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

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

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

Why stereotypes about the younger generation are wrong

Dear Ceanray,

Did you know that teenagers are lazy? All we care about is our phones and social media accounts. We have no respect for people older than us, the environment, or the world around us. At least, this is what we are made out to be. You know as well as I do that none of those things are true. Yet some people believe they are.

Teenagers are not lazy – we’re incredibly hardworking. Our hands are full with school work and preparing for postsecondary education, and most of us take part in co-curriculars like clubs or sports (and sometimes multiple co-curriculars). That’s not to mention the fact that many teenagers have part-time jobs, some work more than one job, and some are involved in competitive level-sports.

Sure, we might lie in bed on our phones occasionally; but with so much going on in our lives, who can blame us?

That brings me to another stereotype about teenagers: that we are addicted to using our phones and technology. We do use our technology a lot, but in my opinion this isn’t a bad thing. We connect with our friends and people we care about through texting and social media, and talking to people we care about just shows that, well, we do care!

In addition, by using our technology we are able to connect with the world outside of our own world. Yes, we know this world exists; and yes, we care about it. Keeping up to date with current affairs and breaking news gives us a deeper understanding of the world we live in – and what we can do to make it a better place.

I like to think of this blog as one way that you and I try to make the world a better place. It was partly because of our connection to the world through the internet and social media that we were inspired to write about issues that matter to us.

That’s the other thing – issues do matter to us. If this blog isn’t proof enough of this, look to 17 year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head but continued to fight for girls’ rights to education. She is the perfect example that there are many issues in the world that affect teenagers, and that teenagers can make an incredible difference fighting for those causes.

The truth is that we teenagers have an incredible amount of respect for the world around us. It might give us a lot of doubt and stereotypes, but above that it has given us a chance to prove those stereotypes wrong. And I know that’s exactly what our generation will continue to do.

Here’s to teenagers!

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

You make excellents points in regards to how older generations sometimes view our generation. In my opinion, I would not be as engaged and as well informed as I am without social media. Newspapers and newscasts can sometimes present a one-sided perspective on global events – while the internet can help us paint a bigger picture. This appreciation for the ways that technology helps us become informed citizens is shared by many of my peers.

As you mentioned, teens often juggle schoolwork with multiple co-curriculars in addition to the constant pressure to get into a respected post-secondary institution. Although I am a few years away from graduation, I am already feeling the aforementioned pressure. Therefore, I do not find statistics that show 25% of North American teens suffer from an anxiety disorder surprising.

There are also intergenerational shifts in social attitudes that affect how we view issues such as gay marriage, trans+ people and so on. While at a family dinner a few days ago, the topic of gay marriage was brought forward. It was fascinating to see the difference in approach to this topic in relation to the ages of my family members. My grandparents grew up in an era where homosexuality was a taboo that was not discussed; I have grown up in an era where (for the most part) acceptance of other human beings regardless of sexual orientation was taught within the school curriculum.

When I was around ten years old, my parents made it clear to me that whether I was attracted to men or women made no difference to them. I was their child, and they would love me for who I was. As I look back on these conversations, I realize that my ten year old self found this incredibly reassuring.

I am incredibly proud of how far our generation has come not only in relation to our contribution to technological advancements, but how we view others.

Ceanray

Social Media: A Double-Edged Sword

Dear Sherina,

Our generation is in possession of one of the most powerful weapons of all time. We can share and upload our thoughts and expressions for all the world to see simply by pressing a button. This weapon must also be respected and cared for properly. If misused, it can and will backfire.

In previous letters, we have discussed social media campaigns such as #BellLetsTalk and the incredible effect they can have. Other well known awareness campaigns include some of my personal favourites  #YesAllWomen and #AskHerMore.

In recent weeks, Twitter users took to the popular social networking site using the hashtags #whiteandgold and #blueandblack to debate the colour of a dress that was initially posted on Tumblr. The dress trended worldwide and approximately 10 million Twitter users added to the debate. In case you were wondering, the actual colour of the dress was revealed to be blue and black.

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Understandably, many were angry that something as trivial as a dress had gained global media attention overnight when there are human rights violations that happen every day with little recognition from a worldwide audience.

The Salvation Army, a Christian denominational church and international charitable organization, capitalized brilliantly on the internet sensation that is “the dress”. They used female models posing in the dress to call attention to domestic violence, and the countless women who suffer silently on a daily basis.

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The powerful images speak to the true capacity of social media to create awareness and spark intelligent conversation.

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

I’m really glad you shared the story of how a picture of dress that seemed to change colours became a powerful advertisement for a serious issue. That story highlights the positive impact that social media can have; there are also, as I’m sure you know, many negative impacts of social media.

In the opening line of your letter you describe social media as “a powerful weapon.” This got me thinking about whether or not social media is actually a weapon. The December hacks on Sony Entertainment, in which private emails were leaked and national security was threatened over the release of a controversial movie, showed that “cyberwar” (as it is dubbed by some) is a formidable threat.

My worry is that this is just the beginning. I don’t even think we’ve scraped the surface of what technology is capable of – a scary thought. In our lifetimes, technology has already advanced so much. With these advances have come increases in hacks, identity fraud, and cyberbullying.

According to dosomething.org, 43% of kids have been bullied online. Social media websites with direct chat features make it easier for bullies to approach kids – because when they are behind a computer screen, they can feel invincible.

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Like many things in this world, social media has its positives and its negatives. I don’t know if the positives outweigh the negatives – they don’t seem to. Then again, I love my cat videos and “what fruit matches your personality” quizzes (brought to me via social media) as much as the next girl.

Is social media dangerous? Yes – of course. Is it always dangerous, though? No. It all depends on how people use it. The power is in our hands. Let’s be responsible, kind, and purposeful with our use of social media!

Sherina


PS – hey, readers: speaking of social media, we’re on it! Follow us on Twitter @thefabletters and join our Google+ community by searching Thefabletters!