Catching Up!

Dear Ceanray,

What do you want to do next year?

Being a senior student in high school, I’m asked this question on a regular basis. It seems that everyone I meet, from my dentist to my friend’s parents, is curious about my future. I don’t mind answering the question, because I know what I want to do next year. I know what university I want to attend, what program I want to take, and what I want to do after I graduate. I also know, though, that many teenagers have no clue what they want to do after high school – so for them, this question can be tricky.

American poet Mary Oliver poses the question in a different way, one I actually prefer: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” If someone asked me this, the first words out of my mouth wouldn’t be the school I’m going to attend, or the subjects I’m going to study. I’d eventually explain my career aspirations, but I would start by talking about my hopes and dreams. I’d say that I want to meet new people and see new places; that I want to write and publish books, not necessarily as a career but for fun; and that I want to address inequalities in the world and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

I’m extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to further my education. However, education – at least in a formal sense – is only one aspect of my wild and precious life. It’s the aspect that many people choose to focus on, and ask me about: and it’s the one that I see many of my peers at school stressing out about. The imminent unknown of the future is scary, certainly, and being constantly questioned about it doesn’t help. But you can feel slightly less stressed by deferring to the second aforementioned question. What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Life truly is wild and precious – and we only get one chance at it. Use your one life to get educated, and to find something you love and make it your career if you’re able to, but don’t forget to make a life outside of school. Think about the things you want to accomplish over the course of your life, education-related and otherwise, and dedicate yourself to making those things happen.

What do I want to do next year?

I want to go to university to pursue a career in journalism: that’s the answer people expect me to give. But my more detailed answer? I want to go to university and pursue a career in journalism so that I can make the most of my one wild and precious life, while achieving the goals I stated earlier in my letter. When you think of the question in a broader sense, it seems a bit less daunting and a whole lot more exciting.

Here’s to our futures!

Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

I can’t wait to see how your wild and exciting future turns out, which brings me to what I’d like to discuss with you: The fact is that in today’s day and age, everyone has access to instant information. Is this a blessing or a curse? We’ll see. In the meantime, it means is that information that might not have otherwise been widely known, is. This also means that misinformation can spread like wildfire – and often, it does.

A few days ago, an image which depicts dozens of dead bodies began to circulate among several of my social media ‘friends’.. The caption for the photo was something along the lines of “86 killed in Nigeria and Western media isn’t reporting it. Share to show that you care.” As it turns out, the photo was not current nor was it taken in Nigeria. It was taken in the aftermath of a gas tanker explosion in the Congo in 2010. It was, evidently, a tragedy and may those shown in the photograph rest in peace.

However, the danger here is that anyone can take an image and manipulate it to fit their desired narrative. When this is shared a million times, you have a legion of people angry that 86 Nigerians were killed and no one took notice. These people, who would be justified in their anger if this were in fact true, trusted the individual who posted the image. Most did not bother to authenticate the image for themselves – and herein lies the modern dilemma of instant news.

Now, more than ever, we need reliable sources of information. In a world that is evolving at every turn, we must know where we stand in the midst of it all. The news media cannot have their own ideological agenda that they feel obligated to advance at every possible opportunity. Although I am Canadian, I’ve been following the American presidential nominee race on both sides. I am routinely put off my media outlets with evident political bias, whether it be rooted in the political left or the political right.

Journalists have an obligation to be unbiased and critical for the sole purpose of informing the public, thereby enabling the public to make informed decisions for themselves.

As for your question – I would like to work in government because I strongly believe in its power to be a positive force in people’s lives. I sincerely hope that I will one day earn the opportunity to do this.

Ceanray

 

 

Formation

Dear Sherina,

You know as well as I do that I’m not really a sports person. I did, however, tune into the Superbowl halftime show last week. I thought that Beyonce’s performance was pretty standard for what you can usually expect from her. It seems some people thought otherwise. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani dismissed it as being anti-law enforcement. While I did notice the definite black empowerment theme of her performance, I certainly didn’t find it to be anti-police.

I was intrigued by his comments and by the comments of others who thought Beyonce took things too far, so I decided to watch the music video for the song behind the controversy, ‘Formation’. As a Beyonce fan I may be a little biased, but I thought the video was phenomenal. At first glance, the viewer definitely takes note of the subtle themes being explored while she sings “I just might be a black Bill Gates in the making”. After watching it several times, I had a page full of notes on what I took from the video. She managed to get several themes across; let me explore a few.

The video opens with her standing atop a New Orleans police cruiser sinking in a flood of water, while a voice says “what happened after New Orleans?” The video further explores treatment of African-Americans, black culture and police brutality. Beyonce’s own southern ancestry is explored through an African-American lens – something we don’t often see. Afros are celebrated as well; the vast majority of the women shown have one.

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At the end of the video we see a young African-American boy in a hoodie dancing in front of police officers. This could be interpreted as a reference to the death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. If there were any doubts about one of the themes of the video, a shot of a graffitied wall which reads “STOP SHOOTING US” pretty much clears them up. The video ends with a shot of Beyonce drowning on top of the same New Orleans police cruiser shown at the beginning.

A lot of folks were upset that Beyonce chose the Superbowl, which is a “family show” to share her message. Many are upset that she even released the video at all. “Why does everything have to be so political?” They ask. I urge those people to keep this in mind; according to The Guardian, unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed by law enforcement as unarmed white people in the U.S.

No one is saying that all law enforcement officials are bad, because they aren’t. They are the ones who put their lives on the line to keep us safe and we are eternally grateful for it. However, the fact that black people are disproportionately affected by police brutality still needs to be addressed and an event that was watched by an average of 111.9 million people seems to be a good place to start.

There were many who felt uncomfortable after hearing this song and watching the video. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Change is never comfortable.

What were your thoughts after watching ‘Formation’?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

I am also not a sports person. In fact, a day after the Superbowl, one of my friends mentioned the Denver Broncos and I said that they weren’t in the superbowl at all (when they actually won it). I digress… I did not watch the Superbowl, nor the halftime performances. I did, however, hear quite a bit about the show – specifically, Beyonce’s performance.

Many people praised her performance, pulling out the crown emoji because she is #QueenBey; but many others, as you said, thought she took things too far. People who believed her performance was racist protested outside the NFL headquarters, and took to social media to share their disdain for Beyonce. Was their disdain justified? I, like you, don’t believe it was.

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I watched Beyonce’s performance on YouTube and read through the lyrics of Formation, and I couldn’t see what came across as “racist” or “anti-police”. The song is about a serious issue, and that many people choose to remain ignorant of that issue is frightening. There are, as you mention, a disproportionate number of black people killed by police officers. I don’t know how anyone could look at the statistics and evidence and not come to the conclusion that something needs to change.

Part of the problem, I think, is that too often people equate fighting for black rights to being against white people. Some people try to change #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. All lives do matter, but that’s not the point of the hashtag. The point is that black people have been seriously oppressed throughout history and still face inequities today.

I completely agree with you: change is not comfortable. People are entitled to their opinions – and when the topic is Beyonce, there are lots. However, I believe it is important to look not at what is a comfortable, convenient opinion but what is actually a truthful reflection of the dire needs of a marginalized group in society.

I applaud Beyonce for using the platform of the Superbowl (and her signature dance moves) to speak out about police brutality and black culture. On behalf of Beyonce fans everywhere, let’s get in formation and take a stand.

Sherina

#ToTheGirls2016

Dear Ceanray,

I’m sure you know as well as I do that sometimes girl world isn’t a fun place to be. There are rumors, fights, drama, and just general negativity. This morning, I saw a really cool hashtag campaign which worked to change these things by spreading positive messages to girls and creating a safe online space for girls to share encouraging messages.

The campaign, #ToTheGirls2016, was created by Courtney Summers, a bestselling author who wanted to “let girls know they matter” and spread “messages of support, advice, positivity, and empowerment to girls across social media.” The hashtag trended on Twitter today, with girls sharing positive messages about being unique, standing up for yourself, and the power every girl holds to make a difference.

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As I scrolled through the Tweets, my heart swelled at the wisdom of the advice I was reading. It’s such a great feeling to read uplifting messages and feel inspired by them – especially from your fellow girls. #ToTheGirls2016 created an online community of girls reminding each other of how amazing we are and the potential we have.

Like I mentioned earlier: girl world isn’t always a fun place. Not only is there drama, but there are a lot of unrealistic expectations placed on girls by the media; not to mention the double standards, sexism, and unequal opportunities (and pay) that face girls. The messages I read on Twitter today were a shining reminder that despite the struggles girls and women face, we are fighting back in the best way: with kindness.

Courtney Summers, who started #ToTheGirls2016, Tweeted that a message saying that if the campaign inspired just one girl, it had done it’s job; and I think it inspired not just one girl, but thousands.

If you’re in need of a reminder of how amazing you are (you’re amazing, by the way!) read through some of the #ToTheGirls2016 Tweets. I can guarantee you’ll feel happy after reading them!

Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

I’ve just spent the past few minutes scrolling through the #tothegirls2016 tag and I agree, it’s fantastic. I love to see girls and women join together to combat negativity and the unrealistic expectations that are constantly placed on us by society and our peers. We are taught that there is a certain mould that a girl must fit into in order to be worthwhile. If you’re someone who does not fit into this ideal of perfection, you have to look within yourself and create your own.

With the advent of social media and the rise of well-rounded female characters on television, it’s easy to think that we’ve progressed to a point where we can sit back down again and get comfortable. This is certainly not the case, as we must continue to demand space for minority, disabled and transgender women. These women have strong voices and through social media are given the power to amplify those voices.

Another trending topic on social media today has been Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee’s decision to boycott this year’s Academy Awards. This is now the second consecutive year that actors of colour have not been nominated. As I read this, I couldn’t help but think about the African-American, Latina and Asian girls who would be sitting down to watch the Oscars and not see themselves represented whatsoever. Will this lead them to believe that their stories are not worth being told? I sure hope not, because they most certainly are.

It’s vital that messages of support and encouragement continue to be shared and shouted. Let us lend our voices to the chorus that strives to lift girls up instead of tearing them down.

Ceanray

Religious Representation Online

Dear Sherina,

On this blog, you and I have previously discussed Youtubers and their influence. Recently, I’ve discovered a new favourite. A half-English, half-Egyptian fashion designer and blogger by the name of  Dina Torkia. With a sizeable online following which includes 316,000 Youtube subscribers, she has made quite a name for herself in the Muslim fashion and beauty world.  Her channel is filled with videos ranging from hijab/turban tutorials, lookbooks, makeup tutorials to DIY clothing tutorials. As a devout Muslim woman, there are certain guidelines she follows when it comes to dress. She is a ‘hijabi’, which means that she does not show her hair and often wears a headscarf in a traditional or turban style. As she explains it, the concept of ‘hijab’ is not simply putting a scarf on your head. Rather, it guides how interact with others and how you represent yourself to the world.

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Dina is such an upbeat, outspoken and downright hilarious individual that it’s hard to imagine that she would be on the receiving end of negativity. The majority of the comments on her Youtube videos are positive, however it’s hard not to notice the amount of criticism she gets. The criticism doesn’t often come from non-Muslims, but from others within her faith community. They claim that she is  ‘misrepresenting’ Islam and that she ought to be ashamed of herself for wearing makeup – among other things.

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I would argue the contrary. As someone who is not well-educated on religion, I admit that before I started watching her I knew very little about Islam. Her channel is not a religious education channel, but because her faith is such a big part of her life you do learn a few things. Since I started following her Youtube and Instagram, I feel as though I’ve learned more about modest clothing guidelines, Muslim holidays, religious practices and everyday Islamic terms. To give you an example, when she’s on her channel discussing a future project, she might say “inshallah it all goes well”. I was curious as to what inshallah meant, so I looked it up and translated roughly it means “if God wills it” or “God willing”.

I feel like with all of the misconceptions that surround Muslim people and the Islamic faith, it’s so important to have people like Dina out there to shatter them. She, in my humble opinion, does a fantastic job of representing the diversity within her religion.

What are your thoughts?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

After reading your letter I watched some of Dina’s videos, and I completely agree with you; it’s so hard to imagine how she could receive negative comments. I found Dina’s channel incredibly enlightening, as I, like you, knew very little about Islam before watching her videos. Even from watching a Q&A video, I became more educated. I think it’s amazing that we are able to learn more about a religion through YouTube!

I also agree with you that Dina’s channel is all the more important not just because it provides education, but because it shatters some of the negative myths that surround Muslim people. I’m sure you remember the recent controversy in Canada about women wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. The issue blossomed into a debate not just about wearing the niqab when becoming a Canadian citizen, but in general.

Stephen Harper, our then Prime Minister, said with regards to the debate about the niqab that “[the Muslim] culture is anti-women”. Many Canadians protested this statement, because we knew it was a lie which was simply feeding the culture of fear that has been created around people of a certain faith. Some people, however, agreed with Harper’s sediment. Likely, those people didn’t know any Muslim women, or Muslim people, so they accepted his statement at face value.

We shouldn’t need proof that the Muslim culture is not anti-women – we should be able to realize such generalizing statements are ludicrous and inaccurate – but unfortunately we do. Fortunately, we have amazing people like Dina Torkia who help to set the record straight.

Sherina

Reflecting on Our First Year as the Fabletters

Dear Ceanray,

I still remember this past January when you texted me saying you had an idea. We were always texting about issues of inequality, especially surrounding gender and feminism, and you wanted to take our conversations even further. You explained that you thought the two of us could start a blog, and write letters back and forth.

Although I already had a blog, your idea excited me. I loved the premise of writing to each other about issues and topics we were passionate about, and I loved the idea of putting our writing on the internet for the world to read (or at the very least, our incredibly supportive family members).

Our first hurdle was coming up with a name for our blog. I remember sitting at my desk brainstorming names on a pink sticky note, scouring thesarus.com for adjectives and frustratingly texting you that I had “no idea” what to name our blog. I can’t remember who came up with the title “fabletters”, but I do remember that I instantly loved it and knew it was a perfect name for our blog.

We went on to create The Fabletters, and three days into 2015 on January 3rd we published our first post. I just read that post now, and it’s amazing to see how our writing has grown over the course of the year. Our first letter was about feminism, and an introduction to why we were feminists and how we discovered what the movement was really about. One year later, I still feel as passionate about feminism as I did when I wrote that letter – and, one year later I still love the idea of this blog as much as I did when we started it.

In the span of one year, we took an idea and made it into reality. We created an online space to discuss issues that are important to us. We realized the value of our voices, and found a way to make them heard. Throughout the year, we’ve both been incredibly busy and we haven’t been able to devote as much time to this blog as we both wanted to. However, we still took time to create this blog in the first place and write posts for it: and words can’t describe how proud I am of both of us for this.

Here’s to another amazing year of fabletters!

Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

Thank you for being such a willing participant in my harebrained scheme(s)! Looking back on our first post provided me with an interesting perspective as to have far we have both come in our respective understandings and real-life applications of feminism.

Last year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to make a conscious effort to write more. In some ways, I have succeeded in fulfilling this promise to myself. I have kept a journal since the summer and have contributed to this blog.

I’ve always wanted to keep a diary of sorts, however I have learned is that I must set realistic goals for myself; I may not write every day, but not always is better than never. Although we are not always able to post frequently, I enjoy keeping little notes of ideas for future blog posts  on my cell phone.

The year 2015 has been a turbulent one: the global refugee crisis, the massacres in Kenya, Pakistan and Paris and increased mainstream visibility for trans people, to name a few.

Throughout it all, our goal has been to educate ourselves and think critically about what goes on in the world around us.

Ceanray

Never Suppress a Generous Thought

Dear Ceanray,

The other day at school I paid for my lunch with two five dollar bills. The total of my food was $9.10, so this wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was what happened after the women at the cash register asked me if I had a dime. I was sure I did – I always have an abundance of change in my wallet – so I told her I would check and see.

My hands were full with my food, so it was difficult for me to maneuver what I was holding in order to open my wallet. When I finally did reach it, there was no need – the girl in line behind me had given the cashier a dime. I was completely taken aback by her act of kindness. I found a dime in my wallet, and tried to repay her with it, but she insisted that I keep it.

Even now as I type this, I can’t get over how kind that simple act was. It didn’t take much effort on her part, but her humility in refusing my dime (worth only ten cents, but still) struck me as incredibly generous. In an age where bad news seems to be everywhere, it is amazing to experience positivity.

One of my favourite quotes is, “Never suppress a generous thought.” I love this quote because of the simple reminder it gives, and also because it highlights the unfortunate fact that sometimes we do suppress our generous thoughts.

If the girl in line behind me in my school cafeteria had suppressed the generous thought she had, the consequences wouldn’t have been dire. I would have found my dime, paid with it, and been on my merry way. However, the fact that the stakes weren’t high and she still acted on her generous thought says a lot about her character.

Our world can be very cruel, but every so often we are touched by kindness and our faith is restored. Because of that one girl’s simple action, I am inspired to act on my own generous thoughts and be that person for someone else. If we don’t suppress our kind thoughts, we can create a ripple of positivity.
Sherina

 

Dear Sherina,

I love that quote,  “Never suppress a generous thought”. This is important for us to remember, especially given the events of this past week. When I heard about the terrorist attacks in Paris, my first reaction was anger. The people who lost their lives were innocent, all they wanted to do was to enjoy a concert or get a bite to eat. They were not soldiers, nor high-ranking government officials. What did they do to deserve this?

After hearing about Paris, I then saw the news about a suicide bomber in Lebanon and yesterday, the hostage situation in Mali. With everything that’s going on in the world, it’s important not to lose hope, and to acknowledge the brighter side of humanity.

In everyday life, simple acts of kindness are underrated and, more often than not, cost nothing. Don’t underestimate the power of asking someone how their day was, or how work went. If someone looks sad or unhappy, asking if they’re feeling okay can make a difference – even if they don’t want to share what’s causing their sadness –  it’s reassuring to know someone cares.

I’m a firm believer in leaving the world a better place than it was when you got here, whether that means volunteering at your local animal shelter, food bank or senior’s home. It could also mean getting involved in the issues you’re passionate about. Even the smallest impact on another person’s life can make a profound impact.

Ceanray

Election Day Eve: Making Our Voices Heard

Dear Sherina,

Happy Election Day Eve! Tomorrow millions of Canadians will be hitting the polls to decide who will be the Member of Parliament for their riding, and consequently who our Prime Minister will be. Whether you’re a conservative, new democrat or liberal, it’s important to research the issues and vote for who you think will do their best to represent you.

This election comes at a crucial time in Canadian history. Issues like energy and the environment, taxes, jobs, and national security are hot-button topics that cannot be ignored. Another topic that cannot be ignored is the incredibly low voter turnout among young Canadians. According to Elections Canada, 38.8% of 18-24 years olds showed up to the polls, compared to 75.1% of 65-74 year olds in the last federal election. This is simply inexcusable, especially considering the direct impact that issues like student loan debt and youth unemployment have on our young people.  

While I can’t speak on behalf of all young Canadians, I can say from personal experience that I have heard people complain about the government in conversation, while simultaneously exclaiming that there’s no point in voting, anyways. Seriously?!

We can’t afford to let ourselves fall silent when it comes time to decide who is best suited to lead our country. Research, listen and be an involved citizen. We are blessed to live in a democracy, let’s use it to make sure that we do everything we can to make our country the best version of itself.

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

Happy Election Day Eve to you as well! I’m finding it hard to believe that this election – the longest in Canadian history – ends tomorrow. The past months have felt long and at times tiresome.  Between televised debates, attack ads, lawn signs, and every other form of electoral information that is thrown our way, it’s hard to escape talk of politics. However, I’m not sure it’s something that people should aspire to escape from.

I completely agree with you that we cannot be silent when it comes to choosing our country’s leader. It is our democratic right to vote. If people do not exercise that right, they are not in a position to criticize the state of our country.

I find the statistics regarding low voter turnout for young people shocking. Though many of my peers are too young to vote, my social media feeds have been filled with comments about the candidates (and in particular, a “Stephen Harper Goodbye Party” which seems to have gone viral). Teens aren’t just making their voices heard on social media – they’re speaking up in real life, too. Lately at school, I’ve heard, and been apart of, many discussions relating to the election.

Despite the fact that I enjoy talking about politics, I don’t know who I would vote for (if I was of age). I have been fairly informed throughout this election cycle – watching the news, reading newspaper and magazine articles, discussing politics with like minded people – but when I am actually able to vote I will have to pay even more attention to the policies of my local Members of Parliaments, as well as the federal candidates.

Canada is great, and I am grateful to live here, but we do have some issues that need to be resolved. What excites me about the election is not just that I won’t have to see anymore ads of Justin Trudeau walking on an escalator; it is that with the possibility of a new government comes the possibility of change for our country. I hope that positive change results from whatever happens in regards to the election tomorrow night – and if it does not happen from the election, I hope at least something positive comes from the Blue Jays game.

Sherina