its heart a political enterprise that threatens the U.S. system of unjust power. The term “feminism” wasn’t always around but women fighting to be heard were. Since the day the U.S. was founded, women of all types, fought against their erasure and control by men and right-wing policies. For instance, it was women like Ida B. Wells who documented the lynchings that took place in the Deep South. It was Emma Goldman who organized laborers against the ruling elite. It was women like Sojourner Truth who challenged the audience at a woman’s conference with the perennial question, “Ain’t I a woman?”
Most importantly, the fight for women’s rights was always linked within multiple struggles. There wasn’t this separation of women from race, from class, and sexuality. Even at Seneca Falls, there were white middle-class women who sought solidarity with black men and women, both free and enslaved. There were black women who were socialist, Communist, and certainly, thinking radically about revolution. There were black men, and Natives who coalesced and fought side-by-side. Frederick Douglas, not only concerned with the freedom of people who looked like him, advocated for Asian immigrants who were being mistreated and killed by xenophobic mobs. Sojourner Truth herself understood that being free meant being outside the domination of white or black men. “There is a great stir,” she once said, “about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored woman; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before.”
We should be proud of how more women and people of color are being represented in the halls of power, in media, in movies, and entertainment. We should feel pride when a woman becomes CEO, or when a person of color lands a job in a prestigious institution, such as Yale. But whenever there is more representation, there should also be a constant questioning of the dominant narrative, and power structure. There should also be an awareness that such a person, like a Carly Fiorina, can perhaps make it easier for other women to run as a Republican in the future, but without her standing up for reproductive rights or for working women to earn a minimum wage, or honestly, understanding that women of color get paid much, much less than white men or men of any ethnicity, then, what we have in the end, is an apolitical joke, a delusion, an oasis made of sand. We are living in an age of “choice feminism.”
THE DOMINANT NARRATIVE
“Choice feminism” as Michaele L. Ferguson describes, is the belief that anything can be considered feminist “so long as it is accompanied by ‘a political consciousness.’” This can cover almost anything, such as women who want to stay at home after marriage, women who go abroad to fight in the military, and women who even participate in Miss America contests. Choice feminism is apolitical, and to some, is watered down. After all, a woman who is anti-choice can simply code themselves as someone who believes that she is acting on her agency to speak out against the so-called evils of abortion. She might even connect herself to many suffragists of the past, who too thought of alcohol as immoral. She is not wrong. She definitely might care for other women. But in the end, she should not be seen as an example for others to follow. Instead, she’s another version of the apolitical path mainstream feminism is heading down towards.
Choice feminism, and even parts of the third-wave, can be myopic, even though ironically, they claim to be more open than women in the past. “The main criticisms that have so far been levied against choice feminism attack its focus on individual choice. This focus divorces choice from the broader institutional, political, historical, and social contexts in which choices take place. This means that choice feminism obscures how our choices are shaped for us.”
Choice feminism rears its head when we talk about problematic figures such as Sheryl Sandberg, and Marissa Mayer. Granted, Sandberg is a very determined, smart, and open about her belief in the power of feminism. She doesn’t hold back, and should be credited it for that. Again, when Naima learned about Sandberg, she became interested in bigger issues as well. It prompted Naima to research more on feminist thinkers, and what the word actually meant instead of hearing it from other men and women who trafficked in misconceptions and biases. However, Naima read Lean In, and the articles associated with Sandberg. She understood the message, but realized that her experiences were very different from Sandberg’s. As a young black woman who grew up in a town dominated by Asian-Americans and white Americans, she remembered the instances she’d speak up, even during debate class, and have the teacher tell her to calm down, or for the other men, and some women, to nickname her Cookie from Empire. At first, Naima did think it was a compliment that people thought of her as confident and challenging them, since at home and with friends, she more or less, was seen as soft spoken and sometimes, ignored during conversation. Over time, though, she began to feel that even when opening her mouth, people giggled and told her that she was acting like Cookie and moved on.
After the discussion with her parents, Naima decided to make her major officially political science. She’d take more classes that were less about U.S. law and more about African, Asian, and the Latino diaspora. She took more classes with Professor Chatterjee, who continued to introduce new reading material to her. Naima spent hours in her room, highlighting lines by Brittany Cooper, Angela Davis, and Gayatri Spivak.
The dominant narrative, she understood, was one constructed by white men, by right-wing ideologues, and those in the status quo. For the longest time, people believed that America was best for everyone. That it benefited anyone willing to work. Of course, Naima knew this was a lie, even before college. Daily life taught her the truth, and so did what she read about the Trail of Tears, and slavery, and mass genocide perpetrated by the colonists against anyone who resisted or looked differently than them. The dominant narrative was and is a political project. The belief that the U.S. isn’t necessarily perfect but begun with pure ideas, was a political construct, engineered to keep others in their place, and to explain away those who didn’t fit in as just “moochers,” as the lazy underclass. Naima knew that to combat this dominant narrative, which trapped many women, and people of color, one had to actively challenge it.
According to the dominant narrative, the U.S. gave rights to its women through the 19th Amendment, another shining example of its vision as a leading democracy in the world. Second wave was similar, in that they were radical, but reduced issues to “women”, as if all women are the same. The dominant narrative, through its ignoring of women of color and working-class women, is able to provide the mainstream public with a sanitized version of women’s rights. The purging of radicals and those who wanted more than just a seat at the proverbial table are relegated to mere footnotes in essays read by professors and students who have the time and privilege to care.
Naima invited her mother to a teach-in she organized at the Asian-American Cultural Center on Livingston Campus. The students were excited and Naima did a good job of explaining why it was important to see the totality of the big picture. After the seminar, her mother approached her with a smile, and told Naima she was very well-spoken, and after Naima thanked her mom for coming, her mother asked, “But why be against everyone…?” Naima smiled and explained, “I’m not against everything. Not at all. That would be too much. In fact, I’m pro-anything that can free us. I’m not against women in power. I’m against the structure they are in. Marissa Mayer might be a strong woman to emulate, but she’s also someone who doesn’t allow other women and men to have the same rights as she does, while she enjoys her class privileges. She is against working families, including many women. I am for them. I am for the removal of the capitalist state. I am for the removal of the racist system we endure. I am for more than what is being offered. Mom, I know it sounds like it’s just me complaining but trust me, I believe in what I am saying. We are neglecting the bigger picture, and reducing our intellectual base and our understanding and our choices and- – -”
Naima’s mother placed a hand on her shoulder.
“You’re so smart,” her mother said. “A lot of what you say is beyond me.”
Naima nodded and apologized.
Her mother replied, “But you should write it down.”
Naima said she would. Her mother returned home to be there when her father would come home from work.
Naima didn’t forget what her mother said. She did eventually write down her thoughts, hoping to maybe connect them into a speech, or presentation for Professor’s Chatterjee’s class:
Third-wave feminism is not the main issue. Unfortunately, there are strands of it that are being negatively affected by the dominant narrative in the U.S. The dominant forces in the U.S. know that they cannot force back women’s issues back into the bottle. Similar to what they did with the civil rights movement, they will simply try and determine the narrative of what happened as much as they can to lessen the blow. So, any mention of Dr. King as a person who did talk of redistribution of wealth, is gone from the history books. Any mention of Dr. King as someone who was against oppression in the north as well, leading marches through the streets of Chicago, where he’d be spat on, are also missing from our mainstream pages. Instead, what we are left is an image of Dr. King as someone who just hugged everyone, and believed in non-violence. This is important because whenever we do have someone nowadays trying to change the system of racial oppression, they are immediately compared to Dr. King’s image that was manufactured by the system. They are most likely condemned by the mainstream as radical, since they do not understand that people like Dr. King achieved what they achieved without being “divisive.” It is a tool used by the powers that be, from the media to officials to corporate leaders, to contain any real criticism of the way things are. Shun the person who claims that the U.S. system is one built on slavery and should be called out for its crimes. Make that person look like a joke. Remind everyone of Dr. King and contain the narrative.
Similarly, women should be happy that Kathryn Bigelow wins the Oscar for best director, or Sarah Palin is revered. Anyone who points out that these women are white, privileged women, are pushed to the fringe. Women should not ask bigger questions of why is it we have such inequality in our society when we are so wealthy, or why is it that we, as a country, bomb others without hesitation. What about capitalism? What about those women who cannot afford daycare and must work two and three jobs to keep afloat in this American nightmare? Yes, it is imperative that women and men can choose what to do, which wasn’t always possible in the past. But that cannot be the end of our discussion, and exalting bourgeoisie success covers up the necessary changes we need in our society. “A feminism informed by conservative political philosophy might include conservatism’s emphasis on the idea that ought implies can. As a result, such a feminism might adopt a conservative anti-utopian principle. That principle says that a recommendation for social change must be based on confidence that change can be made, and that it would be good for people, as they are, for it to be made. […] This feminism would emphasize the limits to our normative horizons, and recommend gradual, piecemeal change.”
Nancy J. Hirschmann explains: “Politics should not be about who we are; it should be about what we do. But of course what we do—the choices we make—occurs within a structure that is blatantly sexist.”
Hirschmann does say it’s sexist and wrong to support men, even Left leaning men, to call Palin the c-word or more, but in the end, she too understands that sort of sympathy should not lead to no criticism at all of who Palin is and the privileges people and women like her enjoy. Hirschmann also acknowledges that women shouldn’t be jeered for making choices like staying at home to take care of the children, but the choices that are available to women should still be criticized and understood as limited. 
“It makes sense in such a situation for women to choose to stay at home,” she writes, “We all want our work to be worth something, and in our society take-home pay is an indication of that. None of us wants to work twice as hard and end up worse off economically; that was key theme of the feminist reaction to welfare reform. But such a decision comes from and reflects sexist structures that women inadvertently support by and through their choices.”
After all, when I see Palin, I don’t see a role model. I see someone who scapegoats Muslim Americans (including Muslim American women), who said our black President was friends with terrorists, and that women should not have the ability to have access to abortions, which ultimately, affects lower-income women who have to rely on clinics for their healthcare needs. Palin, like Mayer, Sandberg, Bachman, and Fiorina, are false idols, designed to cover up the major flaws in our society.
Women are being provided their own versions of a sanitized Dr. King in images of Susan B Anthony and Stanton. We avoid learning the bigger heroes such as Truth and Lucretia Mott and therefore, avoid asking the bigger questions too. We learn about Anthony and Stanton and thus, we are led to believe that reform is enough and that peaceful change is always possible. That women are just women and all they ever wanted was the vote and nothing more. But when we learn about Mott, for instance, we also learn that the movement for women’s rights was a movement for human rights, that Mott and her colleagues weren’t just white women who one day woke up with a consciousness. No, they were more than that. They were women aware of their positions in society and very much cognizant of all the injustices around them. Mott’s closest allies were women who were very Left, even probably more radical than women we see now in movies and in Congress. Mott understood the power of revolution. She didn’t restrict herself to her own access to power. She understood that the structure that consumed her did the same to others. And unlike anti-identity politics types we see nowadays (who behave as if their ideas are so new and noteworthy and they are the prophets of the past Gods of revolutions), Mott didn’t say, “Okay, let’s just focus on class now since that affects us.” She honored differences in experiences because she knew that changing the country in one swoop wouldn’t distribute justice equally to everyone. She learned from the Native Americans in her area what worked and what didn’t work. She created bonds with the abolitionist movement as well, and refused to think that once women gained the vote that al l work was over and women could be content. She again understood that context mattered, that if she won the vote, a black woman, even someone who was perhaps as upwardly mobile as she was in the North, could not enjoy the same rights as she. Just imagine a whole classroom of young girls learning about someone like Mott, their eyes seeing and their minds thinking about all the issues Mott and others like her raised, even back then. Just imagine the kind of social awakening entire segments of the population would experience as opposed to the kind of mollification we accept when we simply view women like Anthony and Fiorina as role models.
Naima stopped typing. She looked down at the page. Her ideas were scattered. She had so much to say, so much that’d been bottled inside for years. The body and the mind were trying to settle and find each other within her words. Naima tried to edit but she feels tired. Classes are wearing her down, given all the discussions and the time spent organizing as well. Like waking up from a coma, Naima’s arms and limbs were heavy. Even her friends, including those she went to rallies with, are saying she needed rest. They make plans to watch The Suffragette. But even then, Naima can’t help but notice that the movie left out Princess Sophia, the Indian British suffragette who played a major role in earning women the right to vote in the U.K. 
Naima now knows the history of feminism, and women’s rights. She’s armed herself with that knowledge. She appreciates the radical concerns second-wavers brought up, including Butler. But she doesn’t understand why they didn’t do enough to see that there is no one woman body. Even the third-wave has errors in perception, and not just in the proliferation of “choice feminism.” Naima doesn’t feel comfortable with how certain third-wave feminists seem to be so proud of being inclusive and yet, implicitly assume women of color and intersectionality were suddenly invented in the late 80s. It was true that the term was coined then, but no one should be so dense as to believe that black women, and Chicana women, and women who didn’t fall into the same race or class, suddenly realized in the 1980s that they weren’t white, or rich, or privileged. “As each text locates an originary moment, debt, or inheritance for third-wave feminism in the racial intervention into the second wave, these texts imply that the third wave has both grown out of (as in sprung forth from) and grown out of (as in matured beyond or progressed past) a historical expansion of racial diversity in feminism,” Rebecca L. Clark Mane writes, “Rather than an affirmation and incorporation of women-of-color theorizing, the framing of race-based critique as historical, and thus not a current site of debate, assists in the deflection and containment of contemporary racial critique […] To truly integrate women-of-color and antiracist scholarship into third-wave feminism, there needs to be a more transformative interaction than a nod to some exceptional canonical writers of history.”
Essentially, it’s like placing that lone black woman in the room, along with everyone else discussing how to move forward with feminist critique of the dominant narrative. It’s basically them window dressing the movement. “When investigating our anthologies and texts, we need to ask, who has the access and authority to represent third-wave feminism? Who has the access to the books contracts, editorships, and academic positions that support publication and research?” asks Rebecca L. Clark Mane.
Thoughts were swirling through Naima’s head. She decided to take a break. She watches movies that she once liked and re-reads her favorite novels. She even goes out on a couple of dates which she hadn’t done since the start of freshman year. She meets with men she knows from the groups she’s allied with, so most of them are men of color, and college students like her.
The first man she goes on a date with is black American. Both his parents were born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey. He himself was born and raised in Montclair, in a home, where his parents still live. He too majored in political science, and spoke at several meetings about change and how the U.S. system needs to be overhauled. He joked about how he once was a Marxist but saw the light.
“I know now that race is a big issue,” he said. “I used to think class would solve it but now I know that it can but not in the same way as we expect.”
Naima listened, as they ate their sandwiches at Mamoun’s on Easton Avenue.
“We cannot stay silent anymore,” he said. “We cannot just accept the way things are. I like Obama but to be honest, he talks down to us as well. Like Eldridge Cleaver once said…”
Naima arched an eyebrow.
“What?” he asked.
“Eldridge Cleaver was a sexist.”
“He believed that black women should be subordinate to black men.”
“Look, he and others were just saying that the black man has been brutalized and his psyche ruined. Our family lives were taken and destroyed through slavery. We need to reclaim our masculinity. That’s all. Our domain needs to be restored.”
“I understand that. And I agree that our experiences are different from others. Yet, you’re only focused on what black men went through. What about black women and their experiences? Don’t we also deserve a chance to explore and express who we really are?”
“Come on, let’s just go and get some dessert somewhere else,” he said.
But Naima asked him if he ever read about Audre Lorde.
There was no immediate answer, so Naima stood up from the table, and the young man looked up at her.
“No, I haven’t,” he said.
“And why not?” she asked.
And after another pause, he finally sighed and answered, “Why should I? It’s not about me.”
Naima grabbed her coat, and paid for her meal at the counter, before walking past him and down the avenue.
The next person she went out with wasn’t any better. He too was a person of color but South Asian-American, specifically Bengali-Indian-American. He was also a member of several activist groups on-campus and was thinking of applying for PhD programs in Political Science. He grew up in the surrounding areas, and was a year older, and therefore, took a few more classes than Naima, although the books and material was mentioning to her were the same ones she read on her own. Still, she sipped her juice, and took bites, as he went on and on and on.
“See, the thing is, we people of color have to stand up, you know? We have to unite and stand up. Because racism and classicism and sexism is dividing us, and slowly taking away our agency. Have you read killing rage by bell hooks? She talks about the intersection of race, class, and gender for black women. I think you should read it. I’m assuming you did. It opened my eyes. It made me realize how our black sisters are suffering, you know? We forget them while we focus on other issues. We forget them and in the end, we forget ourselves, you know? We are so anti-black and so divisive that we fail to see how amazing black women are, how strong they are, how enduring they are, how amazing they are.” At this point, the young man paused, and grinned at Naima, who was sipping on her straw. The man reached over and placed a hand on hers. “You are a Nubian Queen,” he said. “Don’t ever forget that.”
Naima stared, the straw in her mouth.
The man continued to grin.
Naima slowly put down the drink, and slowly removed her hand from under his.
The man watched her as she walked away.
The final man she met was Jewish-American. They met at a rally for Planned Parenthood on the Brower steps.
“It’s always essential to know that when we stand up for Planned Parenthood, we are standing up for women’s rights overall,” the man said, while at Efes.
“It’s essential and necessary,” Naima added. “I was at an anti-occupation rally the other day and – – -”
“Anti-occupation?” the man said. “Are you talking about Palestine?”
“Uh, yea, the one this past weekend about the attacks that are taking place against Palestinians,” Naima said.
“Wait, what does occupation have to do with feminism?”
“Everything. I mean, I care about women globally, and there are many Palestinian women who are also affected by the occupation.”
“What about Jewish women?”
“Them too. But I’d like for the media to also care about Palestinian women the same way.”
The man asked Naima what she thought about Hamas.
“Hamas would kill you,” he told her.
“I know they will,” she replied. “They are right-wing. I am against them. But the Israeli government is right-wing too…”
“Terrorism is deadly.”
“I agree though. And terrorism perpetrated by people, like the ones against Planned Parenthood, and the ones perpetrated by the state matter. I mean, did you know that it’s Asian American women who are also being adversely affected by these abortion laws?”
Naima paused and waited for a response.
But the man, this time, said he wanted to talk more about the occupation. Naima does discuss, but it was getting dark, and so she thanked him for the meal and left.
Naima finished the rest of the week at the clinic. She enjoyed talking with the patients and hearing from them about what’s going on in their community, in places she’d never been. One evening, working late, an elderly Mexican-American woman stops by. Naima led her to one of the rooms, and got her situated. The woman spent her entire life in New Brunswick, where she currently lived with her grandkids too. Naima told the woman that the doctor would see her soon, but the woman explained that she was nervous. Naima stayed in the room.
While waiting, Naima asked the woman about her background.
The woman was retired but once worked at a factory making parts, and when it shut down, she was a store clerk. She earned enough but now, everyone at home except her has to keep working.
“I try to keep active but my body won’t let me,” she said and chuckled, her brown skin glazed. “I haven’t been to a doctor in years cause I was always busy, and now I’m worried.”
“Don’t be,” Naima said. “The doctors here are really great. They will take good care of you.”
The woman said she was glad Naima was there, and asked her about her own life. Naima told the woman she was a student at Rutgers.
“Oh! That’s fantastic!” the woman exclaimed. “Are you studying to be a doctor?”
“No, I’m actually doing political science.”
“Oh. What’s that?”
“It’s basically studying how society and politics works. Like it deals with race and identity and how those are formed, and constructed.”
“Wow. That sounds like a lot.”
“It is. But it’s important.”
“Sounds like it. What do you do?”
“We talk about the problems in the world. Like why our society is the way it is. How it’s important to change it. Like increase wages for people. Like make sure everyone has a chance at dignity.”
“Oh, that sounds nice.”
“It is. Have you heard of Angela Davis or Audre Lorde?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“How about Kimberle Crenshaw or Spivak maybe?”
“Honey,” the woman politely interrupted and smiled. “I never went to college. All I know is about putting food on the table.”
The woman smiled. The doctor soon arrived and Naima left the room.
She stood in the waiting room, ready to call for the next patient, but before doing so, she looked at the women staring back at her. Women she would only meet in a place like this. Women she would theorize about and write about in papers for class. She went back home, and deleted what she wrote. She went back to the clinic and worked.
BRIGHT LIGHT AHEAD: MOVING FORWARD
There is no greater struggle than being heard. To feel like your life matters. To actually look up at the American flag and know that those colors represent your needs as well. But that sort of determination to not just be recognized or tolerated, or even accepted, but heard, and respected, is one that’s been passed down generations.
This country was founded on pain and suffering. The blood is thick on the ground. And the repercussions of past evils reverberate until today. Tanisha Anderson. Rekia Boyd. Sarah Lee Circle Bear. Purvi Patel. Sandra Bland. These are the names of women, of human beings, cut down by the evils of capitalism, sexism, and prejudice. It can be easy to lose hope, and to give up. It is understandable to find solace, to find some deeper meaning and peace. Yet, the easy route is oftentimes the route that the status quo wants us to take. And in the past, there have always been similarly dark times, and even then, there were people standing up, connecting the dots.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett, born into slavery, ended up becoming “not only the single most important campaigner against lynching in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: she was also a black woman radical who grappled with one core idea of American thought of the period: the nature of the black body and the subhumanness of the African American.” Ida B. Wells, through her work documenting lynchings in the south, understood the connections between black men being murdered by mobs and the rape black women also experienced. Instead of simply perceiving these crimes as egregious, she knew that this was how the U.S. was made to exist. The murder of black men and women, the control of black bodies, wasn’t an aberration, but deeply engrained in the fabric of the nation. This thought would of course echo much later in the work of Derrick Bell, who felt that the U.S. system and culture was made to victimize black Americans and people of color. In his work, Faces at the bottom of the Well, he writes, “Racism is more than a group of bad white folks whose discriminatory predilections can be controlled by well-formed laws, vigorously enforced.”  But Ida B. Wells sought to challenge the very nature of “white male civilization” at its core. 
Women of color and black women in particular, have always been at the core of every major movement that sought to establish a system based on justice and liberation. Even when their specific interests were not being met, such as in the early fight for the women vote in the U.S., black women stayed on, striving for better representation. Black women were ultimately betrayed by white women allies. Yet, black women “had been more than willing to contribute those ‘clear powers of observation and judgment’ toward the creation of a multi-racial movement for women’s political rights.” That spirit of defiance is alive and well today.
Probably why certain feminists are quick to consider the Palins and Sandbergs as examples of feminism’s influence is because the perspective remains skewed. This happens to every revolutionary movement, where people’s vision narrows and they actually fail to see what’s around them. In this case, many in the feminist and Leftist struggles continue to ignore what’s before them: that the spirit of radical feminism is being represented in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement and workers fighting for an increase in the minimum wage.
Black Lives Matter was officially started by three women of color, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter took off after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin but since then, has evolved into a “a grass-roots organization with 26 chapters.” The movement is responsible for raising awareness of major issues, like police brutality. Most of all, the movement has inspired protests and rallies across the country, from people participating in what are known as “die-ins” to even forcing political candidates, including Democrats like Sanders and Clinton, to respond to needs and interests of black and brown Americans. The Million March which took place last year in December when the officer responsible for choking and killing Eric Garner was set free, filled the streets of Manhattan, lasting “more than five hours and, at its peak, stretched across 19 city blocks. Estimates of the turnout range as high as 50,000—more than Al Sharpton’s DC-based Justice for All March that took place on the same day.”
The main founders highlight the importance of keeping the movement intersectional, and to not restrict it to men of color. “Black women are actually more prone to be abused by a police officer than by anybody else,” Garza explained to a reporter. It was also Black Lives Matter than made sure enough people understood the crimes committed by police officer in Oklahoma City against black women. On their own website, they include a history of their group, and maintain an awareness of their influences. “And, to keep it real–it is appropriate and necessary to have strategy and action centered around Blackness without other non-Black communities of color, or White folks for that matter, needing to find a place and a way to center themselves within it,” they state, “It is appropriate and necessary for us to acknowledge the critical role that Black lives and struggles for Black liberation have played in inspiring and anchoring, through practice and theory, social movements for the liberation of all people. The women’s movement, the Chicano liberation movement, queer movements, and many more have adopted the strategies, tactics and theory of the Black liberation movement. And if we are committed to a world where all lives matter, we are called to support the very movement that inspired and activated so many more. That means supporting and acknowledging Black lives.”
When asked about why having an intersectional movement was important, Cullors connected that need to the overall history of black women struggling for freedom in the U.S.:
“Black women hold it down all the time and we have been the architects of the movement — not just this current one, but previous ones — since the beginning. So we decided very early on that we weren’t going to allow our stories and the stories of black women to be erased.”
Similarly, Tometi expressed the importance of connecting the dots and paying homage: “I often think of Audre Lorde and her saying that we don’t live and we don’t fight for one specific struggle. We live intersectional lives and so I think that this movement has to reflect that. All of who we are, all of our dignity, and all of our brilliance.”
These women aren’t avoiding feminism, or radical politics. They are embracing it and promoting it at every chance they get. Are they perfect? No, of course not. But at least, they are doing something about what’s happening in the U.S. At least, they’re out there, sharing their experiences and inspiring others to do the same.
The organizers for an increase in the minimum wage probably won’t describe themselves as feminists or attach themselves to the legacy of Audre Lorde and others, which makes them different from Black Lives matter, but their battle is one that involves many working-class women. The median hourly wage for a fast-food worker is a paltry $8.94. That’s barely enough for anyone to live on, let alone someone raising a family in a major city. But instead of giving up, the workers have united, fighting to increase the wage to $15. “This is a labor movement that is structured largely around the needs articulated by the working mothers in it, women who, with or without a partner, are often trying to raise families on minimum wage jobs. Women make up two-thirds of the fast food work force, and a quarter of workers are raising children.” This movement includes women of color, and immigrants as well, women like “Sonia Acuña” who is “a 43-year-old kitchen worker in Chicago” and “cobbles together a living by combining shifts at two different McDonald’s branches, adding up to less than $9 an hour. She says her non-stop workday is made even longer by a bullying manager who sometimes denies bathroom breaks. Her pay supports a 5-year-old daughter—whom she typically has time to see only two hours a day—and her other children still living in Mexico, from whom she is separated indefinitely. In this industry, she says, ‘there’s a lot of women suffering, a lot of women making sacrifices for their families.’” Women like Garza and Acuna represent the path feminism and revolutionary politics can and should take if it’s still interested in changing the system.
Naima was in her room back at her parent’s house. It was snowing outside and she stayed in, watching videos online.
Her mother entered, asking if she was hungry.
Naima said no, and continued watching the videos on her laptop.
“What are you watching?” her mother asked.
“An interview this woman did,” Naima answered.
“Who is she?”
“She’s an organizer of Native Lives Matter,” Naima said.
“Oh…is that like Black Lives Matter?”
Her mother kept standing.
Naima realized this, and although a part of her was unsure, she looked up at her mom and said she could sit down and watch with her if she’d like.
“Wow, really?” her mother said, and Naima smiled, and got another chair.
She placed it next to her and her mother sat down.
They watched the screen, as the video played.
 Linda Nicholson, “Feminism in ‘Waves’: Useful Metaphor or Not?” Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. ed. Carole R. McCann and Seung-kyung Kim. (New York: Routledge, 2013), 52.
 Jane Mansbridge, “Symbolic Feminism,” Salmagundi 81 (Winter 1989): 201.
 Nancy A. Hewitt, “From Seneca Falls to Suffrage? Reimagining a ‘Master’ Narrative in U.S. Women’s History,” in No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism, ed. Nancy Hewitt (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010), 15-33.
 Rebecca L. Clark Mane, “Transmuting Grammars of Whiteness in Third-Wave Feminism: Interrogating Postrace Histories, Postmodern Abstraction, and the Proliferation of Difference in Third-Wave Texts,” Signs 38, No.1 (Autumn 2012): 71-98.
 Mane, “Transmuting Grammars of Whiteness,”: 78.
 Rebecca L. Clark Mane, “Transmuting Grammars of Whiteness in Third-Wave Feminism.”
 Anthony Bogues, Black Heretics, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals (New York: Routledge, 2003), 48.
 Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism (New York: Basic Books, 1992), 55.
i was walking down a stretch of road in my local neighborhood the other day, when a large man who was raking leaves on his front lawn saw me, and asked, who I was
I at first ignored him and kept walking, minding my own business
but the man wouldn’t stop
he followed me down the block, with the rake in his hand, and his face turning red
“Hey!” he exclaimed. “I’m talking to you buddy. Where do you think you’re going?”
I stopped and turned. I smiled. “I’m just walking around the block,” I said. “It’s a nice day.”
“Who are you, huh?”
“Where are you from?”
“I live just around the corner.”
The man with his silver hair, and his cheeks still filling with blood, squinted at me.
“No,” he said. “Where are you really from?”
At this point, I knew there were two choices:
either, I keep walking and risk having the man call the police for whatever suspicions were building in his head,
I kept smiling, and edged close, my face close to his.
He glared. “What are you doing?” he said.
I whispered, “You’re my world,” and took his hand in mine.
He instantly blushed, but still tried to feign annoyance, although I could see it crumbling.
I told him how beautiful he looked, and how he must have lost weight recently.
He giggled. “Stop it,” he said, as his wife watched us from the front lawn, the leaves gathering, as I took his hands and we waltzed on the sidewalk.
My forehead started to bleed and drops fell on his eyelids.
An American flag, along with several diplomas and teaching certificates, hung on the wall, right above Principal Gutierrez’s head, as she kept her hands folded atop her desk.
James and Radha sat side-by-side, neither of them saying a word. When the school called James and told him it was about their son, Samuel, and that he needed to come down, James didn’t ask any questions and drove straight from where he worked in Secaucus to their town of Jefferson, on the border of central and north New Jersey. When he arrived, Principal Gutierrez simply led him and his wife into the main office, asking if they wanted some water to drink, before sitting at her desk and just smiling and staring at them.
Radha was the one who broke the silence.
“Did something happen to Sam?” she asked, her hands gripping the armrests of her chair as if ready to be electrocuted.
Finally, the principal, who James always felt looked too perfect, no stray hairs on her coat, no creases on her skin, explained that their son, who was in the 2nd grade, had an altercation with another boy in his class.
“But don’t worry,” she told them, as Radha gripped the edges of the chair even harder, “no one got hurt.”
“So, what’s the problem then?” Radha replied, furrowing her brow. “If you’re thinking of punishing my son, you can be damn sure I won’t let that happen unless I know every detail of what exactly took place.”
The principal flashed a smile, which James hated. He too could sense something was amiss. But he also knew that the principal, who looked so pale in the sunlight, wouldn’t answer them if they kept asking questions.
“The issue,” she eventually said, “is that the fight started when the other boy called Samuel the N-Word.”
“Excuse me?” Radha exclaimed.
James stared, the principal’s body turning transparent.
“That spoiled brat should be suspended!” Radha said.
The principal tried to calm Radha down.
“We contacted his father. But he’s at work right now at the precinct so he couldn’t get back to us.”
“What’s his name?”
“Please, I’m sure we can settle this in the —”
“What’s his name damnit!”
The principal sighed. She looked at James and said the father of the other boy was Officer Lee.
The principal was no longer blurry. James arched an eyebrow. But before he could say anything, Radha got up and rushed out of the room. They found Sam, with his poofy hair and his shirt covered in dirt, seated on a bench.
In the car ride to the police station, Sam was silent.
James would peek in the rearview mirror and see Sam gazing out the window.
Radha continued to vent.
“Who does this guy think he is? Teaching such vile nonsense to his own stupid brain dead son!”
James explained that he knew Officer Lee. “He was a grade above us when we were in high-school in East Brunswick. He’s half-Asian, half-white,” he told her, but she could only faintly remember, adding it didn’t matter.
Once at the police station, Radha rushed in, gripping Sam’s hand and confronting the officer at the front desk. James stayed close and made sure his hands were out of his pockets.
“I’m sorry ma’am but Officer Lee is on patrol but I’ll be sure to pass the message along,” the sergeant explained.
Radha was a foot shorter than the sergeant but shook her finger at him, yelling that Officer Lee would pay. James could see some of the other officers at their desks glancing at them, some grinning as they typed up their reports.
. . .
James decided to get some ice cream for Sam. They stopped at a local ice cream parlor, where Radha called up her friends, telling them about what happened and how they should be vigilant. James sat outside with Sam at one of the tables with the umbrellas. But Sam just stared at his ice cream in the tiny bowl.
“Are you okay buddy?” James asked.
“Daddy,” Sam said, looking up at James. “What’s a nigger?”
James winced. But explained that the word was a bad one used by bad people.
“So I’m not a nigger?” Sam asked.
James told him no, and encouraged him to eat the ice cream, which Sam finally did. After taking a few spoonfuls, Sam was smiling and saying how the ice cream made his teeth tingle.
James smiled too when Sam looked at him, giggling.
On the car ride home, he thought about Sam in the classroom, at one moment sitting and learning like any other day, and suddenly, hearing that word yelled at him on the playground, not knowing what it meant but feeling alone, feeling distant, feeling like a freak. Radha had called the principal again, finding out that Sam didn’t fight at all, but rather, the other boy chanted the word at him, and when Sam told him to stop, the boy got louder. Radha told James this while Sam was asleep in the backseat.
“You need to do something,” she said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll have a talk with him when he’s feeling better,” James answered, who mapped out a conversation about their family history. James, whose mother was black American and his father an immigrant from India, kept old pictures of his parents and relatives, ready to be shown in moments like these.
Radha agreed with the plan, but added that James needed to make sure what he would be doing was enough.
“It’s just going to keep getting worse unless something concrete gets done,” she said. “Sam sees you as his hero. You’re his protector.”
James said he understood and kept driving.
. . .
The next day, James drove Sam to school instead of dropping him off at the bus stop. Radha was against the idea but James said he wanted more time to talk with him.
James shared their family history with Sam, telling him about how one of his grandfathers was the first few black Americans to own a business in New Jersey.
Sam asked if it sold ice cream and James chuckled.
Sam was laughing when police lights suddenly flashed in the rearview.
James pulled over, and told Sam everything would be alright.
Sam was silent again.
The officer tapped on the glass with his baton, and James lowered the window, asking what he could help the officer with.
But James glimpsed the officer’s face and his smile vanished.
With his nametag L-E-E dangling from his uniform, the officer told James to step outside. James glanced at Sam, as he exited the vehicle, and stood on the side of the road, with his hands above his head.
Office Lee, wearing sunglasses, patted him down and as his hands moved back up James’ body, he leaned in and whispered, “If you ever try to get my son in trouble again, I will make your life a living hell.”
James could feel the sweat burning his eyes.
With his arms still held high, James looked at his son through the windshield, his eyes wide.
. . .
James was born and raised in East Brunswick, a suburban enclave a few miles away from his alma mater Rutgers. His parents owned a small home in a society complex, where everyone had green lawns and pools. After James was engaged to Radha, they saved money so that they too could have a home of their own. They ended up in Jefferson, with a 2 bedroom 2 bathroom house, alongside their neighbors who also had guest rooms and white fences.
James tugged on his tie, and drank more coffee in the break room. He finished his reports, and went back home, where he ate dinner with his family, where they watched their favorite TV shows and avoided the news since it was mostly about the protests over Eric Garner.
They visited family in East Brunswick one afternoon, as the Millions March took place in New York City.
Sam was reading his stack of books in the dining room as the rest of the men in the family gathered around the TV.
One of James’ cousins, Rajesh, chuckled at the protesters on screen and changed the channel to a golf game instead.
After they watched the man with the club tap a ball into a hole, Rajesh asked James about what happened with Sam, if the other kids at school were still teasing him.
James admitted he wasn’t sure, omitting the fact that Sam had stopped eating ice cream, and stopped writing his stories.
Rajesh crossed his arms and leaned back into the cushion. He said that maybe someone should cut Sam’s hair.
James immediately looked away from the screen.
“What for?” James said.
Rajesh, still staring at the screen, explained that it was better for Sam to “blend in.”
James didn’t respond but stared.
Everyone else in the room realized this. Rajesh finally looked over at James.
“Dude, it’s what we did,” Rajesh said. “In order to live in places like these, with the great schools, safe communities, you got to adapt to your surroundings.”
James stood up and yelled at Rajesh to keep his dumb thoughts to himself.
Rajesh stood up too, and clenched his fists.
“What’s going on?” Radha said after running downstairs.
But James was focused on Rajesh. He took a step forward, and felt hands grabbing his waist.
He looked down and saw Sam looking back up at him.
“Daddy, it’s okay,” he said.
James’ shoulders eased, and he took a deep breath. They left.
Back at home, Radha and James discussed what happened.
“I agree that your cousin is a prick,” she said, as James changed in front of the bedroom mirror. “But, he was only offering a solution,” she added.
“He’s an idiot,” James muttered, as he slowly unbuttoned his shirt.
“Baby, our son isn’t himself anymore.”
“You don’t think I can see that?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that so far, you haven’t been able to solve the issue, and maybe we’re not being realistic. Maybe we do need to look at all the options.”
“And what are those options?”
“We can move Sam to a private school. We can move to someplace else even.”
“Is it? Then tell me what’s the alternative? Because I want our son to be happy.”
James looked down at his hands, as his fingers unbuttoned his shirt.
. . .
Sofa. TV. Pictures of bucolic European villagers, of places never visited, hung on the wall. Found in a flea market but from afar, looked priceless.
James stared at the ceiling as he lay in bed, as moonlight flowed in, revealing the watches on the table, the various skin creams and necklaces.
Radha was lying on her side, facing away from him.
James stared at the ceiling, remembering the time he was in grade school and he brought Indian food from home for lunch and how everyone crowded around, holding their noses and saying how gross it was, of how his mother heard him say what happened and bought him slices of cold bologna and white bread for the rest of the year.
. . .
It was the week before Christmas vacation when James arrived to an empty home. At first, he assumed that Sam’s bus was running late or that Radha picked him up from school and was still finishing errands. But after an hour of waiting and trying to eat, he paced the living-room. Fortunately, just as the afternoon began to fade, the front door clicked open and in stepped Radha and Sam. James rushed toward them to give Sam a hug but after seeing Sam for the first time all day, he stopped in his tracks.
“Hello Daddy!” Sam greeted, with a wide smile.
Radha slowly shut the door.
“Hi honey,” she said.
James looked at Sam’s shaved head and then at Radha.
“What happened…?” he said.
“Honey, I should’ve told you but…”
“Daddy! Let’s have some ice cream!” Sam cheered, taking James’ hand and leading him to the kitchen, where although shocked, James managed to fill a bowl with mounds of chocolate and sat next to Sam as he ate it. He watched Sam gather spoonfuls and giggle.
James felt dizzy but whenever Sam would look at him, he made certain to smile.
“What will happen when his hair grows back?” James asked Radha when they were alone. “Are we just going to keep cutting it?”
“This is what had to be done,” she said. “You weren’t doing anything to protect your son.”
James glared and rushed out of the room and watched TV the entire night downstairs.
He watched the news, where they showed the video of Tamir Rice being shot by the police, twice in the chest.
. . .
The day was sunny and bright. James woke up, kissed Radha good-bye and hugged Sam, before they left for school and work. After they were gone, James called his office and told them he was sick. He then called the police precinct and told the sergeant that he called the school to complain about Officer Lee’s son. The sergeant said he would pass the message along.
James tried to eat but his stomach was tight. He wore jeans and a shirt and drove around town. As the day shifted from morning to noon, he was still driving around when finally a car eased behind him and honked. He peeked into the mirror and saw the person’s face in the other car. James pulled over, as the other car drove next to his and lowered their window.
“How do you want to do this?” said Officer Lee, who was dressed in civilian clothes but wearing the sunglasses.
“How about we go to that empty field where you got your ass beat by everyone in high-school?” James said.
Officer Lee remained emotionless.
“Follow me,” he responded and drove ahead.
James waited until Officer Lee’s car was down the block before starting his.
. . .
They drove to the empty fields behind the EB High School, where a stadium had once been. Most of the homes in the area had signs reading FORECLOSED planted on their front lawns. They parked their cars on the edges of the dirt field and stood face to face in the middle.
Office Lee loomed over James, but James made sure to maintain eye contact.
“I thought I told you not to bother my son,” Officer Lee said.
“Richard,” James said. “Stop the act. We both know you’re still a scared shitless kid inside.”
“Oh yea? Well, this kid has a badge now and training. You sure you want to mess with that?”
“Mess? Who even says that? And besides, I’m asking you to tell your son to stop bothering mine. That’s all.”
Richard laughed. “My son is doing what you wished your son would’ve done,” Richard said. “My son at least knows the rules of the game.”
James warned him once more but Richard kept laughing.
“At least I didn’t act like a bitch and cry when I didn’t get a date to the prom,” James finally blurted.
Richard stopped smiling and glared.
James swallowed but stood his ground.
Richard, suddenly, charged and put James in a headlock.
James somehow managed to slip out from Richard’s grasp. Gasping for air, he dodged Richard’s punch, but Richard kept swinging, hitting James in the jaw, causing him to tumble.
Richard laughed as James kept trying to steady himself. James thought of what Rajesh said, of Sam asking him what the word meant. The anger surged. He took another shot to the ribs but with the adrenaline now pumping, he responded with a punch of his own, knocking Richard to the ground. Dust clouds formed all around them, turning their eyes red.
Eventually, they were both gasping for breath.
James saw Richard lying on his back, his chest rising and falling with his mouth open. James winced as he straightened up and plodded back to his car.
He got home as others were returning as well, wearing their black shoes and ties. The mailman was delivering letters from his white truck.
“Oh my god! What happened to you?” Radha screamed, grabbing James by the shoulders and leading him to the couch, where Sam was clapping his hands to an episode of Arthur.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” James repeated.
But Radha ran to the kitchen to get some towels and bandages.
Sam stared at James.
“Daddy, are you okay?” Sam asked.
James, with blood running down his face, smiled at his son.