#CoffeeCultureSoWhite

I recently saw an Instagram video posted by the comedian Godfrey in which all the Black men were holding Starbucks cups. He gives a tip to all Black men: if you don't want to be bothered by cops all you have to do is hold a Starbucks cup. Cops can't mess with you if you're sipping Starbucks. Look at them. All the Black men stood around with serious looks on their faces and began sipping their Starbucks coffees one at a time to prove that sipping Starbucks could transform them from "threatening" to "approachable softy". I'm not going to lie, it was funny. But as most jokes do this joke started from a real observation: coffee culture is really that white. It's so white that it can make you less... well, Black. But why is coffee culture so white washed? And why do POC continue to perpetuate it? 

     I was introduced to the "coffee world" when I worked at Starbucks throughout college but it wasn't there that I realized how white-washed and culturally exclusive coffee culture can be. At Starbucks I only learned about making coffee, not specialty coffee, just coffee. I didn't become a coffee expert  but I learned how to steam milk for lattes and how to create foam for cappuccinos, and how to double the cup when pouring hot water onto a tea bag because the hot water at Sbux is kept at a scorching 250 degrees Fahrenheit. And most importantly I learned that coffee mostly hailed from the most colorful of countries, different regions in Latin America and Africa, and it didn't just appear in a magical red and yellow tin in my mother's pantry. But it wasn't until after Starbucks that I learned more about coffee "the crop," and acquired a taste for Ethiopian coffees because of their fruity nature and began to understand the difference between "blends" and "single origins." I began frequenting different coffee shops while attending grad school. I was exhausted all the time and coffee was necessary. So I took on the project of understanding coffee and New York City's coffee culture. Coffee culture is the idea that a coffee shop is a hub for conversation and discussion; a place to meet, greet, socialize, and share ideas; places that Majora, the co-owner of The Boogie Down Grind in the South Bronx, says are important in all neighborhoods because it's "a place people can do community." Coffee shops are conducive to exchanging ideas through conversation; they tend to be the breeding ground for revolutions and have historically played this role but nowadays not so much.

     Nowadays coffee shops, particularly specialty coffee shops, tend to be culturally homogenous and because of that they exist almost exclusively in gentrified New York. The Boogie Down Grind in the South Bronx is an exception but the owners have been met with much animosity from locals who have internalized the belief that ownership of anything, especially coffee shops, is white. They are not entirely wrong. Specialty coffeeshop culture in New York City inherently excludes people of color. It is rare to meet Black specialty coffeeshop owners and even more rare to meet coffee roaster companies owned by POC. But do we like coffee? Of course we do. Some might make the argument that it's too expensive for many of us as on average we make less money than white America but to that I say: BS! People in the hood willingly go to Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks everyday and then complain that "fancy" coffee shops are too expensive yet the only real difference between DDs and SBUX, and all other coffee shops (with better quality coffee) is the culture. So after frequenting so many specialty coffee shops...

...the one thing I've learned about coffee culture is that there's a severe lack of it

     It's important to understand that for coffee to be deemed specialty coffee every step between growing that coffee to consumption is carefully controlled: climate, soil, picking the cherries (yes, coffee is a cherry and therefore a fruit), washing, drying, storing, roasting, and finally: brewing. In most cases the ground coffee to water ratio must be just right. I admit that it does sound a bit ridiculous but some of the best coffee I've ever had is specialty coffee and usually tends to be perfect in it's natural state: black, no sugar or cream. But who decides what's the "right" way? Cue the SCAA: the Specialty Coffee Association of America. That's right, unbeknownst to many of you this is a real thing. The SCAA and it's standards are to coffee what the Common Core State Standards are to education, sort of.  According to NYS if all teachers are adhering to the CCSS then your child is technically receiving a quality education. If the coffee farmer, roaster, and brewer are adhering to all SCAA standards (green coffee, cupping, roasting, water, and brewing) then you've technically got yourself a good ol' cup of specialty coffee. Unfortunately these specifications of what makes a quality cup of coffee are arbitrary (though many in the industry would argue otherwise) and usually requires white men with money to "educate" coffee farmers in coffee growing countries and initiate the construction of an infrastructure that will make cultivating specialty coffee possible. This usually results in coffee farmers and their perspective importers making more money. In many cases farmers actually begin making a livable wage for the first time! This is undeniably a good thing. But of course guess who makes more money? It is also unfortunate that the cultivation of good quality coffee seems to be impossible without the white savior but as someone who prefers specialty coffee I'm actually OK with this as long as farmers are making a livable wage. The cultivation of specialty coffee isn't really the problem. The coffee culture that specialty coffee creates it the problem. Turning coffee, a crop native to POC, into a lucrative business in North America that cultivates an exclusive coffee culture is the problem.

     The problem is that coffee, a crop native to people of color, has been re-colonized by white men. It is called specialty coffee and it is an industry dominated by white men. This may be unsurprising since coffee shops and specialty coffee are now quite a lucrative business and most POC are kept out of lucrative business opportunities. However, I find it necessary to enlighten those who are so against coffee shops in the hood, or who spend money on coffee everyday and should be giving this money back to their own community. This specialty coffee trend (I'm hesitant to call it a trend as it is truly supported by agricultural science) is known as the "third wave" of coffee and has created an even more exclusive coffee culture that inherently excludes the very people who invented coffee culture. 

      When it comes to coffee most of us are meant to exist in the Matrix. Even if you're an avid coffee drinker chances are you have no clue what this "other" coffee world entails, the world in which coffee is described as being in it's "third wave" and specialty coffee reigns. And bottom line is if you're a person of color you're simply not meant to know. POC invented coffee culture as Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee but alas! The white man has saved coffee (not unlike Columbus discovering America), dropped some agricultural knowledge and dominated, physically and mentally, as we attack a coffee shop in the South Bronx owned by two Black women instead of supporting it. This exclusive coffee culture in New York not only makes white men richer (hello, white supremacist patriarchy capitalism!) but also convinces us that specialty coffee, or the coffee business in general, is simply not for us. Of course this is not a new concept. As a kid who grew up in the projects I learned really quickly that the only things that were for us were chicken shacks and bodegas. But as a grown woman with a Master's degree who earns every dollar she spends, I realize that many in our community need to WAKE UP (and smell the coffee). 

 Jersey City Heights, Jersey City 

 Jersey City Heights, Jersey City 

     I sought to find a specialty coffee roasting company, no matter how small, owned by POC so I could feel good about who I gave my money to in my effort to support Black and Latino businesses and I came up empty. How can coffee and coffee culture be such an integral part of my culture (my mother has told me stories of coffee farms in Puerto Rico as she recalls watching her sister roasting dried coffee beans over a fire),  my partner's culture (he's Haitian and his mother has similar stories of her laying washed coffee beans out in the sun to dry), and to so many people of color here in NYC yet not one of us has a stake in this third wave of coffee?  It's clearly not because we don't enjoy a good cup of coffee or because we aren't entrepreneurs though statistically we do have less of a disposable income than our white peers. The real problem is the current exclusive nature of coffee culture.  Specialty coffee shops are mostly regarded as "hipster" and are usually considered the first sign of gentrification, or as an acquaintance of mine defined it: the"refinement" of an urban neighborhood. Basically if it's white, it's "refined," and therefore not for us? What? 

       I currently reside in Jersey City and went on a search for specialty coffee roasted and owned by people of color so I can be proud of giving my money to Black and Latino owned businesses. I could not find one. I read through lists and articles, from articles in the Atlantic from about seven years ago displaying white men with Haitian coffee plantation owners, to articles in Fresh Cup Roaster Magazine and Thrillist about coffee and coffee roasters across the nation. Thrillist conjured a list of 21 "best" coffee roasters in the nation and unsurprisingly NOT ONE BLACK coffee roaster. Surely people of color like coffee, especially Caribbean people. It is most definitely a part of our culture. Coffee culture is my culture. Yet not one of us are in the business of coffee so I think it's time we make coffee our business. 

 

the Beauty in the Boogie Down: Self- Gentrification in the South Bronx

Majora Carter shakes her head "no" and flashes me a warm smile when I bluntly ask her if "The Boogie Down Grind Cafe," a coffee shop she co-owns in the Hunts Point area in the Bronx, might be contributing to the gentrification of the South Bronx. Gentrification is a real estate disease that results in the displacement of brown bodies. Most recently an article in the New York Times insulted thousands of South Bronx natives by referring to the South Bronx as "SoBro," and including them on a fancy list of places one should visit. What may have seemed like a compliment, to many Bronx natives it was a smoke signal to the colonizers and a warning to all South Bronx residents: they are coming. I reminded Majora that first the coffee shops arrive and then BOOM! your rent is too damn high. Right?  She kindly disagreed. 

Majora, who has been publicly recognized for her work in urban development and advocating for environmental equality, is mostly known at the shop for her vibrant smile, her contagious laugh, and the genuine way she greets everyone. She's a local. She only hires locals at the shop. She's a hugger. She welcomes you with open arms and makes you feel at home unlike any other coffee shop. Majora exudes an effortless confidence only a woman with her life experiences can make look so easy. She's a fast talker but speaks calmly, sure of every single word. So it's no surprise she has thought about gentrification in the South Bronx, and in many ways has been forced to as the shop and her business philosophy continue to be critiqued by fellow South Bronx skeptics. But she stands her ground: her coffee shop is NOT a sign of gentrification, I repeat: it is NOT a sign of gentrification. 

She cooly responds that gentrification doesn't begin with the coffee shops or the white people moving into black and brown communities bringing with them many of the things our communities have classified as "white," and inherently not for us.  But why can't it be for us? And why can't it be by us? Majora firmly states that gentrification "... happens when you start telling those black and brown kids from years ago that they need to measure success by how far they get from their communities." For many of us, this is true. If you grow up Black or Latino and poor (as Majora did while the Bronx burned during the 70's and 80's) and you've miraculously escaped and went off to college (as she also did), you're supposed to LEAVE for GOOD. You may return if your family is still there but you should never have intentions of staying. This, according to Majora, is when gentrification begins. 

Majora admits that like so many of us who flee our economically impoverished neighborhoods (we are rich in culture, often appropriated by the wealthy) once we've earned our college degrees, she didn't intend on settling in the South Bronx. But she saw raw beauty in her hood despite so many of her neighbors and friends fleeing the flames that consumed the Bronx in the 80's. And she's still promoting this beauty so many of us are still taught doesn't exist. Teaching our children not to value this beauty and invest in our own communities makes neighborhoods like Hunts Point vulnerable to property vultures, those who lurk in the outskirts (in this case a few stops away on the 6 train) seeking to conquer and colonize, and YES also raise your rent. But Majora is from the South Bronx. And the beauty she sees in the place she grew up is reflected in the locals who work at the shop, and the "regulars," so many of them locals who use the shop not only as a stop for a good latte but also as a place to work, read, write, feel inspired, and have a stimulating discussion. Majora's eyes glisten as she speaks about this beauty, about her creation of what she calls a "third space," a place locals can "do" community. She believes community is an activity not just a place; community is dynamic, a verb, and must be done in a place that exists outside of our home and workplace. So no, Majora doesn't think her coffee shop is gentrifying the South Bronx. She believes The Boogie Down Grind is a well deserved "third space" for the Hunts Point community, a beautiful thing to call their own. And based on the stimulating conversations I've had at the shop, I agree. 

"If we found value in our communities it would be harder for folks coming from the outside to see the value that we have been led to believe does not exist here." It's clear that Majora sees the value in the South Bronx and although she sadly admits that there is little we can do to stop others from coming in and consequentially pushing some of us out, there is much we can do to ensure we have a stake in our own communities. Simply put: if we don't want people coming from the outside and buying up property, well, why don't we? This idea may seem out of reach for so many of us especially in a low-income neighborhood like Hunts Point but she's calling out to all those who have roots in the Bronx and in their pursuit of "success" have left. Her shop calls out to those who have measured their success by how far they have gone from home, those who seek "nicer" things in neighboring boroughs. The Boogie Down Grind is a Public Service Announcement reminding us all that we should love, value, and invest in our neighborhoods.  Majora believes in self-gentrification.

Using the term "self-gentrification" to describe her business philosophy has been met with angry criticism from some Bronx natives, some even refusing to work with her.  Majora shrugs her shoulders and laughs, "haters are gonna hate." She acknowledges that harsh criticism from her own community sometimes hurts, but that many are simply misunderstanding her motives and philosophy. "Self-gentrification," is a relatively new term,  a way for us to reclaim the word and reclaim our neighborhoods. Self-gentrification is about keeping and using your talents in your hood instead of taking them elsewhere. It is about finally making our neighborhoods nice for ourselves instead of waiting for a Starbucks to appear. We like coffee shops. We like book stores. We like nice restaurants. But why do we need to wait for others to infiltrate or leave our neighborhoods to enjoy these things? We should not have to take our money to Manhattan to enjoy a decent espresso, or have a quiet place that isn't a public library, to study in, or as Majora would say "to do community" in. So although Majora is mostly known for her years advocating for Environmental Equality, nowadays she's also advocating for Economic Equality, making jobs and reclaiming what's rightfully hers, and ours, in the South Bronx.  

 

Majora Carter smilin' and stylin' in The Boogie Down Grind Cafe 

Majora Carter smilin' and stylin' in The Boogie Down Grind Cafe 

To Those Awake and Enraged

To Those Awake and Enraged

I realize that day dreaming is my reality. I spend most of my waking hours living in the present. The majority is spent diving into daydreams, fabricated fantasies in which I live lavishly or I’m a struggling artist on the verge of stardom: an inevitable tragedy, a Basquiat, a Frida. I am all but me. I want to runaway, but whereto? The idea disintegrating almost as quickly as it materializes, the question is left unanswered. Strolling through the East Village, I may be discovered, my distinctively primitive talents yearning to be trained, molded, a real rags-to-riches story to be reiterated by poor New York City youth in need of a role model, an unbelievable hopeful story; the kind recited by underpaid teachers wasting away within the concrete walls of the inner city institutions of education. God bless our shriveled souls. Standing in front of a barely used hunk of technology, delivering motivational speech after motivational speech, after motivational speech in an effort to incite a love of learning in an audience already convinced of their destined demise. Some of you blame their lazy parents who don’t know any better. I don’t blame you.

In the reality of my unreality I’m a Nuyorican, Pulitzer-prize-winning story teller. How did she do it? Some will ask, rhetorically, no genuine interest. Those whose every utterance is heard are the chosen ones as others exist in perpetual anonymity and hang onto their every word, to recite, repeat, recycling them, believing and breathing the bullshit.

In this world there are two kinds of people: those who worship and those worshipped. I come from a people obligated to worship, accustomed to unquestioned devotion. But not I.

How did she escape the confines of her mind they ask, the walls constructed and protected by a history of disenfranchisement? How dare she obliterate the obstacles created before she was conceived? How did she simply ignore the predestined path made by those before her and perpetuated by everything around her? How dare she.

I hear their whispers and I respond unabashedly, unafraid and unapologetic. Through and through I exude the power you wish you had in you.

Sometimes my reality is dark, awoken by raw emotion, hyper aware of the atrocities of our society and the injustices I am force fed, cold fingers touching my neck.  Enraged by this reality, a state of being I’ve been conditioned to swallow and mask on my way to the subway. Passing faces in a reality in which we all speak the same language yet we don’t. Where humans are secretly looked upon as animals, where particular facial features and pigment allow you minimal respect, where different shades of brown dictate level of dignity, and ill-thoughts supersede good intentions, an ongoing battle between the conscious and its counterpart, the thin line between love and hate.

In this reality I teeter between hopelessness and rage often succumbing to the latter as those before me. I’m an enraged Puerto Rican woman. Always ready to fight but they laugh at me.

And still I exist mostly in this reality, enraged and awake. 

White Teachers in the Hood can't be all that Good

This post was inspired by my experiences in NYC schools and the following article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/15/the-troubling-shortage-of-latino-and-black-teachers-and-what-to-do-about-it/ 

Seriously though? 

Seriously though? 

I recently read a Washington Post article online titled “The troubling shortage of Latino and black teachers- and what to do about it”. In the article the research of Travis J. Bristol, a former NYC high school English teacher who is now a research and policy fellow at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, sheds light on the shortage of teachers of color in the New York City public school system, and not only why it's troubling but what administration, politicians, and teachers of teachers can do to amend this. In his research Bristol highlights statistics that are both alarming but unsurprising: the growth of Latino teachers has not kept pace with the exponential growth of Latino students, and the number of black teachers is shrinking. Schools are struggling to recruit and retain teachers of color, especially Black teachers, and according to Bristol this is a major cause for concern.

Why is this such a problem? Well, first: a lack of diversity is never a good thing. Students and teachers alike can learn from a diverse teacher and student body. Secondly, and most importantly: in the United States our demographic of teachers simply does not reflect our student body. Bristol claims that students of color benefit from having teachers of color; in fact, teachers of color tend to have higher expectations for their students of color than their white colleagues. This is not to say that teachers of color should exclusively teach students of color, or simply hiring more Latino and Black teachers will close the achievement gap. It’s not that simple. But it’s clear that we would all benefit from a diverse teacher population. Our demographic of teachers should be as diverse as our students in every school.  Not only is it beneficial to every student, it speaks to the progress of higher education and our society, a society that just 50 years ago would deny many people of color a formal education.  

Bristol goes further than just acknowledging that a homogenous teacher population presents a problem. He even offers a “game plan” for researchers, teachers, and policymakers to follow if they aim to recruit and retain teachers of color.  I won’t divulge all of the details of Bristol’s plan but I will briefly summarize some interesting points Bristol makes. He argues that teacher preparation programs should “support the unique needs of preservice teachers of color.” These needs are not defined because these needs might vary from teacher to teacher as “teachers of color” is not a homogenous group but rather a diverse group of people with similar, though not identical, experiences. Bristol also states that professional development should be designed taking into account the experiences of teachers of color. He doesn’t go into detail on what these experiences entail and how PD might change as a result of it as this may vary from one school district to another.

Though I appreciate Bristol’s effort in highlighting a real need for change in educational policy if schools aim to recruit and retain teachers of color, I don’t think there’s as much as a need for “differentiated learning opportunities” for teachers of color to recruit and retain us as much as there’s a need to focus on inclusivity and multiculturalism during both the recruiting and hiring process. Let’s face it: as a teacher of color you are less likely than a white teacher to work in a school that offers a competitive salary (and benefits). According to New York City Independent Budget’s publication “A Statistical Portrait of New York City’s Public School Teachers” in 2012, 76% of all teachers in NYC were female and almost 60% of them were white. It’s safe to say that the teaching force in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. is dominated by white females.  It also highlights that: When schools are subdivided in terms of poverty, the percentage of white teachers is considerably lower and the percentage of black and Hispanic teachers higher, in high-poverty schools compared with low-poverty schools. Most Latino and Black teachers work in high-poverty schools. I wonder, however, what about this charter school movement? How about the charters that are in low-income neighborhoods but the funds are pouring in? Do those schools also hire mostly Latino and Black educators? Doubt it. 

In 2012 Black and Latino teachers represented only 34% of the teaching force and about 50% were in high-poverty schools. In contrast, white teachers make up about 60% of the teaching force and a whopping 72.5% of them in low-poverty schools. 

I firmly believe that every single public school, charter or otherwise, should offer the best education to every student. In an ideal world it would not matter whether you were in East New York or in Gramercy Park in Manhattan every student would be offered the same quality education and every passionate teacher would be offered the same, equal opportunities. We do not live in an ideal world. I especially remember this when I step into a charter school with a mostly white teaching force and mostly Latino and Black students. The reality is that NYC schools with higher funding, possibly higher salaries, more opportunities for career growth, better professional development, and more often than not better resources for teachers and students alike, tend to flaunt a mostly white teacher force. And I don't think they care to do anything to change that. That is both scary and dangerous for our students. 

 

 

Why I Cried When Trump "Won"

When Donald Trump was declared the next president of the United States, I began bawling. And immediately I thought about the dozens of middle schoolers I've taught: in East New York, Brooklyn, in Harlem, and in the Bronx, some of which are already in high school, and wondered what they thought of Trump's victory. I thought about my first and second year teaching, of my chaotic and charismatic 8th graders in East New York, many who blossomed into inquisitive young adults and opened up to learning more about the world they live in, many who became more aware of how they see the world, how the world sees them, and why that is. What did they think about this? I prayed they still felt hope and pride in themselves. 

And I cried some more. I cried for the kids who were going to sit in their classrooms the next day scared for their lives, for their families; I cried for the kids who look racism in the face everyday, who know it exists, who aren't surprised; I cried for the kids who would feel discouraged and disappointed by their country; And I cried for the kids who did not yet understand.

I cried for the New York City teachers who might not know what to say to the brown and black faces staring back at them in their classroom tomorrow; I cried for the teachers who did not know how to encourage and support their students in this crucial time; and I cried with the teachers who felt real fear of how this new presidency and administration would affect the everyday lives of our kids. I felt their pain.

I knew I was not alone, I wasn't the only teacher who felt more fear for our future generation than for myself. I am an adult, I can deal and I can fight. But the younger ones? So many students who see mostly white teachers in their schools, how will they feel? Did they feel hated by them? Did they feel their country hated them for the color of their skin? As a Latina and as a Womyn I felt despised by my home country. I commiserated with them, and I cried. 

For months this country witnessed a Republican candidate who showed he knew more about social media than politics and history. A candidate who called us "The African Americans" and "the Latinos" making claims that we lived in crime riddled neighborhoods, a constant war zone, who never glorified our communities for the beauty that exist despite the poverty and lack of resources. This country witnessed a candidate attack his opponent with low-blows, attacking her gender while making outlandish statements like "abortion should be illegal." A candidate that was more fit to be a meme than a president, and yet here we are. To think that this man gave a voice to even 10 people is disgusting, but here we are. Now what do I do? 

I'm going to fight like I've never fought before and I'll teach my students to fight like I've never taught them to do before.  

 

The Real Problem isn't Trump EDIT: HE IS the problem, but not the only one.

This post isn't about my political stance or who I'm voting for come November though you can probably take a wild guess. This presidential race and campaign has been nothing but stress inducing and some people are understandably confused, directing their hatred to one person (Trump) instead of the bigger issues at play here. Trump is a horrendous human being, there is absolutely no doubt about that. He has incited racist chants and behavior in his rallies, and keeps promising to make "America great again." America was not great. America represents the institution of slavery and Jim Crow laws. And a multitude of other injustices. My fellow Americans, this is America. And sadly many of us still deny it. That is the real problem. And this business typhoon's popularity doesn't waver. We have to ask ourselves why? How has he made it THIS far? Well, my fellow believers in equality, those who believe America has yet to reach a state of "greatness" (and perhaps never will), that's because this swine, as disgusting and undeserving of leading our nation as he is, is a representation of everything that is wrong with our society, a brutal history that treats people of color or anyone who is not a white man as second (or third or fourth) class citizens. THAT is the problem. 

Most recently they released an audio and video of Trump openly discussing how his fame allows him to sexually harass women. Of course he didn't care he was being recorded. And of course his language was vomit inducing. Once the audio was leaked, he called it "locker room talk" and had the audacity to recently reiterate this "locker room talk" explanation during the last presidential debate (the one during which he dodged every question and ranted about unrelated topics). There's no doubt that when I heard the tape of Trump's "locker room talk" I was disgusted but unsurprised.

Maybe that's what Clinton needed to earn every single woman's vote. But I doubt it. The harsh reality is that society, WE, give men with power, especially white men, the authority to do as they please. After all, Trump's wealth and race is the real reason he's the Republican candidate for PRESIDENCY. He has proven money=power. Isn't MONEY, POWER, RESPECT the key to life anyway? The Lox, Lil Kim, and DMX taught us that in 1998. 

Sure Hillary can call Trump out for his lewd behavior, we are all slapping him on the wrist, "bad boy." Yet that is all any one of us can do. Besides, how can Hillary tackle what's really wrong with our society when she has benefited from it herself? So instead of us, the educated public, taking this opportunity to rip off the mask to reveal our society's REAL problems we result to calling Donald a pig and blaming the pig for being a pig and taking advantage of all society has allowed him (i.e. Pays no federal tax and he simply Kanye shrugged and responded "that means I'm smart."). What's the bigger issue at play here?

Trump is appalling. His behavior is appalling. But constantly shouting him out for this doesn't do much to change the game, nor does it get to the core of the issue. His money has given him his power, his power makes him immune to the laws and rules the rest of us need to abide by, and this earns him the undeserving respect and secret admiration we are all baffled by. THAT is what people strive for in our society and this is what he represents. Unfortunately this kind of "locker room talk" comes with the territory and although white men are the one with the most access to America's wealth and more likely to benefit from it, this "talk" isn't limited to them. In fact, this "talk" is not new. When men are amongst other men oftentimes their masculinity needs to be proven or they risk being excluded and ostracized. Masculinity is often questioned and proven through sexuality and money, and talk like this "locker room talk" is commonplace. By not participating in this behavior men are not only ostracized, they are feminized, ridiculed, and considered less of a "man" than his counterparts, than those who demean women by bragging about a multitude of sexual partners. Men who talk about building a partnership, who speak of love and respect, get no respect from other men. That's how we define masculinity. And although this man is a real pig who does not deserve or have the expertise or qualifications to lead our nation, this fiasco sheds light on the real issue here: our society is messed up on so many levels. Men who are not white or rich also behave in this manner. I've heard it myself. I've even heard it coming out of the mouths of men I would otherwise respect. So when Trump says "that was just locker room talk" in response to this video of him, there are millions of men who understand what he means even though it baffles many of us, and millions of women who applaud this behavior. 

We live in a white supremacist patriarchy capitalist society. And within this structure this talk is normalized. It ridicules men and labels them as feminine if they respect women and talk about love. A white supremacist patriarchy capitalist society blames the rape victim, "it must've been what she was wearing" and secretly applauds Trump for grabbing women "by the pu***". Sure, Trump's a pig. You're right. He's grotesque and vulgar. He has no experience and is under-qualified to be president but this happens everyday on a smaller scale. And sure, I'm with HER, and there's no way in hell I would vote for him but the issue remains the same as our society has remained unchanged. He represents everything that was and still is WRONG with this country. And to combat that requires real change, an up-haul of our system, every aspect of our society, and simply calling Trump a pig (although he is deserving of that title) doesn't change anything. He's a pig who represents everything wrong with this country yet is admired and cheered on millions of mostly white men and women, the confused others. Why is that? That's the real issue.  And is the perfect reason to start a revolution.

Hey, "White Girl": Puerto Rican and 56% European?

I've identified as Puerto Rican my whole life. Growing up in the Bronx and later moving to the Upper East Side (borderline Spanish Harlem) in Manhattan, I'd reluctantly but proudly say I'm Puerto Rican whenever someone got nosy and asked "What are you?" I'd resist the urge to sarcastically mumble Human, obviously. "No, but where are you from?" Some people are real persistent. And in my adult life some people still ask. Most recently my uber driver asked me where I was from. I'm from here. That was a lie. I was in Jersey and I am not a Jersey girl, no sir. "And your parents?" Sir, I get it. You're confused and want to know why my Russian name doesn't match my face. Puerto Rico. "Oh, Puerto Ricoooo." 

I've always known that my roots, my bloodline, is a blend of Taino, African, and European ancestry. This explained my skin with a tinge of Burnt Sienna. My frizzy curly hair that was too curly for my mom to comb regularly but too "good" for the Black girls in school. My wide but not too wide nose, the kind of nose they told me to squeeze to shrink. This majestic mix explained my inclination to move my feet and sway my hips to the congos.  Growing up Puerto Rican meant the melody of African drums every time mom cleaned the house; salsa songs with long instrumental breaks meant for you to break. it. down. WEPA! Puerto Rican was the aroma of sofrito and tocino in the kitchen, dried beans soaking in water for dinner later; my mother, her head adorned with a white scarf, barefoot, looking like una madama; a sense of spirituality engrained so deep in me it's a way of life, and I still light candles and stomp my feet to get rid of negative energy. Buena energia is everything. This is Puerto Rican. I have never felt European. I knew the Spanish destroyed the beautiful island my parents call home so no, I didn't grow up identifying as European but I grew up being called "White" girl. 

 I haaaaated being called "white girl." I still do. I'm not white. You see, "white" is a different culture. As a kid I didn't understand why so many positive things were attributed to the white culture and inherently NOT Puerto Rican, things like: literacy, studying, showing interest in your education, or appreciating cuisines from different cultures. Strange, right? These things were white so being called white was a consequence of me preferring to curl up with a book every opportunity I got or getting good grades. Or speaking standardized English.  But no, I don't and never did identify with being white and I never have and never will benefit from white privilege (though I acknowledge my privilege lies elsewhere). Yet somehow even in adulthood I fight the same battles I did as a child. Sasha thinks she's white. Why are you so bougie? Hanging out with those white girls you think you're white. "What white girls?" is usually my response. Oh, you and your "education." What you white now?  I find it disturbing that I still have to combat this ignorance. As proud of being Puerto Rican that I am, I still have to listen to this self-hating nonsense, sometimes from other adults (and mostly family). 

My AncestryDNA results (not sponsored. Ha.) 

My AncestryDNA results (not sponsored. Ha.) 

So imagine my shock when I found out that according to an AncestryDNA test my DNA is 56% European. So I am white?  No.

This goes to show that my blood is a magical mixture of Taino, African, and European DNA and a depressing result of the Spanish eradicating the Tainos and forced African slave labor on the island of Puerto Rico. I am a consequence of the Spanish taking advantage of a rich land, removing the "rico" from "Puerto Rico", the anguish the Tainos felt as their numbers disappeared forever, and the brutal exploitation of Africans. It is not a beautiful history, but nothing has been more beautiful than growing up Puerto Rican and that means having DNA that is 56% European, 17% Native American, 26% African, and not being white. 

Latinas on Television: Holding a Broom or a Baby

I don't care how attractively devious or sassy the maids on Devious Maids are portrayed to be, I don't like it. And I don't support it. The stereotype of the Latina domestic is an old tale retold way too many times and almost always by a white person. The novela-esque show, Devious Maids, perpetuates the stereotype of the Latina domestic, created by a white man, Marc Cherry, but of course with the support of Eva Longoria because if one Latina supports the premise of the show (and gets paid for it) then clearly the entire community is OK with it, or rather blinded to the blatantly racist premise of the show. The show doesn't empower Latinas at all portraying us as little more than domestics at the mercy of "oh-so-kind" rich white people, domestics who are lucky if they catch the eye of an attractive, wealthy (and more often than not white) man.  If Latinas were over-represented in the way that white men are on television then this stereotypical representation of us would not present such a problem (though it's still troublesome), but we are not and so it is of extreme importance that the roles for which Latinas are casted are not based on overdone and insulting stereotypes. 

I've grown accustomed to not seeing myself on television. I have yet to see a Latina on prime time television I can relate to. How about a formally educated Latina with a diverse group of friends, living, working, dating, and thriving in New York City? No. Those roles are not given to or made for Latinas. Instead we have roles like those on Devious Maids, shows in which you hold a broom and are "friends" with your rich, white employer. Seriously? Oh, I can also play a "hot" woman with accentuated curves and a "sexy" accent dating a much older white man like Gloria on Modern Family. How about Jane the Virgin?  What about Jane the Virgin? Initially I was happy to see Gina Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican actress, on television. Being Puerto Rican myself I was excited, finally, I thought, someone I can relate to! Wrong. The show is styled like a soap opera with over-the-top humor and narration. The writing is actually funny which is quite deceiving. They even speak Spanish! And her grandmother is a spot on portrayal of an overly religious grandmother (something I know quite well). Jane, "the virgin",  and protagonist of the show, is an educated Latina pursuing teaching but with a real passion for writing. I can totally relate to this in particular, being a teacher and having a passion for writing also. BUT of course she becomes pregnant. WHAT?! Yes she gets pregnant. In fact she's mistakenly inseminated (however ridiculous that sounds) and becomes pregnant without ever having sex. Wait. A. Minute. Finally a role for a Latina I can relate to and she's got to be pregnant? I was infuriated and refused to watch the rest of the show. Are we really restricted to holding a broom or a baby? 

                   

                   

Being a Latina on television usually means you're holding a broom or holding a baby but making this commonplace is dangerous for a variety of reasons. It's dangerous to grow accustomed to this and complacent instead of demanding diverse roles for Latinas. The role of Harlee Santos in Shades of Blue played by Jennifer Lopez is a step up, however, she's still portrayed as a single mother, a reality for all shades of women in New York City but often a role given to women of color. I refuse to support shows that restrict Latinas and perpetuate stereotypes so many of us fight against everyday. I have hope that one day I'll be able to see myself on prime time, but it's almost 2017 and it hasn't happened YET. Too few of us are pissed off and I think it's about that time. 

Irresponsibly Teaching Kids To Kill a Mockingbird

Are eleven year olds capable of intelligently discussing race? Of course they are. They can also be immensely immature and are sometimes reluctant to take such classroom discussions seriously but this doesn't mean that they aren't capable or that teachers should shy away from it; that would be doing students an injustice. So when I realized that a 6th grade English teacher at a charter school in the South Bronx was reading To Kill a Mockingbird with her 6th grade class but discussing the role of race within the text was not a part of the curriculum I cringed. Skipping over Race while teaching a text like To Kill a Mockingbird is socially irresponsible and dangerous. And I can't help but wonder, if kids are capable of discussing such a prominent topic in this text, why skip it? 

 When I taught 5th grade Ancient History my classes engaged daily in mostly insightful conversations about race and gender roles; yes, a bunch of fifth graders wanted to talk about gender roles. At the beginning of the school year our discussions were mostly superficial and not every student had the epiphany I envisioned they would have but I did learn that ten year olds were more than capable of engaging in intellectual, high-level discussions about complex topics most adults tend to avoid. Children don't care about being politically correct so most feel free to speak genuinely on their personal experiences and observations about the world around them. This isn't the case with most adults. Our class discussions were refreshing and eventually they became more intense, explorative and insightful, and we even experienced one or two class-wide epiphanies. Although my students were mostly Black or Latino and had probably willingly or unwillingly discussed the concept of "race" before, many were still reluctant to speak on it in class. However given the platform and guidance most rose to the challenge. A 5th grader asked How did skin color play a role in slavery in Ancient Egypt and was skin color as important as it was in slavery in the United States? one day during discussion. I almost teared and his peers jumped at the opportunity to answer. 

It's clear that young students are more than capable of having intelligent conversations about complex topics like race; they simply need the platform, the guidance, and the teacher needs the time to plan for all of that, of course. So why would a charter in the South Bronx require sixth grade teachers teaching Harper Lee's classic to follow a curriculum that purposely curbs conversations about race? How is it even possible to teach To Kill a Mockingbird without examining such a prominent theme like race? I wonder who benefits from intentionally depriving young New York City students in the South Bronx of the opportunity to discuss race in a safe, intellectual environment. Why deprive students of an opportunity to explore the extent of racism in America, the country they all live in? Giving an inner city eleven year old a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, require them to do most of the reading at home, and NEVER guide them through thinking about the representation of race within a text that takes place in the VERY racist South is socially irresponsible and dangerous.

To Kill a Mockingbird is about race. It is about a lot more, especially because the story is told through the perspective of a little girl, but it is still very much about race. It is also a "classic," a book most of us have read while in middle or high school, and a book most educators will read about 15 times throughout their career. I've read it twice, most recently while working one on one with a sixth grader, Ashley, one of the students I work with as a part-time literacy coach in her school. As a literacy coach I focus primarily on helping kids develop reading and writing skills, honing in on fundamental strategies every middle schooler should master. Doing "my job" doesn't typically require knowledge of what's being taught in my student's ELA classroom, although it can help, but I could not help myself when Ashley revealed she was reading To Kill a Mockingbird in classAshley knew race played an important role in the novel but with the consistent use of the n-word and the African American Vernacular English used by the Black characters throughout the text who wouldn't? But Ashley's teacher never discussed race or racism with the class. The novel depicts a Black man on trial for the alleged rape of a White woman and the shock the town experiences when a White defense attorney takes on his case. But Ashley's class did not once discuss the racism dominating every aspect of that trial. Ashley's class did however discuss a coming of age tale about a nice White family who liked Black people while no one else did. THIS IS SO DANGEROUS. I didn't believe Ashley so I examined her class notes (Ashley was a great student and note taker) and not one class note on theme focused on race. WHAT? 

Ashley's class, a bunch of eleven year olds more than capable of analyzing the role of racism within the text, was not given the opportunity to discuss the racist South for what it truly was as presented in the text. Why? Did it make the school uncomfortable? Did it make the teachers uncomfortable? These mostly Black and Latino students were fed the same stereotype insisting that the very racist South was actually not that bad for some Black people because some White people were "nice" to some Black people. In fact, some were even friends! Right?

 The fact that a 6th grade student like Ashley who had limited knowledge on American History could walk away from a novel like To Kill a Mockingbird and not once question the portrayal of Black characters or how race played a role in the relationships between Black and White characters within the text is socially irresponsible. After discovering this injustice I dedicated my future sessions with Ashley to exploring important themes, like Race and Gender, as presented in the text. I offered her the platform to question what she read, to question character motives, to question how race played a role in supposed friendships within the text. Ashley was initially intimidated by these discussions often giving me quizzical looks as she was challenged but like my 5th graders in Ancient History, she rose to the challenge. I can not understand the value in schools adopting an English Language Arts curriculum that does not dare offer students the platform to question society. NO ONE benefits from this and ultimately it is irresponsible and dangerous to teach the youth to not question what they read. But it is even more dangerous to make them read To Kill a Mockingbird without discussing race.  

Reigniting My Inner "Bad" Feminist

This is a review of Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist

I quickly read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, a writer I was unfamiliar with before picking up this intelligent and emotionally raw collection of essays. Gay’s essays have revived my inner “feminist”, a word I still struggle to define and often feel obliged to defend, in certain social circles. “Feminist" is a word that incites flashbacks of many Women Studies lectures during my sophomore year in college; of discussions about race, masculinity, motherhood, sexuality, and the always enticing question: Can Fathers Mother?

Although Gay doesn’t define “Feminist” and only offers the multitude of ways people define "Feminism," her social commentary is inevitably communicated through the perspective of one, of course. You have to be a feminist before considering yourself a “bad” one. Gay’s social commentary is a critical study of pop culture, contemporary literature, and television as an intertwined entity working towards perpetuating many of the same gender and racial stereotypes that have already existed. Few things, she shows, defy the confining gender roles we, as a society, willingly accept. Gay’s perspective is a personal one, not a representation of all women of color. However, her essays are a critical study of society, and give a voice to many underrepresented women of color.

 

Surviving Success (Academy)

Most schools believe that “teacher” and “martyr” are synonyms. That's what I've learned after 3 years of classroom teaching. So after six months of mental abuse at Success Academy I wrote an email to the principal and never returned. I've also never regretted it. Before you judge me as an irresponsible teacher who did the unthinkable and “abandoned her kids,” you should know that it was them or me and ultimately I chose me.  

I was recruited by a Success Academy ambassador through Linkedin during the summer of 2015. She “casually” convinced me to apply to SA by sending me cheery messages of how “my credentials were the right fit for Success.” I believed it when I was immediately offered an interview and was given a classroom for a demo lesson the same day, no second interview needed. The fact that the demo was a different subject and grade than what was initially agreed upon didn’t bother me much. So after a brief discussion with the principal I was offered a “lead teacher” position teaching 5th grade history although it was not the job I initially applied for. I took the job to later learn that I wasn’t even going to have my own classroom. The signs were clear and I had every reason to walk away but I was excited to be teaching at the holy grail of charter schools in NYC. 

I was set to join “the team” for T-School, a brainwashing series of seminars aimed to mold you into a “Success teacher” because it’s different than a regular teacher. Success teachers are not regular teachers, no sir, they are above that. The seminars retaught me how to teach and fed my newfound Success ego while stealing an entire month of my well deserved summer vacation. The outcome? I was thoroughly convinced that it took a “special” kind of teacher to teach at Success and I was part of the chosen few. This mentality is what kept me there as long as I did despite looming depression due to my sudden loss of identity and free time to pursue personal passions.

I had heard horrors about SA prior to accepting the job: the long hours and pressure to perform, but coming from another charter school I had confidence that I could accept and overcome any difficulties; Besides I was coming from teaching in East New York and nothing toughens you up more than working in a school where someone is shot dead at the end of the school block during Parent-Teacher Night. So was I intimidated by SA? No. But once I began teaching as a newly baptized SA teacher I quickly realized the toxic environment SA strived to create and force feed educators who had real passion for teaching. SA had managed to create an educational environment that disregarded the well-being of the teacher. It promoted a cut-throat, monetarily incentivized corporate environment in which you prayed for the demise of your peers for an opportunity to inadvertently glorify yourself. Is this what teaching is about? 

My 6 months at Success forced me to reevaluate my teaching philosophy that before SA was rooted in genuine connections with at risk students. Success made me doubt my personal success every day. I became doubtful of the importance of teaching; if we could all be trained to be the same, think the same, and act the same then as educators we were inevitably relaying this same message to our students. Every day I relayed the message that just as all teachers had to think and act and be the same, consistency among classrooms, the same was expected of students. SA didn't celebrate originality or praise the individual, no, SA thrived on doubt, on the inevitable fear of not doing enough, being there enough, talking enough, thinking enough, preparing enough, or absorbing enough information. The underlying message was that this doubt and fear somehow made you better because it encouraged you to take immediate action as you strived to BE THE BEST at the expense of your mental stability, of course. If I couldn't survive here, I often thought, I had failed and I was not "one of a kind," I was weak and had no business teaching.

Survival was the word spoken repeatedly among teachers. You're surviving just fine. I can't believe I survived my first year. How are you? SurvivingBarely. My colleagues who had done a 2 year bid often laughed about their first year at Success and shared a feeling of immense accomplishment because they had somehow survived, they had proven themselves worthy. When did teaching become about survival? I often cried from the exhaustion of working 13 hours with an never-ending to-do list and still feeling like I wasn't doing enough. I was constantly working to be better, to manage my classrooms more efficiently, to implement the latest rule, to use feedback, and to look like I wasn't struggling while doing it all. I made a mistake of mentioning the horrendous time I was having at SA to another teacher. She told our manager. Our manager told the principal. The principal met with me. I was forced into an awkward conversation with the principal about the miserable time I was having. I was honest, a quality stifled within SA walls. I explained there was no work life balance and that I was losing my sense of individuality and the passion that drove me to teach. He faked interest in my concern and doubts and in response explained that as a principal he barely saw his wife or child and that if it helped next year they would be shortening the school day across all middle schools. I felt betrayed and worse after meeting with him. 

I started escaping to the art room on the floor below me and confided in the art teacher, one of the few people in the building who seemed to be struggling with accepting the ways of SA and was conscious of the creativity stifled as students were spoon fed what they were suppose to be passionate about, art certainly not being one of them. I was going crazy. My colleague was going crazy. But "it was a part of the job." Everyone begrudgingly accepted it and no one protested. Why would they? There was no platform for protest. It was an integral part of surviving at Success and if you weren't up for it, too bad. You were better off crying in the bathroom or when you got home at 7:30PM because talking to your "manager" would just give you more things to write on your to-do list, a lame attempt at a "plan" for your improvement, your "success". 

This abusive relationship made me hate teaching. It made me hate what teaching as a career was in this school and how it was an increasingly popular system, especially within charter schools. I resented myself for not willingly accepting my role as a martyr, for rejecting the opportunity to be a saint. I did not want to be living for my job; it isn't my idea of fulfillment or happiness. I realized I needed to stop feeding myself lies about sacrifice and overcoming obstacles and so I was forced to quit. I just couldn't survive Success. Although my definition of  educator requires hard work it doesn't require your survival to come into question. And I empathize with the passionate teachers whose genuine purpose for teaching deteriorates a little more each day as they struggle to keep that flame ignited. I empathize with educators at Success who accept the message that individuality isn't to be praised and that fostering creativity, a love of art or writing that isn't meant for a test is setting students up for failure. This system is bound to fail; a system that relies on the backs, blood, sweat, and tears of overworked and underpaid miserable teachers who don't have time to be themselves and grow as people simply cannot work. I love to educate children but I'm not a martyr. Leave martyrdom for religious figures not NYC public school teachers. 

My first bulletin board in SA