Author Archives: Meghan Mistry, Syracuse University

An American Reputation

Originally published in February of 2016. 

Before coming to live in Europe for four months I entirely predicted being associated with negative American stereotypes. I knew when I met people that saying “I’m American” carried a certain weight and connotation. What I didn’t realize was what would come out of another aspect of my identity.

After saying “I’m American,” I am usually asked next what state I live in. I’ll answer “Texas,” and while I may hear responses joking about cowboys, barbecue, and republicanism, I’m far more often greeted with a very harsh reality that has left Texas with a reputation across the world. That reputation?- racist.

I distinctly remember speaking with a group of men at a bar in central London. The guys and I had already discussed our similar Indian heritage, and one mentioned his family had lived in Uganda-somewhere my dad grew up. When I told them I was from Texas, one boy gasped before saying, “Oh! They would not like us there!” I followed up, saying, “no, of course they would,” before multiple boys of the group said, “no, they’re racist in America, especially in Texas.”

Upon hearing this I was more than shocked, I was disappointed that the nation where I had grown up was represented this way to the rest of the world. My heart hurt for these boys, and all members of minorities, who looked at the U.S. and thought, “I would not be accepted there, they would judge me on the color of my skin.” The worst part about the situation was that for many American individuals, this statement could hold true.

The boys talked to me about racial tensions in the States, social injustice and Islamaphobia. I tried to convince them that Texans wouldn’t assume less of them based on their skin color- but the damage had been done and I could not win this battle.

Maybe if America examined certain aspects of society that could be fixed, a reputation like this would not stand. If members educated themselves on Islam, understood it as a peaceful culture and religion, then Islamaphobia wouldn’t be so prevalent, and minorities wouldn’t view America as so racist.

What is seen as “the most powerful country in the world,” “the land of opportunities,” and “the essence of freedom,” is now simultaneously associated with racism.

This encounter with the group of boys has not been my only. On four separate occasions, not all of which took place in London, I have been greeted with the notion that I am from a state of quintessential racism.

While I have seen instances that could reinforce this stereotype of the U.S. and Texas, I know both to be places of inclusion, love and friendliness. I do hope that the U.S. finds ways to make this reputation one that doesn’t exist at all.

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A Reflection of Loss via Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper spoke on The View last week about his latest book, written with his mother. The hosts of the talk show talked with Cooper about the losses he’s experienced in his life, those of both his father and his brother, who committed suicide at age 23.

Cooper spoke elegantly, saying:

“I think any time you lose somebody, particularly if you lose someone early on, this is something that changes the course of your life. We don’t talk about loss much- people get nervous talking about loss and grief.”

Having recently passed the two-year anniversary of my mother’s death and her 57th birthday (she was 54 when she died), I find that Cooper’s words ring true.

In the past two years I’ve spoken about my mother in brief instances. I’ve offered support to others who have lost a parent, I’ll tell stories of my childhood with my mother, and I find ways to commemorate anniversaries. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve spoken about the grief of losing a mother in the past two years. It recently came to my attention when speaking with my roommate, who after inquiring about how it’s been, frankly asked, “do you like talking about your mom? Is it ok if I ask how things are?”

I appreciated that exchange of words and conversation. It can be isolating, realizing you live in a culture where describing your grief or openly hurting from a loss isn’t very welcomed. People value strength. Americans value perserverence. Of course, people will support you if you briefly mention how hard it’s been, but rarely is it celebrated to discuss a loss in detail and reflect on grief openly.

I’ve struggled to find words to accurately mark the second anniversary of my mother’s death. While two years can seem like so recently, it’s a remarkably long amount of time. Two years is substantial, especially at age 19 and 20, to be without a mother.

The biggest realizations come at decision points, when I could use a voice to weigh in reason and work through options, only to find that the voice who could best offer help is one that can no longer be heard.

I have most certainly accepted my mother’s death at this point in my life. I am no longer angry or resentful, but I do still feel the emptiness that is loss. Cooper said:

“But oftentimes, and you see it on television, people use the word ‘closure.’ There is no such thing as closure. It’s such a silly word. You know time moves on and things heal, but the wounds remain.”

Closure does not exist. Loss is a concept you can move through and move past, but when you look back, it still remains. It’s tentacles affect every aspect of your life; molding you into the person you are, shaping your frame of mind, your ability to deal with situations, and your emotional capacity.

It has taken until viewing this Cooper interview to adequately express my thoughts and feelings. I had a writer’s block, per say, but I also didn’t know how to approach expressing a grief I felt should probably have dissipated by now. The loss of my mother is no longer overwhelming, but it is absolutely still felt.

 

Thank you, Anderson Cooper, for speaking publicly on the need for our society to be more willing to discuss grief and loss, and more accepting/understanding of varying forms of persisting anguish.

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Kim K & International Women’s Day

Earlier this week Kim Kardashian found another way to break the Internet. This time, she posted a selfie of herself nude in a mirror, with parts of her body censored off by black boxes.

Of course, the post sparked backlash from all sorts of people. Some claimed she shouldn’t post the selfie because “she’s a mother.” Chloe Moretz famously tweeted at Kim to use her platform to promote more than her body, and Bette Midler tweeted that if we want to see a new part of Kim, she’ll have to “swallow the camera.”

On International Women’s Day yesterday, Kim penned a blog post in defense of her actions. She wrote:

            “I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world.”

Well, Kim K, while I applaud you for being comfortable with your body and aiming to promote that all women do so and feel sexually empowered, you’re missing the point.

You can absolutely post a selfie of you naked. Go for it. I agree, just because “you’re a mother” doesn’t mean you can’t. You’re the one in charge of your body so you can do what you want with it.

What I have a problem with is that you’re promoting the idea that women are their bodies and that their bodies are their most important aspect. The entire point of International Women’s Day is to promote the minds, hard work and success of women beyond how society hypersexualizes their body. It aims to equalize the success of those who use the bodies they are born with and those who further their career with their mind (a point Pink missed entirely).

My problem lies in her blog post. Her entire defense about her selfie draws attention to the fact that she now promotes for young girls the empowerment that their body is what’s most important. I do hope that women and girls around the world become comfortable in their own skin, love their body, and embrace any “flaws” they might have. Body shaming of any kind isn’t OK. More than this, though, I hope women and girls around the world realize that they are more than their bodies.

I do question your intentions, Kim Kardashian. If you’re so comfortable with your “flaws,” why did you post a selfie from a year ago (25 pounds lighter) and disprove your penned “comfort with your body.” I am not body shaming, simply questioning how your actions equate to your words. Your tweet about your 25 pound lighter figure subverts the entire point of your blog post and body shames those who are 25 pounds heavier.

And while women are already famously made into sexual objects by magazine covers and headlines, movies and advertisements, it’s time this changes. That’s what you should have said, Kim Kardashian. That you can be both brilliant and sexy; that your mind is as important as your body; and that you should embrace your body no matter its shape or size, and realize that it’s not just what’s on the outside, what could sexually please another being, and what is seen in a naked mirror selfie that is all that matters.

Women should be sexually empowered- I am an advocate for sex positive feminism. But Kim K’s naked selfie added to the hypersexualization, objectification, and societal pressures that I already feel to “have the perfect body.”

And on International Women’s Day, Kim Kardashian could have said her selfie was to show that while she has a rockin’ body, she is so much more than that.

 

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A Journalistic Failure, Not a Funny Post

Recently I’ve seen many people share a post on Facebook of an interview that aired on the news in Tulsa, Oklahoma. People have found it hilarious. In fact, the YouTube video has been viewed almost a million times and made into other jokes.

This post, however, is not funny. It demonstrates a problem with the media that has yet to be fixed: the portrayal of people, places, or incidents that play into preexisting, negative stereotypes.

I can very vaguely understand where one is coming from when they laugh at the video. Yes, she is almost acting out the scenario in a somewhat comedic fashion, but the amount of views, shares, and laughs that have come from this interview aren’t focused on her storytelling, but instead by the stereotype she reinforces.

By airing this interviewee’s depiction of what happened at the apartment fire, the media reinforces negative stereotypes about African-Americans that the media should be working to alleviate. The media’s job isn’t to portray everyone in a positive light, nor should it, but by making her vernacular, her language, her appearance and her visible class the focal point of the story rather than the facts of the incident, KVUE does exactly what it shouldn’t.

This can be seen in scenario after scenario. Take, for instance, Antoine Dodson, who went viral after saying “hide yo kids, hide yo wife, ‘cause they raping everybody out here.” His interview became memes, a remixed song, and his words remain mocked.

In both instances, news outlets chose to air interviews that paint black members of society as people who portray damaging depictions of Black America. Maybe this woman was putting on a show however, the media has responsibility in their work. It should inform and educate, and while doing so, it should not play into or reinforce any stereotypes or preconceived notions about culture, race or religion that many people have.

This is an example of such, and in turn, I am not at all proud of this journalistic decision.

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She’s Always A Woman

Momma,

While I miss you every hour of every day, I missed you the most last Friday night. For Christmas I bought Dad tickets to see Billy Joel – a concert I’d of love to have gone to with both of you. We had dinner before and took a cute picture, but as awesome as it was as a father-daughter date, something was clearly missing.

“She can kill with a smile, she can wound with her eyes,” Joel serenaded the audience. Dad put his arm around me and swayed to that song- a ballad beloved by the 37,000 audience members. I looked to my right as his eyes filled with tears.

He was thinking about you.

I knew the song from the countless times dad’s blasted it on the stereo system at home. I heard the words in your delicate, high pitched singing voice and knew how you’d dance to the music. I missed watching it.

More than that, however, as dad stared into the crowd, I realized how much I missed seeing him love you. As Joel sang his love song, I thought of the love your marriage taught me. If there’s any couple in this world who loved each other purely and whole-heartedly, it was you and dad.

I miss seeing the way he’d look at you or chase after you as you walked away to be able to hold your hand. I miss the way his eyes would twinkle at the sound of your laugh or the sight of your smile. I miss watching him wait on you hand and foot or as you’d get annoyed at his endless questions or roll your eyes at his goofy jokes. I miss watching you make him happy and the way you loved each other.

So now, a year later, it isn’t just missing you. It’s missing seeing how others loved you and how you loved them. Joel’s song captures the way daddy loves you and as tears filled his eyes, I saw how much more he missed you than he’d ever orate.

The Year in Review

Beyond the personal events that made 2014 a year of heartbreak and triumph, the world embarked on quite the 12-month roller coaster ride. Google has already released their take on the year, here’s mine:

2014 was, all in all, a year of conflict and unforeseen events. Malaysia Airlines, for example, suffered terrible PR after one plane went missing in March and another was struck down in the Ukraine. Thankfully, however, neither are CNN’s top story anymore- I guess after a couple of weeks they too agreed that enough is enough.

Conflict ensued across the world between both the Ukraine and Russia and Israel and Palestine. After Russia claimed to annex the Crimean Peninsula and the Ukraine maintained it remained part of its country, U.S. relations with Russia suffered and Putin claimed he didn’t have troops on the ground. Pictures went ahead and showed otherwise, and the portion of land is still up for debate. For Gaza and Israel, however, disputes that root deep in history blew up again after the killing of three Israelis teens and the revenge killing of a young Palestinian. Airstrikes followed, many lost their lives and the border between the nations remains fuzzy. Actually, so does Palestine’s existence to Israel.

The Nigerian terrorist organization captured 273 schoolgirls, which started a huge social media movement of #bringbackourgirls. Unfortunately, 230 are still missing and the movement has basically died. Boko Haram continues to remain a problem in the Northern region of Nigeria, but hasn’t posed a large threat to the rest of the world.

What has, however, is ISIS. A terrorist organization fighting for an extreme Islamic State has ravaged parts of the Middle East while even gaining movement in the Western world. Multiple citizens, including three Chicago siblings in early December, were caught leaving the U.S. to join the rebel group. Most recently, a man claiming ties to the group held hostages in a chocolate café in Australia. All in all, the organization has goals that clash with American beliefs and remains at the top of some U.S antiterrorism agendas.

This brings me to Syria, which continued its third year of official civil war. The country is broken, hundreds of thousands have lost their lives, and important historic sites have been demolished. After all, Damascus is a city with some of the most ancient roots. While in Toronto interning for the international film festival, I was able to screen a documentary that pieced together 1001 videos and pictures from the warzone. Needless to say, it was tragic yet captivating- what started off as a rebel group with intentions of restoring the country has turned into a violent group just as corrupt as the government itself.

Not all events of 2014 involved conflict, Malala Yousafazi received the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Kailash. This was a triumph for the teenager who champions for women’s education.

Midterm Elections were held in the U.S., creating defeat for the Democratic party which lost numerous seats. The Republican party, however, took control of Congress with the majority. Voter turnout was low, hitting a 72-year low, and no politicians have officially announced campaigns for 2016.

In other American news, 2014 saw the rise of a televised racial divide, after the deaths of both Michael Brown and Eric Gardner. Though opinions on both cases differ from person to person, large protestor turnout proved that racial discrimination is still a problem for America to face. Whether or not the situation will be addressed through legislature or if the protests will gain movement for genuine change, it can definitely be agreed that the social media movement proved that #alllivesmatter.

While 2014 contained far more events than what I mentioned above, I chose those for both personal connection and what captured media attention as well as events most visibly related to by friends and family.

You can check out Google’s video on 2014 here:

http://www.popsugar.com/tech/Google-Year-Search-2014-36284320

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A Summer Education

This summer I returned home after my first year at Syracuse. I wrote for a local newspaper, I learned and grew as a reporter, I ate dinner every night with my dad, I saw high school friends- I established a routine similar to that of being back at college or in high school.

But this summer taught me a lot…

  • The value of time.

I spent mornings in the office, receiving my assignments, then afternoons at home carrying them out or at interviews. From this, I learned how fast times flies. Three months of routine flew by like one fun week. Things I kept putting off never got done. Time is precious and I should have enjoyed the summer more.

  • Travel. Travel.

Having grown up in Canada, Michigan and Texas (all vastly different places) I can’t say my heart belongs to one region. I feel ties to all and through that, I’ve learned to love travel. I love seeing new places, picking up basic words in a foreign language, investing myself in a new culture. A series of circumstances lead me home all summer instead of in a study abroad program, but I still had the opportunity to travel. When I saw pictures of all my friends in various places around the world, I yearned to be anywhere other than the suburbia I lived in. Luckily, I travelled through Colorado, I immersed myself in nature, I spent time in Canada and Grand Rapids, and I had the adventure of a lifetime in Istanbul. This summer showed me I can travel, and I should plan ahead to be able to.

  • Family Dinners

Growing up I loved sitting down after the evening news to dinner with my mom, dad and sister. But a lot of things changed this year. All summer, I sat down to dinner with my dad. Last summer I probably would have done anything to get to eat with my friends or their families, but this year I made no effort to. Dinner with my dad at 6:30 was important to me. I wanted to sit with him, I wanted to hang out and talk about our days and let him know he wasn’t alone. Family dinners were something I always looked forward to, even if they’ve transitioned into merely a father-daughter date every night.

  • Internships

Mmm… the bane of any college student’s existence: internships. For college students with amazing internship opportunities, they’re pretty much the coolest thing next to sliced bread and liquor stores that don’t I.D. For those who applied a million places and came across the paradox of “you don’t have any experience” and needing a place to “give you experience,” internships suck. For me, it wasn’t too bad. I was able to get paid, learn about reporting, establish myself at a Houston area newspaper, get real bylines and learn the business first-hand. While I had this internship all summer, I spent time searching for more. I landed one with the Creative Minds Group at the Toronto International Film Festival, applied for others, and did research on ones I could want in the future. Basically, I was able to plan for possible internships….and when I’m swamped with 19 credits next semester and barely have time to call home, I’ll be happy I got this done sooner rather than later.

  • That true friends can grow separately and never grow apart.

Let’s be honest, I came home for the first summer after high school and made contact with 1/3 of the people I hung out with last summer. Even my main group of friends made it together less and less as the summer went on. But what I realized (and am eternally grateful for) is that my real and true friends, though we couldn’t always talk as much as we wanted to while at school, are still my real friends now. We get in mini fights, we argue about insignificant things, we hold each other accountable and confront each other when we’re frustrated, but we’re best friends and basically siblings.

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Loyalty is a Lifestyle

The age of hookup culture has everyone obsessed with the idea of loyalty… except they’ve got it all wrong.

Quotes about loyalty appear everywhere; monopolizing the timelines of teenage girls craving loyalty from the guy they’re “with.”

But that’s just it—loyalty isn’t simply the commitment between a man and a woman for relationship purposes.

Loyalty is not forgetting where you came from when you skim the surface of success. It’s remembering who helped you, who was there at your lowest, and making sure they’re just as important when you’ve made it big as they were when you were nothing.

Loyalty is friendships that don’t fail, that don’t end, because your lives are so intertwined in history that you fight through miscommunications and disagreements to stay friends for years to come.

There is loyalty in dependability and being a responsible person, because others can lean on you and know you’ll be there.

Loyalty is keeping your job when management fails you because you believe in the ideals of the company.

Loyalty demands more than mediocrity. When you’re loyal to a person, completely and wholeheartedly invested in them be it friendship or professionally, it’s demanding them to be the best they can be.

People mistake it for the words of a catchy Chris Brown tune or the idea that you should be with one person at a time. It’s not that shallow.

Loyalty seeps into various categories and relationships, from work to business to friendships and connections. It can’t be demanded, or asked for. Loyalty is earned, given, maintained, and respected.

It’s as simple as being loyal to yourself and staying true to your morals and beliefs, to being loyal to your body and treating it preciously, to being loyal to your family and friends and never letting them down or failing them.

Loyalty is a lifestyle- remember that.

 

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Detroit Runs Dry

Water in Detroit has been tapped out for many residents- literally.

The city shut off water beginning in March to many of its customers over one to two months late on bills. The act, which is similar to cutting off the flow of electricity to house owners who failed to pay their bills, is being railed as a human rights violation. The U.N. even plans to intervene, with a formal report for the U.N. Human Rights Council and private policy talks with Obama. NBC reported the story today, quoting both people whose water was turned off and activists appalled by the situation.

To be frank, the idea of water as basic right is something taken for granted.

Water.org states that 780 million people lack access to clean water worldwide- more than 2.5 times the actual population of the United States. 

It is  a human rights violation; it goes against rights established by the U.N. that all people deserve safe drinking water. It’s a necessity, so theoretically, water should be more affordable. The human population cannot sustain without it, so why charge a rate that users cannot afford?

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I understand that the city cut off the supply because they weren’t receiving necessary payment. Cities, after all, operate virtually as businesses or corporations of their own. I see the economical side of the argument; they cannot provide the water without compensation for its delivery.

However, being a necessity, it’s inhumane to cut off supply. You cannot force residents to rely on more expensive bottled water or find donations.

The root of the problem lies in the cost- the money needed. Being a driving factor, the only ethical option is to find ways in which to decrease the cost of water in the city of Detroit, not deprive residents of it.

Though access to running, clean water is underappreciated, often unrecognized, and may not be a right stated in the constitution, it’s a necessity that should be available to all. Just as villages in Asia and Africa deserve access to drinking water, residents of Detroit do as well.

Little things like this are blessings and should be more appreciated, but even more so, they should be affordable and accessible.

All corruption aside, the Detroit government needs to find a way to drive down cost and provide access to water once again, or else the number of people without access to clean water will now exceed 780 million people, and consist of more Americans.

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Cosmo’s Post is Part of the Problem

Cosmopolitan Magazine is under fire for Anna Breslaw’s June 12 post “Female Celebrities Who Insist They’re Not Fat Are Part of the Problem.”

Fans are firing back under the comment section, all agreeing the article is offensive.

So what’s the problem here?

To begin, the article criticizes actress Allison Tolman for proclaiming on Twitter that she is not fat. Well if she wants to correct people for defining her size on the public forum that Twitter is, there really is no issue to it.

Second, Breslaw’s argument is that though Tolman notes that women shouldn’t be judged by their size, she says “I’m not fat,” and that somehow negates her argument……No. No, Breslaw, it doesn’t. It means she can dispute whatever people say about her body. She can say she isn’t fat, and still maintain that women shouldn’t be judged on their size.

It’s the same as a person saying people shouldn’t be judged by race, and still correcting someone when they misidentify them with another race. I can say we shouldn’t judge people and then add, “I’m not Hispanic,” after someone called me one, without that being an insult to Hispanics. It’s not at all, it’s just clarification because I, indeed, am not Hispanic. Tolman doesn’t attack fat people, she has every right to identify herself as the person she is.

So Breslaw, it’s actually posts like that that are part of the problem. It’s posts that attack people for defending their own size that put the emphasis on the weight of women. It’s posts that blame a woman for defining herself as “average,” that make people judge more on the line between thin and large.

There’s no reason for those. There was no reason for Breslaw to attack Tolman because she solidified the world of judgement on size more than Tolman ever did on Twitter. Society shouldn’t claim issues with weight, whether someone is small or large. That’s their personal health issue, not one for Cosmo’s critique, not one for their solidification, and certainly not one for them to claim someone turned into an issue when their response was self defense.

So Cosmo, if I tweet “I’m not fat,” will there be backlash with that? I may not be famous, but I guarantee people won’t be saying that the tweet causes an issue with weight.

Cosmo, you caused the issue more by writing about it than Tolman did by correcting people who were categorizing her size.

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