Why I Kidnapped My Friends

I grew up in a predominantly white, rural town. Some people identified as Latino or Hispanic, but in every single class that I was in, whether it be dance, school, gymnastics, or karate, I was always the darkest one. There would be another Black person occasionally, and it wouldn’t be until I was able to explore more around town that I finally saw the rest of the community. The ones with darker skin like mine were, quite literally, segregated on the other side of town. None of the people I hung out with even knew about it. My classmates would even freak out when we got another Black boy in class.

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Why It’s So Important To Have Your Friend’s Back

The first time I ever had to use four-wheel drive was when I carpooled with a friend to a wedding out of town. Margaret (the name of my vehicle) climbed what seemed like a full 45-degree angle up a rocky hill. I was wearing dress heels, a floral-patterned cutout dress, and had to brush the hair that got stuck in my lipstick to watch all of the other cars behind me struggle to reach the top of the hill where our friends were getting married. It was a beautiful ceremony. However, there is something that happened on the way there that has stuck with me.

My friend and I ended up meeting in Bakersfield since it was in the middle of where the two of us lived. It was easier to meet there since both of our parents were still living in Buck Owens’ paradise. Before getting on the freeway to leave town, my friend pointed out the gigantic Confederate flag that used to wave alongside the busy long stretch of road.  

“How does it make you feel seeing that?” she asked, referring to the flag that was designed to represent a divided nation, and that turned into a symbol of hate.

“You know what?” I said, still barreling down the stretch of road out of town. “I don’t like to see it, but I rather see boldness and honesty when it comes to racism than those who are quietly racist behind my back.”

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You Are Afraid, And I Understand

I had let it go for years, but the onslaught of deaths around me finally being publicized made me speak up to you, my friend. I know you will take your time reading this, but understand that this isn’t a message that comes from a place of bitterness and malice. I know that you are afraid, and I understand.

I was fearful too, but having fear doesn’t justify anything. Fear is just a lack of knowledge. The second you understand something is the second you stop fearing it. Through understanding, you find room to grow and begin to share love and kindness.

Once upon a time, before I knew what bisexuality was, I struggled with the thought of having to choose whether or not I would live my life as a lesbian or fake only like guys. It was silly. I had heard of the sexual orientation in high school, but I didn’t really believe it existed until I was forced to open up and discover more about myself in college.

I dove deep into the queer community, educated myself, and have since dedicated a lot of my time and experiences with writing towards activism. I looked at every side, spoke to other people with varying backgrounds, and then came to a more compassionate conclusion. It doesn’t change the fact that I was a complete ass in high school and that I was once very ignorant, but I can do my part now to help facilitate knowledge and introduce others to concepts that are new to them.

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Yes, Black People Swim

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I went to work on Tuesday after Labor Day and engaged in the usual banter with my coworkers. We spoke about our weekends, what we did, and about how much we all wanted to be comfortably back in our beds at home. I talked about how I went to the beach before I went on the second hike that I lead as a co-ambassador of Hiker Babes LA Chapter. However, when we circled back onto the subject of water, a coworker made a comment that was a little out of touch.

 

“YOU—go into the water?” He said to me after looking at dark-skinned appearance all over again. It was as if for the first time he had ever considered that black people went in the water.

 

“Yes, I go in the water,” I replied. “I love the ocean, swimming in pools, learning how to surf, paddleboarding, kayaking, and sipping beer sometimes on boats wading out in the middle of lakes.”

 

“Oh, I didn’t think you did.” A bit of confusion washed over his face.

 

He had rarely seen black people out in the water, but that wasn’t because they weren’t there. It was because those images of black people, both professional aquatic athletes and everyday lovers of H2O were rarely shared in larger marketing campaigns, revealed in popular media, or even reported on in the news. The lack of imagery reinforced the negative stereotype that black people can’t swim, don’t swim, or hate water. When in reality, the truth can only be told by revisiting history.

 

Although the stereotype can be traced back to the years during the Transatlantic slave trade when black bodies were dumped over the rails of ships as they were dragged from their homes in Africa and brought to the already inhabited lands of the Americas, it is most notably recorded during the Jim Crow Era that followed. Black and white people were segregated, but when it came to the communal public pools, black people were banned, bleached, barred and harassed out of the pool. If black people wanted to learn how to swim in their city’s public pool, they would be risking their safety or even their lives in order to do so. More black people never learned how to swim because they weren’t allowed to do so.

 

Although it has affected the rate at which black people learned how to swim, it never stopped them. Many fought back and taught themselves in rivers, lakes, and the ocean. Other found less violent pools, and what we see now Simone Manuel, Cullen Jones, Nick Gabaldon, Montgomery Kaluhiokalani, Mary Mills, Andrea Kabwasa, Rick Blocker, Michael February, Ashleigh Johnson, and a host of other black aquatic athletes. This wasn’t easy, but as we see more black faces gracing the covers of magazines in these roles formally unseen by the general public, we inspire more black people to enter a world where they were initially barred from completely.

 

Organizations such as The Black Surfers Collective and Black Girls Surf aim to change that. The group, Black Girls Trekkin, that I went kayaking and to the beach with also try to change the minds of people stuck on stereotypes. I commend artists and influencers such as @wildginaa who go out of their way to make sure black and brown faces are also seen out in spaces in nature. We’re clearly out there. The mountains are also a melting pot of a variety of different people hiking native lands, and yet we are only now barely seeing these faces in popular media. So, yes, black people all over the world swim. It’s just that many people have been led to believe that we don’t.

 

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What’s the Point of the Women’s March?

IMG_1388_editedThere were whispers exchanged between two older men with greying blonde and sandy-colored hair. They had noticed me out of the corner of their eyes and assumed that, since I was wearing my earphones, I wouldn’t be able to hear their conversation. What they didn’t know was that I pressed pause on my music app several minutes before and I had forgotten to turn it back on again. I wasn’t paying attention at first but, when they mentioned, Trump, I turned my attention to their conversation out of curiosity.

They were seemingly nice men wearing collared shirts tucked into their khakis. They sipped delicately crafted caffeinated drinks from Starbucks and smiled politely to the people passing by. However, the words that slipped subtly from their mouths were unintentionally unkind. Continue reading “What’s the Point of the Women’s March?”

“R” is for Remembering

RWriters of Kern Blogging Challenge (A-Z)

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

Last night I attended a talk given by Myrlie Evers-Williams, the former chairwoman of the NAACP, a civil rights activist, the author of several published books and journalist who worked for over three decades to seek justice for the murder of her civil rights activist husband Medgar Evers in 1963, at Scripps College (one of the colleges at The Clairemont Colleges). I listened as she spoke about the progress that our country has made from the days where African-American people were forced to count the number of beans in a jar or the number of bubbles on a bar of soap in order to vote, to now where men and women of every color now has the opportunity to vote as a citizen. Continue reading ““R” is for Remembering”

“O” is for Oppression

OWriters of Kern Blogging Challenge (A-Z)

I was on the phone the other day with a friend who was talking about someone who had made some abhorrently racist remarks about a style of dress that was stereotypically attributed to those of African-American decent. The words being repeated by this friend from the original source over the phone to me were with no doubt terrible, but the discussion about how this friend viewed race, although not as distasteful, didn’t sound so great either. Continue reading ““O” is for Oppression”