6 Up-and-Coming Stars Who Are Changing How We Think About Gender ~ Daniela Capistrano

Some of the most provocative discussions about gender identity aren’t happening inside a classroom, they’re on the Internet — often thanks to influential personalities who use their platform trying to help make the world a safer and more welcoming place for transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming and cisgendered people. (Not sure what any of those terms mean or how they’re different? Start your self-education here.)

LIST: 8 Groundbreaking Transgender People in Pop Culture 

Here are seven emerging artists, entertainers and activists who are helping to bring gender identity activism conversations to the mainstream:

1. Conchita Wurst

This Austrian pop artist, who won 2014’s Eurovision Song Contest, is a style icon who made her modeling debut as part of Jean Paul Gaultier’s couture show in Paris — walking in the coveted final spot that is usually reserved for the designer’s favorite model. Although they don’t identify as transgender, they choose to use masculine pronouns when referring to their off-stage identity (Thomas “Tom” Neuwirth) and feminine pronouns for their Conchita Wurst persona.

In an interview last year, Conchita said she’s not phased by haters. “It’s funny that these people think I’m so powerful,” she told The Guardian. “I’ve figured out over the years, you can only hurt me if I love you; if I don’t know you, I really don’t care. There are people who want to kill me and I’m always like, ‘Well, get in line, darling.'”

Wurst’s debut album Conchita will be released in May and her video for “You Are Unstoppable” premieres this week. Follow Conchita on Twitter and Instagram at @conchitawurst.

2. Angel Haze

This award-winning rapper and singer has drawn critical acclaim and controversy for writing and performing a song about childhood sexual rape and abuse — and also for refusing to conform to gender norms. Haze, whose on-again, off-again girlfriend is model Ireland Baldwin, came out as agender in early 2015 (preferring gender neutral pronouns such as “they”). Recently lauded as a style icon by Paste Magazine, the artist is unapologetic about being gender-nonconforming. “To be honest with you, I’m not really a girl,” Haze told Buzzfeed. “If anything, I feel more on the guy end of the spectrum.” Follow Angel Haze on Twitter at @AngelHaze, on Instagram at @angxlhxze, on FacebookTumblrUStream, and listen to new music on SoundCloud.

TV: From ‘Surreal Life’ to Laverne Cox’s ‘Diddy’ Breakout: 9 Reality TV Shows Starring Transgender People

3. Grimes

The rising witch house/synth pop star Grimes is opening for Lana del Rey this summer and is known for both her eclectic vocal style, beautifully strange music videos and — as of late — publicly sharing her thoughts on her own gender identity with her 275,000 Twitter followers. In a recent series of tweets, the Canadian producer/musician/singer-songwriter/music video director revealed that she was frustrated by the assumptions made about how she identifies: “I vibe in a gender neutral space [in my opinion], so I’m kind of impartial to pronouns for myself,” she tweeted. “I wish I didn’t have to be categorized. Everything I ever hear about Grimes is super gendered and it has always really made me feel uncomfortable.”

4. Jaden Smith

With his ultra-famous parents and sister (Willow), plus a film and music career of his own, Jaden isn’t new to the spotlight. But he recently caught our attention for wearing gender non-conforming clothing and helping to further a dialogue among his young fans about the ways that fashion choices can challenge gender norms. With more than 5 million followers on Twitter and more than 1.8 million on Instagram, Jaden leveraged his celebrity and casual tone to help redefine what is acceptable for guys to wear when he posted a photo captioned “Went To TopShop To Buy Some Girl Clothes, I Mean ‘Clothes'” that went viral. Fans can enjoy his latest song “Offering” — an ode to his family, the prison system, and saving the world — that was released in early April on SoundCloud.

5. Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler

Recently named one of the Top 40 Under 40 LGBT activists by The AdvocateDr. Ziegler is an award-winning filmmaker, artist, writer, scholar and entrepreneur who was also named one of the most influential African Americans by TheRoot100. A co-founder of BlackStarMedia, the charismatic Renaissance man can be found on Twitter as @fakerapper and on Facebook, where he writes candidly about pop culture, technology, entrepreneurship gender identity and more. He recently shared a celebratory Facebook post: “may 1st my new health insurance kicks in that will help me complete my physical transition. Thanks based insurance gods. HAPPY FRIDAY!”

6. Pidgeon Pagonis

Pidgeon was featured in a popular Buzzfeed video about intersex identity after having been an activist for years. Due in part to a recent uptick in coverage by mainstream media, Pidgeon’s activism and sense of style has become crush fodder for young people on Tumblr and Instagram. Pidgeon travels the world fighting for the legal rights of intersex/DCD youth and their families — and you can follow along on Twitter @pidgejen, on Instagram as @pidgeonie and on Facebook, where they frequently share “intersexy” selfies and their thoughts on music, art, films, fashion, why #blacklivesmatter and gender identity activism.


Living Out A Dream by Dani.Love

It has been a while since I’ve contributed to this lovely space. There are 3 incomplete pieces still waiting to be completed and posted. But for now, I wanted to share with you a project I’ve been working on for the past 2-3 years.

Have you ever read a book and felt or thought it would make a great film. Like, as you read the book, the visuals are just so vidid in your head. The best books live on in our dreams and daydreams, those are the ones you read multiple times and bring up randomly in conversations. One of those books for me was Water in a Broken Glass by Odessa Rose.

I first read the novel in 2006 or 2007 while I was living in DC (my hometown) right after underground. That was a rough time for me and I remember reading a lot to escape my reality and also writing a lot, a lot of dark pieces that were actually pretty revealing and therapeutic. At any rate, I ordered the novel from Amazon after coming across it during my many sessions of searching for novels with black lesbian/gay woman. When it arrived, I dived in immediately. To say the book was good and I could relate is truly an understatement. Odessa truly captured the struggle of coming into your own as a woman and a gay woman. The fear, the self talk, the wanting to do “right” by the people you love, the confusion…. everything one goes through during a time like this, she captured it so authentically and beautifully. Up until this time, I’ve never read a character who I could relate to on that level. So, of course, I fell in love with the novel because I felt it was part of my story. A story I was currently living.

Before finishing, I knew I had to find a way to get this story on the big screen. How was uncertain, but I knew this story had to be shared on a bigger platform. I ended up reading the novel about once a year, usually during the summer. Each time, I fell in love all over again. I believe it was the 4th time I read it, back in 2011 when I decided to look up Odessa Rose and contact her about adapting her novel. I didn’t even know what adapting a novel entailed but I said, F* it, let’s see where this goes.

After finding her email on her website, I composed a heartfelt message to Odessa, praising her work, letting her know what her (first) novel represented to me, and proposing to adapt her work into a screenplay. I even admitted I knew nothing about screenwriting but I would make it my business to not only get it done but do her beautiful body of work justice. She responded immediately, informing me that someone was already working on a screenplay. I remember her email being really nice but I was still a little crushed, beating myself up even, because I thought I missed my chance and I should have acted sooner.

During the following months of our initial email, Odessa and I kept in touch. She offered me words of wisdom as a new writer, as well as a list of books that inspired her to write (and keep writing). A few months later, she emailed me to ask was I still interested in adapting the novel. Uhm, of course!!!! So she connected me to the woman who has been working on the screenplay for the past year.

Fast forward 2 years later, the screenplay is DONE, we have casted and hired crew and uhmmmm, this little birdie isn’t only living out her filmmaker dream, she is adapting one of her favorite novels of ALL TIME and one of THE novels she has always wanted to see on the big screen! Like, how cool is that???

I’m truly grateful, honored, excited, and part of me still feels like I’m dreaming. A few weeks ago, we filmed our crowdfunding campaign video (Water The Film) and I got to meet the author, the wonderful Odessa Rose. Needless to say, I was super excited and just overjoyed meeting her. She is such a kind spirit and I’m glad I finally got a change to express to her, in person, how wonderful her work is and how, despite her being a straight woman, she really did a great job telling a story of woman struggling to live her truth as a gay woman.

I’m not too certain how to end this blog post. I do want to share this film journey’s story and hope whoever reading this is engaged and will support us, even if it’s just sharing it with your networks. I ask, please, and I encourage it!!

Thanks for reading this far. And please watch, read, and share Water The Film.


Daily Meditation: A Sense Of Belonging ~ Antonia Blumberg

We all need help maintaining our personal spiritual practice. We hope that these Daily Meditations, prayers and mindful awareness exercises can be part of bringing spirituality alive in your life.

Today’s meditation features a reflection on “belonging and coming home” by philosopher and poet David Whyte. “We are the one part of creation that knows what it’s like to live in exile,” he says. Thus the ability to return home is one of the “great human endeavors.”



See why this mom’s honest breast-feeding photo got people riled up ~ Lisa Flam

Elisha Wilson Beach likes to be honest about motherhood, messiness and all.

Her truth-telling ignited an online controversy when she posted a photo of herself doing double-duty: She was seated on the toilet, pants down, and nursing her 11-month-old daughter, Nolan.

Courtesy Michael Beach

While some were appalled at the notion, it was second nature to Wilson Beach, just another part of being a mom.

“Maybe motherhood has blurred my lines,” she told TODAY. “I’ve done it so many times, I just did what I usually do.”

It happened early Saturday morning at home after she put Nolan on the bedroom floor to play while she went to the bathroom. With her 4 1/2-year-old son still asleep, she lingered in the loo and was “just enjoying the quiet moment.” But before long, Nolan found her way in the bathroom, made a mess of the cabinets and reached her mom to nurse.

Silly time! Elisha Wilson Beach goofs around with her 4-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter.Courtesy Elisha Wilson Beach

(Silly time! Elisha Wilson Beach goofs around with her 4-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter.)

Finding humor in her multitasking, Wilson Beach called her husband, actor Mike Beach, to take a photo. “I just said, ‘Hey honey, come take a look of this,'” said Wilson Beach, 35, of Los Angeles. “I thought it was a cute moment to remember. It was funny. I loved it.”

She posted the photo to “just share what motherhood looks like for me,” says Wilson Beach, who nurses on demand. “That’s my daily reality.”

“This is motherhood and it ain’t always pretty. What’s your #momtruth?” she captioned the photo on Instagram. Perhaps knowing what might be in store, she added: “#motherhood #motherhoodaintpretty#tmi #confessionsofamom #ididthat #iamnotsorry.”

As the photo went viral, many praised Wilson Beach and revealed that they too had nursed on the toilet. “Been there done that!” one woman wrote on Wilson Beach’s Instagram page.

 Elisha Wilson Beach with daughter Nolan. She believes in sharing the reality of motherhood... even when it's not so pretty.Courtesy Elisha Wilson Beach

(A more peaceful moment: Elisha Wilson Beach with daughter Nolan. She believes in sharing the reality of motherhood… even when it’s not so pretty.)

Of course, others were not so nice.

“A lot said I was disgusting or had no class and I’m a nasty cow,” Wilson Beach said. Some, she said, questioned why she would nurse in the bathroom when breast-feeding mothers are fighting against having to feed their children in public restrooms.

“There’s a big difference between my personal home bathroom and a public bathroom,” she says, adding that her bathroom is clean and saying she’s “done grosser things” — like catch her child’s vomit in her hands. (Like she said, motherhood ain’t always pretty.)

“Moms do this all the time,” Wilson Beach says. “It’s not that big of a deal. Some people think it’s disgusting. That’s fine for their choices, but a lot of moms do this.”

Actor Mike Beach defended his wife after she was criticized for posting a photo of her breast-feeding their daughter while doing her business (or trying to) on the potty.Courtesy Elisha Wilson Beach

(Actor Mike Beach defended his wife after she was criticized for posting a photo of her breast-feeding their daughter while doing her business (or trying to) on the potty.)

Her husband, who also has four older children from his first marriage, took to his Instagram page to defend his wife. Beach, 51, noted that he’s been a dad for nearly 30 years, and said his kids are all healthy and safe.

Beach, an actor who appeared in “Sons of Anarchy” and recently “The Blacklist,” told TODAY that he respects the feelings of people who thought the photo shouldn’t be publicly shared.

“But those who say Elisha is dirty, looking for her 15 minutes or an unfit mother, clearly know nothing about her,” Beach said by email. “Elisha is an incredible mom and wife! Ask anyone who actually knows her. ANYONE. My kids and I are so very lucky.”

Despite the critical comments, Wilson Beach has no regrets.

“I feel like I gave moms a voice and I feel like I encouraged them to be OK with their messy lives,” Wilson Beach says.

“I see so many moms doubting themselves or feeling judged for what they do, whether they’re a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, a formula-feeding mom or a breast-feeding mom,” she said. “I want moms to be confident in the choices they’re making and knowing they’re doing the best for their kids.”

Lisa A. Flam, a regular contributor to TODAY.com, is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitterhttp://www.today.com/parents/breast-feeding-mom-sparks-controversy-honest-photo-t17216?cid=par-huffpost-gravity

Mindset is Important to Becoming Less Racist ~ Karen Fleshman

Earlier this year, I posted White People: A New Year’s Challenge to End Racism, listing five actions we could take in 2015 to improve racial understanding. With the first quarter over, it’s a great opportunity to take stock of progress- if you resolved to become less racist in 2015, how is it going for you? Is it harder or easier than you thought?

For me, the hardest part of becoming less racist was recognizing that I needed to do the work. I am far from done on this journey, I will be walking for a long time. At the start, like many people, I considered myself a good person, and since good people are not racist, I was, ergo, not racist. By studying this topic extensively, having many conversations with friends and colleagues, and actively working against racism I came to understand that in order to become less racist I would need to lose the “good person/bad person” binary and quiet the toxic storm of guilt, shame, and fear that swirled in my brain each time I thought about myself in association with racism.

Pushback against considering ways we are racist is pervasive among white people and one of the biggest obstacles we face in becoming less racist. In an excellent article in Salon, White America’s Racial Illiteracy: Why Our National Conversation is Poisoned from the Start Dr. Robin Diangelo, author of What it Means to Be White, defines this pushback as “White Fragility”: the ways we push back to regain our racial position and equilibrium when challenged.

In order for me to confront my racism, I had to stop considering myself a “good person,” I had to recognize that within myself, as with all other people, was a continuum of propensities for good and bad. I am very fortunate to be born into circumstances that allowed the good in me to develop very strongly, but that doesn’t make me incapable of bad or immune from being a racist.

Equally important, I had to let go of my shame and guilt about my white privilege. For me, becoming less racist is rooted in my desire to deeply understand and connect with fellow human beings, to challenge institutions that reinforce racial inequality, and ultimately to make our society more just and equitable for everyone. It was important for me to not just discard my shame and guilt, I deeply felt guilty and shameful as I came to recognize how white privilege impacts every aspect of my life, continuously setting me up for success. But since shame and guilt prevent me from being present and actually being able to listen and learn, I had to let those feelings go in order to move forward on my journey. To the extent I can, I reallocate the energy I used to expend feeling guilty and shameful to listening, learning and countering racism by connecting people to opportunity.

Similarly I had to lose my fear of making a mistake, of offending someone, of not being liked. What I have come to understand is that contributing to ending racism is more important to me than offending someone who does not share my view that we white people have a massive problem that will take much concentrated effort to correct. Often I make mistakes with my teachers on this journey. I am grateful that they have the compassion to forgive me as they guide me along.

How is your journey? Was this post at all helpful to you?

Fitness Blogger Photoshops Her Body In Real-Time In Response To Hateful Comments ~ Nina Bahadur

Fitness blogger and personal trainer Cassey Ho is tired of receiving negative comments about her appearance.

In a poignant YouTube video titled “The Perfect Body,” Ho alters herself in response to online criticism of her body.

“In this video, you will experience what it feels like to be constantly bombarded with outrageous negativity,” Ho wrote in a blog post introducing the video. “You will see what it looks like to have your self-esteem stripped away. You will read real comments left by real people. You will see me struggle with my own appearance.”

In “The Perfect Body,” Ho “makes changes” to herself including slimming her waist, increasing her bust and changing the color of her eyes. Ho wrote that she was tired of receiving negative comments and wanted to make a stand against cyber bullying.

“So what if I changed?” Ho wrote. “What if I had a slimmer waist and a bigger butt? Would everyone be happy then? What if I lived in a world where I could photoshop my body in real life? Would I be happy then?”

Watch the full video above.

How Going B(l)ack Can Provide Perspective by Naeemah

Amazing article about the value in knowing your history. It is important to have self-value and recognize that there are things beyond your day to day life that matter, that impact, that change who you are.

The below is written by Ernest Owens.

5 Lessons Traveling to Africa Taught Me About Being Black in America

 by Ernest Owens


Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to Ghana for 10 days to explore the history and culture of the region. And contrary to America’s heightened fear that traveling to West Africa would give me Ebola, I am fortunate to reassure you that I am happy and healthy.

Now that your potential conditioned hysteria is reduced, here is something you should be concerned about:

Black America, we have so much to actually learn about Africa — and yes, it does matter.

For far too long, our perceptions have been negatively impacted by white dominated narratives that have plagued our grade school text books and public discourse about the Motherland. The separation between our people across the diaspora is not just geographic, but philosophic. And while both sides can assess blame on boasting superiority against the other — Black America’s constant dismissal of the continent in our identity makes us the bigger culprit.

I, too, was once guilty of this — but sometimes it takes one to go back and re-direct the masses. Consider this my form of “Sankofa.”

These were my five major takeaways during what has now become my restored relationship to the ancestral homeland:

1) Privilege is real. 

During my stay in Ghana, for the first time in my life I felt what it was like to be in the majority. Most of the population is black and the experience of seeing my skin color on nearly every television station, public arena, and facet of society gave me a psychological gratification and confidence. A sense of pride that allowed me to walk in the street without feeling targeted. A level of high self-esteem when I told people my professional aspirations and was sincerely heard and not interrogated. My time in Africa gave me a first-hand look at what it feels like to not be a second-class citizen in society. It showed me how much America has tried to ignore the existence of white privilege when it is actually engrained. On a lighter note, please don’t believe American companies when they say they cannot produce quality black television commercials and programs… I saw tons that would put ours to shame.

2) Understanding slavery in the past explains the current struggles of today. 

“Get over it,” they tell us back home in the United States. There is absolutely no way we can and should when it paints a larger picture of the current systematic obstructions that are relevant to our present. In Africa, slavery is discussed and they actually have renowned museums and tourist attractions that cater specifically to the topic… I’m still waiting America. When visiting the former Elmina slave castles near the coast of Ghana, I felt a sudden sense of immediate anger, emotion, and frustration in how much of the manipulation and strategic disenfranchisements blacks faced then are still prevalent. Same crap, just a different day.

3)Sorry, Raven-Symoné — but we are indeed African-Americans.

Just because you cannot find your exact roots on a continent, doesn’t mean they aren’t apart of your ethnic make-up. That would be just as dumb as assuming that not knowing your father means you weren’t conceived by one. Coming to the realization of what it means to be an African-American rather than simply “American” gives me a more honest rationale as to why I face the current obstacles in a nation that speaks of “equality and justice for all.” Furthermore, it re-teaches me that my legacy didn’t start when my ancestors entered the West from slave ships (that’s only the second half of my identity), but that there was an enriched culture before America — and that was in Africa.

4) Oppression of black people is an international concern. 

Just as we fight for justice in Ferguson here in America, our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic are dealing with the discrimination and mistreatment of mass hysteria related to Ebola. Across the diaspora, blacks are feeling ostracized from the global discourse of how to protect their own communities. Such lack of representation of Africans being able to address how to eradicate their own problems reflects a worldwide stigma of having black leadership. Although our issues at surface level are distinct, fundamentally we are tackling the same mission: making black lives matter.

5) There needs to be more cross-continental discourse of connecting blacks across the diaspora.

Enough with just having cultural food and music fairs… let’s have a discussion about universally helping one another socially. When I attended college, it often aggravated me how black Americans felt Africans were another foreign group of people they could not identify with. And it was also troubling to see some native Africans look down on blacks in the country for not feeling as self-confident and culturally strong about their heritage. At this very moment in our present history, we now more than ever need to put down our media-driven stereotypes about one another and have real conversations about it. I am tired of seeing too many people of color help one another among regional affiliations and not the diaspora as a whole. Because the truth of the matter is that the rest of the world do not see us any differently and by strengthening our connections we can better combat these problems.

In closing, my travels to the continent gave me a fresh perspective on how I relate to blacks across the diaspora and how their burdens shape my work here in America. A lot of what the black community is trying to look for in themselves in our media, education, and economy can be found in the legacy and teachings that come from our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic.

This is not to say that I am entirely dismissive of American values and opportunities, I have been privileged on a technological and industrial level. However, I do believe that now is the time to expect more than just survival, and begin to thrive.

It is going to take more than just a village… but an entire continental shift in unifying self-value for all people of color.

#276 Waiters and waitresses who know the menu really well

Originally posted on 1000 Awesome Things:

I’d make a bad waiter.

Yeah, balancing wobbly trays of wet glasses, slipping and sliding on slick kitchen floors, and rushing for refills after refills is just way above my abilities. Of course, sometimes when you hit your local eating trough you meet other waiters and waitresses over their head too. Like for instance:

1. No-Notepad Nathan. This is the guy who listens to everyone’s order without writing anything down. At first, you’re really impressed, but the wow factor disappears when all the meals come out wrong.

2. Disappearing Diane. She’s a great waitress during drinks and dinner, but after that — poof! — it’s like a cloud of smoke explodes and she just vanishes. Dirty dishes linger and you’re stuck walking around aimlessly, shoulder-tapping anyone in an apron looking for the bill.

3. Spilly Sonia. Watch out when that chicken noodle soup, soda refill, or gravy…

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Hear from Monica Lewinsky about the Price of Shame by Naeemah

The Price of Shame. The Price of Social Media. Words can impact one’s mental state, and can potentially have deadly consequences. With the prevalence of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram (the list goes on), you see constant instances of people being attacked anonymously by their peers and even by strangers. What gives us the right to hate on people. To show no compassion and instead, work to bring them down, as far down as possible. Are we so unhappy with our own lives? Are we so filled with malicious instincts that we care not who we hurt? Seventeen years after the media storm surrounding Monica Lewinsky, we see cases, time and time again, of children, of teenagers, taking their own lives due to bullying across social media, across media in general. Why do we have this cruelty in our hearts, in our minds, that we vomit onto others? I don’t know. Maybe everyone feels shame, and because they feel it, they want to make sure everyone else does as well.

“‘Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,’ says Monica Lewinsky. In 1998, she says, ‘I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.’ Today, the kind of online public shaming she went through has become constant — and can turn deadly. In a brave talk, she takes a hard look at our online culture of humiliation, and asks for a different way.”

– Monica Lewinsky

Black Lives Do Matter by Naeemah

A powerful article from Mary T. Bassett, M.D., M.P.H. about the challenges in the medical health community. (I did not write the below).


Two weeks after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict the police officer involved in the death of a black man, Eric Garner, I delivered a lecture on the potential for partnership between academia and health departments to advance health equity. Afterward, a group of medical students approached me to ask what they could do in response to what they saw as an unjust decision and in support of the larger social movement spreading across the United States under the banner #BlackLivesMatter. They had staged “white coat die-ins” (see photoUniversity of Vermont Medical Students during a “Die-In” Protest.) but felt that they should do more. I wondered whether others in the medical community would agree that we have a particular responsibility to engage with this agenda.

Should health professionals be accountable not only for caring for individual black patients but also for fighting the racism — both institutional and interpersonal — that contributes to poor health in the first place? Should we work harder to ensure that black lives matter?

As New York City’s health commissioner, I feel a strong moral and professional obligation to encourage critical dialogue and action on issues of racism and health. Ongoing exclusion of and discrimination against people of African descent throughout their life course, along with the legacy of bad past policies, continue to shape patterns of disease distribution and mortality.1 There is great injustice in the daily violence experienced by young black men. But the tragedy of lives cut short is not accounted for entirely, or even mostly, by violence. In New York City, the rate of premature death is 50% higher among black men than among white men, according to my department’s vital statistics data, and this gap reflects dramatic disparities in many health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV. These common medical conditions take lives slowly and quietly — but just as unfairly. True, the black–white gap in life expectancy has been decreasing,2 and the gap is smaller among women than among men. But black women in New York City are still more than 10 times as likely as white women to die in childbirth, according to our 2012 data.

Physicians, nurses, and public health professionals witness such inequities daily: certain groups consistently have much higher rates of premature, preventable death and poorer health throughout their lives. Yet even as research on health disparities has helped to document persistent gaps in morbidity and mortality between racial and ethnic groups, there is often a reluctance to address the role of racism in driving these gaps. A search for articles published in the Journal over the past decade, for example, reveals that although more than 300 focused on health disparities, only 14 contained the word “racism” (and half of those were book reviews). I believe that the dearth of critical thinking and writing on racism and health in mainstream medical journals represents a disservice to the medical students who approached me — and to all of us.

The World Health Organization proclaimed in 1948 that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”3 Today, both individual and social well-being in communities of color are threatened. If our role is to promote health in this broader sense, what should we do, both individually and collectively? Many health professionals who consider that challenge stumble toward inaction — tackling racism is daunting and often viewed as divisive and requiring action outside our purview. I would like to believe that there are at least three types of action through which we can make a difference: critical research, internal reform, and public advocacy. In reflecting on these possibilities, I add to nearly two centuries of calls for critical thinking and action advanced by black U.S. physicians and their allies.

First, it’s essential to acknowledge the legacy of injustice in medical experimentation and the fact that progress has often been made at the expense of certain communities. Researchers exploited black Americans long before and after the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study.4 But there is room for optimism. Over the past two decades, for example, we’ve seen a welcome resurgence in social epidemiology and research documenting health disparities. Whereas stark racial differences in health outcomes have sometimes inappropriately been attributed to biologic or genetic differences in susceptibility to disease or bad individual choices, new methods and theories are allowing for more critical, nuanced analyses, including those examining effects of racism. By studying ways in which racial inequality, alone and in combination with other forms of social inequality (such as those based on class, gender, or sexual preference), harms health, researchers can spur discussions about responsibility and accountability. Who is responsible for poor health outcomes, and how can we change those outcomes? More critical research on racism can help us identify and act on long-standing barriers to health equity.

There is also much we can do by looking internally at our institutional structures. Though the U.S. physician workforce is more diverse than it was in the past, and some efforts have been made to draw attention to the value of diversity for improving health outcomes, only 4% of U.S. physicians are black, as compared with 13% of the population, and the number of black medical school graduates hasn’t increased noticeably in the past decade.5 Renewed efforts are needed to hire, promote, train, and retain staff of color to fully represent the diversity of the populations we serve. Equally important, we should explicitly discuss how we engage with communities of color to build trust and improve health outcomes. Our target “high-risk” communities, often communities of color, have assets and knowledge; by heeding their beliefs and perspectives and hiring staff from within those communities, we can be more confident that we are promoting the right policies. The converse is also true. If we fail to explicitly examine our policies and fail to engage our staff in discussions of racism and health, especially at this time of public dialogue about race relations, we may unintentionally bolster the status quo even as society is calling for reform.

In terms of broader advocacy, some physicians and trainees may choose to participate in peaceful demonstrations; some may write editorials or lead “teach-ins”; others may engage their representatives to demand change in law, policy, and practice. Rightfully or not, medical professionals often have a societal status that gives our voices greater credibility. After the grand-jury decision last November not to indict the police officer who shot a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, I wrote to my staff noting that in this time of public outcry, it is important to assert our unwavering commitment to reducing health disparities. We can all do at least that.

As a mother of black children, I feel a personal urgency for society to acknowledge racism’s impact on the everyday lives of millions of people in the United States and elsewhere and to act to end discrimination. As a doctor and New York City’s health commissioner, I believe that health professionals have much to contribute to that debate and process. Let’s not sit on the sidelines.

Finale Club Review by Natasia DaSilva

Last Saturday, I attended a Jason DeRulo and Ja Rule concert at the Finale club, which is near the corner of the Bowery and Spring Street. Thankfully, I got in for free due to a club promoter one of my best friends knew. Judging by the well-dressed crowd outside, it looked like it would have been quite expensive to get in if I had paid the full price. Although the bouncers were quite pushy and threatened to call the cops due to the congestion of people, we got in after a 25 minute wait.

Inside, it was a nice set up. There was a large lower dance floor and the upper dance floor had plenty of seating. The only problem was that it was very crowded so there was no where to sit when I was there. This was probably because of the very famous headliners they had that night. There was also a platform along the wall people could stand and dance on as well as one on the lower dance floor. Before the main event, they had a nice mix of house, EDM, 90’s hip hop and rap.

Jason DeRulo was a great dancer and sang hits such as “Wiggle Wiggle” and “Talk Dirty”. I thought he really engaged the crowd well. Ja Rule came after him. I wasn’t particularly familiar with his music but he had a similar sound to old-school rappers from the 90s, such as Nas.

Although not at the same level as One Oak, Finale definitely has its good points. I would suggest though trying to see if you can get in free to avoid paying for the expensive drinks.


Trip to Montana’s Yellowstone National Park by Natasia DaSilva

 Photo courtesy of Natasia DaSilva

In the summer of 2010, I traveled to Idaho to visit my grand parents at their lake cabin and took a side trip to Montana’s Yellowstone Park. That was definitely the most incredible part of the trip. Overall, Montana had a very rugged, natural beauty. It was like nothing I had seen before back in the Northeast and I treasured everything I saw there.

Yellowstone was akin to going to another planet. Everywhere I looked, there was steam rising from mysterious looking, bubbling pools and magnificent vistas of mountains.  Apparently, the pools were sulfur springs and animals gathered around them for warmth during the winter months.While driving around in Yellowstone, my family and I also saw tons of buffalo walking alongside the road. It was like they could care less about the presence of humans. We were in their territory. In the picture I took above, there is one lying down by one of the sulfur springs.

I stayed at the Old Faithful Inn during my trip. The rooms are pretty old-fashioned and spare but visitors at the inn get to see the famous Old Faithful geyser. Interestingly enough, it starts off slowly and then eventually builds up to a powerful jet of water. It is very much like a water version of a volcano. Besides the Old Faithful attraction, the food is also quite tasty — I highly recommend their buffalo steaks.

For anyone who likes nature, Yellowstone is a unique place to go to. It has everything from petrified trees to intriguing rock formations. There’s nothing quite like it.

Consuming the Pain: My Relationship with Food and Depression by Giovannah Philippeaux

Entering the New Year I discovered two disturbing things about myself. One, I do not love myself…I do not even like myself. Two, that my diet, lack of exercise, and overall neglect of my physical health will kill me. I thought I was over my depression and suicidal ideation, I thought I had won. But I am not, some part of me still wants to kill myself, some part of me still does not have the urge to live. I do not get it. I do not get how I could be so blind to the struggle that is still raging within me. Maybe I did not want to see it? Maybe it is just easier to ignore?

This was a gradual realization but it all hit home when reading an article about a severely obese man who had lost his life as a result of his struggle with weight. First featured in the San Antonio Express-News, the pictorial essay depicted the heartbreaking life of Hector Garcia Jr. who remarked that he could not remember a time when he was truly happy. Prior to reading this article, I was excited to be gaining weight. My short-term goal was to reach two hundred pounds. I was, and still am, excited about being fat; I am oddly comfortable with the idea of gaining weight. “Trying to make that 2-0-0” became my personal mantra.

Being big, having layers has always been my form of protection. It is how I ensure that I remain invisible and ignored. It is how I ensure that I am not a challenge; everyone’s comfortable with the ugly fat chick. Being big feels good to me, it feels comfortable, and it feels safe. But after reading that article, I realize that it is also what will kill me.

I have already begun to experience some of the side effects of being overweight. I hate climbing stairs because by the time I get to the top I am out of breath. Carrying a load of laundry while climbing is even worse, it automatically leads to huffing and puffing. I have started to have leg and joint pains. Not a day goes by without me experiencing some pain in my legs, hips, or thighs. Worst of all, I have started to have chest pains right around my heart. A flutter or sharp stab, quick and noticeable pains that are clearly telling me that something is not right. Part of me does not care and another is too scared to confront it. I excuse my behavior by saying “well we all have to go somehow” or “we are all going to die anyway.”

My family has a long and extensive history of heart disease…heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. These should all be warning signs, but I just do not care enough about myself to make a change, to do something different. So I sit and eat, consuming my pain, my anger, my hurt. Packing on layers of fat disguised as comfort; being too detached from my own self, from my own body to accept that I am killing it. Because deep down, I still do not care. I still do not like nor love myself. I still do not feel worthy of existence, of health, of beauty, or of confidence.

It is a struggle, a struggle that I still have not committed to fighting.

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Fat Shaming by Giovannah Philippeaux

Today I was fat shamed.

I had been craving cheese fries and Nathan’s hot dog nuggets all day long….ALL DAY LONG. It was a strong craving, so I decided to treat myself to 15 pieces of hot dog nuggets and cheese fries with extra cheese.

First of all I was the only woman on-line for fast food, which made me feel supper weird and uncomfortable. But I pushed through, even though I felt like I was standing out and that people were silently judging me I decided to not let their ignorance get in the way of my meal. So I ordered, in an albeit hushed voice…especially when I asked for the extra cheese.

So I was already feeling fat and uncomfortable after I had placed and picked up my order. When on-line I noticed women eyeing me, you know that up and down look of judgment that says “who does she think she is” or “what’s wrong with her.” These silent looks of judgment reveal that they secretly have deep held insecurities, so again I pushed through.

But the final hit came when I stepped up to the cashier. She asked what I had ordered and I told her “large cheesy fires with 15 pieces of hot dog nuggets.” Her response, a facial expression of shock and judgment followed by the question “15?!”, which was really a statement of judgment rather than a question. Of course being me, I made excuses for my order saying that “it was just one of those days.” What really sucks is that I felt the need to excuse myself, like I had made a mistake. I was craving for cheesy fries and hot dog nuggets, I don’t eat it everyday and I was so damn tired of salad. So what the hell is wrong with a little salty fried cheesy goodness every once in a while?

This is the reason I deal with so much self-hate. Not because I innately hate myself, but because everyone else makes me feel like crap, like something is wrong with me, and like I should hate myself.

Today brought to mind a video I recently watched on “feeling fat.” It speaks to the truth of body shamming, acceptance, and self-love. The struggle for self-love is so real, and Caroline Rothstein speaks to it with grace, confidence, and honesty.

Wishing you self-love and acceptance.

Losing Touch with Humanity by Naeemah

I saw this video pop up on my news feed. Perfect timing, as I was just about to get bogged down by other people’s lives.

“Did you know the average person spends 4 years of his life looking down at his cell phone?” That’s the opening line of this video that portrays our society under a harsh computer screen light, saying that we are too obsessed with cell phones, laptops, tablets, and not focused on building real relationships with people. We hide behind screens to protect ourselves from deep connections, and we count our “friends” by the numbers we see on our pages.

Don’t get me wrong. There are tools and types of technology that actually foster community, that can actually bring people together and create that community. I’m a huge fan of meetup.com and of course we’re all on this site for a reason. But, when I’m at a dinner table with a guy or a girl, and we can’t hold a conversation without looking at our phones, that’s a problem. Yes, things can get awkward when there are lulls in conversations, but that’s when great things can happen. If you’re on a screen, you may miss that.


The Average Black Girl Who Speaks White by Naeemah

As an educated black woman, I often have this comment thrown in my face. “You speak so well.” At one point, I was even asked if I had gone to school to speak the way that I do. Yes, I did go to school, but that is not a question you would ask a white person.

Ernestine Johnson, a Spoken Word artist, showcased her piece on The Arsenio Hall Show, and it resonated deeply with me. Take a look below and see what she has to say.