If you are passionate about politics and climate change issues like I am, you were just as disappointed as I was when you heard that Trump decided to withdraw from the Paris Accord. It is so stubborn and pathetic of him it is almost funny. I would laugh, except these issues are real. Even if climate “change” by itself is unbelievable (despite all the scientific evidence), what about good old pollution? I truly believe that the next global crisis will be a water shortage if we don't get our act together. There are oil spills everywhere, plastic floating in our oceans, and complete ecosystems being destroyed. Let's face it, most of us wouldn't know how to survive without running water from a sink or a grocery store with fruits and vegetables. Climate change is a huge problem because as the population grows, we need to make sure our resources will be enough for everyone. We need a sustainable lifestyle if the human population is going to survive much longer. We need to save Mother Earth, with or without Trump.
That being said, it can feel overwhelming to try to change something so much bigger than ourselves. Trust me, I feel defeated by it often, and it would be so easy to just give up and feel like my actions won't make a difference, but I know that is not true. If every single person made a small change in their lifestyles, the whole world could change. The power is in the individual, and also in the group. We have to be leaders in our communities and be an example to our kids. If the lifestyle spreads, we can help reverse climate change and save our precious planet. Here are some of the things I do as one, teeny person to make a difference.
1. Recycle! (seriously, just do it)
This one might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people don't recycle. I went through recycling boot camp (so to speak) when I lived in Japan for four years, they have SEVEN categories for their trash! In the U.S all we have is one trash bin, and one recycling bin, easy. There is so much you can recycle, not just the typical milk jugs and pop bottles. Paper, cardboard, plastic of all kinds and metal can all be tossed in the bin. It is worth it to have a small recycling container in popular areas of the house like the kitchen and bedroom so you remember to use it. Personally I also keep one in my sewing studio, so I can recycle the packaging from sewing supplies I buy like machine parts or sewing needles. They come in a package of plastic and cardboard, I just separate those two parts and I'm all set to recycle! Make sure to look up online what recycling trucks accept in your city because each city is different.
2. Use old-school dishes and silverware
Look, I know washing dishes sucks, but so does a future drowning in plastic. Think of it this way: Every single piece of plastic and styrofoam that has ever been produced (and not recycled) is still in existence! And we just keep making more! If you can't afford a set of dishes, go to Salvation Army or even the Dollar Store and get yourself a few metal spoons and forks, and some ceramic dishes. They will last you longer and won't be causing pollution. If you are having a big event like a barbecue and you must use paper and plastic items, just make sure your guests are on board with recycling it. Have them dump extra food in one bin and toss the paper and plastic into the recycle bin. Styrofoam isn't recycled like everything else and needs to be dropped off at a special center near you.
3. Get creative with your old clothes, or give them a new life.
This is a big one for me! The fast-fashion industry is destroying our planet. The majority of landfills are filled with clothes! As someone who sews, all I can do is cringe, shake my head sadly, and imagine all the fashion I could have made with that fabric. There is a whole bunch of ways to re-use your clothes that don't require much knowledge in sewing. The first is by cutting them up into squares and using them for dusting and dish rags. You can cut a T-shirt into strips and tie them together to make a mop head. Or, use an old T-shirt to dry your hair. When I was traveling I only brought one big towel for my body and would use my shirt to dry my hair. It's super absorbent and doesn't make your hair frizzy like a towel. T-shirts are also great for small pillow cases, just flip it inside out and hand-sew the arm and neck holes shut. If you are more craftsy, think about using your old clothes to make fabric yarn and crochet a chunky rug for yourself. For tough fabric like jeans, cut them up into small squares you can use to patch bags and other pants. Be creative, there is always something you can do with old clothes around the house. If you don't have the time, make sure to donate them to Salvation Army so someone else can make use of your unwanted items.
4. Be green while storing your leftovers
There are plenty of food items that come in nice packaging great for reusing. Why buy a whole new piece of plastic when you are already bringing your food home in good containers? My favorite has to be yogurt containers, they are durable and a good size for salads. If you can't collect enough containers and need more, try buying glass or metal containers instead. Those will last you longer than plastic.
5. Walk or bike as many places possible.
Walking/biking instead of driving reduces the amount of emissions your are letting out into the atmosphere. I understand this can be difficult with people who have families or live in a state like Michigan where things are far apart. Sometimes it is as simple as walking from one store to the next instead of moving your when shopping in a strip mall. Or, walking to the end of your driveway to get your mail instead of driving your car like some people do. If biking is a viable commuting option for you, go for it. Its good exercise too.
6. Be mindful of how long the water is running.
Leaving the water running when they are brushing their teeth is an awful habit, and it wastes so much water. We see the water flowing freely out of our tap and always forget that it comes from somewhere. I live in Michigan and am blessed to have the Great Lakes supplying water, but many states are experiencing water shortages. If the water doesn't need to be running, turn it off. When I am doing the dishes for example, I usually fill a small tub with hot soapy water and scrub the dishes all at the same time, then rinse them off at the same time. This is saves more water than by washing and rinsing each dish individually.
7. Conserve energy
Our high-tech 21st century lifestyle requires lots of electricity. In order for us to have power, natural gas or coal is burned to make steam, which drive turbines, resulting in electricity. There are other ways besides coal and natural gas to make electricity, but we are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Obviously, this is not a sustainable source of energy, so we need to be aware of how much we are using, until we can make the shift to sustainable sources. Make sure to turn the lights off whenever you exit a room. Another tip is to unplug big appliances that don't need to be on, because those actually leach energy out even when they are not in use!
8. Use soap bars instead of body washes
This one is kind of random, but there is a logic to it. Body washes come in plastic bottles, which will fill our landfills or have to be recycled. On top of that, most of what is in the bottle is water anyway, and we are just paying for the fancy packaging. There are some pretty luxurious soap bars that come in minimal packaging that do the trick. My favorites are charcoal, African black, and shea butter soaps.
9. Join the clean plate club
Did your mom ever tell you at dinner that you had to “join the clean plate club?” Maybe it was something only my family said, but it is relevant to our topic. Every time we throw away food, we are essentially throwing away energy. That food took water to grow, fuel to export, it sat in a grocery store being powered by electricity, and you most likely drove a car to purchase it. Food is also fuel for our bodies. Throwing it away is a massive waste. What I usually do is take smaller portions so I know I can finish what is on my plate. You can always get a little more if you are still hungry. When you are at a restaurant, take the leftovers home and eat them for lunch the next day instead of letting the waitress toss it. If you have leftovers, get creative with them and cook something new if you are bored of the dish. Food being thrown away also bothers me personally because my family in Syria experiences food shortages as a result of the war, so I am very conscious of how blessed I am to have food readily available.
10. Grow your own food, or shop local
This one I am still working on. I generally lived in apartments but this year is the first I have my own backyard! Growing a vegetable garden is something I have always wanted to do. Not only will the vegetables be fresh, they will also be organic, have no pesticides, and won't have to travel long distances by truck to get to the supermarket for you to buy. Overall, having your own garden would mean those vegetables required less energy to produce than their supermarket counterparts. If you don't have your own yard, some neighborhoods have a shared community garden. You can also do the next best thing and shop at farmers markets, such as Eastern Market in Detroit. There you can find organic delicious produce and help support local farmers at the same time.
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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.
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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This generation does not view religion like the previous one, and that is clearly visible. Our parents generation generally went along with what their parents did before them, when it comes to religion anyway. Often times a child born to Christianity was a Christian when they died. A child born into Islam was a Muslim when they died. It is a cycle. People live and die for generations having the same mentality without ever growing or evolving. I think in a different way. I made the choice a long time ago, while I still identified as fully Muslim, to allow myself to think that there might be another way. This is something extremely radical in strict religious communities. In Islam its called Shirk, meaning doing something that discredits Allah, his Prophets, or the Qur'an.
It always bothered me that in religious communities, even simply asking questions is met with negativity and resistance. I remember being in Qur'an (holy scripture) class and reading lines that I didn't quite understand. When I would ask what they meant, or why we had to obey what was written, I was treated like a rebellious child. Disagreeing with the words of the holy scripture is never an option in religious schools. Drowning in that expectation, I tried to make sense of things as best as I could. My curiosity was stifled time and time again, and all I could do was force myself to believe and obey. All those unanswered questions lead to frustration that built up over time, and that's why years later I'm coming face to face all these un-examined feelings stuffed in my chest.
Sadly my experience is a common one in religious communities, whether it be Christianity, Islam or Judaism. Each religion has its own culture and traditions that often converge to complicate things even further. For example, in Islam, the holy scripture commands all women past puberty to cover in a headscarf, or Hijab. If you travel to Saudi Arabia, they take it to the extreme and the women are covered head to toe in black with only eyes and hands showing. On the other hand, a trip to Pakistan would show women with midriffs showing, Saris slipping off their shoulders, and their silk scarves falling off their hair. Each group of people will interpret the scripture their own way, making religion corruptible. People of all backgrounds born into these religions have experienced these unpleasant circumstances. As I got older I came to realize that most of my friends or people that gravitated towards me also felt this same way about organized religion.
Several friends of mine have recalled experiences in their religious communities that made them feel resentful, confused, and unwelcome. They have similar stories of asking questions at school or with family, and being shut down without an answer. These experiences create a collection of memories in one's brain relating back to religion. Because of how our religious communities handle truth-seekers and skeptics, our recollections of religion now often have negative connotations. Those negative feelings, mixed with my natural skepticism, evolved quickly into the question:
“Why don't religious communities encourage their followers to ask questions and empower them to find the Truth?”
If religion was truly about connection with God and finding the divine Truth, then religious communities shouldn't discourage their followers to ask questions. If history has shown us anything, it is that holy scriptures and religion can be used to manipulate naive people. Christianity is an easy example- it was used as a weapon for years, to strip away the identity of Native People, and to control the African slaves. Back when most of the citizens of a land were illiterate, it was generally the government who controlled and interpreted the scriptures. As the saying goes, wherever there is power there is corruption. The only way to prevent being taken advantage of or mislead is to always follow your gut.
It wasn't until I actually slowed down and examined my views of religion that I recognized all these stifled doubts inside. My gut had been poking me for years. Identifying as Muslim this long without being fully convinced, or at least working towards full conviction, was doing myself a huge disservice. I was robbing myself of the chance of living an open and genuine life, and fully stand behind what I say I believe in. I had to either get answers, or move on from the religion that was causing me so much discomfort. Religion is not a person or an entity. It's not a job you can't quit. The religion is not going to miss you. My family doesn't own the religion, and me disliking it shouldn't reflect on how I feel about them or how I was raised. The biggest breakthrough I had this year was realizing I didn't owe it to anyone to stay Muslim.
I do however, owe it to myself to be honest, with myself and everyone else. I can't afford not to live an authentic life. Admitting to my family and the religious community that I am filled to the brim with doubt was the bravest thing I've ever had to do. I am still facing the repercussions of my decision to come clean. It's funny how religious people preach honesty until you are honesty about something they don't want to hear. Its been extremely difficult and emotionally exhausting, but allowing myself to be vulnerable has made me stronger. This journey towards authenticity has been marked by a steady feeling of calm growing in my chest. I won't stop till my demons are done dancing.
COMMENT BELOW! What ways does religion work? What ways doesn't it? What are some ways you have experienced religion and how has it effected you?
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Since I've been in Istanbul, I've picked up a job working as an English teacher for a local university. In my upper-intermediate class, we had a literature unit, and we took a trip as a class to the university library to choose a book. All the students gravitated towards the book 1984 by George Orwell. This is one of those books that is typically on a U.S high school reading list, but because of my atypical high school experience, I never read it. They highly encouraged me to, so I picked it up and finished it within a day. It was just the type of political conspiracy book I liked.
After I read the book, I began to observe the political atmosphere of the world as it stands today. I've always been a very skeptical person when it came to governments (thanks dad) and many people could call me a conspiracy theorist. I like to call it investigative. The most impactful piece of politics that affects me personally is of course the so-called “War on Terror”. Since 9/11 Arabs and Muslims alike have been demonized and used to fuel the fear propaganda media. After that attack, the U.S was able to march into the Iraq war with the screaming support of the U.S citizens. If you do any research at all, you know now that Iraq in fact had no connection to 9/11, and didn't even have any weapons of mass destruction. What was the actual reason, I wonder? What seems to be the only reason the U.S goes to war? You guessed it, fossil fuels.
From that point, I connected the dots. Who is the biggest provider of fossil fuels? Saudi Arabia. Our entire alliance is founded around the stuff. The Bin Laden family is from Saudi Arabia. On the day of the attack, the entire Bin Laden family was rounded up by the government and sent peacefully back to their country while all other aircraft were grounded. When I try to stress this point in my numerous debates on this topic, I strike this question: Let's say a notorious Mexican drug lord who had relatives living in the U.S committed a horrific attack on U.S soil, and then fled back to Mexico. Could you, in your wildest dreams, imagine the government finding his relatives and sending them back on their merry way to Mexico? No, its unfathomable. They would be held for questioning to find out where he was hiding.
Clearly there was something strange happening. Fast forward to today, and the Islamophobia-fueled fear propaganda machine is alive and healthier than ever. Back in the day we had Al-Qaeda, and now we have it's replacement, ISIS. Where did this group come from? I can tell you without a doubt that had the U.S not gone into Iraq, ISIS would have had a very slim chance of developing. This happened for two reasons:
How does this involve the U.S? As many people know they are the largest exporter of arms in the world. And, Saudi Arabia is their biggest and most loyal customer. So, Saudi Arabia causes systematic religious brainwashing of thousands of young men, those young men buy guns from the United States, and then go on to spread terror across the globe in the name of Islam. And, in the process, the pair continue their profitable fossil fuels alliance. Oh, and of course that's not all the U.S gets out of this partnership. The government now has an abundant source for fear propaganda.
The most powerful thing to own is not money, not oil, not even guns, but an idea or emotion. Fear consumes the mind and can make people paranoid. With paranoia comes hatred of the thing causing it Society becomes split. The government remains in control. The alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States is nothing more than a business arrangement, and world dominance is the prize.
Today I'd like to take a stab at approaching skin-color-hierarchy from a global perspective.
Interracial prejudice is real and thriving. I hesitate to even say “interracial”, because it isn't as much an issue of race as it is about color. I plan to write an entire separate article about that topic, because I feel there is so much to be said about it. As for prejudices within said communities, it seems the effects of colonization and slavery have stretched far and wide, bringing generations of skin-color-hierarchy with it. I've experienced this personally and witnessed it in nearly every aspect of my life, and across numerous cultures. It is so rampant, and frankly very, very sad.
My personal experiences tell me that this is not only a “people of color” problem. I've seen it happen with Black, Hispanic, Indian/Pakistani people as well as Japanese and Middle Eastern people. Generally speaking, Arabic people aren't described as people of color, except in Arabic-speaking countries in Africa, like Egypt. We have pretty fair complexions, just a hint of brown. Yet, even in countries that started off as literal deserts, where the sun was beating down on people and it would be a very bad thing to be fair-skinned, there is an undeniable preference for paleness. I experienced this in my dad's native country of Syria.
My three sisters and I all have different coloring. I have fairly pale skin with dark hair, the next one has my coloring with caramel skin, the next one is very pale with green eyes and mousy brown hair, and the last little girl, surprisingly, is blonde with blue eyes. My 16 year old sister and I are mistaken for twins all the time, but the rest of us look so different. I never realized that in fact, our individual coloring fall exactly on a beauty-ranking scale that was made long before we were born. It goes something like this:
When I lived in Japan from '04 to '08, I saw the same thing among the Japanese. They pretty much all have dark hair and eyes, so the feature of choice for discrimination was skin tone. Contrary to popular media's representation of Japanese people, they are not all pale-skinned. Around half of them have tan skin. These people feel compelled to use whitening salves too, just like in Syria. Anime characters are shown with pale skin, princesses and characters in plays painted their face in pure white pigment to signify beauty.
I went to middle school with a number of Indian and Pakistani people. One of my closest friends when I first moved back to Michigan was a smart and sarcastic Indian girl- I liked her almost instantly. She was on the darker side, but she had older sisters that were lighter colored. She recalled the same experiences as I had with being considered less beautiful because of her skin tone that I considered so gorgeous. It made my heart hurt.
Now, I'm working as a substitute teacher, so I get to be around kids from districts all over Michigan. I tend to find jobs in lower-income areas, and the vast majority of the students are black. I had a long discussion just yesterday with some high school students about the color hierarchy after one student wrote on the board “Light Skins Winning.” He proceeded to boast why light-skinned black guys are “prettier”, and called a fellow dark-skinned classmates ugly. He said it with such nonchalance and the dark-skinned students accepted his words as if they were the truth. This really lit a fire in me.
As I teach, I hear these things on the daily. Guys and girls alike proclaiming that they only date light-skinned people. Calling fellow classmates ugly, stupid, and less than because of their tone. As I travel from school to school, district to district, this is one pattern that remains constant. It drives me crazy, because I know that this is such a deeply rooted and complicated mentality.
It's bad enough that there is discrimination of separate groups of people against each other, but this is on a whole other level. Groups of people are turning against each other in their own circles, scooping hate from the outskirts and dumping it in the center like some horrific typhoon. Back during segregation years, if a black person was light-skinned or mixed, they were discriminated against by white people AND black people. They weren't quite “black enough”, and definitely were not white. They didn't fit into either group, they were hated and treated badly. Now, I feel it is that same hate they experienced being projected outwards.
They say that when someone is hateful or critical of you, it is because of the things they hate in themselves. Its a vicious cycle. When we catch ourselves thinking hateful thoughts towards someone, we must stop and reflect on what is it within us that is causing it. Heal your own thoughts and tear down the color-hierarchy in your respective communities- that will bring us one giant step closer to stopping global colorism and discrimination.
The issue I would like to talk to you about is politics, and how it effects everyday relationships. Yes, I admit, I love a good debate. My friends reading this might be saying sarcastically, “Who...Lena? Talking about politics? NO WAY.” I'm pretty sure I get it from my dad, because it seems that like he is the first one to bring up politics at Thanksgiving dinner (yikes!) just like I'm always the first one to bring it up when hanging out with my group of friends. What is important here is the relationship between all the bullshit happening in the government, our stances on it, and how that plays a role in our friendships.
I like to follow my dad's lead. It's always entertaining to watch him start a heated debate. Our extended family is ridiculously diverse in color, religion, and of course, politics. We have people leaning far right, far left, middle-path, and people who simply distrust all forms of government. My dad will strike up a debate with all of them...all with a smile on his face and between bouts of booming laughter. It's lighthearted. He takes the issues seriously, and is very passionate and blunt in stating his opinions, but at the end of the day he respects his fellow people too much to be rude or dismissive towards them. This is what my approach to politics is like.
People before politics- that's my rule. My closest friend is black/Brazilian and a Republican. I am white /Syrian and a Democrat. We both have immense distaste for the two-party system, but she tends to lean conservative, and I tend to lean liberal. I am an avid supporter of Bernie Sanders, she voted for Cruz but would vote Trump if he was nominated. We couldn't be more different!! Admittedly, our debates over issues can get pretty heated- that is only natural, since we are both very passionate for our causes- but there is never any genuine anger. We respect and care for each other, and because of that we accept each-others differences of opinion, and focus on what we do agree on.
At the end of the day, isn't that how everyone's relationships should be? We are the citizens, the little people. The puppet show happening in Washington is so far away, and each individual candidate has far less power than we think. So while we rally behind our person and throw vicious hatred at the other team, the real politics is happening behind closed doors in other branches of government. It is our job to look past all the bullshit, and see people with compassion in our hearts and understanding in our minds. We must love and respect each other as fellow humans, regardless of how vast our differences may be. I have an example for this....
First we must understand that you are as sure of your beliefs as the person standing beside you. Think about that for a moment. Just as much as I believe gay marriage is rightfully legal, many people out there believe just as strongly that it shouldn't be. Everyone will have a list of reasons why they believe a certain thing, and that list comes from our past experiences and backgrounds. And since everyone has had hugely different experiences, isn't it expected that we don't agree? This realization helps me be more compassionate towards people. So the story goes, I find out that my closest friend supports Donald Trump. I totally freak out- “how could she do this? I just don't get it! He's racist, omg!!” That was my strong belief- that he is prejudiced. Over on her side of the story, “Bernie Sanders is a socialist! Socialism has no place in America!” See? Just as shocking of a statement.
We were both very firm in our beliefs, that much was clear. We took turns ranting about how wrong the other was till we had our fill. When it comes down to it, I know what she believes in and what her values are. I know how good of a person she is, and her political affiliation doesn't change that in any way shape or form. Our friendship is what matters, not the drama happening up top.
I invite everyone to implement this strategy in their own lives, and not just for politics but for all differences of opinion. This is a giant country filled with people who all have so much good to give. It would be such a shame to alienate and dismiss them just because you can't agree on one thing. Focus on the things you do agree on, find common ground, and lead on with love.