BY CAITLYN BURFORD
I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. I hate the self-help model promising “A whole new you!” used to promote gym club memberships and make you feel guilty about eating. I hate the internalized self-loathing that comes with identifying every flaw in every relationship I have and exposing my insecurities and anxieties about where I am at in my career goals, and my vowing to do better next year.
But, every year without a doubt, I make resolutions. I have a whole checklist of to do’s before I even make it to January 2nd. In still keeping with tradition, this year I thought I’d use my New Year’s resolutions to recognize what I’ve learned and how I continue to grow. I want to reflect on the many blogs, articles, books, and posts I’ve read this year and acknowledge the ones that have really stayed with me. These are my 2016 goals.
1) Use the phrases “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” only when I really mean it.
It seems as if everyone from Pantene to Amy Schumer has jumped on the bandwagon to tell women to stop apologizing. Jessica Bennett’s piece in TIME looks at why women frequently apologize for things that don’t need an apology. Bennett writes, “Sorry is simply another way of downplaying our power, of softening what we do, to seem nice.” I do this all the time. I say, “Sorry I’m late,” when I’m neither late, nor sorry. I have this same habit with the phrase “thank you.” I habitually thank people, often specifically men, for doing ordinary, expected, and common things — like helping to do dishes after a meal, pitching in for shared groceries, or showing up to a work meeting I’m running. My move away from throwing out sorry’s and thank you’s left and right isn’t because I am cold and detached. It’s not because I don’t value empathy and gratitude. In fact, it’s the very opposite. It means that both my sense of empathy and of gratitude are authentic and real emotions that I have, and I owe it to others and to myself to use them out of genuine thoughtfulness and intent.
Read Jessica Bennett’s article.
2) Understand that my own environmental negligence is enacting violence on communities of color.
Environmental issues are not colorblind. Climate change does not affect everyone equally. Rather, it is low-income communities, often communities of color, who feel the effects of pollution, toxins, and waste much sooner and more severely than their white counterparts. Rebecca Solnit writes that we must begin speaking about climate change as violence — because that is what it is. When I buy a plastic water bottle, it isn’t a passive oversight: “Oops, I’ll remember to bring a reusable one next time.” It is a direct and active choice of negligence that targets communities of color, as I know full well that the process of plastics, from creation to production to recycling, is housed in spaces that pollute both the neighborhoods and the bodies of their workers in the process. Climate change is violence. This violence is wrapped up in the decisions I make, the products I choose to buy, and the food that I eat. It’s time we get the environmental movement back to where it started, as a movement for the liberation of marginalized people from polluted and toxic living conditions, rather than a whitewashed middle class movement to keep hiking trails aesthetically beautiful for Patagonia-wearing hipsters who all of a sudden love camping (fingers pointed directly at me here).
Check out Rebecca Solnit’s article.
3) Use more vagina emojis.
Bless the designers at Flirtmoji for giving me a way to send sex-positive texts and maybe (just maybe) make women feel a little more confident about their lady parts. Vaginas are floppy and hairy, open and wavy, wrinkled and wet, and really have a lot of colors going on. They do not have to be pink. Or tiny. Or “cute.” Our vaginas are badass and I want a well-rounded emoji pallet to celebrate that.
Check out Flirtmoji’s vaginas.
4) Buy “Prison-Free” products.
I want to pay less attention to buying organic, or buying GMO-free products, or buying anything else certified through some bizarre business making a pretty penny off of greenwashing. It’s not that I feel these labels are unimportant. Rather, I want to pay closer attention to the labor that goes into production rather than the product itself. Like buying prison-free. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about a chemical-free, pesticide-free, organic product for the wellbeing of the planet. But before I ever get there, my first concern should always be the people laboring to produce what I consume. In Kelly Davidson’s article, she exposes how businesses use prison labor, or “insourcing,” to exploit people of color for cheap manufacturing costs. While many corporations do this, Whole Foods stands out. Their organic, healthy, natural cruelty fish is harvested at the hands of slave labor. Buying prison-free should be a prerequisite to purchasing healthy food, and labor conditions should be my first priority as the consumer in this economic model.
Read Kelley Davidson’s article.
5) Incorporate “Stop interrupting me” and “I just said that” into my vocabulary.
The article from Soroya Chemaly takes an in-depth look at speech patterns and our habit of withholding linguistic credibility and space to speak from women. Essentially, she uses scientific studies to show how frequently women are interrupted. Rebecca Solnit’s original essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” quickly became a part of my feminist canon as I resonated with the idea that in many spaces I do not have a “right to speak” as my ideas or statements are blatantly ignored. The most common instance of this is when people, often (but not exclusively) older men, ask what I do. “I teach at a university.” “Oh, what are you studying?” they respond. “No, I’m not a student there, I teach there.” “Oh, middle school? High School?” they ask again. “No, I teach at the university.” I’m a young woman who doesn’t look like a stereotypical professor. It is clear in these common interactions that I am not being misheard. I’m not being heard at all. The assumption that I do not look smart enough to teach speaks louder than I do. Rather than ignoring these types of conversational patterns, I want to highlight that I am repeating myself. I want to use the phrase, “As I just said,” or “To repeat myself,” or something of the sort to emphasize the type of discursive pattern. Small steps.
Read Rebecca Solnit’s original essay and Soraya Chemaly’s follow up.
6) Respond immediately, vocally, and aggressively to gender-based micro-aggressions. Period.
I’ve listened to people make comments directly to me and indirectly about women in general and 9 times out of 10 I say nothing because I’ve convinced myself it would not be productive. They didn’t mean it. This is not the time or place. I don’t want to embarrass anyone. We aren’t close enough friends for me to be able to call them out. Or worse, I’m overreacting and I’m the laid-back type that isn’t supposed to cause drama. Gretchen Kelly wrote a HuffPost blog referring to this as “mastering the art of de-escalation,” or the tendency for women to ignore offensive or inappropriate comments simply because it is so frequent it has become ingrained into our daily lives. This contributes to the belief many men have that these micro-aggressions, and gender-based violence at large, is much less prevalent than it is partially because they don’t see it as often as many of us do. Now, this is certainly not a call for women everywhere to do the same. They shouldn’t have to. That’s an unfair request and this is absolutely my own approach. My own attempt at being more vocal is to deconstruct the myth that gender-specific micro-aggressions are rare, individual, and occasional, rather than pervasive and constant. I don’t care if that makes me a bitch.
Read Gretchen Kelly’s blog post.
7) Practice learning Spanish every day.
I mean every single damn day. I’ve been casually saying for years that I need to learn Spanish and some days I’ll even listen to Spotify Latino to pretend like I’m putting in effort in some self-righteous half-assed attempt. This is an embarrassing thing white people do. It isn’t cute and it isn’t genuine. Learning Spanish shouldn’t be about making myself more competitive in a job market, or learning how to travel more freely by asking, “Where is the train station?” Learning Spanish should be a given so that I can speak to my neighbors. There are 45 million people living in the US that claim Spanish as their first language. If I hope to work towards racial justice in any capacity with marginalized populations, I should probably focus on my own language limitations.
Inspired by the group INCITE!, their blog, and their recommended readings.
8) Abolish the police.
I don’t know where to begin with this one. This year I have read dozens of accounts of wrongful arrests and extrajudicial executions at the hands of police, seen hundreds of posts about the hundreds of lives lost, cringed at countless disgusting comments about how police officers are just doing their jobs. I have been angry and engaged in conversations. Then I have shut down and stopped talking about police altogether. In these moments I don’t know what to say or where to begin and I feel weighted down by the utter disbelief that this continues to and will continue to happen every single day. The police have created a condition of terror and trauma to people of color in our country. I strongly believe that there is no way for the police system to exist in our country that is not founded on violence and power retained from a systemically racist judicial system. The police force cannot continue exist. The problem is so large, from the courtroom to the street, that I honestly often do not know where to begin and find it easier to ignore than engage. I was given Radley Balko’s book, Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces for Christmas this year, and though I just started it yesterday, I can confidently recommend it to anyone and everyone.
Check out Radley Balko’s book.
9) Make sure my social media and news outlets are diverse and critical.
All the social media I’m exposed to, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram included, should not just be full of white people. More specifically, they should not be filled with photos of white people in nature. Tanya Golash-Boza writes Why America’s National Parks are So White, an inquiry into the pervasive whiteness of outdoor culture. She looks at the different, intersecting elements of racialized exclusion and claims, “The disparate treatment of black visitors and misconceptions about African-Americans relations with the outdoors is part of the United States’ legacy of racial violence and segregation.” This began a conversation with a friend of how to break down the misconception that only white people enjoy the outdoors. Part of the solution? Alter our Instagram feeds so we don’t just see white people in nature. Follow @Latinooutoors or @RadicalMonarchs for instance. This is only the first step. My Pinterest should be full of messages about queer empowerment, statistics about the prison industrial complex, so on and so forth. Not just wedding gowns and healthy recipes.
Take a look at Tanya Golash-Boza’s article.
And have a happy New Year!