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Monday, September 21, 2015

Which Lives Matter? My Life Matters. Black Lives Matters.

Dear Olivia,

You're going to have to excuse me, but this is going to be "another drop in the bucket of back-and-forth opinions" pieces you alluded to. I hope you read it.

First, and foremost, and, to be perfectly clear, the Black Lives Matter movement was sparked after the unarmed shooting and murder of Trayvon Martin in July 2013, and subsequently the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman.

Secondly, let's address your opinion that reducing the number of innocent people killed won't be solved by government policy because the "issue is too culturally pervasive"... although the Democratic front-runner, Hilary Clinton even said it herself: "I don't believe you change hearts, I believe you change laws."

Also to make sure you're properly informed of the issue, The Black Lives Matter movement actually published "Campaign Zero", a comprehensive 10-point plan that outlines current problems, proposed solutions, and provides through research to support each solution. Not only is the movement tackling the problem at it's source, but it's also holding the government responsible for the problem that it created!

Pick up a history book! Take an African American studies class! Look at the facts: Our Founding Fathers wrote Article IV, Section 2, of the U.S Constitution, which permitted the seizure and return of runaway slaves who escaped from one state into another, known as the Fugitive Slave Act. These same men considered Black slaves 3/5ths of a person (our President J. Wags knows all about this! Ask him).

Our government did not think my life mattered. Even today! Our government is solely responsibly for the School-to-Prison pipeline, which send a disproportionate number of Black students out of schools on suspensions or expulsions and into the juvenile justice system. Our government (specifically starting with Richard Nixon) is responsible for the War Against Drugs, which resulted in the increase of people of color incarcerated for nonviolent drug law offenses. Our government is responsible for "black men being six times as likely as all white men to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails", according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study. Our government is responsible for "African American women being three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated." Our government is responsible for voter laws--specifically felony disenfranchisement--denying 13 percent of African American men the right to vote.

I'm holding our government responsible for creating a broken system and doing barely ANYTHING to fix it. It's about time we hold them responsible for their institutionalized racism that they created.

All that aside, Black Lives Matter movement aims to address systematic racism at its core, but this isn't a "Black versus White" issue. Let me break this down:

1. We never made it a Black versus White issue. We only make up 13% of the population in the United States. 17% are of Hispanic origin. Why are these negative statistics leaning in our favor? Why does Lady Justice peep through her blindfold and automatically tip her scale because of my skin color?

2. Just because we're chanting "Black Lives Matter" doesn't mean we don't think other lives matter. Like Arthur Chu said:

3.  "Race is forced to matter." Well, duh! I didn't pop out the womb saying, "Fuck mom! Why'd you make me Black?! Now I gotta deal with daily microaggressions in daycare." Race matters because it's who I am. I'm proud to be a Black woman. I'm proud of my African and Caribbean heritage. I'm proud of my perfectly seasoned food and our amazing music. I'm proud with my naturally kinky hair, my wide nose,  and my gorgeous curves. Sorry, not sorry if that makes you uncomfortable.

4. So you're White and that somehow justifies your ignorance? I'm not one to stereotype but if the shoe fits...

5.  The whole "Birds of a Feather" thing. Yes, students usually tend to stick to what we're used to, but why did you only point out race? What about religious groups? What about LGBTQ groups? What about academic groups? Athletic groups? Fraternities and sororities? Since you're still a freshman, I understand that you probably haven't found that group of friends that are outside your comfort zone, but I challenge you to step outside of it every once in a while and truly experience what Emory and the Atlanta area has to offer. Also, it feels amazing to be surrounded by people who share a similar experience. That's why there are so many safe spaces on Emory's campus students can go to for support, advice, and to feel a sense of belonging among a group of like-minded people.

I'll end with this: never end an Op-Ed about race with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote. Ever.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Earth to Tech Industry: Gender Diversity Also Includes African American Women

A Message to the People of Silicon Valley and Beyond:

As a Black woman entering the startup community, I feel like an alien landing on Earth for the first time (I come in peace!). In my career search, startups big and small constantly transmit messages of how diverse they are:
"We remain deeply committed to building a workplace that reflects a broad range of experience, thought, geography, age, background, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture and many other characteristics."- Facebook
These companies brag about their "initiated programs and developed partnerships" with youth coding programs, women in tech, LGBT groups and their extremely selective college internship program- and that's nice- but these tech companies need to realize that their gender and racial diversity initiatives rarely target African American women.

I know you Earthlings don't value objective opinions as much, so I'll drop some stats that are out of this world (see what I did there!).

Let's start with Facebook.
  • According to Facebook's 2015 demographic data, only 2 percent of its workforce is Black. Of that 2 percent, 1 percent work in tech, and only 2 percent in leadership roles. 
  • Women make up 32 percent of Facebook's workforce. 16 percent hold tech roles and 23 percent are in leadership positions.
"That doesn't sound TOO bad." Wait, it gets better! According to Facebook's EEO--1 report, Facebook employed only 29 African American women out of their workforce of over 5,400.

"Okay, that's just Facebook. Doesn't mean Black women are looked over!" Alright, let's check out example two: LinkedIn.
  • Globally, 17 percent of LinkedIn's workforce worldwide are women. 47 percent of women employees (worldwide) hold non-tech roles and 25 percent hold leadership positions. 
  • The kicker: only 1 percent of their US workforce is African American and only 1 percent hold a technical role. 
  • Digging deeper in LinkedIn's 2013 EEO--1 report, only 23 of their 3,300 employees were African American women and none of them held executive or senior official or senior management positions. None.
"But look at Google! They hired so many women in tech!" Well let's probe Google, shall we?
  • According to Google's 2014 EEO--1 report, 30 percent of Google's workforce are women and 18 percent are in technical positions. 
  • Out of a US workforce of over 32,500, Google employs 250 African American women, up about 2 percent from 2013. In comparison, 5009 White women are employed by Google, up about 43 percent from 2013. 
  • Most notable are Google's leadership numbers. African American women held only 60 first/mid official or managerial roles, compared to 1,622 of White women in similar roles. Additionally, there were no African American women in an executive, senior official, or senior management position.
I also checked out EEO--1 data and demographic reports from Twitter, Yahoo, Apple, Pandora, Amazon, Indiegogo, and several other companies that tell a frighteningly similar story. Where is the problem stemming from?

It's partially the result of Silicon Valley investors and startup executives' denial that racism in tech even exists. It's also, in part, the monolithic, misogynist culture entrenched in an inhospitable, White, male dominated workplace (generally speaking). Writer Erica Joy perfectly summed up her experience as a Black woman in the tech scene in succinct, eye-opening bullet points:
  • "I feel alone every day I come to work, despite being surrounded by people, which results in feelings of isolation.
  • "I feel like I stick out like sore thumb every day.
  • "I am constantly making micro-evaluations about whether or not my actions will be attributed to my being “different.”
  • "I feel like my presence makes others uncomfortable so I try to make them feel comfortable.
  • "I feel like there isn’t anyone who can identify with my story, so I don’t tell it.
  • "I feel like I have to walk a tightrope to avoid reinforcing stereotypes while still being heard.
  • "I have to navigate the expectation of stereotypical behavior and disappointment when it doesn’t happen (e.g. my not being the “sassy black woman”).
  • "I frequently wonder how my race and gender are coloring perceptions of me.
  • "I wonder if and when I’ve encountered racists (the numbers say it’s almost guaranteed that I have) and whether or not they’ve had an effect on my career.
  • "I feel a constant low level of stress every day, just by virtue of existing in my environment.
  • "I feel like I’ve lost my entire cultural identity in effort to be part of the culture I’ve spent the majority of the last decade in."
What tech companies are missing is the intersectionality of their diversity initiatives. For every company I mentioned in this post, each company that provided a visual summary of their demographic data didn't publish information that depicted the intersections of two or more self-identifying characteristics, i.e. race and gender, or sexual orientation and race, sexual orientation and leadership roles, etc.

To be fair, companies that publish their EEO--1 reports are following the US government reporting requirements - but shouldn't companies so dedicated to improving their diversity attempt to go above and beyond the call of duty to reinforce that goal? Why is diversity boiled down to the number of employees sorted by race or gender? Do these numbers accurately speak to a company's diversity and culture?

I challenge all citizens of the tech industry to stop with the half-assed promises of diversity and start changing these numbers ASAP!

*End of transmission*

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dear Twitter, Your Pledge Towards Diversity Is Falling Flat

Malaika Nicholas
123 Kickass Blvd
Staten Island, NY 10305

Dear Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey and Vice-president of diversity and inclusion Janet Van Huysse,

I'm excited to apply for a position at Twitter in your New York office. As a graduate of Emory University with excellent verbal and written communication skills, an obsession with pop culture and Internet trends, and the willingness to learn quickly and effectively, I know I am the motivated, hard-working, focused, and super cool candidate you are looking for.

But I noticed something that's very concerning. Out of the 2,910 U.S employees, you've only hired 49 Black people, 35 men and 14 women. Here's why this number is simply unacceptable:

  • 22 percent of African-American internet users are on Twitter, compared to 16 percent of Whites.
  • 40 percent of 18-29 Black Americans claim to use Twitter as of 2013.
  • Black Twitter is a very real entity and is a community that shouldn't be ignored. This force was responsible for bringing the nation's attention to the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last August and influential hashtag campaigns including the #BlackLivesMatter movement and #BringBackOurGirls

That 22 percent figure may not be significant to you, but inspired by the words of Meredith Clark, a professor at the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas, "You have to have the cultural background to understand the conversation as it's playing out" and only 1.7 percent of your staff have that capability.

However, I applaud your current efforts to "build a Twitter we can be proud of" by creating a number of employee-led groups, actively recruiting from under-represented communities, and sharing your ethnic and gender diversity data, but that is only half the battle.

Instead of recruiting small number of "qualified" minorities employees, I say create them. According to 2013 data from the College Board compiled by Georgia Tech's Barbara Ericson, only 18 percent of high-schoolers taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam are women; eight percent were Hispanic, and four percent were African-American. More specifically, no women in Mississippi or Montana took the exam; Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota had no Hispanic students take the exam; and Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Utah had no Black students take the exam.

Begin by addressing the gender and racial gap in tech with elementary, middle, and high school kids. Twitter has the influence to reach out directly to school districts nationwide and find ways to improve current computer science curriculum.

In addition I suggest introducing Social Media or Tech related youth programs into summer programs, youth groups, summer camps and/or recreation centers, specifically targeting women and underrepresented minorities.

Most importantly, set the standard. Other tech giants including Google, Amazon, and Facebook have also pledged millions of dollars and resources to increasing their staff diversity, and yet they are also falling short on their pledges. This is the perfect time and opportunity to set a new standard in the tech industry and create a model that other tech companies, both big and small, can replicate.

I'd love to contribute my skills, talent, passions, and experiences to bettering the Twitter community as the 15th Black woman on your staff and continue to push Twitter towards fulfilling its commitment to making inclusiveness a cornerstone of our culture.

Thank you for your time and consideration and I look forward to speaking to you soon.


Malaika Nicholas

Friday, April 24, 2015

To One of Time Magazine's "25 Most Influential Teens of 2014"


I'm actually not excited to write this because you're getting more attention than you deserve, but the moment I break my silence is the moment you know something's f*cked up.

We've all heard about the absolutely ridiculous #KylieJennerChallenge, where naive teens and adults alike stuck their lips in a shot glass to get Kylie Jenner lips blah blah blah. Here's the issue, Kylie. You "address" the issue surrounding the challenge on Twitter, saying:

“I’m not here to encourage people/young girls to look like me or think this is the way they should look. I want to encourage people/young girls like me to be YOURSELF not be afraid to experiment w your look.”
You're not here to encourage people/young girls to look like you?! You have 21.5 million followers on Instagram...and you don't expect young girls to look like you? 

Uh, Kylie, don't you remember that you and your sister were included in Time Magazine's Top 25 Most Influential Teens of 2014 list and you have the AUDACITY to sit back, sip your tea with you undeniably surgically enhanced lips, and say that teens around this nation shouldn't think that your altered look is the way they should look?

This coming from the same teenager who didn't feel comfortable looking like the (basic) white, cis, heterosexual, wealthy, and privileged teenager she is...
...and now chooses to feud with baby momma's and reformed (and still banging!) former strippers, engage in an illegal (and just gross) relationship with a rapper, wears grills, sells weaves, and darken your skin for photo shoots. BYE FELICIA!
It's more than cultural appropriation. Azealia Banks best put it, it's more like cultural smudging. Black women for centuries were hypersexualized, had their bodies treated like circus exhibits, our natural features considered "ugly" by Eurocentric beauty standards, our curves often imitated, "big butts" is considered a beauty trend, and how one New York Times TV critic called Viola Davis, "less classically beautiful". But when a White girl gets fuller lips, a curvier figure, a larger butt, she's considered trendsetting, stylish, she "breaks the internet".
Kylie, do some homework. You're not even a legal adult. Of course other teens your age are going to look up to you and the only reason you're in the spotlight is to do exactly that! I get playing around with your look and changing up style is one thing, but what are you saying to other 17-year-old girls who want to look cool? Who want to be trendy? Who want to live a lavish lifestyle? Who want to be Instagram famous?

You gave an answer the day you changed your lips.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tyga, Don't Make Statutory Rape A Black/White Thing


I'll keep this short.

Following Amber Rose absolutely slaaaaaaying Khloe Kardashian on social media this week, Tyga finally spoke out about his "friendship" with Kylie Jenner.

Tyga said: "In black culture it's different. If you hang around somebody you're smashing them, white people, white culture, it's different. They really friends. It's genuine, it's different. How we think is a little different with our mentality. For me, if I'm friends with her and I'm friends with her sister, they ho's or we smashing them. And it's like, we really friends. I respect her mom, I know her whole family."

I get that dating a 17-year-old girl is both socially (and legally) unacceptable (hell, I could care less about any Kardashian for that matter), but don't make statutory rape a race thing.

First, there is no such thing as "white culture".

Secondly, bish whet? You're entire quote just doesn't make any sense...at all. 

Third, don't claim that every Black person thinks that if you're hanging around an under-aged girl that you're smashing them. Same with "white culture". Not all white people think that if a grown ass man is hanging around a girl that they're just friends.

"Black culture" didn't condition you to think that if you're friends with a female, they must be hoes or ya'll smashing.  Don't use us to justify your mistake relationship. We will revoke your membership...

But on the flip side, why is a "white friendship" different? Does it come with special perks like a free parking space, mobile wifi service, or Botox? Does it mean you can go to a Halloween party in matching costumes and everybody would think, "Hey, Bob! Did Tyga and Kylie accidentally walk through the door at the same time and wear eerily similar costumes?" "I don't know Jill, but I know they're definitely not smashing!"

Ugh! Tyga, take a lap while I sip my Earl Grey.

Monday, January 5, 2015

How Did I Make It Another Year Without You?


It's been one hell of a year.

Daddy, I graduated! Did you see me Nae-Nae? You'd probably kill me if you saw it in person lol!

I also fell in love. Hard. I think you'd approve. :)

I parted ways with some old friends, which left room in my heart for several new ones.

I made the Buzzfeed homepage TWICE! And my blog's not doing so bad either.

I'm starting to take better care of myself. I started working out again, learned how to do a little make up, taking my vitamins everyday.

Mom is still, you know, my melodramatic East African mom.  As for Joy, SHE GOT INTO COLLEGE ON A FULL RIDE! I know right! I wish we could celebrate with you over your favorite store brand Rocky Road Ice Cream. 

And did you see the new supermarket down the street? Gentrification much, amirite? *nudge nudge*

2014 was a year of heartache and pain. A year of soul searching and defiance. A year of discovery and acceptance. Daddy, even though this year is a lot different from the previous 21 I've been on this planet,  I asked the same question I do every year: how did I make it through another year without you?

I miss you.

Love always,

Your Big Girl

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dear Emory, Your Privilege Is Showing

My last semester at Emory, I took a Race, Gender, and Making Media (or something that sounds close to it) class. One of our assignments was to create a 10-minute video about any marginalized group on or off campus and tell us how they use media.

This project is like striking gold for a Black, female journalist.

Lucky for me, Cas Campbell was in the beginning stages of beginning the #BEU: Black at Emory University movement and I decided to look at the social media angle of it all. I interviewed about a dozen students (we needed at least 3 interviews) and got their perspective on what it's like being a student on Emory's campus.

Presentation day.

Our professor required each student to present their documentaries. At the end of each video, the class was required to ask the presenter a few questions about the film or topic, or just give their feedback.

Right before I presented, a freshman girl from Long Island presented her video on cyber bullying. Note, none of us were really film makers, so we didn't have high expectations for video quality but folks, her video was...shit. That's all I'll say. BUT, my classmates still gave her compliments and still asked her quite a few questions.

My turn.

Ya'll, my stomach was churning, my palms got sweaty. I felt like I was taking one small leap for man, one giiiiiiant leap for Black students at Emory. No pressure. I felt a sense of courage and excitement in educating a group of non-Black students about issues affecting Black students at Emory. I looked out at my peers and I couldn't wait to show them what I've been working so hard on.

Press play.

My film ended. I felt like I saw my first child walk across a graduation stage. Proud...until that moment. That undefinable, but undeniable moment of silence following, "Well class! Do you have any questions for Malaika?" I've heard that silence before. It was right after a presentation in my journalism class.

That silence made me cry in my mentor's office later that day. It's the same silence which makes the conversation about race tense in the first place. It's the same silence which shrouded campus after the Dooley Show incident. It's the same silence that made you "not understand why" there was a Troy Davis/Trayvon Martin/Eric Garner rally or protest happening while you were studying for that important final in the library. It's the same silence that declined to discipline a fraternity after their members demanded a student to "go back to India". It's the same silence students of color are met with when we attempt to voice our concerns to the Emory administration. A silence doused in blatant disregard, ignorance, and/or humiliation.

Want to know why these students are protesting against police brutality, police militarization, racial profiling, and bringing justice to young Black men and women?

Want to know why these students are joining the millions of protesters nationwide who are--quite literally--marching for their lives?

Want to know why these stories about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Aiyana Jones piss us the fuck off?

Then Ask.

Ask us what it's like to be asked, "Do you go here?"
Ask us what it's like to be followed by the Emory Police.
Ask us if we think a joke about lynching and burning students who "don't belong here because of Affirmative Action" is funny.
Ask us what it's like to see the entire Emory community rally to support the Jewish community in their time of need...but not yours.
Ask us how easy it is to get into frat parties.
Ask us how it feels to be one of two Black people in your class.
Ask us how it feels when people say, "Just get over it."
Ask us how it feels to feel less supported by the university than some of your peers.

Ask us how it feels to be Black at Emory University. Ask us how it feels to be Black in White America.

But most of you won't. My classmates didn't ask me anything about my film. They didn't ask how long these incidents on campus were going on. They didn't tell me their thoughts on the problem. They didn't ask how I felt. They didn't ask me anything. And the beauty of it all was: they didn't have to. I mean, it didn't affect their final grade, but it would affect mine.

Anyway, you probably should get back to studying. Just wanted to tell you your White privilege is showing.