Leela and her godmother LaNada WarJack, found me at baggage claim at the SLC airport, and greeted me with big, warm hugs, which diffused a good deal of my nervousness. SLC had a downpour right before I arrived, so the landscape on the way to Idaho was particularly breath-taking, with dark rain clouds clinging to the tops of endless mountains as the sun slowly made its way down.

My education, part 1 )
I'm going to Idaho the second weekend of June. I'll be visiting Leela Abrahamson, the Lemhi Shoshone girl I interviewed for the August issue of Teen Vogue, at the Fort Hall Reservation. She'll be taking me to all their sacred places and showing me around.

What's funny is that being photographed for T-V has made her a mini-celeb in the area. I was interviewed for the Pocatello State Journal while I was on Haight street showing my hippie cousin Autumn around. I was felt very awkward answering questions about racism and marginalization while buses were charging past.

Leela says they screwed a lot of things up, starting with her name:

Pocatello State Journal

Here's another story I was not interviewed for:

Blackfoot Morning News

She's been on local TV, too. I can't find the videos anymore, but apparently she was on NBC News 6.

The photographer was Lisa Hicks from "Teen Vogue". Leela Abrahamson: "And she was like, 'I'm from California and I didn't even know Indians were still alive ...

OK, that's funny! Of course, I knew Indians were still alive because I went to Red Earth.

Things that are amusing to me about these stories:

- I am not a photographer. I had a point-and-shoot digital camera with me when I met Leela.

- I love how they makes me sound like a creepy child-pornographer type who said, "Can I take your picture?" I actually talked to all the girls a long time about the magazine article before I asked if I could take their pictures.

- The articles keep quoting Leela as saying I didn't know anything about Indian culture, but I did. I'm pretty sure she knows I wasn't totally ignorant, but I was surprised to learn how rampant the racism is. I think I talked to her a couple times about the Indians I knew in Oklahoma and my Native American History class in college. What I didn't know was what life was like on her reservation in Idaho, as I've never been to Idaho.

It's all good. Leela and I are pals. She loves me and squeals every time I call. The tribal leaders are eager to meet me and offered to pay for me to come out.

EDIT: I would have never said in a million years, "I thought you lived in tepees." I am totally teasing her about that when I see her.

Below are some talking points on how I've been committed to human rights and social justice in my reporting:

1. As a freelancer writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and teen magazines like Elle Girl and Teen Vogue, I have been dedicated bringing minority voices to the forefront, pitching and proposing stories about

• Poor black teenagers who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, and had to start their lives all over again.
• American Indian powwow dancers who face discrimination on a daily basis.
• The youth hip-hop culture in Oakland where kids in desperate situations who have watched their friends die and their families get destroyed by drugs find joy and hope in dancing.
• An ongoing series following high school students in different socioeconomic classes in the Bay Area, highlighting the similarities and differences of their experiences and how privilege or lack thereof affects them.
• An investigation into whether impoverished blacks or Latinos get their cars towed more often in Oakland.
• An investigation into whether black grass-roots art and cultural organizations in downtown Oakland are targeted for code violations, while the police turn a blind eye to white-run underground galleries and warehouse spaces.

2. Stories that have resulted from those pitches:

• An "As Told to" piece in Teen Vogue about Lemhi Shoshone powwow dancer Leela Abrahamson, who talks about the impact of racism on her life at Fort Hall Reservation, Idaho. The story will appear in the August 2007 issue.

• An San Francisco Chronicle story about a teenage Katrina survivor who drove busloads of people out of New Orleans
"Katrina as a blessing: It sent one teen here - His life was stormy before hurricane hit," San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 27, 2006

• Several stories on the hyphy hip-hop movement and youth culture in Oakland for the San Francisco Chronicle and Intersection magazine.
"Mistah F.A.B.: Hyphy rapper uses his star power to better Oakland," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 22, 2006
"Clubland: Hyphy dancing at Youth Uprising," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 16, 2005

• A story about Oaklandish art gallery and cultural center getting shut down for code violations.
"Clubland: Oaklandish on the verge of closing," San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 28, 2005

3. In 2005, I decided to volunteer to help the survivors of Hurricane Katrina staying at Astrodome and Reliant Center in Texas. To increase awareness, I blogged about what I saw for the San Francisco Chronicle web site.

Blog on Hurricane Katrina survivors in Texas, SF Gate, Sept. 7-10, 2005

4. I am also committed to writing about the continuing struggle for equality for women in our society. Good examples are my pieces on the Woodhull Institute and Naomi:

• "Institute pokes holes in the glass ceiling," San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 12, 2003

• "Did Father Know Best? In her new book, third wave feminist Naomi Wolf reconsiders her Bohemian upbringing," San Francisco Chronicle, June 19, 2005

5. I have also expressed to Naomi and the Woodhull Institute my goals of staring a magazine for teenage girls that focuses on their dreams and achievements instead of dating and beauty products.

6. For what it's worth, I committed to a four-year series following a San Francisco girl through high school for Elle Girl. The whole project followed four girls in four different cities and circumstances. We finished a year and a half before the magazine folded.

7. I am a champion for positive body image and decreasing our culture's obsession with appearances. I have plans for starting a web site, The Reality of Women Revolution or RoWR, to change women's perception of themselves, which will include an interview I have done with Eve Ensler (and naturally, I would love to feature Naomi and Woodhull, too). In the meantime, I plan on blogging for About-Face (http://www.about-face.org). Plus, I have written essays on the topic:

• Essay, "Silicone Valley: So what if your cups don't runneth over?" San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 13, 2006

Also, I was the only Chronicle staff member to challenge Larry Flynt about how he portrays women when he spoke to reporters about First Amendment struggles.

8. I have also addressed issues of gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as more light-hearted stories that deal with women's self-perception and roles in our culture

• Essentials pick of the week: Deep Dickollective, San Francisco Chronicle, June 22, 2006

• "Pin Curls and Pistons: Hot rod babes not afraid to keep motors running all by themselves," San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 21, 2007

• "Personal Effects: Ditties talk back to PMS blues," San Francisco Chronicle, May 15, 2006

9. In college (1994-1998), I was a daily reporter for The Oklahoma Daily (University of Oklahoma student-run newspaper), as well as the Norman Transcript in Norman, Oklahoma, and the Edmond Evening Sun in Edmond, Oklahoma. Topics I wrote about include:

• An award-winning enterprise story on underemployment and liberal arts graduates who could not or would not find good jobs.
• An enterprise investigative series on why the University of Oklahoma did not have a campus-wide recycling program.
• An interview with student missionaries who were in Cambodia when second prime minister Hun Sen staged a coup.
• An interview with one of Timothy McVeigh's lawyers.
• An interview with Muslims facing discrimination in Oklahoma after the 1995 Federal building bombings.
• A feature on student-run human rights organizations who pressured Pepsi to leave Burma and fought against sweatshop labor in Vietnam.
• A report on a lecture by New York Times editor Sydney Schanberg on his experiences in Cambodia.
• A investigation on the state of homelessness in Norman, Oklahoma.
• An expose on funding cuts that would leave disabled adults and students without bus service.
• A piece on African American students who were protesting the lose of their student center to the natural history museum.
• Investigations into the misuse of university funds.
• Coverage of state and city elections, including the election of Rep. J.C. Watts.
firebreath613: (realshirley)
I started writing about this, and I thought I'd share.


My housemate who is a part of the RPS Collective is pissed. She's mostly pissed because the whole article is so divisive and doesn't come up with any solutions. It seems to me it was written to be inflammatory. He did make a really good point about the Chronicle labeling the neighborhood as full of "hookers, homeless, and drug dealers" - something I complained about. But the Chronicle isn't the voice of the artists.

You can't accuse people of crimes without checking the facts. It irresponsible to make off-hand insults, to generalize and to characterize a movement that embodies many voices, objectives and goals as one perspective.

For example, if I wrote about hyphy and talked about how it's all about going crazy and shooting people up, then I would be making the same sort of generalizations he does. But everyone I interview says, yes, that's a negative faction, the anarchy/riot mindset. But for most artists and kids, hyphy is about jubilation and fun and dancing. The negative story would miss how Mistah F.A.B. devotes so much time and energy hanging out and listening and talking to kids at Youth Uprising, the get-out-the-vote campaign, and giddinesss of the dance battles.

It's such a tired and easy thing to target hipsters and artists. Sure, many are clueless. Others really care about Oakland and want to include black artists and the old residents of the neighborhood. Many work with at-risk youth and are involved in socialist organizations. Mama Buzz and RPS offer free classes and services every day practically.

If you think someone has failed to be inclusive or consider their community, you call them on it and then you ask them why or what they think. If someone accuses someone of a misstep, you go and ask the accused what they have to say about it. If someone is self-absorbed and thoughtless, it will come out in your reporting.

He made valid points about the careless naming of the gallleries like LoBot and Ghost Town and the self-absorbed nature of the artists who come in and start something without talking to their neighbors or including black artists. But it just came across to me like promoting segregation. Do we want a society like that? Where there's a black town and a white town? I mean, why was there no talk about working together? Obviously there are a lot of deep, complicated issues about race, real estate, gentrification and privilege, and those aren't going to get sorted out over night, but I don't think segregation is the answer. People of different races need to know each other, and talk to each other, to eliminate "the otherness" that feeds racism and discrimination.

What David Downs didn't ask was why did Oaklandish and the Oakland Box get closed down? I know both of those organizations worked with the emerging art scene, and the police came in and cited them with code violations. Why do hyphy parties get shut down by cops? These things are much more interesting questions. Why is the CITY supporting white-owned galleries and parties, and not black-owned ones? Where is the infrastructure support the for the black creative community? The institutional discrimination is more interesting to me than "These people are making art and throwing a party, how annoying."

I didn't realize I had so many opinions. But yeah, I think he missed the mark. He almost got there, but not quite.

In other news, my pal Gerry is in a reggaeton video. Click on "Fuego - Me Gustan Todas." He's the Asian bookie.




August 2010

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