All Good Things Must Come To An End…

…or at least just a temporary standstill.

3cOver the past few months, I’ve really enjoyed blogging. Sending my thoughts into the blogosphere for any and everyone to read was a lot fulfilling than I initially thought it would be. I have always been a lover of words, more in love with fiction and the blank verse than structured writing. What I love about this is knowing that write you write can and will make a difference in someone’s life. While your words might not change the world, they can change how someone’s day is going.

In four days, I’ll be graduating from college. Walking across the stage, I’ll look back at this semester with both appreciation and nostalgia. It wasn’t until these past few months that I’ve felt like journalism could possibly be for me (I said, possibly, don’t smile yet).

I hope to continue this blog in the future, despite how busy I will be. But if this blog should wither away, don’t worry. My voice will be heard something, my words will be etched into some magazine’s digital archive.

Okay, so I’m obviously being super dramatic. What can I say, it’s the theater kid in me. In all serious, having this blog is made me more comfortable with letting my opinions out of the closet, so to speak. So until then, blog on and speak up!

If you can’t wait until my next blog posts for interesting and relevant issues/causes I fight for, you can follow me here and here.

Rebel Music: The Birth of a Revolution

Frank WalnIt has been proven time and time again that music has the power to transcend the bounds of society. Always on the side of the oppressed, it lives within the souls of those that cling to it like a heartbeat. It has transformed countries, sparked movements and inspired those who are open to its message.

MTV’s show “Rebel Music” showcases youth around the world who fight against oppression through music. The most recent episode highlighted Frank Waln, Inez Jasper and a handful of other Native American singers/rappers from various tribes across the US and Canada. I’d definitely be lying if I said that I expected a show like this to come from MTV. Regardless, it’s something that needs to be talked about widespread. Too many times the voices of the oppressed are stifled by those unwilling to hear the cries. The only thing that loves company more than misery is ignorance. The episode brought up so many important issues, particularly the negative effects the Keystone Pipeline would have on Native American lands, extremely high suicide rates among Native American youth and the disproportionately high number of indigenous women in Canada being murdered.

Watching this episode, it was sad but not surprising to hear that so many issues that Native Americans are facing are some of the very same issues are currently being protested across the country by the black community – police brutality, cultural appropriation, longstanding stereotypes that further perpetuate and sustain our oppressions. In likeness of Black Lives Matter, Native Americans are also seeking a voice in the conversation with #NativeLivesMatter.

I want to make it clear to anyone who feels as though focusing on both of these movements will diminish the other that that is not the case. I stand behind both movements because, while our cultures are different, our goals are the same.  Our oppression binds us together, but it is only our solidarity with each other that can (and will) break the chains that colonialism has tried so hard to keep us in.

For those of you interested in the episode, here it is:

Media Diversified: An Appreciation Post

So I think it’s time for a little shoutout. I started this blog a few months now, but, during that time, I’ve come across a handful of blogs that prove to be precious little gems in a sea of thoughts.

One of these gems is Media Diversified. It’s a blog dedicated to diversifying the media landscape. The non-profit organization blog features dozens of writers and academics from all walks of life, from all parts of the world. It’s refreshing that they don’t shy away from any and all topics that interest them – from oppressions of people of color in films to the exploration of Afrofuturism.

I will say that I’m slightly disappointed that they are based in the UK. A blog like this would NO DOUBT have such a positive reception among the ranks of activists and feminists across the US, especially in light of the numerous police brutality videos that have been flooding social media with the help of the American people. With a blog similar to this, the US could definitely see more organized protests and leaders emerge from the depths.

Once you browse through their blog, you’ll definitely want to reblog and share A LOT of the articles you come across. However, they do have reposting guidelines that you’ll want to look over before reposting any of their work.

Mike Pence & the Dangers of Rhetoric

AP Photo on

AP Photo on

Last Thursday, Republican Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law in Indiana. The law potentially allows for-profit businesses to refuse service to certain groups based on any religious grievances these businesses might encounter. To understand why this law is seeded in so much controversy, let’s look at its origins.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was first signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. While the bill applies to all religions, its original creation was to protect both the sacred lands of Native Americans from being destroyed by US expansion projects and the use of peyote for Native American religious ceremonies. Since then, numerous states have enacted laws that mirror their federal predecessor.

Being a bisexual woman who also identifies as Christian, the passing of this law makes me more than uneasy for several (obvious) reasons:

The RFRA opens the door to discrimination

The main reason this law is so dangerous is the potential increase of discrimination that could arise from its enactment. Though there are cities that have nondiscrimination laws, statewide Indiana does not have laws that protect those who identify as LGBTQ. Ultimately, this simply means that the RFRA leaves the door wide open for prejudice and bigotry against a group of people who are already unprotected against discrimination.

Inherently protecting the rights of Christians

As I previously stated, the original purpose of this act was to safeguard against discrimination of Native American tribes and their religious practices. Despite this, I highly doubt that this is the case at hand. Yes, I do understand that religion is deeply engrained in the lives of many Americans. I also understand why people want to protect these religious views. What I am not grasping, however, is why Mike Pence and other supporters of this law feel that their religious rights are being infringed upon by having to provide service to certain groups of people. Mike Pence and other proponents of the RFRA in Indiana most likely prescribe to Christian values. Because of this, they automatically belong to the religious majority, which, in essence, allows them religious privilege. Christians do not have to fight for our religious rights like Muslims, Buddhists, Native Americans or other religious minorities might. Would this law be so accommodating as to protect a Muslim’s right to refuse Christian customers on the basis of “substantial burden?”…I highly doubt it. And what about individuals who identify as BOTH Christian AND LGBTQ? Will this law still allow for-profit businesses to refuse services to them as well?

Intent is everything

So, what has people so up in arms about the implications of this law? To anyone who has been keeping up with the Indiana RFRA law, the answer is simple. Honestly, I would have no problem if this specific bill was created to protect the rights of religious minorities. But when Mike Pence dodges George Stephanopoulos’ repeatedly asked question, the intent of this law could not be clearer. For someone wanting to clarify the “misunderstanding” of this law, Pence did an amazing job at doing the complete opposite. While Pence voiced that the law would not target LGBTQ, anti-gay activists were present at the signing last Thursday.

Thousands of Americans have responded to the law, some of which believe boycotting Indiana would be the wisest choice. While boycotting Indiana certainly brings attention of the RFRA law to the forefront of conversation regarding LGBTQ discrimination, I believe it will hurt hundreds of Indiana businesses that don’t agree with the bill. For those Indiana businesses whose views don’t align with the recent law, the campaign Open For Service provides participating business with a sticker to illustrate their solidarity and commitment to opposing discrimination of any kind. Though a fairly new grassroots campaign, it’s a step in the right direction. Others have taken to social media to voice their opposition to the new law, particularly with the hashtag #DearMikePence.

More respect could – and would- be given to Pence if he stood firm in his beliefs. But to shamelessly masquerade them under the guise of religious protection is insulting to all parties involved.

Regardless of how people are choosing to act out against Indiana’s RFRA, one thing is still clear: this law is a dangerous obstacle in the fight for equality.

Chocolate, Cowboys & Cultural Appropriation

image by Jen Mussari

image by Jen Mussari

The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo has been a staple in Houstonian history far longer than I can remember. Filled with mouth-watering turkey legs, bedazzled clothing and cowboys, it is the essence of what the world thinks Texas is in the purest, most stereotypical form. Whenever I go to the Livestock Show, I usually ignore everything else and go straight for the chocolate toffee (yeah, I’ll risk the cavities, thank you). But this time, well, this time was different.

While I walked around I couldn’t help but notice all of the jewelry and clothing that claimed to be “Texan” yet had obvious Native American influences. Some of these vendors even took it a step further and sported actual company names such as Bing Crosby Indian Art and Tribe America Leathers. At one point, I even walked past a blue jean jacket with a Native American chief wearing a headdress. Before I cried foul, I decided to talk to some of the booth owners to try and clear up some of the questions I had.

The owner of Tribe America Leathers immediately started telling me about each product. He told me that the tapestries and other items were created by different Native American artists. In fact, one of the tapestries I had just picked up had a tag attached with a short bio and picture of a Native American woman. Still dubious, I decided to ask him one more question, one that I knew would either cement or break the validity of his business in my mind. I asked how much of the profits made at the Houston Rodeo would end up going to these tribes. As soon as the question escaped my mouth, I knew I had hit a nerve (or at the very least bumped it). All of a sudden he didn’t seem so keen on helping me anymore. Still moving around his booth, he answered with “almost half” before adding that he gives “them millions and millions of dollars all the time.” Hmm…thank you for your white savior complex.

After this encounter, I decided to check out a few more booths. One that caught my eye in particular displayed posters of what I assumed were white women dressed in Native American garb. Since assuming doesn’t confirm doubts, I went over, pointing at rings that caught my eye and asking what the symbols on them represented, to which the woman stood silently before stuttering her (wrong) answer.

From these encounters, I walked away with several major realizations, all of which illustrate the dangers of cultural appropriation:

 1. The Lack of Cultural Context

Though many of these vendors might know how to manufacture these products, they lack the necessary knowledge about the cultural significance of what they are selling. By selling these products with no valuable context in which to understand them, Native American artwork, jewelry and clothing become nothing more than trinkets that make one seem “enlightened” and “cultured.“ Do not be mistaken. Owning all of these “trinkets”  clothing and jewelry does not give you genuine insight into diverse, indigenous cultures. Native American culture is not trendy. It is their way of life.

2. The Lack of Native American Representation

Of all the vendors who sold Native American-themed art and clothing, NONE were run by Native Americans. While I do understand that many Native American artists might not have the access or financial standing to open their own stores, serious conversation about the lack of Native American representation in mainstream America is a real problem that is long overdue. Their absence will no doubt lead to the further erasure of Native American peoples. It is, in every sense, the continued cultural eradication of a people that have inhabited this land long before any of us showed up.

3. The Need for Cultural Preservation

Cultural preservation is so important for those that have been and continue to be on the fringes of American society. This society, American society, has done an injustice to Native Americans. I will speak for myself when I say that I know very little about the tribes that reside in this country. The descriptions given to us in history books have unapologetically painted the picture of “savage,” of a people that have been conquered and successfully erased from the American narrative. We owe it not only to these tribes but to ourselves to make sure that Native Americans don’t continue to fall prey to the archetypes given to us by colonialism.

4. The American Double Standard

The double standards in this country never cease to amaze me. I’ve seen a good number of girls posing in photo shoots with headdresses perfectly positioned on their heads, woefully ignorant to the cultural importance of what they represent. These actions are not condemned or even acknowledged by the majority of American society, but let ONE person falsely wear a Purple Heart and it becomes a crime.

5. Economic Exploitation

This seems to be the least talked about consequence of cultural appropriation. When I spoke with the owner of Tribe America Leathers, he explicitly told me that almost 50 percent of the proceeds went to Native American tribes (Navajo to be specific). Yet looking at his website, it says that he makes ALL the clothing himself. I’m honestly not even upset at the fact that he lied to me. I’m more disappointed that he used Native Americans under the guise of inclusion.

6. Buy from Legit Sources

I wholeheartedly believe in cutting out the middle man and buying authentic products from the source. Do your own research. The only thing I own that belongs to Native American culture is a dreamcatcher. I bought it from an authentic small shop on the Galveston Strand when I was around 14. The Cherokee woman who owned the shop explained the intricate process she went through in order to make it. It’s a pretty small dreamcatcher around $17 but I had no qualms about buying it because I knew the quality of the product was worth it.

Again, I want to stress that there’s nothing wrong with buying products that belong to other cultures. As long as you educate yourself throughout the process, you won’t become a perpetrator of cultural appropriation. Remember, products having Native American influence are not synonymous with products made by actual Native American artists.