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Black Dignity and Assertion: Existing in a World that Doesn't Want Us To

I am writing a much longer post about the dignity, emotional and psychological safety, and anger of Black people. But it is too long and a little too complex in its current form so I left it in its messy state and decided to switch gears to something...different. 


First of all, argghhhh to the United States Supreme Court for overturning Roe v. Wade. I want to write about this too, but I am currently too angry and I might regret what I say. So let’s put a pin in that for now. Let’s move on.





This past year, thanks to BrenĂ© Brown as well as getting the opportunity to lead a DEI working group at my previous place of employment, I started to learn more and have more conversations about emotional safety, belonging, and vulnerability. More importantly, I started to better understand that vulnerability needs to be earned; that you deserve a right to protect yourself if you don’t feel “safe”: and that—this is the biggest—vulnerability without boundaries is NOT vulnerability.


I love how we handled complex conversations at my previous workplace, and I am just now realizing how incredibly lucky I was. I am realizing there are places that just expect Black people to remove our armor without sufficient assurance or any commitment to our safety. There are expectations of Black people to “share” and to “teach people about racism” and to be “open” without any assurance that they would be protected when they do say something you don’t want to hear. 


This world can be a rough terrain to navigate. But it is even tougher navigating that terrain in a Black body. I love how Austin Channing Brown shows us roadblocks, and potholes, and detours that Black folks encounter on that ground in her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness


In the end, systemic oppression, racism, prejudice and their kind leave us with several choices. Be malleable like they want us to be. Cower like they would prefer us to be. Do nothing at all and just exist like they do not mind us as. Or assert your dignity no matter the cost. This last option looks different for all of us, but I would argue it is the only option. Because not doing anything at all is just…weak.


I know what you’re thinking. How does one even go about this, how does one show anger, how does one resist in a world that wants Black people to check our anger at the door all the time; a world that requires us to always check and ask permission before we can express outrage, even at injustices like a Black boy being killed like a dog on the street. 


And if you are in the Christian community in America, it is even worse. You can’t even be angry without people shoving “love” in your face. They mention love, not because they are so great in character, but to silence you. Churches are very notorious for this. It’s why I love how Brown frames a lot of her argument from the viewpoint of a Christian. Too often, churches manipulate and guilt trip Black people into silence. They want us to endure our oppressions and to “love” our oppressors. They want us to be subservient and to just obey the law. Forgetting that God, the one I know is a God of justice. Love that isn’t angry at injustice and racism towards black people is just masquerading as love but is anything but.  


Churches want to be neutral. Brown argues they want “reconciliation” because to them that means shallow, superficial hand holding not just, deep, and transformative relationships filled with truth. They want dialogue that doesn’t lead to any action.  Yet, as Curtiss DeYoung and Allan Boesak argue in their book, Radical Reconciliation, “reconciliation is revolutionary, that is oriented to structural change”. Viewed this way, you can understand that reconciliation is not neutral; it chooses the side of justice, always. 


Let this truth fuel your reaction. Let the quest to act justly embolden you. You have to remember that as a group, Black people are vast. It is important to note that Black people do not only exist in America; therefore, our display of dignity and our assertion will differ from people to people, from culture to culture, and from society to society. We are after all, not a monolith. Whatever shape, form, or temperament we come, we do deserve freedom, dignity, and our humanity. Not freedom to oppress, but the freedom of option, as Amanda Seales rightly put it. 


It does make sense that people would want to strip us of our joy and exuberance. Have you met Black people? Lol. 


We are pioneers of language itself. We invent new words and kill old ones. We smash syllables together and watch them reverberate across the nation. We have a language we share with one another. Though our words are stolen and often misused or misapplied, we know the depth of our vocabulary when used among ourselves. Our conversations are call-and-response. Someone uncolored might assume we are cutting each other off, interruption—but all we did was move church outside the building walls.” - Austin Channing Brown


It is no wonder they either want to destroy us or be us.


Love, and dignity,


I


Book of the Month: Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez

Welcome to the book of the month! Let’s get to it. The book of this month is Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez. The book is about Olga Isabel Acevedo, a 40-year-old Nuyorican from South Brooklyn. Olga and her brother, Prieto Acevedo, had it tough: they were abandoned by their revolutionary mother when they were young and their father contracted AIDS amidst a struggle with addiction during the height of the epidemic (both the drug AND AIDS epidemic). Because of these unusual and unfortunate circumstances, Olga, who was raised by her grandmother, is fierce, never wavers, and determined to succeed. When we meet her she is now an owner of a successful business she built from scratch. She plans weddings for the rich, famous, and powerful and she is not above overcharging brides for nonsensical napkins or fencing liquor for Russian mobsters. But she is not the only one with skeletons in her cupboard. Her brother, the epitome of the American dream, is a fiercely charismatic and savvy politician dubbed “the Latino Obama” (listen, I cringed too). This book shows how secrets unravel and ghosts of parents dead and alive hunt the siblings as they chase after the American dream even as it slowly becomes a nightmare.




A Case Against Social Media

When I wrote the series of posts on concentration, deep work, and curing languishing, one integral thread was focusing. And one great hinderance, as those posts show, is social media. Ohh boy, I hear you say. I feel you and I say it too. Social media is so enmeshed with our society that it is almost impossible to separate the two entities. It is who we are. This has remained the case even as the danger of these sites have been proven over and over especially for kids. Adults are not left out too: social media is detrimental to our mental health (DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED), concentration, our connections, and even our democracy (see here too). Now, don't get me wrong, social media is quite the beneficial tool. As a social scientist, I would be remiss to not mention all the fantastic ways social media has improved our society. Quite literally, there is dopamine—the same type linked to activities like sex, food, and social interaction—released in our brain reward center as we scroll. It's been used to spur social movements. It’s been used to crowdfund to help people. Some people met their spouses there. Some have formed lifelong friendships. Yes, these are all true. 






Here is the thing: it was designed to be addictive. Even the people who created it admit as much.  And anything with addiction at the core can't be good. 


There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.” 

- Edward Tufte


For all it’s woes, one of the biggest is that if you want to do deep work, you have to drastically reduce your use of it or quit altogether, unless of course you need it for work. In the past, I have quit social media for months. I have also largely disconnected now (for various reasons), ultimately deciding to focus on the real world, and I know that while it is hard, it is not just doable but achievable. The benefits are almost always astonishing. You may think disconnecting is hard, but once you actually do it, it's not nearly as challenging. Baratunde Thurston, a digital consultant who once did an experiment on quitting social media in 2013, said he struck up conversations with strangers, he enjoyed food without Instagramming the experience, and he bought a bike. 


There is no doubt whatsoever, and you don't even need any scientific evidence here to know that these network tools (Cal Newport classifies Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as well as Business Insider and Buzzfeed in this category) are incredibly distracting and they reduce our ability to concentrate. To put simply, deep work is entirely incompatible with social media.  But not many people can quit. And even when people take those sabbaticals off the internet, when they get back like most drugs, the addiction is even more intense. So, Newport proposes an alternative: accept that these things are not inherently evil (I disagree, some of them are in fact inherently evil but I digress).  He says accept that they may even be integral to your success and happiness but accept that the threshold for allowing a site regular access to your time and attention (and your personal data!) should be more stringent. 



Rather that quit the Internet altogether, Newport challenges us to “reject the state of distracted hyper-connectedness that requires you to need that sort of sabbatical in the first place.”  The reality is if you use it so much that get to the point where you “need a break” then something is wrong. There is a middle-ground and we can get there. 


Despite the fact that these things are specifically engineered to be addictive, I don’t think you have to necessarily get rid of them completely if you don’t want to. You can, as Newport suggests, adopt a tool if only its positive impacts substantially outweigh its negative impacts. He goes ahead to suggest a practical and realistic way of assessing each tool and assessing your goals (and activities needed to achieve these goals) and if each tool doesn’t substantially impact each activity, drop it. I won’t go into that in this post because it seems too complicated.


The easier suggestion Newport gives comes from Ryan Nicodemus' strategy for minimalism but to adopt it with social media use. It goes like this: ban yourself from using them for 30 days. All of them. Don’t formally deactivate these services, and don't mention online that you'll be signing off: just stop using them, cold turkey. If someone reaches out to you to ask why they haven’t seen you on it, you can explain but otherwise don't go out of your way to tell people. After 30 days, ask yourself the following two questions about each of the services you temporarily quit: 1) would the last 30 days have been notably better if I had been able to use this service? 2) Did people care that I wasn’t using this service? if your answer is no to both question, Newport suggests quitting them permanently. If your answer was a clear yes, then return to using them. If your answer is qualified or ambiguous then it's up to you whether to return to the service, though he encourages leaning towards quitting and joining later. 



True talk? In most cases, no one outside your family and VERY CLOSE friends will even notice your absence. These things are so disconnecting, the lack of humanity on these sites can be astonishing. To put it bluntly, except you’re like Kim Kardashian, no one really cares. No one cares if you post or if you don’t post. Perhaps, this humbling fact is also necessary to keep at the back of our minds before we tweet our next nonsense (I include myself in this because we are all in this together). No doubt these tools can be fun but in the scheme of your life and what you want to accomplish, they are lightweight, whimsy and unimportant distractions that distract you from deeper stuff. 

And if I can give you one big tip, it’s this: don’t use social media to entertain yourself. Or be more strategic about your leisure time. When it's time to relax, don't just default to whatever catches your attention at the moment, but instead take some time in advance to think about how you want to spend your leisure time. Addictive social media and websites thrive in a vacuum: they always beckon as an appealing option if you don’t fill the free time with something of more quality. But if you fill your free time with something of more quality, their grip on your attention will loosen. Think about how you plan on spending your evenings and weekend before they even begin. Structured hobbies can be really helpful here. Maybe that's time to catch up on reading? Perhaps you can even plan 30 minutes for social media, but after those 30 minutes are done, that’s it! And don't worry about this defeating the purpose of relaxation. It turns out our minds are not necessarily like our bodies that get tired so easily. If you give your mind something meaningful to do throughout your waking hours, Newport argues that you will end the day more fulfilled and begin the next one more relaxed instead of allowing your mind to bathe for hours in semiconscious and unstructured web surfing. In sum, to eliminate the addictive nature of entertainment sites, give your brain a quality alternative. 

It's that simple. Have I made a strong case? I sure hope so.


Love,

I

When Thoughts and Prayers Won't Do

I have accepted that life comes with a good deal of the good and the bad. It’s very healthy to wade through life with that mindset. Yet sometimes the bad is so staggering it can eclipse all the wonderful good. Such was the case on May 24 when NINETEEN children and their teachers died mercilessly one afternoon in Uvalde, Texas. How could? How can? How? Just how. And now, where do we go from here?


Whenever there is a tragedy in the U.S, especially a shooting, the first thing a lot of lawmakers and regular citizens alike say is, “our thoughts and prayers are with [the victims]…” Now, ordinarily this is fine. Prayers are great. Thoughts too are fine. It is also especially great when you feel helpless, because prayers are anything but useless. Prayers are powerful. I know for sure I would not be here without prayers. But when the people literally—LITERALLY—in charge of making the law and changing them where necessary also parrot the line without any bite to it, you begin to wonder. When they are joining us to express moral outrage online even though they have all the power to do something, your blood boils even faster. Forget putting out statements, forget tweeting, get TO WORK. Pick up your pen and fix this and make your coworkers do the dang work too. DO something. We the people can’t really do much. We can grieve, and use our voices and vote, but you are the ones with the actual power to do something. How can you waste such a privilege, such power? 




Friday Reflections

1.) Elizabeth Moss is a powerhouse of an actress. I have never not seen that woman put up a STELLAR performance, with every breath of air from her and hair on her skin fully embodying her character. I hope she gets more recognition, this New Yorker profile does her some justice, especially helping us understand the contradiction as a pop-icon and feminist steeped in Scientology.





2.) Blogging is a hobby for me right now. I realize that' sounds crazy especially in this world where everything is monetized. 


3.) Stop catastrophizing.


4.) "It is easy to dress up a lie so nicely, that it starts to take on the glow of a truth. We cannot talk about the admirable decision of the UK government to accept refugees from Ukraine without also talking about the other refugees who the British government will unceremoniously ship off to Rwanda." - Chimamanda Adichie.


5.) Self defense training for stand up comedians. 


4.) Jane Fonda. The iconic. That is all.


5) Trevor Noah's remarks at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. This felt like OG comedy. Just pure roasting. Although he came for everyone, it was definitely not mean spirited and he came for everyone.


6.) She  donated her kidney to her boyfriend and then he cheated on her.


7.) Today's reflections are short and sweet. Have a good weekend!

Freedom (or Lack of) of Religion in Nigeria

 As important as it is to me for this blog to feed your soul, I also am quite intentional about not talking about every darn social ill and injustice that occurs in the world. After all, where would one begin? In the past couple of weeks alone, American leaders have decided to hold all the power on women's body, some other moron perpetrated a racist attack on black people going about their lives this weekend, food for babies is scarce and some people think "illegal" babies should not get food, and oh gas prices won't stop skyrocketing, and oh wait a minute, Mr. Putin threatens us every other day with nuclear war. And that's just in America. 





That said, something happened in Nigeria last week. Deborah Samuels, a student at the Shagari College of Education Sokoto in Sokoto State, was brutally murdered. They stoned her to death and set her ablaze because she made "blasphemous statements" against Prophet Mohammed. They had asked her how she passed and she said "Jesus O". She had also apparently complained because they turned a What's App group for group study and class activities into a religious group, which bothered them. So they plotted to kill her. They actually recorded themselves doing this and posted it online. There are a lot of layers to this madness that I do not feel like writing about, except to share the below which I posted on Instagram this past weekend:


I have been thinking about what it means to not just kill another human being but to actually set them on fire.


It’s many things—barbaric, sadistic—but it’s actually not animalistic. That’s the thing: animals don’t do that to their kind.


It’s not just that Deborah died, it’s the gruesome way she died; all that agony and despair.


I can’t stop thinking about it and I didn’t even know her.


I am not a theologian but I know there is no way God or any god is so sensitive or weak as to need human beings to defend him like so.


In a free society—nay, in a sane society—blasphemy should not be “illegal”. Either we have freedom of religion or we have “blasphemy”. We can’t have both.


You can get offended, roll your eyes, get angry even,  if someone attacks your religion or your God. But to kill them. To kill them? To KILL THEM?


I have been thinking about it.


And I hope everybody else is thinking about it too.


Love,


I

An Unforgettable Italy Trip Plus A Comprehensive Guide to Visiting Rome and Florence

 For as long as I have remembered, I had always wanted to visit Italy. It’s funny because I don’t like traveling. I don’t hate it. But in my list of predilections, it’s not at the top. I do it because it is never not memorable (and absolutely FUN) but I would rather just sit on the couch with a book, a T.V. show, or MS Word open, and me writing. But Italy was the exception. I have just always wanted to go. I have never watched Eat Pray Love or any movie based in Italy, by the way. Nothing. It’s just a spirit thing. In any case, my birthday was approaching and I thought, perfect timing.


So here came Italy and me. And of course, the best travel buddy in the business, my one and only sissy poo, who is ordinarily way more adventurous so she didn't need that much convincing. I know people tend to do these types of trips with groups of friends. So you may be asking, why not ask friends. I don’t have that many friends and asking people to invest thousands of dollars because  I was celebrating my birthday is not my style. I told them though and said they were welcome if they wanted to. You may also be wondering how a trip that happened in March is only just written about in May. Just let's move on from that. Okay let's go. Italy in a blogpost.