Chained to the White Man

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By Tiffany Williams

Fuck the white man who told me
Dyslexia was an incurable disease
That being left-handed was worse than
Being Right

Momma told me to be silent when the white man was talking
Told me to listen to the white man
Act like the white man
Dye my hair blond
Get blue contacts
Don’t tan, you’re already dark
Go to the beauty supply store
Buy European hair and forget your roots
Momma said, Don’t dream… It’s too dangerous

Too afraid of saying the wrong thing
When the wrong thing was the right thing to say

Fuck you Soddy Daisy Elementary
made me afraid to be myself at 8
Mrs. Smith, my second grade teacher
never called on me
thought I didn’t know the answer
didn’t get picked for the spelling bee
no praise for the perfect scores
no smiley face sticker, no “good job”

Fuck the white kids
called me a Nigger at recess
Ate alone at lunchtime
An apple, cold turkey and cheese sandwich, my companions
5 feet of space between me and the table full of whispers
and wide open eyes
I heard them call me monster
Said my hair looked like weeds
Nothing you kept in your yard
I hung my head low
Eyes never met my enemies
I thought we were kids
and hatred couldn’t exist

Fuck the month of February
During black history month
teacher told me, Speak
Tell the story of your people
Couldn’t they see
That I didn’t know a Damn thing?
That I was learning too?

At home momma told me
“you can’t eat, until your homework is done”
I worked for hours
Math, more Math
Math
English, More English
English
Science, more Science
Science
Gotta get ahead if you wanna survive in this world
But would I ever get ahead?
Was it even possible?

Nighttime
Heard momma yellin
Daddy cussin
Hid in my closet
Prayin
Momma bleedin on the kitchen floor.
Knew I was never gonna get married.

Momma was right
I listened to the white man
Held my tongue for the white man
Relaxed my hair for the white man
Wore baggy clothes to hide my curves
Didn’t sit outside, too afraid to get too dark
Forgot what it was like to walk proud, head held high
Wait…
I was never taught that

Darkness Is Just a Sign that Sunshine Is on It’s Way

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. - Mary Oliver

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift. – Mary Oliver

Sometimes we are bitch slapped by life. Often times overworked and underpaid, constantly running against time and not with it. Hard pressed for the 8:10am train to only be depressed as we see it pull away, wishing that if only you had not pushed the snooze button that one extra time, or took two extra minutes to apply mascara. My mornings are always filled with “what ifs” or “if only this” or “why didn’t I” or “I should have.” My body and mind are always anxious, my shoulders tense, my hands numb, and my eyes cold. I  entered this year more anxious than ever. I wondered why I have anxiety because I am a 25 year old black woman living in the greatest city in the world, going to a highly regarded graduate school, and working at one of the best media companies in the entertainment industry. Why am I so anxious when I should be on top of the world? I am surrounded by opportunity, intellectual stimulation, and access. My material world is perfect, my pockets a third full, but my mental world is empty. I am running but running without a stable mind. It has only been 11 days into this new year and I have already cried more than half of those days.

As a result, I have questioned myself and my capabilities. In the end, I realized that in order to capture the beauty around me and restore my energy to build an even stronger foundation to enable maturity, growth and acceptance, I have to have a stable mind and stable heart. Last night, I reflected on what it would take me to achieve this without the influence of others or the longing for others to fill those voids. Below is my healing plan. It is not perfect. But hopefully it will serve as a roadmap for me to build upon and for you to create your own.

  1. IDENTITY. Sometimes we are stressed, depressed, insecure, and unhappy simply because we do not know who we are. Identity is not some ethereal word that leaves a void in your stomach. Identity is tangible in a sense that you can touch and feel when you take time to know yourself. Like reading books by bell hooks or Rachel Maddow or Audre Lorde. Their books for example provoke the mind, body and spirit so much that you will start to ask yourself personal questions. When discovering your identity, it’s ok to talk to yourself. Hash out your cultural, political, social, gender, sexual issues. I promise it’s healthy. If you are too afraid of talking out loud, too afraid that your neighbor may hear, then take out a pen and let your mind go.

  1. ACCEPTANCE. Sometimes we think that our imperfections are what make us flawed and at a disadvantage. In actuality, your imperfections are what make you more interesting and different from the next person.???????????????????????????????So what if you have one more booty dimple than Beyonce, occasionally get a pimple during that dreaded time of the month, have your weight fluctuate that you may go up one pants size, or your hair doesn’t look like that girl from the pantene commercial. Find value and acceptance in your body. Once you accept your body, other people will as well. There’s is honesty and love in self-acceptance.

  1. SEXUALITY. Two words. Own It. I used to feel that I had to fit into a mold when I got into a relationship. That I could not be as sexual or sexy because I was in a committed relationship and I was too afraid of other men commenting on my attire. It’s ok to feel sexy. To have a night to yourself and wear that sexy sparkly dress. Sexuality and confidence in your sexuality, no matter what your gender identity is, means taking the time to invest in yourself and do the things that does not make you feel like you are losing your sexuality.

  1. PASSION: Don’t be afraid to do what you love. I’m a painter, a lover for the smell of oil pants, a sucker for a blank canvas, and the voice of Lianne La Havas to guide my brush strokes. c11056d80473e31b447e2493e4b93850Unfortunately, I do not have the time to paint 24/7 as I would like to. I have to keep a roof over my head and maintain my one bedroom apartment. As a result, I work a full time job. Even though I can not do what I love all the time, does not mean I cannot make time. I lost myself because I stopped painting. Painting is what makes me complete. Now I am dedicating time each week to paint and hopefully it will lead to an beautiful escape.

  1. YOU ARE THE COMPANY YOU KEEP. Surround yourself with beautiful spirits. People that make you better and love you despite your flaws. Friends that are not afraid to tell you when you are wrong and who have their own goals and aspirations. I do not think I would be able to have a piece of mind if I did not have the beautiful, courageous, resilient women behind me to love me.

Hopefully, this short list of 5 pillars to a stable mind will help you and I both have a healthy mind, body, and spirit.  Remember to not give into darkness. Sometimes darkness is just a sign that light is around the corner….

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Life, love, health, and feminism.

Tiffany

Pema Chödrön: Buddhist Insight for Challenging Times

By Carly Fox 

I discovered feminism as a sophomore in college. I was insecure, angry, and to say the least, sad. Feminism gave me an intellectual framework with which to critically understand the world around me and a language to describe the feelings of isolation I had long felt. It gave me the tools to connect my personal experiences with history and politics, and inspired me to lead an engaged life that sought to undue oppression and division. Feminism radically altered my life; yet, as much as I read and studied, I still felt an underlying sense of insecurity, anxiety, and depression. I understood feminism from my mind, but I had yet to connect it with my heart.

The semester before I graduated college I bought a book by the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön.

Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City

Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City

A Buddhist nun since 1972, Pema studied under the well-known teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and is currently the resident teacher at Gampo Abbey, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the first Tibetan monastery for Westerners. Pema writes extensively about living with an open heart and relating directly to our experiences of suffering, fear, and uncertainty.  Her down-to-earth and accessible teaching style helped me learn how to stop struggling with myself and running from my fear. Her teachings also connected deeply with my understanding and passion for a feminist politics rooted in connectedness, love, and a shared commitment to end sexist oppression.

Cultivating Unconditional Friendship with Oneself

Learning how to befriend ourselves is fundamental to Pema’s teaching. As I read Pema’s work, I began to realize that I in fact knew very little about being a friend to myself; instead, I had spent a great deal of my life judging myself and trying to be “good enough.” I believed if I received A’s, went jogging more often, got into the right graduate school, read more books, had the right partner, ate organic food, and held the correct political beliefs then somehow I would finally be lovable. These things, I thought, would make that uncomfortable feeling of self-doubt disappear. To look honestly at all the parts of myself I didn’t like – my anger, jealousy, resentment, and self-denigration- was painfully frightening. Pema’s teaching, however, encourage us get to know all the parts of ourselves that we try to cover over.

Developing unconditional friendship means taking the very scary step of getting to know yourself. It means being willing to look at yourself clearly and to stay with yourself when you want to shut down. It means keeping your heart open when you feel that what you see in yourself is just too embarrassing, too painful, too unpleasant, too hateful (Pema Chodron).[1]

Rather than judging the parts of ourselves we dislike we could be tender and patient with all the ways we have been taught to self-reject and self-denigrate. Relating to ourselves in this way means creating space and acceptance for everything we experience, not just the parts or ourselves that we believe measure up.

In an interview with the Buddhist magazine, Shambhala Sun, feminist philosopher and public intellectual bell hooks explains the importance of first befriending ourselves in order for larger social movements to be truly transformational.

I would like to bring the work of mindfulness and awareness to everyday struggles. The most important field of activism, particularly for black people, is mental health. Activism does not need to be some kind of organized ‘against’ protest. When my students say they want to change the world, I espouse an inward to outward movement. If you feel that you can’t do shit about your own reality, how can you really think you could change the world? And guess what? When you’re fucked-up and you lead the revolution, you are probably going to get a pretty fucked-up revolution.[2]

As we create space for all parts of ourselves – the parts we are embarrassed by and the parts we are proud of – we then learn that we can let go of our constant need to be “good enough.” For the approach of unconditional friendship with oneself is not about becoming “better or “good enough,” but about becoming more of our true, authentic selves.

Smiling at Fear

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“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
― Pema Chödrön

By cultivating unconditional friendship with ourselves we also begin to better understand the nature of fear. How do we stay present and open-heartened when our experience seems frightening and overwhelming? What do we do when we panic? Before reading Pema’s work I had thought very little about fear and how it manifested in my life. As I started to pay attention, however, I realized that fear permeated so much of my experience – fear of failing, fear of things changing, fear of someone leaving, fear of not being good enough. I had no tools for how to relate to this underlying fear, for so much of my life had been about trying to simply not experience fear, uncertainly, or insecurity. Pema teaches, however, that the first step in working with fear is to experience it fully.  By staying with our fear we begin to development confidence. Not a confidence that everything is going to work out the way we want, but a confidence that we can stay with ourselves no matter what the outer circumstances of our lives may be. Staying with our fear also begins to soften our hearts. We learn that instead of running away and arming ourselves we could in fact open genuinely to ourselves and to others. As Pema says,

If you touch the fear instead of running from it, you find tenderness, vulnerability, and sometimes a sense of sadness. This tender-heartedness happens naturally when you start to be brave enough to stay present, because instead of armoring yourself, instead of turning to anger, self-denigration, and iron-heartedness, you keep your eyes open and you begin, as Trungpa Rinpoche said, to see the blueness of an iris, the wetness of water, the movement of the wind.[3]

Suffering: The Path to Freedom

As we learn to relate more openly to fear, we also learn to open to pain and suffering. Pema teaches that we can do two things with suffering. We can let it harden us, and become filled with more anger, resentment and hatred, or we can use it as a means to become more compassionate and loving. Letting suffering soften us, Pema teaches, is critical if we wish to change the world.

Times are difficult globally; awakening is no longer a luxury or an ideal. It’s becoming critical. We don’t need to add more depression, more discouragement, or more anger to what’s already here. It’s becoming essential that we learn how to relate sanely with difficult times. The earth seems to be beseeching us to connect with joy and discover our innermost essence. This is the best way that we can benefit others.[4]

In a conversation with Pema, Alice Walker explained that she once believed suffering had no use.After listening to Pema’s tape set called Awakening Compassion, however, Walker said she discovered that staying with her pain and suffering in fact allowed her to lead a more joyous and open-hearted life.

Pema Chödrön in conversation with Alice Walker.

Pema Chödrön in conversation with Alice Walker.

Learning to relax into pain, rather than pushing it away, Walker says, is” just the right medicine for today.”

As you breathe in what is difficult to bear, there is initial resistance, which is the fear, the constriction. That’s the time when you really have to be brave. But if you keep going and doing the practice, the heart actually relaxes. That is quite amazing to feel.[5]

Pema’s teachings on suffering, fear, and unconditional self-love have been a bridge connecting the personal and political in my life, reminding me that indeed the two are never really separate. In my own experience, to engage in feminism is also to engage in a practice of radical self-love. By cultivating unconditional friendship with ourselves and learning to stay present with our fear and pain we can then begin to transform the world.

What’s Missing In Eating Disorder Discourses

By Margaret Taylor

The mental health field is routinely silent towards cultural factors that contribute to eating disorders in the United States.  The field that sees the dire effects and consequences that eating disorders have on women and men every year has yet to weigh in on the continued flawed and dangerous body and beauty standards in American media.  While eating disorders effect both men and women, the effects are seen largely in women as approximately 5 to 15 % of those suffering are male (The National Institute of Mental Health: “Eating Disorders: Facts About Eating Disorders and the Search for Solutions.” Pub No. 01-4901).  The ripples of cultural standards of beauty and body image are seen in eating disorders among women, particularly those between the ages of 16-25.

Here is what’s at stake as the mental health field continues to remain silent.

Eating disorders continue to have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness (American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 152 (7), July 1995, p. 1073-1074, Sullivan, Patrick F.)  It is surveyed that 25% of college aged women reported binging and purging as a weight loss or management strategy. (The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, “Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources,” 2003).

Also, 20% of people with anorexia will die prematurely from complications related to their eating disorder (The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, “Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources,” published September 2002, revised October 2003).  These are startling statistics, and unfortunately they are not new.  Alternative and powerful tactics must be taken to provide a new approach within treatment and also outside of treatment in the discourse on media and depictions of body.

Within treatment centers, the focus is highly individualized to the client focusing on personal stories and trauma. This is helpful and necessary to recovery but the field itself has failed to address larger conversations that infiltrate one’s mind from the moment they open up their mother’s beauty magazine or turn on the television. depositphotos_3404005_l-m-52463 (1)It’s the stories of mothers finding their nine year old daughter’s list of a diet in purple crayon scribble, the group of 6 grade girls exchanging laxatives in the bathroom during lunch, or the obsession with the “thigh gap.”  These incidents are not uncommon and have yet to be addressed.  They are the results of the ever-present yet unrealistic bar for beauty in this country.  These are the conversations that need to be addressed from the field of people who deal with them on the front line. I want to hear from the professionals who see the sick individual walk through their doors everyday on the edge of heart failure gripped with an illness that’s fueled by misconceptions and misrepresentations of the body and health in American media.  The missing voice in eating disorder treatment is the professional who sees the violent consequences of a world who won’t champion healthy body image or even take part in the conversation.

Helpful and Relevant Books

Dear Readers,

These books have been tremendously helpful in my own journey of working through depression and anxiety and creating a life filled with more self-love and inner peace. I hope you find them useful.

In love and feminism,

Carly

The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness  by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness by Alice Walker

Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth: New Poems by Alice Walker

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Gift by Hafiz

Interview with feminist-identified Social Worker Robyn Ekenstedt

Interview by Emilie Egger

What brought you to a career in social work? How do your training and personal experiences shape your work?

A variety of personal experiences led me to my career in social work. Initially, a trip to volunteer in India after graduation from high school sparked my interest in the field. After being exposed to immense poverty and violence, I felt a desire to help underprivileged and marginalized communities in my own home country. After returning to the United States, I volunteered with the International Rescue Committee as a mentor and tutor to teenage refugees from Myanmar, Somalia, and other countries.This experience reinforced my love for helping those in my own community facing numerous struggles. I learned so much from the youth that I worked with, and my own worldview and perspectives changed in many ways.

Finally, another significant personal experience that influenced my decision to enter a career in social work was my personal experience with mental illness. After experiencing a temporary psychotic break at 19 years old, followed by a period of severe depression, I felt a strong desire to use my experience facing and overcoming mental illness to help others who are in the midst of their own battle.

My personal experiences heavily influence my professional work, I believe, in a positive way. Experiencing my own struggles, and helping others overcome theirs, has provided me with insight and understanding on how to help others facing many social, environmental, and psychological problems through therapy and case management. Sometimes when I lose motivation or become overwhelmed by the challenges that arise during my work, I reflect on the strength, determination, and hope of the refugees and many families that I have encountered facing great obstacles, and this helps me to overcome the burnout that often accompanies social work.

How do you identify as a feminist? How does your feminist identity add to your work?71doehKgjsL._SL500_SY300_

There are many definitions of feminist, but to me it has always meant to be a believer and advocate of equal rights and treatment of women. Even though I consider myself a feminist, I am still in the process of learning about the many inequalities we as women face. My role as a feminist is very important in my role as a social worker and therapist. In my current position, one role that I hold is to work with depressed mothers, and the other is to work with children with behavioral issues with their parents in family therapy. In both roles, I regularly encounter social and structural inequalities, prejudices, and gender roles that negatively impact the family system and the women in the family.

Part of my work is to assist families and parents in recognizing dynamics that may be unhealthy, including traditional gender roles that make many of the depressed mothers feel “trapped.” Many of the depressed women I see are in unhealthy relationships with their spouses/partners, which often includes forms of emotional and physical abuse.  Additionally, I often find myself supporting mothers and women in trusting in their strength as a woman and empowering them to challenge the social systems in their life that may be contributing to their oppression. When working with families, I find myself assisting parents in challenging their perspectives of the roles of women and men within the family in order to create a more healthy family system. This might include helping parents challenge their beliefs in order to allow the mother to contribute equally in decision making or disciplining the children, while supporting the father in stepping back and supporting the needs of the wife by providing equal support in household chores and childcare.

How is your work with women the same as or different than your work with men?

In my position I often encounter more women than men since much of my work is exclusively with mothers. Additionally, when I work with families, many of the males are at work during the day and do not participate in the therapy sessions. However, I try to incorporate the fathers of the children in therapy as much as possible and express my belief in the importance of their participation. When I work with both parents, I often teach parenting skills to both at the same time and practice with them in session. This work is more educational and looks very similar with women/men. However, as previously mentioned, when working with families I tend to encounter many ingrained systems of belief that do not value equal rights/treatment of women, and often part of my work is to advocate for women within this context and support their needs within the family. Additionally, when working with depressed mothers, I encounter a variety of issues that are related more uniquely to women, including symptoms of depression/anxiety due to negative beliefs re: self-image, multi-generational family systems based on a dominant male figure/submissive female figure, the feeling of being unable to express themselves in the way that they want because they need to conform to traditional gender roles, and much more.

How does your feminism influence how you work with families?

Feminism is very influential in my work with families. Mainly, many family systems are based on gender roles that can be unhealthy or non-supportive of both a woman’s needs/wants/desires. Many of these roles are so ingrained in our culture and in the belief system of my clients that they are unaware of its possible negative influence. When working with families, it is very common that I encounter women and men with the belief system that the father is the “head of the household,” the main disciplinarian, and has the final say in family decisions.

The voice of women and children is often overlooked and ignored. Many mothers that I see believe that they will be disrespectful to their husbands if they disagree with them, and I often work with them to create a different definition of “respect” that incorporates their rights and value while respecting their culture and religion.

Also, domestic violence is very common in the families that I work with, and often is connected to a belief system that a man is dominant and a wife should be submissive.  When working with families, I try to help all members find their voice to express their wants/needs and assist both parents in providing equal  amount of both discipline and affection for their children. Often, my work inevitably consists of helping many women make plans to try to escape from a violent and/or controlling relationship. In these cases, I also incorporate feminism by trying to help empower these women to understand their significant value and strength as a woman and person.

Beauty Rest

By Alicia Cobb

It’s a complex

Beauty only goes skin deepth

You heard your mother say it

Didn’t listen

Doesn’t pertain to you anyway

But when the golden strands turn gray

And wrinkles set in

There’ll be no need for a mirror

When we can’t fit into those thigh boots

And we have too many rolls

To fit in that tank top

What will you replace

In the empty spaces

Conversations about

Who you know

And where you’ve been

It’s a complex

I can’t even begin

Baby girl

I wish I had a mirror

That would reflect your soul

Because that

Pretty girl

Is what makes you whole

Not perfect pictures

Or the likes

Or millions of friend requests

Let your brain do some work

Allow your beauty to rest

Beauty is and forever will be skin deep

One day it will be put to a test