A Quiet Chaos- My Battle with Anxiety and Depression by Jewell Bell

Anxiety and depression have no particular face. There's no prerequisite of race, sex, gender, or socioeconomic status in order to qualify one from suffering from its reeling effects. The more insidious part of it is that in relation to anxiety, no one may know you're actually suffering from it but you. 

It's a Quiet Chaos.

The blissful feeling of revelry at a party or the mundane moment of watching your favorite tv series, suddenly turns into an inescapable feeling of confusion and panic as your heart quickens, body begins to sweat, and your mind convinces your body that something is wrong while your surroundings are no longer familiar, whereby you're almost sure you're going to die. 

At least that's what it feels like for me. For almost 3 years now, I have silently suffered from depression and anxiety, compounded with panic attacks that make me feel like there's a disconnection between my body and mind. Triggered by a traumatic year and loss of my cousin (who was more like a brother due to our closeness) and having a front row seat to his deterioration and losing battle against cancer, it has taken a serious toll on my mental health. The past few years have been a constant battle of fighting for what feels like my sanity, mustering energy to even get out of bed, many sleepless nights, and reminding myself that I am not trapped inside of my own body.

That my body is my refuge, a safe space, my personal Nirvana. 

I live here and this home is good.  

The feeling of entrapment is what's most unnerving. My heart quickens a bit as I even write this. And when my anxiety becomes so intense that it develops into a full blown panic attack, the come down of it all can feel confusing and even embarrassing. The emotional and mental labor of having to piece yourself together again but on constant edge that another one is not far behind. It was that same feeling I had on a subway in Paris, excitingly anticipating the Eiffel Tower in person, which quickly turned into an internal panic, whereby my amazing friend supported me through it and with a calming voice kept reassuring me that I was going to be ok. Or last Tuesday night when I frantically ran to my mother's room to wake her as my heart raced out of control and my pajamas were soaked with sweat, as she supported me through the worst panic attack I have had up to date. I almost always cry after a panic attack, feeling crazy and embarrassed as I try to conceptualize the internal purgatory that has taken place within my mind. But why the embarrassment?

Social media also has a way of distorting reality, whereby we present our best false selves to the world, and in no way can a perfect   "selfie" with a few hundred likes encapsulates the true essence of a person's life. On the outside, I look like a young woman who exudes confidence, creativity, valor and has her life together. While that may be partially true, there's more nuanced factors at play. Because anxiety has no particular "look" or monolithic image. For the most part I don't discuss my anxiety with others because it can be confusing for many. I've gotten all kinds of reactions when I have opened up- anything from not really taking me serious, a silent look of bewilderment, to telling me it's all in my head, or that I should just "pray and strengthen my walk with God." However, mental illness is a serious issue despite its stigma. And that stigma is all too problematic in the black community that tends to conflate the issue of mental illness with a lack of a strong spiritual foundation. I am a firm believer in Jesus Christ, but I also believe God uses and gives us vessels- vessels such as therapy, facilities, medication as well as a myriad of mental health institutions that seek to help those in need. Some situations can't just simply be prayed away.

It has taken me a lot of courage to write this blog post and even admit to the people who read my writing what I'm actually dealing with on a daily basis. I don't want to be someone who shy away from difficult subjects or only chooses to showcase the positive components of my life and when I seemingly have it together. It's okay to admit when you're not okay, and can be quite empowering to be vulnerable. I'm realizing that it's time to go back into therapy because I can't do it on my own anymore. In some way, to whoever may read this, I hope that this post provides you with comfort in knowing you are not alone as it has done me in writing it. I welcome the harmonious moments of serenity when it returns, because it has forced me to appreciate the small moments. 

And the quiet ones...

Especially when they're not chaotic.

 

-Written by Jewell Bell 

 

Lessons Schools Don't Teach: The Booklist for Black Resistance by Jewell Bell

Black History Month is officially here, though for me everyday is Black History Month. Moreover, it is important to note that Black History Is American History (cuz let's face it, we weren't oppressing ourselves), despite our school systems failure to treat it as such. Nevertheless, to celebrate this amazing month, I have compounded a list of literary works dedicated to Black history and race in America that I feel are necessary, pivotal, and thought provoking to enlighten black consciousness. 

1. We Were 8 Years in Power-Ta-Nehisi Coats

2. The Color of Law- Richard Rothstein 

3. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- Danielle L. McGuire

4. Just Mercy- Bryan Stevenson 

5. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks- Jeanne Theoharis

6. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration- Isabel Wilkerson

7. They Left Great Marks on Me- Kidada E. Williams

8. Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction- Jim Downs

9. The Souls of Black Folk- W.E.B Du Bois

10. White Rage- Carol Anderson 

11. Nobody- Marc Lamont Hill

12. Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice- Phillip House

13. Women Race & Class- Angela Davis

14. Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement- Angela Davis

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8 Lessons 2017 Taught Me by Jewell Bell

The New Year is quickly approaching, and like many during this time I find myself nostalgically reflecting on this past year's struggles and successes. As cliché as it may seem, the New Year has a way of feeling like a fresh start and inspires one to be the best "New Me, Who Dis?" they can be. However, rather than listing off New Year's Resolutions (because let's face it, most of us fail at them before the first month is over), I wanted to focus more on all the little lessons 2017 has taught me. Through its colorful ups and disappointing downs, this past year has left me with gems that will resonate with me throughout the new year to come. 

1. You Don't Have Shit Figured Out, and That's Ok- Like many Millennials, I find myself constantly hyperventilating over the current state of affairs in my life.  From relationships to student loans, barely there jobs to unknown careers, it's very easy to feel like you're drowning and not accomplishing much in life. And social media does not make it any easier when comparing your life to people who "seemingly have it together" (Ya MCM has leased cars and still lives with his momma, and the "Relationship Goals" couple on the gram is one argument from being over). But as a young woman in my 20s, who says I have to have it together? My journey is my own, so enjoy the ride, relax, and focus on your own success.

2. You're Worth More Than 3 "Good" Days- This year I finally rid myself of my demon, a guy who tasted like nicotine, heartbreak, and sheer disappointment. We've all been there: hopelessly enthralled with someone who was not The One. Irrespective of the chemistry or how intelligent and attractive someone may be, if they cannot make you a priority in their lives or is emotionally unavailable, let them go. In emotionally attaching myself to someone who was emotionally destructing in their own life, it was holding me back from other romantic opportunities and seriously affecting my own growth and self development. You're worth more than empty words, ambiguous feelings, and a few good dates. And as the proverbial saying goes, "A Man's rejection is God's Protection." It ain't worth it, Sis.  

3. Let Yourself Grieve- To date, 2015 was the absolute worst year of my life and I am still suffering from the rippling affects of that crippling year. Death is not easy and when you lose people that are extremely close to you in such a short timeframe, it completely changes your life. I have a tendency to suppress Grieve at the pivotal time I should be allowing myself the space to purge it out. When I find myself becoming irritable, bitter, angry, or taciturn, I know it's that formidable emotion bubbling from my pit and attempting to force it's way out: Grief. Allowing myself to scream, cry, and rage until I can't anymore is actually more therapeutic than it is detrimental. Giving yourself the space to affectively express your emotions, rather than suppressing them is a pivotal step in self healing. 

4. Anxiety Isn't Embarrassing/ It's Ok To Let People Know You're Not Ok-  At some point, I'd like to further elucidate in another blog post my experience with anxiety and panic attacks. In battling anxiety, I find myself becoming closed off in letting loved ones and friends know that it's something I suffer from, especially as it pertains to my panic attacks. There are moments where it becomes embarrassing, as if I'm crazy and no one understands. As a result, I will isolate myself and retreat from those that love me the most. However, communicating with those that you feel close to can be beneficial in them helping you and supporting you through it. 

5. The World is Bigger Than Your Small Surroundings- It's amazing how one moment you can be feeling unloved, undesired, and unattractive, and the next moment be making out with a beautiful Cuban boy along the Malecón and in the streets of Havana.  It's common to feel like the only dating options around you are the ones that reside in your familiar surroundings. However, the world is filled with endless opportunities to socially interact and engage with people from all over. Traveling has given me the opportunity to reimagine my life and the romantic possibilities that will come. Don't limit yourself. And as the cliché affirms, there's "plenty of fish in the sea." Or in my case, the Malecón. 

6. You Have the Right to Say No and Grow Out of Relationships- This can be a tough one and as a person who emotionally capitulates to people because I'm a softie at heart, saying "No" is necessary at times. Even the reality of growing out of friendships with people is ok. There will be in times in life that require us to deviate in different directions that are distinct from those we have grown up with or not always be available. In growing, we sometimes outgrow friends, relationships, etc. and it doesn't make us assholes or terrible people. My auntie Marsha always told me, "people come in your life for a reason, season, or lifetime." When someone has served their purpose in your life, without malice or resentment, it is ok to let them go. Life is a journey and you have the right to grow and detach from situations and people. 

7. Stop Waiting for People to Make Room In Their Lives for You, Make Room For You- Of all the lessons, this one was the most painful but important one I learned. Throughout my life, I've always been prone to feeling hurt, disappointed, and left out by people that mean the most to me. Desperately searching for room in their lives, I discovered I was neglecting making room for myself in my own life. There is no rule or law that says people have to make time for you or carve out space for you in their priorities. In realizing my own resilience and self worth, I began to thrive when I started focusing on my own growth and becoming content with my own company. My worth isn't contingent upon the validation of others, including family. It's a lesson that I still am putting into practice but am so happy the peace it has brought me.

8. Empty The Bucket- With the help of my beloved uncle who sends me daily reminders and texts, this little gem is my favorite lesson of them all. In focusing on my own self fufillment and worth (lesson #7), it has given me the clarity and space to pursue my passions and focus my attention on my goals. I'm learning to focus and craft my talents to eventually share with the world, which is central and pivotal to my growth. Realizing your purpose and staying committed to its execution, irrespective of setbacks, derailments, negativity, insecurity, etc, is the biggest lesson I have learned and will take with me to the New Year. Whether we reach it or not, we all are born with purpose and impacting the lives of others in some way. I look forward to further pursuing my talents to be a light to someone in some way.  

In 2018, I plan to take all of these lessons and reapply them to my life, as self growth is constant and always fluctuating. As my uncle Kevin constantly says, "Don't make Resolutions, make Decisions."

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-Written by Jewell Bell 

The Master's Tools: White Female Hypocrisy and the Problem with Mainstream Feminism by Jewell Bell

Like many Americans, I found myself paying close attention to Alabama's much anticipated senate race, in which the people of Alabama would elect their next senator. It was a historical election, in that Alabama would potentially be electing their first Democratic senator in 25 years, Doug Jones, or Republican candidate, Roy Moore, an accused sexual predator, child molester, and racist. For me, this was an opportunity for some white women to "put their money where their mouth is" in rectifying their contribution to Trump's win. Considering that over 50% of them voted for Trump, it was my hope that Doug Jones' win would not only be a repudiation of Cheeto face's presidency, but also for white women to continue their "movement" championing for women's rights and battle against sexual assault and violence. There has been much resurgence within the feminist movement since Trump's win. Particularly (and ironically) with white women, such as the Women's March (soon after his win) and more recently, the #MeToo campaign, whereby women have shared their own personal stories of sexual assault and harassment in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein and a myriad of congressmen and Hollywood elites. I felt a bit optimistic that with all the women's marches, catchy hashtags, "Girl Power" slogans, embroidered "Feminist" pillows, and pink pussy hats, this would be the moment, particularly for white women, to take a real position against sexual assault by voting against the candidate that was the representation and embodiment of everything they claimed to stand against. 

Then I saw the election results...

Doug Jones had indeed won! It was a historical moment and a much needed win for Democrats and Alabama, but my happiness quickly transformed into irritation and frustration once the exit poll results came in. According to Washington Post, 63% of white women voted for Roy Moore while 98% of black women voted for Doug Jones. Alabama did indeed take a notable stance by electing Doug Jones, but make no mistake, it was significantly due to black women. For me, what made these numbers so infuriating is that once again white women were upholding white supremacist patriarchy and persistent in maintaining a system that benefits them, no matter how much they give lip service regarding its detriment. It was in this moment that my feminism rolled her eyes, closed off, and wanted to retreat solely in the struggles of my race, rather than my gender. Could this be the same confliction my black female ancestors felt in aligning themselves with the feminist movement?

Historically speaking, the feminist movement has always marginalized women of color (WOC), specifically black women. Ignoring intersectionality and how WOC face various levels of oppression, white women wanted to focus more on similar struggles that united all women, rather than how they too played a central role in black women's marginalization and classist ideologies. As a result of black women being regulated to the sidelines in the movement while also being denied their womanhood in the 1960s, many of them simply committed themselves to the racial struggle. And now, in 2017, not much has changed. White Feminism still seems to be soley concerned with the issues of white women, fails to accept responsibility for their exclusivity toward WOC, and doesn't seek to eradicate Patriarchy but rather uphold it and even imitate it at times. Patriarchy isn't being dismantled, it's just being replaced with a uterus. 

I can't help but wonder what the hell is up with some white women? Is whiteness that much of a powerful intoxicant where it has deluded them to uphold a system that while sexist, still benefits them according to race? Why are so many of them loyal to white supremacist patriarchy, while claiming to struggle against it? 

 Performative resistance. 

It's hard to annihilate patriarchy when you willingly climb in bed next to it every night. Could it be that some white women feel like voting against politicians and policies rooted in racism, capitalism, and sexism is a vote against whiteness and a betrayal to their community? The enigmatic intersectional feminist and poet, Audre Lorde once said, "For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." If white women continue to allow themselves to be used to uphold systems that oppress us all, including them, none of us win. Black women have a real sense of community because we realize it is incumbent upon us to take care of our families, our men, and our communities. So in essence, when a black woman votes, she's voting for her village. However, it becomes exhausting as hell as a black woman to shoulder the responsibility of rectifying elections that hold perilous consequences, especially when white women, who cry "sisterhood" let us down time and time again. It's the same sense of disappointment Sojourner Truth must have felt when she bared her breast and with great fervor, iconically proclaimed, "ain't I woman?" 

For me, I can't align myself with mainstream white feminism because it is a feminism that does not align itself with me. It is this same frustration and feeling of discontent that gave way to some of the greatest works by black female scholars, such as Patrica Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis and Kimberlé Crenshaw in highlighting black feminist thought and reconceptualizing the way we view oppression. The hell with the pussy hats and vacuous marches. Fuck a hashtag. It's time for white women to have active discussions within their own communities and put serious action behind their words.

That responsibility doesn't lie on the backs of WOC nor is "black women being divisive" the root of the problem.

It's y'all sis. 

I'm Not Intimidating, You Just Have No Balls: Fragile Masculinity & Female Intimidation by Jewell Bell

It's that dreaded word that looms in the background and quickly rises like a formidable shadow out of the mouths of those who seek to explain my inevitable relationship status. Or the emptiness in a guy's words who tells you "we should definitely go out again sometime" before never calling or texting you again, realizing you just may be "out of his league."  Not to mention someone scrolling through your social media with preconceived notions based off of your posts and pictures that you must be "high maintenance." 

Intimidating. 

If I had a dollar for everytime I've been labeled  or perceived as intimidating, I'd be able to successfully pay off all my student loans and own my dream loft in Toronto. In some contexts, intimidating can be beneficial and necessary. However, when it comes to dating it's a true pain in the ass, forcing you to change something about yourself you have no control over or are not even aware needs changing in the first place. For me, what makes it even more problematic is that characteristics about yourself that are actually positive, desired, and attractive to anyone are treated as problematic or some sort of flaw in their consequences.

A few years ago, I went to a bar whereby a guy who reeked with alcohol and desperation, approached me and through his liquid courage and liquor drenched rambling, he told me "You're beautiful, almost too beautiful." 

"What do you mean?" I asked. He had my attention at this point. After all, what the hell is 'too beautiful'?  

"Like I wouldn't know where to place you...how to place you in my life" he slurred.

In that moment, it was as if the clouds of heaven parted and there fell the answer to an unnerving question I've been dying to solve for so long. Prior to, intimidation was always implied without a guy ever simply coming out and saying it on his own (with the exception of family and male friends who I sought out for honest opinions). I couldn't even get mad at my drunken companion, but rather wanted to hug him for his inebriated words of wisdom. Could that be it? A woman who's deemed "too beautiful" or too much of anything, automatically be seen as intimidating or can't be "placed" in a man's life without confusion? 

Within a heterosexual frame, Patriarchy tells women that they can't be multifaceted- beautiful, brilliant, confident, secure, independent, self-assured, etc. for if they are, almost anticipate issues to arrive when it comes to dating. After all, women should be approachable, not take up too much space (physically, intellectually, vocally), and remold themselves to fit within the confinements of male comfort. Media upholds this idea in magazines with eye rolling headlines like "How to Catch The One" or "Must Have Tips to Make Him Want You".  Corporations have built billion dollar industries off of women's insecurities and affirmation from the male gaze. Laugh at all his jokes, even when they're not funny. Don't talk about the things you really like to do but more so the things that seem more relatable. Dress a little more 'basic' to look more approachable. Don't wear makeup, do wear makeup, don't be loud, don't be smarter than he is, make him feel needed, don't speak at all, show more ass, don't show anything at all...

These constant messages that we are fed as women are frustrating and ridiculous to say the least. Moreover, what it implies is that all of that responsibility is contingent on women molding themselves to comfort male fragility, simplifying and silencing parts of themselves, rather than men simply Manning the Fuck Up. Gender constructions tell men they must never show vulnerability and are not allowed to express their insecurities, although they very much have them. And this is central when it comes to dating. All of my life I have been told that my looks, my mind, my interests, the essence of who I am can come across as intimidating to a man because "it's too much". But too much for who? A guy who's masculinity depends on the subjugation of a woman.

In no way is this post meant to come across as a "Feminazi" rant against men. I love men! I would just like to see more men confident in themselves who allow women to confidently be themselves without that being some sort of indictment on them and their masculinity. Beyond the social media posts, my style, the natural confidence I may exude, is a dope ass girl who's vulnerable and a lot more awkward than you may know. Because for every passionate discussion I may have about patriarchy and Ta- Nahesi Coates' brilliant analysis of racism and black plunder, is a girl who binges on gory tv shows, downs beer, and doesn't just order a salad off of the menu. Who spends just as much time in sweats and glasses than in more stylish pieces. My point is, women should be allowed the space to be multifaceted and not tossed to the side out of fear of intimidation.

We're a lot more approachable than you may think.

You just may not have enough balls...

 

Mrs., Motherhood, and A Not So Sure Me. by Jewell Bell

As a prepubescent, much thanks to gendered constructions, I like many young girls thought of marriage and motherhood as if it were a birthright. From carefully crafted baby names scribbled in my notebooks to the age I would be married, my future was decided and determined. I barely knew how to construct a proper thesis statement or memorized the Bill of Rights, but with ardent certainty I could tell you the ages in which I would marry and have children. I'd go to college, meet the love of my life, marry by 23 so I could enjoy married life for a few years, and by 26, I'd be bringing the first of 4 lives into this chaotic world. 

And now at the tender age of 24, the only thing I'm married to is student loans while birthing a shit ton of anxiety and panic attacks. Granted, 24 is still very young, but clouded in my naivety as a young girl, 24 seemed so old, and not at the very least in a committed relationship, seemed unfathomable. Currently, I feel as though I'm at this precarious stage in my life where almost everyone I know and have grown up with is either engaged, married, or parents themselves. Just yesterday, it seemed as though we all were still kids arguing over whether we'd have recess on the blacktop vs. the play structure. And now 'wedding selfies', engagement announcements, and newborns helplessly sporting dog/flower crown filters (much thanks to their millennial parents) bombard my social media feed. Nowadays, it feels as though everyone's becoming a mother or a Mrs. and meanwhile I'm just waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones. Much thanks to my anxiety that leads to a series of erratic introspection, it brings forth the question:

Are they moving too fast or am I not moving fast enough, if at all? 

In no way is this post intended to lament over my lack of domestication (the feminist in me is currently rolling her eyes) nor is it to elucidate with bitterness over those close to me that have reached that next stage of their lives (I genuinely am and have always been happy for them). But it's more so analyzing my life in whether I'm at the point where I should be having these internal conversations or at least seriously thinking about marriage and motherhood. Is adulthood finally becoming unavoidable? 

The answer is no. 

There's no universal rule or reality that everyone experiences stages of life at the same time and age. The reality is I'm not even ready for marriage or motherhood. My single status grows with much perpetuity, my dm's are dry as fuck, I can barely get a text back let alone a 2nd date, my boyfriend is invisible and TBD, and I'm too busy calling on my own mother to be someone else's. Furthermore, those roles come with significant responsibility that I'm not prepared for just yet. Pursuing my passions, establishing a career (and credit) for myself, on top of other goals should be my primary focus. The beauty (and at times frustration) of life is in the unknown and its malleability, as well as how unique we are as individuals (if not, we'd all be robots). My journey looks a lot different than my peers, and it doesn't make me any less accomplished.

So I look forward to dancing my ass off at my girls' weddings, taking advantage of the open bar, and liking all the dog filtered newborn pics on Instagram, while celebrating the next stages of their lives with them. In the meantime, I welcome the next unknown adventures in my life that have nothing to do with practicing new last name signatures in cursive or picking out baby names, while anxiously awaiting the new season of Game of Thrones.

Seriously, when the hell is it?! 

 

 

Nah, We Good: POC's Answer To The Demand For Exceptionalism by Jewell Bell

If you're a POC (person/ people of color), particularly black, then you're all too familiar with the proverbial sayings "you have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they got" or "Whatever they do, you must do better." Legendary black scholars, such as WEB Dubois, James Baldwin, and Richard Wright, to name a few, spent their careers elucidating on the complexities of what it means to be Black in amerika, compounded with the burden of respectable politics in a society in which one's humanity is constantly questioned, weighed, and maligned. These same narratives transcend and can be applied more broadly to the experiences of other POCs who also inherit the burden of having to be exemplary, where mediocrity is often rewarded through an exclusive system known as white privilege.

Donald Trump's recent decision to suspend DACA, a program that grants work permits to young undocumented immigrants and protects them from deportation, was infuriating to me to say the least. I was disheartened, though not surprised, by a decision that primarily affects young Latino/Latina Dreamers pursuing their education and the betterment of their lives, face the uncertainty of their status in the only country they know as home. As public backlash from Tiny Hands' decision swept the country, political correspondents and public discourse often expounded on the narratives of these young Dreamers who were mostly in school, excelling in education, at the top of their classes, and hard workers who have never been in trouble with the law or a problem in society. I often heard people say "But she's a straight A student" or "90% of them are in college and are tax payers that significantly contribute to America's economy." Although these characteristics ring with truth and are incredibly admirable, I found them to be slightly problematic in highlighting the underlining issue of respectable politics and 'exemplary' status that so many POC have to concern themselves with. That validating our humanity and citizenship is contingent on a rigged system of perfection we must embody.

It's the same sentiment I take issue with in regards to the killing of unarmed black men and women by police officers whose families must counteract and restore the image of their loved ones because white racist society has labeled them "thugs" or felt their murders were justified. Trayvon Martin's parents wept about how great of a kid their son was who had dreams of being a pilot when media labeled him as a "thug with a hoodie on." And when 16 year old Chanel Petro-Nixon was brutally murdered in 2006, her parents, in desperation, pleaded with the police to investigate her murder by showing them her report card to convey how their daughter was an honor student in order for police to take her disappearance seriously; desperately decrying "She's not that kind of girl" (read Cheryl Neely's "You're Dead, So What?"). 

POC don't owe you shit. 

We don't have to be at the top of our classes. We don't have to be valedictorians. We don't have to always be extraordinary. We don't have to constantly be polite and Saints for fear of the illuminating shadow that casts down on us, stereotyping us as angry and criminal. We don't have to straighten our hair, remove our hijab, mitigate our dispositions, suppress our culture or build walls that seek to comfort and enable white fear and fragility. 

No, POC don't owe you a thing. Not when the Dylann Roofs, Eric Harris, and Adam Lanzas of amerika are responsible for some of the most brutal mass shootings and are not labeled as terrorists. Not when kkk cops are acquitted from executing black unarmed bodies and are not viewed as thugs. Not when white brutality remains unscathed and unquestioned. 

Yet, we as POC must diligently defy stereotypes in order for our humanity and even victimization to be acknowledged. To prove our Worthiness. Our Patriotism. Our Citizenship. As if we must fulfill some narrative expectation lest we be summarily dismissed. Because the demand for exceptionalism for POC is rooted in racism, whereby Ta -Nehisi Coates once affirmed "racism is raising the bar for one group while lowering the bar for another." 

Dreamers have a right to live in this country, whose status should not loom with uncertainty and in the hands of Congress. Just like blacks have the right to live without fear of becoming the next hashtag after a routine traffic stop. We don't have to be exceptional in order to...Be. 

So let us Be while leaving us be. 

We don't owe you shit. 

 

-Written by Jewell Bell 

"Third Wave Shawty"- An Intersectional Reading List by Jewell Bell

As an avid reader and self proclaimed Womanist and "Third Wave Shawty" my area of interest has always been intersectional issues and works pertaining to WOC, more specifically black women. I have always had so many people interested in what I read and the some of the works that mean so much to me, so here's a list of #blackgirlmagic reads that are sure to get you Woke: 

1. At The Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance- Danielle L. McGuire 

2. Assata, An Autobiography - Assata Shakur 

3. But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies- Patricia Bell Scott & Barbara Smith

4. The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks- Jeanne Theoharis

5. Black Feminist Thought- Patricia Hill Collins

6. Angela Davis, An Autobiography- Angela Davis 

7. The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love- bell Hooks

8. Killing The Black Body- Dorothy Roberts 

9. Sister Outsider- Audre Lorde 

10. You're Dead, So What? Media, Police, and the Invisibility of Black Women as Victims of                     Homicide- Cheryl Neely 

11. Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism- bell Hooks

Bread & Cola- My Unforgettable Experience in Cuba by Jewell Bell

I embarked on my trip to Havana  with the excitement and mysterious curiosity of any typical American who viewed Cuba as some sort of magical yet forbidden place, due to the history and strained relationship between the U.S and Cuba. Having no expectations, I pictured old vintage American cars in vibrant colors cruising down old bustling streets while passing colorful and decayed architecture that felt like you had stepped back in time. Although the description remains true, I was in no way prepared for the reality of Cuba to far succeed my fantasies, which initially sent me into a full fledge culture shock. Cuba proved to be difficult, navigating significant language barriers and stripped of modern comforts back at home, but it was one of the most rewarding, educational, and beautiful experiences of my life. 

Deciding to stay at an Airbnb in Centro Habana (Central Havana) rather than a luxury hotel or resort in Old Havana, I was able to first hand experience the Real Cuba- surrounded by significant poverty, heaping piles of trash on almost every block, stifling heat, lack of hot water that I was accustomed to at home, as well as the inability to hardly speak any Spanish, which proved very difficult to perform the most simple tasks. However, once the initial culture shock and 'westernized' discomfort quickly subsided, I realized that this trip was less of a "vacation" and more of an education. Moreover, it significantly became more about the wonderful interactions and beautiful relationships I began to form with the Cuban people. My mother and I immersed ourselves in the hustle and bustle of our neighborhood, Lealtad St., fascinated by the elderly woman who lowered her basket from her terrace to await groceries and items her family brought back, the people that stood in line in the mornings at the small store to receive rations of food the government provided for them, the men who pulled carts through the streets selling mangos, bananas, and flowers, as well as the taxi drivers who fixed the old vintage cars that they were set to drive tourists around in all day. It was a simple yet comfortable life, and I grew to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of being so present and aware, a luxury not afforded to me at home that's mired by technology and social media distractions. 

It wasn't until my visit to Habana Vieja, or Old Havana, whereby I realized the stark contrast of economic ineqaulity, standard of living, and modern comforts. Suddenly, the streets were cleaner, the air fresher, beautiful luxury hotels and resorts reminiscent of home that greeted you with a cool blast of air conditioning the second you walked through the glass doors, and restaurants that dripped with as much opulence that Cuba could muster. I suddenly begin to feel sick, as I watched tourists in a position of privilege and wealth make their way into the old vintage cars and take selfies with hubris and ignorance towards the actual lives the Cuban people themselves lived just blocks away. To 'fine dine' and partake in the limited luxuries the country had that its people could not even partake in. I do not condemn or judge those that choose to stay in the luxury hotels and resorts but to solely immerse yourself in that without attempting to connect to the people and visit the real neighborhoods felt irresponsible to me. I returned to Central Havana with a new found appreciation, thanking God, and fully immersing myself in its people and culture.

Despite the language barrier, the Cuban people are so beautiful and filled with warmth, welcoming me wherever I went. I had the pleasure of spending much of my time with a beautiful boy who lived next door and showed me around all of Central Havana-walking me hand in hand along the Melacón and through backstreets of Havana, away from tourists and seeing his wonderful home though his eyes. When he took me to a theatre, where I got to watch the talented young dancers perform at their recital, I got emotional as I looked around- watching how proud they all were of their culture, their heritage... themselves. "This is what Ché gave his life for" I thought to myself. "These are the people he loved the most and fought so hard to protect from exploitation and western imperialism." It wasn't about materialism, opulence, and artificiality but more so the deep connections and relationships they established with each other. 

Right on the corner of where I was staying, was a small bread shop, whereby people in the neighborhood were able to buy fresh baked bread for 1 Cuban peso, a currency worth much less than the standard CUC (1 CUC is worth 25 Cuban pesos) and that typically was not allowed by tourists but regularly used by the people in Cuba. I fell in love with the small bakery, not just because of how delicious the bread was but because of the sense of community that surrounded it- watching the families that strolled through all day and night to buy bread, the small children laughing and receiving sweets from the shopkeeper, and the warm greetings and conversations they exchanged amongst each other. As I sat on the terrace eating my own bread from the shop and drinking cola (which I lived on while there) I felt so connected to the spirited people who greeted me and welcomed me into their own community. Who, though had so little, were filled with so much. 

To say I'll miss Cuba is a significant understatement. To the spirited and resilient people on Lealtad Street in Central Havana: the old man whose voice I heard every morning yelling "flores!" as he pushed his flower cart through the Havana heat, my beautiful hosts who spoke no English yet were so accommodating and kind, the warm kisses and hugs from the people, the small bakery shop and its sense of jovial community, and most importantly my good soul who reminded me just how deliciously sweet, romantic, and adventurous life can be. You all have left your mark and the most magical imprint on my life- reminding me that love transcends all barriers, whether it be language, embargoes, or socio-economic classes. I anxiously anticipate my return to Cuba and its beautiful people I now consider family.  

Happy To Be Nappy- Why Black Hair Is Political And What Going Natural Taught Me About Myself by Jewell Bell

"Your hair is too processed, look at it- it's bone straight from the root to the ends." 

I distinctly remember the moment as a young adolescent when my former hair dresser informed me over the washing bowl of how damaged my hair was, and immediately how I so very ignorantly shrugged her off as nothing more than a hater. "Of course my hair is bone straight! That's how it's supposed to look when you wash it" I thought to myself. "She doesn't know what she's talking about. I've got that good hair."  There it is, those two words- simple in it's meaning yet problematic in it's underlining implication: Good Hair. 

This was my first realization of my own internal conditioning of white supremacy and the sobering reality that it was more than my hair that was processed. After years of straightening my hair and overly processing it with heat, I finally made the decision to go natural and big chopped my hair on December 10, 2011. It was one of the scariest but most rewarding decisions I have ever made for my life, in not only the overall health of my hair but in also acting as a catalyst in embracing my blackness. To some, hair is seen as secondary and insignificant. After all, hair is just hair, right? Wrong. Within a white supremacist patriarchal society that emphasizes a Eurocentric standard of beauty, black hair is Political. 

Black hair has always been politicized and treated as problematic. Since blacks were stolen and sold into slavery in America, more specifically black women were forced to cover their hair as it was scene as "dirty", "ugly", and also a way of stripping black women from their femininity, as hair was seen as a symbol of beauty and docility for women within dominant culture. Black female slaves then found ways to intricately tie scarves around their hair in very obstentatious and beautiful ways, almost as a form of fighting back against a racist, Eurocentric system, and reaffirm their womanhood. For centuries to come, black women have been forced to assimilate to white culture based on Eurocentric beauty standards of hair, through various forms of processing and covering our hair. The term "good hair" was also coined, essentially placing hair on a hierarchy and wavy/loose textured hair at the very top. Black hair was even (and in many cases still)  so much as legislated that made it harder for black people, more specifically black women to find jobs, positions, etc. with kinkier textured hair, thus forcing black women to hide away the natural texture of their hair. To hide their blackness. It wasn't until the 1960s where blacks began to use black hair as a weapon to fight against oppression by defying Eurocentric standards of beauty and associating black hair with Black Pride. Presently, more black women, such as myself, have gone natural and black hair is largely becoming more mainstream and accepted (though we still have ways to go).

When I first went natural, I did it for the overall health of my hair, and was unconscious of the larger implications it would have on my identity as a black woman in falling even more in love with my blackness. I too, was socially conditioned to think that "the straighter, the greater" in regards to hair. But as I chopped off my damaged hair, I also chopped off my damaged thinking and subtle form of self-hatred. Going natural has not only helped me embrace my kinks but to look at my hair as my own form of resistance to a system that was not created for me. My ideas and interests changed, my knowledge and passions vastly shifted and increased. I would even go so far as to say that embracing my fro acted as a catalyst in my journey into feminism and considering myself an intersectional/ black feminist (or as I like to say "3rd wave shawty"); ardently consuming the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Patricia Hill Collins to name a few.  

Black hair will never just be hair. It is Political in its social implications, a symbol of resistance, a marker of black beauty and culture, defies homogeneity in its uniqueness, and a testament to our survival as black people. If blackness is rooted in acceptance and black pride, should it not start with our roots? With embracing the very thing that makes us unique from any other racial group: our hair? I am incondescently and unapologetically in love with my black identity, and my fro stands tall and halo-like in agreement to that very sentiment.  

 

-Written by: Jewell Bell 

What Should Have Been Included in the Price of Tuition- Thoughts From a Post Grad Millennial by Jewell Bell

For many, graduation season has finally come. The highly anticipated moment of flinging dusty barely used books across the room and finally "chucking the deuces up" to an institution that's responsible for copious amounts of debt you've raked up before your feet can even touch the graduation stage. Yes, that unexplainable feeling of accomplishment to a newly graduate, and the sense of freedom that accompanies the realization that with a degree you can finally be what you have worked tirelessly in lectures and libraries to be. After all, that's what college has promised you right? Right?! Sure, you can explain in grave detail various levels of stratification in society, social constructions, solve quantum physics equations, and perhaps flex your prowess in critical theory. But what do you have to show once the shiny new degree is yours to have? When the fleeting moment of graduation day is over? 

College is tough and post grad life can be even tougher. As a recent graduate, the only things I have to show for my expensive education are deferred loans, a barely there job, lovingly patient parents that have yet to kick me out the nest, a myriad of irritating "So what next?" questions from curious strangers, and my own weighted anxiety of what the hell next for my life? For some, the transition from academics to career can be easy, much thanks to fancy interns and connections. But for many of us, the future feels unknown and the ever present question haunts our already clouded thoughts as we ask ourselves "Am I adulting right?

In college, you are deluded into thinking that by the time you graduate you will have it all figured out. But the truth is that once you graduate, you are at the beginning of that process. As a millennial in my 20s, my life is exactly where it should be: in a state of constant fluctuation. Rather than lamenting about  where I feel my life should be and the insecurities that derive from comparing my life to others, I should focus on where my life is now and enjoy the exploration of figuring it all out. While there are certain safety nets still in place, such as being young with no real responsibilities yet, and an extra blowup bed parents set aside (should you need to return home, cuz lets face it...we all do), enjoy the moment of self discovery. Move to a new place, travel, explore your passions, work a few crappy jobs until you obtain the career of your dreams. There's room for error and everyone's journey is different. To the young post grads out there that feel just as indecisive and fluxed as I do, live in the moment and embrace the journey of exploration and self discovery.

Until then, I am yours in the struggle. 

 

-Written by: Jewell Bell