Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children?

The United States government launched a new, and to many eyes and ears, fascist program for asylum seekers and people crossing into the United States. Touting questionable lines from the Bible and making false claims about the law, Trump and Sessions have proudly announced a zero-tolerance program, ignoring the catastrophic history of such programs in the past, in which everyone is charged with a criminal offense and sent to Federal prison. If they are with children, the children are taken from the parents, often by force, and sent off, with the excuse that “the law” says that children can’t go with their parents to prison. There is no such law, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is `deterrence.’ What matters is the imposition of force and violence on the most vulnerable.

Stores have been turned into giant child detention centers, and military bases are being turned into child prison camps. One former store in Brownsville, Texas, is currently holding 1500 boys… or it was a week ago. Today, probably more. According to Rochelle Garza, an immigration attorney based in Texas, “What’s happening is atrocious. It’s really unbelievable to separate a child from their parents, children as young as five. The parents don’t know where their child ends up. They’re being pushed through the criminal system and immigration system without any knowledge of where their children are and their children don’t know where their parents are. That’s against the whole point of unaccompanied minor reunification process. The whole thing is garbage right now. The kids are not being sent to any parent. It doesn’t make any sense.” Meanwhile, prison staffs and administrators are complaining that they’re not ready to “handle” the influx of children. Children.

Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children in this unholy mess? We see pictures, such as the one above, of girl infants, toddlers, children weeping, crying, screaming, trembling, and then … they’re gone. Into the night and fog. Where are the girls? Is anyone paying any attention to the specific needs and identities of girl children? Yesterday, the Office of Refugee Resettlement updated its “Fact Sheet”. Here’s the one sentence that in any way alludes to gender: “In FY 2017, approximately half of all children referred were over 14 years of age, and over two-thirds were boys.” That is the full extent of the Office’s concern for girls. Nothing. Less than nothing.

Children and parents are entering the United States together. The children are not “unaccompanied minors” until they are ripped from their parents’ arms, arms which lovingly protected them on the long and arduous journey to the north. Now those children are being shipped like so much freight, sent hither and yon across the country with less than no regard for the children or for their parents or grandparents. In response, the State quotes the Bible. Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children in this unholy mess? A specter haunts the United States, and it is that of the disappeared.

 

(Photo Credit: Slate / John Moore / Getty)

#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina women made history by insisting women’s autonomy must matter


In Argentina today, the lower legislative house, la Cámara de los Diputados, after long and intensive debate, voted to decriminalize abortion. The vote was 129 in favor, 125 opposed. The bill now goes on to the Senate, which is not expected to pass, but these days … who knows? Across Latin America and the Caribbean, where 97 percent of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, today’s legislative step by the Argentine lower house is viewed as a clear breakthrough, a historicmoment. Around the world, women and their supporters are watching and hailing the event as historic as well. Today’s vote is historic because of what it portends for women’s access to real reproductive health services, rights and power. Today’s vote is equally historic because it indicates that women are making historic, step by step, year by year. Today’s Argentine vote occurred at all because of the work of Ni Una Menos and their supporters, who began breaking rules and making history when they refused to accept femicide and other forms of violence against women as an “unfortunate but inevitable” aspect of Argentina machismo. They said, No more! They yelled, Ni una menos! And they have caused the ground to tremble and the walls to shake. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos!

Two years ago, in October, under the banner of Ni Una Menos, women declared a general strike against all violence against women. Women had already been organizing against violence against women for two years. Argentine women had been organizing as well for thirty years, in various encuentros and other structures. They decided, Enough is enough! They organized the first national women’s strike in Argentine history, and they shut the nation down. At the time Ni Una Menos argued, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.” At the center of the web of intersections lay women’s autonomy.

Two years later, Ni Una Menos women, and their supporters, brought that argument to halls of Argentina’s congress. They filled the streets. They told story after story after story of those who had had to endure the pain and danger of illegal abortions. Studentsled, occupying schools, filling the streets. Workers joined in. From the mass demonstrations two years to today’s vote, the women of Argentina, as an organized self-identified autonomous political movement, have mobilized in every way, day by day by day. They have taken the stories and turned them into educative moments. They have taken the educative moments and turned them into votes. They have taken the swords and plowshares and turned them into women’s power. At the center of all this is the simple and complex understanding that women’s autonomy lies at the center of everything … or there is nothing.

When today’s vote was announced, the shouting inside and outside the legislature was described as “louder than when Lionel Messi scores a goal.” Today’s vote was historicand, for some, revolutionary. In Argentina today, women made revolutionary history possible, once again, by insisting and forcing the State to take on that women’s autonomy must matter. Ni Una menos! #NiUnaMenos

 

(Photo Credit: Pagina12 / Bernardino Avila) (Image Credit: Le Monde)

Strip searches: a daily, degrading routine I have been subjected to since the tender age of 14

Strip searches: a daily, degrading routine I have been subjected to since the tender age of 14. Less than a month into being 14, I was still experiencing some pretty awkward, uncomfortable, and funky things going on with my pubescent body, and I hadn’t yet fully embraced that I was, indeed, very much a woman. These factors made my first few strip searches all the more excruciating.

I remember how terrified I was, being certified as an adult and being transferred from a juvenile facility to an adult county jail. It felt surreal. Almost immediately after my arrival I was stripped naked and placed on suicide watch– also naked, but for a scratchy turtle suit.

When I first arrived, a female officer brought me into a small, dank, dungeon-like room with harsh lighting and ordered me to take off all my clothes. Dumbfounded, I just stared at her for a moment until she clearly repeated herself. I quickly realized that I didn’t have much of a choice, and I found her uniform to be quite intimidating. Trembling, I went through the motions of removing my clothes until I stood before her, the totality of my flesh bared. I was suddenly hyperaware of my hammering heart, the blood roaring in my eyes, my flushed cheeks, the cold sweat trickling down my back and under my breasts. I felt so exposed, so humiliated. My eyes were squeezed shut, my fists clenched at my side, my head down: I was deeply ashamed of my nakedness, silently apologizing for it. With my eyes shut I swore could feel the searing heat of her eyes roving across my body, dissecting it, though logically I knew she did no such thing.

I recall the lead in my stomach, the bile in my throat as I was ordered to open my mouth, raise my tongue and run my fingers along my gums. Reach my arms to the ceiling and pick up my breasts, lift up one foot at a time while wiggling my toes, and finally turn around with my back to the officer, squat down, spread my butt cheeks, and cough.

Afterwards, she left the room, allowing me to change in privacy, though I viewed it as giving me the chance to regain my nonexistent composure. She noticed the tears that burned in my eyes, my quivering lip. I was in neither psychologically nor emotionally equipped to handle the experience that brought me to prison, nor the ones that followed it.

Strip searches continued to be as humiliating, degrading, and difficult throughout my year in county jail– I was always a reluctant participant. After I pleaded guilty and was sent to state prison, eventually things began to change as I adjusted and adapted. The sad reality is that I became numb to the dehumanization I was regularly experiencing. Eventually, strip searches ceased to perturb and humiliate me to the extent they once did. I came to accept them as one of the unfavorable facets of my life in prison; I became desensitized to objectification.

One should never stop being bothered by something as degrading as strip searches, no matter how frequently one is subjected to them. However, it is important to realize that it is one awful and inevitable aspect of being incarcerated that, until it is amended, must be tolerated. Sometimes, courage isn’t always having the loudest voice: it is knowing the difference between when to remain silent and when to speak up and stand up for what is right.

So I will continue to endure squatting and coughing if it means I’ll be able to see my loved ones, friends, and family in the prison’s visiting room. We all need to make sacrifices sometimes, compromise our values for a greater purpose– even those of us on the Inside.

 

(Photo Credit:  Ms. Magazine)

Claudia Patricia Gómez González, Razan al-Najjar: Two facing mirrors in the labyrinth we are

Claudia Patricia Gómez González

“Let us enter into the nightmare, into nightmares …. It only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth” Jorge Luis Borges

Razan al-Najjar was buried on Saturday, June 2, in Gaza. On the same day, June 2, Claudia Patricia Gómez González was buried in Guatemala. According to some reports, both Razan al-Najjar and Claudia Patricia Gómez González were 20 years old. Israeli soldiers shot Razan al-Najjar in the chest and killed her. A US Customs and Border Patrol shot Claudia Patricia Gómez González in the head and killed her. From militarized border to militarized border, slaughter of the innocents is the order of the day. The torture and murder of young unarmed women trying to make the world a better place is our contemporary fearful symmetry.

Claudia Patricia Gómez González was Mayan Mam, enjoyed life, studied hard. She grew up in San Juan Ostuncalco, a largely poor indigenous community outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where she was raised mostly by women relatives. By all accounts, Claudia Patricia Gómez González was both happy and ambitious. She studied accounting, obtaining a certificate in 2016. She couldn’t get a job. She applied to Guatemala’s only public university and was rejected. Her only local option, educationally, was to attend a private university, which was beyond her family’s financial means. And so Claudia Patricia Gómez González headed north, crossed the Mexico – US border, and then was shot and killed. The US Customs and Border Patrol first tried to lie, claiming that Claudia Patricia Gómez González was armed, that she assaulted an officer. Fortunately, a nearby resident caught much of the events on her cellphone, and so, without explanation, the agency changed its story. Now it claims it will investigate. Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s family know better. Her aunt, Dominga Vicente, explained, “This is not the first person dying in the United States. There are many people that have been treated like animals and that isn’t what we should do as people. Don’t treat us like animals.” Another aunt, who wants to remain anonymous, added, “She wanted to live her dreams, make something of her life. I was waiting for her to call, but the call I got was to tell me she was dead. This is a nightmare. I am so sad.” Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s mother, Lidia González, wonders, “Claudia was a good girl and a good student. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not fair that immigration killed her – why did they do that?” Why did they do that?

Razan al-Najjar was locally well known when she was killed. Razan al-Najjar worked as a volunteer emergency medical worker at the border separating Gaza and Israel. She always wore a white paramedic’s uniform when she served as a medical worker. She was well known at the demonstrations, rushing in to help anyone injured. She did this to help people, to make the world a better place, and to promote the advancement of women, everywhere but in particular in Gaza. Razan al-Najjar said, “Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too.” According to one eyewitness, Razan al-Najjar rushed to help an elderly man who had been hit in the head by a tear-gas canister. According to others, Razan al-Najjar and other paramedics were walking, arms raised, towards the fence in order to evacuate injured protesters. In either case, Razan al-Najjar was shot in the chest by an Israeli soldier … indisputably. A month before she was murdered, Razan al-Najjar explained, “We have one goal, to save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.” Razan al-Najjar’s mother, Sabreen al-Majjar, mourns: “I want the world to hear my voice … what’s my daughter’s fault? She will leave a large emptiness at home.”

There is a large emptiness left in so many homes today, around the world.

Some think that when two mirrors are placed opposite each other, they create infinity, a reflection that passes back and forth endlessly. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges knew better. He knew that two mirrors create a labyrinth, and that that labyrinth is not only the stuff of nightmares, it is nightmare itself, at the center of which is a monster, part human part beast. In the depths of Argentina’s dirty wars, Borges understood that the cruelty and violence at the heart of the labyrinth was not necessarily that of the human nor that of the beast. We are the nightmare, we are the monster at the heart of the labyrinth, we are the labyrinth itself, and Claudia Patricia Gómez González and Razan al-Najjar are the reflecting mirrors that did not create the labyrinth but were instead shattered by it. Rest in peace Claudia Patricia Gómez González. Rest in peace Razan al-Najjar. There is a large emptiness left today; why did we do that?

Razan al-Najjar

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: 972 Magazine)

Why does the United States hate Roxana Hernández?

Roxana Hernández

Roxana Hernández died, or was murdered, last Friday. Roxana Hernández was a 33 year-old transgender woman from Honduras. Roxana Hernández was one of about 60 transgender women who participated in the migrant caravan that brought together asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The vast majority were from Honduras, because Honduras is the epicenter of violence in Central America, and in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all gender nonconforming people. Some call it the Refugee Caravan, and others call it the Stations of the Cross Caravan. Having traveled over 2000 miles – on foot, by train, by bus – Roxana Hernández arrived at the United States border where she presented herself, applied for asylum, was detained and thrown into the infamous icebox for five days, transported to a detention center, transported to a hospital, transported to death. Roxana Hernández did not die of pneumonia nor did she die of HIV-related causes. She was murdered, by the United States. The Stations of the Cross begin with betrayal. We betrayed Roxana Hernández and condemned her to a slow, agonizing, torturous death.

Roxana Hernández fled the general violence of Honduras and, especially, the violence against transgender women. Hers is the story of hope. She made it to the United States. On May 9th, she presented herself as an applicant for asylum. She was held for five days in the freezing cells, known as the icebox. Three years ago, the American Immigration Council reported on the deplorable, abusive, inhumane conditions in the cells known as the icebox. At that time, three years ago, the Council noted that the conditions of the icebox had been decried in 2013, and then again before that. Last year, Amnesty issued a report describing Honduras as one of the most dangerous places on earth for transgender women. In their report, Amnesty noted that the violence against Honduras was [a] not new and [b] had been fully documented for years. None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Roxana Hernández should have been an easy and welcome candidate for asylum. Instead, she was dumped into a freezer.

After five days, Roxana Hernández was transferred. She had physically, emotionally and spiritually deteriorated terribly in the short span of five days. On May 17, Roxana Hernández was transported to the hospital. On May 25, Roxana Hernández was dead. In their report, ICE agents identify Roxana Hernández as Jeffry Hernández. Even in death, Roxana Hernández was not allowed even a scintilla of dignity … and that is precisely the point. Her name was and is Roxana Hernández, and her friends called her Roxy.

According to Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Al Otro Lado and Diversidad Sin Fronteras, who together organized the Caravan, “Roxy died due to medical negligence by US immigration authorities. In other words, she was murdered, much like Claudia Gómez González was murdered by a Border Patrol agent’s bullet less than a week ago. Roxy died in the country she had sought to start a new life in, she died for being a transgender woman, a migrant who was treated neither with respect nor with dignity.”

This is the land of #JusticiaPara and #JusticeFor. #JusticiaParaRoxana. #JusticiaParaClaudia. #JusticeForRoxana. #JusticeForClaudia. A land without mercy, redemption, love or humanity. A land where we greet the vulnerable, the stranger, with death by freezer or death by bullet. And all the people shall say, Amen.

 

(Photo Credit: Guardian / Transgender Law Center)

Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?

 

(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Newark, New Jersey, is the next Flint!

While Flint, Michigan, is still waiting for clean water, another water crisis is brewing, this time in a predominantly Black community in the largest city in New Jersey, Newark. It has been an ongoing fight between residents in the state and the city itself.

Newark school teachers and an environmental organization are preparing to file a lawsuit against both Newark and New Jersey, claiming that a lead tainted water problem has not been resolved. While the city denies the assertion (calling it “absolutely and outrageously false” and a politically motivated call to action in the heat of a mayoral campaign), state and district officials shut off water fountains in 30 schools in the city, in response to the testing that showed elevated levels of lead contaminating the water in the schools.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a federal report has noted that Newark’s lead levels are among the highest in the country over the last three years for water systems serving over 50,000 people. The NRDC also alleges that Newark unlawfully denied its public record requests that sought information about the water testing.

In a 2017 study on the drinking water, about 20 percent of samples came in above the Safe Drinking Water Act standards for lead concentrations. The highest ten percent of those samples averaged 26 parts per billion (ppb); the federal limit is 15 ppb and one address tested more than 9 times the standard.

Not only Newark is suffering from dangerous amounts of lead in their water, the whole state is affected. At least one sample from four out of five public water systems in New Jersey contained lead between 2013 and 2015.

It is not just lead threatening the state’s water supply. A cancer-causing chemical, PFAS (fluorinated compounds, including perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, found in food packaging and nonstick products), is more pervasive in New Jersey than any other state in the country. From 2013-2016, testing required by the EPA showed that 16 million Americans were being served water containing PFOA. 1.6 million New Jerseyans are drinking PFOA infected water, the most in any single state. PFOA is a manmade chemical and doesn’t breakdown naturally in the environment, leading scientists to believe that every American has some amount of the chemical in their bloodstream.

Sources for the fluorinated compounds in New Jersey include:
Naval Weapons Station Earle, (Monmouth County);
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, (Ocean County);
Solvay Specialty Polymer and Arkema, West Deptford (Gloucester County);
Dupont’s Chambers Works facility, Pennsville (Salem County).

Firefighting foam is blamed for the contamination in military sites. Even though the foam is no longer used in training, it is very likely that the chemicals have remained in the environment, and more importantly, in the water. In November, the New Jersey Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would institute enforceable standards for PFOA in drinking water at 14 parts per trillion, which is a stricter threshold than the federal government (at 70 parts per trillion enacted in 2016).

The moral of the story is: One does not need to look at red states for crisis in water contamination; these problems extend beyond red and blue states. New Jersey failed its citizens in providing clean and safe drinking water, and it will continue to fail until politicians are held accountable for the abysmal response to our poisoned drinking water.

This is a bottle of water from the tap.

 

(Photo Credit: WDEL)

 

Incarcerated women like myself practice Hygge on a daily basis

Since our slightly less urbane and definitely not gluten-free ancestors performed magic by discovering fire, the desire to be cozy has become innate for far more than just survival. I had no idea the love of coziness had a name: all I knew was that it was one of my reasons for existence, and there was nothing better after a long day than to don my favorite sweatsuit, taking care to look as lumpen, misshapen, and questionably inhuman as possible. I would heat up a fluffy blanket in the drier, grab a hot beverage of choice, and delve into whatever I was currently reading along with my mother, who was an avid reader as well. Apparently a love of reading is hereditary. Oddly enough, I only discovered the sense of comfort and well-being I adore so much has a name, Hygge, while in prison, which I learned reading an article in Time magazine. Thanks, Time!

After reading the article, I quickly asked a loved one to order me a copy of “The Little Book of Hygge” by Meik Wiking– the CEO of The Happiness Research Institute based in Copenhagen. I was charmed by the book’s enriching techniques and suggestions as to how to make your life more “hyggeligt”; areas included lighting, ‘togetherness’ and socialization, food and drink, clothing, and the furnishings of your home. What inspired me the most is how incarcerated women like myself practice Hygge on a daily basis, in spite of our oppressive, restrictive environment.

Hygge practices are highly individualized and unique for everyone, and behind prison walls they are as well. Some of my favorite Hygge practices mirror what brought me comfort at home. When I’m not busy, I still love to change into my favorite sweatsuit and crawl into bed with a book, and I enjoy listening to music, effectively tuning out my environment. Every night to wash off the sweat of the day I take a long, sauna-like shower; as the steam envelops me and the hot water massages my muscles, I am able to relax and unwind, let go of whatever worries and emotions have been gnawing at me throughout the day.

I’ve observed, fascinated, as my peers knit luxurious scarf and hat sets, blankets, mittens and gloves, and, my personal favorite, socks, that appear professionally made. Not only is wrapping yourself in these soft, woolen, colorful items comforting and the definition of Hygge, but the very act of knitting and crocheting is, as well. I’m sure I would find it very soothing if I had the patience.

In addition to our artistic creativity not being stultified, we women prisoners have proven ingenious in regards to our cooking abilities. What could be more Hygge than prison-made macaroni and cheese, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, stromboli, chicken stir fry, or cheesecake? Maybe a lot of things, but still.

Though activists like myself may be ardent in our belief that an environment such as prison is one that no human being deserves to be confined in, America continues to incarcerate more people than any other country, making us a Prison Nation. Human beings having the uncanny gift of resilience and adaptation, many of us incarcerated individuals adapt to the situations we are in, and try to make the best of them. However, no amount of positivity and humanity we prisoners bring to the penal system, no amount of “reform” that lawmakers vow but never quite seem to put into action, will ever mitigate the Draconian, cruel, backwards mentality that human beings are disposable and should be thrown away when we make bad choices instead of teaching us to make better ones.

Comfort can be a great thing– but Noam Chomsky warned us about its illusions.

I remain fully aware of the life I helped to take while strumming my guitar, watching a movie, playing chess, or participating in sports here in prison: most days the guilt threatens to swallow me whole. I’m sure many of my peers experience similar feelings of remorse. Prison isn’t filled with monsters. It’s filled with people like you and me, who have made terrible decisions. It isn’t an ugly place; you can find beauty and compassion if you know where to look. If you are ever in Muncy, Pennsylvania, I’ll gladly show you.

 

(Photo Credit: Ms. Magazine)

Decolonizing Education: Life of Freedom, Light of Liberation

Black girls are criminalized in school for the way they wear their hair, and these oppressive policies are just one way the colonized education system is intertwined with the criminal justice system. On May 15th2017, two Black girls who attend Malden Charter School in Boston were given detention, pulled from their sports teams, and told they could not go to prom because of wearing box braids to school. The dress code policy at their school says that “students cannot wear drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inches in thickness or height is not allowed). This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort. Hair extensions are not allowed.” School administrators explain that the hair policy in the dress code aims to foster a culture of education rather than fashion or materialism. But “hair arrangement is a [historically significant] mode of African art,” so why are students being told to reject this part of their culture? At the same time, several schools in South Africa have put restrictions on students with natural hair. For example, the Pretoria High School for Girls told their students to “fix” their hair if they were wearing it naturally. There were also restrictions on corn rows, dreadlocks, and loose braids. This led to school protests in 2016 by students claiming that administrators did not want to accept the fact that they were African. The natural rules were finally suspended in this one high school, but only after a protest and a petition that had over 25,000 signatures.

Across the United States and around the globe, young girls face restriction of education because of oppressive western standards of beauty used as the ideals in schools. These policies are proof that colonialism is driving our education system and criminalizing the identities of non-white students. The colonized nature of our education system contributes directly to the school-to-prison pipeline. As more students are suspended or expelled because of oppressive policies, the more likely they are to come in contact with the criminal justice system. A report done by the National Women’s Law Center that focused on public schools in Washington DC found that Black girls are 20.8 times more likely than White girls to be suspended. Additionally, students suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation are three times more likely to be in contact with the criminal justice system within the year. Colonialism and racism lie at the core of certain school policies, which in turn pushes kids out of school and into prison.

It is easy to claim that education is a tool for liberation because it provides limitless opportunities to individuals. But what standards are expected to be met in order to achieve those opportunities? We must begin restructuring our education system as a way to decolonize our institutions in order to combat mass incarceration plaguing women across the globe. This restructuring needs to reevaluate both school policies and curriculum ensuring that history is not taught selectively, but instead is inclusive of all identities. Decolonization involves looking at formal systems of education and questioning why we accept them as the universal standard for academia. Why are school systems aiming to standardize the way students thrive as intellectual beings instead of creating interdependence and collaboration among several forms of intelligence? Decolonizing our systems requires us to challenge our notions of what we deem academic. As we do this we will see how art-based education has been written off as an “extra-curricular” rather than essential part of education. Arts-based education teaches students how to connect with theories using emotions and creativity. Furthermore, arts-based education, like storytelling and craft are at the core of certain non-western cultures. When thinking of decolonizing our education in order to decriminalize our society, remember that people connect through words and feelings more than theories and figures. Envisioning decolonized institutions where the diverse systems of knowledge that students bring to classroom is celebrated and not criminalized is essential to thinking about steps toward collective liberation, so I leave you with my own attempt:

Light of Freedom, Light of Liberation

Ajetha Nadanasabesan

To be unfree
is to be big,
in a tragic,
tragic way
that makes us
bask in the grief
of the pink
morning light.

this light reminds
us of the mourning
of another day where
soles on the black
pavement can quickly
be rearranged to be
black souls on the
pavement.

To be unfree
coerces sense of self
to grow large because
the panic of the red
white and blue
lights is more
terrifying that
the black shadows
of hurricane.

To be liberated
is to be small
in a special,
special way
that makes us
feel connected
to the vast indigo
evening light.

this light reminds us
that the mourning
will still come
but like the way
the salt kisses
the tide,
it’ll be restorative,
it’ll be collective,
it’ll be larger than

self.

 

(Photo Credit: Newsweek / Max Rossi / Reuters)

My first Feminism lesson

My first Feminism lesson:

So in the 80’s there was a famous Soweto Rape Gang called “Jackrollers”. They would go to discos’s parties and take women at gun point to sleep with them without their consent. So this particular day at my home which was a Shebeen run by mother, three women came running hiding themselves under the beds and behind wardrobes. My mother rushed to the door and I was right behind her. She was greeted by a gun from one of the Jackrollers who was demanding her to bring out the women that ran into the house. My mother’s response was NO.

The gang leader asked if my mom was willing to die for the women she did not know and the response from that Nkwanyana queen was .” It is unfortunate that they had to run into this house because even if I do not know them, but as a mother I am not willing to give them over to you just because you have a gun. Maybe if they went next door but they chose this house and that is unfortunate for you because your gun pointing at me will not let me hand them over to you”.

I was scared to death but later became strong after seeing this old woman who was standing up against a gang of rapists that have held the whole of Soweto at ransom.

For me that was feminism in action given by one and only Queen of my heart 90 years old Audrey Babhekile Nkwanyana- Magwaza.

This lesson will never go away, it has always been in my mind but most importantly in my heart.

 

(Photo Credit: Brand South Africa)