Black Twitter: Fostering Community through Communication

By Genevieve Kotz

At a predominately white institution (PWI), black students can often feel isolated or frustrated with the lack of black community surrounding them on campus.

“Being black at a PWI radicalized you real quick,” Tatiana Laing, 22, said in an e-mail interview.

Laing, a senior at American University, is an active member of Black Twitter, a virtual community of black users engaged in discussing issues of interest to the black community and bringing about sociopolitical changes.

“Even when I go to a PWI, I can go onto Black Twitter and be inundated with anecdotes, jokes, news and commentary made for and by black people,” Laing explained. “It’s the greatest.”

Black Twitter became a prominent phenomenon following the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Padriac Kane, a graduate student focusing on media and education at Syracuse University, said he personally noticed the phenomenon of Black Twitter through trending hashtags like #HandsUpDontShoot, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and #TrayvonMartin. He said Twitter is a modern-day technological force that allows the suppressed black voices to be heard.

“They had the power to start conversation,” Kane said of the hashtags, “Not only within in the Black Twitter community but beyond.”

In a study published by Deen Freelon of American University, Charlton D. McIlwain of New York University and Meredith D. Clark of the University at North Carolina with the Center for Media & Social Impact at AU, they tracked the rise in Black Lives Matter through social media to track how it developed.

They found that social media posts were the main force behind spreading Michael Brown’s story and that social media allowed activists to tell narratives that were being ignored by the mainstream media. The study focused on groups discussing police brutality, from black youth to conservatives.

The study found that the Black Lives Matter hashtag started being used politically following the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 by the neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. However, #BlackLivesMatter did not gain serious traction until several months after the death of Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer and whose body was left in the street for several hours. The hashtag became more popular as it was developed from just a hashtag into a movement, when Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and others created chapter-based activist organizations under the name.

The study noted that Black Lives Matter is an example of how social media uniquely benefits oppressed populations.

“The general idea here is that social media helps level a media playing field dominated by pro-corporate, pro-government, and (in the United States) anti-Black ideologies,” the study said.

Kane also noted how social media helped provide a platform for oppressed voices.

“It has become a mass form of self communication for the Black community,” Kane said in an e-mail interview. “Especially during a time where we have governmental and corporate figures seeking to limit Black voices.”

Kane said he believes that Black Twitter is an essential network for young black people in the current age.
“Twitter has given Black people a space to tell their own stories, and not through the lens of white America,” Kane said.

Chelsea Burwell, a graduate student at Georgetown University, said Black Twitter fosters creativity and camaraderie by creating a place of diversity in a digital community.

“I just imagine the reconnecting of a big family tree, like a massive family reunion for the African Diaspora,” Burwell mused in an e-mail interview.

Burwell said Black Twitter celebrates the black identity, through hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackExcellence, which encourages pride in one’s identity even in a oppressive society that makes them feel otherwise.
“Black Twitter is lit,” Burwell said. “The creation of this community is beyond dope.”

Burwell got involved with the DMV chapter of Black Lives Matter after a jury chose to not indict Darren Wilson, the officer who fatally shot Michael Brown. For her, activism was also sparked by feeling suppressed as a black female scholarly voice at a majority-white graduate program. While Burwell said she is not as heavily involved in social media activism as others, she does consider herself a part of the Black Twitter community.

The current racial activism movement, Burwell said, has helped her feel less afraid to speak out against microaggressions and challenge people’s racist tendencies.

“I am so proud of the unapologetic nature of this movement. My pride in my identity, specifically my blackness and womanhood is at an all-time high,” Burwell said. “It’s lit and beautiful to be black in 2016.”

Laing, who also got more involved in activism following Michael Brown’s death, said she felt outraged after the non-indictment of Wilson, who shot Brown at least six times. Her response, Laing said, was to organize that outrage and educate others at her university.

As a result, Laing, along with AU students Chante Harris, Angelica Pagan, Shannon Trudge and Fito Akinrinade, created the Darkening, an on-campus group aimed at dismantling white supremacy and advocating for racial justice for the black community to create an accepting environment for all students. The group has staged protests after racist posts were spread on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app and has hosted events and teach-ins for students and allies on ending anti-blackness.

Laing said she views this current racial-justice movement as not separate from ones before it.

“The work that our elders did in the 60’s did not end racism – it barely dented white supremacy,” Laing said. “This is just a continuation of their fight.”

Social media itself hasn’t necessarily resurged the civil-rights movement, but has acted as a tool to make information more accessible and communication more open. Communities across the nation – and across the world – can interact and communicate through social media platforms. During the Ferguson protests, Palestinian activists tweeted advice to protestors on how to treat tear gas exposure, according to the study.

“Twitter is the perfect place to educate and have discourse all the time,” Laing said.

graph

Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor in the communication department at Syracuse University who focuses on social media, said Twitter has become such an important platform for activism because of its functionality. Since many users have public profiles, it fosters an open dialogue expanding past people’s local virtual communities, despite having a smaller population of active users with 320 million as opposed to Facebook’s 1.59 million.

Unlike Facebook, in which people generally stick to friending people they know in real life, Twitter users regularly follow and engage with people they do not know personally in real life.

“It’s a more open network and therefore, we’re more exposed to things happening outside our immediate world,” Grygiel said.

And unlike Facebook, Twitter works much more regularly in real time. Tweets appear on users’ timelines chronologically and are not based on algorithms, as Facebook is.

“Real time conversations can turn into real time reporting and real time action and democracy in action literally because of the transparency and the ability to communicate,” Grygiel said about Twitter, as seen in the case in which Michael Brown’s story was spread through social media quicker than it was through the mainstream news media. Grygiel noted that Twitter is also readily utilized because of users’ easy access through their smartphones.

For Kane, Twitter is essential for activism because of its large user base. Millions of people use the app everyday and a majority of those users fall into the age group of 18 to about 29, Kane said.

Twitter also gives users the platform to talk about more complex and nuanced conversations, involving racism, white oppression and police brutality, Kane said.
Overall, Kane said he has seen more positives than negatives with social media. The main downfall he noticed with Black Twitter is the reaction from those outside the community. Kane said he has noticed people accusing Black Twitter with playing the race card.

“In reality, Black voices have never been privileged to stand on the same platform as the majority for others to hear their voice,” Kane explained.

Grygiel explained that a downside to social media is that with visibility, there is a risk of harassment, doxxing (when an individual’s private information is published on the Internet with malicious intent) and bullying.

“You don’t even have to be on social media to have your video captured and disseminated,” Grygiel explained.

“Social media also allows people to hide behind problematic dogma and attacks,” Burwell said.

Trolling as well as triggering subjects are also prominent, which is why Burwell encourages practice self-care and knowing when to disconnect for a user’s own personal sake.

“Social media is a whirlpool of delusion and abrasive wake-up calls at times,” Burwell said. “That’s when I have to sign-off and just put my phone down.”

Social media is an important part of activism in terms of communication, but it is certainly not the only part. Laing, who said she prefers a balance of both social media and face-to-face communication, said she believes social media will not become more prominent because of the importance of face-to-face communication.

Social media, Laing said, does not replace direct action, but instead acts as a medium to help organize the direct action.

Burwell also stressed the importance of in-person communication as a way to keep it from losing the emotional touch.

“Policy change must happen face-to-face,” Burwell said. “Sentiment often gets lost in social media.”

But Burwell still said social media, in tandem with the unheard narratives of oppressed groups, is a vital part of activism. She compared social media as a bullhorn amplifying the voices in the back of the room, allowing the voices of movements like Black Lives Matter to be heard. When you have a voice, Burwell said, you know you have power.

“We are saving ourselves,” Burwell said. “We are our own heroes and heroines.”

Advertisements

Black Twitter: Fostering Community Through Communication

By Genevieve Kotz

At a predominately white institution (PWI), black students can often feel isolated or frustrated with the lack of black community surrounding them on campus.

“Being black at a PWI radicalized you real quick,” Tatiana Laing, 22, said in an e-mail interview.

Laing, a senior at American University, is an active member of Black Twitter, a virtual community of black users engaged in discussing issues of interest to the black community and bringing about sociopolitical changes.

“Even when I go to a PWI, I can go onto Black Twitter and be inundated with anecdotes, jokes, news and commentary made for and by black people,” Laing explained. “It’s the greatest.”

Black Twitter became a prominent phenomenon following the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

Padriac Kane, a graduate student focusing on media and education at Syracuse University, said he personally noticed the phenomenon of Black Twitter through trending hashtags like #HandsUpDontShoot, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and #TrayvonMartin. He said Twitter is a modern-day technological force that allows the suppressed black voices to be heard.

“They had the power to start conversation,” Kane said of the hashtags, “Not only within in the Black Twitter community but beyond.”

In a study composed by Deen Freelon, Charlton D. McIlwain and Meredith D. Clark, they tracked the rise in Black Lives Matter through social media to track how it developed. Although the hashtag had been around for several years, it started being used politically following the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.
However, #BlackLivesMatter did not gain serious traction until it was developed from just a hashtag into a movement.

The study noted that Black Lives Matter is an example of how social media uniquely benefits oppressed populations.

“It has become a mass form of self communication for the Black community,” Kane said in an e-mail interview. “Especially during a time where we have governmental and corporate figures seeking to limit Black voices.”

Kane said he believes that Black Twitter is an essential network for young black people in the current age.

Black Twitter, Kane said, has helped the black youth find a place to connect with others in the black community as well as give them a platform to learn more about their own black identities.

Chelsea Burwell, a graduate student at Georgetown University, said Black Twitter fosters creativity and camaraderie by creating a place of diversity in a digital community.

“I just imagine the reconnecting of a big family tree, like a massive family reunion for the African Diaspora,” Burwell mused in an e-mail interview.

Burwell said Black Twitter celebrates the black identity, through hashtags like #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackExcellence, which encourages pride in one’s identity even in a oppressive society that makes them feel otherwise.
“Black Twitter is lit,” Burwell said. “The creation of this community is beyond dope.”

Burwell, who got involved with the DMV chapter of Black Lives Matter after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, said she is not as heavily involved in social media activism as others, but does consider herself a part of the Black Twitter community. For her, activism was also sparked by feeling suppressed as a black female scholarly voice at a majority-white graduate program.

The current racial activism movement, Burwell said, has helped her feel less afraid to speak out against microaggressions and challenge people’s racist tendencies. Burwell said she is proud of the unapologetic nature of the movement.

“My pride in my identity, specifically my blackness and womanhood is at an all-time high,” Burwell said. “It’s lit and beautiful to be black in 2016.”

Laing, who also got more involved in activism following Brown’s death, said she felt outraged after the non-indictment of Wilson. Her response, Laing said, was to organize that outrage and educate others at her university.

As a result, Laing, along with AU students Chante Harris, Angelica Pagan, Shannon Trudge and Fito Akinrinade, created the Darkening, an on-campus group aimed at dismantling white supremacy and advocating for racial justice for the black community to create an accepting environment for all students.

Laing said she views this current racial justice movement as not separate from ones before it.

“The work that our elders did in the 60’s did not end racism, it barely dented white supremacy,” Laing said of the movement today. “This is just a continuation of their fight.”

Social media itself hasn’t necessarily resurged the movement, but has acted as a tool to make information more accessible and communication more open.

“Twitter is the perfect place to educate and have discourse all the time,” Laing said.

graph
The number of active social media users with platforms popular in activism. Infographic by Genevieve Kotz. Information from Stastia.com.

Jennifer Grygiel, an Assistant Professor in the communication department at Syracuse University who focuses on social media, said Twitter has become such an important platform for activism because of it’s functionality. As many users have public profiles, it fosters an open dialogue expanding past people’s local virtual communities.

Unlike Facebook, in which people generally stick to friending people they know in real life, Twitter users regularly follow and engage with people they do not know personally in real life.

And unlike Facebook, Twitter works much more regularly in real time. Tweets appear on users’ timelines chronologically and not based on algorithms, like Facebook.

“Real time conversations can turn into real time reporting and real time action and democracy in action literally because of the transparency and the ability to communicate,” Grygiel said. Grygiel noted that Twitter is also readily utilized because of users’ easy access through their smartphones.

For Kane, Twitter is essential for activism because of its large user base. Millions of people use the app everyday, he said, and a majority of those users fall into the age group of 18 to about 29.

Twitter also gives users the platform to talk about more complex and nuanced conversations, involving racism, white oppression and police brutality, Kane said.

“Twitter has given Black people a space to tell their own stories, and not through the lens of white America,” Kane said.
Overall, Kane said he has seen more positives than negatives with social media. The main downfall he noticed with Black Twitter is the reaction from those outside the community. Kane said he has noticed people accusing Black Twitter with pulling the race card. These people, he said, disregard the fact that black voices have not been given the same platform as the white majority to get their voices heard.

Grygiel explained that a downside to social media is that with visibility, there is a risk of harassment, doxxing (when an individual’s private information is published on the Internet with malicious intent) and bullying.

“You don’t even have to be on social media to have your video captured and disseminated,” Grygiel explained.

Social media, Burwell said, allows people to hide behind problematic dogma and attacks. Trolling as well as triggering subjects are also prominent, which is why Burwell encourages practice self-care and knowing when to disconnect for a user’s own personal sake.

“Social media is a whirlpool of delusion and abrasive wake-up calls at times,” Burwell said. “That’s when I have to sign-off and just put my phone down.”

Social media is an important part of activism in terms of communication, but it is certainly not the only part. Laing, who said she prefers a balance of both social media and face-to-face communication, said she believes social media will not become more prominent because of the importance of face-to-face communication.

Social media, Laing said, does not replace direct action, but instead acts as a medium to help organize the direct action.

Burwell also stressed the importance of in-person communication as a way to keep it from losing the emotional touch.

“Policy change must happen face-to-face,” Burwell said. “Sentiment often gets lost in social media.”

But Burwell still said social media, in tandem with the unheard narratives of oppressed groups, is a vital part of activism. She compared social media as a bullhorn amplifying the voices in the back of the room, allowing the voices of movements like Black Lives Matter to be heard. When you have a voice, Burwell said, you know you have power.

“We are saving ourselves,” Burwell said. “We are our own heroes and heroines.”

House subcommittee: “Hezbollah is a growing threat”

By Genevieve Kotz 

IMG_7027
Representatives Ros-Lehtinen and Deutch before the subcommittee hearing on Hezbollah. Photo by Genevieve Kotz

The House Foreign Affairs Committee called on President Obama to do more to counter Hezbollah, a growing threat for U.S. security in the Middle East.

 

“The president needs to realize that forgoing old alliances in the region to legitimize relations with, and legitimize itself, the Iranian regime, is a strategic calamity that will have terrible consequences for the region and for our national security interest for years to come,” subcommittee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said.

The House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa met at the Rayburn building on March 22 to discuss the growing threat of Hezbollah, a Shi’a Islamist militant group.

“This Shi’a Islamist group is an Iran proxy group that is known to be one of the world’s most dangerous and capable terror organizations,” Ros-Lehtinen said, noting the group is trained, equipped and funded by Iran’s Quds force.

Ros-Lehtinen said Obama needed to create a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS and the Assad-Hezbollah-Iran relationship, as well combat Russian transfers from Russia to Iran and Hezbollah.

“The president needs to use the tools in his disposable to sanction Hezbollah and cut off its network,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Led by Ros-Lehtinent, the subcommittee met with three witnesses who were experts on security and defense in the Middle East. Dr. Matt Levitt, Tony Badran and Dr. Daniel Byman all stressed the importance of weakening Hezbollah and strengthening security in the Middle East.

“Lebanon has become a critical hub in Hezbollah’s criminal activities,” Dr. Badran said. “It has unfortunately not been countered by U.S. policy in recent years.”

Dr. Byman said he has been advocating for the U.S. to help build up the Lebanese armed forces and strengthen the Lebanese state to help defend them against Hezbollah.

“For the most part though, I think we need to recognize that U.S. efforts to do this have failed,” Dr. Byman said.

Dr. Badran also said Hezbollah presents an increasingly dangerous threat for Israel. It had attacked Israel in 2006, in which Hezbollah launched over 4,000 rockets indiscriminately into Northern Israel within a 34-day period. Dr. Badran said the current situation in Israel could accelerate in the near future.

“It’s going to be far bloodier than anything we’ve ever seen on both sides,” Dr. Badran said, noting that Hezbollah as the capacity to launch anywhere from 1000 to 1500 missiles a day.

Hezbollah currently has a cease-fire with Israel, but Ros-Lehtinen warned against letting down defenses against the Islamist group.

“Make no mistake about it. The cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah has nothing to do with Hezbollah not wanting to fight Israel,” Ross-Lehtinen said, “It has everything to do with the terror group restocking and building up its missile and rocket stockpile so it can once again launch an all-out attack against the Jewish state.”

Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has made it largely more cautious in take on Israel, Dr. Byman said.

“Hezbollah is in a time of transition and this is in large part because of civil war,” Dr. Byman said. “They’ve proven a vital ally to the Syrian regime.”

The hearing also discussed the relationship between Iran and Hezbollah, as Hezbollah is a proxy group of Iran and strengthening Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

Ros-Lehtinen criticized the recent nuclear deal between Iran, the U.S. and several world powers, calling it a “weak and dangerous” nuclear agreement. Ros-Lehtinen said that Hezbollah receives financial and material support from Iran.

“It is clear that Hezbollah represents a growing threat to our national security interests,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Now with the regime receiving this financial windfall of over $100 billion, it is not only reasonable to expect Iran to increase its support for its proxy, it is as near of a guarantee as one can have.”

The hearing also discussed Russian involvement within the Middle East region. Ros-Lehtinen said Hezbollah has advanced Russian-made weapons and Dr. Levitt said there was a “de facto relationship” between Hezbollah and Russia.

“Any time we have Russia, Iran and Hezbollah operating in the same theater with the same objectives, it cannot be good for the security and the stability of the region,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Ros-Lehtinen said Hezbollah is present around the world, including in the Western hemisphere, where they have participated in drug trafficking, smuggling networks and terror operations in Central and South America.

“The fact is that there are activities here in the western hemisphere that we have to be extremely cognizant of,” Dr. Levitt said, noting that the most recent Hezbollah-related plot was reported in Peru.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) explained that despite being deemed a terror organization by the U.S. since 1997, Hezbollah operates around the world as a political group, fundraising through Europe and Latin America.

“It is time for the world to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organization that murders innocent civilians at the behest of Iran,” Deutch said.

 

 

 

Optimism in the Face of Adversity

by Genevieve Kotz

Krystal Leaphart Interview from Genevieve Kotz on Vimeo.

As a black woman, Krystal Leaphart said she feels positively about her identity even in a society that marginalizes women of color.

“It’s great being a black woman,” Leaphart said. “I don’t view it as a negative thing.”

As an activist, Leaphart fights for racial justice, particularly for black people and African-Americans. Leaphart, 24, is involved with several organizations aimed at empowering young black people, all while studying sociology at Howard University.

She is the youth works chair for the DC branch of the NAACP, a high school mentor leader for the DC branch of the Youth Women’s Christian Association (YMCA) and a chief of staff for IMPACT, a non-profit for young professionals of color.

“We all have races and we all have things that are unique about us,” Leaphart said. “I think that should be celebrated and not deemed different.”

Leaphart said she wants to fight against the stigmas that black women face. She said many times black women are taught to feel they have to care for others before themselves.

“There are black women and girls that deal with things often,” Leaphart said, “and they’re not being talked about.”

Coming from Detroit, Michigan, Leaphart said she grew up in all-black spaces her entire life. After visiting Howard University in high school, she knew it was the right school for her.

“It felt like home,” Leaphart said.

As a student, Leaphart took advantage of Howard’s progressive campus as a playground for her social activism. She became the president of Howard’s NAACP chapter, which led her to work as a youth advisor for the DC branch.

This passion for activism, she said, started with the service she engaged in as a young girl as well as dealing with being a black woman in a society that upholds the illusion of white supremacy.

Leaphart fights against the illusion of white supremacy. She explained that while the effects and consequences of white supremacy are a very real thing, the actual idea of a superior race is not.

“What intersectionality tells us is we live multi-faceted lives and your privileges and your oppressions work collectively together,” Leaphart said.

“Some of the harder things about not being a black woman is being okay with not being a superwoman,” Leaphart said. Many black women, she said, feel the pressure to care for others before themselves, a trend which can be linked to slavery according to Leaphart.

Leaphart is currently interested in facilitating workshop and training people around different issues.

“I’m a firm believer in peer-to-peer relationships,” Leaphart said.

In the current climate, Leaphart said social media can be a helpful tool, but something she said she needs to step away from. With all the repeating images of slain young black men and women, Leaphart said she fears that social media can be damaging.

“But when used in properly and in moderation, it can be helpful definitely to the cause,” Leaphart said.

Technology, she said, is a great way to access information, but also does not tell the whole story. With Twitter’s algorithm-based trends, users may view activism as something that only happens when it’s trending on twitter, even though activists are fighting every day.

“Often, the folks that are doing the most work don’t have time to manage twitter,” Leaphart said, explaining that those activists might be too busy working on the field to constantly keep track of a social media account.

“I’m a fan of face-to-face, talking with people, working with people, and connecting that way,” Leaphart explained, “I think technology should really supplement what’s happening on the ground.”

Leaphart said that for allies wishing to help black women, the most important advice is to listen.

“If you consider yourself an ally, in particular to black women, you have to listen and learn from black women,” Leaphart said.

Leaphart said if allies come with genuine and right intentions, they will be welcomed into the community. However it’s not black women’s role, she said, to make sure white feelings are not being hurt.

“We all need to work together to eliminate it,” Leaphart said of racism, “We can’t do that if we can’t be open and honest about our feelings.”

If white people are feeling upset, Leaphart said, it’s important to deal with feelings of guilt in ways that do not detract from a space for people of color to tell their stories.

“Think about the effects of race and racism on the people that are in a different space of victimhood,” Leaphart advised.

Leaphart said that the illusion of white supremacy is also ingrained in black communities.

“It’s just interesting to see how much unpacking we al need to around these issues,” Leaphart said. “We need to do it in our communities as well.”

This involves dealing with internalized racism within people of color, whether that’s issues of colorism or changing their hair or dealing with other negative side effects of a society stuck in the illusion of white supremacy.

“I think overcoming it as a community is going to be the most difficult part, but I think we can do it,” Leaphart said, smiling. “We can do anything.”

The Beehive Design Collective: Combatting Culture with Capitalism

By Genevieve Kotz

IMG_6481
Entre Aguas in front of the graphic depicting the resistance. Photo by Genevieve Kotz

Flanked by two intricate tapestries, Entre Aguas addressed a small group of students in AU’s Bender Library. One of the tapestries depicted illustrated insects and animals sprawled across a map with multinational corporations and oilrigs, while the other depicted the animals sharing culture in an ornate forest.

At first glance, the tapestries might not seem like anything more than just illustrations, but as Aguas explained, the graphics were part of a protest against the harmful effects of mega-infrastructure projects on local communities in Mesoamerica.

“Many times we don’t think of culture as a method of resistance, even though in many ways it is,” Aguas, 33, said. “It’s part of the communities being able to represent themselves.”

On Friday, Jan. 30, Aguas spoke on behalf of the Beehive Design Collective, a volunteer-based activist art collective that fights against systemic oppression through narrative graphic campaigns, according to its website.

“The messages within the graphics are much more accessible than something that was written,” Aguas said.

In the presentation, Aguas presented the collective’s most recent and lengthiest graphics campaign: Mesoamérica Resiste. Started in December 2003, it addresses local communities from the four US states bordering Mexico to Colombia that are being affected and displaced by dam-building and multinational corporate projects.

The project depicts separate views of cultural and economic imperialism – the view from the perpetrators and the view of the resistance.

The two graphics were created after the collective toured through Mexico and Panama to listen to local communities’ thoughts. Aguas explained that the collective only goes to communities with a prior invitation and works with the communities to create the narrative.

“We don’t believe in know-it-alls,” Aguas said of the collective, “We all have the capacity to be educators as well as students.”

Aguas said the people in communities create the materials and the dialogues for the collective to work with. The collective also inquires with feedback to make sure the graphics properly address the narrative.

“We are basically facilitating skills-building processes for people who are already in land defense processes,” Aguas said. Land defense refers to people in communities where large businesses are threatening local life, according to Aguas.

Aguas first presented the graphic depicting corporations. A large square tapestry, it addressed the violence affecting the world created by colonialism, capitalism and systematic oppression.

“It’s hundreds of years in the making,” Aguas said of inequality today. “What was lived hundreds years ago is not disconnected from the reality that we’re living today.”

The graphic presents the imagery through a map of the world with trade routes that depict the major industries. In each corner are faceless characters depicting organizations that uphold international systemic oppression, according to the collective. The World Trade Organization, for example, is characterized as a judge playing whack-a-mole with different resistance groups.

“This story is not unique to this region,” Aguas said of what is happening in Central America, “It’s happened time and time again.”

The graphic also addressed less obvious issues, such as the food and tourism industry, according to Aguas.

“At first glance we might not think of our food system as a form of violence,” Aguas said, “But when you look at this long chain and what the implications for everyone and everything involved, it’s not as friendly as we might think of it.”

Aguas explained how the food industry helps lead to the displacement of local people and has harmful effects on local economies. The collective used logos of corporations like McDonalds to represent problems with the food industry as a whole.

“Because of globalization, we can put those golden arches pretty much anywhere in the world, and they’ll be recognized by people,” Aguas said.

Aguas then showed a short documentary, “Huila’s Bleeding,” created by Aguas and Carolina Caycedo, a fellow art activist. The 11-minute video tells the story of Colombians in the state of Huila fighting against the privatization of the Magdalena River. Aguas, who is from Miami but currently lives in Huila, has to use a pseudonym, because of his activist work in Colombia.

Following the documentary, Aguas presented the second graphic. Double the size as the first, it depicts the resistance of local communities against the effects of capitalism. The graphic depicted the local communities as different animals and vegetation, coming together to share stories and culture.

“Our idea is we can re-vindicate that oral tradition, where nature and animals teach us to be better humans,” Aguas said.

But the collective did not want to depict any of the animals as “bad,” as it had done in the past, Aguas explained. They needed to show all the animals as equal if they truly wanted to promote biodiversity.

To do so, the graphic depicted scorpions and bees joining the other animals in a taco party, symbolizing the importance of communities joining together to remain diligent against injustice.

The Beehive Design Collective uses bees as its mascot because the collective nature of a beehive. Aguas explained that the idea of a “Queen Bee” is actually a myth, and bees are do not live in a hierarchal society.

“What is apparent is if communities are not organized and they’re not vigilant to what the state is doing, the state will do whatever it wants and wherever it wants,” Aguas warned.

The presentation at AU was the final stop on the collective’s Mid-Atlantic tour and part of AU’s Sustainable Development week.

“I thought the event was done really well overall,” Lina Alam, a sophomore at AU who helped coordinate the presentation, said. “It was informal while still hitting home points about resource extraction, cultural imperialism and colonialism, and neocolonialism.”

 

 

The Beehive Design Collective: Combatting Culture with Capitalism

By Genevieve Kotz

IMG_6481
Entre Aguas in front of the graphic depicting the resistance. Photo by Genevieve Kotz

Flanked by two intricate tapestries, Entre Aguas discussed the importance of culture and arts in fighting against cultural and economic imperialism.

“Many times we don’t think of culture as a method of resistance, even though in many ways it is,” Aguas said. “It’s part of the communities being able to represent themselves.”

Aguas, 33, is part of the Beehive Design Collective, a volunteer-based activist art collective that fights against systemic oppression through narrative graphic campaigns.

“The messages within the graphics are much more accessible than something that was written,” Aguas said.

On Jan. 30 in AU’s Bender Library at 3:30 p.m., Aguas presented the collective’s most recent and lengthiest campaign, Mesoamérica Resiste. In the hour and a half presentation, he explained how and why the collective created the graphics.

Consisting of two graphics, the project depicts separate views of cultural and economic imperialism – the view from the perpetrators and the view of the resistance.

The project originally started as Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) in December 2003, according to Aguas. But when the PPP fell through, the collective had to scramble and created Mesoamérica Resiste, which encompasses the four US states bordering Mexico to Colombia.

The collective created the campaign for local communities fighting against the effects of international business on their own economies and everyday way of life.

“This story is not unique to this region,” Aguas said. “It’s happened time and time again.”

The presentation at AU was the final stop on the collective’s Mid-Atlantic tour and part of AU’s Sustainable Development week.

“I thought the event was done really well overall,” Lina Alam, a sophomore at AU who helped coordinate the presentation, said. “It was informal while still hitting home points about resource extraction, cultural imperialism and colonialism, and neocolonialism.”

Aguas first presented the graphic depicting corporations. A large square tapestry, it addressed the violence affecting the world created by colonialism, capitalism and systematic oppression.

“It’s hundreds of years in the making,” Aguas said of inequality today. “What was lived hundreds years ago is not disconnected from the reality that we’re living today.”

The graphic also addressed less obvious forms of violence, such as the food and tourism industry.

“At first glance we might not think of our food system as a form of violence,” Aguas said, “But when you look at this long chain and what the implications for everyone and everything involved, it’s not as friendly as we might think of it.”

The graphic presents the imagery through a map of the world with trade routes that depict the major industries. In each corner are faceless characters depicting organizations that uphold international systemic oppression, according to the collective. The World Trade Organization, for example, is characterized as a judge playing whack-a-mole with different resistance groups.

The collective also uses logos of corporations like McDonalds to represent problems with the food industry as a whole.

“Because of globalization, we can put those golden arches pretty much anywhere in the world, and they’ll be recognized by people,” Aguas said.

Aguas then showed a short documentary, “Huila’s Bleeding,” created by Aguas and artist Carolina Caycedo. The 11-minute video tells the story of Colombians in Huila fighting against the privatization of the Magdalena River.

Aguas then presented the second graphic. Double the size as the first, it depicts the resistance of local communities against the effects of capitalism. The graphic depicted the local communities as different animals and vegetation, coming together to share stories and culture.

“Our idea is we can re-vindicate that oral tradition, where nature and animals teach us to be better humans,” Aguas said.

But the collective did not want to depict any of the animals as “bad,” as it had done in the past, Aguas explained. They needed to show all the animals as equal if they truly wanted to promote biodiversity.

To do so, the graphic depicted scorpions and bees joining the other animals in a taco party, symbolizing the importance of communities joining together to remain diligent against injustice.

“What is apparent is if communities are not organized and they’re not vigilant to what the state is doing, the state will do whatever it wants and wherever it wants,” Aguas warned.

The graphics were created after the collective toured through Mexico and Panama to listen to local communities’ thoughts. Aguas explained that the collective only goes to communities with a prior invite and works with the communities to create the narrative.

“We are basically facilitating skills building processes for people who are already in land defense processes,” Aguas said.

Aguas said the people in communities create the materials and the dialogues for the collective to work with. The collective also inquires feedback to make sure the graphics are properly addressing the narrative.

“We don’t believe in know-it-alls,” Aguas said of the collective, “We all have the capacity to be educators as well as students.”

Bringing Light to Racism with the Darkening

By Genevieve Kotz

IMG_2218 (1)
Emem Obot in MGC. Photo by Genevieve Kotz

Emem Obot, 20, came to American University for its renowned School of International Service, but as an activist, Obot is targeting issues closer to home: racism.

As a current sophomore, Obot is fighting against racism with the Darkening, an on-campus group that aims to create an accepting environment for all students.

“The Darkening brings to light the hypocrisy that is involved when we call ourselves a liberal institution and emphasizes the need for liberals to look at themselves and see how they are also perpetuating racism,” Obot said.

As a black student, Obot has faced racism either through microagressions or in even in more blatant ways.

“I’ve been called the N-word by kids,” Obot said, “Some that are student leaders right now in these Greeks and these frats.”

Obot also said students regularly link Obot’s intelligence and ability to attend American University to government help. This racism, Obot said, is not a surprise, but still a disappointment.

“Being black in America, it’s something that you would expect everywhere,” Obot said.

The fight against racism and the injustices against black and brown bodies is something Obot is passionate about. Obot is active on Twitter and follows many civil rights activists. Obot is involved with Blackout: Generation Liberation, a grassroots collective that is dedicated to the fight against the heteronormative, capitalistic, patriarchal white supremacist system. At AU, Obot is the Committee of Demonstrations co-leader for the Darkening.

The Darkening, which was created by five black female AU students, organized after Darren Wilson was not indicted during the Mike Brown trials. During this time, racist comments were posted anonymously on Yik Yak, a social media app.

“The Yik Yaks and the comments that were said during that time just proved how the university itself has a really big problem with racism,” Obot said.

The Darkening has monthly meetings and regular workshops aimed to teach students about structural racism, different intersections of race and how to be a better ally. On Feb. 6, the Darkening will be holding an annual teach-in on today’s civil rights movement.

The group also has been talking to administration, which helped result in President Kerwin e-mailing students about creating a comprehensive plan that will address issues on campus in February.

“Just because you claim that you are democratic or liberal or progressive or whatever that doesn’t mean that you are invincible to racist tendencies and upholding a system of racism,” Obot said.