It is no secret that White supremacy is becoming more and more mainstream in America. Trump's hateful rhetoric has given a platform for characters like Richard Spencer. Props to whoever punched him, by the way. Besides punching people in the face (which I admire but do not condone, ha ha) White people need to find practical ways to help the fight. It can't just be the responsibility of People of Color. They are the victims of a system built to oppress and exploit them since the founding fathers. It is the responsibility of White people to try our very best to change things, for the good of us all. Because at the end of the day, if your neighbors are suffering, then you cannot truly be free.
1. Be aware of your own privilege
This is absolutely, 100% the most important factor when it comes to battling white supremacy. It takes a lot of self reflection, and it is often uncomfortable for many people to accept that their blessings are at the expense of another person, but that is just the reality of things. I like to take myself as an example. My mom is white (Polish, Irish, German) and grew up in a middle class white collar family. My dad on the other hand grew up poor and came here from Syria with a few hundred dollars in his pocket. He is the chief earner in our family. He put himself through college working at a gas station. He is brown, has an accent, and can't pass for white. Growing up I identified as Syrian, I knew I looked different than a white person with only European ancestry. I knew my dad worked hard for everything he had. I didn't take into account how much help he received from my mom, whose family had been here generations. I also had to recognize that no matter how wealthy or poor I was growing up, I still had white skin. I could identify as Syrian all I wanted but as long as I was dressed in “American” clothing, I would be treated like a white woman. That alone helped me get jobs easier, get out of speeding tickets, and be seen as an individual as opposed to part of a homogeneous group. I can be angry and not be labeled as an “angry white woman” like the equivalent “angry black woman”. Being privileged doesn't mean that I didn't work hard for everything I have, it just means that if a black woman were in the same shoes, it would be harder for her to prove herself to the world, and that is not okay. Awareness of the problem is the first step to finding a solution.
2. Pay attention to the struggles of people don't look like you.
One of the many advantages that White privilege provides is the luxury to be blissfully unaware of the everyday struggles of people of color. White people can say “give Trump a chance” and be baffled as to why everyone else is freaking out. White people have the power to completely diminish the pain of people of color by saying things like “every life matters,” when it is mostly Black people being harmed and profiled by the police. We are not directly affected by these issues caused by institutional racism, therefore many of us never lift a finger to help, and often don't make the effort to know what is happening to people in our own country. In order for you to battle White supremacy you must be willing to get uncomfortable. You have to come face-to-face with the facts. I, for example, taught an art class in a high school in Wayne during the last year of college. It was a majority Black school. This school was so poor they couldn't even afford to buy pencils for their drawing classes. Their budget was literally one dollar per student. This isn't poor money management, this is manufactured institutional racism that has been going on since the founding of America, by segregation and unequal equivalents for people of color. Because I am passionate about social justice, seeing this angered me and gave me even more fuel to burn to continue fighting for equality. If you truly want to make a difference in the world you have to be aware of all the unique struggles of people of color that you have been blissfully unaware of.
3. Get involved in social justice campaigns, be in rallies, be an ally, volunteer, don't just hashtag.
Hashtag activism can quickly kill a social justice campaign. As a white person, it is not enough to stay in the safety of our homes and hashtag Black Lives Matter or hashtag End The Muslim Ban, while our counterparts of color are out on the street facing brutality at the hands of the police. It is not enough to wear a safety pin on your shirt and call yourself an ally. This type of passive activism is especially dangerous because it can feel so satisfying and like you are actually accomplishing something. Yes, having your post re-tweeted several thousand times can mean more exposure for your cause, but what has actually changed? Absolutely nothing. Historically our country only made significant change (in a timely manner) when the citizens took to the streets and made legislators uncomfortable. As White people we need to not only be social media warriors, we also need to be bodies on the ground, marching and shouting just as loud as the rest. If you can't find a local rally or event, start your own! It doesn't have to be a protest, it can even be a dialogue between two communities. Other ideas are organizing mass emails and calls to your local legislators, volunteering for food banks, sit-ins, charity events, or themed marathons. All these require permission from the city so make sure you respect all laws while being a revolutionary!
4. Make a conscious effort to develop close friendships with People of Color
People hate what they don't understand, because what they don't understand they fear. Many White people live in areas where they would only occasionally come across People of Color, and therefore have fewer chances to strike up friendships. Because of racial tensions (especially now) White people can find it hard to reach out. Now, don't understand me wrong, I am not telling you to go out and find yourself “The Black Friend”. That is not and never will be helpful. You can't attempt to empathize with an entire group of people based on the experiences of one member of that community. If you are a White person with only White friends, you need to make an effort to place yourself in diverse groups of people. I grew up with a multicultural family and we traveled a lot, so being around different people feels natural to me, but it may not for you, and that is ok. It is not your job to feel comfortable. It is your job, however, to make an effort and get some real genuine friendships going after you get over your fear of the unknown.
5. Don't be a culture vulture
Katy Perry, I'm talking to you. Stop using people's cultural dress as costumes. I get it, it feels nostalgic to dress up in costumes you have been familiar with your whole life. I grew up with an “Indian” outfit in my dress-up box. Even the name is offensive. It had fringe, beads, and a feather headband, a complete stereotype. I could have grown up and worn the same outfit to a Halloween party and claimed ignorance or tradition. Instead I recognized the disrespect in those costumes. I will never dress up pretending to be someone of a different culture, and I won't let my future children do it either. People who grew up seeing clowns in Black-face do not have an excuse. They are adults with free will, and people have a choice to change. Another challenge is appropriating cultural dress for reasons of fashion. For example, wearing a Niquab (covering over mouth and head, only showing eyes) is a religious symbol of piety. It is not about being sensual or being a tease, like some pop stars like to portray. Not only is this disrespectful, it is devaluing real Niquabis who have committed to being pious their whole lives, not just one night.
6. Call people out on their bullshit. Don't stay silent.
Evil can only persist when good people do nothing. This quote is as true as the day it was written. You may not feel like a racist, dress in black-face, or do anything to directly harm people of color, but if you stay silent in the face of racism you are part of the problem. This doesn't exclude your family and friends, either. If you overhear someone saying something racist, or being unkind in anyway, you should be brave enough to stand up for what is right and call them out on it. We live in an America where racists are no longer afraid to voice their twisted opinions. That means that activists such as yourselves need to be just as unafraid, and be loud enough (literally and figuratively) to drown out those voices of hate with a more inclusive and loving rhetoric.
7. Don't be afraid to bring up race in a conversation, especially with People of Color.
We as white people need to be more comfortable talking about race. It can't just be a Black thing, or a People of Color thing. Many Black people grew up knowing it makes White people uncomfortable when they bring out the “race card”, even if the situation truly is one of racial discrimination. This is not okay. People of Color should know that their feelings are valid, that their voices are welcomed, and that they are being heard without the resistance they usually encounter. The best way to help break the ice is by asking questions. Don't be afraid to sound stupid, but always remain respectful. Many People of Color will be impressed that you are taking the time to try and understand them. Be aware that some people are more open than others. If you feel your repertoire with that person is at that level, go for it. If not, don't be rude. Hold your tongue and wait for the right moment.
8. Become a mediator between communities
If you are fortunate enough to be a White person with close friendships with People of Color, make use of it. Because of your close relationship, you have been gifted with an inside look of how they live and think. They may trust you enough to share problems and experiences that they are not comfortable sharing with other White people. It is a common experience for People of Color to share problems with White people only for them to be diminished or misunderstood, which is why they often shy away from it. Be a shoulder to cry on, show that you are willing to understand and listen. Then, with their permission, take this knowledge to places a Person of Color may be less accepted. This could be a government institution, the newspaper, non-profit organizations, or even TV producers. As a White person you have the privilege of having your voice heard more than that of a Person of Color. You need to use that power and speak to audiences that are more likely to receive the message from you than your friends. It is a sad reality but we must learn to work the system to our advantage.
9. Vote with your money.
It is fairly easy to find information online about big corporations and their hiring practices. If a company has a history of hiring discrimination or excluding People of Color in any way, you should not be supporting them. This means to immediately stop buying their products. In America, big corporations funnel unimaginable amounts of money into the government to influence laws in their favor. By purchasing their services or products, you are allowing a company with discriminatory practices to influence our lawmakers with your hard-earned money. You need to vote with your money and boycott them. Put them out of business.
10. Empower and support business owned by people of color.
This is another way to vote with your money. We all have a set of items we buy on a consistent basis, like groceries, toiletries, and clothes. We must slowly replace the items we get from big corporations with items from local businesses, specifically ones owned by People of Color. Once noticeable amounts of money starts shifting away from big corporations, the local economy will flourish. There will be less money available to pour into politics, and hopefully this means less corruption that results in discriminatory laws.
It is true, there are so many wars and humanitarian crises going on around the world that it is hard to keep up with it. I get so involved with the Syrian conflict that I have little energy to remember that there is instability in Venezuela, homelessness in Detroit, famine in Sudan, and of course, the crisis in Yemen. Experts in the field call it the biggest crisis happening in the world today. As someone with Syrian family affected by the crisis there, it is only natural to have empathy for those families and want to help them.
I have always found ways to combine my art and my passion for activism. Recently I accomplished that by hand making chunky, colorful hats for Syrian children while I was in Istanbul. People from all over the world donated money to the ongoing campaign to help purchase yarn for the hats. That's how I came up with the idea for the Art for Yemen Campaign. My next project is a pop-up shop at the Raw Artists Showcase at St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit on May 17th and sales there will go towards this project to help Yemen. If you can't make it to the event, but would like to support, donate to the Relief for Yemen fund. Any small bit you can give helps a lot!
10% of shop profits will be donated. That means that every single hand-made back pack, dress, wallet, and graphic T-shirt you purchase will be directly helping feed and clothe Yemeni children. To do your part, come to the event on May 17th and buy some beautiful handmade items or graphic T's. Doors open at 6pm, tickets can be purchase here.
Please make sure to share this information with a friend. Not everyone is aware of the Yemeni crisis. I personally wasn't aware of exactly how severe it was until someone sent me a video when things took a turn for the worse. Its been going on since 2014. Just like the Flint water crisis, things like this need people like you to reignite the flame under large organizations to step in and help.
Make sure to stop on by St. Andrew's Hall on May 17th to donate small change to the Yemeni Crisis fund and to buy a mother's day gift. Use this mother's day coupon at the shop for big deals!
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We all have brands and stores that we love. In high school there was the girl that wore exclusively Victoria's Secret underwear and yoga pants. Some guys and gals spend their entire paychecks on Air Jordans at only 17 years old. This brand obsession starts young and keeps going strong until adult hood, and these same people become Logo Slaves. Don't confuse logo slavery with loyalty, however. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a company consistently putting out good products that their customers enjoy and build up a following, but when that company doesn't respect it's employees or the earth, and over charges its customers, that's when the issues arise.
I am guilty of being a normal human being and buying things from big corporations like Walmart, even though I know some of their business practices aren't the best. I don't research every single item I purchase on Amazon to see whether or not it is a fair trade product or if it's factories paid their workers slave wages. Let's face it, living as a person in this society is inherently consumptive. Unless we have a team of researchers it is impossible for the average person to live in a zero carbon footprint and 100% ethical manner when it comes to the products they consume. As a human I will always produce trash, purchase items out of necessity, and buy things from companies I don't exactly applaud. This is something that I came to accept. Here is an anecdote from my time in Istanbul that really drove this point home to me:
In Turkey I worked at a university and taught English. Traditionally the Turks drink lots of tea, and there are big thermoses in the cafeteria. I was getting tea with a coworker. He filled up the styrofoam cup, and I out of habit, picked up the glass cup. He knew that I was very green and very much a hippy, I joked, “I take the glass cups so as to not harm the environment...” he replied, “well, after you drink that tea the cafeteria women will wash the cup with hot water, which uses water and energy. They will also use soap to wash it, and that soap may not be friendly towards the environment. One way or another you will always consume and effect the world around you.”
He and I had a lengthy discussion on the matter, but this is the paraphrased version. That really made me think. Did anything I do to supposedly “save the planet” actually do anything? I came to the realization that I can still do my part, that I refuse to contribute to a broken system, and I can make my own change even as one small person. I think that in this era of consumption it is important to start a dialogue about what it means to have a set of values as a consumer, or to identify what exactly you expect from the brands you support. That's why I compiled a list of all the deal breakers that cause me to break off relationships with my brands.
1. The use of prison labor
This is absolutely, positively, number one on my list. This country is a capitalist society, that means it runs on money. With every dollar I spend I am casting a vote on how I believe consumers and corporations should interact. Many people are still unaware of the prison labor problem that we have in this country. As the leaders of the “free world” and the “Land of the Free” we are also somehow the leaders in incarceration rates. According to prisonpolicy.org,
“The American criminal justice system holds more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in the U.S. Territories.”
Think about that. More than two million people in prison. That's more than the population of some countries. Not only is there a prison industrial complex in this country, large corporations are cashing in at an exponential rate. Prison labor makes it completely legal to force inmates to work for cents a day, producing items that we use every day and would otherwise have no clue as to how they were made. The benefit of paying workers such low wages is that the profit margin on each item is insane. That money is then funneled back into politics to ensure legislators continue voting in favor of for-profit prisons, and the judicial system to continue sending more and more people to jail. It is a horrible monstrous cycle and the cost is not only innocent human lives but also the well being of an entire society. When millions of us are locked behind bars and are living in standstill, it slows down the progress of the entire society. Victoria's Secret is a company that has its clothes produced in prisons, which is why I refuse to purchase or wear any of their products.
2. Discriminatory hiring practices
Have you found yourself in a store and realize you are surrounded by a bunch of employees that all look almost exactly the same? I find that happens most at the mall, specifically at Abercrombie and Fitch. I don't shop there, but I used to browse when I was younger and I always seemed to be helped by some form of young, slim, and blonde white person. That company is also known for it's owner, Mike Jeffries, who is notorious for spouting offensive things like,
“That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people.”
Read the other ridiculous things he's said here. When Mike Jeffries says he only hires cool, good-looking people, and you go to his store as a consumer and only see thin white people working there, that is code for racism. I call it like it is, he is a white supremacist consistently pushes people of color and people with larger bodies out of his brand with his rhetoric. When I go into that store, I personally feel unwelcome and I am not even a quote “plus-size” girl. I wear a size 12, I am almost 6 feet tall, I am a large person, but not over weight. Even so, I still used to find difficulty finding clothing in my size. This made me feel discouraged and I ended up never shopping there, accomplishing what Jeffries wanted. I can only imagine what a size 22 woman of color would feel walking in there.
3. Two-faced marketing techniques under big umbrella companies
Ever sit and read the back of your shampoo bottle out of boredom? Admit it, we've all done it. During one of these boredom fueled reading sprees I discovered that my Dove soap was made by the same umbrella brand, Unileaver, as Axe. Generally Dove is marketed towards women and Axe is marketed towards men. Dove gained some attention in recent years with its campaign to help women love their bodies, with commercials showcasing women of all colors and body shapes. I am sure Unileaver raked in extra profits because of those commercials, they were catering to the soft spot inside all women who secretly just want someone to tell us we are pretty. They are exploiting the insecurities of women for their profit, because in the same breath their Axe commercials create the same problem the Dove commercials claim to be tackling. You may have seen an Axe ad on T.V in which a sexy greek god looking man uses the soap/cologne/shampoo and suddenly he is being followed by a bunch of thin white young white women. I specifically remember one commercial during the Super Bowl where the guy looked like a sports champion and he walked into a room holding his trophy, and found five naked women, all porcelain and long limbed, ready to be taken as a prize. This was obviously targeted towards young men, and the ad is objectifying women to serve its purpose as an attractive element to the product. That really rubbed me the wrong way. When large umbrella companies manipulate their customers to make a buck, that's when I take a step back. Now I used organic soap bars and try to buy local when I can.
4. Funding corrupt politicians
This one is a little more difficult to prove or find out. There are certain types of corporations who donate money to politicians. In a world where companies pinch every penny, they are pouring billions of dollars into politics for a reason, they hope to influence policies in their favor. The gun and oil industry is famous for being involved with politics, but I know there are others. The roots of this country is in exploitative capitalism, so corporations will always use their power to swing the odds in their favor. I like to do research when I can to find out more about the companies I am supporting. It helps to start in reverse, by looking up top paying politicians and seeing who is contributing money to their campaigns. An example of that is JP Morgan and other big banks funding the Hilary Clinton campaign. Her history with Wall Street, the fact that several other banks donated large sums, and that she was paid thousands to make a single speech, leads me to believe that these banks are in some shady business. I try my best not to give my money to businesses like that.
5. A history of causing ecological disasters, and other companies who fund them
When corporations have a history of causing large ecological disasters and continue business as usual, that sends a huge red flag up in my head. Enbridge is a the biggest example I can think of. It is an oil company with pipelines lacing like spider webs across the United States. The history of oil spills is scary:
6. Creating hype and over saturating the market with products and ignoring societal consequences.
didn't even realize the true effect that Air Jordan shoes had on youth in urban school until I heard stories from friends who grew up in Detroit. Students in poor schools weren't allowed to were Air Jordan shoes to school because students kept getting beaten up and robbed of their shoes. It makes sense, these kids are living in an area where your clothes are your status. They save up all their money then spend it all on a pair of shoes that are limited edition, like all the Air Jordan shoes, and then they feel special. These kids use these shoes for pride and self-esteem in an otherwise crazy environment. It is normal to have hype and thefts over expensive items, but that can be reduced by creating a less exclusive brand. When shoes are made to be so expensive, and are only for sale for extremely short periods of time, it gets competitive. The brand Supreme has people waiting in line for countless hours simply so they can purchase products to resell as break neck prices. For these brands, it's all about the novelty, and making their customer feel special and part of an exclusive club. Air Jordan releases a new limited edition pair of shoes every month. There are so many pairs that no one except the true fans can name them all. There are so many, but there are so few of each design, and they are all sold at such high prices. When they are released people spend their un-refundable currency of time and wait for days to get the shoes.The person standing in line can often times be depending on the money for their paycheck, the consumer who doesn't make it in time is screwed over because they now have to pay twice the original price, and in the end the company is the only one who wins, because they make the shoes in China for $2 each and release a new one every month for the cycle to repeat itself while consumers fight for scraps.
7. Getting products made overseas and pay workers slave wages but sell their products for an insane profit margin.
This one is a general catch all for large corporations. Most business see the benefit in outsourcing work to China. Hell, I've even been guilty of checking out Ali Baba and seeing how cheap it is to get 500 beautiful leather bags made for me, but after a quick thought I didn't go through with it. The profit margins are tempting, and I know a lot of fellow Detroit designers who are getting their products made overseas, but I can't bring myself to do it with a good moral conscious. This goes for my spending habits as well. Usually when something it dirt cheap, its for a reason. I would rather spend a little more and know I am sending out good karma, rather than buy something made by underage kids in some basement in Vietnam just to save a buck.
8. Discriminatory branding with only thin/white models shown
This one hits home for me, because I'm so emerged in the fashion industry. Everything I do on a daily basis revolves around my fashion business. When I walk in the streets I observe what people wear to inspire me. When drive I see billboards of skinny models in dresses selling perfume. When I am in the mall I look at the imagery in the makeup shops and of the models in their clothing. I draw inspiration and pay attention to everything about clothes on people, and so I notice a lot about it too. When I notice a company, for example, Eddie Bauer, that very rarely shoes a person of color wearing their clothes, it sticks with me. The fact that some lingerie brands only depict women with impossibly tiny bodies and porcelain skin makes me not want to shop there or support them. I told myself from the beginning of my fashion journey that I would commit myself to building an inclusive brand, for bodies of all shapes sizes and colors. My shopping habits should show the same values as my business.
9. No effort made towards finding a greener business solution
Let's face it, technology is evolving more and more every day. There are always new solutions being found, and sometimes to problems we didn't even know existed. One problem we are all very well aware of is climate change. Even though people like Donald Trump and his administration like to be in denial about facts, there is evidence that coal companies started predicting climate change as early as the eighties. There are so many ways to utilize green energy to create the products and services that we use every day. Clothing companies could start an initiative to recycle cotton instead of continuing to grow more. In fact, it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to grow the cotton necessary to make one cotton shirt. As a consumerist society we throw away so much clothing, and there is so much excess raw materials available, that a profitable and logical solution could be found to satisfy all parties. Companies that make camping gear should only make tents out of recycled bottles from Flint, Michigan until they fix that (cough, HEY SNYDER). The tags for the clothes themselves can be made from recycled paper or even the fibers from sewing the clothes. There are so many different ways to develop a zero-waste and low carbon footprint production facility, but when large companies don't make any visible effort to move in that direction, I simply cannot support them. That is why I chose to make my own clothes from second hand fabric, or buy from thrift stores, to save all that water and to save those clothes from ending up in the landfill.
10. Purposefully making items that don't last and/or are made with cheap materials
Have you ever bought something only to have it break without warning soon afterwards? Most of the time its something techy, like a laptop or a smartphone. I remember my family's old HP desktop computer. We had that thing for years and years. We had it before internet, used it through dial-up, and I still had it in my bedroom long after we got Wifi. Back in those days, people actually would spend the time and money to get their appliances fixed. You wouldn't ever hear of someone attempting to fix a toaster nowadays, but back in my Grandpa's day, you would tinker with it till it works. This generation is so used to throwing things in the trash and driving to the nearest Walmart to buy a new one. It is too easy to order a replacement phone on Amazon. We have to remind ourselves that each item we purchase was made from materials that came from this earth, and that when we throw it away it isn't actually thrown “away” but is simply out of our site in some landfill somewhere. Matter is never created nor destroyed but simply changes forms. When companies purposefully make products that are designed the malfunction or break in a few years, specifically large appliances that use lots of raw materials to make and have a high profit margin, they are practicing unethical business with no regard to the well being of their customers or the earth.
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I observe & write about society & culture.