Authentic Guacamole

tacos and guacamole on a table

In 2007, I moved from a predominantly Hispanic community to a 95 percent white state. There were a few friends who warned me about how the transition would be difficult. They said I was going to encounter some challenges finding a job because as soon as hiring managers read my name, they’d throw my resume away.

In spite of the warnings, I moved anyway. I landed a job within 3 months of relocating and I began my career in marketing at a retail manufacturing company. People in my new state were extraordinarily nice. There was an immediate sense of community everywhere I went which was unexpected. Perfect strangers smiled and waved at me on the street. I felt right at home. There was a weird moment when I went to a trivia night at a popular bar and suddenly realized I was the only Hispanic person in the room. That had never happened to me before. I wasn’t scared and I didn’t feel threatened. It was just an awkward realization that my community looked different than the one I had just left. I was still happy I made the decision to move though.

Months past and I began to form a small group of friends. Eventually, I started to get invited to people’s homes for dinner or potluck events. Then, I noticed a few odd things.

I was often asked to make guacamole. At first, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. People loved my guacamole. But one day someone made the comment, “I think it’s so cool that we get to eat authentic guacamole.” That’s when I realized that maybe… just maybe… I was asked to prepare this dish because I was ‘Mexican.’ I shrugged it off.

Then, one day at work, a coworker came up to me and said,
“Hey Maritza, Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.”
“My husband and I are going to Cabo for vacation. When is National Taco Day?”

At first, I thought… Is she asking me this because she thinks I’m Mexican or is it because I lived in Texas and it’s close to Mexico so she thinks I would know? I decided to go with the latter.

“There’s no such thing as National Taco Day in Mexico.”
“Yes, there is. My girlfriend told me when she went, there was a restaurant celebrating the holiday with $.50 tacos.”
“Hate to break it to you, but that restaurant probably serves $.50 tacos everyday to bring in the tourists. National Taco Day does not exist.”
“Yes it does!”
“No. It doesn’t.”

She stormed off and I honestly can’t remember her ever speaking to me again.

The last straw for me came when my cubicle buddy was listening to Michael Franti and she said she was so happy that racism was over in America.

I think I spit out my coffee and laughed. I thought she was joking. When I looked at her face, I realized she was absolutely, 150 percent serious. The poor, innocent child thought racism was long gone. She thought we were living in one of Michael Franti’s songs, all dancing together in harmony, cherishing each other regardless of skin color. Sweet thing.

It broke my heart to tell her that racism was alive and well in the south. She didn’t believe me. Nothing I said could convince her. When someone comes from a community that is 95 percent white and they are also white, it’s hard to understand racial differences and the circumstances that befall people who are not part of the majority.

Which brings me to my ultimate point…

In my experience, most ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’ comes from ignorance. Ideas that are outside of one’s bubble or understanding of the world can be tricky to navigate. The people who asked me to make guacamole or asked the date of a taco holiday were simply ignorant. I don’t think they had hate in their heart or prejudice on the mind. They just saw me with brown skin and assumed that I was the resident expert on all matters Latino. They didn’t even think twice about how that made me feel or if I might be offended by their questions. Likewise, the people who warned me about moving to a very white state were also coming from a place of ignorance. They were shocked when I told them how quickly I was able to find a job and how soon I was able to make friends.

Simple ignorance like this can sometimes turn into major prejudices similar to what we have seen in recent days. Especially if it keeps getting fed propaganda (Thanks, media!). Fear… lives at the center of each situation. ‘The Other’ is scary. It’s an unknown. I suspect it triggers our mammalian brain into action and engages our fight or flight response almost immediately. I am certainly guilty of this behavior myself.

How do we ‘cure’ it?

I’ve heard it said that our country, because it is so large and is made up of so many different communities of people, is more than just one big nation. It’s actually more like five nations all pushed together to form one country.

So, how do we learn about these regional communities and differences?

TRAVEL. Face ‘the other’ and get into the thick of it. See for yourself. Leave the city where you were born and raised. Find out if NYC really is full of assholes (spoiler alert, it’s not). Discover if people really do ride horses into work in Texas (spoiler alert, they don’t). Once people see ‘the other’ for themselves, it’s hard to keep being afraid of the unknown. Suddenly… you may find you have more in common with ‘the other’ than you realized. And that is a heart-warming feeling.

Meet Shawandra of Brwnskn Yoga

Shawandra of Brwnskn Yoga

Shawandra Ford is a Memphis-based yoga instructor and the owner of Brwnskn Yoga. She’s on a mission to share what yoga and meditation have given her: mental and physical strength, flexibility, and fearlessness.

In this interview, Shawandra shares how she became a yoga teacher and entrepreneur, how yoga helped grieve the loss of her mom, the power of intuition, and how she’s seen yoga transform the lives of kids and teenagers she’s worked with in the past year.

Read on to learn more about this inspirational visionary of a woman moving forward: Shawandra of Brwnskn Yoga.

How did you get started as a yoga teacher? 

“I started practicing yoga in 2013 at Lifetime Fitness. My mom had passed away in 2010 and I went through a process where I did grief counseling, but I really didn’t think it was working for me. So I started to do yoga and it was very enlightening. You’re reintroducing yourself to your body, you’re finding out things about yourself that you did not know. When you sit quietly for a period of time, you find out a lot about yourself.”

“When you lose someone that you love, it changes you mentally and physically. You’re a completely different person. For me, through yoga, I was able to embrace who I was starting to become.”

“I worked for the school system for 22 years and in May 2019, I decided to resign. It was a hard decision to make, but I felt there was something else that I was meant to do. I’d worked there since I was 18 years old and I’d turned 40 and I thought: ‘I’m sure that there’s something else out there for me’ and I decided that I would do my yoga teacher training. Once I told my husband I was thinking about resigning, he asked: ‘Well what do you want to do?‘ and I said: ‘I want to teach yoga‘ and he was like: ‘Okay, let’s try it and see what happens!‘”

“And so here I am! I’m a 200-hour yoga instructor, a certified kid yoga instructor, and I’m quite happy. It’s a great feeling waking up every morning and doing something you were already going to do anyway, and you love it. It’s a completely different feeling.”

What do you enjoy most about teaching yoga?

 “I started out with my 200-hour yoga teacher training, then since I loved working for the school system, I asked myself: ‘How can I still be in that environment and not be in my previous role?‘ and I thought: ‘Oh, I should teach kid yoga!‘ In most public school systems, kids don’t get yoga classes.”

“I remember being the secretary in the office and I was the one administering kids their medication. I thought: ‘Our kids could benefit from yoga”. I know that social and emotional learning is a big thing, so I thought yoga could be a way to help them with their concentration, their self-awareness, and I wanted to be that person to introduce them to it.”

“There’s so many ways that I can give back to my community. I love having a connection with the kids. I taught two classes of kindergartners and two classes of third-grade students. And they LOVED it. They sat in their criss-cross applesauce, they did their warriors. They giggled, which I expect for them to do, but they enjoyed it.”

I also have a group of girls that I work with that’s a track team and those girls have impressed me so much. They make me feel like: ‘Okay, this is worth it.‘ As an entrepreneur, you have those dark days sometimes when you think: ‘Did I make the right decision?‘ But when I see them practicing and teaching yoga back to each other and I watch them, it’s a great feeling!”

What is Brwnskn Yoga?

“Brwnskn yoga is a reflection of me, of how I see myself. I am a brown girl and I love yoga. It’s something I wanted to introduce to other African American young girls.”

“As an adult, we already have our practice; maybe we go to a studio and do vinyasa or Ashtanga. But for the smaller girls that are just learning their bodies and finding out about themselves, I think this a great opportunity for them to say: ‘Hey, I’m a brown girl and I can do this too.‘”

“But it’s not even just about being a brown girl. Brwnskyoga applies to all girls… African American, Caucasian, Latina, and Asian.  In my opinion we are all beautiful, we all have pigmentation in our skin. But for me, it’s something a little bit deeper that I wanted to dive into and I wanted to express, and I wanted to show. I wanted to bring awareness to my community and say: ‘Hey, let me teach you how to meditate!‘”

Who or what inspires you to keep practicing and teaching? 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B9BnifjA7Cj/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

“Because of my mom, I’m resilient and strong. She raised me to be sweet and sassy. I’ll never back down from a fight when I know I’m right. I’m not afraid to work hard. I’m not afraid to get dirty. I’ll make a dime last until I get my next! Because of my mom, I learned to trust my intuition and never allow a person to fool me twice. Because of my mom, I know a little something about everything! I am my mother’s little brown-skinned girl.”

“My husband is very supportive. Was I in a position to resign from my job and say: ‘Hey, I’m going to go teach yoga and become an entrepreneur’? No, but we made modifications to our lifestyle in order for it to work and I greatly appreciate him for that. It makes me feel good as a parent to hear my sons say: ‘Wow mom, I love what you are doing, I’m so impressed!‘ And it is an honor for my dad, close family, and friends to tell me how proud they are of me. I am fulfilling the purpose and gift that I was given.”

“My first yoga teacher, Amy Morse, she is phenomenal. She’s very passionate about teaching. She has inspired me a lot. She takes great pride in her practice and that’s something that I value a lot. She and Michele Mallory, those two make an insanely beautiful team. I can’t wait  to bond with someone so I can recreate what they have, I think it’s something beautiful.”

“I continue to practice because I want to make a significant impact on my community! I want BRWNSKN Yoga to be a success! I want it to be AWESOME!” 

What’s Kidding Around Yoga?

“I am very excited to teach Kidding Around Yoga! It’s a program based out of Tampa, Florida and they put together a curriculum to teach kid yoga to babies, prenatal yoga, and mommy and me yoga. They teach yoga through play and storytime. They teach pranayama (breathwork), the significance of ‘om’ chanting, and there’s a section on meditation and why it’s important. What I really like about it is that we teach asanas through dancing and song – it’s play! It’s a great program and I’ve completed my KAY certification and I have completed my 95 hours required by Yoga Alliance to be an RCYT – a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher.” 

What do you envision yourself doing with yoga five years from now? 

“I want yoga to be in the K-12 school curriculum. It should be in the day-to-day school curriculum. Kids should experience that. It should be offered, like music and PE, just a few minutes of meditation every day. I’ve worked in the school system for so many years and sometimes kids are labeled as being ‘the troubled kid’. But maybe they’re not – maybe they feel some type of stress and they don’t know how to express it. We need to teach them a way to learn how to deal with what we know as anxiety and stress. They’re so young that they haven’t connected those dots; they don’t know what it means. All they know is that they’re having a hectic day. But if we can teach them some pranayama and some asanas, it will help them understand more about themselves and about their bodies. Help them be more self-aware.”

“I would love to have a team where I have teachers out at each school and they’re teaching yoga as a part of the day-to-day curriculum. Yoga camps and retreats are another idea I’d love to do.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Listen to Lullaby by Tasha on Soundcloud

I’d like to share a song by Tasha called Lullaby. I heard this song first on a show called Queen Sugar. They played this song in a scene where these two sisters had bumped heads and it was a very emotional scene and it was basically saying: ‘You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders / Black girl it’s okay, you can rest today / You can rest and you can let someone else carry the weight of the world.‘ It’s a beautiful and powerful song. When I first heard that song, I was like: ‘Oh, I’m putting that in my classes’. It’s a very empowering song.”

Where do you teach Brwnskn Yoga?

“Most of my time is spent at schools and doing private yoga sessions for adults and children. I don’t think a lot of people feel comfortable actually going to a yoga studio. One day I would like to have a studio, but right now I think that personal connection and helping people to become comfortable with their practice – it could help them venture out to another studio when they have that comfort level within themselves.”

Follow Brwnskn Yoga

Instagram: @brwnsknyoga

Website: Brwnskn Yoga

To Be or Not To Be… a Feminist

Jatziry Guzman Berzunza wearing a white hat To be or not to be... a feminist

Written by: Jatziry Guzman Berzunza

I grew up in México in a small town, I came to the US at 24 years old.

Some people, when they hear my story, want to know, “Why did you come to the US? For the most part it is has kind and curious people that ask.

I feel that my story is similar but not as harsh and sad as many of the other stories you hear from immigrants who have come here.

The dream of opportunity, the dream of being safe, the dream of not being harassed on the streets. The dream of a good paying job, the dream of a partner that is not abusive, manipulative, a better life!

Time has gone by, twenty years to be exact, I am now a citizen. I have been able to go back to México to visit my family, my Mom was able to come and work and stay, and my daughter came and after high school went back to Oaxaca.

 A few years ago, my fiance Bob and I were discussing the issue of feminism and he asked me if I considered myself a feminist?

I answered, It depends, If I am in México, I am a feminist, If I am here (USA) I am not.

I had to think about it, and this is my conclusion.

Every time when I go back to México I feel, sad, overwhelmed, angry, and unfortunately not surprised of the chauvinistic way society works there. At the beginning of my trips I would argue, confront, get angry at every situation that would come my way. Vacation time was not relaxing.

Then I would come back home and my guard would come down. I would watch TV news and see women screaming, being angry, frustrated, arguing, fighting for respect and equality and I would think “What are they talking about?” “Why are they so angry?”, especially compared to Mexico.

Fast forward to the “MeToo” Movement and I suddenly realized how much harassment is happening here as well. I saw those angry women and frustrated women, many expressing the same sentiment I feel when I go back home.

What I understand now, however is also what type of victim I still am (Because I am still learning) of that chauvinistic society that I thought I left when I came here.

Many of the things that women here in the U.S take for granted, I didn’t even dream of. Being independent, having of a career, getting a college degree, those things never crossed my mind. 

Life in the US has taken me in a beautiful journey that until recently through a series of epiphany’s, I didn’t realize I have been experiencing.

I did not go to college because still today I do not feel I have the skills to do s (This is what I am still working on, my beliefs and confidence)

However, I lived on my own for a while here and in México, I went to Cosmetology school and became an Instructor.  I guess I may have what it takes for a journey to a College Degree. I am evolving.

(On a side note about the Cosmotology and Beauty Industry… I recognize now that in an industry that “caters” so much to women, to be successful in it you, have to be a man. For Another Blog)

I have come to realize now that women here in the U.S. are as angry and frustrated at the inequalities in our society as what I see going back home. I may not have seen it here because here, like in my and many other countries, Women are also held down and kept quiet. They are trying to get out or survive an abusive relationship, have strong opinions, grow careers and face many similar challenges. I feel that here in the U.S, even with the “metoo” it would be risky and perhaps devastating for our careers to report harassments and abuses.

In other countries it can even be devastating for your life.

I am now taking on a professional career as part owner of a Manufacturing Rep Firm with my fiancé. This experience has made me realize the money side of unequal pay and treatment to women. There have been cases where people dealing with me want to lower or delay payments delay answers and I am surprised at how treatment changes when my partner gets involved.

But more than anything again it is the realization of how a Caucasian male gets treated in business, opportunities, pay and overall treatment vs. a Hispanic woman from a third world country.

What I am also realizing is how education changes your mind, how sheltered my mind had been and how little by little the opportunities of education and experiences  have changed my fears. It is time to exercise my “exigir”, or “how I want things to be”.

I am suddenly starting FIND MY VOICE!

 I want equality

I want to change the way I think.

I want to decide.

I want to help.

I am thankful for the women in my life that answer my questions with kindness.

 I am thankful for the men that treat me with respect and cheer for me to get a promotion , better pay and opportunities.

I am thankful for the situations and people that challenge my beliefs and thoughts. 

I am thankful for the impassioned women on documentaries, teaching me lessons about how a strong willed woman (who has a victim of chauvinistic behavior’s or actions) believes, thinks and acts.

I am finally am happy to announce …

Yes…. I AM A FEMINIST!

Follow Jatziry Guzman Berzunza

Website: Jat Yoga

Meet Gabby Salinas

Gabby Salinas

Meet Gabby Salinas: a healthcare advocate, cancer survivor, and scientist. Policy nerd. Political unifier. Red lipstick aficionado.

I met this Gabby in April 2018 when I just learned that my 12-year career teaching international university students was ending due to a nation-wide enrollment decline. I was preparing to move 2,500 miles away from my beloved home state of Oregon to Memphis, Tennessee and close the long-distance gap with my partner. I was eating lunch at my desk and scrolling Facebook when I came across a post in the group called Pantsuit Nation:

Gabby announces her campaign for Tennessee state senate on Pantsuit nation in 2018
A survivor, scientist, birthday-lover and a healthcare advocate for all? How can I meet her?

Wow! A woman wanting to turn her district blue just threw down her plans to run for office in the city where I was relocating! What were the chances? I was so moved by her announcement to run for state senate and excited to meet more progressive people in Memphis; a blue dot in a red state. Besides my partner, I didn’t know anyone else in Memphis, but that was about to change. I put down my salad and fork and sent Gabby this message:

“Hi Gabby! Happy birthday and congratulations on your campaign! Your story is very influential. I’ll be moving from Oregon to Memphis in September. I’ll be completely new to town and I’d love to help out on your campaign and meet some new people, so let me know if you need any help. I hope you have plans to celebrate today!”

And Gabby replied back:

“Hi Rachel, this is great news! You will love Memphis, it is a wonderful city! We would love your help, it is going to take all of us to flip this seat.”

And just like that: I made my first friend in Memphis.

Meet Gabby Salinas

A few months later when I arrived, I met Gabby in real life. She was as kind in person as she was on Facebook. I quickly learned that she and her family are the unofficial royal family of Memphis: loved by many for their community advocacy, genuine kindness, and their origin story of persisting in the face of hardships.

Election 2018 – She Persisted

I spent most of fall 2018 changing my address, shopping for a used car, and asking for rides to canvass for Gabby with my fellow campaign workers. Instead of preparing lessons and teaching students in a classroom, I knocked on thousands of doors and got to know the people in my new city by asking them to vote for Gabby in her campaign for the Tennessee state senate.

Fast forward to Election Night 2018, fueled by chips and salsa, margaritas, and hope, Team Gabby gathered at a local Mexican restaurant and watched election results roll in – first with eager anticipation and later with heavy hearts – as the local news networks declared Gabby’s incumbent opponent Brian Kelsey the winner of the state senate race by a margin of 1.8 percent or 1,520 votes. The race was close in terms of votes, but in terms of campaign spending, it was grossly disproportionate.

Follow the Money: PAC Attack

Brian Kelsey’s campaign was flushed with $369,000 from MCPAC, a political action committee (PAC of the then Lt. Governor Randy McNally.) That’s right: $369,000 spent. Against her. From the governor of Tennessee.

I can think of literally thousands of ways that money could be better spent: feeding families or providing jobs for many, but instead it was hoarded and spent in a smear campaign against a Latina female candidate. If fear had a smell, it would smell like whatever $369,000 smells like. Most people don’t know what $369,000 smells or even looks like because we’ve never seen that kind of money in one place, let alone be in a position to spend it.

MCPAC ran scathing TV and radio ads against Gabby calling her a “dangerous radical” and showing pictures of masked men as criminal immigrants. This was confusing because other than immigrating to the United States from Bolivia, Gabby can be found doing science in research labs, attending community events, or spending time with her family. Other choice phrases used to instill outsider-based racist fear to an easily-swayed conservative voter base were “Democratic socialist”, “not one of us”, and linked her to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Yaaaaaas! Wait I’m confused… is being compared to AOC supposed to be an insult?)

Gabby’s goal to expand Medicaid statewide as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act was twisted into rhetoric as, and I quote: “someone who would single-handedly destroy Tennessee’s economy”. Nevermind that the Tennessee economy is doing all right these days.

You may be wondering: who’s so opposed to hospitals to stop closing and every Tennessean to have healthcare that they’re willing to pay nearly $10,000 per donation? Some of the usual suspects include the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Republican National Committee, big tobacco, and alcohol distributors.

Gabby’s campaign was also funded by a PAC: a pro-immigrant political group that gave her campaign $23,000. Beyond the differences in funding, she and her team ran a true grassroots campaign that focused on the issues, not opponent-smearing. A “dangerously radical” concept indeed in today’s pay-for-votes divisive political climate. I was proud to be associated with her campaign.

The take-away is simple: follow the money, and vote with your dollars.

Election 2020 – Back in Action

Big dollars can’t and won’t quiet this woman, so Gabby is back and running for Tennessee House District 97! Her signature issue remains the same: expanding Medicaid in Tennessee so everyone can have access to healthcare and rural hospitals will stop closing. Other issues of importance for her are funding public education, safety, and infrastructure in Memphis.

When I knocked on doors for Gabby in 2018, I had about 30 seconds to talk to voters and ask for their votes. My script went something like this:

Hello, is Mr. / Ms. Lastname home? My name is Rachel and I’m campaigning for Gabby Salinas who’s running for Tennessee state senate. Are you familiar with her? Gabby is a:

*Three-time childhood cancer survivor
*Former St. Jude patient and researcher
*Who wants to expand Medicaid for Tennesseeans and
*Wants to fund public education, safety, and infrastructure to take all Memphians from surviving to thriving
Can we count on you to vote for her?

While all of the above is true, Gabby’s determination to provide for her state goes beyond those bullet points. Gabby Salinas is a shero in the highest regard. Next to my own mother, she is one of the most resilient and focused women I’ve ever met. Gabby stands up for everyone. She’s a quiet riot, relentlessly steadfast and kind, smart, driven, not to mention totally relatable and super fun to be around.

When I’m at a community event in Memphis, I wonder: “Is Gabby here?” Inevitably I’ll text her asking: “Hey, are you at the Levitt Shell concert tonight?” or “Hey, are you cheering at the St. Jude Marathon today?” more often than not she is and we’ll find each other, hug, and catch up on the goings-on of the moment. We’ll high five runners, or stage a dance party while listening to the Memphis sounds of summer: cicadas and community concerts. When I ask her what she’s been up to, she talks about her work, school, community advocacy, board service. My head spins in awe and I wonder how she makes time to be such a badass and whether she’s a paper or a digital calendar person. She seems unphased by her self-imposed workload and is always happy to be serving her community. Gabby always asks about what’s happening with me and listens with genuine interest as I tell her about my forays into freelancing among other things.

Surviving & Thriving: the Salinas Family Story

Gabby and her family are a tight-knit and inclusive bunch and they are no strangers to struggle. The Salinas family immigrated from Bolivia to Memphis, Tennessee when Gabby was seven years old so she could be treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – a beloved Memphis institution devoted to treating pediatric cancers and diseases. Families at St. Jude never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Marlo Thomas heard about Gabby being turned away from a hospital in New York because her family was unable to pay and brought her to Memphis to be treated at St. Jude for free.

When she was eight years old, her family traveled to New York to enjoy a change of scenery from the hospital. On the way back to Memphis, the Salinas family was in a bad car accident. Gabby’s father and sister died and her mother was paralyzed while pregnant with her youngest child who survived. Later Gabby had two more cancer diagnoses for which her family paid nothing thanks to the generosity of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which shows how healthcare can and should be for everyone.

Gabby would not be alive without the support the Memphis community gave her and her family. Now she focuses her time and energy advocating for policies that will give back to the people who gave her life when she and her family were at their most vulnerable.

Gabby and the Salinas Family tell their story

Moving to Memphis wasn’t easy for me. Even though I had the great fortune of being connected to one of Memphis’s finest people when I first arrived, I struggled to adapt to life in a new place. The first year of being away from my friends and family in Oregon rendered me homesick beyond expectation. Whenever I started to feel sorry for myself, I thought of Gabby and what her first year in Memphis was like. Inspired by her, I did my best to honor my feelings, shift my perspective, and find gratitude in a new situation. This is what I see her do. She never gives up.

Gabby and the Salinas family have experienced some of the most hellacious experiences life can present. They’ve moved forward and thrived through their struggles together. At a time when the problems of the world are many and people are paralyzed with overwhelm, Gabby. Is. Unstoppable. Gabby talks the talk, walks the walk, and shows us how to honor our heartbreak and turn it into action. She was alive when “pre-existing conditions” like cancer were acceptable reasons for declining someone health insurance coverage.

From St. Jude Children's Research Hospital: No child should die in the dawn of life.
From the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – “No child should die in the dawn of life”.

Gabby shows up for everyone. Now she needs our support for her campaign for Tennessee House so she can advocate for all at the state government.

Support Gabby Salinas for Tennessee House

Meet Gabby Salinas
“I will always be an engaged citizen pushing for better healthcare legislation in our state and in our nation.” – Gabby Salinas

Gabby is running for Tennessee House District 97 and oh yeah, also finishing her Ph.D. dissertation and keeping up with her advocacy work.

Contribute to candidates who care about the issues, not special interests. Make a donation and support her campaign at VoteForGabby.com. Follow her on Twitter as she moves her vision for Medicaid for all in Tennessee forward and stops rural hospitals from closing.

Onward!

Let’s Get Loud

shakira and jlo superbowl half-time show 2020 shakira jlo superbowl halftime let's get loud first generation Latinas American Latin women heritage

Like many first-generation Latinas, I struggle with knowing where I sit in terms of my culture. I’m an American by birth and a Latina by nature. It’s easier for me to say I’m an American than try to explain where on the spectrum my heritage sits. Is it enough to say that I’m a sensual, colorful, hot and spicy mix of all the delicious and naughty things people secretly love about Latin women? Because that’s the best way I can describe myself.

As a beautiful soul said to me yesterday, the Super Bowl half time show was every Latin woman’s dream come true. Two strong and culturally proud Latin women on the biggest stage in the world reveling in all that they are from head to toe. No apology, no explanation. That in itself is why it was such an inspiring performance.

“Why is she grabbing her crotch so much?” “Oh my god, she’s a stripper now?” “Did Shakira just wiggle her tongue at the camera?” “You can totally see her entire vag with that outfit.”

Haters.

While the rest of America’s women take selfies in public bathrooms to show off their assets, these two women put it out in public for all to see with some amazing physicality and energy. And that is the magic of being a Latina. It’s in our soul to drip with sexy enthusiasm, to have hypnotizing hips, to have sets of lips that don’t need fillers because they’re ready to deliver the best kiss you’ve ever had. We are the fetish cowboys wrote songs about. And we’re not sorry.

I can sit in a board room filled with men and hold my own over forecasting reports and the company P&L. I can be a Suzie Homemaker and take care of a large family with amazing, from the heart food and incredible nurturing. I can be my husband’s most incredible fantasy behind closed doors. Latin women are all of these things.

Today, I can say I am so proud to be a Latin woman. I don’t say that often. Probably not often enough.

In 2020, I will celebrate who I am more and not allow the Puritanical perspective I saw creep and crawl through people’s comments on Sunday invade my pride.

I am Latina and I am proud.

How to Confront Your White Privilege

An Instagram post on white privilege by Munroe Bergdorf

White people: we need to talk. 

*Updated on June 4, 2020

Short version: Being silent is not an option. Educate yourself. Learn more about what you don’t know. Engage other white people in conversations about race. Do the lifelong antiracist work to be a part of the solution, not perpetuate the problem that has killed Black Americans for centuries.

To learn how to and how not to do antiracist work, read on.

As America takes time to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in January and Black History Month arriving soon in February, this is a time of year when white people think about race.

Typically I hear two types of questions from white people:

“What can I do to be more aware of racial inequity?”

or

“Why are we still talking about race?”

The first question is productive and can lead to awareness-building while the second question is at best surface-level curiosity and at worst a defensive and loaded non-question. If you’re white and asking the first question, you’re probably willing to learn about white fragility. If you’re white and asking the second question, chances are you have a lot to learn about white fragility and racial inequity. Either way, welcome. Let’s get started. We have a lot to talk about on how to confront white privilege.

If you are a white person in the United States who has ever asked: “Why is race still an issue?” or wished that black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC for short) “could just focus on something else” your lack of willingness to address your white privilege is why racism exists and persists.

Your refusal to stop and look at the social and economic benefits awarded to you is damaging. When you refuse to accept this, BIPOC are discriminated against and killed. As with most things, this is not a problem for others to deal with.

If you truly want to do the work of moving forward, keep reading to learn more about white privilege. If you’re feeling the defensiveness rise up within you as it does for so many white people when confronted with this truth, I invite you to keep reading to learn more about your white fragility. 

To move forward together, we’ll need some definitions of the phrases white privilege and white fragility so we can all be on the same page. 

What is White Privilege? 

So what does the phrase white privilege mean? Layla Saad, globally respected writer, speaker, and podcast host on the topics of race, identity, leadership, personal transformation, and social change defines white privilege in her book Me and White Supremacy: “Though white privilege as a legislative, systemic and cultural norm has existed for a very long time, it was women’s studies scholar Peggy McIntosh who first coined the term ‘White Privilege’ in her 1988 paper “White Privilege And Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies”. A year later, a substantial portion of that paper was excerpted and was published as a paper titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”. The paper contains 50 examples of white privilege. McIntosh writes:

‘I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, assurances, tools, maps, guides, codebooks, passports, visas, clothes, compass, emergency gear, and blank checks.’ -Peggy McIntosh

White privilege is unearned advantages that are granted because of one’s whiteness or ability to ‘pass’ as white. White privilege is separate from, but can intersect with, class, privilege, gender privilege, sexuality privilege, age privilege, able-bodied privilege, or any other types of privileges.”

I’ve also heard white privilege be explained as a metaphor of fish in water. The fish represents white people and the water represents white privilege. So immersed and dependent are white people on the social and economic benefits of white privilege that we aren’t aware of the extent that it’s around us until we’re told that what it is and that we’re swimming, living, and breathing in it. 

What is White Fragility? 

So what is white fragility? Racial and social justice educator Robin DiAnglelo defines white fragility in her book White Fragility as: “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation.” 

Layla Saad gives a list of common examples of white fragility in action in her book Me and White Supremacy

  • “White fragility shows up as white people getting angry, defensive, afraid, arguing, claiming they’re being shamed, crying or simply falling silent and choosing to check out of the conversation.”
  • It looks like calling the authorities (the manager, the police, the social media censors) on BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) when you are uncomfortable with what they are sharing about race. (I have had my social media posts reported and censored more than a dozen times because of white fragility).
  • On social media platforms it also includes deleting what you wrote (another form of running away and pretending it never happened) when you can’t handle where the conversation is going.
  • White fragility includes crying during racial interactions.
  • In essence, white fragility looks like a white person taking the position of victim, when it is in fact that white person who has committed or participated in acts of racial harm.”

If white privilege is the social and economic benefits afforded to white people, white fragility is the defensive response that occurs when white people are confronted with their white privilege. It is important to note that white fragility is often where conversations about race become stuck or die on the scene. When the conversation around race becomes stuck, racism persists. 

The work to end racism requires the full participation of white people. When, and only when white people can address their implicit role in racial inequity we can begin to unravel hundreds of years of racism. Racism is not going away without white people first coming to terms with how we benefit from white privilege in subtle ways. If we let white fragility sabotage, redirect, or derail conversations about race, people will continue to be systematically discriminated against.

White Fragility is a White People Problem

One more thing that’s tricky but important: it is not the job of BIPOC to do this work for white people. White privilege and white fragility are white people’s problems. They are not the responsibility of BIPOC to solve for white people. This is perhaps the trickiest nuance of all and when I learned this, I struggled to understand how to do the work of racial privilege effectively with other white people without “white-centering” the conversation. In all honesty, I still struggle with it. 

The take-away for me has been to learn as much as I can from BIPOC authors, speakers, leaders, influencers, friends, colleagues, and others and then discuss what I learn with other white people. If my behavior or language gets corrected or called out along the way by BIPOC, I do my best to listen, process, and accept what I’ve been told as a new and generous teaching.

White people need to start having real and difficult conversations about their white privilege. Until white people address their white fragility, the defensiveness that occurs when the issues of white privilege and inequity come up, racism will persist. Racism will remain inconvenient for some, unfair for all, and deadly for people of color. 

Are you with me so far? In short:

  • White privilege: white people’s social and economic benefits they receive by virtue of the color of their skin
  • White fragility: white people’s defensive or denial response when confronted with white privilege 
  • BIPOC are not responsible for teaching white people about racial inequity; if and when BIPOC take the risk and volunteer to teach white people, it’s best to listen and be appreciative for the teachable moment
  • Racial justice work requires everyone to have uncomfortable and brave conversations about race

Race Is Not a Good/Bad Binary Issue

As with most things, the details of race are in the nuance. Most people I know agree that racism is bad, but in fact the oversimplification of race as an either/or, good/bad binary issue has led to insidious racism. This type of racism is typically unintended, but still harmful. An example of insidious racism is using the word “ghetto” to describe a neighborhood, an outfit, or a hairstyle. And while insidious racism can be unknowingly subtle and harmful compared to overt racism, which is knowingly hateful and harmful, racism is still racism. In other words, describing your untidy house as “ghetto” (insidious racism) and using a racial slur towards BIPOC (overt racism) are not the same, but be sure that both are racist things to say. 

A lot of white fragility comes from the reactive response to having racist language, behaviors, or actions being called out.

“BUT I’M NOT A RACIST!” or “I HAVE BLACK/HISPANIC/ASIAN/MIDDLE EASTERN/NATIVE AMERICAN FRIENDS!” white people often exclaim in defense of their own character.

It’s important to remember that behavior is not the same as identity. I hear parents tell their children all the time: “I love you, but I don’t like your behavior right now. Your behavior affects us all and is not acceptable. Here’s what you can stay instead.” Saying a racist thing doesn’t necessarily make you racist, but the fact remains that your racist behavior is being called out and you’re being unequivocally told that it’s not acceptable. It requires you as a listener to hear the feedback that’s being given to you and make a decision about your words and actions from that moment forward. 

I’ve heard BIPOC say that confronting defensive white fragility is actually harder than dealing without outright overt racism. A coworker of mine and I were talking about race one afternoon. He’s a twenty-something young black man who had grown up in Memphis and remarked:

“I can handle ignorant white people who say overtly racist things; it’s the people who say racist things, don’t realize it, and overreact when I try to talk to them about what they’ve said that are the worst to talk to.”

Don’t be this white person. If you’re words or behavior are called out by a person of color, listen. Process. Give an authentic apology. Vow to learn from this interaction and do better next time. 

And make no mistake: insidious and overt racism will continue to harm, kill, and disproportionately affect BIPOC in the United States until white people become aware of how they knowingly and unknowingly participate in white privilege and don’t react defensively to it with white fragility.

Another short summary:

  • Racism is not a good/bad binary issue. In other words, there is no “them and us” meaning racism cannot be defined on a spectrum of “good, well-intended people and bad, ill-intended racist people”. 
  • Insidious racism is more nuanced, but can be equally or more harmful than overt racism. 

What Does a White Woman From Oregon Know About Race? 

I know what you’re thinking. What does a white woman who was born and raised in Oregon know about race? The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the population of the state of Oregon to be is 86.8 percent white.

Although Oregon is replete with well-intending liberally-minded people who claim to be open-minded, The Atlantic published an article summarizing historical and modern-day racism in an area of the country where people tend to wear their progressiveness as a proud badge of honor. The majority of Oregonians consider themselves to be well-educated, open-minded, and liberal-learning and most would not consider themselves racists.

I too carried this identity with me when I moved from Oregon to Memphis, Tennessee, a city which the U.S. Census Bureau estimates to be 29.1 percent white. Having visited Memphis a few times, I was looking forward to living in a more racially diverse place, but truth be told, I really had no idea what it would be like to live in a racially diverse place until I got here.

I went home to Oregon for the holidays, my first time back to my homeland in 18 months. When the conversation meandered towards race, I heard the sound bites of my childhood contrasted against what I know now to be white privilege and white fragility:

  • “I don’t see color.” 
  • “I never saw my friend as Japanese; I didn’t realize it until he told me about his Japanese-American heritage.” 
  • “I wish we could focus more on what unites us rather than what divides us.” 

I believe the people who said these words really didn’t mean to do any harm. But as we’ve already discussed, racism is equally harmful whether it’s overt or insidious. Despite claims from white people that they don’t see racial differences and wish they would just go away already, numerous studies show that racial awareness is in fact real.

To reiterate: racism is not going away until white people decide to confront it.  

How Can I Confront My White Fragility? 

Confront your White Fragility

If you truly want the world to move forward from the race conversation, here are two things to remember about white fragility:

Number one: Racism isn’t going away until all white people can confront their white fragility. 

In his cover story for the Atlantic titled The Case for Reparations, Ta-Nehisi Coates says it best: 

Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

Until the United States can address its institutional violence and inequities against people of color, race is not going away. This starts with white people since they have historically benefited socially and economically from white privilege and upholding it with white fragility.   

Number two: White people wishing that racism would go away is an insidious form of white supremacy.

Wishing for us “all to be one” is a wonderfully lofty goal. Trust me, I also want to live in a world where racism does not divide us. But wishing away hundreds of years of abuses of power, violence, and oppression to be neatly swept under the proverbial rug without being properly dealt with is not working. This method is akin to telling a grieving person: “get over your dead loved one and move on already” (which my mother, who was widowed when I was three years old, can attest that people do in fact say things like this). Grief takes the time that it takes. 

It is the job of white people to take the lead from BIPOC in dealing with racism. 

Do the Work

Confront your white supremacy. Notice it. Journal about it. Grapple with it. Take it to your therapist or coach, so long as your therapist or coach is not BIPOC. As we’ve already discussed, expecting people of color to support white people in realizing the full scope of their white privilege is emotional labor. White fragility is the responsibility of white people to solve. 

Include People of Color 

Representation matters. Inclusion matters. This is a large category that covers all manner of workplace, social, and institutional representation. Advocate for diversity of representation of race in your circles of business, worship, leadership, yoga studios, monthly potlucks, neighborhood meetings, and so on. 

Shut Up and Listen

This means listening to BIPOC when they choose to share their perspective or feedback with you and not countering with any defensive remarks. Appropriate verbal responses to practice good listening that indicate respect and gratitude for the person you’re listening to include: 

  • “Thank you for sharing your perspective with me.”
  • “I hear you.”
  • “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
  • “How can I best support you?”
  • “What would you like me to do?” (and then actually follow up in action if you’re asked to do something)

Read Books 

Books about Race Written by Authors of Color 

Books about Race Written by White Authors

  • White Fragility by Robin Di Angelo
  • Waking Up White by Debby Irving
  • Rising Out of Hatred: the Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Pulitzer Prize winner Eli Saslow – A look under the hood at the alt-right white nationalist movement. I am loathed to recommend this book since the person it’s about has already done so much damage. Giving him more attention seems counter-intuitive. Alarming and compelling perspectives for those “who just can’t understand white supremacists”. This book will help you understand. 

Speak Up

If you’re a white person and you witness a POC being discriminated against, overtly or insidiously with microaggressions, say something. Alternatively, don’t pretend to know what you don’t know. 

Here’s something I’m not proud to admit. A dear friend of mine who is black explained the Trayvon Martin case to me. I hadn’t been paying much attention to the news in spring 2012. I still find it hard to sort through and find meaning in the massive media machine, but I need to be better at consuming some news rather than just shoving it away entirely. Anyway, my friend asked me what I thought about this case and I admitted that I wasn’t familiar with the details. He summarized the entire situation for me how Trayvon Martin was shot just for walking around in his neighborhood. I should have done better to learn about police violence against black people, or black children in this case. It would have helped me to speak up when earlier that year my white relative made a Trayvon Martin joke. I didn’t understand it fully, but I knew that a teenager had been killed, so how could that be funny in any context? I should have spoken up. 

Watch Movies & Series

Visit Museums

  • National Civil Rights Museum – Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN. Located at the Lorraine Motel, the location where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. 
  • The National Memorial for Peace and Justice – Montgomery, AL. Also known as “The Lynching Museum”, this museum keeps the horrors of the past relevant to the future so that the narrative of institutional racism in the United States can be known from BIPOC’s perspective, not a white-washed historical one. 

Support Organizations 

Donate your time or money to these organizations or ones like them that represent the empowerment of BIPOC: 

  • 28 Organizations That Empower Black Communities – Huffington Post
  • Black Lives Matter – The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.
  • Life After Hate – Founded by former extremists, we are committed to helping people leave the violent far-right to connect with humanity and lead compassionate lives.
  • NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)

Amplify the Voices of People of Color 

Canvass for a local, state, or national political candidate of color whose political platform aligns with yours. 

One of my favorite Memphians is Gabby Salinas: healthcare advocate, three-time childhood cancer survivor, and scientist who’s on a lifelong mission to bring Tennesseans the healthcare, education, safety, and infrastructure they need to thrive. I knocked on over 2,000 doors for her in 2018 and I’m ready to do whatever she needs me to do to have the people elect her to the Tennessee State House in 2020. She is one of the fiercest, friendliest, and focused people I know and Memphians desperately need her to represent them in government.

Support Black-Owned Businesses

Do a Google search for “black businesses near me” and support those businesses.

Take in the Perspectives of People of Color

Follow artists, authors, leaders, and influencers of color on social media or subscribe to their email lists to gain access to their teachings and perspectives. Here’s a short list of some of my personal favorites in no particular order: 

Know Better & Do Better

A mantra that guides all the learning in my life comes from the brilliant, powerful, and gracious Dr. Maya Angelou

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Know better. Then do better. Inquire, then change. 

White privilege and white fragility is an inherited cultural problem. Knowing about it is the first step, and doing better is the next step. The last step cannot be ignored.

My own work around white fragility is not over and I doubt it ever will be. I am trying my best to learn, but I do not expect that my commitment to learning more will make up for the social and economic advantages offered to me throughout my life because I’m white. I remain committed to learning about and teaching white fragility. I don’t say this to earn credit for being a good white person (which Layla Saad calls out as ‘Optical Allyship’). I remain committed to having open conversations about race and holding white people accountable for their words and actions when it comes to white privilege and white fragility. I also remain open to being called out if I say anything inappropriate, including what I said here in this blog post. 

I am grateful for the perspectives I’ve gained from listening to people of color. I have much more to learn. I want to share those perspectives with my white and white-passing family members and friends. I want to celebrate our uniqueness. I want us all to be good ancestors as Layla Saad implores us to remember as the big picture perspective on why we should do the work around racial equity. 

If you are white and you take one thing away from this, I hope it is one or all of the following:

  1. The knowledge that white privilege and white fragility are real and you have benefited from both, knowingly or unknowingly, by virtue of your skin color. 
  2. That you will commit to taking action on doing your own work to learn more about white privilege and white fragility.
  3. That you’ll stop saying things like: “I just don’t see color” or “I never think of so-and-so as their race” or “I wish we could just focus on what unifies us rather than what divides us” and be a better ancestor doing the work and leaving a more effective and honest legacy.

What came up for your after reading this? What steps are you willing to take to do your own racial equity work? Will you commit to taking at least one step?

If this was informative or helpful for you in any way, please consider sharing it with someone. Start a conversation. Leave a comment. And subscribe to receive monthly updates. I’m actively soliciting stories of persistence from a diverse representation of forward-moving women, so if you’d like to be a featured writer here on Onward Woman, please share your story

Onward, people.

Who Am I To Do This?

Rachel Drummond warrior 2 who am I to start an intersectional feminist blog

I tried hard really hard to not start this blog. Honestly, I did. But since you’re reading this now, it’s clear that my voice of reason lost this round to the shared voice of the heart and gut.

My voice of neurotic and protective reasoning didn’t concede the battle without asking incessant questions. My calm inner voice of truth kept right on answering them and that’s how we got here.

The Q&A session in my head went something like this:

Q: “Who are you to start an intersectional feminist blog?”

A: “A woman who wants to create a space to free, heal, inform, and inspire others.”

Q: “You’re white. You can’t just feature stories overcoming challenges from you and other white women. If this is going to be an intersectional feminist blog, you need stories from a diverse range of women.”

A: “I know.”

Q: “You have a lot going on right now, you know.”

A: “I know.”

Q: “Are you aware of how much time this blog will take?”

A: “I have a general idea. Posting once a month is sustainable for me. I have a year of post ideas written down. I hope others will be inspired to write their own too.”

Q: “Doesn’t Pantsuit Nation on Facebook already do this?”

A: “Yes. And having one more place on the interwebs to share stories won’t hurt anyone. This blog is an option for people who aren’t on Facebook or want to spend less time scrolling there.”

Q: “Don’t you keep saying you want to simplify your life?”

A: “Yes. And every time I say no to starting this blog, the voice of Onward Woman keeps coming back and asking: ‘So when are we starting?'”

Why We’re Here: to Create Sisterhood and Promote Equity

The purpose of Onward Woman is to create sisterhood and promote equity by sharing stories from a diverse representation of women.

Through sharing stories of our bravery and resilience, which can range from tales of triumph to small and powerful actions, I hope we can:

  • create an intersectional feminist space
  • eliminate secrecy
  • normalize the unspoken
  • vaporize shame
  • allow healing
  • empower the storyteller
  • inform others
  • inspire action

Herstory

This blog will feature stories of women to counterbalance the disproportionate focus on “history” – cultural narratives that feature and celebrate the accomplishments of men.

Onward Woman is a place to write “herstory” – stories of bravery and resilience, struggle and triumph written by, about women.

Women Warriors

Throughout time, women have shown up as warriors. Ezer is the name used in Genesis to describe Eve which translates to “warrior” or “necessarily ally”. Warriors are brave individuals and supportive teammates. Warriors work together to do the most good.

Our presence and our voices are our power. Now is our time to remind each other how strong and resourceful we are through sharing our stories.

A Warrior Checklist

When it’s time for virabhadrasana II (warrior II posture) in my yoga practice, I go through a mental checklist to keep me safe, strong, and steady. This checklist helps me feel brave and confident so I’m sharing my warrior checklist with you. I hope that these physical cues will help you feel grounded, connected to your truth, inspired to take action.

A Warrior Checklist:

  • Arms up
  • Shoulders down
  • Neck relaxed
  • Eyes focused forward
  • Face calm
  • Belly drawn up and in
  • Hips open
  • Legs muscles engaged and active
  • Feet pressed firmly down
  • Breathe for five steady breaths

Inhale.

Exhale.

Pure self-made warrior power.

I can write this blog alone, but don’t want to. This is a blog that is meant for stories from the inclusive warrior women sisterhood. So if you’d like to contribute a story or you have a question, please contact me. And if you think you know someone who’d like to share their story, please share this post.

I understand it may be too early to tell, but what do you think of Onward Woman so far? What do you want more of in future posts? You can expect at least one per month from me and more if other women feel called to contribute.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Thank you so much for your interest.

Onward, women!