I love rap music. It is a poetic form of expression that can be soothing, soulful, angry, inspiring, and political all at once. I've been a music fan since the beginning of my memories. Rap has always been a genre I listened to, but only in my recent ascent into adulthood have I become infatuated with it. To clear things up, the rap I'm speaking of is the stuff that does more than contain the components of a rap song like a beat and a hook. The rap I cling to is poetry in music. It's the subtle wit in the lyric, "yo it's got to be cause I'm seasoned haters give me them salty looks, Lowry's" and the confrontation in the lyric, "matter of fact don't mistake me for no fuckin' rapper, they sit backstage and hide behind the fuckin' cameras." That's what I love about rap. It's passionate. It's a liberating genre. 

The greatest rappers assume different roles in the business of painting society's picture. Biggie was a realist because he told it like it was. Gambino is a comedian—displaying the fault in our world with wit and metaphors in abundance. Eminem is a cynic no more angry than his peers, but has chosen a bare-all form of lyrical catharsis that relates to people who have had dark thoughts. In their own ways and to different degrees, Tupac and Lupe were/are activists by confronting modern issues and asking for change. For the past few years I've been dissecting rap and determining whether I like it by how many parts I have at the end—by how many creative pieces came together to make that sound and those words. So, I'm in love with rap, what's the problem? 

The problem is I'm a woman who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. I am unapologetically a feminist. Being that makes it hard for me to spit, "I want my wife to fuck me like a prostitute" along with Jay-Z, or, "make Raven-SymonĂ© call date rape" along with Biggie. I've tried to brush it off and say that they're just words. But my praise of the lyrical component of rap contradicts that. Can I be in love with rap because of its words but denounce the importance of lyrics as soon as I disagree with them? That kind of hypocrisy is poisonous to activism. Some might agree with my initial thoughts on lyrics as being "just words". The problem with that is music has too large an affect on society for degrading song lyrics to be just words. Popular music comes out of the mouths of everyone, fans and critics alike. Whether we like to admit it or not, the words we utter have meaning. The messages we receive from those words resonate in the way we see and treat others. This is why it's easy to see most women as weak when our representation in music has male artists rapping about rape playfully and female artists singing about broken hearts. This criticism is not exclusive to rap. Misogyny has its place in country and modern R&B as well. This year two young women wrote a perfectly sassy track called The Girl In A Country Song. It hilariously shames the images country music portrays of women. More recently, an article was written in Ebony that pointed out how R&B has increasingly gone from its smooth caress of the late 90's to a "bitch slap" heard in such inarticulate songs as Chris Brown's Loyal. The thing is, it's hard to escape degrading music when it is so powerfully popular, but that certainly isn't an excuse. 

I will do my best to get rid of the misogyny in my Spotify playlists. However, I'm not going to stop loving rap and appreciating its passion. I can only hope that the misogyny in my favorite genre (and others) is more a symptom than a cause. With time and fight, the reach of gender equality will become long enough to change what's being rapped, said, sung, and thought about women so that it more accurately represents our capacity for strength. 
I was at first pleasantly surprised by the amount of space Ferguson took up in my news feed following the court’s decision to not indict officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Mike Brown. Then I made up my mind that it was not enough. I’ve experienced a numbness in the wake of countless articles, videos, and recordings on Ferguson being flung out in projectile motion from the media. There has been so much information shelled out by and for both sides of the issue, that I fell silent outwardly and inwardly for lack of an ability to process it all. My inability to speak a word about Ferguson that night was manifested in the lazy likes I gave to those that posted statuses and article links in outrage and confusion, and in the hesitant way I hovered my fingers over the keyboard with the intention of waging wars in the comment box with those who felt a patriotic pride over the decision. The time I had to process the verdict was not just fleeting—it was non-existent. And the quite numbness I felt while scrolling down my social media, was interrupted far too often by posts about being “soooo ready for winter break” and random photographs of the privilege of not knowing that Ferguson, Missouri was on fire. I was completely human and I judged. Then I realized that I was no better for reading articles and choosing to watch Parks and Recreation instead of writing down whatever feelings and opinions I could muster on the issue. I was avoiding it because I had no fucking clue what to say after months of conflicting information culminated in a rare decision by the court. I honestly still don’t, but I’ll try my very best. 

What I was/am trying to do is hard: make sense of the events and form a concrete opinion about them. All I can authentically speak on are my own thoughts and concerns. I think what has and is happening in Ferguson is a tragedy we’ve seen time and again. I think Mike Brown’s death was untimely and unfair. I think Darren Wilson will never be free from the destruction ensued because of his actions. I think it’s absurd to assume this is not about race. I’m concerned about watching another Ferguson unfold in a few years and seeing the same shock and awe from a public that should know better. I’m concerned that black men will still be suffering untimely deaths at the hands of the frightened majority. I’m concerned for the families that will never be able to escape that day. My highest concern is that the chaos of this event will not be enough to eradicate the notion that we live in a post-racial America. This fatally false notion that because there are half a handful of successful black Americans, race-based privilege does not exist. The outrage in Ferguson is not because of this one murder. The riots (peaceful and violent) are a reaction to the fact that our America is still afraid of the minority animal—an image created and ingrained during oppressive times. In the age of Jim Crow when “science” proved us biologically inferior and inherently dangerous. They were taught to fear us—but it was them that hung black bodies like strange fruit from Southern trees. And now the gang violence that plagues the ghettos they built pits us against each other wielding guns in the face of our own kind. As much as we might hate the oppressor we are taught not to hurt them yet we hurt each other over territory and colors—but they still fear us. And despite the almost equal numbers at which our black/white dichotomy commits crime, we fill the prisons. We may no longer be strange fruit hanging but instead are roadkill waiting hours to be scraped off the pavement and martyr’d without any institutional effect. It is hard to not be angry with a system that every single day reminds you of your color difference in such obviously negative ways. Being followed in stores, caricatured by peers that expect you to act more “ghetto” (a word they find synonymous with black), and hearing racial slurs are small daily reminders. Seeing your race so overwhelmingly represented in prisons and being put in the morgue by the aforementioned frightened majority are fatal reminders, which can be daily in certain cities. So yes, these riots are about more than just Mike Brown. They’re about Rodney King and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and the hard truth that after 50 years of “equality” we still cannot assume a black man’s killing wasn’t in any way driven by the fear associated with his color instead of his actions. 

It’s Thanksgiving day and I am grateful for the people of different colors and genders that have opened their eyes to today’s inequality. I’m grateful for allies and I’m grateful for enemies that are being brought to light and discussed as opposed to dismissed. I’m grateful for the first amendment and the ability to proudly call myself American, so that I can use my voice to affect positive change in my flawed nation. I’m grateful that my brother’s, cousins, uncles, and friends are alive and well. 
The lesson I’ve taken away from this, and that I hope you take as well, is that I was wrong in using “us” and “them” pronouns. I used those words because at my very core it feels like it’s us against them even in 2014, and that divide makes it easier for them to inhumanely hurt us and vice versa. 

“Colour prejudice is not our original fault, but only one aspect of the atrophy of the imagination that prevents us from seeing ourselves in every creature that breathes under the sun.” —Doris Lessing

See yourself in others before you treat them as less than human. 
It felt ironic that I was listening to the impending indictment of officer Darren Wilson on CNN; where correspondents were attempting to be entirely too “P.C” about the atmosphere that surrounded Ferguson, MO. 

“Obviously, there is a smell of marijuana,” one reported. 
Among many, I thought “obviously” was an odd word choice. Something felt like the African American reporter who made the statement felt entirely distant from the story at hand. To make it worse, the media’s confusion was unfortunately not around his statement, but his race. 

“Why would a black man be snide to his own?”  
The media’s overtone of the story of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown’s death has shown the “community” automatically sides that Michael Brown’s death was not an act of “self defense” but a recurrent nightmare that has plagued our country since it’s inception. This is where I see a flaw. This “community” the media speaks of: this illusive idea that every single African American shares the exact same DNA and therefore come to the exact same conclusion, is the sole reason why this keeps happening. 

In a heart-wrenching speech delivered before his St. Louis show, rapper Killer Mike said it perfectly, “ You mother fuckers got me today. You kicked me on my ass today, because I have a twenty-year-old son and a twelve-year-old son and I’m afraid for them.” With his voice cracking from emotion, he admitted to crying on his wife’s shoulders in fear that there is nothing he can do to protect his children. This wasn’t a revolution. He didn’t ask us to go out and burn down everything institutionalized. He’s scared that the world he thought his children would be safe in as African American men is entirely not. And the people who provide the service to protect his children are instead, doing the exact opposite. These are parents of children who never expected they’d have to defend the integrity of their entire race; they just wanted their child to be safe. 

When Michael Brown died, he wasn’t someone’s son, he wasn’t a human being with flaws, strengths, and fears--he was a number in a long list. His body was left outside for five hours in the street, while neighbors watched on. Officer Darren Wilson called him “The Hulk” because of his size and aggression toward him. Months will go by and the media will move on to the next. Michael Brown wasn’t born a statistic, but he died one. 
I was recently in a hostel bathroom in Bangkok, getting ready for a night out. After having showered and dressed, I was ready to leave the quiet restroom and head out to the city's sleepless streets—but not before what is always meant to be "just a glance" in the mirror. After looking in the mirror disappointingly, and repeating the same hair and bra adjustments for two minutes, I spat out, “fuck mirrors” and turned away from my reflection almost quick enough to give me whiplash. 

I said those words and shuffled out of the bathroom because I was frustrated by the insecure thoughts that were crowding in my head. I wanted to cut them off before they ruined my night and my journey toward acquiring complete confidence in my body. 

I have hated my body since I was eleven years old. Hate may sound dramatic, but there were times (mainly the period between my first menstruation and eleventh grade) when dislike did not seem to convey the way I felt about my reflection as accurately as hate, loathe, or detest. I’d find head-to-toe flaws that caused me to linger in front of the mirror, and think of ways to fix them. I frequently thought: “my friends must love getting dressed and seeing their bodies in the mirror.” According to statistics, I was wrong. 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. By age 17, that number increases to 78%. So, it is likely that half of my friends were dissatisfied with their reflections. It’s likely that they wanted to have bigger boobs, bronzed skin, and full locks, while I longed to tone down my natural curls and curves, and look more like my pale, flat-chested peers. 

This image dissatisfaction is not exclusive to pubescent girls: approximately 91% of women are unhappy with their body image and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal shape. I'm sure that if I could have made my hair grow long and kink-free, shaved a few inches off my hip bones, and melted a gap between my thighs, I’d have reached complete self-confidence. In fact, if all women and girls make healthy attempts to change their body, they will be consistently satisfied when they look in the mirror. Wrong again. While nearly all women in America attempt to achieve their ideal shape (one that is overwhelmingly drawn from women in the media), only five percent of women naturally possess the body types of celebrities that set the standard of modern beauty. Even most of those standard-setting women work tirelessly to achieve that ideal image. 

This message is by no means meant to bash those who are trying to lose weight in healthy ways. While saying "fuck it" and eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's is liberating (and delicious), turning it into a twice daily ritual is unhealthy in the same way eating less than five hundred calories a day while exercising seven days a week is unhealthy. Lifestyle changes like eating more vegetables and less fried foods is healthy. Walking a mile and a half to the grocery store instead of driving, is healthy. 

My goal for myself and others goes far beyond changing eating habits, and is much harder to accomplish: make those conscious decisions truly and sincerely for yourself. If you're a healthy person that wants to wear a Brazilian bikini—wether you're a size zero or a size sixteen—wear it. Try not to make the decision to buy it based on wether or not you have the body type most commonly shown modeling that bikini; I guarantee you that even the model on display lingers in front of the mirror the same way you do. Screw how-to guides on what clothes to wear for "your body type," because if you feel happy and healthy, for every person that fat shames you or claims you're too skinny, there will be just as many people telling you that you're radiant.

This goal is crucial because the media has not simply lent a helping hand to society’s most flawed views—it has been the main contributor in spreading a false idea of normal. It is crucial because subconsciously or not, we make choices in pursuit of the media’s normal; an idea that often contradicts itself. The same magazine that shames a woman for being too fat, will shamelessly criticize her if she looses too much weight. The media will also praise curvy, well-liked celebrities for looking like normal women—real women. 

You cannot be (or strive to beoverweight, underweight, too tall, too short, too dark, or too light if you want to be a real woman? 

ALL women are real women. The ones that think they aren't have had popular culture replace their female reality with a carefully constructed female fantasy. If they can just be smart but not pedantic, confident but not bitchy, independent but need a man, sexual but not slutty, like sports but love being feminine, and speak up but not speak out—they will be real women. 

I had a friend say to me recently that she respected how I don’t change who I am when I’m around men, that I don’t dress or speak differently. I legitimately thought to myself, “maybe that’s why I’m single.” The messages I receive daily tell me I should put on just enough make-up, wear something flattering, and not talk too much if I want to get a date. Almost all of these messages are coming from, not men, but the media. It seems we are no longer trying to impress members of our desired sex, but a media manipulated society which whispers in our ears and reminds us of our inadequacies. 

So turn off the television, right? Just be above the influence of the media, and embrace your beauty. This is something I have been struggling towards for many years. Despite my efforts, and progress made, I still take one too many seconds in front of the mirror to recognize my flaws. Flaws that I have modeled after a falsely named reality and normality of a real woman’s image.  

That night in Bangkok, I said “fuck mirrors” and thought about it seriously. Maybe women and girls should say fuck off to their false reflections, and be confident that they look great every single day. Or, is that avoiding confrontation with the very demons that will make us doubt ourselves whether we’re looking in the mirror or at a television screen? 

I don’t think we should be flicking off our reflections. Celebrities and civilians, young and old, overweight and underweight, dark and light—stare at your reflections as long as it takes you to realize that you are flesh and bones and beauty and brains. You are real. We could be on to something if we were to realize that the only voice that can make us feel real is our own. 

The term “bad” is quickly reverting to its original Webster’s definition. Enough hash-tags of the term have been posted under half-naked preteen girl’s, that it has now become a right of passage for anyone with a middle school I.D., mirror, and a camera phone. The term has been gentrified and I can't accept that. 

With all popular slang comes a point of no return. The minute Zac Efron decided to tattoo “YOLO” on his creamy, Ken Doll-like bicep, every single person (including Drake) acted like the word never existed and treated it like an embarrassing ex. I had a similar experience with the term “swag.” For a clouded year of my life I would use the term frequently. I would tie my shoes in a different way and be like, “damn that’s swag.” I’d look at a small dog in a purse and yell, “SWAG!!” at nothing in particular. The point is, I was in too deep--embarrassingly deep.  Then, one day, I’m strolling 7-11 for a cold beverage when I see “brand new swag!” on a cereal box. Forever humbled by that moment and its lack of “swag” I never used it again (except to describe cereal).

It’s scientifically proven that old white people make things un-cool. They take fun slang and force Katie Couric to read it off a teleprompter, while the rest of us with any self-awareness re-evaluate why we said it in the first place. Appropriation is for the most part positive. It should be taken as a sign of flattery and (somewhat) acceptance of another culture. Although most who are appropriated tend to regard it as a comical negative, and often a slow-moving train-wreck of Justin Bieber creepy-lip-bite “light-skinned” selifes, we can’t ignore it’s ironic progress for oppressed culturesIn the case of “bad,” I feel personally responsible to keep the integrity of this term alive. This goes beneath Chihuahuas, shoe laces, and light-skinned Bieber. “Bad” represents the feminist turnthe moment we see ourselves and others as individual women whose differences are pronounced and valued.

What makes you “bad” or attractive will never be truly reflected through your Instagram, and what you “like”will always be less important than who you like. What made women like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown bad in the world of hip-hop is they didn’t care what anyone thought. They didn’t see themselves as women in a men’s world; they just did what ever the fuck they wanted. Being badis thinking for yourself, dressing for yourself, and doing what you want because you CAN. When you label yourself as “bad” out of a place of insecurity you’re disrespecting the women who paved the way for you to use that term. Remember--there was a time when the term “bad” actually meant you sucked--so don’t let yourself become an ironic joke, and use it correctly. 
Driving into the Inland Empire for the first time is a confusing experience for someone that’s not from Southern California. In my out-of-stater state-of-mind, Southern California looked like Orange and Los Angeles Counties. 

On my move-in day I remember exiting the 10 freeway and thinking that the UofR wasn’t in the nicest of towns, naively comparing it to the glistening city of Irvine that I had just come from. For a good chunk of my freshman year, I thought of the UofR as being a little oasis surrounded by a mostly working class Redlands. Those thoughts were intensified by references, made by classmates, to certain locals as “sketchy 909ers”.

A sketchy 909er is most commonly a college age Black or Hispanic in loose clothing, that my fellow students can tell is, “definitely not a student here”. In my second semester, a friend and I found ourselves driving through South Redlands, jaws dropped at the mansions that occupied the rolling hills overlooking the city below. It was in a different category than North Redlands in a multitude of ways. 

Just how much does South Redlands differ from North Redlands? Most recent data shows that the median household income of North Redlands in 2011 was $63,658. A few miles down Orange street, in South Redlands, the median household income of that year jumps to $72,693. It’s natural for cities as large as Redlands to have some wealth disparities, however, the gap in residents living below the poverty level is unsettling. In the zip code 92373, the main zipcode of South Redlands, there has been some poverty, with 7.2 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. This zipcode does however include parts of San Bernardino. Meanwhile, in the North Redlands/Mentone zip code 92374, 13.6 percent of residents have been living below the poverty line. 

The combined Black and Latino population in South Redlands is, to no surprise, a small 7,800 compared to North Redlands’ near 18,000 Black and Latino residents. These minorities are enrolling in private schools at the high school level 7.3 percent less than the kids in South Redlands. Couple that with the obvious lack of resources at schools such as Lugonia Elementary School compared to Mariposa Elementary School. 

At around 70,000 residents, Redlands is just small enough for the gap to be unsettling, but large enough to cause this city to suffer from a forced naivety that stifles its minority and low-income populations. It’s a home that feeds the successes of some and slows the advancement of others in virtually the same backyard. The only thing that physically separates the white and non-white, rich and poor, educated and uneducated in this city, is the 10 freeway. This freeway that spans from Santa Montica all the way to the border of Arizona, runs through many cities economically, and consequently raciallydividing towns on its way. Even in Santa Monica the 10 separates the upper and lower class sections of the city. The construction of freeways has historically gentrified towns and cities across America. Building them makes it necessary to tear down homes; placing the 10 near the intersection of North Redlands and Mentone (a lower income neighborhood), caused a concentration of lower income residents and brought further down their property values. 

The reality of Redlands, California is turning onto Orange street and seeing a loitering group of sketchy 909ers, then driving under the 10 toward downtown Redlands and seeing a soccer mom dropping her kids off at youth group. Continue up and up toward the Redlands Country Club, pick a spot up in lavish Smiley heights, and look down at the “sketchy” black and brown people giving the 909 a bad name. 

This is an op-ed article that I wrote last year for The Bulldog Weekly (University of Redlands' Newspaper). 

It's important to note that this article was meant to criticize income inequality and the frightening racial wealth gap in America (using Redlands as an example). The disparities in Redlands are upsetting, but the nationwide wealth gap is just offensive. 

Focusing on the black/white dichotomy, the wealth gap between white and black households in 2009 was 19-to-1, with the median household net worth for white homes equaling $92,000, and the median household net worth for black homes totaling $4,900. Less offensive, but still successfully unsettling is income inequality: "the median white household income in 2011 was 72% higher than the median black household income." Please tell me these numbers are as nauseating to you as they are to me. 

Yes, the wealth gap and race are best friends (or, mortal enemies depending on who you're speaking to). But, in the interest of accuracy , I'll add that the profile of a sketchy 909er isn't exclusive to black and brown men and women. The sketchy 909er includes any seemingly lower-middle to lower class looking person that we judge based on their perceived inferior appearance and behavior. These micro-aggressions cause us to label a person we do not know as dangerous, because we are threatened by their differences. It's the oldest story in the book, yet still more of us have to be fed up with hearing it enough to effect permanent change. 
About a year ago I decided to start blogging. I figured my passion for writing and social commentary would be put to good use in a blog, because I have a lot to say about the state of society. The simplest things will send my thoughts into a full-throttle, existential Q&A session (although it's usually more Q than A).

My thoughts tend to escalate like this on any and all matter of issues. I get passionately angry about societies faults because I read and I watch and I stay informed. Often times, the more you know, the less you wish you did. People, myself included, are certainly capable of reading about poverty and violence in American ghettos and across the globe in war-ridden countriesI just happen to give a shit. It's something that can be helped but that I have no desire to change. Considering my six-figure liberal arts education is providing me with a degree in Creative Writing, I'd like to believe that my words have an effect. My thoughts and passions give those words a purpose. 

So, this blog will contain my questions, opinions, and comments on an array of societal issues, in different forms of prose and poetry. 

That being said, I won't ignore the title of my blog: Is That Your Real Hair? As a young black woman, my mind rants (and vocal rants) are often geared toward race relations in this so-called colorblind era. It is the issue I get overwhelmingly steamed about, because when I hear people from my generation claim the presence of racism is a thing of the past, it makes me realize that my experiences with modern racism are invisible to others.

I'm not here, on the inter-webs, to wage a war against ignorant white peopleor ignorant blacks, Latinos, Hispanics, Asians, Islanders, and others. If anything, I'd like to wage a war against stereotypes; good and bad, they are poisonous to anyone that no longer wants their actions to automatically be attributed to their color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever other quality we use to define them. Stereotypes stifle the idea that people can be defined by many qualities. Choosing to determine how a person should act based on just one of those qualities is degrading to the complexities of the human condition. 

And on that aggressively existential note, I'll end with this: if you read what I have to say, take it to heart, take it personally, take it in, take it everywhere.   
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