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    Who You Love Has More to Do With Politics Than You Might Think

    When the results came in during the election of 2016, the country collectively learned that nearly 50 percent of white women had cast their votes for a man who bragged about sexual misconduct on tape. All of my fellow white feminist friends were horrified, as was I. But what disturbed me as well, perhaps more, were the number of women who I’d seen posting on social media that their homes were divided: split between Trump and Clinton under the same roof. These were the white women who didn’t vote for Trump, but lived and shared children with someone who did. I couldn’t fathom how a woman could love someone who voted so violently against her and countless others—and for that matter, how could he claim to love her? I started to fear that I, too, could wake up one morning and discover that my intimate partner had the capacity to think, act, and vote against my interests and those of so many others. What I didn’t realize in 2016 was that I was already living it.

    My ex—we’ll call him Mark—was not a Trump voter. But he couldn’t understand why I was depressed after the election, or why I was overreacting to something that, he maintained, would be of no real consequence to anyone. He told me he thought Trump was “a buffoon and an idiot,” and that he wasn’t happy about the results, but as I lay next to him in bed and cried, he told me he didn’t get why I was so emotional. When I emphasized Trump’s numerous sexual assault allegations, something that was very personal to me as a survivor of abuse, he replied, “Well Obama was accused of a lot of things.” It didn’t occur to me to say at the time, but Obama has not been accused of sexual assault, and had one white woman said a fraction about him of what they said about Trump, Obama’s career, his life as we know it, would have been over. But at the time, desperate for comfort, all I asked was for Mark to hug me. He sat uncomfortably for a moment before he said, “I can’t hug you if I don’t know what I’m agreeing to.” We then sat in an icy silence and I stared through the window, feeling stung and embarrassed for having asked in the first place.
    I grew up in a moderate-sized town surrounded by small towns, in the dead-center of flyover country. Many marry straight out of high school or college, have children within a year, and stay either in their hometown, or live within a few hours of it—that is, if one of them doesn’t enter the military first. I don’t say this in a negative way; many of my good friends have followed this path and they’ve been very happy. But I always felt that this created a culture of “not being too picky” when choosing a mate, especially as a liberal, educated, pro-choice, non-religious woman. You find someone who mostly aligns with your personality and activities, and whatever exists outside of that, you accept, because the alternative is to risk being alone. The idea that one would break up with someone because of their politics, I always perceived, was frowned upon. Why do politics have to come into it? You don’t want to be closed-minded. Some disagreement is healthy—it keeps things interesting!

    The idea that one would break up with someone because of their politics, I always perceived, was frowned upon. Why do politics have to come into it? You don’t want to be closed-minded. Some disagreement is healthy—it keeps things interesting!

    Under these criteria, when I was 19, I found my perfect pairing. We met doing regenerative, local farm-to-table work, we were both artists, neither of us listened to country music, he handed me the power tools. These things were all important to me. Once we made our relationship official, our futures became intertwined, and it started to look like I might have that Midwest path.
    Then 2016 happened, which set me off in a new personal direction. I, like many of the white folks around me, had thought on some level that the election of Obama meant the end of large-scale racism in America. I knew that racism still existed, but I had always subscribed to the thinking that it was just a few individuals and had no larger means of existence. Mark shared this belief, but after Trump, only one of us started to adapt our thinking.
    I started to become more outspoken on social media. For a developing activist, social media is the catalyst for finding our voice and discovering new viewpoints to expand our thinking. It was this newfound expression of mine that quickly became a source of arguments in my relationship, although I could never figure out what the actual argument was about. All I knew was that Mark would see something I posted or even something I liked, and within moments, we’d be shouting back and forth to no avail.
    One of these arguments took place in response to the riots that had broken out across the country in the wake of Trump’s election. I was in support; Mark was starkly against.
    “The reason Martin Luther King Jr. made change was because they were never violent. For the sit-ins, they took the abuse, they sat there while people pounded on them, and that was how people saw how awful it was,” he said. “These people need to know that violence alienates the rest of us who would want to help them. When they do stuff like this, it’s all noise and people like me tune it out.”*

    *Editors’ Note: This is an example of a microaggression. The Everygirl Media Group does not condone this type of speech. To educate yourself on microaggressions and how to combat this behavior, click here.

    This became the running theme. Emotion, anger, frustration, ‘acting out’—all of these things caused the movement to fail at what Mark proposed was its single purpose: to get people like him, ‘moderate white America’, on board with Black liberation. He threw MLK and his ‘passive resistance’ in my face at every turn, and I responded by publicly sharing Letter from Birmingham Jail, in which King states, “I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate… who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.” Mark responded by saying I was intentionally trying to hurt him by turning his hero against him, and that I was mis-interpreting MLK due to context. I didn’t know the phrase ‘white fragility’ then, but Mark was textbook.

    The underlying dynamic of our relationship began to shift after about four months of dating, when I left to attend the Women’s March. It was a life-changing experience for me, to be surrounded by people who were also experiencing the devastation I felt after the election. But my elation was short-lived, because by the time our busses left D.C. for Kansas, I was already bracing for another argument at home. Instead, I was met with no words at all, as Mark greeted me with no mention of the trip I had just made. When I nudged him, worried he was quietly simmering grievances that would erupt later on, he remarked that the whole ordeal seemed a bit silly. I asked him what seemed so ‘silly’ about the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. After some back-and-forth, I finally asked what he thought the Women’s March was for. No answer. When I informed him that it was in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump, he simply raised his eyebrows and said he’d had no idea it had anything to do with Trump. His tone was almost accusatory, as if I had intentionally held something back from him. As if the expectation that he would take a moment to look it up while I had been gone for five days was somehow unreasonable.

    His tone was almost accusatory, as if I had intentionally held something back from him. As if the expectation that he would take a moment to look it up while I had been gone for five days was somehow unreasonable.

    And yet, I bought in and started to believe that it had, in fact, been unreasonable. I started to think that if I could just explain things in the right way, if I could bring the answers to him, the fighting between us would stop, and we could actually work together at navigating the world of intersectional activism. He seemed so close to being on the same side that I thought I could give him that final push.
    So I sent him articles, gathered materials to talk about sexism and racism and homophobia and how they all roll themselves up together to form institutional violence and oppression. He wholeheartedly refused to read a word of it, because as he told me, he ‘wasn’t that interested.’ But if this was true, why were we fighting so constantly? And why did the fighting only seem to stop when I finally broke down crying? And why did he seem incapable of expressing genuine sympathy when I was in pain? For that matter, why did talking about it hurt me so much more than it hurt him? Why did I feel like I was treading water while he was blank in the face?
    At the time, I didn’t know about concepts such as ‘gaslighting’ and ‘stonewalling,’ so instead, I accepted Mark’s definitions of what I was experiencing. I kept crying during our arguments because I was simply more fragile than him, and in turn, my argument constructions were inferior to his because they were emotional. He convinced me that while he could always be objective about the things other people had endured, we would forever be un-objective after experiencing them for ourselves. Beyond this, my hours of reading, lecture, discussion, and academic study had no bearing on my credibility in our debates, because to Mark, any social or political issue was fair game to the casual viewer, regardless of the time or work they had dedicated to understanding it. As Mark’s voice became a constant passenger in my head, I struggled to feel conviction about anything at all, until I began to pull away from activist work altogether.
    Mark and I finally broke up just before my college graduation, when I became too exhausted to prop up his version of our relationship. When I finally demanded different treatment, he found another way to flip it around on me: Our issue was simply that I wasn’t strong enough to take his emotional manipulations, and I needed to logically explain to him how to change without causing him discomfort along the way. I told him to pursue therapy, and closed the door for good. I then lived with his voice in my head for two years, during which time I was still too intimidated, too lacking in conviction to find my way back to my voice.

    I pursued therapy for myself in the fall of 2019, where I began to tease my own voice apart from Mark’s. However, change was slow, and I still felt great shame and embarrassment when I dared to engage in activist work. That all changed in the spring of 2020, when the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked uprisings across the country, and something in me finally cracked. I found enough purpose to push through Mark’s voice and start reading again, finding books about racism and intersectional feminism, which led me to Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper. I had never seen such a fearless, honest analysis of feminism, and even though her experiences as a Black woman were different from mine, the truth she spoke hit me in waves with every chapter. She was unafraid to look at her deepest insecurities and challenge them, to confront the very real fear that all feminists have of ending up alone because we dare to demand something more from our men. In her chapter White-Girl Tears, I learned that I was not the only person asking what the hell happened with white women voters in 2016, though the answers she proposed weren’t the ones I had anticipated. She wrote of the Women’s March that meant so much to me, “Watching white women take it to the streets to protest an election outcome that was a result of white women’s powerful voting block felt like an exercise in white-lady tears if I ever saw one.” Reading this was sobering, but it helped me recognize that as a white feminist, if I wanted to create change, I needed to start much closer to home.

    It helped me recognize that as a white feminist, if I wanted to create change, I needed to start much closer to home.

    “[T]he choice of whom to love is political. And if white feminists were honest, they would recognize that their feminism actually does demand that they interrogate the political dimensions of their intimate engagements.” This line, like so many other lines in Cooper’s book, put language to something I didn’t realize I’d been trying to say for years.
    I began to view my relationship with Mark through an entirely different lens. I started to question his motives more deeply, wondering now if he was identifying with a larger power structure which was threatened by the activist movements I was engaging with. Did he truly think that social justice efforts were simply too chaotic, too loud, too disorganized to gain traction? Or was the concept that a movement could attain justice with or without his approval simply a challenge to his sense of superiority and importance? I had my answer when I realized that while Mark claimed to support peaceful protest above all else, when his girlfriend left for five days to participate in the enormously peaceful Women’s March, he couldn’t be bothered to learn why it was happening in the first place. I then realized that no matter what arguments I laid out, what research I conducted, or what efforts I made to help him understand, no message of change or justice would have ever reached him because he did not want to be reached.

    I then realized that no matter what arguments I laid out, what research I conducted, or what efforts I made to help him understand, no message of change or justice would have ever reached him because he did not want to be reached.

    For the first time since our breakup, I have stopped hearing Mark’s voice in the back of my mind. I feel like I finally have the vantage point to see all of the things that had been at play, which were far more than just two people standing in a kitchen at 3am, arguing over my presence on Instagram. Behind both of us were years upon years of socialization and experiences that formed who we were, and he was backed by a system that had been doing this insidious work for generations. His weapon was far more substantial, and he was far more adept at using it. But as I am now listening to Black feminist leaders who have studied this longer and more extensively than I, as I learn about the inner-workings and generational pull of this weapon, I can finally start to neutralize its effects.
    White women with white male partners: We need to have a conversation about the word ‘political,’ what it means, and what we allow the men (or should I say ‘enforcers of the white patriarchy,’ because we do that shit, too) in our lives to tell us it means. We act as if politics are a dressing of topsoil over our lives, disconnected from everything else, something to discuss at dinner. In fact, what I’ve learned is that politics form the very roots that feed everything we are made of. It has taken me some time to recognize that Mark was emotionally abusive, but what is not lost on me is that his abuse was also political. And because he and I came out of a culture that told us we shouldn’t base who we date off of politics, it was the perfect shield for the weapon he brought to the table.

    White women with white male partners: We need to have a conversation about the word ‘political,’ what it means, and what we allow the men in our lives to tell us it means.

    I am changing my constitution allllll the way around. My relationships, from here on out, are to be a sanctuary for me in the sense that they are a safe space, and 100 percent optional. First date topics will include but not be limited to the following: Black Lives Matter, intersectional feminism, abortion, white supremacy, transphobia, religion, who you voted for in 2016, who you voted for in 2020, who you wished you could’ve voted for in 2020, Black reparations, Native American reparations, and whether or not Louis C.K. is redeemable. I refuse to act as if any of these opinions are not critical to agree upon with my future partner. We can disagree about many things—for example, I do enjoy a good dill pickle, and if they find them repulsive, then more for me. But politics and the weapon they wield are no space for compromise, and the best thing that white women could recognize in 2020 is that we no longer need to endure or carry this weapon in exchange for our security.

    I believe that all white women have a Mark, whether it’s a romantic partner, a father, a grandfather, a fellow white woman who parrots the same sentiments in a higher pitch, or the simple voice echoing through our culture and directly into our ears.

    So if we’re really committed to widespread liberation and equality, we need to start looking critically at the results of our alignments. I believe that all white women have a Mark, whether it’s a romantic partner, a father, a grandfather, a fellow white woman who parrots the same sentiments in a higher pitch, or the simple voice echoing through our culture and directly into our ears. They may not actively participate in oppressive systems, but they certainly won’t lift a finger to help take their weight off of our backs, and they will sure as hell judge us for trying. When our collective Marks attach onto our pre-existing insecurities, assuring us that our actions toward positive change are inconsequential, it would do us well to start challenging them at the root. One way to do this is to simply pose the question to one’s self, perhaps late at night once our Marks have gone to sleep beside us: If I break my alignment with him, what does he stand to lose? And when I venture out into a diverse community of revolutionaries, when I bring with me my tool of white privilege and the need for my own liberation, what could we all stand to gain? More

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    Beyond Kanye: 6 Things Everyone Should Know About Mental Illness

    Something is happening with Kanye West, we can all agree on that. Like many, I watched and listened this week as outlets shared video clips and commentary about what that “something” might be. Mental illness? Internalized racism? Publicity stunt? Some combination of these?On Wednesday, July 22, West’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, took to Instagram Stories to address her husband’s mental health. “As many of you know, Kanye has bi-polar disorder. Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand,” Kardashian West wrote, according to CNN. “I’ve never spoken publicly about how this has affected us at home because I am very protective of our children and Kanye’s right to privacy when it comes to his health. But today, I feel like I should comment on it because off the stigma and misconceptions about mental health.”
    I’m a longtime Kanye fan; I often say playing Never Let Me Down on repeat got me through my last year of college. As a fan, I’ve been shocked and saddened by the course Kanye’s public persona has taken these last few years. Yet, as a mental health advocate, there’s something else I’m seeing that needs to be addressed—a consistent, insidious trend of people who are not mental health professionals publicly speculating on whether or not Kanye is suffering from a mental health crisis. And often (if they don’t believe he is) they’re making statements on their platforms as to why his behavior is not (in their eyes) a result of mental illness.  

    Look, I’m not actually writing this to debate whether or not Kanye is suffering a mental health crisis or, in any way, to condone what I think are dangerous messages he’s sharing. 
    What I am here to say is that we can collectively hold ourselves to a higher standard. Unless someone is a mental health professional or can speak about their own experience, it’s not responsible or humane to make judgements or perpetuate faulty narratives—even if unintentional. To ensure I’m holding myself to this same standard, I even asked my own longtime therapist to review this article before publishing.
    The truth is, like millions of people, I have a close family member that suffers from severe mental illness. For the past 20 years, we’ve experienced far more gut-wrenching lows than fleeting highs in caring for our loved one. Personally, it’s illuminated so many fractures in how—in both government and as a society—we lack important knowledge in two ways: truly understanding the myriad ways psychosis can look on different people, and using that knowledge to honor the humanity in those suffering.
    July is also BIPOC Mental Health month and, as a first-gen Black woman, I can tell you all of this is even more complicated for us as a family of color in America. So much so, that I recently became a member of the mental health board for the county I live in to be an agent of change in my community. 

    So, with that context, here’s what I wish more people knew about mental illness. 

    1. It’s damaging to make public statements about someone’s mental health 
    In 2020, it’s now a more broadly held concept that publicly commenting on someone’s weight is inappropriate, and can be harmful. The same holds true for mental health. Many of us might be unknowingly perpetuating myths on mental health and, by extension, causing additional harm to those affected. Navigating the ongoing journey for mental wellness is already taxing for those directly impacted and for their families, so hearing someone call their ex a “schizo” or “psycho” after an argument, or referring to their own “OCD” as a way to describe being detail-oriented doesn’t help. Neither does making unqualified, public commentary on potential mania or psychosis. It’s a lose/lose. At best, you’re diagnosing without the medical knowledge to do so and fueling ignorance. At worst, you’re causing harm by triggering past or current trauma. 
    This is why it’s best to refrain from making statements about how mental illness can or should look in someone, unless you are speaking from first person experience or are a current mental health professional. 

    2. Being an informed citizen is important 
    It’s surprising how many people move through the world as if this doesn’t affect them just because they may not have an immediate family member living with mental illness. First, I can almost promise you there is someone you love that is impacted in some way, however “mild.” There’s another layer beyond personal responsibility, which is civic duty. 
    Mental wellness—and the lack thereof for so many—impacts every aspect of a society’s overall health. Part of what it means to be an informed citizen and voter is understanding the ripple effect of mental health on everything from our jail system to homelessness to substance abuse to gun violence.

    3. Most often, the family isn’t to blame
    One of the biggest misconceptions around mental health is that the family is accountable for someone’s well-being and safety when, in reality, that is not at all how our system is designed. There have been so many times when friends have asked questions like, “Why can’t the authorities help you?” or “Why don’t you just have them in a long-term facility?” Or worse, that if someone is clearly experiencing homelessness and a mental health crisis, it’s assumed they either have no family or have been abandoned by them. Due to HIPAA guidelines and in an effort to protect the individual rights of those suffering, families’ rights are often non-existent. Let’s give family members a break. Chances are they’re doing their best given the constraints of the law and the ways this is impacting their own mental well-being. Instead of putting the onus on the family to answer what might be complicated and triggering questions, try simply saying, “I can’t imagine how tough this is, and I’m here if you need me.”

    4. Law enforcement shouldn’t be mental health first responders 
    According to an article from the Treatment Advocacy Center, people with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed while interacting with police. While the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum in recent months, it’s important to have dialogue on why it’s problematic (and sometimes dangerous) to have law enforcement serve as first responders for mental health crises which, by the way, they don’t have the expertise or bandwidth to do. For example, here’s a scenario that might play out one of two ways in California: a 30-something man has suffered from Schizophrenia for 10 years, and is caught loitering at a store and yelling at other customers. A clerk calls the police.
    Scenario A: The police arrive on the scene, confirm with him he’s not planning to harm himself, and ask him to leave the store. Done and done. This person might need acute care and won’t get it because he’s experienced at answering questions like this and truly does not want to harm anyone. He continues in crisis with no support, and his family does not know where he is since he left their home in a rage weeks earlier. 
    Scenario B: They arrive on the scene, and the man yells (likely as a result of delusions) that he wants to kill eight people. This means police must put the man on an involuntary hold, called a 5150. While in the hospital and forced to take medications, the man stabilizes, and calls his family. The family requests greater support, and maybe even a review for a conservatorship. On the very small chance his doctor agrees, by the time the man is seen by a judge maybe three weeks later, he is not in crisis, has been on medication, and can outline a clear plan for future care (which he may or may not really be committing to—like anyone in that situation, he says what he thinks people want to hear). The judge refuses to review family statements citing she has all the information she needs to make a decision. Case closed and the cycle begins all over again.   
    Can you see how challenging this is? Let me add another layer to it. 
    Given what we’re seeing daily on police brutality, how do you think this statistic plays out for Black and Latinx people suffering from mental health crises? Miles Hall is one tragic example. 

    5. Substance abuse, homelessness, and mental illness are all closely connected 
    Substance abuse and mental illness can be closely linked. Severe mental illness can present like substance abuse AND substances can be used as a means for self-medicating to cope with symptoms of mental illness. According to HelpGuide.org, some statistics from the Journal of the American Medical Association underscore this: 
    Approximately 50 percent of those with severe mental disorders are also impacted by substance abuse. 
    37 percent of those who abuse alcohol and 53 percent of those who abuse drugs also have at least one serious mental health condition. 
    29 percent of those diagnosed with a mental illness abuse either alcohol or drugs. 
    Let’s be conscious of these connected issues, quell judgements surrounding them, and deepen the empathy in our responses. 

    6. Know the ways to get help for yourself or loved ones 
    Finally, if you’re someone who struggles with severe mental illness or loves someone who does, there are ways to get support. One of the most challenging circumstances for some more severe diagnoses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is that people can sometimes have little to no insight into their own illness. This makes caring for and protecting these loved ones especially challenging. The single most important tool I’ve learned around this is the LEAP method, created by Dr. Xavier Amador and outlined in his book, I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help. LEAP stands for listen, empathize, agree, partner. 
    You can check out this YouTube video on it, but the primary reason it’s so important is that caretakers often try to talk our loved ones out of whatever they are thinking or feeling, and then we wonder why we aren’t getting anywhere. Imagine if someone were trying to talk you out of your current reality. How would that work for you? LEAP provides a framework for approaching conversations—and honestly, it’s also super helpful in relationships where mental health isn’t even an issue. This can also be a game-changer for mental health professionals or others who regularly come in contact with people who need mental health support services. 
    You can also check out NAMI, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, for more information and access to services. NAMI has chapters across the country, creates space for families living with this to connect with one another, and have incredibly robust support services. 
    In the meantime, let’s stay open to hearing the experiences of others, and hold silent or supportive space for those who need it most. And if you do one thing this weekend, head over to Amazon Prime Video and watch (or rewatch) The Soloist with the lens outlined here. It’s a beautiful and accurate depiction of how mental illness, homelessness, and family dynamics are interconnected for so many.  More

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    22 Ways I’ve Experienced Racism Living in Canada—Because No, It’s Not Just Happening in the US

    What do you think of when you think of Canada? Chances are, you’re thinking about maple syrup or moose, but it’s likely that you’re also thinking of that super-friendly stereotype too. That stereotype seems to give a lot of people—Canadians included—this idea that anti-Black racism isn’t really prevalent here. With the social unrest currently happening […] More

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    The Supreme Court Is Set to Decide an Abortion Case—Here’s What It Could Mean for Women’s Rights

    Fresh off of their June 15 ruling protecting the LGBT community from discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, the Supreme Court is gearing up to make a decision on one of the most controversial issues in its docket this summer: The government’s role in regulating women’s reproductive rights, and how new legislation could effectively eliminate […] More