Friday, 19 December 2014

Disconnected Connectivity: My Unpopular Opinion of Social Media

I'm fairly certain I am in the minority when it comes to what I am about to say. But then, what's new?

I found this important enough to blog about, so you know it must be a pretty outstanding issue from a societal standpoint. And although this might not be within your realm of understanding, please allow me this moment to exercise my right to an opinion—and a platform on which to share it.

From where I stand, I am seeing a generation of people who are taking the social media thing way too far, in my humble opinion of course. (This bit, I think, most people can probably agree with. But, here comes the kicker...)

Instagram is a photo-sharing website. I shouldn't have to rely on it to know what my FRIENDS are doing with their lives, or to understand their thought process or perception of life or to know their interests. I don't go to social media, much less Instagram, for that. That's what your inbox is for. But I mean I guess I'm expecting way too much from a well-connected society? We want to know what you're doing and what you're thinking every second of the day, without ever having to put the effort into finding out. In fact, we can find out all of that about you without you even knowing that we are looking. How's that for friendship? LOL.

I don't even like posting my family on my page, as they aren't on social media. And it's almost as if people would feel like, "oh you don't post them? You must not have one. Or maybe you have no relationship with them." But the reality of it is, MY Instagram is meant for beautiful photographs. My Instagram is a reflection of a hobby/interest of mine, something that is part of me but not ALL of me, and that is my love for travel and appreciation of the Earth. Occasionally, social issues will also weed their way in, because I am a part of humanity and I believe in social responsibility. Still, will I ever jump to the other end of the spectrum here and say: "my social media isn't me so you can't use it as a gauge to determine the type of person I am"? Absolutely not. Because nothing on there is fabricated or misleading. It is in fact reflective of me and my interests, and I wouldn't have any qualms about showing it to an employer or older family member.

It just isn't the whole story. And I don't think it was meant to be. Forget about the false illusion of privacy. Forget about the fact that there are no rules, other than those put in place to protect us from "indecency", and that we can all portray ourselves as anything we choose. Let's just think about what the obsession with social media updates from real life human beings has done to us as a society.

  1. They have made us all feel entitled. We feel like we DESERVE to know what is going on in your life,like we have a right to the information. We feel like we have a right to know if you are in a relationship or not, if you are in the country or not, if you are sick or not.  We have a right to know what your children look like, or what you do in your spare time. Or what you look like when you just wake up in the morning.
  2. You can't venture too far into social networking without encountering the beast that is the keyboard gangster. The anonymity of the internet has turned some of us into some ill-mannered, insulting imbeciles. And maybe it is so that those people would have been that way regardless, and it could be argued that the internet just brings it out. But that's just it. For some reason, regardless of what it is, the internet brings out the worst in people. 
  3. On that last note. It has made us forget that we are all human beings. Celebrity or not, we all have feelings and we all are entitled to our own practices and beliefs. Yes, we all also have a platform and a "right" to share our opinions, but no one ever died from exercising a little couth.
  4.  I think these sites just make people lousy friends. You don't have to ever pick up your phone and call someone and say "hey how are you? how is everything." You can just log in and get updates on everyone simultaneously with little to no effort. This, arguably, has led to number 1.
  5. People now base their friendships and even intimate relationships on social media behaviour. If I unfollow you because I don't like what you post, then obviously I don't like you as a person and we therefore shouldn't be friends. What? Why can't I exercise my right to choose what I want to see on my feed and when? Why can't I just be an avid animal lover and want to see only lions and tigers and bears on my Instagram feed, as opposed to your selfies? And why does that choice, to be tolerant and respectful by way of avoidance, have to lead to the ending of a friendship? You mean to tell me if I don't post photos of my boyfriend every Monday that we obviously don't have a good relationship, he's cheating, we broke up, or he simply doesn't exist? I don't love my daughter because I don't have her face all over my page, for the whole anonymous world to see?

Come on guys. We really need to reevaluate ourselves a little bit here. I know we can't and won't all use social media the same because we are all different. And I'm not here for that anyway. I'm just here because I think that there should be a collective less energy put into our profiles and online image than what we put into our bodies and character. Or at the very least, couldn't we just care about both, equally? Can't we talk to our friends in real life as much as we RT them or like their photos? Can't we care as much about how our selfies look as we do about how we treat people? Can't we care as much about what other people are posting as we do about their well-being?

Then again, whether we actually care or not, as opposed to just being curious ... That's a different question entirely. Because knowing, (even if it's only the half) that's what really matters. 

And that's why we're all so disconnected. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

I Don't Know if I Believe in Protests, But Last Night I Protested

And tomorrow, I'm going to protest again.

This is not because I believe protests in themselves are functional ways to create change. This is not because I enjoy stopping people from going about their way and ignoring the plight of others. (Ok that last one is a lie.) I protested for a simple, simple reason: I am angry. And I desperately needed to be around other people who care. 

The reason for my anger, too, is simple. I cannot for the life of me fathom how human beings can be so filled with hate. I don't know why we are so comfortable with murder, and why we insist on living as though we are isolated creatures, as opposed to the group animals we are. I'm not angry because of my melanin content. I'm angry because I am a human being. When will people understand this?

At what point did we lose our humanity? How do we get it back?

I could write about Mike Brown. I could write about Eric Garner. I could write about Tamir Rice. I could write about Reefa. But as I told my friend who first suggested I channel my rage after the Mike Brown no indictment verdict into a blog: I. Am. Tired. 

If you've been following my blog for awhile then you'll know why. I've written about Troy Davis, whose case was the first one to spark my fire. I also wrote about Trayvon Martin, whose case was the first one to make me realise there might still be a serious race issue in the U.S.

But I never wanted my blog to turn into any kind of black power, all I see is black and white, all white people are racist kind of platform. Truth be told, I still don't. But the reality of these situations is that to ignore the blatant and systematic disenfranchisement of black people in America would be to tell all of those who have been profiled that their struggle is imagined. It would be to tell the family of Mike Brown or Eric Garner that their loved ones died by the hands of the law because they were horrific people not worthy of tolerance or rehabilitation. 

And that? I cannot do. 

I get it though. I really do. I used to be that person who thought black Americans screamed "racism" too often. I used to be that person who said, "not everything is about race", and "slavery was ages ago, why can't they get over it." When I moved here I certainly thought that black Americans had no room to complain about how they are perceived because of the image they portray to other races. Then, I woke up. I realised just how well I had fallen into the same brainwash that keeps people of all races far away from their humanity, yet fully able to sleep well every night. 

The change in me, I think it happened over night. And this is in large part due to social media. (Love-hate relationship.) But the thing I'd really like to get across the most about why I think race plays such an important role in this country is not based entirely upon the facts of the cases. It is based, almost wholly, on the reaction and subsequent comments I've seen from my peers, and the treatment of the cases by the media. 

The comments I've seen about Mike Brown, detailing how much of a thug/monster he was, and how deserving he was of death have left me speechless. None of us was there to witness the events, except those who were presented to the grand jury (most of whom have corroborated each other's version of what happened, which is an entirely different account from that of the police officer). Yet the things I have seen and read coming mostly from white people, and only white people, have reminded me just how far we have to go as humans. They have so much passion and confidence in their disregard for human life at the hands of a purposefully manipulated and stereotypical character assassination that it blows my mind. And the problem I have with stereotypes isn't that they are untrue. It is that they tell only one side of the story, and pass it off as the only side. 

Have you ever heard a white person or the media call a white person a thug? Have you ever heard them call a white person who may, or may not, have committed a crime a demonic criminal? Has a white person ever been called a terrorist? Has a white European ever been labelled an immigrant? Is this because we don't have Germans, Italians, Russians migrating to the U.S? Is it because white people do not commit crimes? Why are these derogatory words reserved only for people of colour to assume? Why is it that black men are automatically seen as threats? Why are black men so feared? What have black people taken from white people? What have we done to them as a race that causes so much hatred?

Historically, I shouldn't even need to point out the fact, not opinion, that almost every single racial genocide or evil act (rape, kidnapping, slavery, displacement) committed against a people has been committed by white Europeans. Yet somehow, it has come to be seen that black people are the threat. Somehow black men have taken the character plunge here. How? How did that happen? And why? 

If you look at it from a broad view, the answer would be simple. Africa is the richest piece of land on Earth. And in the never-ending battle for natural resources, it's clear that the winner will be the one who conquers it. So yes, countries have been in the business of stealing Africa from Africans since the beginning of time (and of course systematically portraying them as uncivilised and impoverished land grazers to make it OK.) But what about the black Americans? Whites own the wealth in the U.S. For every $2 a white family makes, a black family makes $1, a ratio that has been the same for 30 years. This is not propaganda or a divisory statement to incite more hate. This is a fact. 

Black people didn't do this to themselves. Black people. Did not. Do this. To. Themselves. It is very important that we remember this. 

Black Americans have been stripped of their cultures and identities and placed into ghettos, where they've been given drugs and guns and virtually no other resources. The system did this. The system put black Americans into the situations they're in. The system made them live in ghettos, while their other racial counterparts were given an opportunity to live in areas where they don't have to wake up every day and see people struggle, and sometimes die, trying to put food on the table. (Remember how horrific it was when white people were placed into ghettos in Germany? By other whites too? Yeah. Only then was it horrific. And it is still being written about, compassionately, 70 years later by the way. In fact, France just agreed to pay $60 million retribution to those displaced by the Holocoast--via CNN.) This is not a mistake. Slavery may have been long ago, but segregation wasn't. People still have living relatives with the scars from whips on their backs. Segregation was only one generation removed from now. We are not talking about something that happened B.C., yet white people won't even talk about it, much less show compassion. It is off limits, except for when it can bring in money at the theatre. (I won't even get into why people support an industry that continues to capitalise on repeatedly showing us one of the most atrocious things in human history.)

Black people do not own gun factories or have any stake at all in the ammunition industry. They do not own laboratories or companies that create drugs like cocaine and heroine or pharmaceutical companies that profit from drugs. Black people did not bring either of these industries to the United States. More importantly, the history of the black race does not begin with slavery. 

Blacks were kings and queens in Africa before other races pillaged the land to rob them of their riches. The queen's jewels that are so proudly on display in England were all stolen from African people. Black people were never interested in crossing borders to see what else was out there, let alone exterminate entire races of people. And why would they need to? They had everything they needed in life right where they were until the invaders came and told them they weren't doing it right. 

Why is this important? Because I feel like people, all races alike including blacks, have been so accustomed to black people (and when I say black people, I mean all persons of colour) being at the bottom of the totem pole and not worthy of being seen as simply human beings worthy or respect and tolerance that we forget why they are there in the first place. We forget that it is not for lack of intellectual ability or talent. We forget that it is a systematic, centuries-old issue that cannot be overcome as a whole by two or three "exceptional" black people who were able to overcome their economic situation and become a lawyer or a doctor or the president. 

Exceptions are just that: exceptions. And until we see that a chance to become "successful" and seen as an "upstanding citizen" shouldn't be an exception at all, we as a human race will never see a change. Until we realise that the disparage is real and not imagined, even if we have never personally experienced its effects, we can never begin to live as one. Until we can have open, constructive dialogue between races that isn't laced with hate-filled stereotypical undertones, then we cannot move forward as people. 

And that's the biggest part I think most people are missing. Black Americans aren't asking for special treatment or pity or even revenge. They just want us all to be able to talk about it, come up with solutions, so we can all move forward in solidarity and overcome the hate that was given to us by prior generations. That's it. 

But if we can't even agree that a problem exists ... That something, anything, needs to happen to change this world for the better, to replace the conscious and subconscious hatred/distaste and facilitated divisionary constructs, then how can we ever expect it to?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Hidden Gems of Arizona

I have been traveling a lot–thanks to this blog and one of my very thoughtful and kind readers.

And I realise that my other readers have been deprived as a result. I also realise that I really should be writing about my travels and the wonderful adventures that I find myself taking. After all, if my greatest dream is to be a travel writer...

So here I am. I'm not going to bombard you by putting everything together in one extremely long and winding blog. (I hope.) I just feel like I need to write to you about the beauty that is Sedona, Arizona. I told my family, all my close friends, and my Instagram followers already, but I've saved the best for last! (Yes, I'm trying to make it up to you, can you tell?)

I booked a last minute trip to Arizona last month after taking about a month off traveling to save a little. (The trips before that consisted of Jamaica, Trinidad, and NY, and a few other islands in the Caribbean. Fell in love with Curacao. But anyway, off topic). When I told people in the eleventh hour that I was going to Ariz. of course they all thought "Arizona? What the hell is in Arizona?"

Raw beauty, that's what. Allow me to introduce you.

Red rock, scenic route


Sedona, near Chocola Tree

The view from the Gypsy Dome

Now, I would say I'm going to let the photos speak for themselves (and trust me, there are plenty more where those came from) but that really wouldn't do the trip justice.

I was only there from Friday to Sunday, which unfortunately didn't give me enough time to head up to Havasu, where I'd have to hike and camp for three days to get to the waterfall. I left work Friday evening and headed straight for the airport to catch the 5-hour flight. I got to Phoenix, which is a three-hour time difference from Miami, at 11 p.m. There, I met up with an old friend of mine who had been there for the week for work. We went to Applebee's to eat before taking the two-hour drive from Phoenix to Sedona, which was to be the final destination.

Sitting in Applebee's, I'd be lying if I told you I felt anything but utter comfort and welcome from the locals. I know it's terribly clichĂ© to say "everyone was so nice and friendly", but really.  It was the middle of the night and the usuals had casually taken their spots at the bar; not quite drunk yet, but feeling good and giving all the travel advice that could fit into the one-hour session.

Above all, they said, Sedona was apparently the place to be.

The drive there after that super-spicy meal wasn't quite as easy as the conversation in between bites at the restaurant. But thankfully, after what felt like forever, I made it. By this time it was around 4 a.m. The place I was to stay was a Gypsy Dome in someone's front yard. (AirBnB baby!) The host had left the Gypsy door and her main house door open since she knew I'd be getting in way after she had gone to bed, and the dome didn't yet have a shower. It gave me a feeling of both love and horror knowing that there are people who leave their homes open to strangers, and trust that you won't do any harm and will pay them for the stay after-the-fact. But when I got inside and saw all the high-energy crystals, and realised how much it smelt like the yoga studio where I did Reiki a few weeks ago, I knew the vibration was right and I would wake up the next morning alive.

That I did.

Even though there was some kind of bird at the window behind the bed that spent the entire night making noise in my ears, I was so excited to finally be awake so I could see what the place looked like in the daytime. Luckily I had not run into any bobcats or rattlesnakes in the darkness the night before (I guess the noisy Owl was the compromise). When I stepped out in the morning, to the cool 60-degree weather, and the absolutely gorgeous foliage, rocks, and red dirt, I knew I was going to fall in love.

Shortly after waking, I finally met the owner of the house and her husband and we talked about how they live in a postcard.

After a cup of tea, she showed me around outside and encouraged me to add a rock to their friendship circle next to the dome. I also saw where they planned to put a Jacuzzi, and met the couple who were staying in the airstream on the other side of their house. Then they lent me a bicycle and I went riding through the neighbourhood. Did I already mention they live in a postcard? The houses looked like they came out of the Flintstones, but in a more modern and awe-inspiring kind of way. If you close your eyes and picture what a Native-American-inspired house in the middle of the desert would look like, you'd probably come very close to the reality. As I rode around the only thing I could think was "this world is so beautiful."

There's literally a world full of scenery out there just waiting to be admired.

After the short yet somehow strenuous bike ride, I headed into the town to go check out Chocolá Tree. It's a vegan spot in Sedona that was highly recommended by the host, and with good reason. Not only was the food delicious and flavourful, but the atmosphere was equally as pleasant. There were inside seats and there was a backyard of seats, set up to look like someone's home. Out in the back you could see their little garden of herbs and other plants as well as listen to live music from a local talent. There was also, naturally, a fountain, a swing, and a bar built around one of the central trees. Everything about it made me feel like I could fall asleep there and no one would complain. (I even got to charge my phone inside).

After that fresh and necessary meal, my friend and I headed over to the scenic route where we could look at, hike, and take pictures of the red rocks. I'll admit I wasn't too crazy about the hiking initially because I was too cold to be comfortable. But eventually, I put my big girl panties on and headed up the mountain, where I was able to get some absolutely stunning photos of the Arizona landscape. The drive continued, and took us up to a ghost town, another place that was recommended by our friend at Applebee's.

Jerome is a great vantage point upon which to catch some aerial photos of the desert. And there was plenty more to do there than we had time for, as my friend had to catch a flight later that night. That list of things includes a ghost tour of the once heavily-populated copper mining town. (It has reduced to about 450 inhabitants, a decline that began at the end of the mining era, but is also a protected city with some buildings that are hundreds of years old.) I'm already planning a trip back to Arizona, and Jerome is on my list. We did manage to squeeze in a visit to a local wine shop where we did some wine tasting and I allowed my taste buds to dance to the tune of a decadent ginger wine. We have "ginger wine" in Jamaica, but it is nothing quite as sapid and light.

It was so sapid, in fact, that we bought a bottle and vowed to find a sushi place back in Phoenix where we could drink it. Ginger wine and sushi sounded like the perfect mix. We ended up at Cherry Blossom, just down the road from where I would spend the night–the CamelBackpackers Hostel.

After taking my friend to the airport, I headed to the hostel and was so pleased with what I saw. The host, Ali, invited me to do Sunrise yoga on the roof with him at 6 a.m. And I would have, had my alarm gone off like I set it. I ended up waking up about 40 minutes too late. But I did manage to get some last ditch photos of the sunrise.

Can we take a moment to talk about the hostel though? I know when most people think of hostels they think it's some kind of hole in the wall place filled with germs and psychos. But from my experience, I have to say that the people who stay in hostels are some of the most amazing people you will meet. They are often the most grounded, the most conscious, and the most generous people who actually remind us that there are good souls left in the world. And we don't always have to separate ourselves from one another with these imagined divisionary constructs.

I don't mean for that to sound like a speech, but I think it is important to praise humanity when possible. Lord knows I can come on here every day and complain about how the world is going to shit. So allow me to be great here.

At any rate, I actually found myself thinking two things during the hostel stay that Saturday night: is it a requirement for hostels to only have amazing people? Why is this place so incredibly spotless?

The last minute room I got was one with four bunk beds. I didn't share the room with seven other people though, as two beds were empty. The CamelBackpackers hostel is basically a three-bedroom house, set up as such. The living room and kitchen felt like home, and the bathroom connected to my room was insanely clean. Everyone respected each others' space and time. The beds were surprisingly really comfortable. They each even had their own little fans. I couldn't even dream up a complaint if I wanted to.

Before leaving there, I got a food recommendation from Ali, who also baked some really yummy oatmeal cookies, to check out an Ethiopian place in the Phoenix arts district just down the road called Roosevelt Row. I drove and walked around there a little and saw young hipsters everywhere, including a few who were planting outside of "the Growhouse". The Ethiopian spot was a little out of the area, but it was well worth the drive. It's hard enough finding vegetarian spots, but ethnic ones? Forget about it. I went and ordered a vegetarian platter with injera and ate it like natives do. Then, I had to call the trip short and head to the airport to return the renty and board my plane. But I did take a to-go box with the rest of my lentils and injera to enjoy on the long plane ride home.

Apparently everything is hotter in Arizona, including the food. Good thing I didn't go there in the summer. My experience may not have been quite as pleasant.

Until next time–and there will be a next time.