Over the course of my time in higher education, I, along with many, have learned to navigate white spaces while maintaining my sense of individuality and self as a Black person. This experience in itself is radicalizing, but as I increased my Black revolutionary education I discovered how proximity to whiteness as an idea and a practice can stunt the growth of Black liberation movements at all levels.
Whiteness is a pervasive concept that controls anything from how people are paid for their labor to the appropriation and adoption of Black aesthetics for commercial use. Whiteness killed Emmett Till and incarcerated the Exonerated Five, but it also violently disrupts the life of Black people everywhere. It is a tool of the oppressor to maintain white supremacy and Western hegemony; and its presence in one’s daily life must be evaluated as a commitment to Black revolutionary ideals.
Whiteness can effectively transform Black people and people of color in positions of power into agents of its perpetuation. The status, influence, and wealth that can come with aligning oneself with whiteness is often enough to compromise a commitment to revolutionary principles of Black liberation. A common manifestation of this mindset is “we can’t get anywhere if we don’t include white people” rhetoric.
This narrative operates under the assumption that Black people need their oppressors to achieve their own liberation. It is key for all people committed to the total liberation of Black people to understand how and where whiteness allows itself to compromise their commitment to the total freedom of Black people. Excusing one instance of whiteness can facilitate the violent exertion of whiteness in the future.
Whiteness is directly antithetical to the core of Black liberation principles, and its role in one’s life should be carefully examined.
What does excusing whiteness look like? It can be defending racially ignorant actions of white people in any context, allowing white friends to adopt Black features, aesthetics, and culture for their own gratification, or adhering to standards of whiteness to put down Black folks (bonnets shouldn’t be worn outside, talking “proper” instead of using AAVE, etc.). Participating in the commodification and mockery of Black people and culture is also an extension of whiteness.
Excusing whiteness can also be allowing spaces exclusively for Black people to be opened to all. Whiteness mandates an inclusion in all things, even when something is not created as a white space. An example of this entitlement is white people attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities, joining Black professional, social, or greek letter organizations, or being “invited to the cookout.”
Whiteness views Black people as objects to serve the goals of white supremacy and hegemony. It gives our oppresses the power to victimize themselves in all situations and do whatever is necessary in the name of self preservation. In doing so, it repeatedly puts Black people in danger. Whiteness is directly antithetical to the core of Black liberation principles, and its role in one’s life should be carefully examined.
Late into my high school years and early in my college career, I examined the role whiteness played in my own life. When we live in a world constructed by whiteness and white supremacy, it’s difficult to know what facets of our conditions were thrust upon us and what we have control over. A key question to ask is: where does my proximity to whiteness serve as a tool of self preservation, and where am I compromising my own beliefs to maintain this proximity?
It is important to remember that whiteness is inherently self-preserving; but this does not serve the oppressed. When things get dicey and tensions rise, whiteness will not save you. As Black people engage in the fight for liberation, it is imperative to evaluate how one holds on to whiteness as a myth of self-preservation.
As I enter my last year of college, I have learned not to give whiteness access to me or my energy as my own form of self-preservation. There are, of course, strategic benefits to incorporating white people into the existing efforts put forth by oppressed peoples in the name of class solidarity, as the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party demonstrated. However, it is essential not to conflate white people with whiteness. All white people benefit from whiteness; they can operationalize their whiteness to the detriment of Black people and our work, or they can choose not to.
What is important to note, however, is how uncommon it is for that choice to be made. Even the most “woke” will weaponize their whiteness for their own benefit. In the same way, Black people and people of color who have been granted access to some degree of whiteness can weaponize it to maintain oppressive structures.
Evaluating one’s proximity to whiteness is a key step in working toward Black liberation. “Sleeping with the enemy” can compromise the integrity of Black revolutionary work and drill cracks in the foundation of decades of organizing. One must remember that Black liberation demands not only critical thought of the system, but of the self.
How do you find refuge from omnipresent pain? From the beginning, 2020 has been a year of Black death and Black pain. In every faction of life, Black people are suffering. We are dying the most amid a global pandemic. We are seeing our role models and greats pass away. We log onto our phones or turn on the news to see another person, who easily could have been us or our family, executed in the street. We see a Black mother threatened and harassed every day to the point of needing community protection for weeks. We see Black expectant mothers dying from childbirth. Every single day, Black Americans are exposed to Black death; and this death is one of the things so deeply connecting us. Black people have been tethered by trauma since the transatlantic slave trade. This pain is not individual, it’s communal.
Despite this connected pain and misery we feel, we are still expected to show up and function at 120% day after day. We are expected to lean and sustain a movement. We are expected to be fully attentive and present in work, school, and relationships. Black people have not even been afforded the luxury to grieve. We don’t have the luxury of being tired. We don’t have the luxury of taking some time from all the “negativity”. In a world where we are begging, screaming, fighting for the bare minimum, losing people like Kobe Bryant, CT Vivian, John Lewis, and Chadwick Boseman is another dagger in the heart of our people. In a world where we don’t have many people to look to as symbols of hope, inspiration, and possibility to begin with, living among so much consistent death can do more than exhaust us-- it wears down our spirit.
Even among this, America sees Black death as another opportunity for personal gain. Breonna Taylor’s name has become so commodified that the possibility of her family seeing justice gets slimmer and slimmer every day. Liberal Democrats used Chadwick Boseman’s last tweet, which showed support of Kamala Harris, to push forward a political agenda instead of truly mourning the death of a powerful and deeply valued member of our community. John Lewis’ name and quotes were thrown around by companies and celebrities who were silent when Black trans women were being murdered and beaten every week. Even in our countinuous death, America exploits Blackness.
Seeing the way this world is so desensitized and almost expectant of Black death makes it hard to wake up every day and try to live a life full of hope. Every Black person alive today is a miracle. We weren’t supposed to survive. Our ancestors weren’t supposed to live through all they endured, but they did. How do we exist as a living testimony when everywhere we turn is more death, more violence, more pain. Black people deserve to live free of pain and grief-- no political strings attached, no caveats, no exceptions. This is about more than gaining political freedom, this is about holistic freedom. It’s about achieving a better quality of life. All Black people are deserving of permanent love, joy, comfort, and peace; but we shouldn’t be the only people in this country who think so.
The other day the video of Philando Castille’s 4 year old daughter consoling her mother, both of whom just witnessed his murder, appeared on my Twitter feed. Seeing a child who isn’t even in kindergarten yet help her mother process the murder of her boyfriend cast a wave of anger and heartbreak over me that I can’t put into words. Black children are taught at a young age to grow up and process things that no child should. When I was in elementary school, at my mostly white and affluent private school, I heard comments that forced me to realize I was different and seemingly worse than my classmates because I was Black. From the very beginning we become hyper aware of the racism our country is now beginning to see and must justify our right to exist.
Black people don’t get to pick up the activist role. We don’t get to choose it as a career choice after being taught about injustices in this country. We’re born into it. I don’t want to be doing this right now. I’m barely 20 years old. I’m supposed to be thinking about grad school, focusing on my internship, talking to my friends and writing my first book. I want to be doing research and working on one day becoming a professor, not begging people to care about the mass murder and mistreatment of my people. I don’t want to wake up every day and fight for my life. From childhood we have to worry about things that none of our peers have to worry about; and we’re still expected to perform at 100%. Being Black is a glorious, rewarding, and indescribable experience; but it also comes with a steady and unshakable pain.
Despite this, our ability to find joy and laughter from the darkest of times is nothing short of incredible. Even when we’re screaming to the world and justifying why we deserve to be alive, we make time for moments of joy. In the midst of our anger, we fellowship in the beauty of all that it means to be Black; that’s what’s making all of this worth it for me. The vision of making these moments of uninterrupted Black joy permanent and living in the glory of Blackness without the lingering pain, anxieties, and fear is keeping me going. I want my people to be able to go home at the end of a long day and sit in happiness, not exhale a sigh of exhaustion so deep it comes from the lungs of our ancestors.
Black activists don’t have the freedom to pick up or put down this role, it’s tied to our very being. We have other dreams, hobbies, interests, and goals; but the prospect of no longer having to fight this battle fuels the work we do every day.
I’ve been exposed to images of Black bodies being beaten, murdered, and abused since I was 11 years old. You don’t know what it’s like to be a child knowing that just because of the color of your skin, your life is disposable. It didn’t matter why, it didn’t matter if you didn’t do anything wrong, you were Black; and in America, that’s a crime. As long as I remember, the threat of interacting with police and the outcome it may have has influenced every decision I make. Black people exist in this world looking over their shoulder, afraid to live their lives, constantly in fear that at any moment someone could identify them as a threat and their life can be over. The value of my life should not be in the hands of someone other than me; but Black people don’t have that luxury.
Being born Black in America is a death sentence. That’s not an exaggeration. That’s not an embellishment. In this country it doesn’t matter if you’re a lawyer, a D1 athlete, a teacher, a doctor, or a PHD holder; if you’re Black, that’s what’s seen first. But why does a Black person have to be successful to not be murdered by the police? I’m tired of seeing over and over the accomplishments and accolades of our brothers and sisters who were murdered to prove the wrongfulness of their death. Black people shouldn’t need a resume to put value on their life. When considering the volume of Black bodies we see killed and abused at the hands of racists, it brings into question the number of people who faced the same violence but were not fortunate enough to have someone nearby to record it. How many of us will never receive justice because we didn’t get public attention. Every day I hope that if I’m killed because of the color of my skin, that at least someone will be around to document it; because otherwise there’s no guarantee the killer(s) will face consequences and I will be another nameless Black body lost at the hands of the violence our country perpetuates.
This is why we say non-Black people can’t wear our hair styles. This is why we say non-Black people can’t say the n word. This is why we say non-Black people can’t use AAVE (African American Vernacular English or Ebonics). This is why we fight for credit when music and art is stolen from us. When we face the threat of losing our lives for our Blackness, no one else is allowed to wear it like an accessory. Our people have died and fought for the ability to display our Blackness proudly, and in many ways we still can’t. Because when you’re Black, anyone can take anything from you at the drop of a hat--including your life.
So I expect all non-Black people, especially white people, to be willing to sacrifice some of their comfort to help your Black brothers and sisters. As someone who goes to a school that prides itself on its liberal values, I don’t see enough people not just being anti-racist, but intolerant of racism. No one is awarded for the bare minimum. As long as you protect the racist people in your life and do not speak up and condemn racism when it shows its face, you are a tool of white supremacy. We often condemn silence and allow an Instagram post to qualify as speaking up, but for me, posting on Instagram is silence until there is action behind it. Until you are willing to get uncomfortable, to take risks, and to lay your life on the line like Black people have to every day, your Instagram post means nothing to me. The real work happens without the gratification of social media. Are you willing to check your friends when they make racist jokes? Are you willing to confront the backdoor racism you encounter in white spaces? Because when you close your app and move on about your life, you have your whiteness as a shield. My Blackness makes me a target.
Part of being an ally is letting Black people speak and have their time. Too often I see Black injustices lumped together with other issues or diminished by saying “well other people experience this too,” and it needs to stop. It’s possible to discuss the intersection of Blackness with the struggles of other marginalized groups without completely shifting the narrative. Every time Black people cry out for justice and institutional change, every other community is brought into the discussion. Struggles of other communities are results of the same white supremacist systems that have harmed Black people for centuries, and they must receive justice for the harm done to their people. However, Black people are always expected to share their struggle. We consistently put our needs and struggles on the back burner to uplift every other community and see them reap the benefits while we stay at square one. You can see this with Black women in the early 1900s feminist movement and Black queer revolutionaries of the queer rights movement in the late 1960s. White voices have dominated Black issues for too long. Let us speak.
Every day I’m scared. Every time my dad leaves on a trip for work I pray so hard I cry that he comes back. Every time I go out with my friends we have to remember to act “composed” because a group of Black people walking down 22nd street at 10pm could be seen as disruptive and threatening. I’m too scared to skate too early in the morning or too late at night because I don’t want someone to call the police on me and question if I live in my neighborhood. I don’t wear my hood, “she looks like a suspect.” I can’t keep my hands in my pockets, “I thought she had a weapon.” I can’t spend too long in a store, “but officer I thought she was stealing.” I can’t go on a walk at night, “She looked really suspicious.” I can’t live my life without being in fear, because as long as you’re Black, nothing you say or do matters as long as you look the part. And you always look the part.
I’m tired of living like this. I’m tired of seeing my friends and loved ones in distress and being traumatized over and over every time we go on social media. I refuse to let my Blackness be a death sentence. The only way to make amends is not reparations nor having more Black police officers. A system that was not designed with us in mind cannot protect or serve us. It will take the dismantling of systems of white supremacy that continue to allow and encourage Black violence. We owe it to ourselves and our ancestors to use our fatigue and exhaustion as fuel for the fight. Make time to heal, make time to care for one another; but don’t use care as an excuse to sit out on the fight.
Higher education is made for students to discover or fertilize their voices as budding activists. Through education, students learn about the prolonged injustices and intentional disenfranchisement of communities throughout American history, and feel compelled to advocate against it. However, many of these injustices start with and directly affect working class people and their families; many of whom may not have access to the overpriced and glorified land of higher education.
This is why college activists and activists in general who have gone through higher education need to make a conscious effort to use more inclusive rhetoric when advocating for issues that affect people who do not have the luxury of attending and paying for a four year university. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 only 16.7 million Americans were enrolled in a post-secondary degree granting institution, that’s only 18% of the adult population.
Ivory tower activism prevents the communities of people who live through these issues to feel connected to people actively fighting on their behalf. Using language only found in higher education when engaging in activism furthers the disconnect between advocates and the affected communities as well as brings into question the authenticity of the activism or if it’s simply performative in nature.
In higher education students have the opportunity to major in and study things they’re passionate about. In doing so, their vocabulary on the subject expands as they develop a deeper understanding behind the sociopolitical issues which they study. However, an extensive vocabulary is not necessary in the practical application of study.
This is not to say it’s not worth educating the larger community about issues affecting them so they, too, can acquire the knowledge and weaponize it for their benefit. Additionally, those who do not receive formal education are not simply incapable of understanding language found in higher education. However, it’s possible and arguably more effective to garner support around an issue and build trust within a community when language isn't clouded with SAT words and unnecessary vocabulary.
I, admittedly, have done this and am making a conscious effort to stop. Sometimes it feels good to weave evidence of your own personal research or study in university with your activism. But I have found that the people who would benefit the most don’t want to hear me go on about misogynoir, voter disenfranchisement, and gerrymandering. They want to know why Black women are continuously ran through the ringer in America, why their absentee voting application didn’t go through, and why their congressional representative changed and are suffering because of it.
People who are affected by these issues on a daily basis, who often times already know it’s happening, don’t want to feel like they’re being talked down to. And if they don’t know, using unfamiliar language to describe their own struggles or the struggles of others will not rally the public in the way we think it will. Only 28.9% of Americans have been exposed to some kind of higher education, not necessarily even finishing.
If we’re truly about helping disenfranchised communities and identities, we’ll meet them where they are-- not come at them using rhetoric only accessible in a $60,000 institution.
*Writer's note: I recognize the irony in my use of fancy language while writing this article about fancy language, but that is an intentional choice given my intended audience for this piece
President Trump built his platform and garnered support around the promise of building a wall to keep immigrants from Mexico and other Central/South American countries from entering the United States. With the recent surge of politicians like him, such as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp who drove around a “deportation bus” during his campaign, being an immigrant or refugee in search of a new life is becoming increasingly dangerous.
On June 5th, the Trump administration announced their plan to decrease funding toward English classes, recreational programs, and legal aid for unaccompanied minors in ICE custody. The programs have been deemed “not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety, including education services, legal services, and recreation,” by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Detention centers in Adelanto, CA and Essex County, NJ “were not treated with the care required under ICE detention standards,” according to a report released on June 6th following an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General in 2018. In this investigation, egregiously unsanitary and inhumane living conditions were found.
The report states the Inspector General “observed detainee bathrooms that were in poor condition, including mold and peeling paint on walls, floors, and showers, and unusable toilets.” But it’s not just bathrooms that were in unspeakable condition. One facility kitchen had boxes of raw chicken leaking blood all over the floor as well as moldy and expired food. When detainees weren’t subjugated to these conditions, they were mistreated by detention center staff.
According to the report, two facilities prematurely placed detainees in disciplinary segregation. ICE standards only require the use of disciplinary segregation when a detainee has committed a prohibited act, and at some facilities a hearing panel must find them guilty of the charged offense before placed in segregation. In addition to this, some centers completed strip searches with no documented justification. Detainees in segregation at Adelanto, Essex, and Aurora centers were not handled by the standards required by ICE which declares that “placement in disciplinary segregation alone does not constitute a valid basis for using restraints.”
Conditions and treatment like this have driven immigrants to want to take their own lives, as nooses made of bed sheets were found in 15 different cells visited by the Inspector General. Inedible food and unlivable conditions confounding with the recent cancellation of English and recreation programs, the treatment of immigrants by the United States government is nothing short of that in a concentration camp.
A concentration camp is defined as “a place where large numbers of people (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, refugees, or the members of an ethnic or religious minority) are detained or confined under armed guard.” The US’s treatment of immigrants and refugees in search of a better life is a betrayal of the principles that founded our country. Fear mongering and the spreading of lies has pushed our country to stray from these principles.
But there are ways to help efforts at the border and in court to stop the inhumane treatment of immigrants.
On a campus that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, there is a movement to increase community within GW’s Black population. Organizations such as the Black Student Union, Black Men’s Initiative, and Black Women’s Forum empower Black students and provide a sense of community for an underrepresented group at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). But not every member of GW’s Black population identifies with this community.
Based on information from the US Census Bureau and the Williams Institute, about 1.6 million Black people in the US identify as LGBTQ. This of course does not include those who are not openly out. At GW, there are about 800 Black students, about 200 of whom one could consider “active” members of the community. But what causes those 600 students to not feel drawn to the rest of the community? One explanation could be queer Black students not feeling welcome in many Black spaces or a lack of an environment welcoming those students.
“I don’t really feel comfortable going to a lot of BSU, ASA, or any other [Black] organization events because I don’t feel welcomed by the Black community,” A student who wished to remain anonymous said.
This sentiment is shared with other queer* Black students, some of whom attribute it to not an intentional effort to exclude, but the nature of the spaces that are created for Black students.
“The times I went [to Black organized events] it didn’t seem like a space I’d like to necessarily be in,” Rumi Robinson said, “From my experience, the Black community seems very heteronormative* which just shouldn’t be the case,”
A common space for Black students to congregate is the Multicultural Student Services Center, or the MSSC. The MSSC serves as a safe space for many in the Black population, but also shares a home with the LGBTQ resource center. However, shared location does not always denote intersection.
“You can have a black gay cousin but your cousin can still be homophobic. They can be in the same building but that doesn’t mean they work together,” the anonymous student said.
In February during the Black Heritage Celebration, the MSSC housed an event with Dr. Nikki Lane who conducted a talk about the intersection of Blackness and an LGBTQ identity. The turnout was so successful there was only room to stand. Despite the success of an event directed toward the LGBTQ community, there has not been an event hosted by a Black student organization catered to queer Black students since.
Many of the non-professional Black student organizations at GW primarily cater to cis-gendered* heterosexual students. Because of this, queer members of the Black population feel excluded not just through the environment, but programming.
“I’m not a feminine presenting person, so I don’t feel comfortable around them because I’m not what they promote for,” the anonymous student said.
There are hopes for more recognition and consideration of LGBTQ members of the Black community, and more consistent programming that is welcoming for them.
“They could acknowledge queer people of color because for the most part it’s not brought up or talked about or celebrated,” Robinson said.
While programming could be geared toward queer members of the Black population, some recognize the value in the original meaning of the organizations. Black Men’s Initiative and Black Women’s Forum, for example, empower its members in their identity as a Black person in a society where it is consistently under attack.
“I think the Black Men’s Initiative’s individual membership is really welcoming in general, but I don’t know if there is a strong culture of recognition within the org. To a degree, it sort of reminds me of the phrase ‘do not ask, do not tell.’ Although I’m sure many of the members are open minded, there isn’t a great deal of outreach or connection [to the LGBTQ community],” Quentin McHoes said.
Some believe leadership in these organizations and student organizations in general can better represent this part of the population, and in turn make for a more inclusive and welcoming environment for queer Black students.
“Elect more students who identify as LGBTQ, so that the representation of those students is elevated. The programming simply has to be stronger and more dedicated toward black students who are LGBTQ,” McHoes said.
While the exclusion and isolation of Black LGBTQ students at GW may not be intentional, the effect is still real. However, there still lies the possibility of seeing more representation of queer students within the “active” Black community as organizations begin to think about the next school year.
*Queer is an umbrella term used to describe anyone who is not a cis-gendered heterosexual individual.
*Heteronormative is a descriptor of a frame of mind society or an individual can have. It centers around a heterosexual relationship or sexuality as the norm, excluding other sexual identities as possible or normal.
*Cis-gendered, is a person whose gender identity is congruent with the sex they were born as.
Washington, DC, specifically Foggy Bottom, is known for its busy and career driven atmosphere. While some people move to New York City to start their life in the arts or finance, others move to DC to start their career in politics. Home to federal government buildings, the monuments and Smithsonians, and headquarters for national corporations, walking through the area it’s hard to ignore the slew of briefcases and pantsuits around (with a healthy mix of tourists).
But at five o'clock when the streets are flooded with career people heading to the metro on their way home from making policy or closing a deal, are the the homeless people who are overlooked and have nowhere to return to. Down the street from the buildings where policies are made and in the heart of our country, homelessness is pervasive.
“The homeless population of DC is disserviced each and every day by this country--ironic, as we’re in the capitol city itself,” GW student Anmol Guraya said.
According to a count done by Point-In-Time, there were 6,904 homeless people in DC last year, about 600 of whom were unsheltered. Recently there has been an increase in visibly homeless people in the Dupont/Foggy Bottom area. In these cold months, shelters are filling up as temperatures reach as low as 17 degrees. Fortunately in DC it is legally required to provide shelter to the homeless when the temperature reaches below 32 degrees.
Homeless people in DC have 24 shelters to go to including Miriam’s Kitchen, a popular volunteer spot for GW students. Shelters offer services ranging from meals to drug/alcohol rehabilitation or career services. But city government is on track to close the DC General Homeless Shelter.
“DC legislators and council members have praised, and even helped to fund, organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen, yet fail to pursue the more cost-effective and vital solution to ending homelessness--housing,” GW student and Miriam’s Kitchen volunteer Sophia Halloran said.
In 2014 when running for office, one of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s main objections was to eradicate homelessness in the District. Thus far she has been succeeding, with a 7.6% decrease from 2017-2018, but Mayor Bowser did not mention the initiative again in her re-election. In 2017 only 47.1% of DC’s population was Black, but Black people made up 71% of the homeless population.
Many working homeless in Maryland and Virginia come to DC because of the less strict shelter policies or because they make too much money to qualify for housing subsidies or other assisted housing programs. Lack of affordable housing is the root of homelessness, and the current gentrification of historically Black DC neighborhoods is uprooting residents from their homes. Additionally, the $13.25 minimum wage is far from sufficient enough to cover the increasing cost of living. But how is this national issue affecting GW students?
GW is an urban campus, which means most of our buildings are open to the public until a certain hour at night. This, combined with our location, allows for those who are homeless to use our building and occupy our spaces; but not all GW students approve of this.
“I can definitely notice a sense of discomfort when there’s a homeless person hanging out in District,” GW student Molly Kaiser said.
Is this sense of discomfort or maybe even fear warranted? Along with the Hillternships (internships on Capitol Hill) and liberal attitudes, GW students can be known for their wealth, which some speculate contribute to students’ view of homeless people using GW spaces.
“I know that every time you see a homeless person you’re not able to give them money, but people who are wearing Gucci and Canada Goose jackets, their outfit costs $3,000, can’t even spare two bucks to give a person sitting there without something to eat?” Kaiser said.
There’s a painful irony surrounding the reality of a person sleeping in a tent three blocks from a GW student who’s gone to brunch at Founding Farmers, a notoriously expensive restaurant, for the third time in two weeks. There’s a dangerous sense of “otherness” in many of GW students’ perceptions of the homeless people on and around campus.
“Unless someone is actively posing a threat to your space and they have nowhere else to go, students have to recognize that and try to have some empathy,” Kaiser said.
Some students have in fact recognized that and even acted on it. Anmol Guraya is a first-year student, who just weeks after Spring semester started when the highest temperatures were below 30 degrees, took the initiative to help the homeless population in not just Foggy Bottom but the Columbia Heights neighborhood and Boston as well.
Guraya and her roommate raised $500 in just 6 hours to buy coats, blankets, hats, gloves, and thermal socks. The pair gave the supplies directly to those in the community and passed on packages to metro station managers as well. Many homeless people end up sleeping on the ground outside the stations after the last train, so metro managers distributed the supplies to them.
“The willingness of people to tangibly support those in need was remarkable and helped remind me of the presence of good in the world,” Guraya said. Other students like Guraya try to help out in any way they can.
“I personally use all of my tips from my job and give them to homeless people I see on the street,” Guinevere Thomas said, “I feel for them because I have the privilege to have food on my plate almost everyday, clothes on my back and a roof over my head.”
As a GW student it’s easy to become caught up in the high speed lifestyle of DC. Hopping from internships to jobs to club meetings to study sessions, there’s not much time to breathe. However, a busy lifestyle is not an excuse for a lack of empathy. While for some it may be off-putting to see a homeless individual in a predominantly college student occupied space, they pose no immediate threat.
They’re just people trying to take it day by day, and if they can be in a building with heat, or air conditioning in the summer, just to make a part of their day more comfortable--they have the right to. I encourage everyone to practice empathy and think about how you have the power to help eradicate homelessness in our nation’s capitol.
Photos by Peyton Wilson
A small tent community across the street from GW's Elliot School of International Affairs
Two homeless individuals' belongings stationed in front of Watergate.
A cart covered in tarp in front of the Kennedy Center.
A tent off of Virginia Ave., just blocks from the Washington Monument.
It’s too early in the game to know who exactly is looking to be the next Commander in Chief, but there are already 12 people in the running, 11 of which are Democratic. As 2019 progresses and we get closer to election year, both the Democratic and Republican parties have some convening and collaborating to do. Since the 2016 presidential election, both parties have struggled to find their identity.
The Democratic party contains self proclaimed democratic socialist members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT), but also the ideologically democratic and fiscally conservative members of the Blue Dog Coalition such as Sanford Bishop (GA-2) and Jim Costa (CA-16). The republican party has very traditionally conservative members such as Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) but also “Rockefeller Republicans” or moderate republicans such as Susan Collins (R-ME) or Mike Coffman who was voted out in the 2018 Midterms.
These factions within each party are by no means recent. Political identity is a spectrum, and will likely always remain so. However, in the wake of the 2016 election, there has been a zealous effort to require party members to pick a side. The grey area is almost nonexistent. This was seen with senators like Susan Collins, who backed the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. This ideology is dangerous. Forcing politicians to pledge allegiance to a party instead of their beliefs is a detriment to the proper function of our government, and makes bipartisanship increasingly difficult.
This all or nothing attitude is seen in citizens as well as politicians. After the 2016 election, traditionally moderate republicans moved their support to Donald Trump in order to stay allegiant to the Republican party, even though they didn’t agree with much of his rhetoric. Democrats begrudgingly supported Hillary Clinton despite their views and morals not being reflected. We can’t allow ourselves to head into this election with blind support of a candidate because they’re in our party. Do your research, have some conviction, and think for yourself.
Each party needs to do a lot of soul searching to decide the type of person they want occupying the White House. Being anti or pro-Trump isn’t enough of a qualification; people like him have existed before the 2016 election. What America needs is a president who can unify people across the political spectrum, enacting legislation that is based on constructive compromise and values--not spite and intransigence.
Without further ado, here are the 2020 presidential candidates as of 2/12/2019.
Cory Booker (D-NJ)*
-Criminal justice reform
-Unifying and uplifting the country
Kamala Harris (D-CA)*
-Criminal justice reform
-Medicare for all
Pete Buttigieg- Mayor of South Bend, IN
-Pushing for a generational shift in American politics
-First openly LGBTQ elected official to run for President
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)*
-Lower healthcare costs
Julian Castro- Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
-Improved immigration policy
-Proprieter of the American Dream
Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2)
-Affordable housing/cost of living
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)*
-Rebuilding the middle class
-Ending Washington corruption
John Delaney (MD-6)
-Removing big donors from politics
-Universal healthcare and improved education
-Reparations for Black Americans
-Re-establishing American values
Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
-Unity in politics
-Accountability in politics
-Medicare for all
-Universal basic income
Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
-Free public college education
-Raising minimum wage
-Strengthening military and law enforcement
*Candidates who are not taking donations from corporate PAC's
1. Attend a Black History Month event at your school or in your city.
Chances are, a community center, church, museum, or somewhere near you is putting on events all month for Black History Month. At GW in particular we have an entire calendar of events that you can attend. If you want to step off Foggy Bottom, here are a couple lists of events taking place around DC:
Here’s GW’s Black Heritage Celebration Events (the theme is “I’m Rooting for Everybody Black”):
If you don’t live in DC, ask around or just do some quick googling about what’s going on in your city. Black History Month events are a great opportunity to better understand the Black experience in America and our culture in general.
2. Ask questions
The best way to learn is by asking questions. I can’t speak for every Black person you may know, but I’m always welcome to answering questions about Black issues or just the general experience. If you’d like to know how you can be a better ally or even what is and isn’t okay to say or do in certain contexts, the best way to find out is to ask! Of course, ask if it’s okay first--not everyone may be okay with being an encyclopedia of the Black experience--but in general it should be okay.
3. Take time to recognize and dissect privilege you have
This one is more directed towards my White readers, but can apply to other non-Black people as well. Use this month as an opportunity to reflect on how your skin color hasn’t played a role in making your life more difficult. That’s what white privilege means. White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard, it just means your skin color isn’t making it harder. Reflect on times when you or someone else has been able to maneuver out of a situation or be treated differently because of your skin color in order to better understand how Black people in your life do not have the same luxury. Realize that you can use your privilege to help bring Black issues to the forefront and demand equality in ways that have not been achieved yet.
4. Learn about contributions Black people have made to society outside of the entertainment industry
While it’s widely recognized that all popular culture is rooted in Black innovation, from hoop earrings and acrylic nails to the entire music industry, we have had impact in different factions of society. The GPS you use to make sure your best friend got home safely, the light you turn on when you walk into the house, and even open heart surgery all come from Black minds. So do some research to see what daily things we use that wouldn’t be here without Black people.
5. Listen more than you speak
This one is more directed toward my colleagues pursuing higher education, but can be applied to everyone. Every Black person can relate to the moment in class when slavery, police brutality, or any Black issue comes up and multiple pairs of eyes shift to you. This can be frustrating. But what’s even more frustrating is when a non-Black person speaks on an experience you live every day. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re talking about how Black people feel about something or how it affects them, stop yourself. Take time to listen to a Black person and again, ask questions about their experience. Don’t assume you know everything about the Black experience because you read it in a book or watched the 13th documentary on Netflix.
6. Remember that it’s not okay to say the n-word.
Under any circumstance. At all. Oh but it’s in a song so it’s ok--NOPE! Oh but I’m not saying it with a hard r so it’s ok--NOPE! Oh but I’m also a minority so it’s ok--NOPE! You don’t get a pass because your skin is slightly more melanated. Remove if from your vocabulary. You can go your life without saying it, I promise nothing bad will happen to you by not saying it. If you currently do ask yourself why you want to say it so badly. Any reason you think of is not justifiable so don't do it. It doesn't matter if your one Black friend allows you to say it around them. Just don’t say it. If you see one of your friends saying it, call them out. It takes a village.
7. Encourage other non-Black people to do everything listed above
Especially #6. But in all seriousness, it’s important for non-Black people to hold one another accountable. Encourage each other to be better allies to the Black community outside of tweeting about it. Actions speak louder than words. And do the things on this list year round, not just for the next 21 days! Use this month as an opportunity to truly ask yourself if you’re doing enough, because positive change comes from understanding and shared experiences.
Read through articles I write on my own time on topics that I care about!