Syria: A No Win Situation?

This past Tuesday, Bashar al-Assad unleashed a chain of chemical bombings that resulted in the deaths of dozens of innocent men, women, and children — even going so far as to target medical clinics and hospitals. Although Assad and his Russian backers have repeatedly claimed that the attack was not of their volition, it is clear that only the Assad regime had both the means and motive to stage an attack of such massive proportions.

In a statement released by President Donald Trump yesterday, he denounced the Assad regime — claiming that the attack “crossed many, many lines” and changed his attitude towards Bashar al-Assad “very much.” Of course, President Assad has been wrecking havoc on the Syrian people for more than six years, and has used chemical weapons in the past, so this latest attack (tragic as it may be) is not entirely surprising.

Of course, President Trump is not the only one to blame for Assad’s actions. Former-President Obama, after making his Red Line Statement in 2012, failed to deliver on the threats that he made against the Assad regime. In the words of Arizona Senator John McCain, “what’s worse than doing nothing is saying you’ll do something and then do nothing.

That said, it seems that President Trump may be planning to follow a similar course of action (or rather inaction) to that of his predecessor if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent statement is anything to go on. However, Republicans like John McCain and Marco Rubio appear far more intent on removing Bashar al-Assad from power than the Trump administration.

In a recent statement by Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator explained that it was irresponsible for the American leaders to assume that Assad is not a primary threat to the Syrian people and to the United States. In fact, according to Senator Rubio, many of the radical jihadists in the Middle East are initially radicalized in response to the violence they and their families face from the Assad regime. We cannot efficiently combat ISIS if we do not first examine the factors that are causing these radical groups to gain support.

As a world leader, the United States has an obligation to act in response to such a blatant war crime. For six years, we have allowed innocent Syrian civilians to be brutally murdered by their own government, and we have offered almost no assistance or asylum. It is time that we offer the Syrian people our assistance — it is time that we provide them with a strong ally so that they may retake their homeland without being forced to chose between pledging their allegiance to the Assad regime or to radical jihadist groups.

This has gone on for long enough.

GEF: On the Middle East

A few months ago I was able to help plan and attend an event for my fellow Global Engagement Fellows and international students. The event was one from a series that the GEF Event Planning Committee is putting on throughout the year highlighting various regions of the world.

This particular month, the region was the Middle-East and, as someone who has yet to leave mainland USA I was very interested in learning about the region and it’s cultures.

In main stream media, the Middle-East is often depicted in an incredibly negative (and homogeneous) light. However, after hearing the stories from my fellow students who have lived in and traveled to the region, I quickly began to realize just how false these stereotypes truly are.

With each narrative that I heard — about hair fetishes, pottery, bookstores, and encounters with friendly strangers in the park — I began to see the extreme depth and dimension of the Middle East that our media generally neglects to mention.

In my experience, when someone begins a conversation about the Middle East, people talk about two things: ISIS and refugees. Obviously, each of these topics is important and deserves to be discussed. There are millions of people who have been displaced in the region that are in need of assistance, and ISIS is a very real threat that we must be vigilant in guarding against.

However, I believe that it is equally as important to begin discussions about the diversity and cultures of the region, so as not to marginalize the lives of those who live there. And, I believe that this event allowed myself and all others in attendance the opportunity to begin those discussions on the OU campus.

GEF: On Enactus

This semester has been a whirlwind of long days in class and even longer nights studying (and procrastinating while watching the Office), and on many occasions I felt as if I could nap for 3 days straight. However, Enactus has been an excellent source of energy and motivation throughout the entirety of this semester.

As the Project Hope Lead, I have had far more responsibility in the organization this year, and have been busy planning for the future of both Enactus and Project Hope. This semester, Enactus has been focusing on recruitment and marketing to the OU student body in order to reach all corners of the campus, and diversify our organization to include representatives from all backgrounds and majors. In doing so, we hope to gain insightful perspectives on each of our three projects.

In past years, Project Hope has partnered with No Boundaries International — a local anti-trafficking non-profit — to aid in the fight to end modern day slavery on both a local and a global level. In the past we have hosted art galas and anti-trafficking conferences to help raise money and awareness on the issue.

However, this semester I chose to steer the project in a different direction. As I continue to learn about the issue of human trafficking in our society, it has become increasingly apparent to me that the problem of human trafficking overlaps with many of societies other problems as well: Gender equality, equal access to education, and affordable health care, just to name a few.

For this reason, Project Hope will be taking more preventative actions to assist in ending human trafficking this year, and in the years to come.

It is no secret that the Oklahoma Public Education system is failing under our current state government official’s leadership; for that reason, Project Hope has chosen to partner with Educators from around the state to host a Facebook live event (and corresponding GoFundMe) to give teachers a state-wide platform to explain the many problems that they are facing due to state budget cuts to education, and to inform Oklahomans on how we can support them as they continue to pour into the lives of our children.

Although this does not appear at first glance to relate directly to modern day slavery, the two issues are far more connected than one would expect. We hope that by raising the standard of education that is provided in this state, we will also shield our youth from the threat of trafficking and enable them to learn more about the issue in a safe and productive environment.

In addition, Project Hope is also in the beginning stages of creating an educational curriculum about the issue of human trafficking that will incorporate perspectives on the issue from various fields. We hope to begin distributing this curriculum in the Fall of 2017.

On the 2016 Election, SQ 779, and the Bleak Future of the OK Education System

I am shocked by the disastrous results of this election, and I am thoroughly disappointed in my fellow Americans – and more specifically my fellow Oklahomans – for not only electing a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, failed businessman and ex-reality TV star (who has multiple trials for both fraud and rape coming up within the next year) into the highest office in the nation, but also refusing to recognize the extent of the OK Education System’s failings and refusing to vote for SQ 779 that would have offered much-need (albeit limited) relief for our state’s educators.

I am not going to dwell on the fact that Donald Trump will most likely be our next president (primarily because it makes me physically ill to do so). My only hope for our federal government is that the US Congress will be able to minimize the destruction that Trump will inevitably leave in his wake.

Tonight, I would like to call all of your attention to SQ 779. No, it is not a sustainable solution. Yes, our state legislators need to get it together and provide us with some better options. But let’s be honest, do any of you really have faith that our legislators are going to rise to our challenge? I certainly don’t; they certainly haven’t in the past. Right now, our education system needs any scrap of funding that it can get, even if that funding comes in the form of a penny tax. Our teachers are drowning – they are underpaid, overworked, and held to unrealistically high expectations. Today, we also proved that they are underappreciated in the state of Oklahoma.

I know that many of you voted no on SQ 779 because it isn’t an adequate solution. I have seen many claims that SQ 779 is simply a band-aid applied to a bullet wound. You are absolutely right. SQ 779 was honestly insulting to OK educators, however it was also our best chances at offering them some temporary relief. I am saddened to say that, as Oklahomans, we failed them. By voting no on SQ 779, we have chosen our pride over our educators.

I am disappointed, yes, but I am also afraid. I am truly, deeply, genuinely afraid for the future of our nation and for our state.  Education is the backbone of our society – if we do not give our children the opportunity to receive a quality education, how can we expect them to provide this nation with a quality future. The short answer? We can’t.

On Black Lives, Privilege, and Systemic Racism

First of all, lets just get this out of the way, I am white. Actually, to be even more specific, I am a white, non-disabled, straight, upper-middle class female. So, on practically all accounts, I fit perfectly into the cookie-cutter categories that society has deemed “normal.”

Let me clarify one thing — I am not ashamed of being “normal.” I like who I am, but it would be ridiculous for me to try to deny the privilege that my “normal”  status grants me in society.

I don’t want to feel guilty for being white, just like I don’t want anyone else to feel guilty for being black, red, yellow, green, purple, etc. However, what I do feel guilty about is spending over half of my life silently perpetuating the systemic racism that pervades our society by accepting my privilege without any consideration for those who couldn’t share in it.

That’s something else we should probably touch on: privilege.
And, more specifically, white privilege.

**No, white privilege is not a myth or a scheme or a guilt trip; It is an actual real-life thing, and it is EVERYWHERE.

White privilege is being able to go to the store and buy “skin-color” Band Aids that actually match your skin tone. White privilege is being able to turn on the TV and see a wide array of people who look like you.
White privilege is getting pulled over by a police officer and not having to worry about being attacked.
White privilege is going to an interview and knowing that your name won’t be the deciding factor of whether or not you get the job.

White privilege is my being able to write this article and know that even though some people will disagree, they won’t base their opinion of everything I say on the color of my skin.

I could seriously keep writing about white privilege for the next week, but for the sake of my sanity (and yours) I’ll move on.

***(If you want a full description of what white privilege is, check out White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.)***

This brings me to Black Lives Matter.

Let me go ahead and answer the question that many of you are probably thinking right now: yes, all lives matter. no black lives do not matter more than any other lives.

However, in our society, black lives are undervalued and black people are under represented. The Black Lives Matter movement isn’t about proving that black lives are worth more than any other lives; Black Lives Matter is about saying that black lives matter as much as all other lives.

Yeah, that probably sounds obvious to you. After all, you’re not a member of the KKK, right? You have a black friend, right? you’re not a racist, right? Martin Luther King Jr. is on of your role models, right?

Good, all of this is a great start to ending racial inequality, but it is just the beginning. Just because you aren’t actively racist, doesn’t mean that you aren’t still a part of the problem.

The only way to truly end racial inequality is to be actively anti-racist.

However, it’s really difficult to fight racism when you don’t realize what forms it takes in our modern society. So, lets take a quick sec to talk about systemic racism.

No, racism is no longer about having to sit at the back of the bus like Rosa Parks. No, it isn’t enforced by Jim Crow laws. It is deeply and systematically imbedded in our society in ways that often go unnoticed by those of us who have the privilege of remain unaffected by it.

Systemic Racism is the fact that the black unemployment rate is almost always twice the white unemployment rate. And, before you explain this away by assuming that people of color are just less motivated or less qualified for employment, this same ratio goes for black people with college degrees vs. white people with college degrees.

Systemic Racism is the fact that black people are charged an average $700 dollars more that white people when buying cars, and the fact that when they drive their cars they are twice as likely to get pulled over as white people.

Systemic Racism is the fact that black people are four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite the fact that marijuana is used equally by blacks and whites.

Google the phrase “systemic racism” and you can see for yourself just how prominent this issue is in our society.

It isn’t enough to be “colorblind.” For one, if you claim that you are truly blind to the color of peoples’ skin you either have an actual medical condition or you are lying.

It’s natural to judge people based on their appearances, and in moderation it can even be a good thing. Seriously, it is basic self-preservation to be aware of your surroundings.

Of course there are some crappy black people; there are crappy white people too. There are crappy cops and crappy lawyers and crappy construction workers. What we need to recognize is that people aren’t crappy because their skin is a certain color, or because they have a certain job. People are just crappy because we are people and the world isn’t a perfect place.

Systemic racism will stop when (and only when) white people start taking responsibility for our privilege. When we all stop assuming that the amount of melanin in someone’s skin somehow dictates their behavior. When we stop trying to explain away the injustice in our society and actually start trying to correct it.

Systemic racism will stop when we stop picking sides between All Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter, start recognizing that they are the same exact thing, and unite as human beings to combat inequality.

On Trump, Skittles, and Refugees

“If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.”

This is the tweet that Donald Trump Jr. sent out on Monday, and there are more than a few things wrong with it. After I saw the tweet I was shocked by the demeaning ( and not to mention inaccurate) message that the image conveyed, but, then again, I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

After all, what can we really expect from the same campaign that has likened Mexican immigrants to rapists, made fun of a disabled reporter, proclaimed that veterans who are captured during war are not true war heroes, and faulted a female news anchor for having a period.

The list of the Trump Campaign’s trespasses could go on for days but back to the issue at hand.

First and foremost, Donald Trump Jr.’s tweet it is severely dehumanizing. I mean seriously, is it really that hard to muster up the common decency required to refer to people as people instead of food?? I don’t care how good skittles are, if somebody ever negatively referred to me as a poisonous candy (or a peanut — shoutout to Mike Huckabee) I would be pissed.

And, can we just think about how bug that bowl of skittles would have to be for this analogy to be even remotely accurate? All it takes is some basic math to understand how ridiculous this tweet really is.

*Side note: I haven’t used skittles to do math since I was in the second grade learning how to add and subtract, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

According to the Migrant Policy Institute, the US has admitted a total of 784,000 refugees (or skittles, if you asked Donald Trump Jr.) since 9/11. Of these 784,000 only 3 — I repeat: THREE — have been arrested for suspected terrorist activity. So, lets do some simple addition:

784,000 / 3 = 261,333

Most importantly, I wouldn’t advise anyone to eat 261,333 skittles ever, much less in one sitting. But for the sake of Trump’s analogy, lets say that this was a good idea. The bowl that Trump pictures in his tweet is relatively small; I’ll be generous and assume that it would holds 200 skittles. How many bowls  of skittles would you need to eat to be at risk? 1,306.

I can only speak for myself, but I certainly don’t have that many bowls  (or skittles) in my possession.

On top of all of this, the image featured in Trump’s tweet is actually copyrighted…from a refugee. I mean honestly, if you are going to be an insensitive jerk to all refugees the least you could do is make sure that you have authorization to use the photograph in your advertisement.

In my opinion the best response to Trump’s tweet came from a Wrigley Co. (the creator of skittles) representative himself, when he astutely pointed out that “Skittles are candy. Refugees are people.” going on to explain that Wrigley did not feel that it was “an appropriate analogy.”  I don’t know how to dumb it down any more than that.

I guess that it is too much to ask for that a presidential campaign would be informed (and respectful) enough to know that comparing people who have literally been forced from their homes and separated from their loved ones to poisonous skittles isn’t okay.

 

 

 

 

 

On “Hamilton”

With 11 Tony awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and a sold-out theater until 2017, it is undeniable that Hamilton has taken the nation by storm.  If you haven’t heard much about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, you’re probably wondering “what’s so great about Hamilton?”

Well, let me tell you…

Hamilton follows the life of an Orphan Immigrant – Alexander Hamilton – as he moves to New York City, joins the Revolution, and becomes the first Treasurer of the United States of America.

Still sounds like a bland history lesson?  

What if I told you that the entire story is expressed through modern hip-hop and rap, that “cabinet meetings” are transformed into “rap battles,” and that Miranda merges 18th century history with 21st century issues like racial discrimination and immigration?

From the very beginning, Miranda knew that if he wanted to make Hamilton a hit, he would need to make it relatable to ALL Americans. So, he decided that he didn’t want to cast the founding fathers traditionally (as the white men with gray wigs that we see every time we open our wallets); instead he chose to cast them as people of color, in order to better represent “America Now.”

In 2016, the minority-majority is a very real concept in America. In fact, according to NPR, minorities will make up the majority of U.S children by 2020. However, almost all of these minority groups remain under-represented in the media. Needless to say, it was a refreshing change of speed to see Hamilton’s racially diverse cast in a time when whitewashing is such a prominent issue in Hollywood and on Broadway.

People all across America have praised Hamilton for its colorblind casting, and for its emphasis on the idea that history belongs to everyone – regardless of skin color or origin. In fact, very little serious criticism of Hamilton exists. As a whole, Americans agree that all people deserve representation in society, and no one should be excluded from the history books…at least in theory. In reality, however, our actions do not support this idea.

Perhaps the best example of this hypocrisy is Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. How can we so adamantly support a musical that highlights racial diversity, while simultaneously supporting a presidential candidate who has proven himself to be a racist, xenophobic bigot?  Donald Trump has conflated the word ‘terrorist’ with the entire Islamic religion, and has made claims suggesting that Muslims should not be permitted to live in the United States. Donald Trump has called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” and promotes building a wall to keep immigrants out, rather than embrace the positive contributions that they have on our economy.

 And yet, many Americans still passionately support him.

How can we watch a musical like Hamilton, so obviously focused on the positive impacts immigrants have on society, and continue supporting a candidate like Donald Trump who stands for the exact opposite ideals? How can we support a musical that spotlights people of color, while continuing to remain silent about police brutality against black people? 

The answer: we can’t.

If we want positive change in America, we must stop talking about the problems in our society, and start taking action against injustice. We must stop talking about building walls, and begin building bridges. Only then will our ideas become our reality; only then will we see racial and ethnic equality in America.

On Brexit

The past two weeks have been filled with talk of Great Britain’s exit from the European Union and the drastic effects it could have on the UK, EU, and the entire world. Initially, only a small faction of people believed that Brexit would actually happen. However, in the wake of the UK’s separation from the EU, many people worry about how Britain’s decision will affect the British (and global) economy, stability of the EU, and the state of the British political system.

In order to fully understand Brexit, it is important to consider the reasoning behind such actions. Initially, I assumed that the reason for Britain’s separation from the EU to be purely economic.; however, I have since come to the realization that Britain’s objections to the EU stem primarily from xenophobia. As a member of the EU, Britain has been required to maintain open borders and has thus received a significant number of immigrants (many of which being refugees) from the Middle East. Despite the overwhelming proof that these immigrants and refugees have worked to STIMULATE the UK’s economy, many Brit’s argue that they are doing more harm than good.

The value of the pound began a steady decline after David Cameron began the four-month battle to determine the UK’s future with the EU. And, on June 24th, the day of the Brexit referendum, the pound’s value dropped to a seven-year low. Unfortunately, this is not the only potential consequence of the referendum. Without the EU, Britain could face significant trade barriers and increased taxes with many European nations. These set-backs could possibly  result in the relocation of various international corporations located in the UK and subsequent job loss. Many people wonder if Great Britain will be able sustain itself independently of such a powerful alliance with such a small economy and limited resources.

The EU will also face economic difficulties, seeing as Great Britain was the EU’s second largest contributor (after Germany). In fact, Great Britain has consistently contributed billions more than it received from the EU. Many people also suspect that Brexit will have a domino effect within the EU and will prompt other member nations to consider independence from the EU. While it is unlikely that this will happen immediately, depending on the precedent set by the EU and UK, more European nations may follow in Britain’s footsteps – further weakening the EU.

Despite the marginal majority of the Leave Vote in the Brexit referendum, many citizens would have preferred to remain in the EU. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, Prime Minister David Cameron declared his resignation, leaving the British government in a state of rocky transition. Although Prime Minister Cameron has agreed to remain prime minister until another is appointed in October, he has made statements that he will only “steady the ship,” not advance it. Furthermore, after the Brexit vote, Scotland’s government has taken action to hold another referendum independence from the UK, claiming that they still wish to maintain membership in the EU.

In the wake of Brexit, it is important to reflect on the effects that fear can have on a nation. It was fear of the perceived threat of foreign immigrants that motivated Britain to separate from the EU. It is fear that has lead to the overwhelming support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump despite (and, in some cases, due to) his xenophobic policies. If we are to make true progress, we must set aside fear of those who are not like us and embrace our differences.

On Oklahoma’s Financial Situation

I received an email from President David L Boren yesterday regarding OU’s financial situation and the effect that the severe lack of state funding will have on students this upcoming year. According to president Boren, since 2008 “the state share of the OU budget has dropped from 46% to 12%.” This lack of funding has resulted in a 7% increase in tuition during the 2016-17 school year that will burden both parents and students. Furthermore, these budget cuts have resulted in the loss of jobs for over 300 university employees.

Higher educations institutions are not the only ones facing these substantial budget cuts; Oklahoma’s public education system is also facing a severe lack of state funding. In the last five years, legislators have cut per-pupil education aid by 20%. Furthermore, many legislators have begun to advocate replacing public schools with private charter schools completely. At first glance, these charter schools seem like a positive alternative. However, what charter school advocates don’t tell you is that these schools are authorized to potentially discriminate against students based on their gender, ethnicity, religion, and even finiancial situation.

Meanwhile, our legislators just recently approved a massive tax incentive for oil companies that will cost the state over 300 million. In order to contend with the budget crisis that this would undoubtedly create, legislators decided to severely reduce a tax credit devised to help Oklahoma’s working poor; this cut will negatively affect over 130,000 households in Oklahoma. In short, big businesses thrive while working families struggle to make ends meet.

It is time that we take a good look at the state of Oklahoma’s financial situation and who it is currently benefitting, because it is certainly not the lower class and it certainly isn’t the education system. It is time that we hold our legislators accountable for their actions, and stop turning a blind eye as they defund programs that benefit OK citizens in order to support big oil companies and their own agendas.

Read more here!

To whatever end,
LK

On Orlando

First and foremost, I would like to express my deepest condolences to all who were affected by the tragic massacre in Orlando, FL.

We live in a world in which we constantly divide ourselves based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion etc. however, today we stand united against Omar Mateen, ISIS, and any other individual or organization that would promote such violent acts of terrorism.

Now I would like to address a few of the popular comments I have seen floating around for the past two days:

First, I would just like to remind everyone that ISIS is not a true representation of Islam, nor is it a representation of all Muslim people. Do not let this tragedy further divide us based on our different religions. Instead, let’s focus our energy on helping those involved and developing a plan to eliminate events like this from happening in the future.

Second, I think that it is important to dispels the idea that this shooting was “the most deadly in U.S. history.” It wasn’t, and to claim that it was is to ignore the deaths of thousands (primarily Native Americans and Blacks) in our history. However, I have attached a link to NPR’s explanation behind the claim that it was “the most deadly” in order to clarify the reasoning behind such statements.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this is not a time for victim shaming. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the LGBTQ lifestyle, each and every person affected was a human being – a person with friends and a family – and no one deserves to be so violently attacked.

“Hate: it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but it has not solved one yet.”
~Maya Angelou