October Vol 2, Welcome!
Wellness to me has come to equate to a sense of balance, which may look different for you or me compared to others and that’s ok. Unfortunately this sense of balance can be difficult to achieve, as Wellness industries are yet another area of society where BIPOC are often not able to feel validated in their needs and experiences.
Toxic positivity and spiritual bypassing are often used to invalidate issues or grievances of BIPOC, as many in the spiritual communities equate any sort of feeling of discomfort = bad. When in reality, this is actually not the case.
PsychologyGroup.com defines toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
Spiritual bypassing is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks”. The term was introduced in the early 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist.
Rather than do the work of looking inward and of asking oneself tough questions (such as “Why do I feel so defensive when my BIPOC brothers/sisters bring up their experiences of racism and discrimination?” … “Have I either knowingly or unknowingly contributed to any of these types of experiences?” … “How can I align myself as more of an ally and more deeply examine my preconceived biases?”) it is often much easier to say that these “negative” subjects are bringing down the otherwise “good vibes”. (“Good vibes only!” right?)
As tempting as it is to brush these uncomfortable feelings and subjects under the rug, we cannot move through our unresolved emotional issues and traumas by ignoring them or wishing them away with fake good vibes. It is only through acknowledging and examining these things which make us uncomfortable that we can ever hope to start unpacking and resolving them.
Yes it is uncomfortable to acknowledge and admit that we are living in a society designed to uphold systemic inequality and racism – but pretending that system doesn’t exist or that we are not affected by it in the name of not wanting to feel “bad” feelings is akin to burying our heads in the sand, and does not actually move us forward in the fight to dismantle such a system.
Instead I propose we seek and uphold a sense of balance in these “good/bad vibes” and in the subjects that we make space for (particularly in our wellness spaces). Listen and acknowledge when BIPOC are telling their stories and sharing their experiences. Even and especially the uncomfortable ones. Do not seek to fix the problem or dole out advice unless you’re specifically asked to. Often just being heard, acknowledged, and validated in these experiences is a helpful start as most BIPOC are likely used to being told to downplay or ignore their feelings of discomfort and their experience of these situations. Sit, listen, hold space, and do the work of making wellness spaces safe and inclusive enough for BIPOC to share these stories in the first place. By finding ways to sit through the discomfort of the “bad vibes” – traumas, wounds, and the full spectrum of the human emotional experience – we can begin to resolve these issues and move towards a state of wellness, wholeness, and balance. But only by doing so in a way that makes room for all of us and our full range of experiences.
The fight toward equality is far from over; however by coming together to create more inclusive, safe, and diverse spaces throughout society, we are taking important steps in the right direction.
For these reasons and many more, we want to thank you for continuing to SHARE. SUPPORT. SHOW UP!
Read on for Art, Project UPdates, Terms to Know, How We Got Here, Current Events, Book Recommendations, Important Dates, 2SLGBTQPNIA+ and UPlift Spotlight in this edition of the UPlift Black Voices Newsletter!
-Jess Somers, UPlift Black Wellness Coordinator
UPlift Black Art
Nyakim Gatwech – Queen of Dark
Nyakim Gatwech (@queennyakimofficial) is a fierce Queen who loves the skin she is in and is determined to break traditional beauty standards that are based on a racist and unjust system. Born in Gambela, Ethiopia after her parents fled the South Sudanese civil war, Gatwech grew up in refugee camps in Kenya. Her and her family migrated to the United States when she was 14. Despite constantly being bullied for her skin being too dark, or told to bleach her skin or that she can’t wear bright bold colours, Nyakim has unapologetically broken into the modeling world as a force to be reckoned with. She is an advocate for diversity in the fashion industry, a voice for Black rights around the world, a pillar of inspiration for women who struggle with body-positivity, a radiant being of self-love and #Blackgirlmagic, among so much more. As Nyakim Gatwech says herself “I’m black, I’m dark and I’m f**king beautiful” – we couldn’t agree more!
“Black is bold, black is beautiful, black is gold… Don’t let American standards damage your African soul.”
– Nyakim Gatwech
Khoudia Diop – Melanin Goddess
Khoudia Diop (@melaniin.goddess) nicknamed herself the Melanin Goddess to express pride in her appearance. The nickname couldn’t be truer! Growing up in Senegal, Khoudia was teased for her dark complexion. At the age of 15 she moved to Paris where she was often approached about becoming a model. Once ashamed of her skin, she learned to tune out the bullies and turned the negativity into self-love – gaining confidence and acceptance in herself. In 2016 after appearing in the campaign for The Colored Girl Project, Diop became a social media sensation. She uses her platform to help spread acceptance and love for our own unique beauty. Khoudia hopes to inspire, empower and uplift women of colour worldwide. We couldn’t love her message more, “I am worthy, loved and beautiful. I hope everyone can see that in themselves and feel this way.” So do we Khoudia Diop, so do we!
“…everyone is beautiful in their own unique way, and the key is to realize that and celebrate it.”
– Khoudia Diop
Models: Nyakim Gatwech & Khoudia Diop
Are you a local (Simcoe/Muskoka) Black artist or do you know one that should be featured? Email us at email@example.com.
UPlift Black Merchandise
Have you heard that UPlift Black is selling Merchandise?! We are currently selling hoodies, t-shirts, toques, face masks and water bottles; check it out here! More inventory coming soon, let us know what you want! Find us at Sonder Studio + Events this Saturday to get some merchandise in person. Check out the Important Dates section below for more details.
The November/December run of Book Club will be the following books below, sign up for book club here!
Adults – Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and HipHop in the United States by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer
Youth – The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
Pay it Forward – The Good Food Boxes
UPlift Black is honoured to be the chosen organization to receive Urban Pantry Barrie’s “Pay it Forward” Barrie Good Food Boxes. Good Food Boxes are packed with fresh, high-quality, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Members of the Black community in Barrie and Innisfil can register to receive a Good Food Box for their household. To be delivered on the 3rd Wednesday of every month (based on availability) Boxes will be given out on a first come, first serve basis – one box per family, every 6 months. Fill out the form here, to purchase a pay it forward box for UPlift Black visit www.barriegoodfoodbox.com
Terms to Know
AAVE/BVE (African American Vernacular English/Black Vernacular English)
This is a full dialect of English, natively spoken by most working and middle class African Americans and some Black Canadians. BVE has its own set of grammatical, accent, and vocabulary.
Some examples of words that come from BVE are: bae, fleek, gag, plug, finesse, fam. All of these words have been appropriated from Black culture into whiteness in order to gain notoriety. For example, if a Black person were to use the word bae or fleek, they may be considered ‘uneducated’ or ‘inarticulate’, whereas a white person who uses the same word would be considered cool and hip. Because of this relationship, and the fact that BVE has been oppressed by whiteness, white people should be careful when using these words. Before you say these words, consider: Why are you using it? What does it mean to you? Who is your audience?
Because BVE is often seen by white supremacy culture as inferior, it is often considered to be unprofessional. As a result, Black employees will often code-switch, or change their vernacular from BVE to a more standard version of English. Although this can be a neutral event, where switching from one dialect to another can help you communicate with others more effectively, the onus is almost always put onto BIPOC to code switch, and not the other way around. This can lead to identity and cultural erasure.
This is learning from other people about their culture. Cultural exchange can be an extremely positive event when it is two-directional and one group is not oppressed because of that same cultural object. For example, you could learn to say ‘hello, how are you’ in another language, or be adventurous and try a new food dish from another culture.
We alluded to this word in the definition for BVE. Cultural appropriation is stealing cultural symbols and objects from another culture, oppressing that culture, and using those cultural symbols and objects to gain either notoriety, advantage, wealth, or status. For example, when Black people wear natural hairstyles, they are often made to look, again, unprofessional. Then white people will come in and wear locks or boxer braids – natural Black hairstyles – and be applauded for their innovation. This is not innovation, it is stealing. Until Black people can wear any hairstyle and still gain meaningful employment, not everyone should have access to styles that are used to oppress others.
How We Got Here
#3 – On the Social Construction of Race and the Myth of Reverse Racism
“So just because my son is white, he’s going to grow up in a world where he’s a racist? But Montrezl Harrell can call Luka Doncic a b**** a** white boy and he’s not a racist?”
We all come to a point where we are asked to take this bait from someone. A conversation, ostensibly born of a genuine effort to discuss issues of race and society, turns out to be a calculated moment of challenge, where you are asked to show the receipts and the ‘aggrieved’ white person does not have to show theirs. As a white man these conversations crop up quite often because, I presume, fellow white men feel a bit more comfortable saying exactly what is on their mind. When I try to explain calmly to these individuals that their perceived victimization at the hands of [insert progressive program here] is misplaced, their vitriol and hatred for equity and progressive policy-making come roaring out, sometimes with anger, sometimes with tears, sometimes with both. Well, today, let’s look at some of the receipts.
Race, as is almost universally accepted in both science and the humanities, is a social construction. But let’s get this out of the way: just because it is socially constructed does not mean it’s insignificant or unreal. Race penetrates every facet of our daily lives, and more so for people who are racialized (in the verb form, racialized emphasizes the fact that individuals actively identify race, rather than it being an inherent structure of biological life). The reality is, however, that most genetic variation in human beings exist within populations with common geographical heritage. Our perception of race – skin colour, hair texture, eye colour, and other phenotypical features – belies the fact that humans share close to 100% of our genetic make-up. We have created the structures of race out of social, political, and economic need.
So how did race become such a dominating fact of life the world over? The question dates back at least to the so-called ‘Scientific Revolution’ at the end of the middle ages in Europe. Here, humans systematized our desire to categorize the world around us and find ways to better understand it. (Really, we’ve been doing this forever, in all parts of the world, but that’s a discussion for another time). It was in this early modern period of history that Europeans began practicing biological sciences, mathematics, astronomy, and physics, among many other pursuits. More importantly, it was also a time when Western European countries began to embark on massive expeditions across the oceans, coming into contact with people who were quite different than they were, apparently. Explorers and visitors to these new lands needed a coherent set of terms to speak about and categorize the populations with whom they were now interacting.
But the fundamental changes in the discourse on race occurred later during the Enlightenment and the height of territorial expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries (building on the discourses scaffolded in the earlier eras of exploration and scientific awakening in Europe). Driven by Darwinism and evolutionary biology, the idea that Asian, Oceanic, Indigenous, African, and European populations were separate and distinct, including not only their phenotypical differences, but intellectual, societal, and epidemiological differences as well, dominated thinking in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Tied as these discourses were to colonialism and the expansion of European capital, these ways of speaking about different races were enmeshed with a concurrent discourse of European dominance, cultural ascendency, and natural supremacy. These discourses were mutually reinforcing, developing alongside one another, blending pseudoscience and white supremacy (and the definition of ‘whiteness’ itself was fairly restrictive). While some basic biological realities underpinned these beliefs, the centring of whiteness as the supreme human was fundamentally constructed to keep non-white bodies subordinate in the world system and justify colonialism.
This brings us to the discussion of reverse racism so often lobbed by middle and lower-middle class white folk who genuinely struggle against the economic and political elite in Western societies. It quite simply does not exist. While racialized folk can certainly display racial prejudice, they are still incapable of being racist specifically because whiteness is the common root of all racism. Race is a social construction that assumes white skin as supreme and while there may be gradations of civilization accorded to other races (for example, Asians being more advanced and capable than Africans) the power dynamics inherent in racial discourse preclude the possibility that racial prejudice towards white people can be considered racist at all. It is far more specious of an argument to suppose that equity programs, meant to address the power inequities established by racial discourses, are in any way racist towards white folk. Do equity programs sometimes gloss over far more widespread issues of income inequality regardless of race? Perhaps. But ultimately, racialized folks have faced greater levels of discrimination than low and middle-class white folk at all points in history.
So, how did we get here? We got here because over the centuries white folk designed systems and constructed languages to affirm their spot at the centre of power and privilege. That many white folk have suffered from economic inequalities does not erase the racism that affirms their advantages over racialized bodies. While racial prejudice can certainly go in any direction, racism requires the power of white skin.
Hey ‘Canada’ Let’s Face Our Racism
All eyes this week have justifiably been focused on the ongoing violence in Nova Scotia, with Mi’kmaq fishermen the targets of attacks against their inherent rights. Unsurprisingly, white fishermen have couched their cause in conservationist language and lackluster understandings of the treaties that undergird Indigenous-settler relations. It remains to be seen if the federal government will take appropriate action to uphold their end of the colonial bargain.
Meanwhile, closer to home in Toronto we learned – or at least confirmed – that Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting marginalized and racialized communities. Much like the collection of race-based data on policing and justice the province and city have been far too slow to act. The glaring gaps in housing, food security, and health funding in these areas is coming to a head in the worst pandemic since 1918-1921.
At the core of both of these issues is a hypocrisy of modern governments. When processes of observation and control are deployed, it is most often to contain marginalized and racialized folks. Meanwhile, when those same bureaucratic capacities could be mobilized to better address inequality and discrimination, governments remain silent, or defer responsibility.
The RCMP is one example; just months ago a wellness check turned fatal for a young Indigenous woman in the Maritimes, yet when treaty rights are directly threatened, officers stood and stand aside. Likewise, when the city of Toronto wanted to give its law enforcement greater powers, it allowed carding in predominantly Black communities. Now, when race-based information might have led to greater dispersion of funds to address Covid-related concerns, the response is less expansive. This is systemic racism by any definition.
These two seemingly unrelated events underline that racism is not just flashpoints of individual and small-group aggression/violence. Instead, it is an interrelated suite of bureaucratic, social, and economic tools that militate against marginalized communities. In this way, the struggle of the Mi’kmaq is intimately related with the #BLM movement. Canada is a white supremacist state, and it must be held to account for its consistent failing to both uphold its responsibilities to Indigenous folks and reform itself to address the historic impoverishment of racialized communities.
- Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie
- Sisters and Champions: the True Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Howard Bryant
- So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk to Freedom by Gary D. Schmidt
- One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes
- Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe
- A Big Dose of Lucky by Marthe Jocelyn
- Air Traffic: A Memoir of Ambition and Manhood in America by Gregory Pardlo
- Another Country by James Baldwin
- How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
Date: Friday October 23rd 7pm
Event: Free Youth Leadership event
Location: Online via Zoom
iLead is hosting a Free Leadership event this Friday, joined with the John Maxwell team to host and add value For Global Youth Initiative month. For ages 12-18. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Date: Saturday October 24th 12-4pm
Event: The [East End] Shop Local Market + Sonder’s 1 Year Anniversary
Location: Sonder Studio + Events 132 Penetang St Unit 1, Barrie
Come on out to Sonder Studio on Saturday to get your UPlift Black Merchandise while it lasts and support other local vendors! We have t-shirts, hoodies, toques, water bottles and face masks!
Date: Adult October 27th 7-830pm OR October 31st 10-1130am
Youth October 28th 7-830 OR October 31st 1130-1pm
Event: Virtual Book Discussion
Location: Zoom – all members of the book club will receive a link.
For the final virtual discussion, we will gather as a large group on Zoom and discuss everything we have learned as a result of reading this book. We ask that you bring three questions or comments to the discussion, but no obligation to bring anything except yourself! When RSVPing choose only one time to join. Details on this to come!
Have any UPcoming Important Dates? Let us know, email us at email@example.com
3 Queer and Trans Heroes of Colour You Should Know!
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera
Born in 1980 in Kampala, Uganda, Kasha is the face of Uganda’s LGBTQ+ movement. In Uganda, being gay is illegal and punishable by imprisonment. At the age of 13, when her feelings for girls started manifesting, she started being suspended and even expelled from school. As a young adult, Kasha attended Nkumba University, where officials made her sign a document that stated she would wear “proper women’s clothes” and was forbidden to go within 300ft of the women’s dorms. Her daily struggle in University was what motivated her to co-found Farug-Freedom and Roam Uganda, a group that is dedicated to improving the lives and rights of lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. In 2011, Kasha received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and in 2013 the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award. Today she runs a website, Kuchu Times (https://www.kuchutimes.com/) and a magazine called Bombastic in order to provide a voice to the LGBTQ+ community across Africa.
Born in June of 1906 in St. Louis, Missouri, Josephine was a womxn of many talents. She used her immense platform to try to make the world a better place. Josephine grew up through financial struggle, working many part time jobs to help the family make ends meet. She always knew, however, that she was destined for greatness. As a teenager, she left home to join a dance troupe. At a time when performers were expected to be white and curvaceous, Josephine was criticized for being too dark and too skinny. Finally, Josephine got her break in a musical comedy called Shuffle Along. The audience loved it, and Josephine became an overnight success. Her success took her to Paris, becoming one of the most popular performers. This is where we see her first wearing her iconic banana skirt. Josephine also worked in the WWII effort as a spy helping the French Resistance by transporting secret messages on her music. When she returned to America, Josephine took on racism in her career by refusing to perform at segregated clubs. Around this time, she also started to grow her family, called The Rainbow Tribe, children of all religions, genders, ethnicities. She would adopt 12 children in total. Josephine married and divorced several times, never depending on a man to support her and never hesitating to leave if a marriage wasn’t working. She also had numerous relationships with womxn, including some of her co-performers. Josephine used her fame to fight discrimination, being one of the few womxn who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. Josephine passed away in 1975.
Priyanka Love/Mark Suknanan
Born in 1991 in Whitby, Ontario, Mark is a drag queen that goes by the stage name of Priyanka, and he is of Guyanese descent. Before becoming a drag queen, Mark began his performance career as a co-host on YTV’s The Zone, where he went by Mark Suki. One evening in 2017, at one of his birthday parties, Priyanka had invited a drag queen by the name of Xtacy Love to perform. Xtacy then approached him and told him that he would be an amazing drag queen, encouraging him to join a competition locally, which he ended up placing fourth. Since then, Priyanka, of the Haus of Love, has gone on to win numerous titles, including Miss Crews and Tangos 2018-2019, and Woody’s Queen of Halloween 2018. Most recently, Priyanka has gained international notoriety because of her incredible performance on the inaugural season of Canada’s Drag Race, and has since been followed by 300 thousand people on Instagram @thequeenpriyanka. On September 3 of this year, Priyanka was named Canada’s First Drag Superstar, winner of Canada’s Drag Race. Priyanka is the first queen of Indo-Caribbean descent to win in the franchise’s hxstory.
Christopher Fee - 2SLGBTQPNIA+ Coordinator
All Naturals Cosemtics Inc
Located in Barrie, ON at 220 Bayview Dr. Unit #18, All Naturals Cosmetics Inc. (ANCI) is a privately owned company using pure, organic, natural and vegan ingredients in their personal care products. ANCI provides costume labelling and private manufacturing of cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, creams, lotions, oils, serums, and gels with packaging capabilities varying from jars, bottles, gallons, pails and drums. From small to large runs, ANCI can fulfill all of your production needs. Their brand products are also available in health food stores and pharmaceuticals. Shipping nationwide. For more information and to shop visit their website allnaturalscosmetics.com, follow them on instagram @allnaturalscosmetics, and like them on facebook here.
Spaulding School of Music
Spaulding School of Music can be found online or in person in Barrie, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach and Midland. “Learn to play any instrument ‘by ear’: Guitar, piano, drums, voice and more. Through the Spaulding Method of music a high level of proficiency will be achieved in a fraction of the time it would take through any other teaching method.” Book an appointment today by calling 1-877-665-7802 or visit www.spauldingschoolofmusic.com for more information.
Do you know a Black individual or a Black Owned Business that should be Spotlighted? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.