US Strikes on Syria

Last week, the United States issued a tomahawk strike on Syria, on the order of Donald Trump. These strikes were in response to the Syrian government chemically attacking its own people. Even under President Obama it was understood that President Bashir al-Assad, should be removed from power, as he is a danger to his own people. However, United States involvement in Syria is a delicate geo-political game, because Assad is being supported by the Russian government.

Putting aside the recent and undoubtedly troubling controversy about Donald Trump and his cabinet’s involvement with Russia and Russian officials, the United States refused the Syrian refugees fleeing Assad, on the grounds of potential threats to national security. That means that the people Donald Trump is claiming to protect are the same ones that he refused to give sanctuary to.

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With consideration to Donald Trump’s involvement with Russia and Vladimir Putin, this strike on Syria is conveniently timed. As his administrators are investigated for their involvement with the Russian government, he ordered a strike on the site of the chemical attacks. Some journalists and citizens (myself included) believe this is an attempt to distract the public and the media from questions about his administrations loyalties. Especially because of Trump’s own accusations against President Obama for this very tactic

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As of his fourth month in office, two of his cabinet members have had to resign because of their ties to Russia. The president’s own monetary ties are documented, his political connection is highly suspect–especially after he asked Russian hackers to interfere with the election, and his personal ties to Vladimir Putin are often speculated about. This is important, because with all of these connections to Russia, one wonders if there is a hidden agenda behind the attacks.

But it is even more important because it is indicative of the president’s attitude toward foreign relations. It is already well-known that Donald Trump is not well-spoken, well-versed in affairs of government and diplomacy, or well-received by either the American public or by foreign nations. Rather than a strategic, inclusive approach to delicate geopolitical problems, his solution is to seal America’s borders to those who need help, and bomb the country, with both the threat and the refugees contained.

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A lot of the concerning issues we see in the media are connected to this precedent of violence that is being set. For instance, the proposed budget that would cut nearly every government program from PBS to the National Parks Service to Meals on Wheels to increase military spending is greatly disquieting.

TRUMP BUDGET_0The American people would be deprived of things like NPR, and of arts and culture and different perspective, all the things that help make our country great, so that we could afford to go to war against anyone who opposed Donald Trump. His attempts to lessen media coverage of  White House affairs and presidential policies are frightening, because we would be left with only one-sided  far-right coverage and his own, incoherent tweets for information.

These are difficult times for informed Americans, but they are even more difficult for the refugees of Syria, who’s people just want to survive this proxy war.

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IAC Eve of Nations: 4th International Event

On Friday, April 7, was the 47th annual Eve of Nations event put on by the International Advisory Committee, with the help of all the International Student Organizations on campus. I was especially excited to go because my friend, Omar Shendi, is the president this year.

The event is always spectacular. Lot of different clubs and cultures come together and showcase their heritage through a wide range of creative expression. There were groups that preferred to introduce the audience to traditional songs and dances; there were some that chose to excite the audience with contemporary music from their homelands; and some promoted cultural acceptance and inclusion by performing using songs with a mixture of cultural  inspiration.

There were also guest performances by groups that were not necessarily student organizations but who’s culture and traditions were undoubtedly deserving of acknowledgement and applause. My favorite of these guest performances was the Native American dances. It was strictly traditional, with a man to one side of the stage beating a drum and singing into a microphone. Three dancers in three different examples of traditional attire each had their turn to dance. Each dance was progressively more energetic and each costume more elaborate, until the third dancer, dressed in very brightly colored feathers and a beautiful, elaborate headdress was whirling around the stage with such fervor and precision that I was amazed at his skill.

Guest Native American Dancers
Guest Native American Dancers

The crowd favorite was an Indian dance crew that included more contemporary Bollywood music that drew on other artists influence as well, including Beyonce.

Indian Guest Dance Group
Indian Guest Dance Group

After the guest performances, the competition portion of the event began. Every group had a different energy and different flavor, and this diversity of performance kept me, and I suspect the rest of the audience, excited about what to expect next. There was a traditional ribbon dance from the Chinese student group, a skit and energized dance from the Angolan student association, and a stunning multi-group, moving-part performance from the Indian student group. I loved the grace and beauty of the Chinese student association’s dance. It was beautiful, and though I’d heard of traditional Chinese ribbon dancing, I’d never actually seen a performance.

Chinese Ribbon Dancing
Chinese Ribbon Dancing

The Angolan Student Association was amusing and it looked inviting. The students were jumping and dancing and their energy was contagious, and made me want to join them on stage.

Angolan Student Association
Angolan Student Association

The Indian students ended up winning the evening, and it was well-deserved. They had several sets of dancers and music selections, a great costumes that wowed the audience. But every group looked like they were having fun.

Eve of Nations 2017 Performers
Eve of Nations 2017 Performers

 

I think that it is noteworthy to talk about the audience of the Eve of Nations. It’s usually a little small for the venue, but that doesn’t matter because the people who are in the audience are what’s important. It’s usually made up of family members of the international students performing and OU students. Both family and friends cheered equally for the performers, and it really is an inclusive event.

At the end of the event, Omar got up to give his speech. I could tell he was nervous, but he did a great job of summarizing the feel of the event and the OU students who participated in it. In many ways, these international student groups are the only contact some students will have other cultures and traditions. And it is important to note that though it is a little intimidating to be in a new country, the students who participated fearlessly put themselves out there and brought a little cultural diversity to Norman.

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AFSA Le Diamant Pageant

So I went to the African Student Association’s beauty pageant, the ticket for which was generously given to e free of charge when I met some of the lovely women competing at the International Bazaar.

The even was held in Meacham Theater in the Student Union. While we waited for the pageant to start, contemporary African music played and the audience talked to each other. I made several new friends just in the span of 40 minutes (“African time is nothing like CP time,” one of these new friends told me.)

The pageant was small, with only five contestants, but there was no shortage of pomp or circumstance. The had a lovely opening number and then they introduced themselves and told us about their platforms. The topics of interest ranged from beauty across all sizes, to integrating and healing the relationship between Africans in the homeland and blacks in the Diaspora. Each topic had merit, and each woman competing was well informed and did an excellent job of putting forward her ideas.

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Then there was evening wear, outfit of choice, and talent. All of the outfit for all of the contestants were brightly colored with Afrocentric patterns. The women were all beautiful, but with different skin tones, hair length and styles, and body types. In the African-American community, there is still the idea of the “ideal” black woman: light skin, long hair, curvy but not too curvy. But all of these girls were equally celebrated by the audience. The talent portions featured diverse talent as well. There were songs, poetry, even spoken word. The last act was a song performed by my friend Joy, who is Nigerian. She sang a song that is popular in Nigerian church, and the whole audience joined in. I was amazed and a little jealous. This was the native language for so many people in the audience, and while it was cool that so many people got to experience a little bit of home while being so far away from it, I wished I knew the words so that I could join in too.

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In the end, Amarachi Pipi, a track star for the University of Oklahoma won the pageant. She had the most crowd support, but she was also an amazing singer and she carried herself with an air of well-deserved pride and approachable humility at the same time. Congratulations, Amarachi!

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You Knew It Was Coming – The Election

So I tried to stay awake to watch the election on Tuesday…but I was sick so I fell asleep at around 9 pm. When I woke up at 1 am, the first thing I saw was “Clinton Concedes Election to Trump” flashing on the screen. I genuinely thought I had entered the twilight zone. I checked my phone to see if I was dreaming. 15 messages from 8 different people telling me they couldn’t believe it. And, because of my impromptu nap in the middle of the night, I got to lie awake all night wondering where we’ll be in the next 4 years until my alarm went off at 8 am.

The next day, there was already changes visible in my peers. I was on the phone whilst waiting for my class to start, and knowing that I am currently in one of the reddest states in the Union, tried not to say anything too inflammatory. I went with a simple: “I’m not happy with these election results.” Two rows in front of me, a boy turns around and says: “Well then you can just go back to Africa.” I was so stunned and embarrassed and angry that I physically couldn’t even form a response. He turned around laughing and high-fived his friend.

Then I attended a protest that was incredibly well organized in the South Oval, and after a beautiful and empowering speech by JD Baker (one of our SGA presidential candidates), we marched to the Bizzel Statue at the top of the oval. After consoling and being consoled by total strangers and friends, I headed to class with a friend. But not before hearing someone say “what do these niggers think they’re doing?” And another girl say “Omg why are they out here?”

We were out there because America tried to show us that they prefer hatred and division to love and acceptance, and we were out there because we disagree. We believe in standing together, that we’re better together, stronger together. Supporting a friend or a neighbor or a stranger even when they don’t look like you is what America is really about.

And the thing that bothers me the most about this whole thing is not even Trump himself (although he is a big part of it). It’s how people are already thinking that because we have a “leader” disrespecting minorities and disenfranchised groups that its okay for them to be blatantly hateful. Because it’s indicative of a deeper issue. I’ve never been so naive as to think racism doesn’t exist. I’ve watched covert acts of hatred and bigotry happen to me, to my family, to my friends who are Muslim or Hispanic or gay–I’ve seen it on TV and online and in life. Things like that are not good, not constructive, but unfortunately, are normal.

But overt racism, where someone just openly says “The N word” or chants “Build the Wall!”…things like that are supposed to be actions of the past. They are supposed to be things we learn about in history books and say “Thank god that’s over.” But now I am realizing that these things were not over, but that they were just hidden behind an illusion of progress and now that that image is shattered. Now that I see what America really looked like this whole time, I’m not so much afraid as I am tired. I feel selfish saying that, but it just makes me so tired, and world-weary, and hopeless. How many times have my ancestors surmounted an obstacle and handed the torch to the next generation, believing that their sacrifices have improved the world for their children? How many times will I, and my children, and my children’s children do the same, only to realize that we’ve been running in place this whole time? How many branches will be on my family tree before we achieve an actual post-racial America?

But I can’t get tired. I can’t get weary. I won’t let hopelessness overtake me. It’s worth it to carry that torch, for the next four years, for the next forty years, for the next four hundred years if that’s what it takes. It’s worth it, even when hope becomes a heavy burden. It’s worth it because of love. Not just love for my country, or my people, or my peers. But love for the people of the future, who will enjoy the fruits of my labors. My ancestors were brutalized. They were beaten, and raped, and killed, and lynched. I’m made of the same iron that helped them endure all of that, then for now I’ll endure the name-calling and the anger and those who say “you are so petty for caring this much” because one day…I won’t have to.

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The International Bazaar

On Thursday, the International Bazaar took place on the South Oval.

The International Bazaar is exactly what it sounds like. There are international student groups and organizations selling all manner of gorgeous authentic items and promoting upcoming events. I was so impressed with the eagerness the students had in anyone who showed interest. Everyone was welcome to learn and take part in various aspects of each others cultures.

There were Indian students selling beautiful sarees and bangles, Angolan students selling gorgeous bracelets, and Pakistani students selling incredibly cute shoes. One moment I was walking through booths listening to students give brief cultural background on their wares and looking at how well-made and exquisite everything was…and the next I was filled with a sense of bafflement.

I know I can sound like a broken-record on this point, but I genuinely will never understand how someone can genuinely dislike another person on the basis of race, ethnicity, or nationality. I was surrounded by students who had come from all over the world, and who wanted to share their world with me as I share mine with them, if only through a lovely statuette or a colorful tapestry. In a way, every student there was the same and different. We’re all students working toward out individual goals, societal goals, and even when we leave OU we will still be part of the same worldwide community. But we all came from different places and different backgrounds with different stories to tell. In that moment of introspection, I was truly and honestly humbled.

I was roused from my inner thoughts by a member of the African Student Association, who  told me (warning: shameless plug ahead) that they would be having a pageant on November 10th, in the Meacham Theater in the Union. The pageant begins at 7:30, but doors open at 7. Tickets are $5 if you buy before the show, but still only $7 at the door. I am incredibly excited to go, especially after speaking to two of the candidates about their platforms.

Overall, I enjoyed the International Bazaar, and although I was unfortunately too broke to buy any of the things that I really REALLY wanted, I did get a ticket and an exciting event to look forward to out of it, not to mention a few new friends.

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My International Organization: SAC

A few weeks ago one of my professors from my “Understanding the Global Community” class emailed me and asked me to consider his nomination for the Student Advisory Committee of the College of International Studies. The aim of the group is to promote diversity and inclusion within CIS and University of Oklahoma. Of course I was immediately interested.

While I realize the Student Advisory Committee isn’t technically a student organization, the goals of the group are still incredibly clear and management of the SAC is freeform yet effective. I loved that I felt included during the first meeting, which is exactly the point of the CIS Student Advisory Committee. I knew my opinion was taken just as seriously as everyone else’s–even though I was one of the newest members.

Our meeting last Wednesday was to plan a film screening for the documentary “13th.” We discussed which professors would be invited to help lead the discussion on the film, what food we should serve, and most importantly–whether the subject matter was universally beneficial to all students and faculty who might want to attend. We also discussed how relevant the subject matter is in 2016 (and not just because of the presidential election, although that was certainly essential to the conversation).

It felt good to feel like I was part of something with greater purpose. Being a part of the SAC and GEF has so far only solidified my career plans to work for the United Nations in terms of humanitarian aid. I don’t want to only supply to people in need with money; I want to educate, and to encourage appreciation and respect.

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Chinese Culture Day

Today, the Confucius Institute came to OU for a Chinese Culture Day.

Full disclosure: I didn’t know if I was going to even try to go. I had only a few minutes between classes, and in all honesty, you never know what the quality of the events held on the South Oval will be like. But I thought about how I know next to nothing about Eastern culture, and made a point to at least look around.

I was nearly late for my French class because of how engrossed I was. There were girls playing the mandolin–an instrument I’ve never seen before but was immediately fascinated and impressed with. There were OU students who are taking Chinese and students from the institute were teaching other students how to write Chinese characters. There was food, which both smelled and looked amazing, but that I didn’t have time to stand in line for. I did grab a cup of tea though, because they had a demonstration of Chinese tea-making and an array of choices in said tea. Overall, I was very impressed and glad that I decided to go.

I was fascinated by the display of Chinese culture and it made me frustrated too. I really have no excuse for not taking the initiative to learn bout Eastern culture before now. With such resources available, there’s no reason not to open yourself up to new experiences. I’m grateful that we have these opportunities, and I was glad that other students were actually taking time out of their busy schedules, like I did, to actually walk through the booths and fully immerse themselves–not just come for the free food.

Students practicing Chinese characters
Students practicing Chinese characters
Chinese Tea-Making
Chinese Tea-Making
Girls playing Mandolin
Girls playing Mandolin
Students stamping Chinese characters
Students stamping Chinese characters
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Global Engagement Day: Minority Abroad Panel

I was excited and interested in going to this panel discussion, because as a Black female my family is concerned about where I will go abroad. They ask me a lot of questions that I can’t possibly answer. “Will you be safe in this country?” “Will you be targeted more or less because you are a Black woman?” “Are you going to be the only person of color in this country?”

Sometimes its overwhelming. I’m already nervous about traveling abroad, and them asking me questions that I can’t answer honestly (since I’ve never been abroad) makes me even more nervous. Because I hate having to think about my race and gender as a potential handicap. I don’t want it to dictate where I get to study abroad, what I get to do, and whether I get to go at all. Its not fair. I hate that my identity as an African American woman (a very obvious identity, unlike religion or sexual orientation) could be sort of crippling. I’m always going to be worried that I’ll have an experience similar to my cousin, who went to Germany to live with a host family, who assumed she was a criminal because she was black and refused to have her in their home. But, as hard as it is for some people to believe, that’s a reality that I have to factor into my destination.

I am aware that its very plausible that I could go somewhere and be mistreated because they “don’t like” Black people, or where Black women are fetishized. So going to this panel excited me. It was an interesting Q and A, but no one was able to truly and accurately answer any questions I had. I hate to seem like I’m complaining, but I can’t ignore the facts. Of all the minorities that people don’t want in their country, Black people are the most feared and detested worldwide (Middle Eastern people are the closest second). There were no African Americans on the panel, which I know may have something to with there not being enough African Americans who have travelled abroad, or none that were available.

The panel was pretty diverse though. There were two ethnic minorities represented by the panel, one girl who represented marked sexual orientations, and one girl who was unmarked in every way in the West, but became the minority when she travelled to Africa.

Some of the questions that my family and that I have, I know can only be answered by finding someone in the African American community who has studied abroad. And I know that some questions can only be answered by me going abroad and having my own experiences. I’m still very excited about going to France in summer of 2017, but I’m definitely still apprehensive. I hate that my identity as an African American woman (a very obvious identity, unlike religion or sexual orientation) could be sort of crippling. I’m always going to be worried that I’ll have an experience similar to my cousin, who went to Germany to live with a host family, who assumed she was a criminal because she was black and refused to have her in their home. But, as hard as it is for some people to believe, that’s a reality that I have to factor into my destination.

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My International Group: IAC, Eve of Nations

My international group is the International Advisory Committee. I chose the IAC because they are sort of the umbrella organization for all of the international groups on campus. I like that I can be a part of a group that brings together all these other groups. The best part is that the college campus is like a microcosmic representation of the world. I knew that intellectually, but it was so cool to see proof of it with my own eyes during the Eve of Nations.

The Eve of Nations was so amazing. There was a cool fashion show where people showcased outfits (both traditional and modern) and dance moves. It was fun to see that everyone was having fun and that even though it was a dinner and some important people in the College of International Studies were there, everyone was enjoying themselves.

There were way more international student groups than I thought there were. I am a core volunteer in the IAC, but I hadn’t been able to help practice because of the bus schedule and a family thing. Hopefully I can still get involved next semester, when I’ll have more freedom in my schedule and in my mobility. If the IAC  is all about stuff like the Eve of Nations, then I can’t wait to get more involved.

*The pictures below are scattered oddly, I couldn’t fix the alignment no matter how hard I tried. Sorry it’s all so ugly.

Venezuelan Student Association
Venezuelan Student Association
Angolan Student Association
Angolan Student Association

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese Student Association
Chinese Student Association
Nigerian Student Association

 

 

 

 

 

Malaysian Student Association
Malaysian Student Association
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Brussels Terrorist Attack

The weirdest thing happened the day of the terrorist attack in Brussels.

In my French class, we learn about different francophone countries for homework. The day before the Brussels metro and airport was bombed, we learned about Belgium for homework. It was just a very strange coincidence.

To summarize the events of that day: Brussels, Belgium was attacked this year on March 22. A series of explosions went off in the Maelbeek subway system near the European Parliament, killing 20 people. The Zaventem airport was also attacked, resulting in 11 deaths. The Brussels government shut down all transportation after the explosions went off, because it was the modes of transportation that were being targeted, so everyone had to stay exactly where they were (school, work, home, etc) until they were cleared to leave. There were also substantial numbers of people injured. The next day, it was discovered that Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui, brothers and Brussels nationals, were responsible.

It’s a sad thing. Not only that people were killed that day, but that the bombers felt the need to turn on their fellow countrymen. It’s an interesting (and sometimes tragic) thing, finding out what motivates people. For some it’s religion and ideology, for some it’s nationalism, for some its race or gender. Why do our loyalties to these aspects of our personhood have to affect how we treat our neighbors and fellow human beings in such drastic ways? Why can’t we just be content to celebrate and appreciate each others differences? Why do zealots and extremists have to resort to these horrifying actions, especially when they are clearly counterproductive?

I don’t even mean just ISIS and they’re terrorist agenda. Everyone. After all, our politicians reactions left a lot to be desired. The presidential candidates from the Republican party scrambled to politicize this tragic event, and use it as a platform to support their xenophobic policies. I just hate that ISIS claims they are “uniting people under Islam” but all they do with these attacks is further divide the population and turn already bigoted peoples’ hearts even colder. Not to mention, attacks like this make it difficult for Muslim people all over world. Syrians refugees couldn’t even get sanctuary before this occurred, how much harder will it be for them now?

If ISIS was truly an Islamic organization, they would be trying to improve the lives of the 1.6 billion people all over the world who share their faith, instead of making their lives even more difficult. But they aren’t an Islamic organization, they exist purely to terrorize. And our politicians are no better. We can’t talk about “uniting the American people” (ahem, Trump) if all we talk about is refusing people who believe in a different god and deporting those who already live here. In what way is that a “united” America?

We have to do better, and be able to recognize chaos for what it is, no matter what it calls itself.  I really hope the people of Brussels are on their way to a recovery, and that they are able to truly unite in the wake of this tragedy. And I really hope that the rest of the world can see these attacks as the work of two individuals who had no regard for others, and that we can succeed where they have failed, and continue to care about our neighbors.

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