Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dress Codes and Anti-Blackness

In my experience, school dress codes are a frequent topic of debate, particularly amongst adults and teenagers. I’ve heard stories about girls being asked to change because their shoulders were showing, have seen girls get sent out of class for showing bra straps, and have seen boys get in trouble for sagging their pants (which is an understandably annoying trend, but I digress.)

Earlier today at school, a boy was instructed to take off his du-rag. I was uncomfortable because it was a white teacher ordering a black student, as I have recently begun to examine interactions between white teachers, who tend to hold positions of power because of their race, and their black students. I, having seen family members wear du-rags on bad hair days, initially thought it to be a ridiculous rule. The teacher said the red du-rag could be a symbol of gang affiliation. When I asked about headwraps black women wear, he also said this could be a symbol of gang affiliation. I was angry and also embarrassed, but I couldn’t understand why.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad teacher in my four years of high school, but all but one were white. I specifically coveted my single black teacher and his African American studies class for three years, finally fitting his class into my schedule after changing my lunch period. He often lamented the fact that African American History was an elective half-year course instead of being taught along in “normal” social studies classes. Since I learned so much from him, I agree.

It’s not just what I learned from him, though. I still go back and visit him because of the safety I felt in his classroom. If anyone saw him, they’d probably be afraid, because he’s a big black man with a deep voice. But I knew I could discuss microaggressions with him without facing ridicule, the first time I’d ever been able to do so with any teacher. I could talk to him about snide comments made about slavery or black people or black culture, about white kids who said the n-word, about situations that made me feel uncomfortable even when I didn’t understand why. He understands. White teachers, although they may want to, do see the microaggressions. In fact, they’re often perpetrators.

The teacher who yelled at the student wearing the du-rag is one of my favorites. I’ve had him for four years. But when he talked to me about gang affiliations, I got the feeling I often get when white people say things that make me uncomfortable. My stomach sinks and I grow silent. I don’t say anything because I still want their respect and don’t want to ruin a relationship. However, in the immediate moment, I’m not sure how to articulate why the situation seems wrong to me.
Here’s what felt wrong: a white teacher calling out a black student for a distinctive part of black culture. The idea that I wouldn’t be able to wear a headwrap to school. The fact that this was somehow because of the dress code.

We aren’t allowed to wear hats at school, but du-rags and headwraps aren’t hats. I checked the official dress code, but these accessories aren’t explicitly mentioned. Instead, the code bans “any combination of clothing which law enforcement agencies currently consider gang-related” while acknowledging that “these may change.” After reading this, I became even more uncomfortable. How does this rule work in real time? Do teachers single out students who appear as if they might be affiliated with a gang? Are they relying on stereotypes or old information? And, with the tension between black people and police, I wondered how much “gang related clothing” had to do with clothes black kids like to wear.

According to GQ, the durag’s “existence as a utilitarian marker of black cool loosely parallels the head wraps worn by women in slaver-era America.” Both share aesthetic roots in sub-Saharan Africa, but the different stylings express individuality. For the author and other black men like him, the durag became a symbol of black excellence. Similarly, black women have regarded the headwrap as a “helmet of courage,” and “a uniform of rebellion signifying absolute resistance to loss of self-definition.”

Durags and headwraps are elements of black culture and ways for black teenagers to express themselves while also maintaining a connection to their identity. However, they’re viewed as “gang related.” What does that even mean? I kept asking myself that question over and over again today.

According to Homefront Protection Group, “the leader in reality training for the law enforcement community in the United States,” some types of jewelry, clothing, accessories, and bandanas with certain colors or symbols could be gang representation. To me, this is entirely too vague and leaves too much room for adults, like teachers, administrators, or even police, to rely on their own notions of what gang representation is. Homefront provided their own example: a racially ambiguous (but brown) young person who looks like they could’ve been an extra on A Different World.

At what point do these arbitrary methods of gang identification infringe upon a student’s first amendment rights?

In Chalifoux v. New Caney Independent School District, a gang known as the “United Homies” wore rosaries at school, causing the school district to ban all students from wearing rosaries to school because they had become “gang affiliated.” However, not all students who wore rosaries to school were gang members. Therefore, a federal court ruled that the rosary ban infringed on the First Amendment rights of students to express their sincere religious beliefs.

Similarly, du-rags and headwraps are methods of expression for black students. Banning them in the name of “gang suppression” is a repression of black culture, and frankly, misguided. Gang violence is obviously a big issue, but research doesn’t support the position that school rules restricting student clothing have any significant effect on safety and security.  

Newspaper accounts and anecdotes are not empirical evidence. Feelings white teachers or administrators may have are not empirical evidence. The lack of evidence supporting the banning of du-rags and headwraps makes me wonder how much skin color has to do with the situation. There are gangs that only wear Ralph Lauren. Will teachers pull white kids wearing Ralph Lauren sweaters out of the hallways and force them to change?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"The Other Side"

Ever since Trump was elected, there have been a ton of messes. The most recent and horrific is arguably the tragic events at a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, where a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, killing a woman named Heather Heyer. 

Because of events like Charlottesville, there has been an emergence of "antifa," short for anti-fascism, a "far left fringe group." One of the reasons I haven't written anything about antifa is because I first heard about the group when Trump mentioned it. During a press conference after the events in Charleston, Trump asked, “What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt? What about the fact they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem?" 

(Nevermind the fact that several people were injured and a woman lost his life. No, his first instinct was to focus on who to blame first. Anyway, I digress.) 

I didn't really believe what Trump had to say because he's Trump, and also because David Duke endorsed his comments. But, on Sunday, antifa showed up to an anti-racism protest at UC Berkeley, attacking Trump supporters and others they accused of being white supremacists. 

Jelani Cobb, an educator and writer at the New Yorker, wrote a piece where he declared that "the antifa protests are helping Donald Trump." When I first saw the headline, I was confused, because I hadn't heard about the violence and also because I figured that antifa were just that - against fascism. I was still confused and almost concerned when I finished reading. 

Cobb has an influx of people heading to his Twitter account, some calling him a sellout, which seems super dramatic. Nevertheless, I'm torn on the piece. Cobb has gone through a great deal of schooling, way more than me, and I also respect his work and writing. But I found that I disagreed. 

Before I get into it, his overall argument - that punching random Nazis is counterproductive - makes sense. It seems like punching any random person isn't going to help make anything better. It's not a horrible argument. I've seen many people share the same, rather articulately. 

I just don't understand it completely. 

Yes, we all want to avoid as much violence as possible. Yes, attacking people and accusing them of being white supremacists is bad. I don't think that there's a problem with self defense. Neither does Cobb.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The interesting point here is that I&#39;m not a pacifist. To paraphrase Obama on Iraq, I&#39;m not against violence, I&#39;m against stupid violence.</p>&mdash; jelani cobb (@jelani9) <a href="">August 29, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

My question is what constitutes stupid violence. I think that randomly attacking someone when you're unsure of who they are could be considered "stupid violence." But Cobb also references the protests at UC Berkeley that occurred earlier this year, when Milo Yiannopoulos was set to speak there. Protesters smashed windows and set fires, and Yiannopoulos didn't speak.

I don't think that was stupid violence. 

I think that Yiannopoulos is a horrible racist, among other things. He's referred to Leslie Jones as "barely literate," and called her a "black dude." He's called a Buzzfeed reporter a "thick-as-pig shit media Jew." He's harassed and outed a transgender student during an appearance at the University of Wisconsin.  He's called Black Lives Matter a terrorist group that fights "a war on police and a war on white people." He's said that Islam is cancer. He's said that trans people are mentally ill

Long story short, he's hate speech personified. 

Not wanting this person speaking at the school I intend (especially since he outed a trans student at a college appearance) is understandable. I remember having a conversation about this with my teacher. He worried that, if the "other side" couldn't share their views, we would soon lose this ability as well. 

"But what do you do," I asked him. "If their views are that you aren't a real person? That they hate you? That you shouldn't exist?" 

He didn't have an answer to me. 

It's because of this that I can't partake in this "both sides are at fault" argument. Perhaps Cobbs and I disagree, but I believe that merely having someone like Milo speaking at my school is an instance of violence. 

I don't think that black people or queer people or any marginalized person should have to bear the weight of hatred in order to help the "greater good." A student at UC Berkeley shouldn't have to listen to someone like Milo spew racist or transphobic ideas at their place of schooling. 

"Well Camryn," you say. "They don't have to listen. They can just sit there. They don't have to go. They can get up and leave."

But what does this say about the school that I'm going to? The mere fact that people refer to hateful ideas as "different opinions" only legitimizes them. When people support Trump, they back up his actions. When people identify as white supremacists, they don't believe that I am a real person. It's not a different opinion than mine. It's hatred, even if they don't physically attack me. 

Cobb referred to the both protests at Berkeley as "morally wrong." I can understand labelling the actions at the second protest that way, but not the first. What's morally wrong about starting fires and breaking windows when my school is fine with committing violence against me? To take it a step further, why should hateful Trump supporters or white nationalists be treated with non-violence when they don't offer us the same? 

Furthermore, I don't care about morals anymore. Heather Heyer has died. Because Trump reinstated the pipeline that gives military weapons to local police, more unarmed black people will die.  Because of Trump's actions and spot in the white house, more hate crimes will occur.
Because of white supremacy, more black people will be faced with violence. 

What I'm trying to say is that Trump supporters and white supremacists do not care if we fight back with violence. Well, that's false. I'm sure that they care, because it makes them upset. I agree with Cobb's point that these instances will be used to defend Trump, his supporters, and white supremacists. But so what

Martin Luther King was nonviolent and they killed him.

Anyway, the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s was accused of inciting violence. Eight liberal white clergymen accused MLK of being too aggressive and counterproductive (his response, Letter from a Birmingham Jail, is a must read.) People opposed the March on Washington because they thought it could create more violence. People called his demonstrations "excessive." 

In 1968, a black man wrote to King stating, "After knowing the honest truth about this and many other deaths caused by your calm riots, we as a body had rather not have any thing else to do with you or your so called righteous riots or better, righteous murders.”

No matter what happens, these people aren't going to be nicer to us. They won't play fair just because we do. I mean, before the American revolution, Loyalists were all, "Guys, stop throwing tea in the harbor. It's making us no better than us. We don't want to be stupid about this." And sure, our country is horrible to a lot of people of color, especially Native Americans, and didn't give us freedom or anything, but I digress. 

Cobb wrote that people like Nelson Mandela used "violence when it was efficacious, nonviolence when that was effective. Power came from understanding that." But when do we reach that point? How long do we suffer in silence, allowing people to spread racist and hateful ideas? 

To me, if a white person calls me a nigger, that is violence. If that white person gets hit, I think it's justified, because that is self defense. 

When white nationalist Richard Spencer was punched during an interview, I thought it was self defense. 

Of course, there are actions that antifa have made that I don't agree with. I generally don't want violence in general. But the fact is that it's here. When slave riots happened on plantations, slaves were blamed, even though it started with slave owners. When riots started in Ferguson, black people were blamed, even though the violence started with the police.

We face violence when we are non-violent. We face violence when we say nothing. We face violence when we fight back with violence. No matter what we do, they will always find something wrong with it. Even though I always think we can do better, I also know that people will find problems with everything we decide to do. 

White nationalists and white supremacy have started the violence. Their ideology is inherently violent. The core of their ideology is violence. I can't say that I blame those who fight back with violence. Survival is an essential aspect of the black spirit. 

Sometimes survival means fighting back.

Monday, December 19, 2016

who will tell the story?

One of my coping mechanisms is imagining the future. When I'm worried about a particularly stressful day of school, I imagine what it will be like to do nothing during summer vacation. When I'm irritated with my mother's rules, I imagine what it would be like to live alone in a few years. When I get jealous of characters in romance books, I imagine being in love in the future.

Donald Trump was voted as the next president, and there isn't a future I can imagine that will make this any kind of better. 

I keep thinking about all of the work people have been doing. Calling senators and representatives, writing pieces about all of the reasons why Trump shouldn't be president, and protesting right outside of Trump tower. All of it is swept aside, even the facts. 

People are so eager to ignore the fact that he's extremely racist, has a horrible record with women, has been accused of sexual assault, and is all sorts of mixed up with Russia. I haven't even touched everything. They'll ignore the fact that Pence doesn't care for the reproductive rights of women or LBGTQ+ people.  

They're both horrible, and I don't understand how this is just ignored. Republicans are people, after all, and I believe that they have common sense. My father's best friend is a republican, and I often wonder if he agrees with all of these ideas and statements. I wonder if all of the people who voted for Trump agree that people of color and queer people and women are less than them. 

They do. I can't come to any other conclusion. 

There are Trump supporters in my school, in my town. I can tell because of the statements made in class, but also because of the stickers on cars. Ever since Election Day, I've been extremely aware of my identity. Even the white people who said they weren't going to vote for Trump must have, since 58% of white people voted for him. 

As a black woman, I'm often in spaces that are dominated by white people. I've found that part of my experience is having to suspend disbelief. Part of being "respectable" is accepting the idea that most white people aren't racist, or at least pretending to. But how can I believe this after watching this election? How do we go from a gorgeous black family in the White House to this?

I've accepted the fact that I know more about racism than the white people who teach me. There are three black teachers in my school, and I haven't had any of them. I wish that I could see them everyday, if only for the comfort of knowing that there is another person of color around. I had to explain the concept of institutional racism to a teacher, and was exhausted by the end. 

It is exhausting, to constantly have to explain myself. Why must I constantly prove that there is a system actively working against people of color? Why do I have to bring in sources and argue in a calm voice in order to be considered? Even so, white people always have the chance to ignore me. I don't know if it's even worth it when I'm done. I'm so tired of this. 

Since Election Day, I've rejected the idea that only some white people are racist. I hate the way they use the word, as if it's some sort of insult. White people ignore the ingrained racism inside of them while pretending that race plays no part whatsoever in their lives. My teacher will lecture me about how black people can be racist while also making fun of the names of black students. 

She doesn't consider herself "racist," because to white people, it is an extreme. In order to be racist, they have to declare that they hate black people, or people from Mexico, or people with different skin colors. That definition is so rudimentary; it is almost as if it was taught in first grade and no one ever expanded on it. That might be because the concept of racism is never taught in school, not past the idea that MLK ended it all before he died. 

The fact of the matter is that our country is built on racism. It's still part of the fabric of this country, and no one has ever tried to pull it away. At this point, so far in our history, racism can not be distinguished from the characteristics of our nation. From the moment that the Constitution was written, black people were excluded. 

Cotton was the source of the economy for decades, because of slave labor. Black people have strengthened this nation with blood and bones and lynched bodies. We've received nothing in return. We were never even asked if we wanted this. And today, we act as if slavery is some distant system that no longer holds any impact on our daily lives. 

White people started off with a hundred year head start, and no one ever made them stop so that black people could catch up. They simply continued running, while we were forced to stop, over and over and over again. Now, we are blamed for our unequal status in society, if it is even acknowledged. We are told to work harder to move up, as if white people had to work through Jim Crow and lynchings and systemic racism while attempting to hold their families together.

White people are born into this system of racism, and many of them do not unlearn it. Black people are also born into this system of racism, but we are forced to learn. From the moment your parents give you the speech about working twice as hard, the moment your mother tells you how to behave around police, the moment you realize that you're the only "good" black child in your class. 

What a tremendous privilege it must be to go through life without being aware of this. Classmates, even teachers, tell me stories of how their ancestors immigrated to this country and built themselves up. I have no idea how my ancestors got to this country. I have an advertisement for a runaway slave, the earliest family member I'm aware of. I'm in awe of his bravery, but I don't understand how he and an immigrant from Poland is compared. 

The Polish immigrant was able to assimilate. He could lose his accent, his mannerisms, and look just like the white people who were already here. Eventually, people forgot why they hated the Polish, and they became apart of whiteness. This could never happen to my ancestor, because his skin was dark and could not be scrubbed off. He lived always looking over his shoulder, avoiding the white man and the KKK. 

Even though most southerners didn't own slaves, they were part of this culture. They believed that slavery kept their lives stable. They believed that black people were less than them. Even Abraham Lincoln was more interested in preserving the Union than abolishing slavery. I know that slavery could've ripped this nation apart, but is a country that only values a white man worth salvaging? 

Lincoln believed so, but perhaps this is because he knew his children would benefit. What a tremendous privilege. 

As my teacher told our class a story about her life, all I could think of was her privilege. She almost failed out of high school, but is successful today. I couldn't help but think about all of the failing black kids in my school who are ignored, except for when adults want to use them as scapegoats. 

"Don't be like them," they say, even if not explicitly. "They have no drive. They won't go anywhere." 

It is this same privilege that has allowed these white people to vote for Trump without a thought of the repercussions. They insist that they aren't racist, as if all it takes is to use the word "nigger." They ignore the fact that they play into this system, that they make behavior more acceptable by supporting Trump. 

They're eager to call out "radical Islamic terrorists," but are silent when it comes to Dylann Roof. I think this is because they know, at the back of their minds, that they created him. They created him with their comments: "black people take advantage of the system," "they're all drug addicts and can't get real jobs," "they're behind us because they're lazy."

They created him with their silence. Those who stand by for these comments are just as guilty. 

As far as I'm concerned, anyone who supports Trump is not my friend. I don't care that white people wanted a "change," that they chose this fate for our country while thinking only of themselves. 

I don't care that the electors wanted to follow in tradition. I didn't expect this group of mostly white people to save me, not when the concept of the electoral college is already rooted in racism. But I find it disappointing that I'm not yet old enough to vote, and I already don't trust my government. 

I don't care that people are burning flags and sitting down during the pledge. I don't care if you get upset that I refuse to acknowledge Trump as president. If these are things that you are worried about, talk to people like my parents, who are worried about how our lives will change. 

Talk to people like my Muslim friends, who are already terrified at rising hate crimes. Talk to my trans friends, who know the vice president does not care about them. Talk to young women like me, who worry about my reproductive rights with a GOP dominated Congress. 

This is not as simple as disliking the person who won. I am worried about my quality of life. I am worried about friends getting deported, families getting ripped apart. I am worried because this country stopped caring about me once I stopped picking cotton and taking orders. My heart aches for people like Van Jones, who do not know how to explain this fact to their children. 

I have come to one conclusion: white people voted against their self interest because they were afraid. Working class white people are upset that they are slowly fading from the focus. They desperately want to hold onto the times where they were the only ones who were important. When they say "make America great again," they mean times where uppity people of color weren't demanding rights. White people were afraid of losing the privilege this country constructed for them. 

I've been trying to think forward, four years from now, but I'm not sure what it will be like. I'm already apprehensive around white people, angry at all of them, even though I know it isn't fair. I just can't bring myself to care about fair, not when the race was never even from the beginning. 

Perhaps one day, when I'm older, I'll be able to talk to people about this. I'll tell them that I wasn't sure how to fight, but that I kept writing. I hope that writing will be enough. I hope that stories will be enough, as they have been in the past. No matter how hopeless I feel, I will keep telling them.

I owe it to those who came before, and those who will come after. 

(An ad for one of my ancestors, Isam, who was 25 years old when he escaped.) 


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ageism, Black Twitter, and Teen Spaces

I haven't felt completely comfortable on Twitter lately. A few days ago, a really prominent Twitter activist tweeted a lot of stuff at and about me. She said that I was probably a troll, because I used the word "misogynoir" in a tweet. She said that I was probably stalking another prominent Twitter activist, because I planned to launch an online magazine on her birthday. 

Basically, a bunch of people jumped in my Twitter mentions. I was asked why I would pick such a negative name, told that I didn't do any research, and that the website looked shady because I didn't had a lot of content, despite the fact that I hadn't launched it. I was told that I should've asked permission for using the word. I do feel like there was a gigantic disconnect, because it wasn't an open dialogue. Two very prominent women, I felt, came after me. If they hadn't had around 80k followers each, I would've felt comfortable talking with them.

Because, of course, I do not and did not want to steal from anyone. One of them said that I plagiarized, and I actually locked myself in my room and cried. I picked the name after lots of thinking and reading. I wrote a first post, which explained the history and meaning of the word misogynoir, and credited one of the activists, because she's played a large role in the development of the word. It didn't occur to me to credit her somewhere else on the site. 

I was told that I should've reached out to one of the women, for guidance. I did consider it, for a while. On her website, she stated that she didn't want to be contacted for projects where she wouldn't get paid - and I completely understood that. I've recently grown fed up with the idea of creating work for free, when I could be working on things that actually provide money for me. She also stated that she didn't want to be interviewed, so I didn't contact her for the interview series I planned. 

Now, it's not like I was a total victim. On the website's main page, I used a picture that I took off of Google. It belonged to another woman who I hadn't asked or credited. That was a really horrible move to make, especially since I was just going to benefit off of her work like I was the one who created it. She tweeted at the magazine's account, but I didn't have notifications set up, so I didn't see it until the day this all went down. 

What bothers me about the entire situation is how I was treated. It would be sucky to drag someone publicly if they were an adult, but the only reason why this prominent activist stopped is because she realized I was a minor. She didn't stop because she realized that there was a power imbalance because of her fans, because I wasn't given the chance to explain myself. 

She kept mentioning that I needed a mentor. There was a point where she said "you clearly didn't do any research." Since I had been following both women involved for a while, she found an old tweet where I said that one of them was "goals" (a compliment) and said that I should've asked for guidance, then paid a fee. It didn't make any sense to me - she was so into the idea that I was a teen. 

A lot of people are intrigued at my age, which I why I started off trying to hide it. When I queried, looking for an agent, I didn't include my age anywhere. There are still some people on Twitter who don't know how old I am. But even when they find out, most people applaud me and tell me to keep going. This interaction, with this activist I admired, was the first time I felt stupid for being sixteen.

There are groups of black women on Twitter, and I'm starting to see them as cliques. That isn't bad, exactly. I like to see black women who stick together, especially when they're in similar fields. Black female musicians are close, black female directors are close, and black female writers stick together. I've followed a lot of them long enough to know who is friends with who. 

I've longed for the day that I would get a book deal, so that I could wave it in their face and say "Look, I'm cool! Let me join your group! I want to be surrounded by cool black women!" I'd wonder if they'd notice me, follow me back, reply to more than one of my tweets. After all, these women are awesome. Not only do they do what they do, whether it be writing or dancing, they call out problematic foolishness on Twitter. 

Friendship goals, right there. 

That worries me now. I hate the idea that black sisterhood is something that I have to break into, rather than something that I'm apart of just by being black, successful, and supporting others. And yet, the same women who tweeted about me and let me be dragged by their followers had previously tweeted about black sisterhood and supporting one another.

Is there a special clause? When I expressed confusion, was told that there's an understanding that, even if one of the women didn't have a trademark on the word misogynoir, it's understood that I should give credit. But where is it understood? How was I to know if I had never spoken to one of them? These women are smart and blunt on Twitter. Was I supposed to expect that the same women who spoke badly about me before knowing me would've taken me under their wing?

Part of the reason why I still feel irritated is because I was treated like I didn't know anything because I didn't know how their world worked. They spoke as if I was trying hard to be like them, so hard that I ended up mirroring their own work, as if I don't have an agent of my own, a prolific list of work of my own. Why did creating a magazine for teen black girls mean I was trying to be just like them, and not like me?

I feel that there is an expectation that younger people want to be like those who come before us. And this is often true - people like Oprah and Ava DuVernay and Maya Angelou inspire me. There are tons of women on Twitter and in my life that inspire me. But there is a point in everyone's journey where they realize that they aren't going to be someone else. 

I once tweeted that I wanted to be the next Shonda Rhimes, and a friend tweeted back "You won't be. You won't be the Shonda Rhimes of TV or the Ava DuVernay of film. You'll be the Camryn Garrett of something else, and that's just as good." 

Lots of teens don't know this - lots of adults don't know this. And even if they do, it's one of those things that sticks in the back of your head for a while before becoming truth. There are still times where I compare myself to other people, wondering why I haven't been as successful as Tavi Gevinson or Zendaya so young, before I catch myself. 

It sounds horrible, but I think there are some adults who don't want me to catch myself - not right now, anyway. There are many adults who speak about wanting youth to succeed, wanting to embrace those of our future. The thing is, though, they aren't expecting us to start when we're so young. They aren't expecting us to be good. 

Look, I know I'm not the best writer, but I'm better than the forty year old dude the next state over who is just starting, because I've got six years on him. But this fact is ignored by lots of people who are older than me, because I didn't come up the same was as them.

Lots of successful people, especially successful black women, have to fight and kick and claw to get to where they want to be. Even when they get there, they have to guard their spot from racists and other haters who don't want them to succeed. They expect that those younger than them will have to do the same. If you haven't, they don't think you're legit. 

Of course, these women weren't obligated to send me a private message to tell me that I should take down the photo. They weren't obligated to give their guidance. But, for people who talk about sisterhood, I would've expected them to. It gives them another reason to push me down - she doesn't know what she's doing - instead of helping me get to their level. I haven't paid my dues, and they aren't just going to open up to me. 

When teens come along, adults get mad. They get scared and worried. They don't want things to change, and teens are full of change. We change our minds and come up with new ideas and we're hard to predict. Adults get irritated. I see it in the articles about millennials ruining the Olympics, in the articles questioning why millennials aren't buying diamonds. I see it in the people who came to the conclusion that Tavi Gevinson wasn't writing her own blog, because it was too good for a teen.

I see it when websites like Teen Vogue and MTV and Seventeen are only written by adults. MTV has a section for teens, which is great (I've written there are a lot and I enjoy it), but you don't get paid. I didn't start getting paid for my writing until this year, and I've been writing for publications since I was thirteen. Most of the content marketed toward us is written by adults. 

Now, this is most likely because it takes a long time to get good at something, and teens are doing other stuff - watching Scandal or playing sports or going to school - that takes up our time. But I'll be totally honest and catty here: I have more experience than some of the people who get paid to write things that I'm supposed to read. There are adults who get paid to stalk teens on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and try to sell the stuff back to us. If we don't like it, we get a reputation for being difficult. 

A very, very recent example - the VMAs were yesterday night. I personally didn't start watching until Beyonce came on. Beyonce has been making music consistently since I was younger. Lemonade just came out, and I loved it. I connected to it. She was amazing. Right after her, Britney Spears performed. I did not think it was good.

I was surprised to see a lot of tweets, all from adults who were teens when Britney was popular, saying that she did a good job. They said that we should respect Britney for going on after Beyonce and that she was fine. It was weird to see how angry they were getting because people didn't like her performance. In my head, you can't compare the two. Britney has released a few popular songs since I've been a teen, but that's really it.

And yet, she was at the show. She was hyped up at the show. Adults were tweeting about her - which is fine, have your fun - but they were expecting others to like her. There was this understanding that I didn't get, because I was five years old when Britney was popular. The VMAs obviously aren't only for teens, but I wish people would stop pretending that they are. 

I wish they'd stop pretending that spaces adults present to us are supposed to be for us, since most of the time, it's stuff that they've decided on our behalf. We have less experience most of the time, yes, but we aren't stupid. We know what we like and what we don't. And if we don't like what's available, we'll create our own - how can you fault us for that? 

I'm not saying that content produced by adults is horrible, because it isn't always. Like, pretty much all of my favorite books and movies and TV shows were created and produced by adults. But teens write books, and they're great. Teens make music, and I love it. Teens make films and tell jokes and we dance and we do gymnastics and maybe we aren't as good as adults who have been doing it longer than us, but we'll get there. Simone Biles is definitely better than gymnastics than Tim Gunn, because she's been doing it longer. That's not eradicated because of her age. 

When I received private apologizes from the activists I mentioned earlier, I wanted to reply for a moment. They spoke of the reasons why they had jumped on me so quickly - namely, because of abuse that they face on Twitter - and I understood that. But there was a part of me that wondered if they'd listen to what I had to say, or if they'd sweep it under the rug. Maybe we could have a great conversation, but I feel so vulnerable now. As another lady on Twitter said, "You can't unring a bell."

I'm not saying that guidance from adults isn't important, because it completely is. I'm where i'm at today because of guidance that I've received from people older than me. But I wish that there were more people like them around, open to young people and open to lifting us up. 

I don't really want to continue with my magazine, even though I changed the name and paid for a new domain. I feel wiped out. Even before I started it, months ago, I worried about the amount of work that I'd have to put in. And I did put in a lot - I saved money from my summer job to purchase a logo and domain, I made schedules, I did interviews and wrote questions, I edited posts and created a website. 

I figured that it would be worth it, if other black girls found this space, but I'm not sure how I feel. Places that I started out writing, like TIME for Kids and Huffington Post, did not pay me, but I don't know where I'd be without them. And yet, I don't know if it's fair for me to expect people to create content for me without payment. Moreover, I don't know if I'm ready to enter beside this clique of black female writers on Twitter. They'll be expecting me to plead to join them, and if I don't, will there boy more drama? 

I appreciate the work women like them do, but there's a difference between calling out an unapologetic or privileged person for being problematic and striking down a person who has the same barriers as you, but less resources. I don't want another girl to feel the way I do. I don't want someone to have to explain what happened to their mother in between tears, or to hesitate before replying to tweets. As it stands, I don't really feel like I have the voice I thought I did. 

But maybe, when I do, I can use it to boost up a girl like me. 


Camryn Reads Maya Angelou

Note: This is an essay that I'm turning in when I go back to school as part of my summer reading project, so if I sound like I'm reaching at any point, that's probably why. I'm so awkward when it comes to school essays, guys. But I thought I'd share, because I think Twitter is impressed with me. 

I absolutely loved this book. I had been hoping to read it for a while, but held off because I hoped that I would read it as part of a school assignment. For the past few years, I’ve been challenging myself to read more books by black authors like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou was closer to my heart.

When I was younger, I didn’t have any clue who James Baldwin was, but I knew about Maya Angelou. I’ve heard people like Serena Williams recite Still I Rise, one of her poems, watched her receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, and noted that she was good friends with Oprah. I was devastated when she passed, not because I knew her personally, but because I hoped to. Reading this book was my chance to know her, to learn from her, even if it was a side that thousands of other readers had already met.

This book is an example of both feminism and fighting racism, all from a woman who didn’t seem like she would make something of herself when she was younger. Stories like hers, while I’m no stranger to them, always inspire me. Black women dealt with so much, and continue to do so, but it gets a little easier each generation because of the strength of those who come before us. I think this is a theme that’s also displayed in the book, because Maya and her brother, Guy, received strength and much of their sense of self while being raised by their grandmother.

Even though there were many times that this book was depressing, like when Maya recognized the racism that she lived through and the sexual assault she was faced with, I was surprised that the book was funny. I don’t know how she was able to find places to insert humor. When I first started the book, I expected stories of living in a segregated area and having to work as a made to white families in the south. What I didn’t expect were the stories of con men, wild parties, and sex.

I think that Angelou included bits of humor for the same reason why she probably searched for them in her actual life. It would’ve been impossible to live through all of the things that she did if she hadn’t been able to see the positive aspects of life, and I think that it’s the same for someone reading her story. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to read the book so quickly if it had just been a memoir of all of the horrible things that happened to her. Maybe she included these aspects because she recognized how much these memories hurt her. I’m not quite sure, but it’s something I’ve thought a lot about.

I can’t help but feel that Maya Angelou was inspired by the times in which she wrote this book. By the time I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was published, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X had both been assassinated. At the same time, the feminist movement was kicking up. I feel like that’s why she was able to talk about sex so freely. She doesn’t pull punches when talking about the racism that she faced, either, and I’m grateful. It’s important to know what people went through, so that we don’t forget.

There are some aspects of Maya’s story that I could relate to, despite the large period of time that separates us. Maya explored the self loathing that she felt toward herself and her appearance, wishing that she were a white girl with blonde hair. When I was younger, I also felt the same. I hated how dark my skin was, and wished that I were lighter. I begged my mother to straighten my hair, and when we finally did it for my fifth grade moving up ceremony, it poofed right back up because of the heat. I wanted to be a white girl so badly, because I knew then that I would truly be beautiful.

Often times, when I read the works of black people who have come before me, I expect that I won’t be able to relate to them. Each time, though, there’s always something (usually multiple somethings) that I relate to. I wonder now if some aspects of black life are just universal, or if these aspects of life are symptoms of racism that still haven’t been eradicated. On one hand, it’s comforting to feel connected to the characters in A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, or even characters in the sitcom Good Times. I feel connected, like I know these people, and it creates a sense of community. However, I’d rather feel connected to other black people because of other things like hair or skin.

Being able to connect because of our life experiences is often what brings people together, but most black people are sharing stories of hardship and trying to find small pieces of happiness within them. At the end of this book, Maya is sixteen, single, and pregnant. She’s content with where she’s at, especially since being a mother means that she’ll receive the love she hasn’t felt throughout the novel. However, it’s difficult for me to overlook the fact that she’s going to face more hardship. It makes me feel better that she ultimately was able to rise up from where she started, so high that she probably didn’t expect it, but I worry that suffering is doomed to be part of the black identity for years to come.

Overall, though, stories like this one makes me believe that things will be better for each generation to come after. I don’t think that we can say that black people, as a community, are where we should be at all. But I do think that, because of people like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and even Oprah, roads have been paved for young women like me. My only hope is that I’ll be able to do the same for the girls who come twenty years down the road.

I'm pretty dramatic. Meh.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Heavy Load

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? 
-Langston Hughes

I read A Raisin in the Sun today. I've been wanting to read it for a while, ever since I found out that Lorraine Hansberry, the author, was the first black woman to have a play on Broadway. Raisin made it to Broadway against all odds, though some theorize that it's because white Americans ignored the clear racial aspects of the play and instead chose to connect with the characters because "they were a typical middle class family." Because their problems and issues and feelings clearly were not influenced by their race. 

A few days ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case for Reparations. I've never given reparations much thought, just assuming that they would never happen because of how much money they would cost, money that we don't have at all.

Today, a video was released of a police officer killing Alton Sterling. He was armed, but in an open carry state. Because, you know, we're American and very into guns. What we don't talk about, but black people clearly know, is that this rule isn't meant for us. When people complain about their guns being taken away, they are white. 

Black people have never been able to have guns. The law says we are allowed to. The people disagree. The people are the government. The government is this country. "We, the people." 

I'm tired of respectability. I don't aim to earn the respect of someone who believes that a black person must have a fully formed debate ready whenever we state that our lives matter. I know that my voice is just one of many, that it might not be heard at all, especially since I'm so upset. That's fine. I'll stand with Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and other teens whose voices will never be heard again. 

There is a fucking problem. It needs to be admitted. 
But that is not the only step. 

It is not simple enough for other people to just say "Black lives matter." For them to be silent on this issue. They don't even need to speak - they need to push for better laws to protect us, to put pressure on police departments. Of course, I write this having already made up my mind. I do not think things will change, not unless the police system is completely stripped down and changed. 

There is a fundamental problem. The issue is that so many institutions were founded with white people in mind, and they were never changed. In the Coates article previously mentioned, he makes several statements that resonated profoundly with me. He says that America has stacked up so many horrors, so many things done to black people, that were never acknowledged. He says it's like someone racking up debt on a credit card, then deciding not to use it, but being confused when the debt does not magically disappear.

The thing is that the debt continues to build. It grows and grows and grows. Black people can see it, but it seems as though no one else can. 

This is a heavy load that black people carry with them every day. Every single day. If you're not thinking about it, you see a cop staring at you and wonder if this could be the day that something happens. You wonder what picture of you they'll use. You'll wonder if you would've ever gotten the chance to make something of yourself.

It goes further than murder, though. Because that's what this is. Our people are slaughtered in the street. It is like Civil War "Reconstruction," like the 50s and the 60s that people think back to when they think about "real" racism toward black people. They think about strange fruit hanging from trees, the Klansmen standing in pictures and demanding that negroes leave. 

There is a petition calling for Jesse Williams to be fired from Grey's Anatomy for making his amazing speech at the BET Awards. I was called a nigger at least three times last week on Twitter for speaking about cultural appropriation. Justin Timberlake spoke down to a black man who told him to apologize for his appropriation and treatment of Janet Jackson. 

He won't acknowledge that he stole. That he stole our cornrows and our clothes and our way of speech. No, it was all his idea. It's cool, because we're "the same on the inside." But let a black person dress that way, wear cornrows, and they're ghetto. They won't get the same jobs. Timberlake can pull down Janet's costume, exposing her, and she'll be the one banned from award shows.

Black people are the ones who lose jobs, who are viewed on the same level as white people with crime records even when holding college degrees. We're the ones who get turned away after internships because of our hair, because of our manner of speech. Then the same white people take these things and deem them "cool", but only for them.

Guns are only for them. Happiness is only for them.

In Raisin, a family wants to move to a predominately white neighborhood. After closing the deal, a white man from this neighborhood offers to buy the house from them, paying even more on top of that sum. He came on behalf of his white neighbors. "You'll be happier in a colored neighborhood," he said. "You can't force people's hearts to change."

I thought about how that's still similar. How the worth of a home can go down after black people move in. How so much of the world is still segregated, specifically the major city I live close to - in Manhattan, black people live on one side of Park Avenue, where houses are falling apart and kids aren't finishing school, and white people live on the other, where there are chauffeurs and chances and hopes and dreams and happiness.

Money buys happiness. It does, really. Tell a black kid living in Flint that money wouldn't buy them happiness. Tell any black kid that, because we tend to be stuck in poverty. In apartments breaking down, like in Raisin, in places without sunshine. Here is where we should be happy. 

In Raisin, no one wants the sister to be a doctor. White people do not want us to move up, to change things. They tell us that we would be better off if we worked harder, but that's not true. We work hard just to stay in the same places. We're stuck. All because of money that was stolen from us years ago, where white people were earning money. White men were earning money they passed through their families, while black people were sharecropping, receiving faulty loans, not being eligible for programs that could've helped us.

White people were given a head start, and we were held back. Somehow, we're measured on the same scale, despite these major differences. 

In Raisin, the main male character speaks of all he wants to do. Of what he wants to give his son. Of having the freedom to pick, to fly, to soar up high. Of being able to move up the ladder, to actually live the dream that America is known for. He wants his hard work to count for something. He does not want to be stuck, nor does he want this for his son. 

I feel the same. I want to be remembered. I want to make art that people love and take in over and over again. Even more, I want security. I want money, no matter how much I'm lectured about it. I want to have enough to ensure a future for my family, for others, for myself. I want to be able to have power. I want to bypass all of the white gatekeepers who have so much power. I want to provide ways for other black people, for us to tell stories. For us to write bestselling books and win Oscars and any other things that we might think to be unbelievable. 

But then I look at the black people being killed in the street. 

I look at how things do not change. I look at how many times this happens. 

I grow tired of saying the same things. I see my brothers and sisters growing tired.

I do not want to be too tired to be rich one day, to have a production company, to make movies and plays and books. I fear that this will happen. I fear that I will die before this happens. I fear that my dreams and my goals will be stolen away from me. I fear that I'll fall into a cycle that my family has, that so many black people have, of being stuck. Of being poor, unable to move.

I'm scared of being slaughtered in the street like an animal. I'm scared of the people who are supposed to protect me. I'm scared of white people.

But even more so, more than being scared, I'm angry. 

White people steal. They steal and steal and steal. They steal our bodies and our hopes and our dreams and our chances. This is murder, it is gaslighting, it is abuse. It is outrageous. It is disgusting. It is despicable. It has to be proven, over and over again. It is ignored, because white people benefit from it. They benefit from us being down, by the system in place and built into, by living in their own worlds. 

You telling me Black Lives Matter is the bare fucking minimum. Don't act like you're doing something for me, when this is known to black people. When we say it all of the time, even when we're ridiculed and killed and torn apart. Even when we walk the streets and protest and bring this to court. Nothing is changing. 

What am I supposed to do about it? 

I suppose that I'll wait for it to explode. When riots happen, black people are called animals. They're just waiting for an excuse to dehumanize us, and they love when we act like normal people and they can use it. If these things happened to white people, there would be riots from everyone. Black people riot because we're in pain. Because we're ignored.

Because, what else are we supposed to do?


Saturday, June 11, 2016



I'm actually kind of weirded out, because I didn't have any feelings today. I think it's because I've been having issues with my depression (I can assure you that it was totally better today), and I think that's why I had issues registering what was going on. But seriously, I just had this constant feeling of euphoria in my stomach the entire time. 

For those of you who haven't been clued in on the entire journey, I'll start from the beginning. 

I've wanted to see Hamilton since last October, when my mom asked me what I wanted to do for my sixteenth birthday. I thought it was so cool that there was a rap musical on Broadway, and even better, that the cast was made up of all POC (with the exception of the actor who plays King George and one or two members of the ensemble.) It was super difficult to find tickets back then. 

Anyway, let's flashforward to May. The show released a new round of tickets, and I didn't make it fast enough. The only ones available were resale, and I couldn't afford any of them (the lowest price was 800 dollars and on Ticketmaster, there's not always the option to just buy one ticket.) I was pretty bummed, especially since my school went on a gigantic field trip to see Hamilton back in March.

The reason why I didn't get to go is because I wasn't old enough. The school board only approved it for juniors and seniors, plus 60 faculty members. It was this huge thing - 11 coach busses, they met the cast after the show, the other newspaper editors got to go backstage and ask questions. I'm still pretty bitter about it, honestly, because it sounds so awesome and I didn't get to go. Those kids didn't pay anything, while my ticket cost 1200+ and NO ONE LET ME BACKSTAGE. 

But I digress. 

I started a GoFundMe, at the suggestion of my lovely agent Emily, and we called the whole thing #Ham4Cam. I didn't think that I would be able to go, honestly. I wanted to write this blog post for all of you who donated and spread the word, because you are the reason why I got to go. Super shoutout to my badass anonymous donor who got me to my goal! I screamed when I found out that I was going to go to Hamilton, after fundraising for only 21 days. 

Since resale tickets suck, my mom and I actually had to pay over a hundred dollars out of pocket for some "handling" fee that Ticketmaster charges. But other than that, I got to go to Hamilton for free. I wouldn't have been able to do it if it weren't for you guys. 

I got there early, and was super surprised that I could see from up so high. I sat next to a lovely young lady who was just as excited as me, and had also come alone. It was great having someone to cry/scream with every few seconds. There were many members of the original cast: Lin-Manuel (!!!), Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, RenĂ©e Elise Goldsberry, Christopher Jackson, Okieriete Onaodowan, and Anthony Ramos were all there. They weren't the only ones who were amazing - everyone was, including the understudies and ensemble. There was so much going on that I didn't know where to look. 

I felt like a little kid going to Disney World for the first time after marathoning the movies.

There were times where I wanted to cry but I couldn't. I just felt it in my stomach and my chest and I couldn't believe how absolutely real it was. I couldn't believe that this was the musical I'd listened to countless times before, in front of me, with its amazing cast and choreography and the stage and everything. It was so difficult to remember everything that I wanted to, but here are a few key points: 

-Thank God for Daveed. We don't deserve him. He made me laugh so much.

-My Schuyler Sisters! They honestly did act like sisters, which I loved so much. During their first song, I almost jumped out of my seat. It was just so perfect that I couldn't handle it. 

-I didn't really react to the show until Yorktown. Well, that's not entirely accurate. You see, I was laughing and clapping and singing along with everyone else. I was just in awe, and couldn't really register anything until HERCULES MULLIGAN. I started screaming then, and couldn't stop laughing. It felt like the end of a movie, where you know that all of the horrible stuff is over and you get to live in happiness forever.  

-Anthony Ramos pretending to be nine. Enough said. 

-Everyone who worked in the theater was really nice. I've been to lots of other shows before, but have never really interacted with anyone. Maybe it was because I was by myself this time, but I definitely noticed how awesome they were, especially the ushers. 

-Each song got, like, at least two minutes worth of clapping. Except for when the transitions were so fast that you didn't get any time to clap. 

I don't know how else to describe the show except for pure magic. That's what it felt like, honestly. I had a vague idea of what it would be like in my head, but seeing it acted out with just so much behind it was beautiful. I was actually upset that I didn't cry at the end, but all of my feelings just felt stuck inside of me. 

I really wish that I could've spoken to members of the cast, the pit, backstage, anyone, just to tell them how awesome the show was. And I know it wasn't just the cast (even if they were so goddamn amazing), because seeing it live made it ten times more magical. Not even better. It just made me want to soak it all in and try to remember it for as long as possible. 

I think the best part of the show wasn't how amazing it was. It's that it was so amazing while almost everyone I looked at was a POC. It's like, visual proof that POC are amazing and can handle themselves and make creative things. It's what POC have been trying to say for years, and the long line and screaming crowd just proved it to be true. 

I just kept staring at Lin and wondering how it feels to look at something so absolutely fantastic, so breathtaking, so stunning, that it took sucked of my emotions away for two hours and forty five minutes. I'm sorry that I can't articulate the feeling further, but I was just looking at him and I was so thankful for this. That he fought through all of the difficult moments in his life, as a person and as a writer, and told this story. 

That I was able to see it. 

I can't imagine that he will ever know how much this meant to me, how much it has inspired me, and I probably won't even be part of his story. But he is part of mine, a large part, especially since he has proved to me that my background and appearance and my life will all help me break barriers and records and be extraordinary. 

I heard so much of myself in his lyrics, from "I've imagined death so much it feels more like a memory" to "There's a million things I haven't done, just you wait." 

Even though I haven't been suicidal in a long while, I haven't loved life in almost as long. It feels like something I have to struggle through in hopes that it might someday get better. Today, at least, I felt like life could be amazing. I'm so glad that I'm alive right now, that I'm alive during the same time that Hamilton is on Broadway and speaking to people, and that I got to experience this. 

I won't always remember the show, but I'll remember how much it empowered me. I hope that one day I can reference it in a speech.

Dying is easy, but living is so much harder. But I am the one thing in life I can control, and I know that I am an original. I'm young, scrappy, and hungry and I'm not throwing away my shot because I know history has it's eyes on me. 

Guys, I am so so lucky to be alive right now.