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Essay Racismo

How do we learn to unlearn? Reclaiming “Bad Hair”

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:

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Racismo

Peaceful and Powerful: My experience at Black Lives Matter Protests

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.

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Mental Health News

Being informed without getting overwhelmed: How do I do it?

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 the news 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 a specific 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.

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Racismo Resources

Steps to take to be a good ally: during #BlackLivesMatter and Always

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.

Donate:

Sign Petitions:

Contact Officials:

Read:

Vote: