What is family? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the main definition of family is “the basic unit in society traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children”. A family, in traditional societal ways, consists of two people who willingly join forces to become parents of children they want to have; as we know though, this is not always the case.
For the purposes of this article, I would like to focus on another definition of family, also given by Merriam-Webster “any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family”.
This second definition gives us the opportunity to create and define a family in various ways. This includes single parent households, multiple parents’ households, households guided by other family members, and households made up of people who found each other through life’s diverse circumstances.
It’s not uncommon for people to form multiple connections with others that are outside their blood relatives, but when those connections turn into deep, loving, caring and supportive relationships that equal or surpass those that society has taught us to cherish with blood families, they are usually referred to as “found families.”
A found family, as the term itself will allow you to understand, is a family that one finds with people who are not blood relatives. This term is one that originated from the LGBTQ+ community and, according to Jeremy Nobel, it was first used to “describe early queer gatherings like the Harlem Drag Balls of the late nineteenth century.” Also known as “chosen families” this terminology was created with the purpose of letting others know that having a loving and supportive family could always be possible, even if it wasn’t one stemmed from blood relatives.
Although connections with next of kin are important, we have to face that sometimes they simply don’t work out. Sharing blood with someone will not turn them into a loving and caring being. Blood families are viewed as something that is mandatory, as people you have to always love and support, but as many would know, especially multiple members of the LGBTQ+ community, this is not the case.
Parents, brothers, sisters and other blood relatives will simply reject someone for their gender identity and/or sexual orientation without giving it a second thought. Yes, there are moments where the family can work through this and accept that their family member is not a part of heteronormative culture and support them no matter what, but sometimes this doesn’t happen.
And for the instances where one only faces constant rejection from their next of kin, it is vital to know and remember that those people do not have to be your family. If a person tries to change you or blatantly rejects who you are due to their personal beliefs, and refuses to acknowledge who you are or identify as, they don’t deserve you.
You don’t have to be with anyone that can’t genuinely support you, and it doesn’t matter what society might have let you to believe: you can form your own family.
Every human on this planet deserves to have people who support and love them. A found family is one that isn’t with you because they feel obligated or forced; they are people who choose to be with you because they want to. They will love you and support you throughout your whole life, and even if you don’t share blood, your relationship will be stronger than those that do.
A found family is a family in every sense of the word, through good times, hard times and even harder times, will always be with you. They will genuinely love you for who you are, even in moments when you can’t love yourself.
Women that have left their mark in history were not obedient. Those empowered gals who have been remembered and talked about were nonconforming and revolutionary.
History is filled with strong female leaders that at first might have been thought of as threats to society’s standards. But now they are remembered as empowering, glorifying the name of women everywhere.
Though you can find a myriad of them all over the world, we’ll be focusing on 10 LBGTQ+ latina women that defied every expectation, and thrived.
Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican-Venezuelan transgender woman, was a pioneering activist for LBGTQ+ rights, especially for the trans community. She, along with Marsha P. Johnson created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a shelter for trans people who lived on the streets of New York City during the 1970s.
She was a restless fighter for the rights of the LBGTQ+ community, racial minorities, and the homeless. Rivera dedicated her life to help others.
On April 8th, 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Latina woman to travel to space. In her first mission she stayed nine days in space while investigating the ozone layers of Earth. She accomplished a thousand hours in space in total!
And, if her first pioneering mission weren’t enough: in 2013, Ochoa took lead as the first Hispanic and second female director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Ochoa dared to defy in a profession that’s strongly associated with men. She is truly an empowered STEM woman.
Self-described as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde, born from immigrant parents, became one of the most significant feminist thinkers of the 20th century. She approached the women’s liberation movement and gave rise to the voice of women and the queer community through her writing and speech.
Her groundbreaking works include poetry, fiction, and essays, such as Sister Outsider, which discusses issues of racism, self-acceptance, and woman-hood, her essay collection A Burst of Light, and The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, which Lorde expresses as a: “linguistic and emotional tour through the conflicts, fears, and hopes of the world (she has) inhabited.”
Lili Elbe was a famous landscape painter, as well as one of the first known cases of transexual surgery during the ‘30s. She went to gatherings with her wife Gerda, courageously herself with makeup and clothing of her choosing.
Elbe died of cardiac arrest as a result of an infection due to a failure in womb transplant, she is honored for her bravery today.
Evangelina Rodríguez was the first woman from the Dominican Republic to become a doctor. She fought for her degree as half-Black, poor, and female; all traits that were demeaned on her.
After becoming a doctor, Rodríguez dedicated her life to care for those living in small, abandoned towns. When she returned to her country, she became an important political figure, fighting for female rights and speaking out on important issues, like birth control. Rodríguez also bravely spoke out against dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Julia de Burgos
Julia de Burgos was an unconventional and brilliant Puerto Rican poet. As a black immigrant woman, she wrote during a time where her identities were not favorable in the literary world.
Nonetheless, she was ahead of her time, as she spoke about feminism and social justice in her verses. As she said so herself: “I am the life, the strength, the woman.”
Dolores Huerta sought for change in the job and life conditions of agriculture workers. During the early ‘20s, the work in the fields was held under the beating sun, restless, and in extreme poverty.
Huertas and her followers decided this needed to change, and created the United Farm Workers. A tireless organization that led boycotts, protests and resistance in favor of workers’ rights. Huertas is an advocate, leader, and activist for the most vulnerable.
Marsha P. Johnson
A drag queen in New York during the ‘60s, Marsha P Johnson, was a prominent LBGTQ+ rights advocate and one of the central figures in the Stonewall Uprising– a movement birthed from the confrontation of LBGTQ+ individuals against a police raid at NYC’s Stonewall Inn (1969). She was also co-founder of STAR, along with Sylvia Rivera.
Moreover, she defiantly led the gay pride parade of 1973, in spite of drag being banned from the event.
Born from a strict wealthy family in 1791, Ann Lister defied all the social norms. She educated herself; owned her own lands; ran her own coal business, and became the first woman to climb several mountains in the Pyrenees.
A scandalous figure who walked “like a man,” dressed in black, and gave herself male names such as “Fred” and “Gentleman Jack.” She eventually married a wealthy woman, and even blessed their union in a church.
Sonia Sotomayor is a Puerto Rican judge whose brilliance and determination led her to graduate with the highest honor from Yale’s school of Law.
She became a U.S. District Court judge, and made history as the first Latina U.S Supreme Court Justice.Sotomayor has become an advocate for the criminal justice form and women’s rights.
In a world where it’s deemed preferable for a woman’s voice to be silenced, these women have made themselves be heard by defying all social expectations. They are the fighters, dreamers, and misbehaved females that we should strive to be.
Remember, obedient and well-behaved people rarely make history. So go out there; defy the norm, and rebel on!
Puerto Rico’s Civil Code was established in 1930; 32 years since the Hispano-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris; 32 years since the island changed from being controlled by Spain to being dominated by the United States. This document was influenced by Spain’s Civil Code of 1889 (which was influenced by the Napolitan Code), the Louisiana Civil Code and the United State’s Common Law. Before the Civil Code of 1930, Puerto Rico had various other legal documents applied, which were a confusing mix of the new legal regime from the United States and the old Spanish Civil Rights. You could say that this still remains true, with these two colonial cultures poisoning us to constantly question our identity as Puerto Ricans.
The Civil Code is defined in its words as: “more than a regulation or a series of norms, it’s a reflection of the characteristics of what constitutes us as a society and of the values that as a collective are estimated and accepted as fundamental in the course of our lives as a community.”
In any case, the Civil Code of 1930 has had many amendments to reflect our modern society. They’ve added numerous books and articles, but these amendments were done slowly throughout the years, followed by public hearings and detailed verification. The biggest problem with the 2020’s rewriting of the Civil Code is that (even though they’ve been talked about since 1997) it was done without these public hearings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is noticeable that this document was rushed, with grammatical errors, words without accents, articles that contradict each other or temporal mistakes (“The social and judicial reality of Puerto Rico, as well as familial, personal, social and economic relationships in 1930, are very different from the year 2019 that we live in.”
Even though these mistakes can be fixed later on when the new Civil Code is passed, that’s not the point. The point is informing the public before the most important document in Puerto Rico is confirmed as law. The point is treating this important document with care, given that it affects every single citizen. The people do not trust its government. And while these legal and political processes are being done behind closed doors, the people will never trust their government.
The Civil Code is an extensive document, with 435 pages, and it is not easy to understand. Because of this, my investigation will be divided in three articles: its impact to the LGBT community, its impact on women, and the ambiguity of its words.
Before and during the process of changing the Civil Code, there was talk about updating it to include the LGBT community. But with a homophobic government in control, many members of the community were nervous about what this could mean. The representative María Milagros “Tata” Charbonier and the President of the Senate Thomas Rivera Schatz, two figures that are openly homophobic/Anti-LGBT, were very vocal in their support for the new Civil Code. Social media went wild with rumors, listing all the rights the Code would eliminate for the LGBT community. The fear, the lack of clarity about the document and the homophobic people supporting it are all elements that added to the disinformation that exists now.
Article 376 of the Puerto Rican Civil Code defines marriage as:
“Marriage is a civil institution that comes from a civil contract under which two natural persons mutually commit to be a married couple, and to fulfill each other the duties that the law dictates. It will only be valid when it is celebrated and commemorated according to its requirements and can only be cancelled or dissolved before the death of either one of the married couple, according to the expressly provided fundamentals that were seen in this Code.
Natural persons have the right to marry with full legal equality.”
While Spain’s Civil Code defines marriage in its Article 44 as:
“The man and woman have the right to marry according to the provisions of this Code. Marriage will have the same requirement and effects when both persons are the same or differing sex.”
What’s worrying about Article 376 is that it doesn’t specify same-sex couples anywhere. Marriage for Puerto Rico is a civil union between two natural persons. Article 67 talks about the different types of persons and defines them as “naturals or judicials. Every human being is a natural person.” The concept of “natural person” is one frequently used in law, but not in our every-day lives. Because of that, the use of ‘natural person’ is a confusing one for someone who hasn’t studied the law. Plus the fact that the LGBT community is not mentioned once in the 435 pages of the Civil Code, leaves the reader with a bitter taste. Given all this, the term ‘natural person’ can lead to easy misunderstandings depending on the intention and interpretation. With a corrupt government and the absence of Church-State separation, this is more than cause for concern.
The Administrative Boletin OE-2015-021 that established marriage equality in Puerto Rico after the Obergefell v. Hogdes decision of the United States Supreme Court, says that: “Instrumentalities, agencies, departments and public corporations of the Executive Branch are instructed to take all necessary measures immediately to guarantee that marriage between people with the same sex receive equal treatment before the law and not be discriminated against by their sexual orientation.” It is understood that this document is still valid and because it’s a decision by the United States Supreme Court, it goes above the Civil Code. But if the government wanted to adapt the Civil Code to be more modern, why not define marriage this same way? Why not mention same-sex couples and be specific in their intolerance for discrimantion by sexual orientation?
Even though it is mentioned that all natural persons have equal treatment before the law, this is not enough. The law does not work if there is ambiguity. The Civil Code is full of ambiguity, especially when it comes to the LGBT community. The fact is simple: They do not mention us once. They use all possible, vague words instead of mentioning us and our community specifically. Silence can be felt, and this document screams with its silence.
Change of Name and Gender
The most controversial and confusing change to the Civil Code is the process to change a person’s name and gender in official documents. The Article 694’s explanatory statement, says:
“In addition, this Book provides the process for modification of name and sex in the original birth certificate. Nothing described here undermines the already established process in the cases for a request to reflect a change in gender in the birth certificate. According to the actual state of law, these requests will be accompanied by a passport, driving licence or a certificate by a medical professional with a doctor-patient relationship with the gender-accrediting applicant. In this case the Registry must issue the certification, safeguarding the rights to privacy.”
Before reading the article itself, here we can see three things: the document makes a difference between the original birth certificate and the birth certificate, specifying that these two documents have separate processes; that there is no change in process to changing gender in the birth certificate; and that the Registry will issue the certification, keeping in mind the right to privacy.
To apply for a change of gender in the birth certificate, according to the Demographic Registry of Puerto Rico’s Circular Letter Num. 3-18, is: You have to complete the department’s application, have one of the following: driving licence or passport with the ‘desired’ gender or certification from a doctor that you have a doctor-patient relationship with that identifies gender dysphoria; and pay $20 to cancel internal revenue stamps.
The full Article 694 of “Modification of name and sex in the original birth certificate” says that:
“The modification of the name constitutes an admissible, volunteered amendment which only can be effective in the cases and with the formalities which the special law establishes.
Amendments on the sex of a person in the moment of their birth cannot be authrorized in the original birth certificate. The court can, through sentencing, authorize the registrar to do an annotation in the margins of the original inscription of the person’s sex when an ammendment is ordered due to a previous change or modification of the sex in birth.
In these cases, however, there will be no authorization of the substitution of the historic, vital fact of the sex in birth. Only in the cases where medical experts determine the ambiguity of the sex during the moment of birth and this fact is registered in the births certificate of the Demographic Registry will the judicial authority be able to order the substitution of the sex in the moment of birth in the original birth certificate of the Demographic Registry.
Nothing instituted here diminishes the established process in the cases of a request to see a change of gender reflected in the birth certificate. These requests will be accompanied by the passport, driver’s license, or a certification issued by a health professional who has an established doctor-patient relationship with the gender-accrediting applicant. In these cases, the Registry must issue the certification, safeguarding the right to privacy.”
Various elements make this article one of the most difficult to understand in all of the Civil Code. As previously stated, the original birth certificate (the Spanish name being “Acta de Nacimiento”) and the birth certificate are two separate documents. This article is called specifically “modification of the name and sex in the original birth certificate,” so why even mention the birth certificate then? Wouldn’t it be easier to add a separate article explaining the steps to change the birth certificate?
“It’s confusing because the Acta de Nacimiento refers to the book in which vital events are registered in Puerto Rico, in this case, births,”Omayra Toledo, secretary and treasurer of True Self Foundation, said. “The birth certificate is, however, the official document that you give when requested by an interested party and after fee payments where you find birth information.”
In addition, the document indicates that there cannot be a complete change of sex in the original birth certificate unless “medical experts determine the ambiguity of the sex during the moment of birth.” What does this mean? It is referring to intersex people? If that’s the case, why not mention them specifically? What’s the point of so much ambiguity? The term intersex is well-known and utilized in other countries’ laws.
Spain’s law 3/2007 about the “registry correction of the relative mention of a person’s sex” indicates that the correction requites that “there is a diagnosis of gender dysphoria” and that “there is medical treatment of at least two years to treat their physical characteristics that correspond to the claimed sex” with a medical report. But these treatments “will not be a necessary requirement for a concession of the registry correction when there are health reasons or age that make it impossible, and there is medical certification of that circumstance.” There is no difference between the original birth certificate or the copy. There is no annotation either.
The United States has different laws and processes for changing the gender and name in official documents that depend on the state, but an example that is similar to Puerto Rico’s is New Jersey. The 2018 amendments for the Babs Siperstein law’s section 1 of P.L 1984, c.191 (C.26:8-40.12) says that the new birth certificate will hold the same meaning as the old one, and it won’t be marked as amended. Also, the state Registry will hold the original birth certificate and all documents relating to the change under seal, which will not be opened unless under court order or by the owner.
There’s several articles and laws from other countries — ones that Puerto Rico obsessively wants to resemble because of its colonial past (and present) — that protect the Trans community. They say the words ‘gender dysphoria.’ They directly mention the Trans and Intersex communities. They add the option of a third non-binary gender.
“For the trans community, this represents a lot of fear because the writing is very confusing. It looks like it’s indicating that there can be no change (but it says ‘acta’) and later, it seems like it’s saying the opposite. It refers to the certification, not the certificate,” Toledo says. “It’s like at the last minute, there was an effort to correct what was already solved through virtue of federal jurisprudence (Arroyo v. Rosselló). The discussion would be: Is the first sentence that refers to the “acta” related to the last, which refers to a certification?”
The purpose of the Civil Code was to reflect the modern-day Puerto Rican society, but the reality is that the LGBT+ community is not part of that vision. It’s not normal to spend a month trying to understand a legal document which impacts me directly. It’s not normal to ask for help in order to decipher a law article. I shouldn’t need a law degree in order to understand a single law. That’s how misinformation and fear spreads on social media.
“The Code’s defenders say that these are separate issues, but the reality is that it’s confusing because of the article’s bad writing. Especially, when we see that the other articles in the Code don’t protect the LGBTTIQ+ community when they should. The only thing to do is wait for them to publish explanatory memorials for each article — if they’ll do that and if they exist — to see what they’re referring to,” Toledo explains.
The first time that my mother took me to a friend’s beauty salon, I was merely there to get rollers on my hair and get it ironed, but eventually my friend’s mother persuaded her into getting me a treatment to permanently straighten my curls. “Just the root” she told my mother as she pointed at my kinky hair. That moment marked a long process in which I started to reject my hair entirely. Throughout the years, that “just a little on the root” became long hours at hair salons in order to fit in a society where curly hair was considered “bad hair”. I did about everything on my hair, from uncurling treatments to keratin, until finally my hair gave in and succumbed to these treatments.
I was done trying.
I got tired of maintaining my mistreated hair that no longer possessed curls just because it was considered “bad” or “unprofessional”. I took a dive into the unknown and I got a big chop. Essentially, a big chop is an almost immediate transition from a neglected hair state into having back your curls.
As a black woman with 3C type hair, this moment changed my life. Approximately two years passed, and my curly hair was healthier than ever and to this day (almost a decade after my big chop) there is nothing that I’ll allow that will damage my curls.
Puerto Rican culture has developed endless microaggressions towards folk who have curly hair. We have heard and received comments about our hair, or better yet, another subtle way of racism that on many occasions comes from someone who says that is not racist. These steeped expressions may vary from “is that your natural hair?” and proceed to touch it, to even saying that it’s unprofessional.
Because of the experiences that I’ve had towards my hair, I took the time to question how hair plays a role in racism and how these things relate to each other. The problem of this relationship is that our society has tried to maintain certain beauty standards by creating a collective perspective that is presented in the media, including social media. This social norm is internalized and makes us believe that we need to have our hair uncurled or in a particular way in order to fit in.
The objective is to imitate European beauty standards by mistreating and changing the essence of the hair, resulting in a total rejection of textured hair to conform with Eurocentric beauty standards. In the same way, having a specific curl pattern can also lead to stereotypes and different types of discrimination that don’t always include afros. The effects of these impositions may lead to a poor representation of black and curly hair folks in the media, discrimination in the work field and a low self-esteem.
The invisibility of curly hair in the media happens very often. My experiences around people touching my hair are directly caused by this lack of representation. From complimenting your hair or to even saying a subtle insult, people feel like they have the right to invade your space and even exoticize you. It is extremely relevant to have in mind that all these approaches can be dehumanizing to other people.
In this way, I have also dealt with these discriminatory experiences in the workplace just because of my curly hair. Situations where on several occasions your bosses, supervisors or future employers ask you to change your hair. Most of the time this has to do with the company’s image. However, that doesn’t take away that it’s still discriminatory. Also, existing in a society that aspires to European standards can lead to a low self-esteem towards people that don’t fully satisfy these standards.
I admit that accepting my hair without any treatments and chemicals has been very challenging because I’ve had to unlearn a lot of social perspectives that I saw while growing up. I had to learn how to love my hair just the way it is and investigate on how to revive my curls. So, how do we learn to unlearn? How do we completely accept our natural hair? There is no simple answer for these questions. Everyone must do it in the way that they see fit, but where we can start is understanding and recognizing the extensions that racism has on our lives and the lives of others.
It’s a personal job that revolves around asking many questions to begin searching for the possible solutions. We should then start out by informing ourselves about the diverse beauty standards that exist because it’s hard to feel good about yourself when we long for beauty standards that are not really shown in the media.
For this reason, it’s important that these conversations take place on a daily basis, so that little by little we can dismantle this social perception that encompasses curly hair. As many people receive repercussions for just having curls, the act of just embracing their textured hair is a political and revolutionary stance against a Eurocentric society.
Below is a list of beauty salons and Instagram pages dedicated to the empowerment of curly hair in Puerto Rico:
Black. Lives. Matter. That’s it. That’s the intro. It should be a given, but if the past few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that some people still don’t understand the history or significance behind it.
There have been a lot of misconceptions about the protests that accompany the movement, mainly due to national news stations spreading false narratives. Some of these narratives indicate that protestors are the ones to incite violence against the police and that all they do is riot. The best way to debunk these narratives? Go to a protest and see for yourself.
Over the course of a few days, I was able to attend three protests ranging from a local scale to a large city protest. Let me first emphasize that all of the protests I attended were incredibly peaceful, contrary to what the media has been portraying. That being said, let me also emphasize that I only attended these protests during the day. While I did attend a protest in New York City, I did not break curfew or have any firsthand experience of what protests look like after 8pm.
The first protest I attended was in my hometown of Ramsey, New Jersey. It’s worth mentioning that Ramsey has a population that is roughly 85% white and 15% people of color, with Black people making up only 0.5% of that population, according to Census Reporter. With that in mind, the entire protest consisted of mostly white Ramsey residents with a few POC in attendance. While it was exciting to see so many young people showing solidarity in a small town (which is what every small town should be doing anyway), I did have some issues with the way this protest was executed.
In the initial flyer that circulated social media, the organizers asked that protestors refrained from bringing any anti-police posters or propaganda. Considering that the BLM movement ignited as a result of police brutality against black people, this seemed like an insensitive and unfair request.
Another issue I had was with the lack of black speakers, which would have been very eye-opening for a town that thrives off of white privilege. In a town that has very little exposure to diversity, it is important for young adults to venture out to protests in diverse areas even if it is just a few towns over. Stepping outside of their privileged bubble and witnessing protests filled with people from all backgrounds is a crucial experience, especially for young people who are still learning how to be effective allies.
This brings me to discuss my next protest experience in Hackensack, NJ. When I say that the energy at this protest was immaculate, I mean every single person was chanting at the top of their lungs and marching with every ounce of love they had for the movement. There must have been a few thousand protestors in attendance all from different ethnic backgrounds. The crowd consisted of mostly young people which gave me hope that our generation is not lost to the old-fashioned prejudices of those who have preceded us.
The protest first started at the Bergen County Justice Center where people gathered to chant, kneel and speak out about their experiences being black in America. Many of these speakers shouted to the crowd that “we are done being killed by the hands of the police” and how change must happen now. We then continued our chants and started marching along to “no justice no peace” as cars stopped in the middle of the road to let us pass. Some people even got out of their cars to chant with us or honk in support.
We made a stop at the Hackensack Police Department where we got as close to the line of officers as we could, looked them dead in the eye, then started shouting “no justice no peace, no racist police.” My fellow protestors were angry (and rightfully so) as they waved their signs that read “stop killing us” or “defund the police” right in the officers’ faces. We continued our march to the Bergen County Jail where we chanted “Black Lives Matter” as inmates rushed to their windows and appeared to start cheering. Police officers stood off in the distance looking ready to act if anything got violent, which it never did.
Last but not least, my experience protesting at Washington Square Park was probably the most peaceful of them all. From black artists to black activists, each speaker that preached to the crowd had something valuable and insightful to share. The crowd clapped and chanted along with each speaker and frequently merged with other groups that had just finished marching.
I never once felt unsafe at this protest. Yes, there were groups of cops stationed all over the city monitoring the protests, but they were dressed in regular uniforms and looked at ease the whole time. Again, I don’t know how the circumstances would differ in an evening setting past curfew, but my experience leads me to believe that most NYC protests are quite peaceful. Although, it did bother me that not one officer was wearing a face mask, whereas every single protestor was wearing one to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Nonetheless, the narrative that all BLM protestors are thieves and rioters needs to be put to an end now. It makes people nervous to protest and gives those against the movement an incentive to tear it down. For instance, how come the Newark protest, where people literally broke out dancing as a form of protest, failed to go viral? That had to be one of the most peaceful protests in the tri-state area and it barely got any coverage.
At the end of the day, the best way to know what actually happens at a Black Lives Matter protest is to literally go and see for yourself. Don’t let the media scare you away from having an eye-opening experience with some like-minded people who demand social change.
This movement is long overdue, and police brutality was just the trigger to an even larger issue brewing since the founding of America. Turn that anger into action and fight for a better future, where racial injustice will become something that actually stays in the history books this time.
Now more than ever, it’s important to stay informed. There are different ways to do it, be it the mainstream newspaper, their online versions, social media, television, radio or podcasts. We are constantly exposed to information and this may be something that affects us negatively. We simply cannot afford to not be aware of what happens in this time. But we cannot spend the whole day consuming all the news that is being published. So, how much news is too much?
As a journalism student, it is part of my job to stay informed. Since the murder of George Floyd and the protests in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement, going on social media has become a bit overwhelming. The situation itself is heavy and affects me as a black woman, but I also was receiving too much information, too fast. I couldn’t stop consuming it. I felt the need to constantly verify what was happening because I could not remain uninformed. Still watching the news affected me, I was still looking for more, and I knew I should take a moment to breathe, but couldn’t find how.
Not knowing how much news is too much is something many people face. A study on causes of stress in Americans, conducted by the American Psychological Association in 2017, showed that:
“Adults also indicated that they feel in conflict between their desire to stay informed on thenews and their view of the media as a source of stress. While the majority of adults (95 percent) say they follow the news regularly, 56 percent say doing so causes stress, and 72 percent believe that the media exploits things disproportionately.”
The way of reporting events has changed. Now, everything is more visual, everything has a video or a photo and you don’t have to wait to get home and turn on the television to see it. The purpose of the media is to keep people connected and provide content that keeps their followers in tune. Consequently, most of the news we see is negative. Many times, the press falls into sensationalism in order to keep the audience connected, regardless of what kind of effect this type of news has on the reader.
Constantly reading negative news has an affect on us. It can cause symptoms of mental and physical stress, affects the mood, and how we get on with our day. It is human nature to react when we read something negative that may seem threatening to us. Therefore, every time we read a story, our body and mind react to it, even if we do not realize it.
So how can we help our mental health and stay informed at the same time? There is no exact number of how much news you should see per day because each person is different, so each person reacts differently. Some can endure more news than others; the most important thing is to find a balance and recognize when your mind says “enough.” Rather than focusing on how much daily news we read, it’s important to look at how we relate to news and how we react to it.
Here is a list of things you can practice to take care of your mental health while still being aware of what is happening in the world:
Track for a full day how you react to the news you read:The first step in handling any situation is knowing what is going on and what the problem is. Take a day to count how much news you read, what content they have, where you consume them and how you feel each time you finish reading it. This will help you be aware of how your news consumption affects you.
Choose aspecific outlet to receive news: There are multiple sources of media and if we read them all, we end up completely overwhelmed due to the saturation of content. Choose which medium is more reliable, which one you like the most and focus on that. It could be one or several, it all depends on how much information you can handle.
Designate a specific time to browse the media: We can spend the entire day on social media constantly being bombarded by news which drains us emotionally. Choose a time to read news and be consistent with it. Psychologist Haely Neidich recommends spending 30 minutes per day reading news.
Balance the type of news you read: Not everything can be negative, be sure to make a habit of reading positive news during your daily news time. The positive news is there, sometimes the media doesn’t promote it. Regardless, this type of news can still cause a positive impact on you and your mental health.
Do something healthy after reading news: Go for a walk, talk to a friend, meditate, read, watch your favorite show, or listen to music. Do something you like, that gives you happiness and peace after getting informed. Don’t let the news overwhelm your mind all day.
Negative news will always be present, there is no way to avoid it. But, it is in us how we manage and consume it. Remember to take care of your mental health, always. If reading about a specific topic hurts you, don’t read it. Your mental health matters more than constantly reading news. Take care of yourself!
Black lives matter today, tomorrow and forever. Find the best way to help the Black Lives Matter movement here.
The death of George Floyd was a brutal and jarring reminder of the deeply rooted systemic racism within our country’s law enforcement. It has never been a secret that Black Americans face the highest rates of policing and subsequent police brutality. A study done in 2019 on the Columbus, Ohio police department found that, “while Black people make up 28 percent of the city’s population, about half of the use-of-force incidents by city police were against Black residents.”
National Academy of Sciences found through an August 2019 study that, “based on police-shooting databases found that between 2013 and 2018, Black men were about 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police, and that Black men have a 1-in-1,000 chance of dying at the hands of police.” The statistics which prove the realities of systemic racism within our system are endless, as has been the oppression of Black Americans since the nation’s inception. It is time that everyone, especially white people and non-black POC, stand up against a system that oppresses its people and make it heard that Black Lives Matter.
As allies, it is our job to listen to and follow Black leadership; share resources and amplify the voices of the Black community; speak out and have difficult conversations with non-black people in our lives, and most importantly, educate ourselves on the truth and history of systemic racism and unlearn our own internal biases. You can do this by donating to bail funds and organizations run by those within the Black community; signing and sharing petitions; joining peaceful protests; writing to local officials to demand justice, and engaging in books and media created by Black artists to educate yourself on their experiences.
Even then there is still so much more left to be done, but if we start here, real change may begin to seem possible.
As there is an abundance of opportunities to help, it is difficult to know where to start. Here is a compiled list of resources to help you learn and educate others, and begin the work that should have been done hundreds of years ago.