by Nelly Kaakaty
I am asked a lot of questions.
My personal favorites are when people inquire, “What are you?” and “But where are you really from?”
As an ethnically ambiguous person, I am frequently mistaken for various races and ethnicities. I was born in Dallas, Texas, my parents, in Cairo, Egypt. I have spent virtually my entire life addressing misconceptions about culture (Camels are not our preferred mode of transportation), the Middle East (I do have rights!), Islam (I don’t wear a hijab, but yes, I am Muslim), and countless others.
Lately, the myths about Islam have been my biggest battles. I am a simple person who likes rap, tacos, and happens to be Muslim. The world, however, sees me differently. People don’t hear about Muslims who rhyme or enjoy barbacoa; they hear the news.
In the news, Muslims are not humanized by stories; we are explained through statistics. We are discussed primarily in the context of terrorism, in conversations about extremism. When a headline deems a Muslim responsible for an atrocity, I am expected to speak out against actions that in no way represent me, or anyone like me. My existence should not be used in juxtaposition to violence. I am not your contrast to terrorism. I am not your example of a “good” Muslim. I am in the vast majority. What you see on TV, the narrative you are fed, is the anomaly.
People often tell me that I am the only Muslim person they know or the first Muslim they have met. They point to me when explaining that not all Muslims are terrorists. “I saw what happened in news, but do you know my friend, Nelly? She’s not like that…”
Regardless of their understanding that I am not public enemy #1, I do not want to be anyone’s only experience of a Muslim, the mouthpiece for an entire, extremely large and diverse, group. I am one voice. I am not a perfect Muslim. I am not a religious scholar. I am a person who happens to be Muslim, and there are millions more of us, each person different than the next. I also do not want to be someone’s only experience because it leaves people at a disadvantage. If I am someone’s only experience, then he or she is missing out on a huge, diverse, beautiful group of people who come from rich cultures and varied backgrounds. There are Muslims way cooler than I am; go meet them, too.
In general, I am happy to talk, listen, and answer questions. I recognize that much of this comes from a good place. I acknowledge that the majority of people are genuinely trying to understand, working to get a better sense of what the world is like on the other side. The problem begins when I have to be the only voice. When you are the only, you become attached to one specific identifier. The issue I have with being tokenized is that once you are labeled by a specific identity, everything you do is scrutinized against the framework of that identity. Who I am as a person becomes solely hinged upon one piece of a much larger puzzle. I do not label people as my white co-worker, my Jewish doctor, or my Chinese friend. This is because our identities are far more complex. Unfortunately, this idea does not always transfer to marginalized groups. Muslims who are everyday citizens become the exception to terrorism. Everyday citizens who are Black, Mexican, you name it, become the exception to stereotypes rather than the individual people they live their lives to be.
There is a difference between choosing to share your story, and being obligated to do so because no one else will. That is what it is like most days. I feel like I have to speak out, because otherwise, the narrative about Muslims stays the same. The needle does not move closer to progress. Nothing changes. There is no advancement.
After Trump won the election, many people were alarmed by the number of closet racists who exist. People learned that a racist could look like your high school history teacher or the person who delivers your mail. This left members of minority groups especially afraid. I remember wondering, when things hit the fan, who will truly be there for me? Who will actually speak out for people like me or anyone who is targeted? There are those who say they will, and I want to believe them, but, to borrow a phrase I heard at a recent conference, “We don’t need noun allies; we need verb allies.”
Dear world: Don’t underestimate the power of your voice. You are equally responsible for changing the narrative. This is not an opportunity that falls solely on the oppressed. This is a collective obligation. Listen to the stories of others, and use your voice to amplify other voices. Help create a space for different people to be in the conversation. Look for the voices that are missing from the dialogue and make sure they have a chance to be heard. Many of us have been shouting for so long that our voices are hoarse; our throats are sore. I want to hear your voice, too. I want to see you engaged in the process. Walk alongside those who march. Call out someone who makes a racist or xenophobic remark. Attend an inter-faith panel to learn more. Put action behind the hashtags.
It shouldn’t be my responsibility to convince people to care about each other. I don’t have a simple solution on to how to educate people to be invested, even when they are not personally connected to something. I do have a starting point though. We can begin to change the narrative by making an effort to meet people who are different from us. We have to build relationships with those we do not understand. Discover authentic representations of marginalized groups of people.
Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story” in which she discussed the trouble with generalizing people based on one narrative. She asserts that the issue with stereotypes is not their validity. Whether or not stereotypes are true is secondary to the fact that they are incomplete. We are never able to know the whole person. We cannot accept the single story. She explains, “When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”
You can help change the narrative. Somewhere in between the questions “What are you?” and “But where are you really from?” lies understanding. Ask questions that will allow you to get to know people as individuals, independent of their identifiers or perceived identity. You may ask the wrong questions sometimes, and that is OK. Know that what you choose to do after that, whether you learn from that experience, is what matters. Rewriting the narrative takes everyone. Stepping outside your comfort zone to extend a hand to others takes courage, and gives much more. It builds bridges, transforms lives, and if you are lucky, leads to rap and tacos.
by: Keisha Whaley
I have always had terrible periods. Yes, I am a woman. I menstruate regularly. It sucks every single time. My issue is endometriosis, and while I recognize that most women don’t have it (thankfully, envious as I may be), I still don’t want anyone to have to have a bad or awkward period. While FLOW isn’t named solely for its connotation to periods, being involved with this organization has given me a vehicle to become the Menstruation Maven I’ve always wanted to be.
A video produced by Buzzfeed back in December of 2016 alerted us to a problem we knew nothing about — menstrual products are rarely, if ever, donated to charities and shelters, nor are they provided to female inmates in jails and prisons. With over 125 million women in the U.S., it seems bizarre that these products wouldn’t be available. We all, without intervention, can be expected to go through a monthly cycle, so it’s not some kind of surprise. Of course, there’s the luxury tax to contend with. Is this why we can’t provide these products to women who can’t afford them?
FLOW decided it was up to us to act on this issue. Partnering with the Northwest Community Center for the month of March, we began our first Pad Drive to provide disposable and reusable pads for refugee women living in Dallas. The center has been actively offering help and resources to the dense population of refugee families in the area since March 2016, yet no one was willing to donate menstrual products. What’s more, many women receiving help come from areas where tampons, cups, and other products aren’t available or even talked about. Pads were the closest to what they would have and be comfortable with at home, yet they were out of reach. [Enter FLOW]
With our first Pad Drive, we were able to provide 164 women with one cycle’s worth of protection. We received donations from women (and men!) all over DFW who, like me, didn’t want another woman having a bad or awkward period. Some brought in pads, some had them shipped, others sent money asking for it to go toward their purchase. While we didn’t meet our goal of 180 women supplied, we got close enough to see that this is something important. It’s something we have to continue to help our fellow bleeders feel covered.
by: Angela Uno, M.Ed
As I sat in my bed wide-awake at 3AM, pulse racing, palms sweaty, ready to beat the high score on a Facebook game, my identity as a person with a Bipolar II disorder became abundantly clear. My identities play a large role in my life, directing the type of movie that will play out that day –or night.Some days it is a love story about being an ‘exotic Asian woman’ in the bustling nightlife of Dallas,and other days it is a thriller about the cycles of hypomania and depression that creep up on me.Each story weaves together to tell a tale about the struggle for identity in the fast-paced life of a 23 year old. Every person has these movies play out in their life; each one unique to the categories society puts them in. The combination of these categories is called intersectionality.
I started discovering intersectionality in my junior year of high school after reading the controversial essay by Peggy McIntosh called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.” I clearly remember being the only woman of color in my class fighting against my white female teacher about making us read this preposterous essay. I look back at the passion I had to deny the concept of privilege, and I can’t help but to laugh. There is so much irony in the fact that I had the privilege to deny privilege exists.
Today, I work as an educator in Dallas ISD in which the students are vastly different from the high income, white students I grew up with in California. When describing how DISD students are treated and how they are seen, the word ‘prison’ immediately comes to mind. First, they are bussed to school from all over the city, then they walk through metal detectors. The students have to be in certain areas of the school and the first words they hear at school tend to be “Where’s your badge?” I do what I do because of this disparity. I went to high school believing that if I did not apply to an Ivy League, I was doomed. These students can barely name one.
While many are quick to point to socio-economic status (SES) as the root of the problem, they are failing to see race, gender,sexuality, disability, English language status, citizenship, and all of the other identities that one person may have on. These identities are not easily shed nor do the people who wear them want to get rid of them. Unlike the cheesy Facebook tearjerker videos in which a low-income, Latina woman graduates as a valedictorian and becomes the first blah blah blah, people are more than just their highlight reels. There are powerful institutions that want you to believe that this story is the only story, but the cycle of failure is real.
If there’s one message I need people to understand, it is that recognizing intersectionality may be the best tool to break us out of this cycle. Denying intersectionality is an oversimplification of the problem. Talking about SES because talking about race is frightening is a problem. Talking about anything but privilege because ‘checking your privilege is so 2016’ IS A PROBLEM. Acknowledging that we all come from places of power and places of oppression is important. It means that we have common ground which allows to initiate change. It may be the spark that initiates conversation between a black woman from Oak Cliff and a white man from Highland Park because they both know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. It may ignite people to desire progress and deny apathy. So,the first step is figuring out your own movie and then having the courage to go watch someone else’s.
by: Brittany Miller, LPC, LCDC
As a counselor, one of my favorite psycheducation groups to do with my patients is incorporating Brené Brown’s TED Talk videos on shame and vulnerability. It tends to be an impactful and eye-opening group, as many individuals do not fully recognize the influence that their shame (and discomfort with vulnerability) has on their quality of life. It’s also a topic that I am passionate about, primarily because I can speak from my own personal struggle.
As a teenager, I was deeply affected by my insecurities and relentless inner critic. Most people weren’t aware of the extent of my internal battle, not even some of my closest friends and family. It didn’t help that I was a walking contradiction with my public persona masking my inner demons. I was the type of girl that sought the spotlight and attention: I was a varsity cheerleader, I loved performing on stage with my dance class, and I actively tried to be “the life of the party”. However, the fragility of my mask of confidence showed when I perceived an eye of judgment. For example, during a five minute speech for a class in high school, my teacher (who also happened to be my dance instructor and cheerleading coach – yay, small town living) tallied over 30 “umm”s. I desperately sought external validation and words of affirmation from others to combat my insecurities. However, it was useless, because my inner critic refused to accept their feedback. “They’re lying.” “They say that to everyone.” “If they only knew…” Plus, “words of affirmation” doesn’t even register on my Love Languages.
In the constant process and attempts of bettering myself to appease my inner critic, I consistently hit an invisible barrier. I had to overcome “the paradox of change.” I had to be truly honest with myself and fully accept who and where I was in order to identify a starting point for change to occur. That’s right. I had to embrace and sit with the person I was so desperately trying to avoid.
Out of that excruciating process, and also with my education and training as a counselor, here are some of the steps that I used to combat my inner critic and become my best self through advocating for her:
Avoid the perfectionism trap – I used to brag about being a perfectionist. It was a natural development due to my fear of judgment, and my logic was that nobody could criticize someone who was perfect. Well, perfection is subjective and a myth. There will always be differing opinions or perspectives or measures of the ideal. Seeking perfection is automatically setting me up for failure, which then only provides fuel for the inner critic and contributes to a vicious cycle.
Identify the narrative of the shame script – There are several different maladaptive thought processes, and it is important to identify the types and patterns of these thoughts in order for them to be disputed. Here were two of my bigggies:
- I stopped “should”-ing on myself – I started to sort through and challenge the “should” statements that I accepted without discernment from social norms and the unreasonable or unrealistic expectations that were placed upon me by myself or others. I started to challenge these statements by asking “why”, then added more “whys”, and if they weren’t there for a good enough reason, I scratched them from my life.
- I also accepted the fact that I am not a fortune teller – I recognized a pattern of “if..then” statements, which pigeon-holed me into living with expectations. This, of course, led to a lot of disappointment and then a self-destructive cycle with pairing the “if…then” statements with a hindsight bias. There are no guarantees or a magic equation for things to work out exactly as you had planned or hoped. Accepting this also allowed for me to embrace and live life in the moment instead of being anchored in regret.
Self-empowerment – I believe the biggest part in challenging the inner critic was to overpower it by becoming a friend and cheerleader to myself. I softened my internal dialogue by showing myself the same compassion and warmth as I would show a close friend. I also made a conscious effort to build myself up with affirmations and accolades. But most of all, I also learned how to forgive myself for being fallible.
This list is far from exhaustive. I could go on and on at length regarding other important components, such as establishing healthy boundaries, effective communication, identifying fears, and mindfulness. But alas, this is a blog and not supposed to be a novel. I must also say that my betterment and self-advocating continues to be a work in process as I encounter various life challenges. However, by truly being in touch with myself, I can be diligent in staying on the positive track. I can also now look into my eyes in the mirror with kindness and not shame, which is a feat unto itself.
If you are struggling with shame or a deafening inner critic, I hope that you can see that there are ways for it to get better. It’s primarily an internal process, meaning that the key for change is within you. Most importantly, advocate for yourself for the change to occur. Reach out to get help as needed. And always remember, via Brené Brown, “you are enough.”
by: Lizbet Palmer
My slow and wandering journey through feminism began at a Methodist women’s college in Columbia, SC, aptly named Columbia College. It hosted about 1,000 students each year, and the campus itself barely goes over a square block.
So now picture me, small-college graduate, hurrying around SMU’s campus trying to find a single flagpole in what seemed like never ending brick buildings, with my oversized messenger bag thumping awkwardly against my legs because, for some reason, I insist on being equipped with everything necessary to set up a small office at any given notice.
It was extra heavy this particular Monday because in it were two books, my Grandma’s Bible and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I had been given the opportunity to represent the Christian Feminist (or Feminist Christian, I’m honestly not sure which is more “correct”) perspective in an event called “Have Coffee with A…” for the Mustang Heroes Heroes Week, and I knew with books I could at least pretend to know what I was talking about.
The day took a quick turn for the surprising. I had conversations about your everyday types of questions, “How do you justify believing in a patriarchal religion while also claiming feminism?” and “What does the Bible say about women?” That was cool. I absolutely love to talk about both of those (Seriously, if you ever want to talk about these, let me know). But what ended up making the day glorious was the variety of people who were curious to ask these questions. I got to talk to people who believed in God, atheists, conservatives, liberals, and people who weren’t really sure where they stood. Surrounded by experts in other areas such as STDs, Disability Awareness, and Sexism in the Workplace, I was lucky enough to have a part in this by simply having conversations.
Here’s my takeaway. The last couple of weeks have been discouraging to say the least. I’ve seen friends and families gather themselves into groups of people that make them feel comfortable where they can talk and have their own ideas reflected back to them and simultaneously pop little bullets out at the other side. Yet here I was in a sweet little bubble where people felt safe asking and being vulnerable and listening to something that might push them outside of their comfort zone. It helped that we had example questions written out that people could choose, but I found that once the conversation started, these were no longer necessary. It turns out that, when given the chance, most people actually want to know more.
I’m in a band called The Last City, and our motto is “fight fear with curiosity,” and I want to put forth the challenge to you (and myself) to continue these conversations. Groups like Mustang Heroes and FLOW are doing an amazing job of creating spaces where people can be curious and learn from their fellow humans, but it is up to us to make sure that they aren’t doing this alone. This is not about converting people to one side or another, this is not about being the loudest opinion in the room, this is about building relationships and, as a result, beginning to heal wounds.
So with that, my sistren, I say to you, go forth and be curious.
by: Lauren Manza, MT-BC
Not all restrooms are created equal.
Can you think of a time when you used the bathroom and then, “Oh no!” They’re out of toilet paper. How did you feel? Awkward? Icky? Worried? We can relate.
This story is about FLOW keeping the bathroom of our host, Union Coffee, stocked with what we need to tend to our very normal bodily functions. Relax- Union does a great job restocking their toilet paper.
The normal bodily function FLOW wants to talk about is our period. 86% of women, ages 18-54, say they’ve started their periods in public without the supplies they needed: That’s nearly 100 million women. And the consequences are rough. They often feel embarrassed, anxious, or even panicked. Of the women who have tried to use a public tampon dispenser in their time of need, 92% said it didn’t work. (Of the women in my feminist book club, 100% of them have a period horror story to tell.)
The thing is, tampons are a necessity, not a luxury – despite the fact that it is taxed in Texas. When tampons and other menstrual products are taxed as a luxury, it is uniquely targeting half of the population for being born with a uterus. The infamous ‘tampon tax’ is also far more likely to disproportionately hurt those with a low income.
Nancy Kramer, recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Women in Advertising History” by Advertising Age, recently founded Free the Tampons with powerhouse lawyer and advocate, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf. Free The Tampons is a foundation that “believes every bathroom outside the home should provide freely accessible items women need for their periods.” In her TED talk, Nancy asked, “Who decided toilet paper was free and tampons weren’t? Who decided that paper towels, soap, seat covers should be free and not tampons?”
FLOW decided tampons should be free. So if you’re a part of the 79% of women who have had to MacGyver a tampon or pad out of toilet paper, rest easy at Union Coffee. FLOW’s got your flow covered.
by: Lauren Manza, MT-BC
We are a city in mourning for the policemen who died protecting the first amendment. A city begging to proclaim black lives matter peacefully, as the movement began. A city whose highways dictate what race lives where. A city outraged. A city tired. A city heartbroken.
And yet, we are not broken.
At FLOW, we recognize that to ignite change, you must be prepared to fight. We believe as long as we have breath, we have power. As long as we’re still here, we can help. #ForDallasIWill is a plea to the people of Dallas to take personal responsibility for moving our city forward. We must change, so Dallas can change.
So, what will you do for Dallas?