Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Changes are coming and I need your help!

So, there are some changes coming soon to An Unsettled Voyage, and I need the help of my readership to make the right ones!

First of all, I’ll be switching form Blogger to self-hosting my own domain. So basically I’ll have my own website. This is something that most bloggers who are serious about their writing consider to be an essential and professional move.

But that change will entail other changes. And these are the ones I need you to help me with.

1) Topic: Travel and/or social issues?

I originally started this blog as a travel blog, but it has evolved into more than that. As you know, I often discuss modern social or political topics such as racism and feminism.

I personally want to keep the option open to post about my travels, since I’m certainly not done with them. 

When you read Unsettled Voyage, do you stick to either travel posts or social commentary posts, or both? Does the presence of either topic make you less likely to read posts on the other?

2) Name

I definitely want to change the name while I’m at it. “An Unsettled Voyage” is a bit cumbersome and I’d like something a bit shorter and more succinct. However, I’m hesitant to undertake a complete rebranding. I’m thinking of changing it to simply “Unsettled,” as I talk about both my travels as an unsettled twenty-something as well as complex issues that still need to be discussed and debated and are thus, in a different way, unsettled.

Does that make sense and sound good? If not, please feel free to offer a suggestion (no, I can’t compensate you financially ;P)!

3) Layout

Some of you who have been reading for a while may have noticed recent changes in the background/general layout. I’m making it a bit more sterile for the sake of being clean and more professional. Good choice or no? Also, guy folks and tom boys...does the coral and blue-green color scheme make you feel like it’s a “girly” blog?

Alright...these are all my thoughts for now. Feel free to post your opinion here, on the Facebook page, or in a private message! Thanks so much!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Not just my personal diary: How blogging is helping to shape the human experience

Image from firehow.com

I remember watching the internet grow and mature. I did a lot of growing up myself during the same time. I remember carefully considering how I should represent my personality with a new Myspace layout or “about me” section, and taking a million selfies so I could rack up more photo comments. I remember the debates about social media and how dangerous it could be. I remember finally giving in and getting a Facebook even though it wasn’t as cool as Myspace simply to keep up with some of my home school friends who weren’t allowed on other sites.

And I remember thinking that a blog was a pretty pointless and even conceited thing to spend time on. I mean, really...no one wants to know about your day or what lyrics you really relate to right now other than your mom. Even your top friends are only reading out of obligation.

But all things change, and at an ever increasing rate in our modern world.

These days, the internet is constantly at our fingertips and we are constantly making use of it. Information is only a Google search away and updates on distant loved ones show up in our Facebook news feeds!

Thus it was a no brainer for me to start a blog while traveling last year. I knew I would have plenty of stories to tell while teaching English in the post-Soviet developing country of Georgia. Stories that wouldn’t fit into a status update. And did I ever! There was the time I gotpunched in the face by a three year old, the time I assumed we were going to a school meeting and didn’t realize it was actually a visitation until I walked in and saw the body, the time I went camping in an old hippy bus with a handful of other twenty-somethings from a handful of different countries...the list goes on. It was the most amazing adventure I’ve yet experienced.

And I had the ability to share any of it through my blog-any of my encounters with language and cultural barrier, any of my struggles to shake off their limited views of what a woman could be, any of the moments and any of the people who made the hard times completely worth it. I was excited and proud to paint these pictures of a piece of the world-of the human story, even-that many of my readers would never experience firsthand.

Then, after coming back and starting my career as an archaeologist, I had more stories to tell. And then I started using my blog as a platform for discussing the social issues that had been brought to my attention more than ever in Georgia, but that I was still encountering in my beloved home country. Feminism and racism weren’t just topics for me to rant about to whatever poor soul was nearest to me. I realized that I could contribute to the conversation on a broader level.

And this is the power of blogging: the power to share stories and information with other people who will never meet you, read your local newspaper, or listen to your local news station. If you have the motivation to compile information and the skill to craft it into a readable format, you have the power to share it. No need to hope the editor of the local newspaper will like it and no pressure to put enough stuff together to have even a chance at a book deal.

And then you can share it, and it has the potential to be seen by people all across the world who would never know that your local newspaper even existed and who would never happen upon your book, let alone spend money on it. When you think about it, blogging is actually becoming a very useful exercise of the human faculties.

However, I often still detect the old attitude hanging in the air. We bloggers can often tell by the expressions we are met with when we mention that we blog and offhand comments here and there that our hobby (or, sometimes, profession) is still seen as completely irrelevant to the modern world. But I insist that it is one of the most relevant hobbies or professions provided by the world wide web.

As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed that people share blog posts quite frequently without seeming to realize that that’s what they are. Next time you’re reading an “article” or “opinion piece,” look and see if it’s actually a blog post. Even big think tanks often have paid bloggers on staff and/or are happy to accept relevant and well-written guest posts. The Huffington Post, for example, relies heavily on contributions from the blogging community. Especially if you’ve ever shared a “X reasons why...” or “X ways to...” article, you’ve probably shared the home-spun work of a blogger.

Never in the history of humanity have we been so connected. Never in the history of humanity has information been so readily available. And never in the history of humanity has the common person had so much power to contribute to global conversation. Blogging is art, philosophy, politics, adventure, and more...but by the people, for the people. And that means that us common folk can have an effect on the way that humanity sees itself and the world around it! And if you ask me, it doesn’t get much more relevant than that.

What do you think? Are blogs making an important contribution to the development of human society? Or are they still pretty pointless? 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Feminism is not a dress code or a personality type.

Picture taken from dkmz.net
Feminism has no dress code. No, I don’t want women to feel like they should dress sexily simply to cater to men. Nor do I want women to feel that they must adhere to certain standards of modesty simply to cater to men. 

The fact that our lives are still so often judged and regulated according to wants or even “needs” of men is infuriating. But if we as feminists try to make claims about what a “strong, independent woman” or “true feminist” would wear, aren’t we also forcing arbitrary and restraining rules upon women? Granted, I’m sure there are some extremes that I’d be willing to concede as exceptions. However, in the end, it’s up to every woman to make her own choices about her own wardrobe and to wear what she wants and believes to be appropriate for the situation, whether or not men like it (which, by the way, includes the option of men liking it). If she feels naked without a face covering, that is her business. If she feels restricted wearing a bra, that is her business.

This issue has been brought to my attention multiple times over the years, often because of my own treatment from both men and women when I wear shorts or a skirt they deem to be too short. Especially if I’m audacious enough to combine it with a tank top (oh, how will society stand?). Constant wardrobe monitoring of women isn’t shocking in a misogynistic society like ours. It is extremely disappointing, however, when men and women who identify as feminists engage in such behavior.

Of course there are situations where certain clothing isn’t appropriate for men or women...and as long it’s not a double standard, I’m fine with that. But if I’m dressing for another casual day of trying to live my life, why do I need a dress code?

As blogger and artist Megan Gedris puts it, “What makes any article of clothing oppressive is someone forcing you to wear it. And it’s just as oppressive to force someone not to wear something that they want to wear.”

But hey, let’s take it a step further. I’ve also noticed, often from personal experience, that we tend to make assumptions about people’s character based on their personality. Maybe we don’t even realize there is a difference between personality and character. But there definitely is.

People at my university often assumed that my bubbliness and cutesiness went hand in hand with ditsiness and childishness. And, to be fair, since my freshman year started shortly after I turned 17, undergrad was largely an experience of my teenhood. Yet I graduated at 20 with a GPA just .09 away from perfect and with multiple student life leadership positions, several volunteer positions and projects, and a semester abroad at Oxford under my belt.

But this is only one example of how we all tend to judge ourselves and others according to personality traits instead of character traits. Here’s another: Acting like a tough guy doesn’t make you strong. Some of the strongest people I know are my grandmothers-both of my natural grandmothers as well as my dad’s stepmom-who have all experienced a lot through the years. I admire those who suffer with quiet strength and persistence, holding their own while continuing to be a reliable source of strength for others when needed.

Do you see where I’m going with this? And again, not only is this way of thinking common in our society in general (and probably in at least most human societies), but it also seeps into modern feminist thinking and can only be detrimental to our progress. Especially when you consider that many of the stereotypes we use to interpret personality traits glorify those seen as masculine and belittle, mock, or trivialize those seen as feminine.

She wears high heels, you wear sneakers? She’s cheer captain and you’re on the bleachers? Great. You can BOTH be strong, intelligent, independent individuals with meaningful lives.

We’ll never be perfect. But we’ve got to weed the yard sometimes to keep up the momentum and relevance of the movement. And I’d like to suggest that any attempted mold of an “ideal feminist” is a weed that simply has to go.

Monday, May 11, 2015

3 Ways to Enjoy Little Rock

Arkansas in general has long been plagued by the stereotype of being a breeding pool of red necks. And its capitol city, Little Rock, probably doesn’t have a very substantial reputation at all. But as an Arkansas native and a University of Arkansas at Little Rock graduate, I will gladly attest that there is a lot more going on in this mid-size city than most people realize. Here are just three ways that you can rock at life in The Rock!

Stay Fit

A view from the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.
No expensive gym membership is necessary to get a regular work out in Little Rock thanks to the Arkansas River Trail System. This 88.5 mile loop is a “tribute to outdoor recreation, conservation, wellness, and the diverse geographies of Central Arkansas." It covers two metropolitan areas, 38 parks, 12 museums, 4 bridges and 5,000+ acres of federal, state, and local parkland in Little Rock and her neighboring cities. 

Walking on the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge.
It’s a great option for getting outside and getting active. My favorite section follows along the Arkansas River on one side with downtown Little Rock on the other, providing both beautiful scenery and easy access to shops and restaurants. ‘Cause, you know...we can’t all be too hardcore to resist stopping by the River Market for ice cream. And there’s no better motivation for exercise than a few hundred fresh calories to work off, right?

And if you go at night, you definitely have to check out the Big Dam Bridge (yes, that is the official name). Spanning 4,200 feet, it’s the longest bridge in the world to be built solely for the use of pedestrians and cyclists and is completely lit up in moving colors after dark.

Stay Sharp

There are a number of museums and galleries throughout the city with free or cheap admission, so a fun and educational family outing is easy to plan.

Personally, my top recommendation is the Historic ArkansasMuseum. Here you’ll find 5 pre-civil war houses right in the middle of downtown Little Rock-including the city’s oldest-that have been preserved as the city grows up around them. The museum galleries are completely free and feature pieces from local artists as well as historic exhibits. The knife gallery, for example, houses knives from all over the world, including several Bowie knives (a.k.a. “Arkansas toothpicks”). Out on the grounds, you can interact with living history characters representing people who actually lived in the houses and can even bring along a picnic if you want to have lunch on the lawn. The museum area is free, and the historic grounds? Kids and seniors can enter for only a dollar a piece, while adult tickets come in at a whopping two dollars and fifty cents.

Science Experiments at the Museum of Discovery.
Taken from their Facebook page.
Of course, if you’re herding around little science enthusiasts, you’ve got to check out the Museum of Discovery. Located right on the river front, its mission is to “ignite a passion for science, technology and math in a dynamic, interactive environment.” 

They host several fun programs, including one for adults only called “Science After Dark.” It takes place during the evening on the last Thursday of every month and, from what I understand, sometimes features adult beverages.

Some "foreign" guests hanging out at the Museum of Discovery.
Taken from their Facebook page.
This museum isn't free, but certainly worth the price if you take your time and enjoy it. Adult admission is $10 while kids, seniors, teachers, active and retired military, and Little Rock city employees all get in for $8. Science After Dark is $5.

And while you’re there, why not walk right down the street and check out The Witt Stephens Jr.Central Arkansas Nature Center? The center aims to educate folks on the Natural State’s many outdoor recreational opportunities provided by its fish and wildlife resources.  The main building includes an exhibit hall and aquariums that are totally free to the public. It's right by the river and is even connected to the Arkansas River Trail. And, on the last Monday evening of every month, some of us local archaeologists and history lovers grace it with our quirky presences for free lectures hosted by the Arkansas Archaeological Society’s Toltec Research Station.

And these are just a few options! There are plenty more to check out, including the Clinton Presidential Center and Park, the Old State House Museum, the Arkansas Arts Center, Heifer International’s Heifer Village, and more!

Stay in Tune

Now, any local musician will warn you that it is really hard to get famous out of Little Rock. There just isn’t a large enough music scene.

However, if you’re not a musician trying to make it big, you can really benefit from Little Rock’s small-but-persistent music underground.

For one, it's big enough to have multiple venues to choose from but small enough to host a fairly tight-nit community. Many Little Rockians from teens to thirties know where to go for live music and can bond with total strangers over memories at a particular venue. Many of us have enjoyed beer and pizza while listening to some screamo nonsense at Vinos, pushed through the crowd to get closer to the stage at the Rev Room, and at least stood at the edge of a mosh pit at Jaunita’s.

An ode to music outside of the Revolution Music Room.
And, because there aren’t enough people interested in most bands to fill up an auditorium at a hundred bucks a pop, those of us who are interested get to see them at smaller and more intimate venues for way cheaper. For example, Blue October is coming to Juanitas this week and all tickets are $27. They’re going to Austin a few days later and the only tickets still available are $155. I’ve seen some great acts including Matisyahu, Relient K, and the All-American Rejects for less than 30 bucks a ticket (fun fact: I got cussed out by the All-American Rejects' lead vocalist Tyson Ritter after the show for calling him out on his bs).

You can keep up to date on a lot of local venues here.

Of course, not everyone wants to rock out. Those with a more classical taste in music are sure to find entertainment as well! The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra puts on a variety of concerts, sometimes inviting guest singers or performers to join them on stage. As a matter of fact, in October they’ll be teaming up with the circus to provide an entertainment experience that is both audibly and visually exciting! And how outrageous are the prices for such an evening? They start at just $19. AND, thanks to Entergy, you can also get a free ticket for one child from kindergarten to high school as long as you purchase an adult ticket as well.

A performance made possible by the UALR Dept of Music.
Taken from their Facebook page.
If you’re interested in something a little lower profile and less crowded, just check the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s concert schedule. They have things happening pretty regularly throughout the academic year. Of course, students have to perform as part of attaining a degree in the performing arts, but professors sometimes show off their talents as well. You can find anything from solo piano recitals to jazz ensembles...often without an admission fee.   

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why Don't Black People Have Their Crap Together?

It's the question on every white person's mind. I mean, predominately black neighborhoods still have lower employment rates and higher crime rates than predominately white ones, even though slavery has been long abolished.

So what is the problem here?

Some people insist that racism is subtly but effectively infecting the institutions and workings of our society, and thus playing a significant part in the destinies of our country’s black citizens. Others would argue that in a free and modern democracy like ours, everyone is control of their own destiny, and that many blacks lack the motivation or work ethic to pull themselves out of poverty.

Which is less realistic? Rampant racism or rampant laziness? Honestly, we could theorize all day about either one. But let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

Is there actually an economic gap between blacks and whites in America?

The unemployment rate for African Americans in a given area is often about twice that of whites. And although more blacks and other minorities are attending college these days, white students are increasingly enrolling in selective institutions while blacks are mostly sticking to open access and community colleges. Students who attend quality universities are more likely to graduate, go to grad school, and earn a higher salary. Which leads us full circle back to different unemployment rates. So why don’t black people either just get a job or work hard to get into a good school? Let’s dissect those two options one at a time.

Why not just get a job?                                                                    

They’ve got affirmative action on their side, so why aren’t they out there in the work force?

Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, two Faculty Research Fellows at the National Bureau of Economic Research, probed at least one facet of the issue by conducting an experiment from July 2001-January 2010. They gathered over 5,000 resumes and sent them as responses to over 1,300 employment ads in the sales, administrative support, clerical, and customer services job categories. But here’s where it gets interesting-they put false names on the resumes...some distinctively black sounding (like Lakisha and Jamal), others more white sounding (like Greg and Emily).

And what did they find? Employers are 50% less likely to call back people with black sounding names. And the trend held true across all of the occupation and industry categories covered, even those sometimes considered to be severely constrained by affirmative action laws.

Does this mean that there are a bunch of bigoted KKK leaders out there in corporate America, dreaming of bringing slavery back to the states? No. But it does mean that in general, black names still carry an unfair negative taste in the mouths of many whites. This is where racism is the most persistent...when it is the most subtle. I doubt many of the employers who unknowingly took part in this experiment would identify themselves as racists.

But of course, in this day and age, you often need an education to get an occupation. More black graduates with quality degrees from prestigious universities would certainly help deteriorate employer bias over time. So let’s move on to the next question.

Why not work hard and go to a good school?

Even if you come from a poor family, you can work hard and get a scholarship. And if you’re black, you already meet one necessary qualification for a number of them. So what’s the problem here?

Well, for one, there actually is a disconnect between the qualifications of young students of color and the caliber of university they end up going to. 30 percent of African American students who earned an A average while in high school somehow still end up attending community colleges, compared with only 22 percent of whites. That means that almost a third of black students with high GPAs are going to lower-quality colleges where less funding is spent per student and students are more likely to drop out.

But let’s back it up even further. Let’s talk about Jim Crow for a second. According to www.u-s-history.com, Jim Crow Laws were “statutes and ordinances established between 1874 and 1975 to separate the white and black races in the American South. In theory, it was to create ‘separate but equal’ treatment, but in practice Jim Crow Laws condemned black citizens to inferior treatment and facilities.” That’s right...the “separate but equal” charade lasted right into the 1970’s. Within the lifetimes of many people living in the U.S. today. As a matter of fact, the Federal Housing Association blatantly participated in institutionalized racism all the way up to 1968 by denying housing loans to people based on their ethnicity.

To think that the effect those laws had on the American people all vanished when they did is pretty illogical. And not only does it defy logic, but it defies the evidence. For example, residential communities are definitely still highly divided along racial lines.

And as UpWorthy’s Franchesca Ramsey explains, “If your grandmother was denied a home loan or employment in the '50s because she was black, that influenced where your parents grew up, which then affected where you grew up. Where you live determines where you go to school, and since the community's tax dollars support local schools, it's easy to see why poor neighborhoods end up with poorly funded schools.”

And, of course, poorly funded means poorly equipped to prepare students for the next step of their education. 

Now let's wrap it up

So, Why don’t black people have their crap together? Is it because America the Free has set before them a plate of fresh-cooked equality and they’re just too darn lazy take a bite? Or could there be more complex factors at work?

Honestly, in the interest of keeping this a blog post and not a text book, I’ve really only scratched the surface of the issue. But I hope I've given you enough to draw at least a preliminary conclusion.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Reacting to Baltimore: Sweeping Generalizations VS.. Sweeping Degeneralizations

Once again, I’ve noticed a trend in white commentary on Baltimore. And I know people are growing weary of discussing the issue. But it’s still an issue worth discussing, so discussion isn’t about to stop.  And thus, I’d like to respectfully address the following argument:

“Not all black people are thugs. Not all police officers are bad. Not all white people are racist.”

Although totally true, statements like these are not useful at best and harmful at worst.

In my experience, this sentiment can be translated in a couple of ways: “let’s just stop talking about it” or “I’m frightened by the demonization of the police, but I swear I’m not racist!” Either way, and no matter how well intentioned, it is used to shut down a very important conversation that is worth having.

You see, I completely agree that sweeping generalizations are harmful. Stereotyping all blacks as thugs is obviously harmful to black people and black communities. Stereotyping all whites as racist is unfair and distances those who are sympathetic toward the plight of their darker-skinned neighbors. And stereotyping all police officers as violent bullies paints good, integrity-filled men and women in a negative light which they never earned and diminishes the respect which they did.

But here’s the thing...sweeping degeneralizations (yes, I know that’s not technically a word) are also harmful. As I said before, they can only hinder a discourse that needs to take place no matter how messy it may get.

No, not all black people are thugs. But if someone is being treated unfairly-even killed-because of that stereotype, we need to seek justice for them and their families. And, accordingly, we need to investigate the police involved in said situation. Not only should they face a just punishment, but they should be removed from the police force so as to no longer taint the relationship of the police force with the people who rely upon them. And even though we all would like to see ourselves as free from the Scarlet Letter of racism...I’m pretty sure every last person on the planet is at least a little bit racist. It’s hard to escape unintentional stereotyping of others based on how they look or where they’re from. That’s why we all need to be willing to question our own perceptions and motives. Because racism doesn’t consist simply of the “big things” like slavery or segregation. Indeed, racism is so dangerous because it can be so subtle. 

In conclusion, I would like to congratulate Baltimore concerning chief prosecutor Mosby’s decision to charge the officers involved in the murder of Freddie Gray. Hopefully this is just one of many steps towards a freer, more equal America in which those who would abuse their power are no longer allowed to harm those over whom they wield it and no longer allowed to slander the names of others who hold that same power with more noble hands.